I first wanted to read this book seven years ago. Perhaps I would have appreciated pointless existential angst better at 17 than I do at 24. UnfortunaI first wanted to read this book seven years ago. Perhaps I would have appreciated pointless existential angst better at 17 than I do at 24. Unfortunately, I got round to reading Herman Hesse only this year, when I no longer believe in intellectual snobbery.
This book had a strangely soporific effect on me. I've read much drier literature but I couldn't get past the first 20 pages for three days because it - honest - kept putting me to sleep. Ploughing on wasn't exactly entertaining either. Hesse seems an intelligent man, which is why I cannot understand why he insists on populating his books with such toerags like Harry Haller and Siddhartha. Haller is Siddhartha, if Siddhartha were German and actually more infuriating. He alienated me from the beginning with his misplaced intellectual pomposity even when I could relate to his troubles. However, when you vandalize other people's houses after being fed there because they are bourgeoisie incapable of understanding the awesomeness of Goethe like you do, it doesn't mean you are tragically misunderstood. It means you're an ass.
Haller trips into the world of sex, drugs and rock and roll jazz. He takes dance lessons, but hates them. He is introduced to his opposite, Pablo and can't like him because he won't listen to his sermons on music. He also mistakes what is essentially a physiological reaction for enlightenment, proving that the majority of Harry's miseries come from not getting laid as often as he'd have liked. A juvenile rebellion against the social and sexual mores of the day is less meaningful and path-breaking than people think it is. If Haller were a puberty-stricken adolescent, I could have still understood but he is not. And there's some truly awful writing here, desperately aiming for the 1927 equivalent of a Bad Sex Award.
What irritates me most about Haller is how utterly useless he is. He makes me feel I was unduly harsh on Stephen Dedalus, who's positively admirable compared to this man. Haller would rather spend his time moaning over the bastardization of "art" and make up some waffle about the wolf in him than do anything to remedy the situation. He idolizes Goethe and Mozart and yet he is nothing like them - he has no real passion to work on, apart from a few lines of bad poetry. He writes but runs off the moment he receives a bit of vitriolic criticism. If he'd man up and go do an honest day's work, it would have solved half his problems. Nut up or shut up, Harry, nut up or shut up.
This could have been a good book had Hesse done away with Haller and some of the more pointless subplots with Maria and Hermine. He captures well the loneliness and alienation. Pablo was the one character I could somewhat like and his explanation on the importance of performing music instead of spewing hot air is something I can definitely understand - it's the reason why I stopped caring about high-brow, pseudo-intellectual fakery. The Magic Theatre in the end and the interesting portrayal of Mozart redeemed the book slightly. He says what I wish someone said much earlier to Haller - chill. Unfortunately, by then it was too late and I cared far more about finishing this tiresome book than on hoping that Haller redeems himself by acting on the one piece of sensible advice. ...more
This is one of those books that I can't say I truly "liked" in the accepted sense, even though I am fully aware of the fact that is a well-written booThis is one of those books that I can't say I truly "liked" in the accepted sense, even though I am fully aware of the fact that is a well-written book, with engaging characters and an intelligent plot. Its merits lie in its ability to draw emotion from the reader and perhaps this is why I can't like it.
I was exhausted and fatigued by the end of the book, even though it was a comparatively short book and I read most of it in one day. The book is relentlessness in its tragedy; it is a dark, dank book much like its setting. It makes you think, it makes you feel and it draws so much out of you that it is a relief to come to the end. I tried not to care for the characters because from the very start, no guarantee was given of a happy ending. Yet the characters, each so distinct and well-drawn command attention, emotion and often both. I loved Stevie, not out of pity but because he seemed to be the only one with an honest ideology; the scenes detailing his conversation with the cab-driver and later, his musings on the "shame" of poverty were some of the most moving. I knew Stevie couldn't live happily ever after, but his was just the first tragedy. The last few chapters between Verloc and Winnie are claustrophobic and exhausting, even if they were no doubt meant to make the reader feel the nightmarish pain of the characters. On the other hand, I found Conrad's language an obstacle to a smooth reading of this book, at times illuminating great ideas; at other times a thick fog of meandering sentences.
I could talk about the themes Conrad explores in this book, that seem so prophetic in these times: that terrorism always leaves behind collateral damage, that there are no clear victims and perpetrators, that violence is the reality of the weak and theory of the strong. But this book has drawn too much out of me and I must conclude my review here....more
I started this book on a lazy Sunday afternoon thinking that it would be yet another piece of magic realism, feminist fiction with a 'Practical Magic'I started this book on a lazy Sunday afternoon thinking that it would be yet another piece of magic realism, feminist fiction with a 'Practical Magic' meets 'Cien Años de Soledad' hangover. As it turns out, there is surprisingly little magic in the story and more realism than would appear at first sight.
The author describes it as a sort of Hero's Journey and the story centres around Towner Whitney's struggle to return to tranquility, as well as her roots. The book is an easy, smooth read and I liked Barry's Salem, beyond witchcraft and haunted houses: I never knew that the ocean and islands formed such a distinct part of Salem's geographical and emotional landscape. Barry is clearly someone with a profound love for the water, and as someone who lives in a city by the sea and would miss it terribly, I can appreciate that.
Towner's self-confessedly unreliable character, is surprisingly sympathetic. However, I found her ultimate redemption as well as the incident that spurs it, to be somewhat unbelievable. I also wish that there was more actual lace reading: while I don't like authors deliberately injecting mysticism and magic into books, lace reading was an interesting concept and could have been developed beyond the excerpts ending each chapter, which I thought was a rather nice touch.
The Lace Reader is not without its flaws but I look forward to reading Brunonia Barry's next. The reason I liked this book, despite its failings, was the reason I like all my favourites: it had atmosphere. The book had the ability to make you feel the waves of the ocean and islands on a windy evening and being able to do that from my sofa made this a very satisfying read....more
I'm a bit late in getting round to reading this series. I liked this book even though it's not a traditional detective story: no dramatic intrigues, nI'm a bit late in getting round to reading this series. I liked this book even though it's not a traditional detective story: no dramatic intrigues, no surprising revelations (although I do suspect that these are the kinds of cases most real detectives face instead of murders in country homes).
I guess a lot of people carp about the fact that Alexander McCall-Smith's a *white* man writing about a *black* woman (oh the horror!). Perhaps they should keep in mind that the man was born in Africa and lived a great deal of time there (including helping found and teach at the University of Botswana). His writing reveals his love and respect for Africa and its people. The Africans in the book are never portrayed as magical and cutesy natives or worse, victims. They are real people who go through suffering, whether it's poverty or racism or domestic violence, and still emerge with their humour intact.
McCall-Smith's writing is the real winner here. It's easily readable with gentle humour that never escalates into triteness. He does what few writers can - write as his character, not as himself. Precious Ramotswe is an instantly likable protagonist but so are the others, including of course the charming Mr. J.L.B Matekoni.
I sped through this book in a few hours and look forward to reading the rest in the series, delightfully named as they are ("Tea Time for the Traditionally Built" I tell you)....more
I bought this book because one, the back had the words "wilderness" and "Alaska" on it (I chose to overlook the words "fatally" and "misconceived") anI bought this book because one, the back had the words "wilderness" and "Alaska" on it (I chose to overlook the words "fatally" and "misconceived") and two, the first few pages I read (and I rarely read pages from books before buying them) seemed interesting.
David Vann's writing has a magical quality about it that draws you in, not with clever wordplay but with comforting prose that invites the reader to come in and stay awhile. Even the last line of the acknowledgments had a sort of poetry to it: "She had faced a lot of other deaths in her life and seemed fearless to me then." The stories themselves have a clear, honest quality about them even when the lines between the real universe and the parallel one are blurred. Vann's description of Alaska could well be applied to the book: "Everything was sharply itself and nothing else."
I liked the idea of stories that are connected to almost form a novel, but not quite. There are different versions of the same character, the same events, all of which, whether real or longed for are connected with engaging prose but the threads are never lost: redemption is offered and received. "Sukkwan Island" is the much mentioned highlight but each story stands out, and the last, "The Higher Blue" is a moving, fitting ending to the book.
I am glad to have discovered Vann's writing and look forward to reading his next, "Caribou Island" as soon as I find the cover I want since I do tend to judge books by their covers. ...more
I picked up this book because I had read Brunonia Barry's first novel, "the Lace Reader" almost exactly a month ago and thought her writing held promiI picked up this book because I had read Brunonia Barry's first novel, "the Lace Reader" almost exactly a month ago and thought her writing held promise. As with that book, it was mostly the atmosphere and the setting that I liked in "The Map of True Places."
I liked the use of sailing and Salem's maritime history as practically another character in the book. Many of her characters are likable. However, I didn't seem to be able to connect with the protagonist Zee here as much as the others although she did seem interesting at first. Also I thought Jessina was a bit of caricature and I would have preferred her to be more believable than the token minority character she is portrayed as.
The completely unsubtle attempts to link her first book with the second were a major grouse for me. I suspect Barry aims at some kind of Salem trilogy or the like in the future but forcing characters from the previous novel to gatecrash this book didn't help the story at all. The writing got a little weak in places, when trying to express someone other than the genteel intellectuals of Zee's family (and especially in a couple of wtf lines involving Mickey's monkey). The twist regarding Zee's family dynamics was a little too melodramatic to believe. I think Barry still can't decide whether to go for reality or magic realism.
I'd love to read more about Barry's Salem but I hope her next decides firmly what it wants to be. ...more
This is yet another book that makes me wish Goodreads wouldn't label the rating system with something as simple as "liked it" or "really liked it". IThis is yet another book that makes me wish Goodreads wouldn't label the rating system with something as simple as "liked it" or "really liked it". I would give this book four stars, despite the somewhat theatrical language and implausible revelations. But did I "like" it, subjectively? Will I read it again? No.
The book succeeds in its purpose as a well-written Gothic novel. It's not Diane Setterfield's writing that I have a problem with. Apart from the occasional theatrics, her language is engaging and perfectly suited to the tone of the book. In the scene where Margaret visits Angelfield for the first time, her atmospheric writing brings to life the dead house. Although the twists and turns of the plot get a little hard to believe towards the end, for the most part it is engaging.
The reason I won't be re-reading this book is probably because Setterfield might have done too good a job of telling the story. Decay and tragedy seep out of the pages. The reader is sucked into the story and the mystery, but also the loss and hopelessness. From the very beginning, the book gave off a "Flowers in the Attic" meets "The Turn of the Screw" vibe, even before the latter was named in the book itself. However, the most unsettling creatures in this book are not the hinted-at ghosts, they're the humans, rotting in the glorious wastage of their lives. The determination of the inhabitants of Angelfield House to let go and crumble, reflecting the decay of the house itself, leaves you with a desolation that even the various happy endings cannot completely assuage.
I started this book at night and read it in less than 24 hours; reading almost unceasingly not only because I wanted to know the answers to all the questions, but also so that I could finish it and leave all the unnecessary tragedy behind.
An astonishing book indeed. It's a pity that it has been labelled "Young Adult" when it would do a lot of full grown adults a lot of good. I decided tAn astonishing book indeed. It's a pity that it has been labelled "Young Adult" when it would do a lot of full grown adults a lot of good. I decided to read it based on the interesting plot and protagonist. At the time, it seemed like a steampunk account of the Revolutionary War but as it turns out, there isn't much fantasy and whimsy here.
The protagonist, Octavian, is captivating but not the only one in a book filled with people of all shades - of skin colour as well as character. His upbringing is surreal but as the author states in the afterword, not as removed from historical fact as it appears to be. He depicts Octavian's strange, experimental life and his confrontation with the reality faced by people like him without sappy sentiment. I found Bono a particularly engaging character, his own awareness of the ugly reality and his moral ambiguity a foil to Octavian's initial naïveté. However, the other characters are equally striking, whether it's the inscrutable Cassiopeia, Mr. Gitney, caught between cowardice and curiosity or the rest from Evidence Goring to Lord Cheldthorpe to the various named and unnamed bit players whose diaries, letters and advertisements are part of the narrative.
Like I said, there is little whimsy here. This is no quaint period piece. The novel is as raw as the times it is set in. You know about the War from school and you took for granted that the revolutionaries were ethically superior to the British, even though you know that no one can be easily sliced into "good" and "bad". Anderson reminds you of that fact with no prettiness, whether he describes the brutal tarring and feathering of a royalist customs officer or the Redcoats shooting a child watching them march by. There is violence everywhere, whether in Bono's macabre scrapbook of torture devices designed for slaves or the horrors of the pox.
Anderson offers an unemotional and yet paradoxically moving look at slavery and its inevitable presence in the history of man - Grecian slaves who spoke of poetry and philosophy, Britons enslaved by Romans who would one day, in a new world, enslave Africans. Neither can slavery be put down simply to racism - Anderson also mentions "indentured Irishmen", only slightly better off than the Africans or Native Americans. He seems to want to prove that no man is above cruelty - the British oppress the colonists, the colonists oppress the slaves. The scene where Octavian's company, including the idealistic Evidence Goring, slaughters livestock is another subtle reminder that even those professing to be egalitarian are not completely innocent.
The language strays into parody at times, especially in the letters, but on the whole, I couldn't complain about it. There is a sort of brutal poetry in Anderson's language - "You must learn fear. I do this for your own sake. Fear is like happiness, but the smile is wider." Bono's words stayed with me long after I finished the book but his weren't the only ones. Dr. Trefusis' solipsistic musings -"All that is there now is the eye of God." He shivered. "The pupil is black, and as large as a world." and Octavian looking at slaves sent to war in place of their "patriotic" masters - "...they were like ranks of white men's deaths". Anderson excels in creating jewel-bright scenes, that are sometimes horrifying, sometimes touching, sometimes both, like Cassiopeia's quoting of the Psalms or her death, which he leaves dignified and free of mawkishness - "And then, this she offered to me, my one truth: “Our language,” she said, “is not spoken, but sung.... Not simply words... and grammar... but melody. It was hard... thus... to learn English... this language of wood. For the people of your nation, Octavian, all speech is song."
This book isn't perfect but it is an extremely admirable effort. Anderson does not try to hide the horror of the events he describes but the book doesn't fall prey to white guilt either. He writes without romanticism but this only makes the book's effect on the reader stronger. I am glad I read this book despite the misleading YA tag and I look forward to reading The Kingdom on the Waves....more
When I first started to learn Japanese, the language seemed so stark to me and yet, capable of conveying so much in a syllable's worth of sound. It inWhen I first started to learn Japanese, the language seemed so stark to me and yet, capable of conveying so much in a syllable's worth of sound. It intrigued me that words like "ma" or "sa" could change the tone of a sentence, mean more than just one simple thing.
This book made me feel something of the same. The cleanliness of Kazuo Ishiguro's prose tells a story with layers of meaning and draws up such vivid scenes. One of these is the protagonist's confrontation with his father over his art and the scene with his mother, conversing in the dark of an ill-lighted house from the early part of the last century. The meeting with his master that follows many years later is interestingly analogous. I liked the themes of memory and its fallibility, of honour and ideologies, of the changing meaning of good and evil and of simple change itself. Masuji Ono makes for a gently engaging protagonist. You never truly find out if Ono's past is dark or light, and his inner duality conforms to the duality of the world outside - when is war "good" and when is it "bad"? When do patriots become war criminals? Should art and politics, such disparate worlds, ever meet? All the different layers in this book merit more than one read.
When I first found this book, I bought it because of the title, hoping to read more about ukiyo-e and Japanese art. The book doesn't go into details, but uses art as a contrast or complement to the life of the artist. As it turns out, the floating world here is not one of Edo tea houses and geisha and kabuki actors but of buildings arising from the rubble and war-scarred young men and the blurring of ideals. Not a world of evanescent beauty, but one of an ephemeral morality perhaps. ...more
One of my favourite words is saudade and I could not help but think of it here. The two stories that make up this book are different in their subjectsOne of my favourite words is saudade and I could not help but think of it here. The two stories that make up this book are different in their subjects but both dwell on change and a longing for the past.
In Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell, a generation later than Jane Austen writes of the things the latter does not, or could not: of the wars that left behind villages full of women, of poverty and of loss. Miss Matty might have been an Austen heroine who wasn't swept off her feet and carried off into the sunset; Mr. Holbrook her lost love. It is rather gloomy at times to read of a village full of aging women trying to hold onto a decaying elegance. However, the tragedies of every day life can be beautiful as well. The chapter where Miss Matty and Mary Smith read and burn old letters was one of the most moving scenes I have read in a long time.
I found it a little difficult to really like the characters. They are elderly, often narrow-minded women bound by strict guidelines and a somewhat outdated morality. And yet, they are generous in their kindness. They might look with disdain on Frenchmen and "Red Indians", they might kowtow to aristocracy, but they often go out of their way to help their neighbours whether it is Captain Brown who shocks the good ladies by openly discussing his poverty or the mysterious Signor Brunoni, or even the lame postman of Cranford. There are touches of gentle humour here and there: the literary contest between Miss Jenkyns and Captain Brown over Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson, Mrs. Forrester's lace eating cat, Miss Pole's faltering bravado at facing a phantom.
Cousin Phillis is a short novella that subtly intertwines the changing country landscape with a short-lived romance. There isn't much by way of action here but both the Phillis of the title and her father Mr. Holman are engaging, well-drawn out characters: hard-working and rustic and yet well-read and thirsty for knowledge. One can see a slight similarity to the Goethe quoting Mr. Holbrook in Cranford with his alphabetically labeled cows. Phillis, with her love of Greek and her attempts to read The Divine Comedy in Italian is at the same time a naive, isolated country girl and her painful journey to emotional growth forms the crux of the story. Mrs. Gaskell paints a striking picture of the old way of life slowly giving way to the new with harvests and railways, farmer-priests and engineers.
I liked the down-to-earth, unpretentious tone of both stories and the clarity of Mrs. Gaskell's writing is a delight to read. She manages to convey tragedy without dragging down the tone of the book and her humour never escalates into farce. This is a simple, elegant book, like the times it longs for....more
I decided to read this because it reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road, which is a book both my parents love and I grew up reading. The Guernsey LiterI decided to read this because it reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road, which is a book both my parents love and I grew up reading. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, apart from its delightful title, manages to capture the same humour and sincere love of books.
What I liked best about this book was the honest way it captures the magic of reading. There are no high brow pretensions here and the readers themselves are no intellectuals: a farmer who discovers Charles Lamb, a valet immersed in Seneca, the local witch entranced by Jane Austen. Eben Ramsey's first letter to Juliet captures this beautifully: "We took them from Mrs. Maugery’s shelves fearful we’d spoil the fine papers." And when he writes about Shakespeare: "Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.' I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them—and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words 'the bright day is done and we are for the dark,' I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance—instead of my heart sinking to my shoes." I love the way the author captures the genuine way literature, like any art, can touch ordinary lives.
There are some funny moments - Dr. Stubbins running amok at the Sigmund Freud Society, Cee Cee Meredith's poems to tomatoes and his mother's indignation at Guernsey's status as a tax haven ("IT MAKES ONE WANT TO SPIT!"). Incidentally, I think Meredith and Mother are Ms. Shaffer's creations: I can't find any reference to them outside the books - at least on Google - which is a pity since I would have loved to read A-Tramp in Guernsey.
Though the tone of the book might seem comic at first, it actually has a lot more sombre moments. Some of them are very finely balanced between comedy and tragedy such as when Mrs. Clara Saussey decides to read one of her cookery books at the society's meetings. Isola Pribby offering to hex Mrs. Saussey's saucepans and Will Thisbee's dire warnings that she would burn like cherries jubilee are funny until you realize that she has been describing roast suckling pig and five layer cakes in loving detail to a group of starving people.
I also like the little details Ms. Shaffer adds that make the war come alive. Like the evacuation of the children from the island: "Two little girls, all dressed up in pink party dresses, stiff petticoats, shiny strap shoes—like their Ma thought they’d be going to a party. How cold they must have been crossing the Channel.", the pets left to go wild after their owners died or fled, the first sight of the invading Germans - shopping and buying sweets for children. I like that the author manages to humanize "the bad guys" like the starving German soldiers, risking execution to steal food or the women who consorted with them so that their families could eat well. At the same time, while she points out that individuals are often not as much to blame as their misplaced ideologies, she doesn't shrink away from describing the horrors inflicted by them - Himmler's Death by Exhaustion or the women's prison in France. The writing is often poignant when it talks of the Islander's lives through the war and occupation: "...visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said 'Life goes on.' What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on."
I really liked the first part of the book but the second part seemed to lose something. It became more trite, the humour more forced and the story could have done without Juliet's love triangles (even if Dawsey is rather fanciable). The writing could have been better at times; it isn't always consistent with the epistolary format adding details that wouldn't really be seen in letters. The voices too, often sound alike. Will Thisbee's letter while funny, sounds more like Juliet than the "antiquarian ironmonger". Besides, all the letters are well-written and more or less witty. I find it hard to believe that there are no awkward letter-writers even in the 1940s. Most of the characters are a little too idiosyncratic and quirky which somewhat dilutes the effect of having a colourful set of protagonists. Elizabeth as the invisible focal point was interesting in the first part but not in the second when she is practically deified. And there's a lot of unnecessary slapping and righteous anger going around.
On the whole, though, I really enjoyed reading this book. I found out about the author half-way through. I think the fact that Ms. Shaffer was an amateur contributes to the honesty in the book. I wish she had lived longer to write another. Perhaps the book wasn't perfect but any effort to follow one's dream is admirable....more
This is the kind of book you want to start again right after you've turned over the last page. Few books have made me feel that way, since the books oThis is the kind of book you want to start again right after you've turned over the last page. Few books have made me feel that way, since the books of my childhood anyway. And for me, this is where the magic of the book lies: it makes you a child again.
To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me why I love reading. There is so much real humour in it, the writing so gentle and yet so straightforward and the musical Southern language everywhere. When Scout says, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." I could relate immediately because that is exactly the way I feel about painting. Words and scenes stay with you long after the book is done: Scout's first day at school, Atticus and Tim Johnson, the children's artless disarming of the mob, Boo Radley's first and final appearance.
Scout, Jem and Dill reminded me that I had a few golden summers myself, growing up. And their fear and fascination for Boo Radley was more familiar than I expected. When I was little, I would go visit my grandmother in the summer and there was a Boo Radley-like lady who lived next door. No one in the world had scared me before and no one has ever since. When I was no longer six years old, I realised that what my siblings and I were terrified of was only an old lady with more tragedy than witchcraft in her poor life.
Harper Lee's characters are her greatest strength. Atticus Finch is a gem of a character. He is a good man, he simply cannot exist in this world but he is believable. And then you have Mr. Dolphus Raymond who shows a curiously reversed sort of courage, choosing to fight hypocrisy with cynicism.
I LOVE Little Chuck Little and his chivalrous handling of Miss Caroline. I wish he had a bigger part in the story. It's the little things about being a child that Ms. Lee captures so well, such as Jem telling Scout about the "Dewey Decimal System" in force at school and the way she readily believes her big brother. At the same time, Ms. Lee doesn't patronize the children - or the reader - by making them bland and infantile. She recognizes the fact that children can be as cruel or as kind as adults. Sometimes they make the same bad judgements. Sometimes they recognize what is wrong and why before the adults do, like Dill did at the courthouse. Sometimes they feel helpless in the face of wrong and like adults, they use anger to mask it, like Jem did.
It's not just the obviously likable characters that are drawn with depth. Even people like Mrs. Dubose or Mayella are more than simple antagonists. They remind you that there are few true villains in this world: you can't be perfectly bad any more than you can be perfectly good. There are narrow-minded and bigoted people in this world; their actions cannot be justified but they may have redeeming qualities. It is easy to forget this fact. Mrs. Dubose is downright vile at times but she shows courage in the face of weakness and I can respect that. Mayella shows none, but one cannot help but feel sorry for her. The red geraniums seem a trivial fact but for me, they were a powerful depiction of Mayella's state. Is it very much better than that which comes to the innocent man she accuses?
I like the basic decency that runs through the book but honestly, as a crusader for equality, I wish Ms. Lee would have made more of an effort. The black characters are mostly uni-dimensional victims. Even Calpurnia doesn't break the "contented slave" mould. The bulk of the argument - at least on part of the grownups in the book - for treating everyone equally is because it's kind or virtuous, not because it is logical. Even Atticus - unimpeachable in almost every other regard - says that it's more of a sin to cheat a black man because of his "ignorance". I think that when you treat someone equally, it means you don't differentiate against him, whether positively or negatively. So yes, while I believe the book has its heart in the right place, there may be better treatises on equality and discrimination.
To Kill a Mockingbird itself is so sincere, however, that it is easy to set aside one's doubts. In any case, I think the chief lesson in this book is not only standing up for what you feel is right but more importantly, doing it when your friends and family don't agree with you. That itself requires a great deal of courage, moral or otherwise....more
I discovered Sherman Alexie on the Never Ending Book Quiz here on Goodreads (it's becoming a good source of new books for me). I wanted to read The LoI discovered Sherman Alexie on the Never Ending Book Quiz here on Goodreads (it's becoming a good source of new books for me). I wanted to read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven but since I couldn't find that book, I decided on this one instead.
Reservation Blues had me hooked from the start, when Robert Johnson and the devil (in his guitar) walk onto the Spokane Indian Reservation and meet Thomas Builds-the-Fire. My favourite thing about the book were the characters. Finally, real people with real hopes and fears, virtues and vices. Not antiquated, Hollywood-approved versions of themselves. Mr. Alexie refers to the restraining power of this farce throughout the book: "Indian men have started to believe their own publicity and run around acting like the Indians in movies". I like the fact that the characters seamlessly blend universal experiences - I could definitely relate to them in a lot of ways - with their Indian identities. It was also interesting to read of them as distinct tribes with their own distinct cultures, such as when Father Arnold wonders why the Spokane aren't hunting buffalo: "... Indians were always hunting buffalo on television" and is told "It was those dang Sioux Indians. Those Sioux always get to be on television.". I loved Thomas; he is such a genuine, decent man and I loved the way his relationship with Chess Warm Water develops: "Thomas smiled at her. He had just met the only Indian who told stories like his". But I also found myself caring about Victor Joseph and Junior Polatkin and their friendship. It's a testament to Mr. Alexie's skill in drawing believable characters that he can create bullies with depth - not just Victor and Joseph, but also Michael White Hawk. I also liked the minor characters: The Man-Who-Was-Probably-Lakota (I have a feeling I'll meet him again in another of the author's books), the backward driving Simon, Mr. Alexie's version of Robert Johnson, Big Mom, even Thomas' dad during his impromptu basketball match against the tribal cops.
The magic-realist tone of the book is rich and absorbing - whether it is the music that sets fire to everything, the Fed Ex guy, Thomas' stories, the character's dreams or the horses. I found the latter a frightening, fascinating element in the story and the scene in the beginning of the book with Big Mom and the screaming horses is powerful and chilling. Even the ironical names of some of the characters - Sheridan and Wright, Betty and Veronica - give an oddly phantasmagorical feeling to the book, especially towards the end. I liked the unsettling humour and the way the fantastic throws reality into even sharper relief - which after all, is the sign of magic realism well utilised (and a relief from the superficial acid-pixie nature of many books in the genre).
The book doesn't gloss over all that isn't pretty: the poverty and alcoholism on reservations, substandard government rations and unemployment, the hopelessness experienced by so many young Indians and the duplicity of mainstream culture which is willing to accept Indians - as long as they're not too Indian. The ending - or at least, the events leading up to it - gave me the blues, naturally, but it was well-written and it felt real. What happens to the band's music deal is more common than imagined: Indians and non-Indians alike can discover that artistic integrity and music industry turnovers don't go hand in hand. Thomas' reaction on receiving Betty and Veronica's letter is moving, especially when you note the contrast between their lyrics and those of the band's that start off the chapters. Junior's fate: how many times has it already happened to Indians on reservations across the country? But for me, the most heartbreaking - there really is no other word for it - was the scene with Victor in the end: "That little explosion of the beer can opening sounded exactly like a smaller, slower version version if the explosion that Junior's rifle made on the water tower." When I first read it, it seemed ominous but perhaps his "Fuck it, I can do it too" is more optimistic than I imagine? I sincerely hope so; that there is some hope for him in the end, too. I liked the tone of the last words, optimistic without being complacent. They say that yes, life is hard, tragedies happen but sometimes, you just got to be happy you survived and try and make it better.
I don't know how much reservation life has changed in the sixteen years since this book was written, but Wikipedia tells me that reservation Indians are more likely to live in poverty than any other demographic, even now. There's still high unemployment, suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. I think in that case, books like Reservation Blues, books written by American Indians themselves become all the more important: so that the people in the statistics can become real and their problems discussed with logic and dignity....more
I had really liked David Vann's Legend of a Suicide earlier this year, so I was looking forward to see what his second novel would yield.
On the whole,I had really liked David Vann's Legend of a Suicide earlier this year, so I was looking forward to see what his second novel would yield.
On the whole, I'm rather disappointed with the book. It has the depressive harshness of his first novel (and the central plot is reminiscent of Sukkwan Island) but it has none of the depth. The book is more or less uninteresting, with bland and often entirely unnecessary characters and elements such as Carl and Monique or the subplot with Jim. Entire chapters are devoted to Irene's Kafka-esque headache and her unhappy marriage to Gary but the denouement is simplistic and predictable. If the author believed that mere tragedy and bleakness are sufficient conditions for meaningful writing, he was mistaken. The only part of the book that I found poignant or even interesting were the first and last few lines. I sincerely hope that Vann's next will be better....more