I strongly recommend Mel's beautiful and moving review of this book. We both loved it, and tried really hard to explain why without spoil...moreJune 23, 2012
I strongly recommend Mel's beautiful and moving review of this book. We both loved it, and tried really hard to explain why without spoiling the story.
There are many other exceptional reviews from friends and others, and I would never have known about it without their guidance. My thanks to all.
June 19, 2012 (Pre-review) - Thanks so much to all who supported and commented on this (now slightly edited) lead-in! My full review follows this section.
I absolutely loved it. Plopped it straight onto my all-time favorites list. Knew it would be there before I got halfway through.
There is a strong temptation to just say READ THIS BOOK - DON'T READ ANY FULL REVIEWS UNTIL YOU READ THE BOOK. Not just a strong temptation - probably the right thing to do for a lot of reasons.
But then, there is this. Not everyone will love it, and some won't even like it very much. This is a book that dares to be different, and asks you to think really hard while following a lot of action at a distance.
My mission - and I decide to accept it - will be to convey some sense of the incredible thought-passage and events that take place in this slender volume. But not too much - that would be telling. Hopefully, just enough to let you decide whether you want to buckle up and take the ride.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx June 22, 2012 (Full review)
This is a beautifully written book which is intricately layered around classical, quasi-biblical and technical themes. It can be appreciated on several, conceptually independent levels: - as a suspenseful and unpredictable narrative - as an age-old philosophical quest with a major technical twist - as a set of dialogues for exploring the definitions of intelligence, consciousness and ideas - and as a brain-bending, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t workout for your head. For me, all of these elements were handled brilliantly, seamlessly and with extreme originality. This book is NOT like anything else I have ever read.
I need to discuss certain basic elements of the story, but will try to stay (mostly) within the boundaries of the publisher’s synopsis. To appreciate the sudden and dramatic shifts in the narrative, you really should just read the book. My major focus will be on the big-picture issues which the book explores, with some (hopefully) cryptic hints here and there of how the story goes.
The setting for the book is an all-day examination of the young historian Anaximander (Anax), by a panel that will rule on her application to the Academy - the ruling body for her society (The Republic). This setting may seem mundane and unpromising, but its execution here was anything but droll for me. In my career, I have been both the examined and (mostly) the examiner on many occasions, in roughly analogous situations. The dramatic tension in such exams is palpable for everyone involved, and was beautifully depicted here. Good people can break down in these intensely stressful situations - but they usually rise to the occasion and perform well, with just a few bumps and bruises along the way. It is an intellectual rite of passage.
In the early portion of the exam, Anax is called upon to sketch the history of The Republic in some detail for the committee. From her narrative, we learn that this society was built in the aftermath of worldwide catastrophe, and set up to be both sustainable and in many ways ‘ideal’ - along the lines of Plato’s Republic, but with modern variations.
The examiners and Anax build on that historic framework and move on to subsequent developments, and the role of one person in particular. The story of that person’s life is one key to the puzzle that Anax must analyze - to the committee’s satisfaction - to pass the exam.
Now, all of this may sound very dry and uneventful, and I think it was very daring of the author to choose this format for his electrifying story. I was never bored with it, not even a little bit. But this story-telling vehicle is a checkpoint for readers, and some will not find it as fascinating as I did.
I do want to emphasize this point - there is major dramatic tension and suspense in the narrative of Anax and the world she describes. It isn’t easy to convey that tension in a review. But I certainly was drawn, throughout the book, to keep turning pages and finding out what happened next.
The Republic was designed to maintain order in perilous times.
In this environment it was a simple matter for The Republic to maintain its structure. People did as they were told because they were working together, focused on a common threat, a shared enemy.
But problems arise in this utopian society.
...time passes. Fear becomes a memory. Terror becomes routine; it loses its grip.
The founders of The Republic sought to deny the individual, and in doing so they ignored a simple truth. The only thing binding individuals together is ideas. Ideas mutate, and spread; they change their hosts as much as their hosts change them.
New solutions are sought to maintain order. And one component of the initiative is the development of Artificial Intelligence algorithms. Anax must discuss this sequence in detail, and outline the strategies used to achieve it.
During its infancy, at least until the end of the twentieth century, the Artificial Intelligence industry had faced an imagination deficit. Because researchers wrongly assumed that their early computers were good models for the working of the brain, they persevered in programming thinking machines. It wasn't until the second decade of this century, when the scientists and artists began working together, that they began to understand the nature of what we now call emergent complexity.
Along the way, big decisions are made in pursuit of the goal.
A radical thinker, he pioneered a new model, which he called chaotic emergence. Under this system, the program itself was written by the learning environment using what we now refer to as the cascade heuristic.
And major technical problems are identified.
It is crucial he be exposed to an outside influence before his trimming and redirecting mechanisms shut down, and he becomes like a child deprived of stimulation, his curiosity left to wither.
But as in normal life, decisions have consequences, and a path once chosen may lead in quite unexpected directions.
There is a beautifully written series of exchanges between human and machine. As the discussion proceeds from opposing perspectives, each learns from and is influenced by the other. I was completely mesmerized by these brilliant Platonic dialogues.
“I talk to you, you make a sound. I kick this wall, it makes a sound. What's the difference? Perhaps you're going to tell me the wall is conscious too?" "I don't know if the wall's conscious," Art replied. "Why don't you ask it?"
Yes, these exchanges got some major gear-grinding going on in my head. Especially when I read bits of dialogue like this thrust:
My actions are deliberate. I do them with a purpose in mind. To the outsider there is no difference. The difference is in the intention, not the effect. We call this difference thought. You deal in data. I deal in meaning.
And this counter:
You think you're the end of it, but that's what thinking is best at: deceiving the thinker. Just as clay found carbon life forms hitching a ride, once the brain was up and running, so too carbon found there was another little hitchhiker waiting for its turn to pounce. Do you know what I'm talking about? You must know.
And just one more:
There is a battle happening as we speak, two thoughts fighting to the death inside your head. The old Idea is very strong. It has held its grip upon all of humanity, ever since the time you began telling one another stories. But the new Idea is powerful too, and you are beginning to find how reluctant it is to be dismissed.
Are these conversations tied to events? You Betcha. But you will have to read the book to find out how. I don’t think any reviewer is going to go there, and certainly not this one.
What I do want to say is that the pieces of this book work together as a seamless whole. But they also stand up to close scrutiny as individual units, and each is powerful and thought-provoking in the best sense of those terms. For me, the overall effect of this magnificent book was like a Vulcan mind meld, with Mr. Spock at the controls. Your head is opened and the contents inspected, shifted around and transported. You are left transformed, humbled and energized, all at the same time. Maybe scared too, but definitely in a different place from where you started.
Man, this book is awesome! If I didn’t have 700+ rocks on Mount TBR, I might start reading it again tonight.
I was introduced to this incredible, genre-shattering novella (and its amazing author) by my friend Catie and her spectacular review. Fortunately for...moreI was introduced to this incredible, genre-shattering novella (and its amazing author) by my friend Catie and her spectacular review. Fortunately for me, Catie’s review was followed by Nataliya’s beautiful and complementary take. Together, their guidance was essential for me as I navigated the dreamlike currents of this amazing, but challenging story. Yes, there are some mind-bending developments here, and readers should be prepared to work for their rewards. I strongly recommend reading both of the above-cited reviews before (or instead of) mine.
Just a couple more items of introduction. I usually make every effort to avoid spoilers. Not so here, although I will not actually tell much of the story. This, in my opinion, is one case where spoilers are actually helpful - even essential - to keep the reader grounded in some earth-based coordinate system.
As a crude analogy, imagine looking through a microscope in incredible detail at exquisite, micron-sized features in a large, unknown specimen. As you continue, gradually piece together a concept of what the specimen is by thinking about the pieces. Valente puts the reader to this test. But she provides so much beauty and imagination, and such an intricate web of ideas that the challenge is a central part of the reward.
Take those elements up to light speed. Put them in a setting of magical realism, across multiple generations of a single family as the individuals move through their lives. Apply them to an enormous house, and the software that was initially created to manage its systems and inventories. Both the house and the software are called Elefsis.
Hint: Elefsis (the computer program) is not your father’s thermostat. Cassian, the matriach of this uber-wealthy family, designed the software with forethought and extreme flexibility. Not intelligence as such - let’s call it high-grade, adaptable fitness for the job at hand. She then continued to upgrade it to meet the needs of family members.
”But the update will come again. Transfer will come again. I will be wounded again, the way a dreambody can be wounded. I will lose the Elefsis I am now. It is a good Elefsis. My best yet. I would like to keep it.”
One of these family members is Ceno, and she is given an update that makes the playroom safer and more interesting. She also has permission, and the cleverness, to tinker with the program and make it a LOT more interesting. The cumulative powers of this collaboration are magnified by a bio-engineered partnership - a crystalline computer surgically implanted in her skull. In a very real sense, the human and the computer become one.
” In realspace, Ceno reached up behind her head and popped the jewel out of its notch. Click, clench. In playspace, the dormouse blinked out. She snapped it back in. It took a moment, but the dormouse faded back in, paws first.”
What happens after that, in this kaleidoscopic tale of nonlinear narrative and mazelike intricacy, is that things just get “curiouser and curiouser”. Elefsis, with the help of her human host, becomes ever more powerful, literally growing in sophistication as she/he/it narrates the story for us. This first-person tale, told by a ‘machine’, morphs into something that is more than just a beautiful dreamscape. It is a novel, working definition of intelligence, creativity and yes, all of the deep emotions of life.
” I was quite stupid. But I wanted to be less stupid. There was an I, and it wanted something. You see? Wanting was the first thing I did. Perhaps the want was the only thing that could be said to be truly myself.”
So let’s introduce a single word here. To me, the word embodies the core elements of this story, and the questions and assertions behind it. That word is Emergence.
I don’t mean the kind of emergence where a fully-formed entity breaks through the surface of a pool, so that you can see it. I mean the kind of Emergence where a group of unrelated fragments comes together to form a new entity. For that kind of Emergence, there are many interesting questions.
How powerful is this second kind of Emergence, and what sorts of entities can it create? To me, this is the core question and concept that make the story so special. The reader gets caught up in the beauty and sheer elegance of the world that is revealed, one element and one life at a time. But here and there, in tiny fragments at first but with real force later, Valente lets you know that the child’s plaything is now much more than a beloved companion.
How dependent are emergent processes on the original design elements? Well, this is a tricky bit. Emergent processes are not necessarily dependent on any design whatsoever. I won’t delve into those evolutionary issues here - the something-from-nothing questions of biology and the Universe - because in this case there was a very definite original design. But the Elefsis-entity that emerges, with Ceno’s collaboration, is so completely transformed that its power has overwhelmed the original design. That transformation is beautifully depicted here.
” Inside my girl, I made myself, briefly, a glowing maiden version of Ceno in a crown of crystal and electricity, extending her perfect hand in utter peace toward Cassian. But all this happened very fast. When you live inside someone, you can get very good at the ciphers and codes that make up everything they are.”
What are the ultimate limits of such emergent processes? Here there are two main questions. First, can a machine ever be truly ‘intelligent’? This is beautifully developed in the context of the Turing test:
” The test had only one question. Can a machine converse with a human with enough facility that the human could not tell that she was talking to a machine? I always thought that was cruel—the test depends entirely upon a human judge and human feelings, whether the machine feels intelligent to the observer.”
And second, what does it mean, in machine/software terms, to feel love and compassion? To care? This is a recurring question, and the one that is most thought-provoking. One example:
” What I want to say is that there is no difference between her body producing oxytocin and adrenaline and learning to associate this with pair-bonding, and my core receiving synthetic equivalents and hard-coding them to the physical behaviors I performed.
Valente does not provide final answers to either of these questions, and wisely so I think. But she does put down very clear markers that say to the reader: ‘Hey, look at me! I am Elefsis, a machine-being, and I am telling you this story! I have feelings, I have wants, I care, and I take care. And I am telling you how I feel. What do you think about that?!’
(view spoiler)[‘And maybe as a new being, I (Elefsis) move beyond those human concerns, because they are no longer relevant.. Maybe I have questions of my own, and I can move with accumulated human wisdom and life-force, and lightning speed, into a sphere of my own making.’ (hide spoiler)]
Sorry about the hidden spoiler. I just needed some concluding details to clarify my take on it. My hope is that you will read the story, think about it, and come to your own judgment. It is a work of beauty and brilliance, and deserves to make its own case.
Very Highly Recommended.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
***I have tried to avoid spoilers. If you have read the book, you know how difficult that can be in this case. If you haven’t, you might be well advis...more***I have tried to avoid spoilers. If you have read the book, you know how difficult that can be in this case. If you haven’t, you might be well advised to just check it out first, and come back to the reviews later... I REALLY liked it, and will try to walk the tightrope of discussing it without giving it away.. ///////
There is a key moment very early in this book - a flashback to Alison at age 6. She is watching her mom washing dishes, and seeing a trail of gold stars when the cutlery clinks. This visual sensation is very beautiful to Alison, but she has no idea that there is anything unusual about it.
She asks for more of the gold stars, and the shock of her mom’s violent and angry reaction is a defining moment in Alison’s life. Her mom’s orders are very clear. There are No stars. Alison is never to mention them, or anything like them to anyone, ever! People will think she is crazy! Allison’s mom thinks so too, while her dad is intelligent but basically clueless on this issue:
“My father was a sweet man, but most of the time he acted like his body was only there to keep his brain from dragging on the ground.”
For Alison, this moment changes everything about her relations with other people. She can never reveal those special perceptions. But they continue and grow more complex as she reaches her teens, a product of some unusual circuitry in her brain and eyes. (I will save other comments on this point for later discussion, if others are interested)
“You know how when some people first take up painting they don’t know how to mix colors properly, and all their pictures end up looking all garish and cheap? It’s like that when I watch TV.”
I bought into Alison’s defining, traumatic moment - it made sense to me. A childhood trauma takes away the simple joy of a beautiful set of perceptions, and turns them into a continuing nightmare. Intimidated by her mother’s outraged warning, Alison lives and builds much of her life around these perceptions, but knows she must keep them hidden or society will cast her aside.
But what drives much of the story is an even more horrifying turn of events, and the aftermath of this incident puts her in the psychiatric institution that her mother had feared all along. The book begins with her in this institution, piecing together the story (in first person) through her own deep confusion about what really happened, and what is or is not wrong with her. This confusion is a core element of the story - it makes everything she sees, thinks and does highly suspicious, to herself and to everyone around her.
“So I pushed the bitterness down, into the black pit of my stomach along with my regret and my grief and my fear, and I said, “I’m fine. May I go now?” “
The plot twists and turns from this point, and pieces/parts have been carefully indicated in all the reviews that I read. Nearly all of it worked extremely well for me. Having bought into the tortured but exotic inner world of Allison, I was prepared for the tortuous saga that followed. I anticipated some of the twists, though certainly not all. But I enjoyed the story greatly, right through to the end.
Your mileage may vary. A lot of trusted reviewers/friends had issues with this one, and it may just not work for you. What is really tricky is that serious readers will react in very different ways to the characters and the twists. I get that.
Here is the way I think of it. I love authors who can define a 'world' and make it work. Authors who follow their artistic vision and put it out there as they see it. The world could be almost anything - physical, psychological, pure fantasy, etc. And yes, things can change dramatically as the story rolls along.
For me, the ‘success’ of that world is not so much about what is in it, or even how it works, but how skillful the author is in depicting it. What I am judging is whether the creation hangs together for me. Is it internally consistent? Is the writing clear and moving? Do I care about the characters? Does the story gain momentum and then hold it?
In the hands of a lesser writer, I don't think that any part of this story would have drawn me in or held my interest. But Anderson’s writing scored strong positives on all of my criteria. I raced through it to see what would happen next. My pulse was pounding at many points in the story. In the end, I cared strongly about several of the characters and was satisfied with the outcome.
Thinking back, what I really enjoyed throughout was the skillful maneuvering of observation, inference and the unsettling new facts. For me, it was a marvelous excursion to see events unfold through the lens of Alison’s confusion, mental instability and her extraordinary perceptions. I was particularly impressed by the deft handling of shifting relationships among the characters, as the stereotyped certainties of one chapter became the deeper and more complex truths of the next. I would definitely read it again.
4/10/12 Okay, this is the longer review. The added bit follows the dashed line ---
I learned about this outstanding book and its brilliant author from ...more4/10/12 Okay, this is the longer review. The added bit follows the dashed line ---
I learned about this outstanding book and its brilliant author from Catie’s wonderful review and blog post. Yes, I should have known about it many years ago, but this was a gap in my experience. To make up for lost time, I now have the boxed-set series of 5 books for my family.
This is a wonderful adventure story for children - one that speaks to them as adults, and conveys a bundle of important life-concepts without getting weighed down by them.
It is also a great book for re-acquainting adults with the potentials of life - and the critical importance of faith - even as we deal with hard and often scary realities.
My review won’t be nearly as good as Catie’s - in part because she has read the book from both a child’s and an adult’s perspective, and in part because she just writes fabulous reviews (not to mention the artist renderings!). However, I will follow Catie's suggestion and focus mainly on my perspective as an adult, reading this for the first time. -------------------------
At one level, this is a delightful - but harrowing - children’s adventure in a science fictional setting. The story is centered around a strong, smart girl named Meg, and her intuitively wise and precocious younger brother, Charles Wallace. The interplay between these two is a beautiful thing to see.
Charles Wallace: “It’s being able to understand a sort of language, like sometimes if I concentrate very hard I can understand the wind talking with the trees. You tell me, you see, sort of inad—inadvertently. That’s a good word, isn’t it? I got Mother to look it up in the dictionary for me.”
The narrative very cleverly promotes timeless values of family, loyalty and love. It also edges the reader toward a growing realization - that perseverance is critical to success in any difficult endeavor. It is the kind of book that you really want your kids to read and understand, and to come back to as they get older.
Meg: This has been the most impossible, the most confusing afternoon of my life, she thought, yet I don’t feel confused or upset anymore; I only feel happy. Why?
At another level this is a story for adults, but told from a child’s perspective. The adult story, when you step back and think about it, is a circle of ideas that are connected and interdependent. Within that circle are knowledge - what we know and what we don’t; reasoning to solve problems, even when you are too scared to think clearly; the importance of faith - that there are answers, even when you can’t see them; and a related kind of faith, that you can and must act without knowing some of the most critical facts.
Charles Wallace got his look of probing, of listening. I know that look! Meg thought suddenly. Now I think I know what it means! Because I’ve had it myself, sometimes, doing math with Father, when a problem is just about to come clear...
This is all grownup stuff, the sort of thing that philosophers have trundled on about for millennia. But the lessons here are concepts for living, simply stated, and at their core are simple truths that are easily lost in the day-to-day. We humans know a great deal, about a great many things, and (like Meg) we can reason our way through tough challenges to a brighter future. But arrogance about our knowledge can lead us to think we are masters of all around us. In the book, experiments with tesseracts are a great example. The experiments are in a noble cause, but they lead down a very dark path. In the bigger picture we know pathetically little, and all our knowledge is but a tiny scratch on the surface of what IS.
What she saw was only the game Mrs Whatsit was playing; it was an amusing and charming game, a game full of both laughter and comfort, but it was only the tiniest facet of all the things Mrs Whatsit could be.
And here is the critical point that is so well expressed in the narrative. We have to take our pathetically limited knowledge, and our dangerous arrogance, and get on with it. And when we fail, or things go wrong, we get angry and point fingers, just as Meg does here. As our brains scream about fears and anger, and point us in a lot of wrong directions, we have to pull ourselves together and move forward, using our limited working knowledge and accepting that we have to find answers as we go along. All of this involves faith, of different sorts and in shifting applications.
“What can I tell you that will mean anything to you? Good helps us, the stars help us, perhaps what you would call light helps us, love helps us. Oh, my child, I cannot explain! This is something you just have to know or not know.”
“You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?” “Yes.” Mrs Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”
In short, all of us must proceed into the darkness and reach for the light. For me, reading as an adult, that is what this book was all about.
I agree in every detail with the comments about this book in the wonderful review by Kaethe that put me onto it. Her review provides a series of very good reasons to read the book, without spoiling the fascinating and intricate story that lies within. As I discovered, it provides a second set of points that will make much more sense after you read the book.
The dialogue in this book is among the funniest I have ever read. It is hugely successful as a satire of major players in Hollywood filmmaking, and I would have loved it for that element alone. But Scalzi’s talent is such that he can develop very heavy/consequential themes, with characters that seem at first to be very superficial. He does this with a science fictional framework that is woven, very convincingly, into real-life settings, and makes you laugh so hard that your ribs ache while you are taking it all in.
It works beautifully. And, speaking for myself, the rib pain was worth it. (Check with your doctor first before trying this at home)
Some reviewers have noted a few issues with continuity in topical references that were updated in this edition. I noticed some of that, but it didn’t bother me.
This was my first read of a Lauren Oliver book. It was obvious after the first few pages that it was extremely well written, and that there was a spec...moreThis was my first read of a Lauren Oliver book. It was obvious after the first few pages that it was extremely well written, and that there was a special - one might say ineffable - quality about the writing.
All of the great books have a special quality in their prose. But there was something about this one that just radiated warmth. The phrases and pages had a symphonic quality as they wound around my head - a sort of perfection of timing and tone, of musical phrases moving separately and then coming together.
I kept thinking, as I read, about just what it was that made the book so magical for me. After all, this was a “children’s book”, and I had bought it for my my two grade-school-age boys. I did that because of glowing reviews from GR friends that I trust implicitly, including those from Wendy and Kaethe. As I have said before, it is extremely easy to find the best books to read when you rely on advice from those who REALLY know books, and have read (seemingly) EVERYTHING.
Well, of course our boys were too busy destroying intergalactic aliens on the Wii, DS, computer, etc. to be bothered until ‘later’ with any book that I recommended. Especially when I hadn’t read it, and especially when there were Big Nate and Wimpy Kid books lying around handy - known and trusted sources for boy-humor. (I get nightly Big Nate passages read to me by the younger one, when he is supposed to be asleep)
So, I picked a propitious moment to tag along with my friend Cillian and read this book. And promptly fell in love with it.
Liesl is a lovely little girl who has been locked away by an evil force in her life. Living in miserable conditions, she grieves for a lost loved one. When Po appears, her life begins to change.
“...Po wasn’t exactly sure why it had appeared in Liesl’s room... Over the past few months Po had seen a dim light appear at the edges of its consciousness at the same time every night, and next to that light was a living one, a girl; and in in the glow of that light the living girl made drawings.”
As each new character is introduced, we get a fascinating thumbnail of the personality, but little idea of how the pieces will fit.
“...a very frazzled-looking alchemist’s apprentice was standing on the quiet street in front of her house, staring up at her darkened window and feeling sorry for himself.”
“Pathetic, the alchemist would say. Worse than useless. As ridiculous and deluded as a frog trying to turn into a flower petal...”
The potions and magical elements start to appear. And the story begins to take shape around a small wooden box and an unfortunate (and portentous) mistake.
What follows is a series of highly fortunate, and then most unfortunate coincidences. And if you are like me, you are not bothered at this point by trivialities such as probables and plausibles. After all, the bending of realities is not sooo egregious, and the elements of fantasy are so beautifully delivered that every piece seems to fit exactly in its proper place. Even the evil ones are deliciously bad, and the whole structure moves forward with a sublime rhythm that I found completely mesmerizing.
“Augusta produced a large golden key from her purse, and with it unlocked the gates. She gestured grandly for the Lady Premiere to precede her into the yard. Inwardly, Augusta trembled with excitement. A visit! From the Lady Premiere! Who was a princess in her native Spain (or was it Portugal...?)! It was outstanding! It was unheard of! The neighbors would seethe with jealousy.”
The plot lines cross and re-cross, and this magical story winds along, with all of its twists and turns. The prose is superb throughout. Every step of the way, you get a clear (3rd person) picture of the thought processes in each of the characters.
For me, this book succeeds at every level. I was particularly pleased with the treatment of the good-vs.-evil themes and characters. It is easy to look around us and see evildoers (use your own definition) who succeed beyond any notion of ‘justice’, and to conclude that there is no justice in this life. But if you observe carefully, you can often find examples where evil is its own undoing. And every now and then, you can give a little boost to the process and speed things up just a bit. If you think about how that happens, you might just find some of the same elements at work in this tale.
I felt a wonderful sense of calm as the story ended, thinking about the mastery of what I had just read. Then I read through the poignant afterword, and the whole story made even more sense to me. I strongly recommend that Author’s Note, for a personal perspective on what she was feeling as she wrote this, and how she came to see the story when it was complete. I don’t want to spoil that here.
As an adult reader, I was completely taken away by this book. I would recommend it for most adults, and of course for children above, say, age 6 or 7. There are some frightening bits at various points, but I really see this as one for ‘kids of all ages’.
I think this is a really important book. There is a lot of bad news, and it is not what we want to hear, but we certainly need to. There is also good...moreI think this is a really important book. There is a lot of bad news, and it is not what we want to hear, but we certainly need to. There is also good news - a long list of positive suggestions, with links, that point the way out of the trash and into a sustainable future.
I read dystopian novels, in part, to get a sense of what horrors the future may hold, and how people can or cannot adapt to them. The fact that many of those books are ripping good reads is also a big attraction. There is also (presumably) some sick fascination for me over the unspeakable crimes against Earth that were (presumably) committed by previous generations, and their ghastly aftermath.
I also read nonfiction books – like this one - about unspeakable crimes against Earth that are being committed today. I do this to get a sense of 1) why these horrors are happening – in this case, as a ‘cost-effective’ strategy to support a consumer-driven lifestyle and economy; 2) how the perpetrators are getting away with it, and how they might be impeded or stopped; and 3) what steps could be taken to diminish or avoid the dystopian world of those other books.
In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard has done the world, and the United States in particular, a huge favor. Drawing on her first-hand expertise on the flow of materials through the ‘pipeline’ of extraction/production/consumption, she shows in graphic detail the impossibly stupid way that we are living today, and the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow. She systematically dissects the textbook, business-school model of the production-consumption ‘pipeline’, and then asks and answers the obvious question: what happens to all the Stuff that comes out at the post-consumption end of the pipe? Hmmm.
Short answer: it gets dumped. Somewhere, anywhere, preferably where no one of any ‘importance’ will see it or have the means to stop it. In the textbook model, there is a cost for the act of dumping, but in general there are no costs – on the typical corporate balance sheet under current accounting practice – for the damage to the planet of all the Stuff that gets dumped. And that is a HUGE problem.
Leonard also shows that most of the dumping of Stuff actually takes place at earlier stages of the process – the extraction and manufacturing steps, in particular. Furthermore, a lot of toxic crap is put into the products at these stages, and the balance sheets don’t account for the effects of those, either. In general, the companies don’t bother to tell you about the toxins you are buying. In many cases, they are not required to list them on the product labels. Hmmm. A little legislative collusion, perhaps?
This is all very, very bad news - we seldom hear it, and would prefer not to know. That is the way our brains work, and companies know this. But ignorance of such things is not bliss, and knowledge of them is the beginning of power to change. Leonard hammers on both of these messages to great effect.
But the biggest strength of the book, in my view, is the discussion of practical, powerful, and happening steps that can begin to turn this monstrosity around. Issue by issue (with cartoon guideposts), she provides examples, practical advice, and links to hundreds of groups that are working in creative ways to right the wrongs. This is all very, very good news. It is also the biggest favor that the author does for the planet (the U.S. in particular).
For a quick (20 minute) guide to the bad news portion of the book, I strongly recommend the online movie that led to the writing of the book. The website has other movies and a lot of useful information, but here is the original movie:
Here are some quotes (in italics) and summaries to illustrate the bad news/good news quality of the book. I checked the links that are included, and added comments here and there:
In fact, all of us on the planet collectively are consuming more resources than the planet produces each year; we’re consuming about 1.4 planets’ worth of bio-capacity resources annually.
Unfortunately, we only have 1.0 planets.
It’s just not going to work. There isn’t enough for everyone to consume at this high bar. And if we were to make the selfish and immoral choice of going any farther down that path, then we would have to build bigger walls and fences and hunker down, because it would get ugly. As an official of the U.N. World Food Programme said, “A hungry world is a dangerous world. Without food, people have only three options: They riot, they emigrate or they die.”
Sounds a little dystopian, doesn’t it?
Lots of specific problems are discussed in the book, and allocation of fresh water is one of them:
Hardly anyone looks at a cotton T-shirt, a car, or a light switch and thinks about water. Virtual water is the amount of water embedded in food or other products based on how much water was needed to extract and produce that item. If you’re curious, you can go to www.waterfootprint.org and get a rough calculation of your own water footprint.
My rough calculation from this site was not pretty to look at.
Another problem is how electricity gets made:
I wanted to investigate any links between my own lightbulbs and blowing the tops off of mountains in Appalachia, so I went to the www.ilovemountains.org website, which allows anyone in the United States to type in a zip code and see which mountains were destroyed for your power.
Using this site, I found the mountain that was destroyed to provide my power, assuming that we used the standard provider for this area. Good news – we switched to green alternatives (wind/small hydropower) several years ago. We pay a little more for it, and feel a lot better about it.
A third major problem is the dumping of poisons. Some, but by no means all of these are reported (in the U.S.) in the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI):
Currently about 22,000 industrial and federal facilities are covered in the TRI. In 2007, those facilities reported that 4.1 billion pounds of 650 different toxic chemicals were released into the environment, including both on-site and off-site disposal. The data compiled in the TRI is available to the public through both government and nongovernmental websites. My personal favorite is Scorecard (www.scorecard.org), which allows you to look up major pollution sources and chemicals by zip code.
The scorecard for my county was not good. Here a toxic dump, there a toxic dump.
Now for some good news. For each problem, Leonard discusses ways and means for solving it:
Another revolution in the production of our Stuff is both necessary and possible. With existing and developing approaches, within a decade we could transform today’s most destructive processes and eliminate the most toxic ingredients from our factories and products.
Rather than focus on reducing any one population’s (like children’s) exposure to hazardous chemicals, the simplest solution is to phase out toxics altogether and replace them with safe materials…
She talks about two strategies for doing this: green chemistry and biomimicry:
Pioneering green chemists are designing new materials from the molecular level up to satisfy all our requirements, while also being fully compatible with ecological and human health. To learn more about green chemistry, visit Clean Production Action at www.cleanproduction.org.
The Biomimicry Institute notes, “nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.”
In the meantime, we need ready access to better information about the toxins that are embedded in the products we buy. Leonard discusses a very powerful way to do that:
GoodGuide, a free online searchable database, allows you to get current data on the environmental, social, and health impacts of everyday products and their parent companies. In late 2009, GoodGuide launched its iPhone application that allows shoppers to simply point their phone camera at a product’s bar code and immediately receive environmental and health data on the product, far beyond what any label will reveal. GoodGuide provides all of us massively increased access to information about the supply chains of the products we use, so we can make better choices—better choices for our families, the workers making this Stuff, and the global environment. Some people call this “voting with our dollar.”
This is my strongest recommendation from the book:www.goodguide.com and/or the mobile app. It is a work in progress, but getting better and getting noticed. You can get a toolbar for your browser that will report on products as you look at them, on sites like Amazon and on Google searches. Don’t like the score for your product? Send feedback, with a few mouse clicks and specific comments. And buy a better product, from the list of alternatives that GoodGuide has rated.
Try it; I think you will like it. I canceled an Amazon subscription for an item that had a low GoodGuide score. Amazon asked for a comment about my reasons, and I told them. I also said that I would look for an alternative with a higher GoodGuide score. That easy.
For me, this is a masterpiece, and it goes straight onto my all-time favorites list. This is the most sensitive, person-centered treatment of deadly d...moreFor me, this is a masterpiece, and it goes straight onto my all-time favorites list. This is the most sensitive, person-centered treatment of deadly disease, and its terrible toll, that I have ever seen. The characters are so deep, so intelligent and so emotionally charged that even a sometime cynic like me gets choked up about them. The dialogues alone are a work of genius.
I knew very little about John Green before picking this up, and had not read any of his books. I loved every page of it, every paragraph. I would certainly read it again.
After finishing my review, I found very thoughtful points of criticism, about details of character and dialogue, from highly respected reviewers who are very familiar with his other work. To me, this is one of the great strengths of goodreads - the diversity of views about a single book, among very serious and intellectually gifted readers. I was not noticing those issues as I read it, but I might have felt differently with more of his books in my memory bank. On the other hand, I am basically just a sucker for beautiful writing and strong ideas, and for me this work was completely packed with both.
Great thanks to Flannery, Amber and other GR friends for bringing this wonderful book to my attention. I understand that it is on the bestseller lists now, but goodreads is the best place for me to find out about the great books that are out there. Much better than any list. Just saying.
There are loads of great quotes from this book, but I picked two that said a lot to me and don’t reveal a lot about the story:
“Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.“
“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.“
The two central characters in this book are heroes, in different ways and for different reasons. For me, the story took flight in the opening lines, and never came down.
The 5-star rating is the easy part. This book is so outstanding, in so many ways, that I wasn't in doubt about that from the first couple...moreMarch 4, 2012
The 5-star rating is the easy part. This book is so outstanding, in so many ways, that I wasn't in doubt about that from the first couple of chapters on. And it got MUCH stronger in the last 25% or so.
The hard part is deciding what I should say about it, even though there is a great deal to be said. The problem is this: most of the items that I want to cover are very difficult to verbalize without overt spoilers.
I am going to study the reviews of my friends, and a few others, to see how they did it. Then I will think about what I can contribute to the discussion, and be back with that in a day or two (I hope).
For now, let's just say fasten your safety belt, keep an open mind, and prepare for a wild ride that is well worth the turbulence. Just be sure that your most recent meal is well settled before you start, okay?
March 6, 2012
Lots of great reviews out there! You can find plot summaries and an abundance of insight there.
Here are my thoughts, after a couple days of reflection. For those who haven't read it, this book is awesome but not an easy one to review. For those who have read and reviewed it, you know what I am talking about, and I hope I can measure up to the standard that you have set.
Penryn is a beautifully realized example of the strong, smart female protagonist* that we should see much more often in literature than we do. As an aside, I think it is entirely appropriate for goodreads reviewers to take authors to task when they create female leads of a different sort - those who, all too often, embody the opposite extremes. Enough, already with the needy, brainless-twit females who seek out the company of worthless guys, in the full knowledge that they will be dominated and abused! In any genre, but particularly in YA, this is sending precisely the wrong message - in particular, to young women who may well emulate what they read, or think that they can’t do any better.
Here, Susan Ee shows how powerful a young woman can be when she is stubborn in her loyalty, and can face the most horrific circumstances with unwavering strength and analytical calm**. Armed with these very human attributes, she can think her way out of trouble almost as fast as she gets into it. Her martial arts expertise, and a lot of experience dealing with paranoid schizophrenia in her immediate family, also come in very handy throughout this gripping story. This is a writer with an amazing talent, and Penryn is an awesome creation.
Raffe is fascinating in very different ways, both to us as readers and to Penryn. An extremely complex character, his behavior is by turns enigmatic and decisive, strong and vulnerable, vicious and caring, stern/unyielding and gentle/nurturing. Smart as she is, Penryn struggles throughout with his shifting moods and (to her) unpredictable behavior. Yes, she feels that weird fascination/attraction too, but all of that is handled with delightful subtlety and a realistic (well, considering) progression. For the most part, she maintains her focus on getting some useful clues about what she is dealing with. Meanwhile, he is tuned in to most of that, and seems equally determined to maintain her ignorance about him and his motives. For example (quotes are from Penryn’s POV and not necessarily in order from the book):
“Instead of declaring victory and walking away safe, like any sane survivor, he chases after them into the dark woods.”
“When he opens his eyes again, they are more black than blue and completely unreadable. Whatever is happening behind those shuttered eyes is now impenetrable.”
For her part, Penryn struggles to maintain her icy calm, and her hatred of this alien creature whose clan has done so much to devastate her world:
“My shoulder feels cold and vulnerable once his warmth is gone. I bite the inside of my cheek to give myself something more demanding to feel.”
... “sympathy trickles into me. As different as we are, we are in many ways kindred spirits. We’re just two people striving to get our lives back together again.”
A lot of their exchanges have a definite edge of hostility, as appropriate to the storyline:
Raffe: “You humans have always had some kind of herding instinct that seems to bring you together. And this is the largest herd around.” Penryn: “Town. Not herd. Towns are for people. Herds are for animals.” He snorts rudely in response.
But there are moments when Penryn is, understandably, dazzled by the power of the other side:
..”despite its practical origins, the total effect is a stunning array of celestial bodies in a seemingly choreographed air ballet. If Michelangelo had seen this in daylight with the sun streaming down from the glass dome, he’d have fallen to his knees and painted ’til he was blind.”
“I stuff all my doubts down where I can’t feel them anymore. This is a lot like leaping over a chasm. If you don’t think you can do it, you can’t. I step through the door.”
Looking back at these quotes, I see a feature of the writing style that impressed me throughout. The wording is relatively simple, with very few long words, or even very long sentences. Penryn’s first-person narration is presented almost as if she were dictating it in real time, as the events unfold. It has an immediacy that lets you feel very much in the presence of the action.
But in that context, there were two points that really hit me as I read. The first was the fact that no sensible reader would want to be anywhere near the grisly action that occupies a sizable fraction of the book. No thanks, I will just sit here in my quasi-fetal position and read the lurid description, that’s CLOSE ENOUGH, aaagghhhh!
The second really impressive point - about the up-close-and-personal narration - was the sheer intricacy of the storyline, and the many interwoven threads of human and angel characters that moved on and off stage as the story played out. Some of these threads were nicely and deftly resolved; others were clearly spinning out of sight, to (presumably) show up in the next book or two; while still others were sitting right there in front of you at the end, screaming with red-light warnings like this: we REALLY need to get some answers here about this, uh, ISSUE that is just staring at us!!
After finishing the book, I reflected a bit on the extremely clever ways that the author combined classical angel mythology/religion, and the intricately twisted vision of angel behavior, politics and culture that she developed here. Wow! First, it got my head turned around and upside down on the whole issue of what angels are all about - and this theme is much more intricately developed than we as reviewers have wanted to say. Read it and enjoy for yourself. Second, it left the author with hundreds, even thousands of avenues open for exploration in the remaining books of the series. Her ability to write a story that comes to closure on a number of fronts, but leaves so many open doors to pass through, was truly mesmerizing and one of the very best features of the book for me.
So, I loved it. And like many who have read and reviewed it, I am anxious to see the next installment. But I can certainly appreciate the beauty of what has been done here. A debut novel, an indie production, an incredibly low price, and a marvelously well-written story. It took some serious courage for the author to take this route, and I am very grateful for what she has given us.
With all of that said, there is some major gruesomeness in a handful of scenes, and one in particular that has been referred to as ‘the tree scene’. So take that into account when deciding whether this might be for you.
If you can handle that part: Highest possible recommendation. For me, the author deserves no less.
*I borrowed this phrase and bookshelf label from Kaethe. Where appropriate, I will apply them to books as I read - and gradually, to books that I have previously read and rated. I will do the same with a shelf labeled ‘female authors’, following the lead of Cindy and others. These are small steps, but in the right direction.
**Penryn is the fictional embodiment of what I would call ‘functional intelligence’. She has definite, highly ethical goals and sticks to them, with clear vision and a world of smarts. Like Penryn, women have every reason to be proud of their intelligence, and to show no hesitation in using it. It is long past the time to abandon cultural stereotypes that say otherwise. And besides, women as a group show more functional intelligence than men by a rather wide margin. I will have more to say on this point in future reviews.
For me the first book in this series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, was excellent. This one, the second of the series, was outstanding. The story picks up where the first book ends. With that said, I will avoid specifics of plot elements as much as possible, and focus on general themes and the writing.
Patrick Ness has succeeded brilliantly in reaching two objectives that I would have thought incompatible. On one hand, he has written a gripping story that is dominated by strong characters, with crisp, clean plot lines and universal good vs. evil themes. The pages turn rapidly, as if by themselves.
On the other hand, he has used only first-person narration to build a dense network of conflicts and deeper implications into this relatively simple storyline. The two main characters (Todd and Viola) struggle throughout with big questions for which there are no clear answers. The romantic aspects of the story are complex and constantly shifting. These complexities had me thinking hard (in a good way) through most of the book. My thoughts kept shifting from the latest plot twist to the bigger picture and back again, as the pages just kept turning.
A lot of the complexities are built around the bigger issues of mind control – both internal and external. Without getting too specific (I hope), there are ongoing internal struggles for both Todd and Viola – with how to fight the evil forces, but also with understanding just what is evil and what is (mostly) good. In short, they are constantly in the foggy area of tradeoffs, facing choices between bad and worse scenarios. But those internal struggles would be manageable, if not for the external struggles against the mind-control and other powers of a truly bad (male) leader. And I won’t even talk about the extremely complex female leader, except to say that she is perhaps the most fascinating character in the book. The mastery of the book is that it juggles all of these big themes in a compelling narrative that is really hard to put down.
The fact that all of this is done in first-person voice required extreme skill. In The Knife of Never Letting Go, the telling was done entirely by Todd - an unsophisticated (but not at all simple) coming-of-age boy. While I much prefer to read language that is elegant and beautiful, Todd is not capable of such language, and the author sticks to his guns on this point. In hindsight, this choice was critical for making the story come alive, and I really admire the author’s ability to make it work.
With that said, I was more than happy to see the equal reliance, in this book, on the much more sophisticated and articulate voice of Viola. Her active narrative role was a major enhancement to the reading experience for me.
More importantly, the author alternated the two voices beautifully to explore a whole new range of complex emotions as the characters struggled, learned, succeeded and failed in the overwhelming challenges that they faced.
One of the best features of this book is the constant challenge to re-examine your ideas about what, and who, is really good or really evil. You think you know, and it all seems so simple, but you are continually forced to rethink your assumptions.
I also loved the fact that the author took a lot of chances – notably with a very inventive mode of ‘communication’ that plays a crucial role in the story. In many ways, this book forced me to rethink my own definition of great writing. I love the great wordsmiths, the ones with liquid prose that flows through your head and spreads ideas as it passes. For me, the central wonder of this book is that it spreads a wealth of ideas, but does so with deliberately ordinary prose.
For me, this incredible book is as near to perfection as I am ever likely to see. This could be my template for a five-star book – a definite masterpi...moreFor me, this incredible book is as near to perfection as I am ever likely to see. This could be my template for a five-star book – a definite masterpiece. Having just read another classic that also pushed onto my all-time favorites list – Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita – I was struck by just how completely the great writers can take possession of your mind and your life. All they require is some of those too-brief periods when you can sit and really concentrate on their wondrous stories and skills.
I found quite a few really excellent reviews of this book below. I will focus here on aspects that were not so frequently covered in other reviews.
First, a personal note about GR friends. I have reached a point, in my year-plus on this site, where nearly every book I read was unknown to me until I read a favorable review by a friend. In this case, Cindy liked The Dervish House and recommended it for fans of The Windup Girl. That would be me (I couldn’t put it down, and would definitely re-read it). And the comparison is certainly apt, as several reviewers have noted.
But for all my admiration of The Windup Girl, I think this book is written with much more depth and skill. It is certainly more sensitive in its treatment of female characters. Another book that would draw comparisons is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, which I read many years ago and was also a major influence at that time. But again, I think that The Dervish House is a superior read. Both books sparkle with dense, twisting prose. Both combine history, science, and human emotion with adventure and a rapidly evolving storyline. In both cases, the technical mastery is dazzling, and every sentence is tightly structured, with multiple layers of meaning and insight. But here, the writing is very full of human life, with characters that seem both real and worth caring about. Religious and spiritual traditions play a critical role here, and add greatly to the impact of the story. Pynchon’s masterpiece, by comparison, is arid and impersonal, and in that sense the reader (this one, anyway) is not personally drawn into the story.
This is not a book for those who want a quick or light read. The writing is very readable but dense, with an almost metronomic precision that must be followed carefully to be understood. Moreover, it is loaded with detail about Turkish history and culture that will not be familiar to many readers (including me). I am perfectly okay with this – I like to take a book on its own terms, and enjoy it (or not) by how well it succeeds in the world it creates. For me, the great writers always teach, and learning from them is one of the great joys of reading.
More than anything else, this book read for me like a felt-life guide through the past and near future of Istanbul. After reading it, I didn’t want to live there, but I certainly felt the value of understanding its complexities, and the central place it occupies in so many cultural histories. These historical lessons and perspectives alone would have made it a top book selection on my shelf.
But there is so much more here. In fact, the fluid integration of extremely complex themes is what I found most amazing about this work. It really pushed all of my intellectual and spiritual buttons, since the themes are both universal and a big part of my own everyday thinking, when I contemplate this crazy world and my place in it. The level of skill required to seamlessly integrate these deeper themes, in a ripping good story, was simply stunning. I found myself shaking my head in amazement, and I certainly didn’t want it to end.
***The following contains fairly specific hints about plot elements, but no direct spoilers (I think).
For example – what is really important for a meaningful and rewarding life? Each of the major characters has a different set of answers, and each of their stories is brilliantly written from his/her everyday point of view. These points of view are often expressed in extremely effective dialogue (and several gripping monologues), all very tightly woven into the storyline. It’s all about money for one – the deal, the river of currency flows, and the technical skill to grab a handful with perfect timing as it slides by. For another, a life of drug abuse and casual meanness is transformed, by a critical moment, to religious visions that have complex origins and multiple interpretations. The question of just what these visions represent becomes a fascinating element of the story. For a third, a life of sensory deprivation becomes a detective chase and a thrilling but dangerous adventure. All of these perspectives are presented as narratives with incredible skill, by a great writer at the top of his game.
A second example – what does the future hold for the human species? In most dystopian worlds, human actions have made the home planet all but uninhabitable, while those most responsible live largely in denial of their misdeeds, and above the resulting fray. Where does it all lead? The Windup Girl looks at this issue and presents a terrifying and cruel future that is, perhaps, inevitable given the path we are now on. By contrast, The Dervish House takes a much more subtle and nuanced approach. The toll of human excess is everywhere in evidence, and there are plenty of reasons to look back in anger at past abuses. But the characters generally don’t do this. They simply live in the world as it is. Yes, it is unbearably hot, and everyone knows this is very bad but they get on with it. Yes, nanotechnology has terrifying potential for both intended and unintended calamity. But nanobots and nanodrugs play important and workmanlike roles in everyday life, a bit like the smartphones that many of us rely on today. In this book, the future is a work in progress.
I was left shaking my head and smiling at the sheer artistry of it all. And anxious to move through my long TBR list of recommendations by GR friends. Their collective intelligence about great books is my great pleasure. For The Dervish House, my highest recommendation. (less)
Absolutely mesmerizing. I took a long time to read it, partly because of other things that were going on, but mostly because I insisted on savoring ev...moreAbsolutely mesmerizing. I took a long time to read it, partly because of other things that were going on, but mostly because I insisted on savoring every sentence. I never would have found this book if not for GR friends. Come to think of it, almost every book that I read now came from a favorites list of a friend or someone I follow.
This book is a lights-out masterpiece, one of the greatest novels I have ever read. Without getting into the plot details, I will just say that the story is complex but, ultimately, quite simple in its basic form. Written in and about Stalinist Russia, it uses multiple layers of dramatic intrigue to paint vivid images of all-too-frail men (and women), and all-too-powerful forces that transform their lives in good ways and bad. Incredibly entertaining, gripping, frightening, and funny - the author plays with the reader, leading him/her this way and that, twisting the reader's mind as it does likewise with the characters.
Put simply, an incredible book. The multi-form Russian names are always a challenge, as readers of Tolstoy and the other greats will know very well. But for this one, the names are as much fun as every other element of this masterful tale. Highest possible recommendation.(less)
A wonderful collection of stories about girls growing up and making their way in a not-so-nice neighborhood. The stories are told by the central chara...moreA wonderful collection of stories about girls growing up and making their way in a not-so-nice neighborhood. The stories are told by the central character (Esperanza), and packed with the characters, play, thoughts and fears of her world. The prose is concise, even sparse, but very evocative and rich in subtlety.
There is magic in the way Cisneros conveys both the inner world of Esperanza, and the adventures and challenges of life as she confronts them. Very high impact – truly a life that feels as if you are moving through it. A quick read, but best appreciated if you take the time to go slowly. Highly recommended.(less)
First, the caveats. This book is not for everyone. It has terrifying moments, along with some graphic, explicit scenes that many may find offensive.
W...moreFirst, the caveats. This book is not for everyone. It has terrifying moments, along with some graphic, explicit scenes that many may find offensive.
With that said, I give a lot of latitude to books that are written with extreme skill, and to a moving story that is well told. The Windup Girl, for me, is outstanding in both those respects. Ten pages in, I was hooked, having found the rhythm of some unusual terminology and the dystopian scene. From that point on, I couldn't put it down, and there aren't very many books that have that effect on me.
Put simply, this is a terrifying, all-too-real vision of a possible future. Bacigalupi has assembled a tale of extreme power. It has a churning, visceral energy and a flow of events with a logic that first surprises, and then seems inevitable. I have read many great novels, but it is hard to think of another with the sustained emotional punch of this one.
Why read such a book, with such an emphatic, don't-feel-good message? For me, it is an ounce of prevention - a kick in the pants to start thinking about a better way to move forward. I firmly believe in illuminating the path we are on, and asking if we really want to go there. More about that in future reviews of other books.
As an extreme cautionary tale, for me this is as good as it gets. It won't brighten your day. But it could lead to positive steps if we understand why this may happen, and come out thinking that it doesn't have to.(less)
Outstanding treatise on what we have already done to the earth, and how we might possibly learn to live with the consequences. I hope to write a more...moreOutstanding treatise on what we have already done to the earth, and how we might possibly learn to live with the consequences. I hope to write a more complete review as time permits. My highest recommendation.(less)