The first half is written by Thoreau, the accomplished philosopher and soars much above my humble powers of comprehension; the second half is written...more The first half is written by Thoreau, the accomplished philosopher and soars much above my humble powers of comprehension; the second half is written by Thoreau, the amateur naturalist and swims much below my capacity for interest.
After reading about the influence the book had on Gandhi, I had attempted reading Walden many (roughly four) times before and each time had to give up before the tenth page due to the onrush of new ideas that enveloped me. I put away the book each time with lots of food for thought and always hoped to finish it one day.
Now after finally finishing the book, while I was elated and elevated by the book, I just wish that Thoreau had stuck to telling about the affairs of men and their degraded ways of living and about his alternate views. Maybe even a detailed account of his days and how it affected him would have been fine but when he decided to write whole chapters about how to do bean cultivation and how to measure the depth of a pond with rudimentary methods and theorizing about the reason for the unusual depth of walden and about the habits of wild hens, sadly, I lost interest. I trudged through the last chapters and managed to finish it out of a sense of obligation built up over years of awe about the book.
The concluding chapter, to an extent, rewarded me for my persistence and toil. In this final chapter, he comes back to the real purpose of the book: to drill home a simple idea - "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings."
This I think was the core philosophy of the book - if you pursue the ideal direction/vision you have of how your life should be, and not how convention dictates it should be, then you will find success and satisfaction on a scale unimaginable through those conventional routes or to those conventional minds.
I will of course be re-reading the book at some point and thankfully I will know which parts to skip without any remorse.(less)
My first exposure to Gladwell. SO was more or les blown away by the ideas. Have grown more conservative in acceptance of his views as I have grown fam...moreMy first exposure to Gladwell. SO was more or les blown away by the ideas. Have grown more conservative in acceptance of his views as I have grown familiar with his topics through other books. But still an eminently quotable book.(less)
He had just finished his thirty-fourth reading of the play. The unsaid hate, the unseen events, the half-imagined wrongs;...more Satanic Verses: A Composition
He had just finished his thirty-fourth reading of the play. The unsaid hate, the unseen events, the half-imagined wrongs; they tormented him. What could cause such evil to manifest, he just could not figure. He loved him too much to believe the simple explanation.
And then the idea starts growing on him - to explore the growth of evil just as Shakespeare showed, explored the tragic culmination of it. And because you show the growth, it can no longer be a tragedy, no, no it has to be a comedy. A tragicomedy. Yes. And he set to it. He painted Othello as an Indian actor, worshiped and adored and off on a mad canter to get his Ice Queen, his Desdemona. On his way he meets him - the poor man trying to forget his own roots and desperately reinventing himself, his Iago.
Yes Iago too was once a man. What twists of fate made him evil incarnate? He sets out his prime motif: The question that’s asked here remains as large as ever it was: which is, the nature of evil, how it’s born, why it grows, how it takes unilateral possession of a many-sided human soul.
Wait a minute, he blinks at his notes, if Iago is evil incarnate, does that not also mean that he is Satan incarnate? Chamcha then is Satan incarnate? Then Othello has to be God? A little bit more corruptible maybe? Let us make him the angel Gibreel, he decided. As an aside, as the angel, he can slip into that reality in his dreams and reenact the story (history?) of Prophet Mohammad in inflammatory fashion, maybe talk about the 'Satanic Verses' since his Satan can't help but gloat over his little jokes. Why not call the novel so too, except that it would mean something else - the verses that the real Satan of the story, Iago, sings in Othello's ear. He knows that this might be cause for misunderstanding, might ruffle a few feathers, but it is just a digression, the real story is beyond that - it is not the Event Horizon. But he can't help himself. He never could keep a story simple.
Ah, now something beyond mere Othello is taking shape is it not? If Iago is Satan, then surely it is in character to enjoy with consummate pleasure the sight of his own jealousy consuming himself - the green-eyed monster that feeds on itself. So Satan decides to narrate the story of one of his incarnations? Or rather, possessions? The questions that are to run his plot are flowing freely now. How an ordinary man when in contact with an angel inevitably had to transform into Lucifer himself. How can one exist without the other. They meet and the spiral ensues and Iago mutates and agitates and like a cancerous growth his strange fate builds until he turns his wrath square on his angel, his Othello. And how can he then not try to destroy what he is not, what he can not be. There is the moment before evil, then the moment of, then the time after; and each subsequent stride becomes progressively easier. But what about before and after the madness? It surely must be an ordinary life, with ordinary joys and pains. It is a cosmic drama, he concludes.
In the process, every insinuated implication in the play is to be played out in this story - Cassio does sleep with Iago's wife, Iago is madly lustful of Desdemona, Othello is a deserving victim of directed revenge for very real ills and Iago needs no invented or unbelievable reasons for his actions. He is justified. It was inevitable.
Salman Rushdie sets down his pen.
He has vindicated Iago, many a literature lover's favorite character.
It is a double-edged sword isn't it, reading great books too early in life?
If we read a book too early in life, we may not gras...more The Double-Edged Sword
It is a double-edged sword isn't it, reading great books too early in life?
If we read a book too early in life, we may not grasp it fully but the book becomes part of us and forms a part of our thinking itself, maybe even of our writing. But on the other hand, the reading is never complete and we may never come back to it, in a world too full of books.
And if we wait to read till we are mature, we will never become good readers and writers who can do justice to good books... so we have to read some good books early and do injustice to them. Only then can we do justice to ourselves and to great books later on.
Now the question is which books to do the injustice to and which the justice. Do we select the best for the earliest so that they become a part of us or do we leave the very best for later so that we can enjoy them to the fullest?
Tough choice. I have never been able to resolve. Have you?(less)
I had started reading this in 2008 and had gotten along quite a bit before I stopped reading the book for some...more The Unbelievable Lightness of The Novel
I had started reading this in 2008 and had gotten along quite a bit before I stopped reading the book for some reason and then it was forgotten. Recently, I saw the book in a bookstore and realized that I hadn't finished it. I picked it up and started it all over again since I was not entirely sure where I had left off last time. I was sure however that I had not read more than, say, 30 pages or so.
I definitely could not remember reading it for a long period of time. I only remembered starting it and bits and pieces about infidelities and the russian occupation of the Czech. And so, I started reading it, sure that soon a page will come from where the story will be fresh and unread.
I was soon into the fiftieth page and was amazed that as I read each page, I could distinctly remember every scene, every philosophical argument, even the exact quotes and the sequence of events that was to come immediately after the scene I was reading- But I could never remember, try as I might, what was coming two pages further into the novel.
"This is what comes from reading serious books lightly and not giving them the attention they deserve," I chastised myself, angry at the thought that my habit of reading multiple books in parallel must have been the cause of this. I must, at the risk of appearing boastful, say that the reason this bothered so much was that I always used to take pride in being able to remember the books that I read almost verbatim and this experience of reading a book that I had read before with this sense of knowing and forgetting at the same time, the two sensations running circles around each other and teasing me was completely disorienting. I felt like I was on some surreal world where all that is to come was already known to me but was still being revealed one step out of tune with my time.
In any case, this continued, to my bewilderment well into the two hundredth page. Even now, I could not shake the constant expectation that the story was going to go into unread new territories just 2 or 3 pages ahead of where I was. Every line I read I could remember having read before and in spite of making this mistake through so many pages, I still could not but tell myself that this time, surely, I have reached the part where I must have last closed the book three years ago.
Thus I have now reached the last few pages of the book and am still trying to come to terms with what it was about this novel that made me forget it, even though I identified with the views of the author and was never bored with the plot. Was this an intentional effect or just an aberration? Will I have the same feeling if I picked up the book again a few years from today?
I also feel a slight anger towards the author for playing this trick on me, for leading me on into reading the entire book again, without giving me anything new which I had not received from the book on my first reading. Usually when I decide to read a book again, I do it with the knowledge that I will gain something new with this reading, but Kundera gave me none of that.
What I do appreciate about this reading experience is this: as is stated in the novel, anything that happens only once might as well have not happened at all - does it then apply that any novel that can be read only once, might as well have not been read at all?
To conclude, I will recount an argument from the book that in retrospect helps me explain the experience: Kundera talks (yes, the book is full of Kundera ripping apart the 'Fourth Wall' and talking to the reader, to the characters and even to himself) about an anecdote on how Beethoven came to compose one of his best quartets due to inspiration from a silly joke he had shared with a friend.
So Beethoven turned a frivolous inspiration into a serious quartet, a joke into metaphysical truth. Yet oddly enough, the transformation fails to surprise us. We would have been shocked, on the other hand, if Beethoven had transformed the seriousness of his quartet into the trifling joke. First (as an unfinished sketch) would have come the great metaphysical truth and last (as a finished masterpiece)—the most frivolous of jokes!
I would like to think that Kundera achieved this reverse proposition with this novel and that explains how I felt about it. And, yes I finished reading the second last line of the book with the full awareness of what the last line of the novel was going to be.(less)
One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favorite novels. Which is why, when I started reading Love in the Time of Cholera, one of the things I noticed immediately was the lack of the subtle brand of magic that I had so enjoyed. I missed it and was on the lookout for it. I wanted it badly and went around every corner with the expectation of a cheerful reunion. But it was not to be.
As Pynchon says: the “reality” of love and the possibility of its ultimate extinction become Love’s “indispensable driving forces,” whereas magic in all its guises and forms becomes peripheralized or “at least more thoughtfully deployed in the service of an expanded vision, matured, darker than before but no less clement”.
Why this marginalization of the extraordinary? Why this deliberate move towards realism? Why no Magic?
I kept asking myself this as I read, and beyond. Was I to understand that it is because Love in itself is Magic? That was too cheesy, even for Márquez who never shies from telling me a cheesy sub-story if it needs to be told.
Or is it because Love in the Time of Cholera is to seen as the product of a more experienced author, who no longer needs the resources of magic realism and hyperbole to surprise the reader?
One thing was sure, Love in the Time of Cholera is not only about Love, even when it pervades every page. Indeed, it covers, through its characters’ wide amorous and business interests, an entire era and all the social classes, spanning over fifty years of Latin American life, from the last decades of the nineteenth century to the first two or three of the twentieth.
Love in the Time of Cholera, while on a much smaller scale than One Hundred Years of Solitude, deals with the Colombian civil wars of this period and the violence left in its wake. Márquez however wants these historical and political concerns to be passed largely unnoticed by the reader. While One Hundred Years of Solitude disguises the political themes through the uses of myth, fantasy, hyperbole, and magic realism, Love in the Time of Cholera disguises them through its depiction of an eternal, sometimes exasperating, almost unrealistic love affair, one which flouts the conventions of every love story the reader might have come across.
Love in the Time of Cholera is often quite bleak due to this veering towards stark Realism, to this occasional historical invasion of the narrative. Much of this realism arises from Death and Decay - the central themes of the novel. However, Márquez does not completely give up on Idealism either. In fact he is neither an Idealistic or a Realistic author - he is just a supremely eloquent voice speaking from the vantage-point of his own old age and wisdom.
To me, Love in the Time of Cholera is a magnificently gloomy novel though Márquez’s masterful sorcery masks it well, with his verbal cascades of descriptions and his narrative’s seductiveness.
Márquez’s novels are almost invariably gloomy. They are apocalyptic. They are decadence distilled.
Then why the popularity? Why do we love them? Why are we uplifted? Is it because of Márquez’s enthusiastic exuberance?
I think it is because of the Quixotic Heroism of the people who populate these doomed worlds.
It is this heroism that veils the Apocalyptic forebodings that pack so densely like storm clouds throughout the firmament his novels.
After all, Consider how during the entire time he waits to talk to Fermina again (fifty-one years, nine months, and four days) Florentine Ariza is dauntless and never ever gives up even the slightest sliver of hope. Nothing could shake this man:
“And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?” he asked.
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
“Forever,” he said.
The Heart of Darkness: Death & Decay
There is so much I would like to say about this amazing novel. There are so many themes that could be explored. But in this review I will try to focus on the Beginning and the Ending of this intricately structured novel, and try to tease out the the thread that explains the absence of Magic.
The whole novel is too broad a canvas to be explored in a review. For this, I limit myself to the broad themes of Death, Decay & Redemption, and allow the political, ecological, societal and personal aspects of these themes to play themselves out below the current, so to speak.
The Institutions of Love: Inventing Love
He was aware that he did not love her. He had married her because he liked her haughtiness, her seriousness, her strength, and also because of some vanity on his part, but as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it. But in the long run, neither of them had made a mistake.
The theme of Juvenal’s love story is about the incompatibility of love and social convention, the conflict between desire and social life. It is quite easily the crucial conundrum the novel wants to solve - the 'other' to the novel's essence. Security, order, happiness - can these when added together in the right proportions provide an equation for Love?
For the sort of Love that can stop the decay that seems to have beset the entire world? Apparently not. It is not enough.
Through Juvenal’s invented Love, Márquez is not simply criticizing the institution of marriage, instead he is criticizing the very illusion that allows this - the illusion that the world and the worldly goods and pleasures can produce Love.
Instead Márquez wants to show that it is Love that can create (or recreate) the world.
Ultimately Love is love of Love itself, not merely the desire for its actual attainment or even the act of its fulfillment. Passion is its own object.
Pitted against such an impossible ideal, all convention or institutionalization obstructs love’s ultimate goal, which is to forestall death and decay.
The ultimate goal of Love is to save the world, to create it anew.
Gerontophobia & Ecocide: Destroying Love
So why is this world so much in need of saving?
The cosmic decline in Love seems to be the cause for alarm, the cause for the pervasive decay that invades the world of the novel:
Everything in this novel, from the environment, to the city, to the rebels, to the civil wars, to the people, to the pets are ancient - as if they were part of this earth from the very beginning, but everybody is in the throes of love. And everything ancient is also decaying, sliding slowly towards the final end of death - so is the sadness and the conventional love represented by Juvenal.
But it is not just about the human lives. Márquez writes as much about places as about people. This one is also about the death of a river, of a town, of a society… or murder, rather. Of Nature’s Old Age inflicted prematurely by youthful humanity.
This is the ecological sub-theme of the novel - It is the river, finally, the Great Magdalena (in Spanish, the “river of life”) that highlights this for us. The abundant nature that surrounds the town is caught in a process of irreversible decay. Alligators, manatees, monkeys, and birds disappear from the jungle; toward the end, the riverboats have difficulty finding enough wood for their boilers. While the political urgency of this topic is clear, cosmic decline in Love in the Time of Cholera has a different meaning and is linked to the theme of the interruption of love discussed before.
Paralleling the old age of his characters with the decay envisioned by this ecological wasteland (of their own making), Márquez is pointing out to us the true nature of Decay - of Humans and their self inflicted sufferings bringing the decay of old age upon themselves and upon the whole of nature.
This is the central tenet of the novel - Love in the Time of Decay.
However, there is more. And Márquezis not afraid to set this counter theme out in the very opening scene itself:
The Sweet Smell of Bitter Almonds
Counter to the dark theme of decay that is to be developed for most of the rest of the plot, early in the novel, an act of brave revolt against this inevitability establishes the counter-current against the steady march of decay.
Jérémiah de Saint-Amour (soon forgotten and never again mentioned) takes this revolutionary step (again drawing our attention the continuous revolution in which the political life of the novel is set) by choosing to die before decay sets in. This act initiates the long debate that runs throughout the novel about Love and its objective - are we to preserve Love at the expense of Life or to preserve Life through Love? By raising this question so early, by calculating his suicide long beforehand, by choosing to end the world than to let it go to rot, to see it rot, Saint-Amour stays alive through the rest of the novel, haunting it.
Being a witness to the decay of love was the most unbearable to Saint-Amour, the Saint of Love?
What we see dramatized at the end of the book, however, is the possibility of genuine passion and romance in old age. There is a clear contrast between Saint-Amour’s suicide and the protracted love life of Florentino Ariza, but it is a contrast that conceals a profound affinity. Saint-Amour kills himself to preserve his body from decay, to fix its image, as it were, through death.
Love and decay, then, constitute the double focus of this novel, the former being present in countless ways throughout.
Love in The Time of Cholera: The Post-Apocalyptic Paradise
… his mother was terrified because his condition did not resemble the turmoil of love so much as the devastation of cholera.
Every page of this novel is rammed full of love, beyond the capacity of any reader to fully comprehend. Love is in the air like Malaria; and in the water, like Cholera - its infections are inescapable!
All aspects of love are covered in exquisite detail - from teenage love to old age; from sexual to rapine to platonic; from formal courtship to marital to unconsummated; to unrequited love to the excesses of suicide and adultery; from the mundane normalcy of love to the incestuous abnormalities.
The reader has to consider carefully in the midst of this overwhelming abundance and variety the treatment that Márquez gives to love in this novel. Love in the novel is not the purely romantic love -carefree, easy flowing, spontaneous, and idealized.
Instead, the novel’s great affirmation of romance, is in the face not just of a hostile or prosaic world, but of the darker side of romance itself.
It is Operatic, Quixotic & Dionysian Love that is celebrated. It is Love as the Second Coming!
Sailing The River of Love: The Voyage of Re-Birth
Youth, Love, Old Age & Death - The Four Unknowns. This should have been the order of Life.
However, in this world of Márquez, the only ages that can hope to be able love/live seem to the Young and the Old. In between lies the desert - the only time we are allowed to live - when not capable of love. It is a paradox on which the very survival of this fictional universe seems to depend on.
Love and Life cannot coexist then - The solution is to give up the life they know for Love. To take the ultimate leap of faith.
So hoist a yellow flag on the Ship of your Life (Second Fidelity) and sail on the Great Magdalena (in Spanish, the “river of life”) in a State of Emergency! Let Love in the Time of Cholera be the entirety of the River of Life. Love should now destroy that earlier Life instead, just as Cholera can squeeze it out. And then be reborn, afresh.
The novel ends with the central characters challenging their entire social world and the very conditions of their existence by their grand romantic gesture, by their final, and what seems like eternal, trip on the Magdalena river. This is the necessary reaction to the decay that is fast on the route to complete extinction, to death.
Love and Cholera will both go extinct otherwise, rooted out by Life.
Love is shown as the redeeming force that saves both humanity, nature, culture and history. It appears as a divine force that defies everything. As if in biblical terms, the novel seems to assert that it is not yet too late to stop the end of humanity and to reach out for grace and happiness.
Most importantly, never allow the Yellow Flag to be questioned. Sustain the ardor. Maintain the symptoms of Cholera/Love. The pestilence is to be maintained at all costs! Only then will the world let you sail on.
Of course, the novel ends with the reader wondering if Fermina and Florentino will ever be able to come ashore and exercise their second chance.
We are left to question this act for ourselves: How do we save the world? By Escape into an Unrealistic Fantasy? Or is love more real? The answer, at least inside Márquez’s world is quite clear.
This final triumph is exquisitely multi-layered. Fermina and Florentino will remain isolated from the real contagion of their earlier Life by allowing their Love to be disguised as Cholera.
They are not rejecting the world, they are allowing the world to reject them instead.
The quarantine is really against love, the sickness that society will not, can not tolerate, the sickness that society fear as much as a deadly epidemic, the sickness that the society fears will wipe it out.
Instead it is that very sickness, which is recognized by conventional society as its biggest scourge, that saves the characters from extinction, along with the manatees, the alligators, and the monkeys.
It is Love that saves all in the end - at least we are left to imagine that possibility. Now, in this Post-Apocalyptic Paradise, age is of no consequence; Life has been transmuted and preserved by Love, like Saint-Amour’s Love by death.
Life has been reborn in the Second Coming of Love!
Love, in short, will always be in the time of cholera, under the Yellow Flag’s protection.
THE INFINITE CAPACITY FOR ILLUSION: The Will to Lyricism
So, now we can come back to the question we started with - of the Absence of Magic.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the apocalypse came in spite of Magic, in Love in the Time of Cholera, redemption comes despite its absence!
Unlike the death that starts off One Hundred Years of Solitude, here that death, the suicide, is ultimately sublimated into love - and decay is arrested in its unreality!
In fact reality has instead been reinvented in their own terms, where previous reality was rejected outright.
The capacity for illusion is magic enough to save the world, and our souls. This Infinite Capacity for Illusion can bring on the required apocalypse and we can live as if the Kingdom of Heaven/Cholera was already here on earth, under that banner of protection!
In the summer of 1884, four English sailors were stranded at sea in a small lifeboat in the South Atlantic, over a thousand miles from land. Their ship, the Mignonette, had gone down in a storm, and they had escaped to the lifeboat, with only two cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water. Thomas Dudley was the captain, Edwin Stephens was the first mate, and Edmund Brooks was a sailor—“all men of excellent character,” according to newspaper accounts.
The fourth member of the crew was the cabin boy, Richard Parker, age seventeen. He was an orphan, on his first long voyage at sea. He had signed up against the advice of his friends, “in the hopefulness of youthful ambition,” thinking the journey would make a man of him. Sadly, it was not to be.
From the lifeboat, the four stranded sailors watched the horizon, hoping a ship might pass and rescue them. For the first three days, they ate small rations of turnips. On the fourth day, they caught a turtle. They subsisted on the turtle and the remaining turnips for the next few days. And then for eight days, they ate nothing.
By now Parker, the cabin boy, was lying in the corner of the lifeboat. He had drunk seawater, against the advice of the others, and become ill. He appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day of their ordeal, Dudley, the captain, suggested drawing lots to determine who would die so that the others might live. But Brooks refused, and no lots were drawn.
The next day came, and still no ship was in sight. Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze and motioned to Stephens that Parker had to be killed. Dudley offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come, and then killed him with a penknife, stabbing him in the jugular vein. Brooks emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty. For four days, the three men fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy.
And then help came. Dudley describes their rescue in his diary, with staggering euphemism: “On the 24th day, as we were having our breakfast,” a ship appeared at last. The three survivors were picked up. Upon their return to England, they were arrested and tried. Brooks turned state’s witness. Dudley and Stephens went to trial. They freely confessed that they had killed and eaten Parker. They claimed they had done so out of necessity.
Synopsis: A good 'epic' drama on the basic principles of Karma. A lecture, illustrated through the rebirth of a certain cast of characters, each birth...more Synopsis: A good 'epic' drama on the basic principles of Karma. A lecture, illustrated through the rebirth of a certain cast of characters, each birth altered by past birth, inextricably linked - a repeating microcosm; a beautiful composition playing out within the cosmic grand symphony. David Mitchell does manage to convey the beauty of the concept... a bit grandiloquently, but then the concept demands it.
Cool? Again, yes.
Postscript: This reviewer could have attempted a greater examination into the operation of Karma and Dharma. Postponed for the time being. Other aspects, such as the rhetorical/narrative devices and historical conception, has been well analyzed by other reviewers.
The only disagreement that this reviewer has with some of these analyses is that they have been insufficiently thorough in exploring the techniques of narration/rhetoric. In particular, they seem to have neglected stylistic matters, concentrating too much on parataxis, or the balance of elements in an argument, rather than on true syntaxis, or the composition of extended arguments whose elaborate and constantly varied structure should echo the turns taken by the core idea being expressed.
In Cloud Atlas, what we see is a unique blend of the theoretical and the practical, for the stories are virtuoso pieces designed not for a particular plot alone but to serve as models to be variously employed towards illustrating the single grand idea of Karma (as well, no doubt, as to stand in their own right as autonomous works of fiction). Hence this reviewer's preoccupation with the concept of Karma in the short synopsis above. Since this postscript is now much longer than the review, I leave the rest of this too for later. For clarification, the book is no longer a 5-star read for this reviewer, but will let the original rating stand.(less)