I've read two of Allende's novels now (this, and The House of the Spirits) and I'm smitten. Her narratives are sprawling, ever-changing, slightly magi...moreI've read two of Allende's novels now (this, and The House of the Spirits) and I'm smitten. Her narratives are sprawling, ever-changing, slightly magical, and imaginative. Her characters undergo constant, whirlwind twists of fate and chance. Eva Luna is central in the universe (of the novel and at large) in part because she is constructing and shaping her own story as she lives it and then again as she writes it, but also because she is strong, imaginative, interesting; she's worthy of the novel's attention. This idea of rewriting reality comes up repeatedly in the novel (see the quotations below) and it fascinates me.
First, because of the meta-fictional sense it gives to the novel - Allende is writing a story about Eva Luna writing a story about herself and her country. But I also find it fascinating to consider how this affects the novel's 'truth.' It's impossible to know what actually happens to Eva Luna and what she creates when she writes. This provides a basis for some of the magical instances in the story but, more than that, it imparts a refreshing sense of freedom. We all have the option to use our memories and experiences in new ways, explaining them away, building them up, even changing them. Of course, in real life, truth has its place, but Allende shows that truth isn't always clear, or helpful. And in most things, the small events and feelings of our lives, the truth of what actually happens to us matters far less than how we think about it, feel about it, and are changed by it.
Rewriting reality is, for Eva Luna, the source of her resiliency.
"I began to wonder whether anything truly existed, whether reality wasn't an unformed and gelatinous substance only half-captured by my senses. There was no proof that everyone perceived it in the same way."
"In the motionless sands where my stories germinated, every birth, death, and happening depended on me. I could plant anything I wanted in those sands; I had only to speak the right word to give it life. At times I felt that the universe fabricated from the power of the imagination had stronger and more lasting contours than the blurred realm of the flesh-and-blood creatures around me."
"I was writing a new episode each day, totally immersed in the world I was creating with the all-encompassing power of words, transformed into a multifaceted being, reproduced to infinity, seeing my own reflection in multiple mirrors, living countless lives, speaking with many voices."
"Reality is a jumble we can't always measure or decipher, because everything is happening at the same time... I try to open a path through that maze, put a little order in that chaos, to make life more bearable. When I write, I describe life as I would like it to be."
Allende also visits the subject of being a woman, mostly quietly, but occasionally overtly and politically:
"For Naranjo, and others like him, "the people" seemed to be composed exclusively of men; we women should contribute to the struggle but were excluded from decision-making and power. His revolution would not change my fate in any fundamental way."
"Look, Eva, men like Naranjo can't ever change. They may modify the rules, but they always operate on the same principle: authority, competitiveness, greed, repression -- it's always the same... What has to change in this world are attitudes."
Both of these quotations attribute situations like that in Chile to patriarchy and traditionally 'male' characteristics (competition, authority, power, etc). This is a discussion the world hasn't been having for very long, and it's nice to see it here, in a 25-year-old novel. Allende gives her characters the freedom to speak their truth, as flawed or narrow or off-putting as it might seem to some readers. What I mean by that is that discussions like the patriarchy one I described above are not had in crystalized, bold, liberal, politically-correct statements. Instead they are seamless parts of who the characters are, stemming from the characters themselves and not an authorial agenda.
I saw this book on display last time I went to the library (probably because of the recent movie) and I'm so glad I did! I've read a few slave narrati...moreI saw this book on display last time I went to the library (probably because of the recent movie) and I'm so glad I did! I've read a few slave narratives and some other literature that touches on the topic, but an awful lot of it didn't compare to this, both as far as the story itself and its execution.
Northup wrote his narrative to "give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of [his] life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage."
Northup does occasionally pause in his description to react to what happened to him, to denounce it, and to denounce the people who did it to him and who were for slavery. If anything, I wished for more of that in the narrative, though I can understand that at the time a more purely factual expose was much more important.
There is one part in the book that really hit me, mostly because I found it difficult to comprehend. Northup writes of his first owner:
"In my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and other influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different."
I see what Northup is saying, and I would agree there's truth to difficulty in changing a paradigm, but equality of the races wasn't such a brand new idea. Already half the United States was against slavery; I can't excuse William Ford entirely for that reason. While it's impossible for me to understand what it would be like to be in Northup's place, I can't imagine I would be so forgiving or speak so highly of William Ford. Northup expresses anger and hope of vengeance when it comes to many of the others who took his life from him (abusive owners, the kidnappers and the man who first sold him) and it amazes me that William Ford is not included with them. Later, this idea of the all-encompassing control your paradigm has over you resurfaces when Northup describes the son of one of his owners. I think that, ultimately, I respect Northup's ability to hold on to believing that good people can be wrong through no fault of their own, even in such an extreme way. And I wouldn't fault him if he could no longer believe.
Themes: memoir, slave narrative, history, 1850s, fear, racism, United States (less)
Reading this novel was a pretty gleeful exercise in Schadenfreude. Waugh has created a cast of characters who are annoying and petty enough to deserve...moreReading this novel was a pretty gleeful exercise in Schadenfreude. Waugh has created a cast of characters who are annoying and petty enough to deserve just what they get. Even the great tragedy in the middle of the book serves as a way to show true ugliness of Brenda Last.
The end of the book is odd - it feels like the whole new story that it is, and I'm not sure that it's put to best use here. (It's an adapted version of a short story Waugh wrote, The Man Who Liked Dickens). It certainly gives the other protagonist, Tony Last, his comeuppance, but it feels tacked on.
Most interesting to me was Brenda's relationship with John Beaver, who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Or really horrible qualities, for that matter. He's just a boring person, without a lot of money and with an overwhelming mother. This is all clear to everyone else in London, who ignore him unless they're desperate to fill a seat at their fancy dinner parties, but somehow Brenda falls. I think that John serves more as an escape hatch from her boring life way out in Hetton with Tony, where there are few social occasions and most of the Last fortune goes straight back into maintaining the monstrous gothic mansion.
I very much enjoyed being along for the ride as Waugh poked fun at the social scene of 1930s London. He points out all the absurdities - everyone cheating on their spouse repeatedly, nothing to do but attend various social occasions and discuss said social occasions, staying up until all hours and basically ignoring their children - and exploits them perfectly.
Themes: satire, 1930s, British gentry, Schadenfreude(less)
In writing these essays about his life, there are a few intertwined ideas that Hemon continuously comes back to. First, there is the role of place in...moreIn writing these essays about his life, there are a few intertwined ideas that Hemon continuously comes back to. First, there is the role of place in defining who he is. He writes about Sarajevo, the city of his first 20-some years, as part of himself and himself as part of it.
Once he arrives in Chicago and begins to make it his new home, he writes: "I saw Chicago through the eyes of Sarajevo and the two cities now created a complicated internal landscape in which stories could be generated." This theme is most emphasized in this lovely, compact sentence: "I wanted from Chicago what I'd got from Sarajevo: a geography of the soul."
Hemon describes differences between the two cities - in Chicago anonymity is possible whereas in Sarajevo everyone and everything is known and in the open. Hemon writes that in Sarajevo "the borders between interiority and exteriority were practically nonexistant."
This leads directly to the second idea that recurs throughout the essays - the duality of identity. Hemon repeatedly mentions interiority and exteriority, defining different parts of his life as part of one or the other identity and using the moments that changed or altered these elements as the focal points of his writing. War, for example, is something that "levels both interiority and exteriority into the flatness of a crushed soul."
In the final essay of the book, Hemon's daughter Isabel is very sick, and he writes that the experience of her illness disconnected him and his wife from the outside world completely. They lived in interiority. He also writes about his older daughter, Ella, at age 3 as her language capabilities really begin to blossom: "The surge in language at this age creates a distinction between exteriority and interiority; the child's interiority is now expressable and thus possible to externalize; the world doubles."
Most of these essays are well-written and thought-provoking. While each of them can stand alone, the group of them together really have a lot to say, some of which I've mentioned here. In this way, this book of essays is more successful than many others I've read.
I particularly enjoyed the essay about playing soccer in Chicago and the difference between how the immigrants behave and how the Americans behave (soccer is serious vs. just for exercise, coming early to chat vs. showing up at the last minute just to play). The last essay, when Hemon loses his daughter, was raw and very moving. I also enjoyed Hemon's discussion of his worldview when he'd spend hours and hours reading at his family cabin - being completely and utterly lost inside books.
Themes: Bosnia, war, Chicago, essay, reading, writing, interior vs. exterior, sense of place, family, dogs(less)
Having read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several times and counting it among my favorites, I picked this up. I was relatively disappointed - it's pretty s...moreHaving read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several times and counting it among my favorites, I picked this up. I was relatively disappointed - it's pretty saccharine. Part of this is the era it's set in (late 1920s) which I forgive, but it was also generally oversimplified emotionally which made it just too goody-goody. In this way it reminded me quite a bit of Little Women, but at least that novel is meant for youth, not adults. It read the way a smart but naive young woman would write about life in her diary when she's certain that others will be reading it. Perhaps that's how it's meant to be.
I was interested to learn that the novel is semi-autobiographical, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I also identified with the main character's, Annie's, lifelong love of reading and writing.
And also her half fear and half relief when it comes to the potential to fail. This is most clear when Annie discusses her friendship with Anthony, the town florist who she encourages to write a book but who has barely started writing by the end of the novel.
"Was it better to think you might than to test it; to take the big chance to find out you couldn't? She concluded it might be better for some people not to put the dream to the test."
"He has a dream, she thought. And what's a dream? A kind of promise that will never be fulfilled. Anthony, the florist, had it. She had it. Carl didn't have it." (less)
"Between the writing and the reading of a text, things change, the world goes round, marriages and love affairs are made and unmade. Wasn't all storyt...more"Between the writing and the reading of a text, things change, the world goes round, marriages and love affairs are made and unmade. Wasn't all storytelling, in a sense, like that?... Each chapter is like a letter to the reader; its meaning isn't completed until it is read by someone."
So Isabel says to her husband, and so is The House on the Lagoon. The novel is generational story of Isabel's and her husband's families, but it's also a game of tug-of-war between the two of them that escalates more and more rapidly as the story continues.
I read this book to gain a better sense of Puerto Rico and got that - particular in the sections was about the statehood/ independence debate - but this novel makes use of two unreliable narrators to tell the same story through two sets of eyes. Of course, it's no mystery that the author sides with Isabel.
I enjoyed this novel, both as a cultural dive and a literary experience.
Themes: Puerto Rico, family, writing, politics, culture, race(less)
This memoir made it very clear not only how impressive and brilliant of a person Sonia Sotomayor is, but how the combination of a hard-working, educat...moreThis memoir made it very clear not only how impressive and brilliant of a person Sonia Sotomayor is, but how the combination of a hard-working, education-minded temperament and tough but not insurmountable trials and challenges to overcome can help a person achieve incredible success.
Sonia had childhood struggles as she grew up in poverty in New York and came to terms with Type I diabetes. But she has the good examples of many of her family members as well as her own somewhat-innate ability to put immense effort into achieving the things she wants by learning everything she can about them. She is also a naturally social person, able to listen to others carefully, build connections quickly and learn from others easily. This combination is pretty potent.
I enjoyed the book quite a bit, especially the first two-thirds. Sotomayor has a tendency to capture her life lessons into very short, pithy statements:
"But experience has taught me that you cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true."
"I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can't imagine someone else's point of view."
"...a surplus of effort could overcome a deficit of confidence."
"For me the most agreeable and effective instruction has come from observing the nuances and complexity of live action, the complete package of knowledge, experience, and judgment that is another human being."
"But as for the possibility of 'having it all,' career and family, with no sacrifice to either, that is a myth we would do well to abandon, together with the pernicious notion that a woman who chooses one or the other is somehow deficient."
"There are no bystanders in this life."
Overall, excellent and inspiring.
Themes: memoir, law, poverty, Puerto Rico, education(less)
An introduction to transmedia storytelling, and a high-level how-to for people interested in breaking into the (likely to grow) field. Phillips opens...moreAn introduction to transmedia storytelling, and a high-level how-to for people interested in breaking into the (likely to grow) field. Phillips opens with the basics of storytelling and then applies them to transmedia projects. She discusses how projects should be structured, including the importance of interactivity, how to handle production and management of such an endeavor, including how and when to use various media options, and then closes with the more practical aspects, like funding, profiting, and finding jobs in the field. Interspersed are short interviews with big name transmedia storytellers and creators.
The information about best practices in the field was helpful to me, as I read this to inform my work on a visual-heavy communications and branding plan that I created for my Master's capstone project. While the vast majority of the examples included were large well-budgeted projects, I was able to translate well enough to my own case (virtually no budget) and pick and choose the advice that was most helpful to me. Overall, a great book, especially for someone who is deep in any sort of storytelling field and wants to expand their approach and take advantage of multiple media. I don't think its shelf life will be very long though.
Themes: business, communication, storytelling, internet age(less)