While this is not my favorite Hemingway book, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The plot structure is simple: just look at the title and there you have it. Wh...moreWhile this is not my favorite Hemingway book, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The plot structure is simple: just look at the title and there you have it. What is impressive is what Hemingway does with the plot. As always, Hemingway is a master of capturing the natural world in his often poetic prose.
In the figure of Santiago, you have the Hemingway code lived to its fullest. It's the knight attempting to slay the dragon, the matador in the bull ring, the big game hunter in Africa. In challenging nature and respecting it, the old man and his fish are locked in the most classic of Hemingway battles--it's the will of man versus nature and, whoever wins, the outcome is always fair because they are equally matched in strength and will.
Many critics refer to Santiago as a Christ figure and while there are undeniably many echoes of the story of Christ within the text, I see Santiago as representative of something finer and nobler that transcends religion. In his refusal to break down, give into despair, or feel pity for his situation, Santiago is the epitome of true faith (with or without any allegiance to Christianity). It's a simple story, but offers the reader much to think about without lapsing into the didactic. If you read the book, I also strongly recommend that you follow it by reading The Ancient Mariner chapter in Carlos Baker's Hemingway: The Writer as Artist.
This is one of those books that I use to size up other people. If you've read Dirty Work and you didn't love it, I wish you well but I doubt I want to...moreThis is one of those books that I use to size up other people. If you've read Dirty Work and you didn't love it, I wish you well but I doubt I want to know you. This was the first Larry Brown book that I ever read and, after re-reading it, it is still as powerful and haunting the second time around.
The novel focuses on two Vietnam veterans in the VA hospital two decades after the war has ended. Braiden, a black quadraplegic, has spent this entire time in the hospital and his imagination is his only means of escape. When Walter arrives under mysterious circumstances, Braiden thinks he's found his salvation. Walter's face was horribly mutilated and shell fragments lodged in his brain cause him to have uncontrollable "blackouts" from which he awakens with no memory. As these two men talk about their lives as they were and as they are, they revisit the painful landscape of Vietnam and Brown reveals how the war took much more from them than their bodies. The damage is emotional, spiritual, and mental (as Braiden says at one point, "It do something to you to kill another person. It ain't no dog lying there. Somebody. A person, talk like you, eat like you, got a mind like you. Got a soul like you . . . You look in somebody's eyes, then kill him, you remember them eyes. You remember that you was the last thing he seen.") The novel also reflects how it was the poor and, in particular, the black soldiers who were asked to give the most and expect nothing in return--not even valid reasons for fighting.
Brown's writing is simple, direct, and often bitingly funny when you least expect it. He knew how to capture the cadences and culture of working class Americans always one paycheck away from the brink of poverty and he always did so with the utmost respect, never denigrating or lessening their value to American society. When Brown died, we lost one of the finest writers of the American South and this novel is a testament to his gifts.
I've put off writing a review for 1984 because it's simply too daunting to do so. I liked 1984 even better after a second reading (bumping it up from...moreI've put off writing a review for 1984 because it's simply too daunting to do so. I liked 1984 even better after a second reading (bumping it up from a 4 star to a 5 star) because I think that, given the complexity of the future created by Orwell, multiple readings may be needed to take it all in. I thought it was genius the first time and appreciated that genius even more the second time.
Orwell had a daunting task: creating a future nearly half a century away from the time period in which he was writing. This future had to be its own complex, independent society, but it also had to be the natural end result of the totalitarianism Orwell witnessed in the communist and socialist regimes of World War II. That's part of the horror of 1984: this future is a recognizable one, even in the 21st century. It's easy to see how those in control can, through manipulation and propaganda, maintain that control simply for the sake of sating their own power hunger. It's easy to say "no one could ever tell me what to think or what to do," but the Party's use of Big Brother, the Thought Police, the Two-Minute Hate, and Doublethink make it easy to see how a person's ability to think independently and discern fiction from reality can be eroded when there is no touchstone to fact. Revising and rewriting the past to make certain that Big Brother and the Party are always correct has effectively eliminated historical accuracy. How can one think and reason in a society where everything is a fabrication?
Another facet of 1984 that I find fascinating is the relationship between Winston and Julia. Winston claims Julia is a "rebel from the waist down," engaging in promiscuity and hedonistic indulgences forbidden by the Party. She doesn't care about social injustice or defining "reality"; she only longs for what will make her feel good in the moment and only rebels far enough to get what she wants. By comparison, Winston is an intellectual rebel, constantly worrying over the issues of truth and freedom and the real, unvarnished past, but limited in how far he's willing to push the boundaries (until he meets Julia). Together, they make a complete rebellion--physical and mental, but apart they find themselves impotent to stand up to the Party.
A cautionary tale, social commentary, and exemplary example of dystopian fiction, 1984 is one of those perfect novels that not only entertains, but forces one to think about the danger associated with giving any one person or entity too much power or control over our lives--issues well worth consideration in post-9/11 America.
I'm not sure that I can capture my utter disdain for this book in words, but I'll give it a shot. I r...more***spoilers and bitterness ahead--be forewarned**
I'm not sure that I can capture my utter disdain for this book in words, but I'll give it a shot. I read this book about three years ago and just had to re-read it for book club. It was a steaming pile of crap then and, guess what?, it's a steaming pile of crap now. The main reason I hate this book: it's trite inspirational literature dressed up as an adventure quest. You go into it thinking that it's going to be about a boy's quest for treasure. If you read the back, there are words like "Pyramids," "Gypsy," "alchemist." Turns out, this is just The Purpose Driven Life dressed up with a little fable. It's Hallmark Hall of Fame territory set in an exotic locale. Which pisses me off to no end as I normally try to dodge that sort of thing, but here it is masquerading as the type of book I normally like. It's cliche, didactic, and poorly written.
Just as with Aesop's Fables, there's a moral to the story. And Coelho keeps backing up and running over it just to make sure that we get it (and he capitalizes important key words necessary to understanding it, lest we overlook their significance). If there's one thing Paulo Coelho can do, it's flog a dead horse.
Essentially, boy thinks he's happy in life. He's a shepherd who gets to travel the world, has all of his needs met, and owns a book which he can always trade for another book when he goes to market. What more can a boy need? Boy is then told by a mysterious stranger that he's not happy at all. Why not? He has failed to recognize his Personal Legend. Everyone has a Personal Legend, which is life's plan for you. However, most of us give up on our Personal Legend in childhood. If you are fortunate enough to hang onto and pursue your Personal Legend, then The Soul of the World will help you obtain it. All of nature conspires to bring you luck and good fortune so that you can fulfill your destiny, whether it's to be a shepherd on a quest for treasure at the pyramids, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, or, one would assume, a prostitute, drug dealer, or porn star. Hey, we're all fate's bitch in The Alchemist. But I digress. Boy seeks out his Personal Legend and finds it's a long, hard road to obtaining what you want in life. But with faith, perseverance, and just a little goshdarnit good luck, the boy learns to speak the Language of the World and tap into The Soul of the World and fulfills his Personal Legend. And what does he learn? That what he sought was back home, the place he started from. Oh, silly boy.
So, in summation, here is what you should learn from The Alchemist:
1) Dream. And, while you're at it, dream BIG 2) Follow your bliss 3) Don't be surprised if you find obstacles in your way, but you will overcome 4) It's good to travel and encounter people from other cultures 5) What we most often seek is right in front of us, but sometimes we have to leave home to realize it
To all of these important life lessons, I can only say, "Well, no shit, Sherlock." If Coelho knew anything about alchemy, he would have been able to transform this crap into gold. Alas, it's still crap.