My Life in Books: Jose Barros

7 min read

We are delighted to welcome Jose Barros as our new interviewee. Jose describes himself as a family man with a regular job as a middle-manager in a global company. He likes books, spending time with his kids, cooking and travelling to new locations. But that's just on the surface... As you will see from this interview underneath this surface you find a revolutionary, an agitator, a free mind, a complex bundle of beliefs and values.

We asked Jose which books have most influenced his life and he chose four extremely powerful and impactful works:

  • The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets - Svetlana Alexievich
  • The long walk to freedom - Nelson Mandela
  • The Trial - Franz Kafka

No room for 'Bridget Jones's Diary' on this list!

"The common undertone of all these tremendous books is one of the less valued qualities inherent to human nature: resilience. It's present in the overwhelming pressure of a brutal social engineering exercise, exposed in "The Gulag Archipelago". It's featured in "Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets" by the agonizing voices of those that lived through a broken promise of a better future. It's described perfectly in "The long walk to freedom", that glorifies the power of the mind over body. And finally, resilience is one of the many interpretations that can be found in "The Trial": the ability to survive our self-created monsters."

"That's what those books gave me: they made me more resilient. More capable of dealing with change, adapt to it, embrace it and learn from it. The notion that there are no limits to what the human spirit can endure and the strong belief that, like a flower that is capable of growing in the inhospitable stone of a cliff, humans can and will thrive as a race, regardless of what the future holds for us."

The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

By far the most powerful, epic, brutal and revealing work I have read to this day. As a literary work and historical document it is absolutely insurmountable.

Solzhenitsyn takes us on an unforgettable trip to the core of the Soviet terror and its punishment system: a network of forced labour camps known as GULAG. Relentlessly, the author reveals the nuts and bolts of a regime that was dehumanized and ruthless in its path to engineer a new classless society. The arrests, the torture, the trials, the unbearable life in the camps.

There is no logic, no common sense, no reasoning. The system devours human lifes and reduces their importance to mere numbers. Disposable numbers. Nonetheless, the biggest achievement of the book is to show the resilience of the human spirit under the most harsh circumstances. They can punish the body as much as they like, but they cannot punish and incarcerate the spirit.

This is a book about the boundaries of human nature and the resistance of the soul. It's not a read, it's a challenge.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets - Svetlana Alexievich

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets - Svetlana Alexievich

It's a "tough" book to read, full of disenchantment and frustration. An ideal complement to "The Gulag Archipelago" by Solzhenitsyn - The Archipelago reports exhaustively on the construction of the "Soviet man". Alexievich's work tells of its end and how people are still dealing with their disappointment.

The book is not a nostalgic compendium of interviews, but a crude, realistic account of time and life after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet project was much more than a political regime. It was literally a gigantic social engineering venture. The "Soviet man" survives the end of the regime and tries to adapt to a new world. There are no complex theories or deep thoughts on how that transformation is happening. People speak, the "common people”, filling the pages with their soul and feelings.

The book is painful, I would not consider it an object of entertainment. It is a dip in a whirlwind of thoughts, emotions, soul spills. It tires us, draws energy from the reader, envelops us in a scenario without a light at the end of the tunnel. It is a book of modern times but about a reality that most of us cannot even start to imagine.

Is the book worth the "sacrifice"? Of course, only the masterpieces are able to move the individual so much. In fact, this is an unmissable piece of literature.

The Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela

The Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela

A remarkable autobiography of a remarkable man.

There are questions raised about the fact that a historical character with the dimension of Mandela followed, at a certain point in his life, a path of armed struggle. For purists, this is unacceptable, especially for a Nobel Peace Prize winner. However, given the political and social context of South Africa at that time, by reading the book, you realize that this option was not only understandable but also an inevitable consequence of the fight against the apartheid regime.

Mandela conveys his personality in the way he writes: a practical man, of an unusual intelligence, with a disarming simplicity and a set of absolutely unshakable convictions. The vast majority of ordinary mortals would have given up along the path of this long walk to freedom. Mandela resisted and prevailed, therefore winning a place in the gallery of the righteous icons of Humanity. By doing so he also created the greatest tragedy of his life: his political struggle had a happy outcome but his personal life never brought him the joy he hoped for. The great price that Mandela paid for his political ideals was the loss of strong family bonds and that sorrow accompanied him until the end of his days.

A book to learn that, even the greatest figures of Human History, suffer from the common problems and tribulations that all of us face in daily life.

The Trial - Franz Kafka

The Trial - Franz Kafka

Kafka leaves no one indifferent: you either love it or hate it.

The Trial is an unfinished book. Unfinished by the author and unfinished in the interpretation that each of the readers can make of the story. Is it an allegory? Is it ultra-realism? Could it be that the main character (Joseph K) is all of us?

I understand those that may not have patience for this book. That doesn't make someone less intelligent or less cultured. The digestion of this “process” is not easy: the narrative is dense, sometimes disconnected, the characters stereotyped. The book seems to want to go everywhere and nowhere at the same time. But Kafka makes us think, awakens minds, rejects indifference (even if in the end you only want to insult the author for “wasting your time”). Those are precisely the merits of this “novel”: it questions and makes us question.

Kafka is a subversive read. I dare you to try it.

About Jose

Jose Barros likes to agitate the waters, to bring disruption where consensus is the norm. He hates people because he spends too much time analyzing their behaviors and their social interactions. He thinks he knows too much about them, so it's better to distance himself. But he is a good guy. He really is.

Jose is also a writer. You can find more information about his debut book "Corporates: The Censored Stories: The book they don't want you to read" on his Facebook Page and purchase a copy on Amazon. We thoroughly recommend you do. Be careful though, you will never look at corporate life in quite the same way!

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