Shaun Tan's The Arrival is a graphic novel about relocation. This book is bound to become classic! I loved the touching story, beautiful drawings, and...moreShaun Tan's The Arrival is a graphic novel about relocation. This book is bound to become classic! I loved the touching story, beautiful drawings, and inventive new world. The only think I disliked was the length: the book was just too short for the beauty in it.
Shaun Tan explores a normally banal story: a husband is forced to leave one day his wife and small child to look for a better place to live. The book follows his journey, which is perilous and confusing. The man experiences many new places and things, makes new friends, etc.; the ending ties nicely into the story. All in all, I found this a well designed variation on the main story line.
The key is in the medium. Through a graphic novel of no words and surreal places, Shaun Tan builds a unique meta-experience of understanding how moving to a completely new place feels like. The objects from the first few pages are rapidly exchanged for fantastic symbols, people, and objects; as a reader, I felt I could follow the general idea but not every detail, and was reminded of my own relocation adventures. The feeling is bitter-sweet, yet in the end wonderful and liberating. It just felt right.
Now on for a bit of musing...
Language: Perhaps the only words are the title, "The Arrival". (There may be other words embedded into the environment, but those require re-reading and interpreting and this is a hot reaction type of review.) Who arrives? There are several characters and each seems to have arrived. There is also a cyclic newcomer experience theme. Where is the arrival? The new place remains largely unexplored. Why is it an arrival? The book begins with a departure, and the present is so fluid and dynamic that it is not sure that the characters have ended their journey. In my language, "to arrive" also means to be well off; did the main characters arrive in this sense? Only time can tell about common daily issues such as finding a job and growing the child.
Visuals: The visuals are exquisite, carefully reproducing the quality of old pictures one sees on exhibitions about the waterfront of New York in the early 1920s: sepia magic combined with unforgettably destitute faces, but somehow foretelling of the modern world. Many of the visuals are not only terrific, they are also magically innovative: Shaun Tan has created a new world. (The closest I can think of are the images of old Lucas Arts quests, such as Monkey Island and maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle.)
Scenario: This part is brilliant. Shaun Tan creates an art movie out of cartoon pages; this could have easily been the cut room of a documentary. He combines little triptychs into animations. He inserts broad camera angles. He creates key frames and sprinkles them throughout the story. He links elements in the story through similar visuals. He integrates a variety of human emotions into a depiction of a new world. Etc. (less)
Gandhi's autobiography is one of those books that you just have to read, a story of developing oneself and raising the conscience of a people. The Mah...moreGandhi's autobiography is one of those books that you just have to read, a story of developing oneself and raising the conscience of a people. The Mahatma (Great Soul, name apparently first used in relation with Gandhi by the great Indian poet Tagore) presents with a great deal of detail his life and development of beliefs such as vegetarianism (then fruitarianism), simplicity, brahmacharya (abstinence), non-violence, and pursuit of truth; there are also slight mentions of swaraj (right of self governance) and the related Indian uprisings. On the negative side, the autobiography is very difficult to read---the writing is long, often boring, with a curious structure, full of incomplete and/or incomprehensible references to Gandhi's previous writings, argumentative, and sometimes plain contradictory (to previous chapters). Moreover, for this reader the presentation managed to abscond most of the message, and in particular its political aspect. Overall, a must read but don't expect an easy read. (less)
Because discussing the book is to actually spoil the fun, let me first say a few words about the writing style. Similarly to the Russian classics, Zamyatin has a dense style, difficult to read in a rush but full of savor and deep. In addition, Zamyatin's We includes numerous passages where the mood of the scene is reflected in the writing itself. (Furthermore, although it is difficult to convey this partially idiomatic aspect, the translator into English, Natasha Randall, claims having tried to follow the consonant/vowel structure of the original words, which in Zamyatin's writing serve the same mood-inducing role as the structure of paragraphs and sentences.) Among the wording delice, gems of reality arise from almost every paragraph; the following paragraph describes the voting of the unique candidate for the supreme position in the One State:
"I ask those who vote 'Yes' to please raise your hands." If only I could look him straight in the eye, like before, with devotion [...] But I couldn't now summon the courage. With effort, as if all my joints had rusted, I raised my hand.
We is the story of D-503, the aptly-named mathematician and apprentice of the quadratic harmony that governs the lives of ciphers (humans) in the thousandth year of the One State. There is no imperfection in D-503's life; apart from a lovely trio with the happy female cipher O and his male friend R, D listens to mathematically based music, poetry, and chat. D actively participates in various social functions, including the daily worship of the Benefactor and the sharing of his body to whoever female cipher might wish it, and enjoys the occasional elimination of ciphers that have failed the One State fair policies. Last but not least, D is the creator of the Integral, the first space ship built by the human kind and the vehicle that will spread the ideas of the One State to the stars. In other words, D is part of WE, a united nation of ciphers living in society of peers, that is, citizens having identical rights and identical duties. One day, however, D-503 meets the female cipher I and his life changes. D starts smoking, drinking, and grows a soul. D loses control and cheats on the One State. D forsakes his blissful life and commits crimes. D causes the One State to almost tumble. It turns out that I was a prominent member of the resistance, the one reason for which the One State lives inside the Great Wall. In a last twist of events, D has to choose between I and WE. What will it be?
Overall, I found the story believable (in hindsight, too believable) and the main character D well crafted. Although not everyone's cup of tea, I really liked this book.
I have a soft spot for dystopian books. I also have a soft spot for people who were able to predict, 50 years and 50 million deaths in advance, the terrible destruction that One States could incur on our world. Chapeau, Zamyatin! A must read for everyone, methinks.
Long Walk to Freedom is the auto-biography of Rolihlahla "Nelson" Mandela of the Madiba clan of the Xhosa people. The book, written as a first-tense,...moreLong Walk to Freedom is the auto-biography of Rolihlahla "Nelson" Mandela of the Madiba clan of the Xhosa people. The book, written as a first-tense, active account, takes Nelson (and the reader) from the village of Qunu in the Transkei to the forefront of the African National Congress (ANC), and thus to the leadership of the fight of the (black) South Africans against (white-imposed) anti-apartheid. The book is simply wonderful---language ("The Xhosa are a proud and patrilineal people with an expressive and euphonious language and an abiding belief in the importance of laws, education, and courtesy."), historical references, core ideas, and various wits should delight the reader thoroughly. Moreover, the story is full of insights into the creation and evolution of the ANC, including its military wing (the Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, MK), and into the crucial policies and decisions in which Mandela was involved. There are few negative parts; the Long Walk to Freedom is indeed (too?) long; Mandela uses this writing to attack some of the political enemies and to extricate his name from old yet complicated charges. Overall, we get to see Mandela the political person and the fallible man, and to learn how a ruthless system can be overthrown by conviction combined with intelligence. To conclude: highly recommended, a must read for anyone.
This is the (cartoon) story of an animation specialist working for a few months in North Korea. Guy Delisle depiction of a modern North Korea reveals...moreThis is the (cartoon) story of an animation specialist working for a few months in North Korea. Guy Delisle depiction of a modern North Korea reveals an astute observer that goes over the obstacles of a closed-off regime. A people subject to terror and mind-washing propaganda, a pyramid game benefiting only the country's potentates, a cult of personality that leads to the first communist hereditary tyranny, all lead to "from here, China looks like a heaven of liberty." If you consider reading this, but are scared that you'll get too much "truth", you may look for Voinovich's Moscow 2042.
I felt strongly about this book, as many of the things described in this book relate to my first-hand experience in other countries that have been subject to similar regimes, such as Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. I also felt that this makes for a good companion to George Orwell's 1984 (I'm reversing here the pun from inside [book;Pyongyang:]).
I felt much stronger about this second installment of the Maus series, the heart-breaking story of a Holocaust survivor. While in the first book Vlade...moreI felt much stronger about this second installment of the Maus series, the heart-breaking story of a Holocaust survivor. While in the first book Vladek, the businessman/mouse trapped by history into the most disgusting human-killing machine ever created, is too much of a self-interested combiner, in this part Vladek becomes more than a stereotype. The Maus helps his friends and wife beyond reason and in spite of danger (contrasting the behavior described in Primo Levi's If This Is a Man), and becomes a person in flesh (one that cannot forget, in a way similar to the main character of Elie Wiesel's Night).
Fitzgerald's Gatsby is the story built around two main ideas: that unrequited love leads to death and that social inequality cannot be crossed (and th...moreFitzgerald's Gatsby is the story built around two main ideas: that unrequited love leads to death and that social inequality cannot be crossed (and thus can lead to unrequited love). The book is named after Gatsby, who begins life as a poor but reaches a high social position while still young. Gatsby and several other main characters, all of not-so-high class, gravitate around a family of wealthy and careless people; this leads to tragedy for all involved and to death for some. The story is gripping without having a high pace, unexpected situations abound--despite the often forwarnings--, and the main characters are well-described. Moreover, Fitzgerald's command of English leads to memorable reading. However, the book is brief in its telling of love, which is a minus for a (tragic) love-story and thus made me give it only 4 stars. (less)