My impression is that when people talk about Growth of the Soil most of their comments revolve around the beautiful language of the novel. While I fou...moreMy impression is that when people talk about Growth of the Soil most of their comments revolve around the beautiful language of the novel. While I found this to be true, I also found that I didn't find the language particularly stirring - it was pretty but it didn't get my blood going.
For me, the highlight of the novel is its often times tongue in cheek humor, almost a slyness. One such episode is when Isak buys back the sheep Oline had previously stolen from him, Isak bought a certain sheep with flat ears... and people looked at him. Isak from Sellanraa was a rich man, in a good position, with no need of more sheep than he had. One can almost imagine the pique on his face when he says, I know it [the sheep with the flat ears]... I've seen it before.
Talk of Growth in the Soil inevitably leads to talk of its author, Knut Hamsun, and the causes he championed. While a work is in many ways the child of the author, I do not think the author's concerns have any bearing on how one reads a work. The sins of the father are not the sins of the son, and vice versa. I think Isak in particular would agree with the notion that sons lead very different lives from that of their fathers.(less)
This is a fun and engrossing series with a lot of heart. Ironically, while Yorick is named after a jeste...more(NB: This review refers to the entire series.)
This is a fun and engrossing series with a lot of heart. Ironically, while Yorick is named after a jester, in Y: The Last Man he is the quintessential straight man. He may have guns routinely blaring in his direction and desperate women throwing themselves at him; but he handles the situation if not with good natured aplomb then at least with the frenetic, bumbling stumble of a boy abruptly promoted to manhood.
Alongside the adventure are numerous puns, wry asides, foreshadowings and story nods to the earlier chapters in the series. For instance, in the early parts of the series, Yorick wears a gas mask which is useless anyway as it will not protect him from the plague. However, at Alter's final assault, the gas mask proves its utility after all.
While the trajectory of Yorick's maturity is predictable, the final product at the end of the series is still entertaining to follow. The maturity of the characters at the end allows for genuinely affecting emotional depth. Particularly good are the eventual fates of Yorick, Agent 355 and Ampersand (really the core of Yorick's troupe) and how Amp helps Yorick escape one last time. (less)
A lot of science fiction is based on recognizing a trait of human development (cultural, societal or personal) and taking this quality to its most ext...moreA lot of science fiction is based on recognizing a trait of human development (cultural, societal or personal) and taking this quality to its most extreme, tortured state. The trait Windup Girl plays with is the human talent/urge/curse to manipulate things around us to suit our benefit. Thus the genomic hacking of agricultural companies is brought to its most horrific possibility with diseases and animals (originally created by man) spreading and killing across the globe, displacing the natural world. Aside from genetic manipulation, the novel also revolves around political manipulation as all the major characters attempt to wheedle and subvert one another. All this manipulation leads to a compelling premise and a fascinating setting.
Where the novel’s world is original though, its characters, plot and dialogue are stock. There is the old canny refugee who ultimately turns out to have a heart of gold, the helpless girl who realizes that she has the ability to defend herself, the incorruptible honest man who serves as an example to the people and the Judas who betrays him for (what else?) money, the sinister agent of foreign interests who (you guessed it) also happens to have a heart of gold, the corrupt and debased regent who control the strings of an invisible and mute monarch, the brilliant scientist who demands to be worshipped as a god, etc. (Note to all mad scientists: no matter how smart you are it is impossible to come up with a believable, decent speech saying you’re a god. Plus, since your legs have been crippled by disease I don’t know if it’s the brightest idea in the world to be hanging out in a boat in the middle of a sunken city.)
You’d think if we’d gotten so ace at cracking the genome that we’d be able to manipulate the DNA of these characters so they’d have some life in them.
Perhaps even more painful than the characters is the clumsy irony that the novel deals to them. Yes, it is sort of ironic that an agri man, he of the masterful knowledge of genehacks and genetic origins, falls prey to a new illness he never anticipated. Yes, it is a twist of irony that at the end of Windup Girl it is Emiko who is cool while Anderson burns with heat he cannot dispel. These are all as ironic as that old Alanis Morisette song which quite frankly was, ironically, not too ironic at all.
If you’re looking for the definitive vision of an emaciated future, stick with Neuromancer; The Windup Girl reads like a cheap (spring powered) knock off of Molly, Case, Armitage, Wintermute and the rest of the cyberspace gang.(less)
Black Swan Green is instantly relatable to all those who grew up on the wrong side of the “cool” railroad tracks of early adolescent life. There are n...moreBlack Swan Green is instantly relatable to all those who grew up on the wrong side of the “cool” railroad tracks of early adolescent life. There are numerous cliches on growing up, in fact the plot of the novel is perhaps best described as episodes of cliches strung together. This observation is not a knock at Black Swan Green though but rather a compliment. The novel takes painful paths (those we plodded down years ago) and finds truth, humor and perhaps a bit of vindication (You don’t need to be a jerk to get the girl or compromise who you are to fit in. Or at least that’s what I and the novel like to believe anyway.) Black Swan Green emphasizes not just the pains of growing up but the moments of flight as well, sending messages up to a kite with one’s dad or a friend who sticks up for you against bullies.
Framing the hurts and the triumphs is the novel’s melancholy language, sad and wistful , “An aeroplane glinted, mercury bright in the dark high blue.” A quiet book about a not so quiet time in one’s life, Black Swan Green is a pleasure to read.(less)
For my money this book is a strong contender for the great Philippine novel. During my stay in college, I got the impression that the work traditional...moreFor my money this book is a strong contender for the great Philippine novel. During my stay in college, I got the impression that the work traditionally feted as the great Philippine novel is A Woman with Two Navels . Don't you believe it. Empire and Woman topically share the shame theme of identity and searching. The title alone of Woman implies two mothers, or at least, two sources of nourishment for an infant. Personally though I found Woman to be staid, and well, boring. (This is not to knock Nick Joaquin, I like some of his short stories, particularly May Day Eve.) Empire on the other hand is alive; it's opening chapter after all details how Filipinos chased the Beatles out of the country! Pop, love, treachery, rebellion, fantasies, hip, remorse. If for nothing else Empire captures perfectly what a crazy country the Philippines is, an exasperating, befuddled country of forgetful romantics. (less)
It's a common complaint that the special effects in movies today are extraneous, explosions and computer graphics inserted into a narrative simply bec...moreIt's a common complaint that the special effects in movies today are extraneous, explosions and computer graphics inserted into a narrative simply because the director/studio can. Filipino writers in English (IMHO) have the tendency to be the Jerry Bruckheimers or George Lucases (I still love Star Wars though) of literature. They are skilled and they can write and they are hell bent on proving these facts by using every special effect in their writing arsenal.
This penchant for writing FX is on full display in Ilustrado - multiple texts, multiple authors/readers, multiple timelines (via multiple texts), multiple obscure dreams; all topped off with drugs, sex and rock and roll. It sounds kind of cool at first, just like all the gee whiz special effects are fun to watch at first. But ultimately getting through it all is kind of tiring.
Ironically, Ilustrado itself is aware of the tendencies of Filipino writing, which it describes as "Living on the margins, a bygone era, loss, exile, poor-me angst, postcolonial identity theft. Tagalog words intermittently scattered around for local color, exotically italicized. Run-on sentences and facsimiles of Magical Realism, hiding behind the disclaimer that we Pinoys were doing it years before the South Americans."
There are fulfilling moments in Ilustrado, quiet moments when the writing FX ebbs slightly, when the language shines. Particular highlights for me were Crispin's description of the doomed Philippine cavalry marching to war as well as the occasional wry observations of Miguel, "Cliches remind and reassure us that we're not alone, that others have trod this ground long ago."
It's hard to appreciate these quiet moments though as they are constantly drowned out by the literary fireworks and explosions which Ilustrado revels in.(less)
I found it strange how the character was taken in at times (too much, at times) by the images of beauty that reality begins to fade away yet understoo...moreI found it strange how the character was taken in at times (too much, at times) by the images of beauty that reality begins to fade away yet understood that, in Japan, there are times when a salary man walking down the road would just suddenly stop and stare at the falling cherry blossom petals. I loved, however, how Kawabata painted the different images of beauty his main character encountered with delicate words, as if fearing that using the wrong word would destroy the image. All in all, Yukiguni tickles the reader's mind and perception of beauty and reality and that, for me, makes it a great read.(less)
One notable aspect of Lawrence's work is the simplicity of how it is written. Lawrence does not go overboard with his descriptions and drama. Everythi...moreOne notable aspect of Lawrence's work is the simplicity of how it is written. Lawrence does not go overboard with his descriptions and drama. Everything is kept just right. Never focusing too long on details that would not matter, such as how the view looked from head to toe, what tree did they pass, how many items were there in the house - he gave just the right amount of attention to every detail in the novel to ensure that the readers would not grow bored from reading things which they have absolutely or little interest in and leaves these details to tackle the issues or concerns that are much more pressing. It is in stories like these that prove to readers and writers alike that simplicity is a powerful tool for presenting what one wants to say and having the audience understand what he or she is trying to say without much explanation. While there are words that have changed from 1913 to the present, it is still written so that despite the changes in the times, the words could still be linked to their present word and meaning. A few examples are morphia for morphine and programme for the program of the drama or play.
While the language and simplicity are notable enough, another aspect of Lawrence's writing that makes the work move like a panther in a cage, moving back and forth restlessly in the small space it has been given, growling and tense, waiting to jump out and run into the wild, is the power of his characters' emotions and feelings that flow off the pages and seep into the readers' skin, drawing them nearer to the characters and their own motives. The greatest example is Mrs. Morel. While readers might not personally like the idea of her having a possessive, obsessive love for her son/s, she makes it so that the readers side with her, first of all by making her the spunky housewife that does not allow her husband to take the power away from her and by continually doing everything she can to ensure that her son/s would always return to her despite their current infatuation with a certain girl. She is so strong that she manipulates the people, especially her sons, to remember or heed her words and even have them think the way she does. Despite her overbearing and unnatural love, she is the kind of character that readers later on sympathize with and hope that she would leave Paul in the state he is in. Another great example is Miriam. Though the reaction did not tackle her deeply, she is one of the most memorable characters in the sense that she is so strange in her way of behaving that when she comes to love Paul and loves him with her soul, willing to sacrifice himself to whatever he wanted, the readers feel that she is either a saint with a tight hold on Paul or a saint that wanted to be rewarded for her being good by getting what she wanted.(less)
In reading Things Fall Apart, I found myself loving and hating the story at the same time. I hated it because I became attached to the main character,...moreIn reading Things Fall Apart, I found myself loving and hating the story at the same time. I hated it because I became attached to the main character, Okonkwo, and wanted him to succeed and live at the end of the tale and, well, when it didn't happen, I was annoyed that he had 'lost' a battle he could have won ('giving in' isn't the same as 'giving up'). Also, I found myself loving it when I read it a second time and actually found myself struggling alongside Okonkwo and finding, through his death, a release for his soul, pride and honor. It's very rare for me to become involved with the characters of a story, especially one that is very different from me, but Achebe made it so that the reader feels for Okonkwo's plight. (less)
This review is on the short story Rain, found in this collection - This is an honest story about the difficulty of relating to one's father and one's...moreThis review is on the short story Rain, found in this collection - This is an honest story about the difficulty of relating to one's father and one's son. Despite the difficulty though, both father and son make an earnest attempt at it. The central conceit of the rain seems a tad contrived at times but is well executed.(less)