I sat down yesterday, thinking to myself, I am going to read this book. So I did, and I was unable to stop until I was finished later that night. The...moreI sat down yesterday, thinking to myself, I am going to read this book. So I did, and I was unable to stop until I was finished later that night. The images and language of this book colonized my imagination and left me with a feeling that I had just read a masterful allegory of humanity.
"Blindness" takes place in an unnamed city in an unnamed country inhabited by unnamed people who are referred to either by their profession or a distinguishing characteristic. A man goes blind one day. There is no overtly physiological or psychological reason; his eyes are perfectly healthy, and his mind is fairly sound. The blindness spreads from him as an epidemic, and the government is quick to react. The newly blind are placed in an abandon mental hospital on the outskirts of the city. City officials try to keep the populace calm, but as time goes on, escalating numbers of people go blind.
Early on, an ophthalmologist who examined the first man hit by the blindness goes blind. His wife, called "the doctor's wife" throughout the entire book, declares that she has gone blind as well in order to stay with her husband as he is quarantined in asylum. This act of selfless devotion defines her character, and is perhaps the thing that spares her from the blindness. As more people are delivered to the asylum, conditions rapidly deteriorate. Food is scarce and the soldiers who guard the blind people are terrified of being infected and are quick to react to any perceived threat with violence. The blindness spreads, and with it comes filth and brutality as people are no longer confined by the ethics of everyday civility. The book comes to a horrible climax as a group of thieves takes over the supply line of provisions and demands first valuables, then women, in exchange for food.
When I described the plot of this book to my fiancee, he remarked that it sounded very depressing. To leave it at that is simplistic. Saramago's understanding of mass psychology is devastating. The immediate selfishness shown by the blind is counterbalanced with the underlying fact that only community allows for their survival, and within that truth there are implications for any number of situations that people have found themselves in throughout history. It is easy to see why this book earned Saramago a Nobel prize for literature. I highly recommend this book. (less)
Since reading a review of the movie that has come out based on this book, I keep thinking back to scenes from "Nev...moreWell-written and hauntingly creepy.
Since reading a review of the movie that has come out based on this book, I keep thinking back to scenes from "Never Let Me Go" that continue to leave me with a feeling of not-quite-rightness. I'm curious if the movie version managed to capture what Ishiguro manages so brilliantly in this novel as well as "When We Were Orphans", which is a feeling of purposeful lack of depth. Between the two narrators of those books and their inner selves is an opaque sheet of glass which is accepted by the two as simply the way life is. This paradox of vivid dullness is heightened in "Never Let Me Go" due to the nature of the character's origins. The feeling one of the teachers in the book has of repulsed sympathy for the children under her care echos throughout the book as you try to find a place to attach yourself to the protagonists, but fail to reach that point. How can that complex and subtle vapidity that comes across so profoundly in the book be duplicated in a medium that is notorious for its lack of depth? I don't know, but I am glad that I was reminded of this book so I can remember Ishiguro's vision of inhuman humanity and a personless person and enjoy the feeling of disquiet that that conjures in me. (less)
I was so eager to find out what happens in 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' that I sped through without taking time to savor the ideas or the words, whi...moreI was so eager to find out what happens in 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' that I sped through without taking time to savor the ideas or the words, which goes against the whole message of the book. The plot centers around two individuals, a Parisian concierge who is a closet intellectual, and a gifted twelve year old who is a resident of the same apartment building. Renee (the concierge), and Paloma (the twelve-year-old), are both somewhat socially isolated, and who have taken refuge in their intellects and in Art. Though they take pains to conceal this aspect of their lives from others--a key part of the novel and one which I found somewhat puzzling--they flower in this arena. The criticisms of this book are just as valid as the compliments. The judgment that the main characters level at the world is the self-same judgment they feel leveled against themselves--while reading, one craves for them to receive acceptance, both from others and themselves. I loved both of their observations about life and art, though at times I found their condemnation of others somewhat stifling and narrow. Still, at the heart of this book is a reminder to appreciate what beauty is in life, and to value the people you make meaningful connections with. These are things that are worth taking pause to do, however trite it may sound when I write it. If you want a character-driven and thoughtful book, this is a great read. Though the end is tragic, it left me feeling refreshed and uplifted, as well engendering a want to read Tolstoy. I would not recommend this book to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. (less)
'The True Deciever' is a quietly disturbing book set in a remote Finnish village. In the same simple and elegant language as 'The Summer Book', Jansso...more'The True Deciever' is a quietly disturbing book set in a remote Finnish village. In the same simple and elegant language as 'The Summer Book', Jansson depicts two women coming head to head as they pit their respective illusions about the world against each other. Katri Kling is a brutally honest and unsparing young woman who makes a name for herself by giving advice to the villagers, who at once fear and respect her. Her unpleasant nature is contrasted with the aging Anna Aemelin, a timid and absent-minded woman who has made a name for herself by painting the forest floor with beautiful accuracy, then adding flowery rabbits to make the paintings into children's books. Aemelin lives in rich, otherworldly solitude, writing pleasing letters in response to her fan-mail, reading adventure novels, reminiscing over her dead parents, and waiting until spring to start painting. Watching Aemelin from a distance, Katri Kling formulates a plan to take up residence in Aemelin's mansion, nicknamed 'the rabbit house' by the villagers. Katri's motives are pure--to find money and a home for her sweet but slow brother, Mats, but the ways in which she goes about this are full of deception.
The characters' complexity are the meat of this story. Katri's strength and honesty are her two virtues. These virtues are what endear her to Anna Aemelin, who often finds herself entangled in avoidance and politeness. Katri has a strict and spartan code of ethics that she prides herself on, but as the book unfolds, one finds oneself asking what parts of Katri are real and which are the carefully-crafted illusions of someone who takes herself too seriously. Katri is symbolized by a wolf-dog, who she has trained into obedience but does not love or show compassion, just as Aemelin is symbolized by her flowery rabbits that she draws but doesn't really care for. However, rabbits may have a sly and secretive cunning, and dogs may go wild when their carefully cultivated habits are corrupted. By the end of this book, only Mats, Katri's brother and Anna's friend, is the only one left who has suffered no loss of self-comforting illusions.
There is more in this book than one can get in one reading, and I look forward to one day reading it again. (less)
Where would we be if we didn't secretly hope that the surreal could potentially walk in our door at any minute and throw our universe into chaos? Or,...moreWhere would we be if we didn't secretly hope that the surreal could potentially walk in our door at any minute and throw our universe into chaos? Or, to put it more accurately, where would literature be?
No Murakami main character I have met yet has had a strong ego or personality. Mild, mundane, and accepting, the Murakami protagonist is one who passively lets life happen to him, and because of this, draws the most outrageous characters to him and winds up plunging into a mysterious and convoluted plot. This book is no different in that regard, but it touched me more than previous books by this author that I have read. Take out the twists and turns, leave the psychics behind, even disregard the main character to some extent, this is a story of those who lives have been effected by brutality. However, since this is a Murakami, put all those previous elements back in, and you have a funny and absurd coating on a story of good and evil. (less)
I read these stories for the first time when I was in high school. I remember reading at a bus stop, totally absorbed in the tragic loss of a mother a...moreI read these stories for the first time when I was in high school. I remember reading at a bus stop, totally absorbed in the tragic loss of a mother and father of their child while a mad cake-maker harasses them, and being shocked back into reality by the bus arriving. (less)
Being a Murakami fan and after reading some of the many five star reviews, I feel like a bit of a spoilsport. While I loved the beginning (lets say, t...moreBeing a Murakami fan and after reading some of the many five star reviews, I feel like a bit of a spoilsport. While I loved the beginning (lets say, the first 300 pages) and would give the story the full amount of stars if it went on like that, there was a point where the story feels less like it unfolded and more like it was written. When I'm reading a good work of fiction, I want to be carried along by the story and characters, without being reminded that this is an author laboring to bring these events to fruition. At a certain point in this novel, 1Q84 seemed more like Murakami was forcing events to happen for the sake of a pre-determined conclusion than because the arc of the story lead naturally to those happenings.
Somehow, despite being 925 pages long, 1Q84 doesn't seem complete. What, for example, exactly are the Little People after? While I never have felt the need for an explanation for weird and magical happenings in Murakami before, I feel that too much effort was spent bringing the heroine and hero together (or deliberately keeping them apart) at the expense of what was happening to make this strange alternate universe of 1Q84 be. It is still an engaging and absorbing read, but as the book went on and Aomame herself lost her angry edge, I feel the book lost some of its edge and purpose as well.
Still, I wish the star ratings were relative. For example, Murakami as a writer gets 4.4 stars consistently, but within that, each book can be graded against each other. No one is as good at twisting ordinary reality into the magically absurd. And for once, I feel more depth to the main protagonists, male and female. All in all it was time well spent, but I couldn't help feeling a little dissatisfied with the last half. (less)
I have to admit that I feel a little smug at the random literary choices that lead me to read both "Cloud Atlas" and Rudiger Safranski's philosophical...moreI have to admit that I feel a little smug at the random literary choices that lead me to read both "Cloud Atlas" and Rudiger Safranski's philosophical biography of Nietzsche at the same time. For while the movie version of "Cloud Atlas" tries to sell us on karmic redemption, the novel seems to me to be, on one level, a critique of the ideas of Nietzsche in literary form. Through the skillful employment of fiction, David Mitchell makes a convincing argument against Nietzsche's conception of slavery and the will to power. Far from fostering a new creative renaissance that elevates the artist, slavery engenders laziness in the privileged class and robs those of the slave class of their intellectual freedom (Sonmi-451, Robert Frobisher). Also easily corrupted is the will to power, which, instead of aiding in self-actualization in order to throw over an overbearing cultural norm, can be used as a means of brutality for no greater goal other than greed and domination (Bill Smoke, Henry Goose). The only tricky part to this pairing of books is that "Cloud Atlas" is eminently and compellingly readable, and Safranski's biography is not as much so. Safranski has yet to delve into Nietzsche's ideas on eternal recurrence, and I am already done with "Cloud Atlas". I suppose I'll just have to re-read "Cloud Atlas" when the time comes. Not an unpleasant thought.
For its own sake, independent of Nietzsche, I enjoyed "Cloud Atlas" thoroughly. "The Orison of Sonmi-451" was science fiction at it's most eloquent, both heartbreaking and beautiful. "Half-Lives, The First Luisa Rey Mystery" parodied itself without sacrificing character or suspense. The two narcissists, Timothy Cavendish and Robert Frobisher, though never giving up their egoism, manage to arouse compassion (in Frobisher's case), or at least sympathy (in Cavindish's). In both story and in theme, David Mitchell gives us a lot to feel and think about. My only hesitation in giving "Cloud Atlas" that last star has more to do with my own reading preferences. Though I appreciate what Mitchell was trying to do through weaving together all of the different story lines, I very much dislike jumping from story to story in a novel. I get so caught up in a given character and plot line, and then abruptly I'm asked to put that on pause and go on to another. Somewhere towards the end in all but my favorite one or two stories, I got frustrated and just want to find out what happens in the story immediately following. The only time I found it bearable was sequence of "Sloosha's Crossin an Ev'rythin After" being nested in "the Orison of Sonmi-451" because I knew I wasn't far from getting back to Sonmi's tale. Next time I read "Cloud Atlas", I think I will ignore the "nesting doll" format, and just read each story straight through. (less)
I will not deny the greatness of "The Slynx". While I read it in English, I have to give kudos to translator Jamey Gambrell for capturing an book writ...moreI will not deny the greatness of "The Slynx". While I read it in English, I have to give kudos to translator Jamey Gambrell for capturing an book written entirely in dialect, and not making it sound forced. The language that Ms. Gambrell used had a rhythm and flow to it that felt natural and preserved the humor that I imagine the original Russian must have. The cultural wasteland that is described in "The Slynx" is wretched, and the base nature of the narrator, Benedikt, illustrates this perfectly. Tolstaya is unrelenting in her portrait of a landscape, both internally and externally, blighted by nuclear disaster. Her description of its aftermath is woven into the tapestry of the novel seamlessly, never stopping to make a clumsy explanation of how things came to be, but illustrating them in an organic fashion as our anti-hero Benedikt goes about his life.
I enjoyed "The Slynx" for a while, but it never grabbed me completely. Benedikt was somewhat sympathetic and enjoyable at first, but after his marriage to the daughter of the leader of the thought police, called the Saniturions, I ceased to care. His complete lack of self-reflection and empathy made it so I could barely relate to him. The dialect, as lively and inventive as it was, became oppressive. I wanted out of Benedikt's head and life. By the end of the novel, I could sympathize with the OIdeners, the people who were alive before the disaster, and by virtue of their mutations, were semi-immortal. They lived in perpetual mourning of the lives they lost before the Blast, and were unable to assimilate into the present-day society because of its corse and brutal nature. "You can't do anything with them, these Oldeners. They start shouting at the wrong time, swear in strange words, and push you around for who knows what reason. They're always unhappy: they don't understand a good joke, they don't like our dances and games, they never have a good time like people are supposed to, they're no fun, and all you hear from them is "Oh, horrors!" when nothing horrible is happening at all." In a society where the pinnacle of humor is someone hurting themselves ("Of course, if someone hurts me or my body, it's not funny. If it's someone else, it's funny. Why? Because me--that's me; and him--that's not me, it's him"), and a game consists of people smothering each other til "he's all red and sweating, and his hair's sticking out like a harpy's. People rarely die, our guys are strong, they fight, there's a lot of strength in their muscles."
I would have preferred that one of the Oldeners be my guide to this nightmare, even if they're no fun. But that's a personal preference, and has nothing to do with the artistic merit of this novel. If I could, I would give this book three stars in accordance with my personal taste, and four point five for literary achievement. Tolstaya managed to brilliantly capture a true dystopia, beyond anything I've read or seen before in how it is pictured. As it stands, since this is my personal Goodreads account, I'll stick with the three. (less)
"The Beet Queen" is an eloquent and honest portrayal of the awkwardness of our closest relationships and childhood. The story centers around two famil...more"The Beet Queen" is an eloquent and honest portrayal of the awkwardness of our closest relationships and childhood. The story centers around two families, linked through the friendship of Sita, then Mary to Celestine. It is told through the lenses of the three girls, Mary's brother Karl, Celestine's brother Russell, and one or two friends of their family.
"The Beet Queen" begins in the quasi-magical perspective of a child, with Mary and Karl's mother abandoning them at a fair. Their paths diverge--Mary taking root in a small town, and Karl drifting aimlessly. Settling in Argus, Mary "steals" Sita's best friend Celestine, beginning a lifelong friendship that is, despite all other happenings, the heart of this novel. Raw and unsparing in its portrayal as the characters are to each other, Erdrich lets the ugly, flawed and uncompromising parts of each person shine. "The Beet Queen" glories in the parts of our nature that don't fit in with the ideal portrait of humanity, the stubborn part of our psyche that would rather rebel than be something we're not. In this way, it is not a nice read, but luminously course. It begs you not to sympathize with the plight its characters, but empathize with their shortcomings and resignations, and to see what beauty there may be in that.(less)