Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Blogger Hop No. 4: A Book that Changed My Life

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This Week's Question

Name a book that changed your life.

(Submitted  by Kristin @ 

My Answer

There are many books I have read and loved throughout the years, but I can't really say that any of them have actually changed my life. They have, however, exerted an influence on me in certain ways. 

The very first book that comes to mind is one I read around the age of 9. I read it in Spanish, which was my first language as a child. It was a book of fantasy tales, whose author was the 19th-century German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. The book's title, in Spanish, was (and is, because I still have this book) Cuentos FantΓ‘sticos (Fantastic Tales). 

For some reason, the name of the author on the book's cover is "F. Hoffmann". This is incorrect, as the author's name is indeed E.T.A. Hoffmann. I noticed this a few years ago, when I went looking for a newer copy, in English. Why this happened, I really have no idea. As far as I know, this book has been long out of print. A copy of it, if I were able to track it down today, would probably be very rare and very expensive.

This much-loved book (it's barely held together) made the trip with me and my family to the U.S. from Cuba, where I had received it as a present from my parents. Obviously, I love it not only for some of the stories inside, but also for sentimental reasons.

Although I was already familiar with several fairy tales, such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Cinderella", and the like, Hoffmann's collection of stories struck me as very different. Even as a child, I could sense that there was something deeper about them. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what that might have been. This "something deeper" simultaneously eluded and disturbed me. These stories fascinated me more than the fairy tales I had already read, precisely because of this "something deeper". 

I have not read this book since that first time, and would definitely like to do so again. I could re-read this copy, my childhood treasure, if very carefully. I would also like to read these stories in English. Actually, I did buy a collection of Hoffmann's best tales from Amazon -- in English -- a few years ago, but alas, I have never read it. I would have to buy another one now, though, as I believe this copy is in storage.

My beloved childhood copy was published in 1958, by Editorial Bruguera (Bruguera Publishers) a Spanish publishing company based in Barcelona, Spain. The founder's name was  Juan Bruguera TeixidΓ³. According to Wikipedia, the company "...was devoted mainly to the production of popular literature and comics. It was created in 1910 as El Gato Negro (The Black Cat)...." The name was changed in 1940. It was eventually succeeded by Bruguera Mexicana S.A., which currently publishes and edits books.

The book I own is part of a collection for children, which I find highly ironic, as Hoffmann's stories are definitely not the type of thing most children would or should read.They are really more appropriate for adults, with the exception of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", which is the basis for Tchaikovsky's ballet, "The Nutcracker". I LOVED this story as a child! It was definitely more along the lines of the typical fairy tales I was already familiar with, although, it, too, had some deeper themes running through it. 

The book has very detailed illustrations, 
like the ones shown here, 
every two pages. According to
the book's cover, there are 250 of them.

One very unusual story in the book, titled "El Caballero Gluck" ("The Gentleman Mr. Gluck", I guess would be the correct translation; I need to find out if this is in fact correct), is about a man who meets a very mysterious stranger in a Berlin park. The two strike up a friendship, based on their mutual love of music. This mysterious stranger later turns out to be the composer Gluck himself.

Another story, a rather haunting one, is titled, in Spanish, "El Consejero Krespel" ("Councillor Krespel"). It's about a man whose daughter, named Antonieta, has a lovely operatic voice. However, she has a very serious illness which threatens to kill her if she sings. Her father thus created a violin that, when played, sounds just like his daughter singing. So the young woman asks her father to play it whenever she wants to "sing". Hoffmann himself appears in this story, as Antonieta's suitor. But her father forbids the relationship because Hoffmann encourages Antonieta to sing for him, as well as pursue a career as an opera singer. This story obviously has a symbolic meaning. The ending is a tragic one. 

There are other fascinating, haunting stories in this book, such as the one about a man who went to Florence, Italy, on business, and lost his reflection in the mirror. Another man had lost his shadow. Later on, the two become friends, so the man without a reflection in the mirror provides a shadow for the man with no shadow, while that man provides a reflection for the man who lacks one. It was implied in this story that the man who had lost his reflection had done something bad, for which he was being punished with this strange curse.

The stories in this book have a rather surreal tone to them. The reading of this book, which, as I have stated above, disturbed me to an extent, also influenced my later love of fantasy, and the unusual. Now I realize that there was an undercurrent of horror to some of these stories, if in a subtle way. Some of them also have a dreamlike quality, and blur fantasy with reality.

This book shaped my lifelong love of fantasy to such an extent, that, to this day, although I do read contemporary fiction from time to time, it's the fantastical that I naturally gravitate towards. Furthermore, I am totally unable to read several realistic fiction books in a row. I always need to get "my fantasy fix"! Lol. At the time, I even wanted to believe, and DID believe, that these stories were true.

Through this book, I was also introduced -- although of course I was unaware of it then -- to the literary aspects of the 19th-century Romantic movement, of which Hoffmann was a part.

This love of the fantastic and unusual has also influenced my taste in book covers. I will always prefer those with fantasy themes. 

Summing up, this book actually laid the groundwork for my later reading tastes and habits. It didn't change my life in the sense that it didn't cause me to make drastic changes in my life. (Heck, I was only 9 years old. There wasn't much I could do about my life at the time, except escape into books! Lol.)

Reading these stories also laid the groundwork for my later love of SF. (I first encountered this genre around the age of 12.) Again, anything related to fantasy (and some elements of SF can be labeled as fantasy) was sure to get my attention!

Now what I need to do is not only to re-read this book in Spanish, but to get another copy of the English version, too. I think it would be fun to compare the two versions. That's how MUCH I love this book, in spite of its disturbing aspects!

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Elizabeth said...

Beautiful, beautiful answer as always, Maria.

I hope you do get to re-read and to compare.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

LOVE YOUR BLOG!! I have visited a few times, but never commented on your design.

Happy Hopping!!

Silver's Reviews
My Blog Hop Answer

Literary Feline said...

It would be interesting if you revisit this one as an adult. I have never heard of this book, but I can definitely tell how much of an impact it had on you and your reading. Like you, I am not sure I can say any book has changed my life exactly, but rather "exerted influence" as you suggested. Where we are in a particular moment can impact what we get out of a book and the message we take away from it.

Thank you for sharing, Maria. I hope you have a great weekend!

Katherine P said...

Beautiful story and book though that's funny about the incorrect author name. So often classic children's stories are so grim that it's surprising. I think children are able to deal with some aspects of stories better than adults sometimes.

Nicki J Markus said...

Great choice. Have you seen the opera based on these tales? I love that too.
(Sorry, there was a typo in my first comment! :))

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Elizabeth!

Oh, THANK YOU!!! A DOUBLE compliment this week!! You're so sweet!!

This book definitely made a big impression on me when I was a kid! So yes, I'd love to re-read it, and compare with the English version. Should be fun!

Thanks again for your WONDERFUL comment! Glad you love my blog design!! (I did it myself, with some help from Blogger, lol. The background and layout are theirs.)

Have a GREAT weekend!! HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

Brian Joseph said...

This is such a fantastic post Maria. It makes me want to read this book.

Based on your description, it really sounds as if there is something deep, and a bit dark about these stories. It is also wonderful that you have held on to this book over all these years and that you brought it from Cuba.

It is amazing what stays in our minds all these years. I can understand why this book is so important to you.

This post is also making me think of some of the storybooks that I had as a child. Sadly they are long since lost.

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Wendy!

Yes, it would! And that's just what I'd like to do! I want to read this book again in both English and Spanish, and compare the two. Should be fun!

You're SO right that where we are at a particular moment in our lives can have an impact on what we're reading at the time. As a child, I was at a time when everything seemed to be true, as well as magical. Thus, the wonders in this book, despite the rather uneasy feeling I got from some of the stories (such as the one about the man without a reflection in the mirror, and the man without a shadow), I still fell under the book's spell.

GREAT observation, Wendy!! Thanks for the lovely comment!! HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!! HUGS TO YOU & MOUSE!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Katherine!

Yeah, years later, I came across an English version of this book (the stories in it were not exactly these, though), and noticed the name difference. It IS kinda weird....

I, too, have noticed that children's stories can often be grim. For instance, we have Brothers Grimm stories. Some of them are downright MACABRE. Disney has sweetened them up, of course, but the originals are not that sweet.

I wonder whether it's that children are more resilient than adults, or that some things kinds go over their heads. I remember the end of Antonieta's story, for instance, but I really had no concept of death at the time. I guess it didn't really register. Or maybe I somehow thought that she would come back.... I don't know.

Thanks for the nice comment!! HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!! <3 :)

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Nicki!

Oh, no worries about typos! But I do the same thing you do when this happens to me -- delete my comment, and submit it again! Lol.

I know about Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann", but sadly, I have never seen it.... My folks were never big on opera. They were more into instrumental classical music, such as symphonies, piano concertos, and violin concertos. I would LOVE to see this opera, though.

I have seen Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" ballet, but on TV, not in person. It would be AWESOME to actually see it in a theater!!

Thanks for the nice comment!! HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!! <3 <3 :) :)

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Brian!

Thanks so much for the compliment!! I'm SO glad that reading this post has made you want to read the book!! <3 <3 There are English editions of it on Amazon.

The first link is for the book I bought some years ago, and never read. I think it ended up in storage, because I haven't seen it here in the condo. Lol. This edition doesn't include "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", and I need to compare the Table of Contents with the one in my Spanish-language book to see if the other stories are the same in both books.

Here's another English-language version, also available on Amazon:

Here's yet another edition:

There is indeed something dark about some of these stories, if I remember correctly. That's why I found some of them disturbing. However, they also fascinated me. What stays with us is indeed interesting!

I was very happy to have been able to bring some books from Cuba with me! I also have some other classics, like "Mujercitas" ("Little Women"), "Alicia en el Pais de las Maravillas" ("Alice in Wonderland"), as well as condensed, Spanish versions of "Tom Sawyer" and "The Prince and the Pauper". As you can see, I've ALWAYS been a reader!! These books are all a little worse for wear, but they are priceless treasures to me!! It's too bad that your own childhood storybooks were lost.... :(

I hope you decide to read one of the above English versions, Brian! I would LOVE to read your review!!

Hope you have a GREAT holiday weekend!! Surely the occasion calls for the FINEST beer, right? Lol.

Thanks for the interesting comment!! <3 <3 :) :)

M. | RAIN CITY READS said...

I love this post, because not only is it a book that isn't going to be picked by anyone else, but it's one that has a deep and personal history for you. It's amazing to be able to trace not only your love of fantasy back through time to this early reading, but to be able to trace the book itself back to your home country (also Cuba is beautiful - I was lucky enough to visit and my time there comprises some of my most treasured memories). Spanish is such a beautiful language. I'm a huge fan of Latin American writing, and have always wished I could read it in its original language, because no matter how good the translation, it's never going to be exactly the same. Wonderful post, thank you for sharing!!

Maria Behar said...

Hi, there!'re so sweet!! <3 <3 <3

Yes, it is indeed amazing to be able to trace my love of fantasy back that far, and to also have a book that holds memories of my home country!! Although I LOVE the U.S., having lived here for most of my life, I still long for Cuba sometimes....

I have no family living there, so I haven't been back since I left. I would love to go back and visit, but I think it would be too emotionally wrenching for me.... But yes, Cuba is indeed a BEAUTIFUL country! I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit there! And thank you for your appreciation of the Spanish language!! It is indeed a beautiful language, and there are several slightly different versions of it, too. Each Spanish-speaking country has its own idioms and slang. Basically, however, it's the same language. I hope you can learn it well someday, so you can enjoy Spanish and Latin American books in their original language! I agree, it's never quite the same to read a book that has been translated from the language it was originally written in. I wish I knew German, so I could read these stories in that language....

You're very welcome for the sharing!! Thanks for such a LOVELY comment back!! Have a GREAT Sunday!! <3 :)

Unknown said...

What a wonderful story! My mother and grandmother bought me a few Trixie Belden mystery books as a kid and got me hooked. While I eventually outgrew them, it was a life long goal to collect all 39 books--some which were not printed in great numbers and were long out of print--were super expensive. I finally completed my set last year, thanks to my sister and brother. I got #38 on the my 38th birthday.

Maria Behar said...

Hi, there!

Thanks for the compliment!! πŸ˜€

I still have this book, which I GREATLY treasure!

I think I read a couple of Trixie Belden books when I was around 11. I LOVED them !! And you've managed to collect ALL of them? Well, KUDOS to you!! 😝😝😝 And how very NICE that you got #38 on your 38th birthday!! AWESOME!! πŸ˜€πŸŒˆπŸ˜œπŸŒ·

Thanks for the GREAT comment!!! πŸ’–πŸ˜˜πŸ’–πŸ˜˜πŸ’–πŸ˜˜

P.S. Thanks to my cell phone, I was able to add all these emojis! Lol.