I enjoyed this bittersweet tale of a family in modern Mumbai more than I expected. Reading about dysfunctional families is usually far more stressfulI enjoyed this bittersweet tale of a family in modern Mumbai more than I expected. Reading about dysfunctional families is usually far more stressful than enjoyable, and I don't particularly relish that feeling of rising blood-pressure. Here, though, the author does an admirable job of mixing in just enough sweetness and humor to balance out the bitter without straying into the sentimental and twee. The urban Mumbai setting comes to life, despite the plot taking place mostly in a claustrophobic 2-room flat. While the themes of caring for aging parents and religious tolerance are universal, they also feel particularly fitting with the setting and culture. The characters are flawed, yet all manage to show some sympathetic side by the end....more
Like Invisible Cities or One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Passion takes a vivid historical setting--in this case Venice during the Napoleonic Wars,Like Invisible Cities or One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Passion takes a vivid historical setting--in this case Venice during the Napoleonic Wars, and gives it a fantastical twist. I enjoyed the first half the most, where we encounter the poultry-loving Bonaparte with his lethal warhorse, naive farmboy-soldier Henri, and a water-walking Venetian casino girl. At some point, though, the Big Philosophical Ideas in vague, overdone so-very-serious literary tones took over and my enthusiasm for this lovely little book flagged somewhat. The ending is fittingly bittersweet, but I didn't feel close enough to the characters for it to hit me particularly hard....more
George Eliot is quickly rising on my list of favorite Victorian authors. I can recall reading Silas Marner back in high school and liking it well enouGeorge Eliot is quickly rising on my list of favorite Victorian authors. I can recall reading Silas Marner back in high school and liking it well enough, but I'm tempted to revisit it now to see if I'd appreciate it even more now. In Mill on the Floss, I found that where Dickens writes vivid and unforgettable secondary characters with memorable names and quirks, Eliot writes writes more realistic characters. They aren't so quirky, but have many interesting facets that make them seem complex. I understand that Mill's main character Maggie is semi-autobiographical, so maybe that's why I was drawn more to her than I have been to other Victorian-era female characters in a long while. I got the feeling Maggie was a modern woman trapped in a constricting society, but her attempts to fit herself into her expected roles all go terribly wrong. It's difficult not to empathize with her. I most enjoyed the early part of the book about Maggie and her self-righteous brother Tom's childhood, and while the story ran away with itself in the end (in an admittedly Victorian manner) I still came away from the book wanting to read more....more
Ouch. I think I strained my reading muscles trying to finish this one. The only things I can say I liked about it are the concept of a world gone blinOuch. I think I strained my reading muscles trying to finish this one. The only things I can say I liked about it are the concept of a world gone blind, and the first few chapters that follow patient zero through his experiences after being struck by "white blindness" while waiting at a red light.
After this, the story went into a weird parable-like place. I couldn't suspend my disbelief with how the society very quickly disintegrated into utter end-of-the-world chaos. The first thing the fictional government does when identifying this contagious blindness is what any of us would do, right? Round up all the blind people, put them in what amounts to a concentration camp, and have soldiers shoot to kill if any of the blind inmates wanders across a line they can't even see. Conditions disintegrate very quickly in the blind compound because, in addition to being blind, people are apparently also no long able to wash themselves, do any sort of cleaning or maintenance, organize themselves in any way, and seem unable to care about anything beyond the immediate personal needs of food and sex. It seemed to me that along with their sight, they lost something else human inside their brains.
Meanwhile, no one--scientists, the government, the medical community--makes any visible effort to put on some hazmat suits, interact with victims/inmates and try learn the source of the blindness.They won't even provide basic first aid supplies or communicate with victims, though I doubt diseases can be passed over the phone. Blind people are basically reduced to bumbling hungry zombies, and even though it's implied that the world outside the compound is going blind (meaning that presumably the soldiers' families and loved ones are being carted away to similar guarded institutions), containment and trigger-happy shooting of inmates is still the method of choice for dealing with the crisis. I wonder what blind readers make of this novel?
But wait, not everyone goes blind! No, the unnamed Doctor's Wife only pretends to be blind so she can join her husband in the compound. (Are there others? No idea, but they are all probably passively pretending to be blind, too, though why anyone would do that isn't clear). There is also at least one blind person in the compound who was blind long before the epidemic, knows braille, and can presumably live a fairly independent life. But the Doctor's Wife's main prerogative seems to be hiding the fact she can see and dodging any form of leadership/responsibility...at least until things escalate to truly horrific proportions. The "former" blind man doesn't seem to bother teaching the recent blind ways to deal with their condition, so the people just shuffle around, run into walls, destroy the latrines, wander into the "death zone" and get shot, leave most of their dead unburied because they don't want to deal with it, eat and have sex and sleep and hope everything will be over soon. I don't even want to go into the gang rape scene and the way the women embrace it as "the only way to ensure our men get fed" because some blind jerk in another ward brought a gun and is holding food hostage, but I spent entirely too much of this book brainstorming solutions for these individuals' various problems. Dig a latrine in the yard! Ignore the blind man with the gun, he can't actually see you to shoot you! Get the former blind guy teaching survival skills! Train the dogs to lead you around! Maintain communications with the outside world!
Humanity certainly has its dark and grotesque side, but all that goes along with our ability to adapt, to innovate, to think and to problem-solve. There's hardly any of that here, which made this story and characters maddeningly difficult to read about. The book ended finally (finally!) with, as I'd predicted, a heavy-handed ending complete with the deus ex machina, religious symbolism and everything. Fitting, I'd say.
In the Magic Mountain time slows to a crawl, holds one hostage, and eventually inflicts on one a form of Stockholm Syndrome. I'm describing the effectIn the Magic Mountain time slows to a crawl, holds one hostage, and eventually inflicts on one a form of Stockholm Syndrome. I'm describing the effects on me as a reader of the book, not the characters themselves, though perhaps the same could be said of them.
Not to sugarcoat matters, this was a long, slow crawl of a book that required lots of self-discipline on my part to finish it within a month. I can't call it a novel because there is a setting (a sanitarium in the Swiss alps), and some characters (Hans Castorp et. al.), but in place of a plot we get some lovely meditative writing, some jewels of description and insight into human nature. The X-ray scene! The first half of the Snow chapter! The seance! But this all comes alongside a pervasive "Groundhog-Day" feeling of dull repetitiveness and long-winded, dated discussions of stale political philosophies (can anyone actually follow these things?). I especially dreaded the chapters where Sembrettini, Naphta, and Peeperkorn showed up.
So why am I not grumpy with this book? I am. But there's that Stockholm Syndrome. After nearly a month of habitually picking up this book first thing in the morning over a cup of green tea and trudging through 5% (about 35 pages) each day, I came to find it a soothing morning meditation. For the rest of the day I would feel accomplished, sort of like an bonus to the runners-high that carries me through my day after a quick 3 miles around the block. By the second half, I finally (FINALLY) even found myself emotionally responding to some of the more tragic moments. Surprising things--plot things--actually happen in the final chapters, and the ending provided a much-needed kick in the gut.
If only it had been tighter. And shorter. I could have liked this for more than as a meditation manual and cure for insomnia. I'm glad I read Magic Mountain, but it requires an immense amount of patience to tackle and I wouldn't recommended it to the average reader who is not border-line OCD about reading door-stop classics....more
When I visited Missoula, Montana this summer, I made a point to track down this book in every bookstore I visited (there are a lot of them in MissoulaWhen I visited Missoula, Montana this summer, I made a point to track down this book in every bookstore I visited (there are a lot of them in Missoula). Sometimes I found it placed prominently in front, or even in the display window. Once, in one store adjacent to a popular Griz football team-themed eatery, it was hidden in a rack that that took me half an hour to track down. Perhaps it's no surprise that many Missoulans resent the implication of Kraukauer's new book that, at the surface, seems to cast Missoula as "Rape City, USA" (according to one person I talked to). Well, those people need to read the book. Though the subject matter is disturbing and ultimately left me in an angry simmer, the author makes it very clear that the way the US justice system deals with rape is a national problem, not a regional one. Certain individuals come across as heroic, others not so much, but ultimately the problem seems to lie within a culture of entitled males, victim-shaming, and a general failure of the judicial system to deal with "he said/she said" situations cast all-too-frequently with reasonable doubt. Although I didn't feel like a lot of this material is new and groundbreaking (my college had a rash of sexual assaults back in the day, so I have a pretty good idea of the kind of environment this stuff springs from), the argument of rape as a particularly difficult crime to prosecute is presented in a clear, evidence-supported manner....more
So I haven't seen the film *gasp*, but I always had the impression that it was a rather whimsical, romantic story. While I enjoyed the novella, I didnSo I haven't seen the film *gasp*, but I always had the impression that it was a rather whimsical, romantic story. While I enjoyed the novella, I didn't find it to be whimsical or romantic, at least not without a cynical tinge. The narrator, though he is obviously deeply affected by Holly Golighty's intermittent attentions, is always treated as a cast-off and a bit player. Don't get me wrong, I like that there isn't really a romance between him and Holly, and I like Holly's intense aversion to being "caged"...and I'm glad she manages to fly the coop, in more ways than one. Everything, from the narration to the dialogue, has a very 50's feel to it, and even played out in black-and-white in my head. It even felt quite scandalous, in that 1950s way. (She sleeps around! gasp!!)
My edition also included three of Capote's short stories. I found them basically ok, rather old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the bittersweet "A Christmas Memory" the most, maybe because it seemed the most true-to-life, where the other two struck me a little phony, somehow....more
I enjoyed the lovely poetic imagery and my rhyming translation, and laughed aloud at the self-insert author's wry observations, especially at the younI enjoyed the lovely poetic imagery and my rhyming translation, and laughed aloud at the self-insert author's wry observations, especially at the young ladies' memory albums...and of course their feet. As for the story, I couldn't get myself as emotionally invested as I wanted. Everything peaks fairly early on, and I found myself reading for the author's voice more than anything. I do hear that the opera version is fantastic and I would love to see it, but I feel I might have breezed too quickly through the audio version, wonderfully narrated as it was. Perhaps someday I'll try again, in print, and see if it hits me harder....more