#26. Arte Metro Roma (Laboratorio Incontri d’Arte, ed.)

Book: Arte Metro Roma: Il Museo Underground di Roma – I Grandi Mosaici delle Stazione della Metropolitana, ed. Laboratori Incontri d’Arte

Genre: Art book – a guide to the modern mosaics found at the stations of the Rome Underground (Metro)

Where I got it: Borrowed from the local library

Length: 215 pages

Briefly, it’s a coffee-table style book full of gorgeous photos and other information about the 45 major and 46 minor wall mosaics which were installed at various stations of the Rome Metro between 1996 and 2000.

Comments: This is a lovely book.  It’s made up of three main sections.  First there is general information about the project: the decision to install these mosaics, how it came about, who sponsored it, how the artists were chosen, how the mosaics were produced, etc.  Most of this is in the form of speeches which were delivered by various people at the unveiling ceremonies of the mosaics.  These speeches / essays are printed in both Italian and English.

The second, central section consists of photographs, one of each of the 45 major mosaics.  They are excellent.  These mosaics are huge, and difficult to photograph.  Many are flat rectangles, but some follow the curve of a wall or even turn a sharp angle.  It seems that the photographer had special access to the stations because there are no people in any of the shots.  The lighting is also very good.  The mosaics are in a variety of styles,  but form a definite series through the materials used (glass tesserae) and the similarity of finishing.

At the Numidio Quadrato station on Linea A, in a suburb in the south of the city, 46 pillars on the station platforms are covered in mosaics, each one by a “young” artist.  The result is an amazing display of colour and design.  The book includes four photos of the platforms, and they spurred me to go and see this station for myself.

The third section of the book provides a brief biography, again in Italian and in English, of each of the 45 major artists, and the name of each of the 46 young artists together with a small photo of the pillar mosaic which is theirs.  It is gratifying to see that the proportion of women is considerably higher among the young artists (about half) than among the more established artists of an older generation (only 3 women out of the total of 45).

If anything is lacking from this book, it is a commentary on what each of the mosaics individually might signify.  Some are not so easy to interpret.  But the book certainly has prompted me to pay more attention to them in future.

Here is a photo (my own, not from the book reviewed here) of one of my favourite mosaics, by Luigi Veronesi; it is at Stazione Anagnina, the southernmost station on Linea A:

Anagnina mosaic

Challenges: Full House Challenge, for the Category “From the Local Library”; I Love Library Books Challenge; Non-Fiction challenge.

#16. A Darker Domain (Val McDermid)

Book: A Darker Domain, by Val McDermid

Genre: Crime / mystery

Where I got it: Local library

Length: 392 pages

Briefly, it’s a missing person / kidnapping story with lots of twists, set (mainly) in Scotland during the miner’s strike of 1984.

Comments: This was a great read!  It drew me in right from the first pages.  All the characters are well-depicted, the plot is engaging, and I was completely carried along by it.  I’ll read more of this author.

Challenges: Read Scotland 2014; I Love Library Books challenge.

#14. Sardines (Nuruddin Farah)

Book: Sardines, by Nuruddin Farah

Genre: Fiction

Where I got it: Borrowed from the local library

Length: 250 pages

Briefly, it’s the second, but independent, book of a trilogy entitled “Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship” – though the edition which I read (Heinemann, African Writers Series, 1981) does not mention this. Perhaps the over-arching title was applied retrospectively?  The “African Dictatorship” is Somalia (under Siad Barre, though he is never named).  “Sardines brilliantly combines a social commentary on life under a dictatorship with a compassionate exploration of African feminist issues”, says the Goodreads site.

Comments: This was not an easy read.  The prose is highly metaphorical, in a somewhat self-conscious way.  Characters think and speak in paragraphs of metaphor.  One of the many literary references in the book is to Flann O’Brien’s “At-Swim-Two-Birds”, and that’s the kind of style that can be found here. Several times I nearly gave up.  It was – well, heavy. 

I admit that before coming to this book I had almost NO knowledge of Somalia.  The name of the country evoked a 1970’s famine-relief-agency poster of a starving child in a poor East African country, that’s all.  I didn’t know anything about the Siad Barre regime, or anything else about Somalia either.  I do now, but it’s more from reading about this book, trying to get some background information to help me understand what this was all about, than from Sardines itself.

I had a lot of questions about this work, above all, whether the characters and the relationships supposed to be authentic?  I didn’t find them so, but maybe they’re not supposed to be.  (Is the girl, Ubax, supposed to be a real eight-year-old, or just a literary device?  Because sometimes she seems more like a five-year-old, and at others she is portrayed with the understanding of a teenager.  Does a young woman who suspects that she is pregnant as a result of a one-night-stand really not cry, or worry, or panic, but simply wax politically philosophical?  Why does swimming training seem to play so tiny a role in the life of a national swimming champion?)  To appreciate the book, or to evaluate it fairly, I would need to read it again.  And I can’t honestly see myself doing that any time soon.

Challenges: Africa Reading Challenge; I Love Library Books challenge.