• According to today’s more modest calculations, a third of Europe’s population died during the Black Death, 27 million people out of a population of approximately 80 million. — p. 180

“A Largely Depopulated Landscape”

Self just discovered that A Short History of Humanity is a translation from the German. The translator is Caroline Waight. Self realized that whenever she reads a novel by a German writer, she automatically assumes it’s a translation, but this is the first scientific work she’s read by a German writer, and the fact that it’s a translation is frankly mind-blowing.

Still on Chapter 5! It’s her favorite chapter, so far.

As migrants from “the Eastern steppe” arrived in Central Europe, one can chart their progress from east to west by the presence of “immense barrows . . . constructed everywhere on the steppe.” These were burial mounds, ranging from two to twenty meters in height, filled with human remains and sometimes “generous grave goods.”

In contrast, in Central Europe itself, “between 5,500 and 5,000 years ago,” the period during which the newcomers are said to have arrived in Central Europe, there are “almost no skeletons and hardly any usable DNA.” What are the reasons for this largely “depopulated landscape”?

People were not fleeing from the new arrivals. Nor have any “mass graves” or battlefields been discovered. On p. 105, Krause makes the dry observation that “the oldest decoded plague genome dates from this period.”

PLAGUE??? Scientists have decoded a plague genome? And it went that far back?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Quote of the Day: A Short History of Humanity

In Chapter 5, Johannes Krause turns his attention from Europe to North America. Faster than you can say, Six Degrees of Separation:

  • . . . both Europeans and indigenous Americans seem to have drawn a lot of their DNA from genetic material from Eastern Europe and Siberia . . . Five hundred years ago, then, when Europeans “discovered” the Americas, they had in fact come full circle: from a genetic perspective, the settlers were reunited with very, very old relatives.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge (CFFC): TEXTURES

Self loves whenever she can participate in one of Cee’s Fun Foto Challenges.

This week’s topic is TEXTURES. The first thing self thought of was a native mat (called a banig), that she brought all the way from the Philippines. It’s now on the floor of her bedroom.

Then there’s her collection of woven handbags, also from the Philippines.

This post also applies to today’s BRIGHT SQUARES, hosted byThe Life of B.

More Melancholia: High as the Waters Rise, p. 256 (Not a Spoiler)

He sat like that for a long time and felt the air getting cooler, and it made him think of Cantarell, of the gigantic fields, which stopped yielding, little by little. Statfjour, even Brent dwindled, in the North Sea. That someone had taken the trouble to name them all, and that they were now withering, petals and stamens collapsing to leave huge hollow spaces. At some point all that came up was sand and water. And that there was only water over them. That they’d take away the rigs. No trace, like none of it had ever existed.

The North Sea, Petrow had said, is nothing compared to what they’re planning now.

This is an environmental novel, make no mistake. Self is so glad she read it.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Hellooo, February! (Tweaking the Reading List)

Since High as the Waters Rise turned out to be a novel about the environment (who knew!), self decided to continue the theme with her next book, Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Quote of the Day: High as the Waters Rise, p . 179

Oh, this elegiac and mournful and very absorbing book.

She’s going to finish tomorrow or the day after. Amazing that she read with such speed today.

You never know beforehand what the price is. And above all, you don’t know what you’re ready to pay.

Don’t let Waclav die. Please!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.


A very laconic, almost Hemingway-esque scene in a bar, and then, here it comes:

Someone was always ready to laugh about the Filipinos in the kitchens, or about the management pricks. It always had to be late and they had to have drunk too much.

High As the Waters, Rise, p. 151

In the Grip

So where is self at in High As the Waters Rise? She’s in very leisurely reading mode. She’s about a fourth of the way through.

It is such an interesting book. Aside from the language, which is gorgeous (the translation is excellent!), the MC has arrived at some major turning points:

  1. He decides to return to Matyas’s home in Hungary, bringing with him Matyas’ few possessions.
  2. He decides to order himself a fine, expensive suit.
  3. Matyas’s older sister tells the MC: “I won’t do anyone the favor of keeping quiet.”

Good for her! You go, sister! (Her name is Patricia, which happens to be self’s middle name; it’s self’s paternal grandmother’s name, who died when Dear Departed Dad was 16. He was in boarding school in Manila. Long story)

Seriously, this novel is so sad. Not only because the MC has clearly lost someone he loves, but because there is such coldness from their employer. Eight days after the death, the MC gets word that the search has officially been called off. He knows it never started.

In the meantime, the reader is treated to very precise renderings of the following places: Tangier, Madrid, Budapest, and an oil rig named Ocean Monarch, somewhere in the Atlantic.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Way to Read Melancholy

High as the Waters Rise is so overwhelmingly sad.

It’s the story of a worker on an oil rig in the middle of the Atlantic whose partner (partner in work, but also his lover) gets swept out to sea. There is no grieving. He is sent off the rig at once, as if he has something infectious. So he retraces the steps he and his lover made, the hotels they stayed in, between gigs.

Waaah! Can anything be so unbearably lonely?

As he’s being ferried to shore, the man looks back at the rig, growing smaller in the distance.

He goes to Tangier, and

There was no one. The air hung in the whitewashed alleys, the room lay in twilight behind closed shutters, outside he heard people on scooters, smelled the cloud of exhaust, a bluish smoke, he didn’t move.

High as the Waters Rise, p. 30

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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