**spoiler alert** Wow, I hated this book. Apparently it was Harry Potter like in its ability to create a fan base at the time. People dressed like Wer**spoiler alert** Wow, I hated this book. Apparently it was Harry Potter like in its ability to create a fan base at the time. People dressed like Werther, imitated Werther, even committed suicide like Werther. Napoleon claimed to have carried it into battle in his jacket pocket. Well, fortunately, I guess, I don't feel any desire to jump on that bandwagon. Guess I'm not into German Romanticism. My main reaction as I listened to this one was "OH MY GOD, SHUT UP!!!!" And even worse, "get on with killing yourself, already, you insufferable drama queen!"
My main association was to the younger sister in Sense and Sensibility who is a little too into the drama of love, at the expense of common sense and her own well-being. This novel is a huge argument in favor of the sensibility side of that little pairing.
At the beginning of the book, Werther was somewhat less annoying, because while extravagant, he was not yet severely depressed. He spoke of the beauties of nature and waxed rhapsodic about the wisdom of children. I felt like I was getting a bunch of illustrative examples from a humanities course of the themes of German romanticism thrown at me rapid fire. But once Werther got depressed over the marriage of the woman he had been WARNED BEFORE HE EVEN MET HER NOT TO FALL FOR BECAUSE SHE WAS ENGAGED (no, I'm not annoyed at this twit of a character at all...), he became completely unbearable.
I feel a little less guilty for hating this novel because Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wasn't real into this one in retrospect either. He also soured on Romanticism by late in his life. He didn't get why everyone was so nuts for Werther, because he felt his portrayal had been pretty critical. I'm hoping I will like his other works better based on this. ...more
"As the surface of the seashore rocks were pitted by by the waves and gathered limpets that further disguised what lay beneath, so time made truth of"As the surface of the seashore rocks were pitted by by the waves and gathered limpets that further disguised what lay beneath, so time made truth of what appeared to be. The days that passed, in becoming weeks, still did not disturb the surface an assumption had created. The weather of a beautiful summer continued with neither sign nor hint that credence had been misplaced. The single sandal found among the rocks became a sodden image of death; and as the keening on the pier at Kilauran traditionally marked distress brought by the sea, so did silence at Lahardane.”
This is a novel in which small events have devastating consequences. The tale is set in motion by an unsuccessful attempt by Irish youths to set fire to the home of a wealthy landowner and his English wife. Captain Gault, the landowner, accidentally shoots one of the boys in the shoulder when trying to scare them off. After his overtures to the family of the injured boy are rejected, Evert and his wife decide it isn't say to stay in Ireland, so they prepare to close the house and go abroad. Their young daughter Lucy, not wanting to leave, runs off to be with the one of the staff who has been let go, but twists her ankle in the woods on the way. A dog in the area has stolen items of her clothes in the past when she has been swimming, and has buried them in rocks near the edge of the sea. When Lucy doesn't come back from playing and her father finds the clothes, she is assumed to have drowned. Eventually the bereft parents go abroad, haunted by grief, and only once they have left, is Lucy discovered in a fallen down vagrant's hut in the woods, almost dead from starvation.
The tale follows Lucy, her parents, and the boy who was shot in the shoulder as their various destinies play out. It is a story about loss, faith, loyalty, the prison of preconceptions, guilt, forgiveness, and gratitude. It is a beautiful and haunting novel. ...more
Enjoyable thriller about a woman recruited to work undercover in the French resistance during WWII. The book opens with Alice (one of her many names)Enjoyable thriller about a woman recruited to work undercover in the French resistance during WWII. The book opens with Alice (one of her many names) getting ready to parachute into the countryside of Southwest France. The book then shifts backward in time to give us the history of her recruitment, and some background on her personal life. The latter part of the book explores her experience undercover in the countryside and in the much more dangerous streets of Paris, as she works her main job in the resistance and an additional, more classified task for which she is uniquely suited. Overall an enjoyable and exciting read. ...more
Another gripping episode in the Swedish series by Stieg Larsson, this novel focuses on the international sex trade and a complex web of relationshipsAnother gripping episode in the Swedish series by Stieg Larsson, this novel focuses on the international sex trade and a complex web of relationships the nature of which takes most of the novel go become clear. Blomkvist and Salander, the main protagonists of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, are back, but because of quirks of both their personalities, they are estranged from each other at the opening of the novel. It is hard to write about this one without spoilers, so I won't get into plot, but I can tell you that the novel doesn't provide a lot of breaks in the tension as this one develops. I should go to bed right now, but instead, I am going to make a quick dent in the final book of the series. ...more
This is the story of four African women(one Sudanese refugee and three Nigerians) who have ended up working in the red light district in Antwerp. It'sThis is the story of four African women(one Sudanese refugee and three Nigerians) who have ended up working in the red light district in Antwerp. It's a well-told tale of dreams betrayed and of resilience and friendship. It is a huge argument for improving the conditions for women in third world nations....more
Moving novel describing the dangerous political intrigue that led to pointless executions during the Stalinist era. Beautifully written and with a fasMoving novel describing the dangerous political intrigue that led to pointless executions during the Stalinist era. Beautifully written and with a fascinating forward by Susan Sontag. ...more
This is a retelling of an old Vietnamese folk tale by Thich Nhat Hanh. It should definitely be read as a Buddhist lesson, rather than as literature. IThis is a retelling of an old Vietnamese folk tale by Thich Nhat Hanh. It should definitely be read as a Buddhist lesson, rather than as literature. If you read it as literature, it will be disappointing, but as an example of what the principle of loving-kindness looks like, then it is a useful read.
There is an afterward, written by the a disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh, that tells of the ways in which the story of Hanh and his followers are parallel to the tale of The Novice: A Story of True Love. These are stories of false accusation met by patience and compassion, with non-violence and loving-kindness. These stories are both depressing, in their illustration of the ways in which human rights abuses can play out, and inspiring in the way that the monks and nuns maintain a peaceful stance.
I have read reviews of the book that critique it for heavy use of acronyms and clunky writing. I frankly wasn't bothered by either factor. I don't expect non-fiction in general to read like literature, so I am not disappointed when it fails to do so. On the rare occasions when it does, I am just pleasantly surprised. There were acronyms for political parties and international organizations when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discussed them, but I didn't find them to be a distraction. I had no trouble staying fully engaged in the tale of Sirleaf's life and of Liberia's history, which are both fascinating. I came away with a sense of just how much one courageous person can accomplish, if she or he is bright and able to access education. Sirleaf is a truly remarkable character, not perfect, but willing to own up to her flaws. I will follow the history of this nation moving forward in a way that I had never been interested in doing to this point. I hope that Sirleaf's dreams and plans of moving her country forward through education, sound planning and management, and a commitment to democratic and ethical governance will come to fruition and move her country into a position of greater significance and leadership in Africa and the world as a whole. The world could use more women like her in positions of power and influence!...more
Antonio José BolÍvar Proaño knew he could return to his village in the mountains. The poor forgive everything but failure.
He had no choice but to remaAntonio José BolÍvar Proaño knew he could return to his village in the mountains. The poor forgive everything but failure.
He had no choice but to remain with only his memories for company. He wanted to take revenge on that accursed region, that green hell that had snatched away his beloved and his dreams. He pictured a huge blaze that would turn the entire Amazon into a raging fire.
Yet in his helplessness he discovered he didn't know the jungle well enough to hate it.
He learned the language of the Shuar by joining their hunting expeditions. They hunted tapirs, pacas, capybaras, peccaries, small, very tasty wild boar, monkeys, birds, and reptiles. He learned to make good use of the blow pipe, which was so silent and effective in hunting, and of spears to catch the swift-moving fish.
In their company, he abandoned his Catholic peasant prudishness. He went half-naked and avoided contact with the new settlers, who considered him a madman.
Antonio José Bolívar Proaño, who never thought about the word "freedom" in the jungle, enjoyed limitless freedom. However much he tried to revive his old feeling of hatred, he couldn't help loving that world, and then the hatred faded as he was seduced by those vast expanses without frontier or owner.
The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is a short and beautiful little book. I think of it as an Ecuadorean The Old Man and the Sea. It is the story of a white man who for a time lives among the natives but can, in the end, not be one of them. He nonetheless carries their wisdom with him as he returns to the white settlements and never truly fits in among his own people. At the same time, his understanding of the jungle is respected. The villagers seek him out when their encounters with the wilderness become dangerous. The old man has errors to atone for, and is it in his encounters with the dangerous natural world that he seeks his redemption. Based on this novel, I would definitely be interested in reading more of Luis Sepúlveda’s work....more
Using the language of fluttering fans, ladies chat in the leafy gardens. Somebody pees against the wall of the church a1785: Guanajuato
Using the language of fluttering fans, ladies chat in the leafy gardens. Somebody pees against the wall of the church and on one side of the plaza two beggars, sitting in the sun, pick at each other's lice. Beneath the stone archway a distinguished doctor in a huge cloak talks of the Rights of Man, and a monk moves down the lane muttering eternal condemnations against the drunks, whores, and rowdies who cross in front of him. Not far from the city, collectors hunt Indians with lassos.
Guanajuato has long since dethroned Potosi. The world queen of silver is hungry for labor. The workers, free wage earners, don't see a coin in all their lives, but are prisoners of debt. Their children will inherit the debts and also the fear of pain in prison and hunger, and of the old gods and the new.
The Colonial Function
The Portuguese crown orders Brazil's textile workshops closed down; in the future they must only produce rustic clothing for slaves. In the name of the Queen, Minister Melo e Castro issues the orders. the minister observes that in most of the captaincies of Brazil have been set up, and are spreading ever more wildly, various factories and manufactories of cloth with differing qualities, including even gold and silver braid. These, he says, are pernicious transgressions. If they continue, the result will be that all the utilities and wealth of these most important colonies will end up as the patrimony of their inhabitants. Brazil being such a fertile land, so abundant in fruits, said inhabitants will become totally independent of their dominant Metropolis: consequently it is indispensably necessary to abolish said factories and manufactories.
Above are two vignettes from Faces and Masks. The material that is not italicized in the selection is italicized in the original text to show that it comes from historical documents that Eduardo Hughes Galeano has used as his sources. If you have not discovered Galeano, I recommend you do it soon. He takes what might have been dry in history books, and brings it poignantly to life. His Memory of Fire trilogy chronicles the Americas from the native creation myths through the 20th century, turning snippets of historical record from hundreds of disparate sources into a moving episodic narrative. I learned little about South and Central American history in school, and I am happy to have been taught by this master. Galeano is no fan of the colonizers and enslavers who had little time for human rights, but he is a sympathetic advocate of the voices in the wilderness who fought for education, cultural preservation, and equity in the history of the new world. Last year I read and loved Genesis, and I just finished Faces and Masks, which brings the narrative of the New World to the year 1900. I await the final volume, Century of the Wind, which I will read next year, both eagerly and with trepidation, as I know that the 20th century in the Americas has been no less brutal than the preceding centuries. Still I want to visit this era with Galeano as a wise and eloquent guide, to learn what is dangerous to leave forgotten. ...more
Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry insiBea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day. Many of my favorite quotes by Carlos Ruiz Zafón are about books and reading. In his novels, books have an almost magical quality. A bit of a love letter to Barcelona as well as to literature, The Shadow of the Wind is the tale of a boy's search for the story behind a book he takes home on his first trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The book and its author are shrouded in mystery, and someone is trying to find all the copies that remain and burn them. As we watch Daniel, the boy who chooses the book, grow into a young man, we find that he also has complications in his own life--a mother who died when he was young, a mysterious friend whose history is vague and who is hunted by a dangerous member of the Civil Guard, and a series of seemingly doomed loves. His investigation into the history of his book draws him and those he loves into a complex and dangerous web. The book has lots of atmosphere, a sense of humor, and plenty of romance and suspense. It also moves gracefully, rather than at the breakneck pace of most modern thrillers. For me, it took some time to settle into that pace, but once I did, it was a delicious ride....more
Enjoyable very modern read with an unreliable narrator describing the romance of his life, but with his judgement and memory clouded by an obsessive jEnjoyable very modern read with an unreliable narrator describing the romance of his life, but with his judgement and memory clouded by an obsessive jealousy....more
The land was quiet, peaceful, and very pleasing to my eyes. I liked the colours, the shapes of the mountain-tops, the way the shadows from the cloudsThe land was quiet, peaceful, and very pleasing to my eyes. I liked the colours, the shapes of the mountain-tops, the way the shadows from the clouds fall and move across the mountains so everything is always changing. Everywhere I could smell wild sage. I like the wild sage and clean mountain wind, the colours of the wildflowers: bright blue, deep yellow, or maybe red and orange like flames of the fire. I like the sounds, the birds and the crickets, the waterfall near the house, the music of sheep-bells and cow-bells, the silence. Most of all I like the silence.
So Mpho M'Atsepo Nthunya describes the Maluti area of Lesotho, where she goes with her husband to live after police violence in South Africa becomes too much of a threat for them to raise a family safely there. It is not often that you read the autobiography of someone who is at once astonishing and ordinary. Mpho M'Atsepo Nthunya is both. On one hand, she is a cleaning woman at a guest house in a university in Lesotho, often unable to feed her grandchildren from paycheck to paycheck. On the other hand, she is a strong, wise woman who speaks 8 languages, including Afrikaans and English, Xhosa and Zulu. Singing Away the Hunger: The Autobiography of an African Woman is the story, or more accurately a collection of stories, of her life. An American Fullbright Scholar--a writer and actress and grandmother herself--met Mpho M'Atsepo Nthunya at the guest house and as she got to know her, realized that this was someone who could tell the world about life in little Lesotho--a place most Americans can't find on a map. She convinced the author to publish the stories with her help in navigating the world of publishing. These are well-told stories--about hardship, about love of place, about family, about rivalry, and hatred, and forgiveness. They are tales of an impoverished nation and the struggles of its people on a daily basis. They are the story of what change in South Africa has meant to its neighbors. But more than anything, they are the story of a smart, strong, patient, wise woman who loves her family and works hard to give them a life they can survive. I'm very glad to have joined the Great African Reads Group here on Goodreads, or I would never have found it and learned so much from my day Singing Away the Hunger....more
Out of Africa is less a single story than a series of vignettes arranged thematically to form the whole. It is like a collage of beautiful images of lOut of Africa is less a single story than a series of vignettes arranged thematically to form the whole. It is like a collage of beautiful images of life on Karen Blixen's coffee plantation. Clearly Blixen loved this land, its people, and its wildlife. She embraced the opportunities that her life there presented. She attended the tribal ceremonial dances. She brokered resolutions of of conflicts among her workers, using accepted tribal methods, but also with a written and signed contract. She hunted lions, and left a tea party she was hosting to go flying and see a nearby buffalo herd. She tells tales of cultural differences and interactions among the local and immigrant tribes. The language in the book is lush and beautiful. Blixen has a lovely eye for details and skill for drawing wise and witty conclusions from them. She must have been an amazing woman to know. You have to love a woman who writes things like "we had great adventures with lions." You can picture her bravely heading out to take on the lions hunting on her farm or taking flights over the beautiful countryside, which would have terrified many others. On the other hand, she was certainly a creature of her time and her native Scandinavian culture. At times she seems sincerely connected to the Africans, but at other times, she seems to view them from a superior distance. Her comparisons of Africans to wildlife would be less annoying if she made similar comparisons about Caucasians. The fact that there is no central underlying plot means that, as with The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, there is a sense that you could stop reading at any point and feel that you've essentially "got" the book. If I fell asleep listening to this on audio, I'm not sure that I would care enough to rewind and hear the pieces I missed. For these reasons, despite the beautiful writing, I am giving this only 3 stars. ...more
When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness. HWhen Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness. He was sure the pain wasn't caused by hunger or trapped gas; it was from the buildup of months and months of worry.
The narration in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives: A Novel rotates among the adult family members in a polygamous Nigerian family, revealing their different responses as the book's central dilemma plays out. Baba Segi's fourth wife, this one educated unlike her predecessors, has not conceived after two years. As the plot unfolds, the story reveals complex family politics which intersect with traditional cultural norms and more modern opportunities. The are alliances and subterfuge to be reckoned with. We learn of the history and secrets each of the adults carry into the family, and we watch the family struggle to adapt to the crisis which is set in motion as the tale unfolds. I found this book to be a quick and pleasurable read. While it wasn't truly remarkable, it was a solid, well-written, character-driven piece. I felt drawn into the nuances and contradictions of modern Nigerian city life. I would happily read more from Lola Shoneyin, and rate this book at 3.5. ...more
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa is a delightful romp through the streets of Lima. The novel alternates between the tale of a youAunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa is a delightful romp through the streets of Lima. The novel alternates between the tale of a young law student's romance with his aunt's sister who arrives from Bolivia after her divorce and episodes of the radio serials composed by the recently hired Bolivian scriptwriter working at a station owned by the laws student's employers. The protagonist has a part time job at the other station in the same group, as news director, and he befriends the new scriptwriter. The writer is slowly unraveling from overwork, and it shows in his writing, in which stories from different scheduled programs become increasingly entangled and confused. Meanwhile the romance between the 18 year old news director and the middle-aged divorcee causes scandal in the family, and a resulting madcap search of the countryside for a mayor willing to overlook details of the marriage laws eventually ensues. The writing itself is delightful and amusing, painting little glimpses of Peruvian life as the plot moves quickly along. This book doesn't try to do anything heavy or profound, but it is a marvelous diversion. ...more
This was Nobelist José Saramago's last novel. He went out with a great one. This book is laugh out loud funny. Depending on your religious leanings, tThis was Nobelist José Saramago's last novel. He went out with a great one. This book is laugh out loud funny. Depending on your religious leanings, this may not be for you, since the novel has at its core a sense of outrage with the God of the Hebrew Bible. The tale begins in the Garden of Eden, and we quickly know that something is up. The text is very tongue-in-cheek about "the lord" from the start. Here is a little taste of the narrative, from early in the tale, about an incident with which you are undoubtedly already familiar: This episode, which gave rise to the first definition of a hitherto unknown concept, original sin, has never been satisfactorily explained. Firstly, even the most rudimentary of intelligences would have no difficulty in grasping that being properly informed about something is always preferable to being ignorant, especially in such delicate matters as good and evil, which could put anyone at risk, quite unwittingly, of being consigned to eternal damnation in a hell in a hell that had not yet been invented. Secondly, the lord showed a lamentable lack of foresight, because if he really didn't want them to eat that fruit, it would have been easy enough simply not to have planted the tree or to have put it somewhere else or surrounded it with barbed wire. Thirdly, it wasn't because they had obeyed god's instructions that adam and eve discovered they were naked. They were already stark naked when they went to bed, and if the lord have never noticed such an evident lack of modesty, the fault must lie with a father's blindness, an apparently incurable infliction that prevents us from seeing that our children are, after all, neither better nor worse than all the others.
We learn the back story of the murder of Abel, and find that the blame is not solely Cain's. Here his philosophical battle with God commences. Once Cain is condemned to his wandering, he finds himself traveling not only through space, but also through time. He finds himself becoming embroiled in a number of Biblical events, among them the golden cow incident at Sinai, the battle of Jericho, the trials of Job, and the condemnation of Sodom. In each of these events, he is offended by the sense of God toying with humankind for His own egotistical purposes.
This is a VERY funny book, which takes on the issues of good and evil and of the just use of power. It pokes fun at human nature time and again along the way. José Saramago didn't lose a bit of his rhetorical skill or his wit at the end. He certainly does not deserve the final judgement he described in Cain, at which everyone will be condemned, either for doing too much or too little. Saramago gets it just right. Hopefully the lord will appreciate the critique and spare him....more
Windows and Stones: Selected Poems by Tomas Transtromer is a collection of his poetry from different eras. Reading the translator's preface, I realizeWindows and Stones: Selected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer is a collection of his poetry from different eras. Reading the translator's preface, I realized how sad I was about not being able to read them in the original Swedish, as the words seem so lyrical. I hate that I am not getting the auditory feel for the poems he intended. I may actually find recordings of him reading some of these so that I can have that, now that I know what the poems actually say.
The poems in this collection are full of powerful imagery. I feel that I have visited Sweden, with its water, blazing sun, deep forests, dark nights. It was a gorgeous trip. Tomas Tranströmer also does a wonderful job of capturing moments of sleeping and waking. I loved this ending from Nocturne (which I loved as a whole): I lie down ready for sleep, I see the queerest pictures and signs that scrawl themselves behind my eyelids on the dark's wall. In a slot between waking and dream a very large envelope tries in vain to push itself through.
Overall, I was relieved to find this collection working its way from more recent work back to the poet's earlier writing. I think I am not bright enough to follow the recent poems, but starting at about 1962, the poetry began to make more sense, and the transitions between images felt enlightening rather than befuddling. I am glad to have had a chance to experience this Nobelist's work and to have seen Sweden through such perceptive eyes!...more
In The Compassionate Life, the Dalai Lama XIV describes a method for honing one's capacity for compassion for all sentient beings. If you have spent tIn The Compassionate Life, the Dalai Lama XIV describes a method for honing one's capacity for compassion for all sentient beings. If you have spent time around Buddhists trained for much of their lives in the monasteries of the East, you will have noticed the tremendous joyful equanimity with which they face the world, in sharp contrast to our typical Western irritability. This peaceful approach to the world is the product of tremendous concentrated efforts to retrain the mind.
Much of the wisdom in this book is tremendously consistent with the work of cognitive therapy. I think to be really useful, this book must be read over and over and used as a guide to daily practice. I certainly plan to come back to it to work on altering my perspective to one that is kinder, gentler, and less judging.
Some of the book is very didactic and relates to traditional Buddhist texts, but at other times, when the Dalai Lama speaks of his own practice, it is very accessible and even amusing. I particularly liked the line where he notes that whenever he starts to feel self-important, he has only to consider computers, and then he is humbled. ...more
"Time is a blind guide. Bog boy, I surfaced into the miry streets of the drowned city. For over a thousand years, only fish wandered Biskupin's wood "Time is a blind guide. Bog boy, I surfaced into the miry streets of the drowned city. For over a thousand years, only fish wandered Biskupin's wooden sidewalks. Houses, built to face the sun, were flooded by the silty gloom of the Gasawka River. Gardens grew luxurious in subaqueous silence; lilies, rushes, stinkweed. No one is born just once. If you're lucky, you'll emerge again in someone's arms; or unlucky, wake when the long tail of terror brushes the inside of your skull."
Let me begin by saying that whatever I type here, I will not do this book justice. You should read this book. I do not give 5 stars lightly, and this volume, which won the Orange Prize in 1997, had earned 5 stars in my mind by just a chapter or two in. In reading farther, I never felt the urge to revise my assessment. This book eases into your soul and takes up residence.
Let me start simply with what it is about. The book captures the experiences primarily of two men. The first, Jakob Beer, is found as a child hiding buried in mud at an archaeological site after fleeing the Nazis who have killed his parents. Only after he escapes does he realize that he does not know what became of his older sister. The Greek archaeologist who finds him takes him back to Greece, hides him, and then builds a new life with him as his godfather. The second man, Ben, takes up the story at the point of Jakob's death. He is a scholar inspired by Beer's work, and the Canadian child of two concentration camp survivors. The book powerfully chronicles the physical and psychological impact that the Nazis had on individuals and on the territories they occupied, but it does so in gemlike fragments--images, moments, dreams, the reflexive responses of individuals wounded in devastating ways by the horrors inflicted by men on their fellow creatures. Beer is a poet; one gift that the archaeologist gives him is the tradition of using language to meet the deepest human experience. As he hides in the house on a Greek hillside, he reads and absorbs the literary traditions of Europe's great ancient cultures. But he is given more. The archaeologist loves him deeply, teaches him to trust and to connect with people, and shares his own love of the earth and its records of truth. Geology is present throughout the book, and in the later sections meteorology is, as well, since Ben's scholarship looks at the impact of meteorology on historic events. And finally, romantic love and both its capacity and failure to transform and transcend the wounds of past experience is gorgeously explored in the lives of both men. The language of this book is remarkable, the themes complex and expertly wrought. There are times it is hard to breathe while reading it. This book deserves to be read and reread, as were many volumes on the shelves of Beer's home in Greece which Ben searches through after Jakob's death, seeking journals to take back to Canada to a mutual friend. It is too beautiful and too powerful to leave behind after a single reading. ...more
Beginning Wide Sargasso Sea, you already know where it is headed. You are entering into the life of the woman in the attic in Jane Eyre. Bronte createBeginning Wide Sargasso Sea, you already know where it is headed. You are entering into the life of the woman in the attic in Jane Eyre. Bronte creates an unsympathetic madwoman, but through the tragic context she creates, Jean Rhys portrays a woman for whom it is impossible not to feel tremendous compassion. We live through Antoinette’s childhood in Jamaica and learn of her arranged marriage to Rochester. We watch that marriage begin in passion amid the beauty of Dominica, and then watch it unravel due to a combination of the circumstances of their marriage, the hostile intentions of others, and their own inabilities to trust one another enough to forge a connection immune to the interpersonal and cultural pressures surrounding them. Finally we get a glimpse of Antoinette’s imprisonment in England, subject to near-constant supervision, called by another name due to her husband’s superstition and insensitivity, and driven by dreams that lead to the ending we already know from Charlotte Brontë‘s novel.
The book captures the ambiance of the author's native Dominica and of Jamaica, and serves as a painful primer on the complex race and class politics operating in those islands in the mid 19th century. Jean Rhys is equally skillful at portraying the painful emotional experiences of the ill-fated couple, neither of whom enters the relationship unscathed after their childhoods. Suspicion is everywhere in this book, founded and unfounded, and the consequences both of ignoring it when it should be heeded and yielding to it when it is false are the basis of all the tragedy that unfolds throughout the novel....more
I loved The Death of Artemio Cruz when I read it last year, so I was deeply saddened reading of Carlos Fuentes's recent death. Today I went out and grI loved The Death of Artemio Cruz when I read it last year, so I was deeply saddened reading of Carlos Fuentes's recent death. Today I went out and grabbed this little gem to read more of his work. Aura is a little bit of a Gothic mystery, a little bit of a romance, and completely engaging. An unemployed historian reads a help wanted ad that seems written especially for him. He presents himself for the interview at an eerie old house in the city's center and learns that he is to edit the memoirs of the late husband of an elderly widow. He learns that he will be required to live in the house, and also discovers that there is a beautiful niece living there with them. However as he settles in to his work, he notices small oddities--an extra place set at the table, an odd connection between the elderly widow and her niece Aura. Fuentes draws the reader smoothly into this strange tale as it works quickly toward it's climax.
This edition of the book would be marvelous for someone studying Spanish, as the English and Spanish texts of the novella are on opposite pages. ...more
Pin is an orphaned boy being raised by his prostitute sister. He bums cigarettes off the German soldier who frequents his sister's bed and drinks offPin is an orphaned boy being raised by his prostitute sister. He bums cigarettes off the German soldier who frequents his sister's bed and drinks off the men at the local tavern. He mocks and sings for adults, with whom he is more at ease than with other kids. One day the local resistance committee member is at the bar recruiting, and Pin is asked to steal the German's gun. In this way, Pin is drawn into the local resistance movement and ends up an assistant to the cook of a unit in the mountains. The Path to the Spiders' Nests is Italo Calvino's first novel, and it is quite different stylistically from his later work. However, this edition, published only after years during which the author prohibited republication, contains a preface which is a reflection on the book itself, his writing process, his time own time in the resistance, and the Italian Neo-realist literary movement. This preface is very much like some of Calvino's later work, and is a fascinating look at his ideas about writing. Calvino had clear regrets about the novel, and especially the ways in which he had misrepresented the characters of men he had known in the war in order to fit his literary purposes. The novel is poignant and an interesting read, but I would give the novel itself only three or three and a half stars, The preface, however, makes it a much better and more interesting book....more
Anna is a novelist with writer's block. She keeps a set of notebooks in which she records her own life, observations on the Communist Party of 1950s BAnna is a novelist with writer's block. She keeps a set of notebooks in which she records her own life, observations on the Communist Party of 1950s Britain, potential novel ideas, and her business dealings. The book moves back and forth between the notebooks, giving the reader her views of international politics, love and friendship, sex roles, psychoanalysis, writing, and life itself. I found the book fascinating, and yet at the end not fully satisfying. I'm struggling to figure out why. I think maybe I thought that by the end things would come together in a clearer way than they did. Overall, I found the view of women's lives and relationships a little bleak; in fact, this was a pretty pessimistic book about many things. One of the most interesting things to me in reading the book was the difference that was so apparent between American culture in the 1950s as I understand it and the British culture of the 1950s as presented in the novel. Britain had a much more nuanced approach to Communism/Socialism and also seemingly more complex sexual politics. I'm glad to have read this book, found it very engaging and very well written, but in the end, I think I am too happy and optimistic a person to be able to call it a favorite....more
"Work, work, work, that's the doom of your people isn't it? Isn't that why the English shipped millions of you over to the Caribbean? So how come you"Work, work, work, that's the doom of your people isn't it? Isn't that why the English shipped millions of you over to the Caribbean? So how come you don't hate them?"
"I've not really considered it that way… I just don't…" I said, thinking of Professor Fenwick's influence on me, his conscientious tuition and dedication to duty. How could I hate such a man, whatever culture he belonged to? A single act of kindness on his part had the power to erase a whole history of crime. "It's the future that matters," I continued, struggling to evolve a cogent answer, "I'm me, not a mask or movement of history. I'm not black, I'm an engineer."
"That's silly," she continued immediately, "you can't block yourself off from the past and sit daydreaming at the edge of the desert. That's why I had to go back with Jack, that's why I wanted him to find me even though I resented it. I walked away from the desert and returned to the English compound and began to fight. I really longed to be alone, colorless and invisible, but I couldn't escape being English, I couldn't escape being what I was. So I fought against myself. No more slushy reminiscences in the English Club about oak trees and cream teas back home. Of course the other women grew suspicious of me when I gave up bridge sessions and meetings to plan safari weekends. Jack made excuses for me, saying the heat had gone to my head, that I had become grumpy and solitary, but I didn't care. What mattered was secretly teaching the African children about our dinosaur culture, however deeply we tried to bury it and make neat furrows and tranquil gardens in the earth above. Do you know that the best histories of England are being written by black scholars nowadays? Do you? Probably some of those very children I taught who have now grown up." She snatched the glass from my hand and poured out more wine. I noticed the trace of froth at the corner of her mouth. She'd worked herself up into a passion. I began to appreciate the reason for Jack's absence. He had not abandoned her, he had run away! She was too formidable for him, so he fled. All his fantasies of blood and sex were nothing compared to the knowledge of horror she possessed and was determined to proclaim. "You don't know much about our history or yours," she said, resuming her attack. "Have you ever thought that the engineering you're versed in is all derived from us? That we've made you so whiter than white that whatever fear and hatred you should feel for us is covered over completely?"
I had no trouble finding a passage to quote in Disappearance. The hard part was choosing among the many that I post-it marked along the way as I was reading. David Dabydeen tells the tale of a Guyanese engineer of African descent visiting a rural coastal English town to work on a project to shore up collapsing cliffs against the forces of a powerful sea. He rooms at the home of an aging British woman whose husband is not around and whose whereabouts aren't entirely clear. She has spent a portion of her married life in Africa, and the engineer is profoundly unsettled by the artifacts on prominent display in her home which call to mind his ethnic heritage and by her expectations about who he is, based on his nationality and ethnicity. The book is about identity, colonialism and its effects on colonized and colonizer, about rationality vs. superstition and belief, about the relationship of the personal and the political, and about the ability of humankind to triumph over the power of the natural world. The engineer comes to like his host very much, but struggles to make sense of her. He is also struggling to understand himself and the philosophies that guide him personally and professionally. The story weaves in and out of the present, with Mrs. Rutherford and others in the village telling him of her past, and with the engineer recalling his own childhood and early career in Guyana.
I liked this book, I really liked it, but wasn't blown away or enchanted. I think I was in my head rather than my heart for the most part, and the things it did with my head were not interesting or experimental or revealing enough to make up for my not being more emotionally involved. I definitely recommend the book, but there are others I'd tell you to get to first if you had to choose. Still, I'm glad I had time for this one, and I'm particularly glad for a quick and interesting read from the 1001 list from a country as small and under-represented in world literature as Guyana. Because I hate to have to leave out some interesting quotes, I'll close with another passage, this one from the narrator's memories of Guyana.
"Repentance?" I asked, startled by her mention of the word which haunted my boyhood. "How do you mean?" But she said nothing else, retreating into herself, into a space as cramped and suffocating as the village she had come from, a handful of homes in the pocket of bush on the banks of a river too dangerous to cross except by boats with engines. Its strong hidden currents frequently capsized the small canoes they paddled, sucking in a body and feeding it downstream to piranha. There seemed to be no way into the village and no way out except by hazarding one's life. Those born into the place were doomed to stay there, inheriting the wretched plots of clearing from their parents, existing on a diet of yams, plantains, wild fowl, and fish. She had managed to get out, only to be trapped in a canteen in the service of male students who wanted to force her into the tighter space of their lust. And yet the word "repentance" came from her mouth, so naturally, Alfred's big word which had signified to me the whole broadness of the sky in which God lived. "So big," he had said, pointing to the sky before returning to the patch of cloth on his machine....more