The Dervish House is the second book for me by Ian McDonald. I previously read and like A River of Gods. This one follows the same fundamental pattern of picking an exciting city in a non-Western country and an up-and-coming technology and then cooking up a wild story around these two.

Where River of Gods was about artificial intelligence and India, this book is about nanotech and Istanbul. It is the year 2027 and Turkey has joined the EU, and Istanbul is gripped by an intense heat wave.

It is less overwhelming in pace and style than River of Gods. It is also closer to us in time (set in 2027, twenty years before RoG), so its future is easier to relate to. All this makes the book noticeably more accessible than RoG.

It all starts with a terrorist bombing on a tram. For a handful of people (of whom only one was actually present at the bombing) the bombing sets in motion chains of events and adventures that culminate in life-changing events for all those involved.

The people are all tied together by an old dervish house (which gives the book its title) where they live or work. But despite the physical proximity they barely know each other. Their stories mostly run in parallel, only occasionally coming close and touching, but then running apart again.

Nanotech is the central technology that enables the plot, and terrorism is what sets it off. (Of course there’s other cool stuff, too: the search for a Mellified Man, self-assembling robots and so on.) But what the book really is about is business, economics, trading and dealing. Nanotech makes the world move forward, but money makes it go round.

The story takes place in a single city over just five days, and the cast of characters isn’t large. But at close to 500 pages it still felt a bit slow to me. The parallel story lines, following each of the key characters through events that take place at the same time, made it feel like I was living through every day not once but five or six times.

My feelings about the book are mixed. It is impressively well planned and researched; plot threads carefully tied up at the end. Intricate, with a lot of exciting ingredients. But a bit slow, and none of the characters really struck me as interesting. Still, I’m glad I read it.

Read the book for its atmosphere, not for the plot or the characters.

Adlibris, Amazon US, Amazon UK

You can give type O blood to blood groups A and AB. You can give type A blood to type AB. You cannot give type AB to anybody except AB.

Butter knives in our kitchen work the same way. You can use a knife that has previously been used for Adrian’s dairy-free margarine on both butter and Ingrid’s liver pâté. A knife that has been in contact with butter can be used for liver pâté but not for margarine. A knife with liver pâté on it can not be used for anything else.

The complication is that remains of butter and margarine are almost impossible to tell apart. So whenever Adrian wants a sandwich, we have to get a new knife for him. This is why there is an almost-constant shortage of butter knives in our kitchen even though we have half a dozen.

(On weekend mornings there is also orange marmalade to be taken into account but that luckily does not look like anything else and can be eaten by everybody.)

Yesterday I linked to an article about the general negative and nasty tone that reigns in Estonia, and wrote about how I don’t want to live there because of it.

A positive atmosphere is important to me. I make an effort to make sure that this is what I have around me.

“Say yes.” “Look on the bright side.” “What’s the worst that can happen.” “Of course I can do this.”

And this does require real effort at times. Sometimes positivity comes easily, but at other times I sink into a passive, negative mood. It goes in waves. Nothing nearly as dramatic as bipolar disease, but there are noticeable (to me) waves nevertheless. In the troughs I have a high activation energy, to borrow a scientific term: it is difficult for me to get started with any activity, and easier to just be lazy and do nothing in particular. (The default mindless activity is usually mindlessly browsing the web.)

I am aware of this tendency and that is often enough to counteract the worst of it. I know that my inclination is to say no to activities, and I know that once I get started I am almost sure to enjoy it. I make an effort to say yes.

Negative people “eat up” the energy I have. I can feel it drain out of me.

With some people, in some relationships, I see it as my responsibility to support and encourage and push them towards positivity, when needed. I do this very consciously with Ingrid: it is part of my responsibility as parent. I see it as part of my role as team leader at work, too.

(That is another important reason for me not to want to live in Estonia: I don’t want my kids exposed for any long time to that kind of attitude towards other people, that kind of parenting and child-raising.)

With some people, though, I know that I have no chance: my positive energy is not sufficient to overpower their negativity. These are the people who seem to enjoy complaining and being miserable, who imagine and seem to expect the worst in every situation, who instinctively criticize and find fault with everything.

I had a friend with whom I have effectively lost all contact because I could not withstand his unceasing flood of negativity and pessimism. There is another with whom I choose to keep in touch but limit the time I spend with her, and refuse to talk about certain topics, or just let the conversation pass me by without really listening.

Imbi Paju: peita ja unustada hoolimine (Hide and forget about caring)

This is an opinion piece by Imbi Paju, an Estonian author, about how the Soviet occupation and its opression of the Estonian people destroyed caring and sympathy and fomented mistrust and enmity between fellow Estonians. Those events, now long past, continue to affect Estonians to this very day.

The article is unfortunately in Estonian only, and Google Translate doesn’t manage Estonian particularly well. If you are not familiar with Estonian history, you can read a bit more at Wikipedia about the Soviet deportations from Estonia.

Even today, the general tone in Estonia – both in public discourse, in media and in everyday life – is characterised by a relative lack of respect and empathy, by putting each other down and trampling each other in the mud. This article lays bare the roots of this behaviour, which is not so much Estonian but rather the behaviour of an oppressed nation. An abused nation behaves like an abused person.

I notice this every time I read an Estonian newspaper or blog (and I have by now learned to never EVER look at the comments for any newspaper article), and to some extent when I visit Estonia. Less so when I meet Estonians, because the people I meet are of a younger generation, and perhaps they have already managed to put some of that past behind them. To purge all of it will take another generation at least, it seems.

This is why I never seriously consider moving back to Estonia. I like individual Estonians but I cannot live among only Estonians. It would drag me down.

It is very Estonian to identify with the country, the land. Estonia is still close to its farmer roots. People can ask an expat Estonian, how can you leave your country? I don’t identify with the land but with the people, which makes it all the more painful to admit to myself that while I do miss them, I do not really want to live among them.

My memories of the latter half of this month have, unfortunately, been dominated by crappy sleeping. First Adrian was ill for almost a week, with what I post facto diagnosed to be three-day fever (although his fever lasted four days instead of three). After that he was generally extremely tired for a few days, and since then he has been sleeping like crap.

He wakes not twice a night but every two hours, if not even more often. Normally he used to barely wake, nurse and then immediately fall back asleep. Now he nurses for a while, then sort of nods off but whimpers and wakes again, off and on for half an hour. Often he refuses to let go of the breast when he’s done nursing, so both of us half-slumber instead of sleeping. When I nevertheless take him off the breast, he gets raging mad with me. He screams and kicks and fights and generally goes totally nuts, and will not stop no matter what I do. In fact the more he is reminded of my presence, the angrier he gets. I’ve ended up fetching or waking Eric to put him back to sleep while I leave the room.

This kicking, screaming, hysterical anger seems to be his response when he really, REALLY wants something, but cannot have it. He’s done it for other reasons on a few occasions, and then gotten so mad that he’s been unable to calm himself down. He got more and more upset, wouldn’t accept his dummy, wouldn’t accept any consolation, just kicked and screamed. The only thing that put and end to it was nursing (although sometimes it was even a struggle for him to pause enough between his screams to latch on).

But those occasions have been few. Usually he is very co-operative, obedient even, and will take no for an answer. When I tell him he cannot have something, and say no like I mean it, he is OK with that. A clear, unmistakable no works best. If we instead try putting the forbidden thing out of reach, or hiding it, or distracting him, he is more likely to keep on trying to get it.

Apart from the disrupted nights, the other dominant theme is language, just like last month. He is often very clearly trying to imitate our words. We say something, he repeats, we repeat, he repeats… What he says is more and more starting to sound like actual words: he seems to be in much better control of his tongue and mouth.

His clearest word is (and I’m not kidding you) auto. He points out almost every single car we pass, especially our own car parked outside the house when we go out, and any cars that we walk past at close range. If he is walking (which he rarely does) he likes to pat the cars, and touch some small child-scaled detail such as some knob, or a blinker. And he makes prrr… noises when he sees a car or someone mentions one.

The other thing he is fond of is babies. He likes looking at babies we meet, and pictures of babies in books and elsewhere. Reading Max bil with him is an interesting experience. He is intensely focused, very interested in the car, is uncomfortable with the pages showing the quarrelling, crying toddlers, then goes “emme!” when the mother comes in.

His second clearest word is alla which means “down” in Estonian. He uses it specifically when he wants us to go down from the bedroom upstairs.

Otherwise it is mostly the same words as last month, focusing a lot on food, so he can ask for the bread, banana or water he wants. His new favourite food is margarine, eaten by the spoonful, supplanting bananas from the top spot.

He’s also learned some words for clothes: socks, mittens, shoes. Not coincidentally, those are the items of clothing he likes and asks for. Often he is running around indoors in just his nappy and socks: he is not fond of tops or trousers. But he likes his socks and brings them to us when he wants them on. (We have cold floors.)

Shoes are synonymous with going out, so he brings them when he wants to go out, and fights them when he is not in the mood for going out. Now that the temperature is above zero he is also beginning to take after Ingrid and refuse fleeces and coats when we’re outdoors. I do insist on shoes but otherwise let him make his own choices there.

Then there are such socially useful words as aitäh and tack-tack (thank you in Estonian and Swedish respectively), ei (no) and oot-oot (wait a moment). I find myself using the latter a great deal, because patience is not one of Adrian’s strong skills.

He now also has words for all of us: pappa, emme and immi. Except that he doesn’t quite seem to keep our names apart. He can point at Eric in a photo and say emme, or vice versa point to me and say pappa. And he uses emme (mummy) and immi (Ingrid) almost interchangeably.

He likes us to sing for him. This is the one “bribe” that can get an unwilling Adrian to accept a nappy change. Songs with movements are the best. The current favourite is Nyss så träffa’ jag en krokodil. We have a crocodile magnet on the fridge and he has discovered that he can use it (“KLKLKLK OOO TLTLT!”) to ask for the crocodile song.

He likes playing with water, and with things that fit in other things, cups and bowls of various sizes. He likes pouring water, putting things in water and then fishing them out again. He is getting more competent with a spoon.

Things go well at nursery. Again, the word “obedient” comes to mind: he knows he is expected to stay there, and while it is not what he would choose (and his lower lip does this little trembly thing when I hand him over to the staff) he doesn’t fight it. By the time I am out of the door, I can already see him playing happily. (Most days Eric drops him off but occasionally I do it as well.) Adrian is content throughout the whole day, all the way through the afternoon even, but very happy to see me when I come to pick him up. He drops whatever he is doing and heads straight for me.

I used to pick him up first and then we’d go together to get Ingrid. But he likes the big kids’ rooms so much that it was a struggle to get him to leave, every single day. Now we do it the other way round: first Ingrid, then Adrian. This way both are happy, and things go a lot more smoothly.

On the way home he wants me to carry him and doesn’t like sitting in the stroller. I guess he wants to get as close to me as he can after being away from me all day, even though I take the time to nurse him before we head home. Sometimes I manage to carry him part of the way, sometimes all, sometimes none, but in any case it means I try to get us all home as quickly as possible, to minimize the crying.

He is, I think, weaning himself off the dummy. At night he usually sleeps without, and he will rarely accept it as consolation.

For Ingrid this month has generally been calm and pleasant, much like last month, with none of the drama and moodiness that we had a while back.

She herself has commented on several occasions how she is being helpful and co-operative and doing what needs to be done. When we’re in a hurry in the morning she co-operates by being quick to get dressed and pack her bag. When Adrian is anxious to get home in the afternoon, she does the same. I think maybe she’s picked up on how stressed I am at those times, and does her best to help. Which is news in itself, because in the past she has been quite insensitive to other people’s moods, and what kind of behaviour is suitable (and conducive to pleasant family interactions) in what situations.

At other times she’s still pretty blind to others’ feelings.

Some weeks ago we had a few occasions when she, for some inscrutable reason, had decided that she wanted to be very angry, or perhaps that she wanted to make us very angry. She would start off by yelling at us, saying no, banging doors and other things. When we tried to defuse the situation she’d do everything to make it worse. When we tried to get away from it (when the yelling gave me a headache) she would follow and stand right next to me and keep on yelling.

Finally when we were really riled up and wanted nothing more to do with her, she was done and stopped. And… wanted me to read her a story. What with the headache and the mood I was in by that time, I really wasn’t interested in any cuddling or fairy tales. And each time Ingrid was honestly surprised and could not understand why. She seemed to expect us to mirror her feelings. She’s done being angry – we should be done being angry, too, naturally.

While we’re on the topic of emotional maturity, one interesting thought pattern I’ve noticed is a tendency to look for causes and reasons where there is just chance, for retrofitting explanations, for seeing agency where there is none. In particular, blaming accidents on others, and taking credit for fortunate events. “It was your fault that I fell, you shouldn’t have put the [whatever] here” when running and stumbling over something. “I left this sandwich yesterday so that we could take it with us today” when really she just didn’t want to finish it yesterday (and had at that time no idea that we’d be going out today).

She still reads a lot of Bamse. We bought more from our neighbourhood charity shop, so she can now supplement her weekly Bamse with old issues that she can buy from us at cost (2 kronor) with her pocket money. For a while she was devouring one a day. Now she’s started reading while eating, to the point where she forgets to eat and in effect goes hungry. I now only allow this during the afternoon snack, because otherwise the reading was beginning to disrupt everybody’s meals. She’s also started eating breakfast in her room, “as a picknick” she says, and I suspect she does this to be able to read again, but I haven’t gone in there to inspect.

Favourite new skill: she’s learning to light a candle with a match, on her initiative. I don’t trust her to do it on her own yet because I’m pretty sure that if something went awry – say she flame gets too close to her finger – she’d panic and drop the match rather than blow it out. But with me right next to her she manages it well.

Another skill she is learning (slowly) is putting herself to bed without us to keep her company. She’s decided that she wants to learn to do it, and has even cut out seven gold stars for herself from yellow paper. Two of them are already up on the fridge. In fact the idea was hers initially but it arose “backwards”. She said she wanted to do something difficult for which she could get gold stars and then a treat of some kind. I guess someone at preschool was doing something like that (because it’s not how we normally do things at home). So the stars came first, and tying them to going to bed on her own came second.

She has also been practising cycling on her new bike. (Cycling is her preferred way of getting around, especially to and from preschool.) We bought a new, larger one for her this autumn (when we ran across a good deal) but it’s been too large for her until now. It’s got 16″ wheels, compared to the 12″ wheels of the old one, so quite a bit larger. With the old one she could put both feet on the ground, and with the new one she can reach it with the toes of one foot, at most. But she gave it a go, at first with me supporting her while she got started, and then on her own. Getting on and stopping are a bit hard and take all her concentration, and I have to take care to not disturb her by talking to her at those times, but once she’s up and running it works very well.

Other favourite pastimes: standing up on the sledge while I pull it. (Yes, we actually had some snow on the ground during the first week of this month.) Standing up on it backwards. Jumping off and then back on while the sledge is moving.

She’s taken up jigsaw puzzles again, occasionally, and listening to audiobooks.

She’s far less obsessed with sweets and sweet food than she used to be. Most evenings she doesn’t even mention sweets any more, and she doesn’t spend all weekend talking about her lördagsgodis and the Sunday ice cream.

Favourite movies: The brothers Lionheart and Monsters, Inc.

TodayYesterday we saw Cirkus Orion at the Orion theatre: a fusion of theatre and circus, with horses and dogs outnumbering the humans on the scene.

The story:
A man and his daughter come to the circus. The daughter longs to leave her seat in the audience and join the crew on and behind the stage. At first she approaches cautiously, then becomes a bit bolder, steps into the arena and dances with the horses, shyly imitates the juggler and longingly tries to insert herself in the hula hoop routine.

The father is more reserved and fearful of the unknown. Inclined to keep his distance, it takes a while before he dares to approach a pony or pet a dog. But he cannot resist the lure of the circus, either.

The whole show is more sweet and charming than dazzling or impressive. It’s tasteful, poetic and low-key, with simple costumes (no spandex, no sequins) and simple music. The circus part of it was decent but not very impressive technically. Pleasant family entertainment for an afternoon.

Before you all start worrying about the lack of updates here, let me say that I’m still alive but somehow always too busy to find any time for blogging. I haven’t found a sustainable balance yet since Eric went back to work (i.e. since we have two working parents and two small children). It’s clear that I need to cut down on something in my life but I do not yet know what or how.