If this book endures today, it is because it speaks to how society is fractionalized along lines of age, politics, and class. It also speaks to how frIf this book endures today, it is because it speaks to how society is fractionalized along lines of age, politics, and class. It also speaks to how fractionalization becomes violent and motivated by foggy ideologies when society has lost its foundation of values and institutions -- as here in the traumatized, post-war Poland. I see it in the USA these sad days.
I think this is a highly intellectual book. There is romance and irony and "story", but the characters are emblems. Each has a thought-out function in the story. So, the book is only partly a work of fiction, though the setting is fictional. One Goodreads reviewer writes, in effect, that the author was an apologist for the Communist takeover of Poland. In that sense, I can see how Szcurca, a Communist leader, is the most sympathetic and humane character and the others are rootless, opportunistic, or irrational and ignorant.
When reading the book, I was sometimes reminded of The Russians. The long conversations, the sitting around, the variety of points of view (as in Fathers and Sons) are all there. So, the book was definitely in my comfort zone.
But as for feelings of real tragedy or sorrow, they were hard to find. Perhaps, this is partly because even the characters no longer have expectations of each other or of a reliable social world. But I think it is also because, as that other Goodreads reviewer said, the book is meant to explain something. That is to say, it is intellectual. ...more
I thought this was a boring book. And I was surprised as Mr. Larson has captured me previously as in The Garden of the Beasts and Thunderstruck (reallI thought this was a boring book. And I was surprised as Mr. Larson has captured me previously as in The Garden of the Beasts and Thunderstruck (really good!). But here he just seems to have been shuffling his index cards.
I found that the book was journalistic and shallow. It is nice to know about how the first and second class passengers got their money, why they were crossing, and what they did when the ship went down (not a word, however, about the third class), but that is all just description, and I suspect, titillation and sentimentality to make the book more "human interest" and readable.
Under this layer, the book has a big failing. It does not tell what would be, for me, the more important history --- the reasons why a prize ocean liner, a plum for any U-boat, full of civilians including children and babies, was allowed to travel on its own and essentially unwarned in dangerous waters. I was angry when I learned that the British naval authorities, in possession of so much information, did nothing when they could have done a little something. I was angered when the Lusitania's captain was hauled up into the inquiry dock as a scapegoat. I found that I could not blame the Captain Schwieger of the U-20 who was doing his job and doing what the German Embassy has warned before the Lusitania sailed. But I found that I was blaming a culture of secrecy and militarism that did not allow even for the slightest move on behalf of the Lusitania's passengers. This is the same culture that sent thousands to die in the Battle of the Somme. And this is the story, I submit, that would make us truly pity the Lusitania's passengers who were just ciphers, it would appear, in the eyes of the masters of Room 40....more
With Emma, I understand that Jane Austen is a genius and that her genius keeps drawing me back to her books. As with Charles Dickens, we should be graWith Emma, I understand that Jane Austen is a genius and that her genius keeps drawing me back to her books. As with Charles Dickens, we should be grateful that Miss Austen existed and wrote.
How does genius manifest itself in Emma? I think that, for the first time, I have sensed the hand behind the pen, and this hand controls every aspect of the book. Here are a few examples drawn from particulars of the story. The genius lies not in the suspense regarding whether Emma will fall for and be devastated by Frank Churchill, but in the quiet, reasonable dissipation of the suspense by which Miss Austen avoids a cheap parallelism with the comedy of errors, presumption, and just plain foolishness of the earlier Harriet/Elton matchmaking or mis-matchmaking. At the same time, in making Emma attracted too Frank, but not in love with him, Miss A. lets us see Emma as an erotic person. Another example is the creation of Miss Bates as an alter ego to Mr. Woodhouse. There is no reason why Miss Bates should have her personality and unfettered tongue except to provide a focus for the anger and frustration that Emma cannot show in the case of her father who is, I think, actually sufferering from dementia. (Personally, I find Miss Bates delightful and I've known talkers that leave the trail on numerous interconnected side-paths to rejoin the trail some hundreds of feet further on.) Just one more example. Mr. Knightly's real declaration of love occurs in about 2 or 3 lines of dialogue between him and Emma at the local ball. This is, for me, one of the most understated, yet breath-taking declarations in literature (end of volume 3, chapter 2: "Whom will you dance with" etc.) Yet, Miss Austen, tidy and smart as she is, does not use the moment, as an ordinary romance writer might, to resolve her book. No. Instead every loose end must be sensibly tied up at length just as I think people tend to do in their own lives.
And speaking of our own lives, Miss Austen writes about the everyday, the ordinary, the inconsequential in terms of the world at large, though not inconsequential in terms of the lives of her characters. In other words, she writes about the world that all of us really live in, and this is the world that for us is first in attachments and intensity. She makes us see how complicated our lives are.
And, most amazingly, considering how judgemental we can be in our own lives, Miss Austen has created a young woman -- controlling, snobbish, conceited, yet self-reflective. We ought to hate her as an irritating little twit --- even though she has great virtues albeit overshadowed by her faults (loyalty, dutifulness, instructive self-reflection). But instead we love her from page one to the end. Now, that is genius.
Thank you, Miss Austen. I'm glad you are still around. ...more
In Part Three, "The High Mountains of Portugal" opened up my mind to an idea. What if God were a companionable chimpanzee? Living with him would compeIn Part Three, "The High Mountains of Portugal" opened up my mind to an idea. What if God were a companionable chimpanzee? Living with him would compel us to change the most basic things in our lives --- from how we organize the kitchen and where we sleep to how we spend our days. Gone would be God as abstraction and complication, gone the heavy books that tire our eyes, gone the internet chatter, gone the so forth. Then we might see the rhinoceros in our garden. Then, we might die more peacefully. What an excellent dream.
I am not quite sure what to think of the first two parts of the book --- the exceptionally painful double-story of the first part and the lovely sadness of the "poetically" magical second part. Perhaps they lay the groundwork for the third part. That is, they narrate that the good life arises from below in the here-and-now rather than from above in the world of abstraction. Or they tell us that the third part is possible only after suffering and desire. I have no idea.
Now Karl Marx had lots of good ideas. But I would guess that, if he wrote a novel, it would be a clunker. So, it's fair to ask whether THMOP is a good book. Here, I am not totally satisfied. There is lush language and fantastic metaphors, but I don't think a book can stand on accessories. This book does have a core, but I think the narration is a little contrived. I am the first to admit that I may be dealing with matters of taste --- exaggerated eccentricity or magical realism do not work for me. They work in poetry for me, but not in prose fiction. What I say does not apply to the third part which has all of the rationality and groundedness of The Life of Pi.
That third part is great. May the chimp be with you!
The title of this book is, I assume, a translation of the Italian original. If so, it is a sport of the author. All through the book, I am led to beliThe title of this book is, I assume, a translation of the Italian original. If so, it is a sport of the author. All through the book, I am led to believe that the "Brilliant Friend" is Lila. After all, the book is written by Lenuccia, and she describes Lila as totally brilliant and herself as the plodding scholar. But towards the end of the book, Lila calls Lenuccia "my brilliant friend". And so we are left to reflect on the value or calibre of Lenuccia's consciousness; we are left with a need to reinterpret her. The need, the title, Lenuccia's descriptions of Lila, and Lila's remark to Lenuccia, indicate the degree to which Lenuccia has identified herself as Lila. She does this through the whole book --- in her own mind, she is in competition with Lila --- in studying, boyfriends, etc. --- in order to become the better Lila or, sometimes, better than Lila. Fascinating. What an interesting view of friendship as rivalry, different from the view of friendship as encouragement to excel in virtue. Both are a kind of love, but Lenuccia's is more painful.
The pain is enhanced by the natural pain of adolescence, the desperation of the poor to get ahead, the self-destructiveness of the poor to prevent it, the customary life of family and neighborhood, the lovelessness (except on the part of some of the perceptive teachers), the whole eerie pagan world of Naples.
Thank you, Ms. or Miss or Mrs. or Mr. Ferrante or whoever you are! ...more
I had the privilege of reading The Canterbury Tales (in a more or less Middle English version from the Guttenberg website ) while staying in Emilia RoI had the privilege of reading The Canterbury Tales (in a more or less Middle English version from the Guttenberg website ) while staying in Emilia Romagna in Italy, specifically in the Province of Parma. I am privileged because this is definitely a place Chaucer visited on embassy for his monarch. It is speculated from a passage in the Tales that Chaucer knew Petrarc, and the Via Petrarca with a house Petrach owned is just up the street from me. But also Chaucer mentions in The Clerk's Tale how one comes down from the Alps to a fruitful plain filled with, well, good things to eat and castles. And that is still the case here: There are castles all over, and people still love prosciutto and parmesan cheese, for example, which are both of early origin. Chaucer also mentions in The Shipman's Tale a couple of the local wines --- Malvasia and what he calls a "vernage" --- which I take to be Gutturnio, which is a wine from Vernasca or Vernaggia in the next-door Province of Piacenza. Then, the whole of the tale of the knight January in The Merchant's Tale takes place in this region. Indeed, the robe of January from Passolini's film of The Tales is on display at the University of Parma's design museum in the old monastery called La Certosa, which is also one of two places fixed on as the eponymous Charter House of Parma.
Well, the foregoing is delightful to me. But what makes the Tales a work of art, perhaps unfinished, perhaps open-ended, is its unity. It is true that each tale differs greatly from the others, but the whole work is united by the context ---- a group of highly individualized pilgrims living in a real place and thrown into company with each other. How each tells his or her tale --- indeed, the tales they choose --- unite with their personal group story between the tales to create a whole.
The Tales also provide terrific insight into life in 14th century England. And the connection to Emilia Romagna indicates how the people of the 14th century, or some of them, did get around. But, mainly, the pilgrim storytellers in the Tales are wonderfully alive. We see this as they comment on each other's tales (and disagree with each other), how they take dislikes to each other (The Reeve and the Miller), how the landlord pushes them around, etc. Their liveliness or character is also apparent in how they speak their prologues and tell their tales. For example, the Knight's Tale which is enormously long and detailed and noble and engaging, is the tale of a "perfect" knight or of a knight, dare I say it? who would like to be thought perfect -- a tale essentially noble and humanly complicated. In contrast, his son's story, The Squire's Tale, is a young man's story in the sense that it wanders all over, loses the thread (or several of them), and never does pick it up again. In an effort (I think) to stave off the Knight's Tale from becoming an impossible standard, the coarse Miller jumps in with a bawdy tale of amazing vulgarity which leaves the whole company laughing. But the Reeve, who has come to harbor ill will against the Miller, counters with a Tale that is cinematic both in its manner of narration and in its slapstick. It is worthy of being put on the screen by our American comedy greats because it is of the high and crazy quality of Laurel and Hardy. I'll just mention one more example. The Parson whom the Prologue sets up as a model of Godliness -- as indeed he is -- turns out Godly, but boring: he delivers a sermon of nauseating tedium. To boot, the landlord dislikes him because he thinks he's a Lollard --- a contemporary reference and an insight into the Wycliffe controversies of the time.
Anyway, The Tales are a big and rich salad. Thank you, Mr. Chaucer, for taking us back to your century, the 14th, and letting me realize that essentially human nature is pretty much unchanged. And thank you for your art in showing how the pilgrim's react to each other's stories as well as the way in which the language and subject matter of the stories reflects the individual narrator's character. Thank you, Mr. Chaucer.
I loved this book, but it took a long time for me to tackle it. The language is not "ours", but the poetry and arc are universal. Also, to read the whole of The Tales is an undertaking. It is long. It requires a kind of reading that commits to the book --- that is, to reading it with open, critical eyes, that is willing to accept some nonmodern subject matter and concentrate on the skill that brings the whole together. There is one thing that Mr. Chaucer does not ever touch on. Although I understand that the book had to have been written around 1385, there is no mention or reference to The Black Death that devatated Europe (probably the world) mid-century. (less)...more
This is a series of related stories that take place in an isolated area of Westmorland which is, I believe, to the west of Yorkshire. Having been to tThis is a series of related stories that take place in an isolated area of Westmorland which is, I believe, to the west of Yorkshire. Having been to the dales and fells of Yorkshire, I think that Ms. Gardam well describes the lay of the land. But, in reality, her Westmorland is enchanted. It is glorious with color and flowers and falls of icicles. And the people are enchanted. They seem living in a different time in different ways. They are aware of the different people who have come across their lands --- Celts, Vikings, Saxons, Danes, modern-day gypsies, and renters from London --- and these people are simply part of their world's "diversity" as if one could gossip about them or know them. Additionally, they are also aware of legend and ghosts and the power of elemental forces.
I am going on and on, but really I have to make two remarks about the scene. The first is that Ms. Gardam is such a skilled writer that these dales and fells are not romanticized, are not sweet. Rather, they are beautiful, but by no means gentle. Second, the scene is important because it is the backdrop to the relationships of the characters in these stories, to their different voices and individuality. The main relationship is that between Harry, son of the London renters, and Bell, son of an old farming family. These two meet as boys and have the life of boys. They get themselves in bad trouble (e.g., trapped in an old mine, lost in a blizzard), they are honest with each other, they cry in fear, they love and enjoy the wonders of the land. In short, they are particularly good friends who --- they would not say it --- love each other and are bonded to the landscape and its ways. Their growth and their attachment to the land is ultimately the subject of the stories. Their adventures have a suspense and, yes, a poignancy that permeates the stories.
Are these Chekhov? Well, no. But they are lovely....more
I always think I do not like short stories. But these stories are fantastic. Mr. Schlink gives us the unexpected resolution in a situation that seemsI always think I do not like short stories. But these stories are fantastic. Mr. Schlink gives us the unexpected resolution in a situation that seems to call for revenge and in which a peevish revenge is planned ("The Other Man"); the self-fertilized growth of life complications, the complexities of escape, and the creation of a community of "trigamy" ("Sugar Peas"); the modern-day German and modern-day Jew in love and facing the hard questions ("The Circumcision"); the unexpected sadness of a dream come true ("The Woman in the Gas Station").
My favorites among the stories are The Circumcision and The Woman in the Gas Station. In the first, the question whether love can coexist with mutual blindness is resolved with quiet resignation. This story is charged with all the connotations of being German and being Jewish together. It is a sad story given the love that exists. In The Woman in a Gas Station, the literal (well, almost literal) realization of an actual dream upsets the rebuilding of a relationship in revitalized and happy ways. The question is what will make a person change direction drastically and in a second and what is the underlying foundation of a life that runs smoothly on the surface.
I like this author's courage, his willingness to go to odd places, even ugly ones, as in his novel "The Reader", to see the lines of humanity there, the fears, the irrationalities....more
I will not say very much about the character Emerence as her unique qualities are on display in the book --- her industriousness, her native brilliancI will not say very much about the character Emerence as her unique qualities are on display in the book --- her industriousness, her native brilliance, the power of her speech, her equal-handed compassion, her life story, her shame, her anger, her elemental power, and so forth. But I can't forget that this is a book written by a character about another character. Hence, it is a book about the writer --- the "lady writer", Emerence's "Magdushka".
Essentially, the book is an expiation of the writer's guilt. Hence, it is a paean to Emerence who reaches qualities worthy of folk legend. Because guilt is driving the narrator, I think that possibly Emerence is more glorified and more wounded than in reality.
The guilt arises from the narrator's participation in a deception to make Emerence open the door of her home to emergency health workers. But it also opens the door to a whole neighborhood. The door has been closed to all except for the one time when the writer, trusted, had been allowed to enter. The resulting helplessness of the self-reliant Emerence and the shame of the violation of her privacy, the actual breaking of the door, never leaves the writer's soul. The book begins with a dream in which she cannot open a door from the inside to obtain medical assistance for her husband/patient. The medical workers seen in cloudy outline through the glass are The Kindly Ones --- that is, the Eumenides, the Furies. They are driving the writer to self-revelation and confession. The guilt is compounded, however, by the gradual realization over the course of the confession of how much the lady writer depended on Emerence, how she came to love her, and how, as she learns through hearsay, Emerence loved her in an elemental way despite the storminess of their exchanges. It is as if a daughter suddenly learned as an adult that the basis of an entire difficult relationship with an irascible and arrogant mother was an unspoken tenderness and that this tenderness now can no longer be vindicated....more
This is a really good book. Ms. Bourgeault's intelligence is obvious. She expresses herself well. She follows up logically. Obviously, she has given aThis is a really good book. Ms. Bourgeault's intelligence is obvious. She expresses herself well. She follows up logically. Obviously, she has given a lot of thought, study, and practice to Centering Prayer.
I am convinced that Centering Prayer requires practice and not book-learning. At one point, Ms. B. refers to something like "doing it instead of talking about it". Nonetheless, her book is very valuable --- as is the Cloud of Unknowing and the book on Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington. (And now I have read exactly three books on Centering Prayer! Yay!) I liked very much her discussion of "divine therapy", attention of the heart, and the welcoming prayer. I am a little scared, however, that the welcoming prayer seems a little narcissistic, but we shall see. I also liked sensing in the book that the intellect is good (and Ms. B's is very fine), but is not all.
What I actually love about all the books I've read on Centering Prayer is how encouraging they are to a regular guy who feels drawn to this practice. Ms. B. adds a depth to the discussion --- theology, tradition and psychology. Very nice.