the elegance of the hedgehog

“i think that grammar is a way to attain beauty. when you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you’ve said or read or written a fine sentence. you can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. but when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. when you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together…”
— muriel barbery, the elegance of the hedgehog


while the book “the elegance of the hedgehog” is not among my favorites, this particular quote is the one i found to be a reason to read this book. the plot of the book is quite simple, it’s focus is on two characters: renée michel, a 54-year old concierge who loves literature, philosophy and japanese art, and paloma josse, a twelve-year-old girl who lives in a building where renée works and who considers her family quite phony. renée and paloma develop quite unusual friendship which influences the lives of both of them.

the book is known to deal with several important topics of today, such as class consciousness and conflict, but it gives enough space for diverse discussions on philosophy and literature.. and, as mentioned previously, languages.

i’ve given a lot of thought about the introductory quote of this post. before reading this book, i never realized how much i paid attention to grammar, both when speaking my mother tongue and when learning foreign languages. i used to say that grammar is like a math -> you can analyze the grammar rules in the same way you perform addition, subtraction, etc. i used to love languages whose rules are quite clear, and where you don’t find many exceptions. but, once i encountered the language where the rules weren’t as straight forward, i managed to find the beauty even in the exceptions and irregularities (after a long battle, of course!). this book helped me understand that there is the beauty in every language, we only need to understand where it lied.

other than that, this book is special to me for one more reason. when i finished reading it, i posted this quote on my facebook wall. but i also wrote a comment that the book was very well written, too bad that the translation in bosnian was not as good as it could be and that maybe reading it in english or italian would make me like it even more (the book is originally in french, but unfortunately, i don’t speak it). couple of months later, my friend alma sent me her copy of the book in english, all the way from new york! i couldn’t believe she remembered that.

so, yes. this book is important to me for making me enjoy studying foreign languages and understanding there is certain kind of beauty in every language; while some languages have lovely melody, others may have “to-the-point” expressions or clear grammar rules. but also, it reminds me of alma and her amazing gesture.

hence, i chose this book to be my fiftieth post on “on the importance of small things”, as well as to celebrate my 2 year anniversary on!


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