The first word that comes to mind when thinking about Alaska is "big." The second is "adventure" (Ok, "cold" might be one, but just bear with me). PutThe first word that comes to mind when thinking about Alaska is "big." The second is "adventure" (Ok, "cold" might be one, but just bear with me). Put them together and you get the essence of this book: a big adventurous saga. In typical Michener fashion, he crafts a 1,000+ page series of stories that revolve around the cultural history of Alaska, starting from its geological formation to the time the book was published (1988).
It begins with stories about mastodons, woolly mammoths, and the Asiatic migrators who crossed the Bering Land Bridge during the last Ice Age. Then it goes far ahead in time to the Age of Exploration, when Vitus Bering and Georg Stellar became the first Europeans to land on those cold shores. The many clashes between natives and Europeans- particularly the Russians- entail a large portion of the first half of the book. Trofim's fate as a redeemer against animal cruelty was a touching story, as was Cidaq's struggle against an abusive husband and the Christianization of her native land.
Stories about the Gold Rush occupy a huge chunk of the book. No character makes more appearances than Missy Peckham, a vagabond gold-digger turned staunch feminist. Her resilience for fair regulation in Alaska really drives the long march to statehood forward. I'd say of all the social issues addressed in the novel, none are more prominent than the lack of government regulations in light of such a vast territory being purchased. The period from 1867-1959 was one of quasi-anarchy, in which a great number of swindlers took advantage of a lacking judicial system in the territory.
Scenic descriptions abound in the book, including the Aurora Borealis; the icy rivers and extensive glaciers that flank the high mountains; the many waterways that carve the southern coast; and the frozen tundra of the far north, but none of them compare to the first sighting of (arguably) the most imposing mountain in all of North America: Denali. Of all the memorable moments in the book, and there were many, none are greater than LeRoy Flatch seeing this masterpiece of sculpted Earth from the air for the first time. Remarkably, Michener leaves no section of the state untouched. The Aleutians, the Panhandle, the craggy interior, and the northern tundras are all covered in these stories. Being that Alaska's so enormous, it's a wonder that he was able to touch on all the right historical events and locations and still find a decent pace to the stories.
I even recall a delightful story about a salmon! Who knew?...more
Meet Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of Zoroaster and close friend of the ruthless king of Persia, Xerxes I. Nevermind the historical inaccuracy of that sMeet Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of Zoroaster and close friend of the ruthless king of Persia, Xerxes I. Nevermind the historical inaccuracy of that single relation (for Zoroaster lived more than a millennium prior to Xerxes)- the rest of the novel doesn't have any, as far as I can tell. Seeing as the rest of the book is as historically accurate as Herodotus was biased, surely this accident was intended by Gore Vidal for reasons I'm not entirely aware. Rest assured, the story is set in the golden age of the Greek-Persian wars, a period when Greek philosophy and four of the world's most influential religions were revolutionizing thought.
Cyrus is a witty priest of the only monotheistic religion of the east at the time. He's at his most clever when taking shots at the Greeks, whom a large part of the story revolves around. In fact, his whole narration is being recorded by Democritus, who is arguably the most famous of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and the first to propose an atomic theory for the creation of the universe. And that's where Creation starts: as a sort of interplay between the scientific interpretation of beginnings and the religious one. It also provides a fresh perspective of 5th century BC history because it is seen from the eyes of a Persian rather than a Greek. Let's face it, Greek civilization has been glamorized by historical writers to no end, just like the Shakespearean era in literature. Vidal must have been weary of all the Greek ass-kissing that western civilization has done. His motivation was clearly to put a spin on Herodotus' nationalist buggery by entering the mind of an intellectual Persian who has nothing but disdain for Greek life, and it worked wonderfully well.
Other civilizations are visited by Cyrus, as he's appointed emissary of trade for the Persian empire, but really ends up as an archivist for creation theories. His fate is linked to the pioneers of religious thought in an almost magical way; throughout the book he's always finding himself in situations that give him the opportunity to discuss matters of creation with the wisest of sages. One civilization he visits is India, where he meets Mahavira, an influential Jain, and Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. Another place he is sent to is Cathay (ancient word for China), where he discusses the origins of creation with the founders of Taoism and Confucianism: Lao Tzu and Confucius, respectively. These discussions are in my eyes the strongest parts of the book, and the most memorable. Cyrus' inquisitive nature always makes it a challenge for sages firmly set in their teachings, but they all seem to enjoy his company and his mutual interest in the causation of things.
If creationism doesn't interest you, at least consider reading this for its entertaining anecdotes on political savagery. Most of the book details all the hideous maneuverings of those seeking power in these civilizations, which by no means makes them weaker parts. Amusingly, the book reads like the madness of the Julio-Claudian dynasty at times (I Claudius is the book to read for those goodies). For that reason, bloodthirsty Game of Thrones fans might enjoy it as much as lofty professors in comparative religion. Pericles, Cyrus the Great, and especially Darius are all given fair treatment here, as well as all the barons and nobles of India and Cathay that I've failed to recall....more
Out of the boundless deep, the Hawaiian Islands rose to become some of the most unique in all the world. In Michener's wonderful introductory chapterOut of the boundless deep, the Hawaiian Islands rose to become some of the most unique in all the world. In Michener's wonderful introductory chapter he traces their geological history, starting billions of years ago and ending at our present age. After reading it I thought, this man could have just as well been a science writer, or a poet!
The second chapter begins a different sort of saga: that of a generation of Polynesians who first inhabited the islands. They'd migrated from Tahiti in the South Pacific sometime during the first millennium AD. It was a good story, but I sure wished it was longer.
The third chapter tells the riveting adventure of a group of missionaries who sailed from New England to Hawaii in the early 1800s. They're lead by Abner Hale, who's as stubborn and stalwart a missionary as there ever was. At times I wanted to punch him in the face, and couldn't figure out why the leaders of Hawaii wouldn't! Though it was difficult for me to identify with him, his wife Jerusha proved herself much more amiable, as were the rest of his friends. The part where they braved Cape Horn- some of the deadliest seas in the world- was one of the strongest segments of the book. After they arrived in Hawaii a religious "battle" seemed to begin, pitting the Gods of the islanders against their one true God of the Bible. This spiritual struggle was just one example of the many clashes between cultures that Michener sought to illustrate. Later on this mix of cultures would come to include Chinese and Japanese laborers, who sought their own freedoms in the struggle for colonial rule.
All these differences ultimately jumbled into a cohesive identity for Hawaii as it approached statehood in the 1950s. The book culminates in a political and economic struggle that has the Japanese and Chinese vying for land while the Americans struggle to conserve their stronghold on the economy. Unfortunately this made for some rushed, watered down stories (which Michener has been guilty of). In these later parts of the book, people from the same families come and go without us ever really getting to know them. Regardless, I consider the first 400 pages some of the best in historical fiction. Michener's power comes from the telling of historical events that have ramifications for multiple generations of families, such as the Chinese lepers being banished to Molokai and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I can't help but reward Hawaii with a 5 star review, not only for it's great early tales, but for Michener's success in unifying cultures with an ambitious thousand page saga....more
In All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr orchestrates a heartbreaking story about the consequences of war. His poetic style successfully createsIn All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr orchestrates a heartbreaking story about the consequences of war. His poetic style successfully creates an atmosphere that is both dark and lucid at the same time. Few writers have the ability to make beautiful, nostalgic reflections about life in a time of war, but he's able to quite easily.
At times it felt like he was trying a bit too hard to be profound, especially near the end, where every sentence seemed like a disjointed statement about the despair of the characters. It took the whole length of the novel for the two main characters to finally meet, and when they did it was only for about 20 pages. You have Werner, an intelligent German boy interested in radios, who feels totally out of place after he's forced to serve for the Nazis. And Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who lives with an uncle that candidly broadcasts important information across the English channel to Britain. The focus on radio-waves alludes to the title of the novel; Marie-Laure can only perceive forms of light that are undetected by the eyes.
If you're looking for adventure and action, this isn't the book to read. If you're looking for deep insights and descriptions, interesting character studies that jump through time, and an ending that wasn't written for Hollywood, then this is way up your alley. I was disappointed that Doerr chose to use some of the narrative from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and even went so far as to spoil the ending. He'd already gotten me interested in reading it, so why he did he have to synchronize its ending with his own? It took away from some of the impressiveness I'd had leading up the end, and may have affected my rating of the book. Granted, if I had already read 20,00 Leagues there wouldn't be any complaints from me, and probably would have made the book even better. Such is the nature of reading....more
At the beginning of a long line of Great American Novels, there is The Scarlet Letter . It is the earliest in a group of publications that scholars oAt the beginning of a long line of Great American Novels, there is The Scarlet Letter . It is the earliest in a group of publications that scholars of literature have deemed worthy of "The Great American Novel". Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man, Blood Meridian and American Pastoral are some of its successors. I don't think it's on the same level as some of these other novels, but it certainly helped put American literature on the map.
The Scarlet Letter takes us all the way back into the 1640s, when the colonization of America had just gotten underway. It’s set in a Puritan community, where a woman commits adultery with an unknown man and must face the social consequences of her actions. She births an impish child with the man, and her husband is dead set on finding and getting revenge on who it is that has wronged him.
The depth of character exploration in The Scarlet Letter is its greatest strength. Each chapter lets us venture inside the mind of one of its four main characters- Chillingworth, Hester Prynne, Pearl, and the minister- so that we may be shown their psychological dilemmas in brute form, whether they be the absolving of guilt, the seeking of forgiveness, or the desire for retribution and repentance for or against sinners, the community, and the Church. Hawthorne shows us that while we may be wrong in our actions, mercy will be given to us after we’ve faced their consequences for long enough, and forgiveness is the greatest healer of wounds in our hearts. It seems pretty straight forward, but the iconic symbolism gives it some extra juice....more
Done with Hemingway. This one had a lot of boring, unchallenging sentences and stale, immoral characters. His only work that kept me interested was FDone with Hemingway. This one had a lot of boring, unchallenging sentences and stale, immoral characters. His only work that kept me interested was For Whom The Bell Tolls ....more
Invisible Man is as powerful as any book out there. It's a snapshot of 1950s America, set in the increasingly disruptive district of Harlem. The mai Invisible Man is as powerful as any book out there. It's a snapshot of 1950s America, set in the increasingly disruptive district of Harlem. The main character is the narrator, and he goes through a lot of intense coming-of-age situations involving keen opportunists and the use of his race for their benefit.
In my opinion, it isn't only the color of his skin that makes him invisible. It is also the power and originality of his voice, which is something a lot of people have ostracized themselves over, regardless of race. He knew that his ideas and talents aroused a lot of jealousy and insecurity in people that knew him, so he decided to cut the ties that bound him to them. A lot of us can empathize with this. We've all had to become socially invisible at times, and that's what makes this book a classic for all demographics....more