I bought and read this book for a class I took on Southeast Asian history. It begins as the British army invades Burma roughly 1885 and ends in 1996....moreI bought and read this book for a class I took on Southeast Asian history. It begins as the British army invades Burma roughly 1885 and ends in 1996. The action primarily takes place in Burma and India with brief trips to Malaysia/Singapore.
Summary: Rajkumar is a poor orphaned Indian boy in Burma as the British invade. He sees Dolly, a servant of the Queen and vows to find and marry her. As the story continues he becomes a rich man, marries Dolly, and the plot shifts to their children.
I was engaged by the story almost immediately and found it a pretty easy read. It moves quickly and is pretty good historical fiction although if you might have problems if you are unfamiliar with the region. I was studying this in class but if I was reading it on my own I would definitely want to do more research. The reader meets many characters who represent some of the people, actions, and reactions of the region to war, colonialism, and economics. Interestingly while much of the book takes place in Burma the main focus is on Indians rather than the Burmese.
I had two problems with this book. First there is not enough time spent on each character and too many characters are introduced too rapidly meaning that sometimes the relationships were blurred in my head. Second huge amounts of time are passed over in sentence or two. 1914-1929 goes by in a blink and post-WWII receives only cursory attention while still important to the story. Although the book is already quite long (my paperback is 470 pages), I felt it could have been longer and then the story could have been fuller.
Overall: 3 1/2 out of 5 I enjoyed it and I'm recommending it to my mom but I feel there are serious flaws that detracted from the book. (less)
I knew this was a very important book; apocryphally the book written by the little lady who started a big war. I knew it was a response to the (dreadf...moreI knew this was a very important book; apocryphally the book written by the little lady who started a big war. I knew it was a response to the (dreadful) Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and that it sparked increased abolitionist feeling in the North. I knew about Eliza crossing the frozen river (The King and I) and about the evil Simon Legree. But there were still some surprises.
Firstly this is a melodramatic novel featuring very cardboard characters who represent specific types of the period. For example there is the evil slave owner (Legree); there is an angelic little girl (who made me think of Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop which I've never read but I've seen an adaptation); there is a slave owner who is conflicted about the system of slavery; there are Northern anti-slavery people who have slavery brought to their doorstep. Nothing that happens is particularly surprising and none of the characters have any depth or growth.
Secondly I just realized a plot might be helpful. Uncle Tom is a slave on a farm where he is about to be sold because his owner is profligate. A little boy named Harry is also about to be sold away from his mother Eliza. She is terrified about this prospect and so runs away, accumulating family and escaping to Canada along the way. Uncle Tom however submits to his fate and is first bought by an ambivalent slave owner who ends up dying before freeing him, leaving him to be sold to the vile Legree which leads to his death.
Some of the major parts of this book are evangelical fervor; pretty much every page has Christianity references and it can be overwhelming because even modern Christian novels I've read are not so steeped in my opinion. The morality of women and their ability to influence their husbands from their proper domestic sphere also occurs. Stowe's solution for post-abolition seems to be colonization of Liberia using ex-slaves as missionaries to spread Christianity which seems impractical to me and obviously did not end up happening. It is also interesting to look at her racial attitudes which are awful in our times but were actually among the most liberal for the 1850s! I read this for class and my professor called it "romantic racism" where Africans are recognized to have a soul but aren't as good as Anglo-Saxons.
It is also interesting how the use of Uncle Tom has changed. Now he is considered a subservient simpleminded slave but here he is actually very responsible and devoted to his Christian faith. When Legree demands Uncle Tom betray his slaves who have escaped, he refuses and is protected by his faith so that he dies secure in the knowledge of his betrayal. Actually the representation of Uncle Tom as bowing and scraping comes from ministrel shows where Stowe's story was twisted to actually promote slavery.
Overall: I'm very pleased that I've read this very important book now. While there are some crazy coincidences a la Dickens, they come together rather well. The only bad thing was the flowery language which meant I usually could only read one chapter at a time with lots of breaks. So I will rate this 4/5 and recommend it.(less)
Summary: "The first novel about the common people that does not lie." Part of Zola's story cycle this is the story of a woman in working-class Paris a...moreSummary: "The first novel about the common people that does not lie." Part of Zola's story cycle this is the story of a woman in working-class Paris and her life with her lover and husband, their children, and her eventually downfall through pride and drink.
Why I Read: It was for class as we were studying the Second Empire of France. I had also read "Therese Raquin" in my hated English class in high school.
My thoughts: I had enjoyed "Therese Raquin" until about the halfway point and that also occurred in this book. It seems I like the story until the inevitable downfall of the main character. Here Gervaise is a successful laundress whose husband Coupeau is also an industrious member of society. But after he is injured on the job, he slowly recuperates and then spends most of his days drinking. She takes longer to fall but eventually does so too. I found the characters very unsympathetic. There are vivid descriptions of husband to wife and father to daughter beatings and overall I found it very disgusting. I hope it doesn't make me a snob if I say that if this is truly accurate, then I'm glad I'm not working class French in the Second Empire.
Overall: 3/5 I think I only finished it because it was for class.(less)
If you have an interest in this topic, then I would rate this book a 5; if you are reading it as a school assignment, I'm afraid I can only give this...moreIf you have an interest in this topic, then I would rate this book a 5; if you are reading it as a school assignment, I'm afraid I can only give this dense Congressional history a 3. Average of a 4.(less)
This is a memoir of noted historian Peter Gay who lived under Hitler as a designated Jew. He wrestles with his ambivalent feelings toward Germany. It'...moreThis is a memoir of noted historian Peter Gay who lived under Hitler as a designated Jew. He wrestles with his ambivalent feelings toward Germany. It's a very angry book and could be difficult to read for some. He is also a big fan of Freud and psychoanalyzes himself, which I very much disliked. I would give this one 3.5.(less)
Summary: "America's story from the point of view of--and in the words of--America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, worki...moreSummary: "America's story from the point of view of--and in the words of--America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers." (from back cover)
Why I Read It: Well my focus is American history for my major so one would expect that I would read this but this was assigned for a class because Zinn recently died and this is such an important book to the study of history.
Thoughts: This book starts right out saying how it is going to be different than the history you learned in high school. You know Christopher Columbus, that guy who get a day off for and who discovered America? Yeah, he basically started a genocide on the Indians living in the Americas. And that is never really mentioned; instead he is celebrated for his vision and will. So Zinn's purpose is to bring stories such as this to the forefront-those who are celebrated and maybe shouldn't be? For example, did you know about Andrew Jackson's brutal treatment of American Indians? (Well I did because I despise him and have a lot of problems with him but a lot of people don't). What about socialist movements in the 1920s? Obviously the word "socialist" is a trigger word for many people but what do you seriously know about them? Besides deconstructing some of the American myths, Zinn also highlights underreported movements such as various labor protests.
One flaw, which he acknowledges, is the lack of discussion regarding Latino/a and queer movements (I read this for a college course and this came up). Obviously he can't cover everything but this is called a people's history so by excluding some people, what does that say to them when they're already excluded from traditional narratives?
Overall: It may seem like I really loved the book but I really didn't: 3 out of 5. So long and dense and boring. Not my cup of tea. But most of the people in my class loved it and got a lot out of it.(less)
Summary: The classic story of a man who builds a time machine and travels into a horrifying future.
Why I Read: It was assigned for class but it also o...moreSummary: The classic story of a man who builds a time machine and travels into a horrifying future.
Why I Read: It was assigned for class but it also overlapped with a personal challenge.
My Thoughts: I didn't really know what to expect but the future that this man goes into is like a capitalist nightmare. The leisured class have degenerated into frolickers while the workers have become blind mole people who feast on them. It was weird. Then he goes even further into the future where pretty much everything is dead. It is certainly not the kind of future I would want to imagine and put down on paper although I am also not a brilliant writer and I'm not aspiring to that.
Overall: 4 out of 5. It's an important book; part of the founding of the genre of science fiction and very interesting in its forecasting of the future but it's not really my type of book. It is however blessedly short (and my copy had largeish font so it's actually even shorter.) (less)
Did you know George Orwell was a pen name? I didn't until I looked up his wikipedia page prior to my class discussing this book.
Summary: Orwell invest...moreDid you know George Orwell was a pen name? I didn't until I looked up his wikipedia page prior to my class discussing this book.
Summary: Orwell investigated conditions for the working class and it turned into a discussion about socialism.
Thoughts: There are some very vivid examples in this book such as the coal miner whose black thumb print covers the bread and the statement that middle class children are told that the working classes smell, basically from birth. This creates conditions where those who might be sympathetic to socialism and would benefit more from it than from capitalism look down on the socialists. The language used also pushes people away. It's especially remarkable because the book opens with a letter from the people distributing the book, disclaiming some of the attitudes expressed. It definitely encourages me to get started on reading "1984."
Overall: 4/5. I prefer his fiction but this is very readable and raises some interesting issues.(less)
It sounds SO interesting: Spies! That's such a romantic topic and could be so exciting. But this is a history book and it was a slog. It was assigned...moreIt sounds SO interesting: Spies! That's such a romantic topic and could be so exciting. But this is a history book and it was a slog. It was assigned for class and was one of the more liked books, which really just means that the other books we had to read sucked even more. There were a few chapters that were slightly more interesting than the others but overall super boring.(less)
So boring; this was assigned for class and the majority of us hated it. It was marginally readable though. Would probably be enjoyable to someone who...moreSo boring; this was assigned for class and the majority of us hated it. It was marginally readable though. Would probably be enjoyable to someone who had an interest or grounding in the topic; I have neither so it was a struggle(less)