Gustav von Aschenbach is a middle-aged, successful writer who has lived a very controlled, cerebral life. He feels that a break from his scheduled lif...moreGustav von Aschenbach is a middle-aged, successful writer who has lived a very controlled, cerebral life. He feels that a break from his scheduled life might help his writing, and travels to Venice. He sees a beautiful Polish boy named Tadzio at his hotel, and compares him to a classical Greek god. Although he never touches or speaks to Tadzio, Aschenbach becomes totally infatuated with the beautiful boy, watching him play on the beach and eventually following him through the streets of Venice. His writer's block disappears as his mind gives way to passion. Aschenbach learns that a cholera epidemic is sweeping over Venice. He has to decide if he should leave the city and warn Tadzio's family about the disease, or stay because he cannot bear the thought of being away from Tadzio.
This is a well-constructed novella with symbols of death, aging, and desire foreshadowing future events. Aschenbach imagines a discussion of beauty between Socrates and his young student, Phaedrus, to justify his own feelings. There are references to Greek mythology in describing his dreams, as his life goes from the discipline of an Apollonian existence to uncontrolled Dionysian sensuality. The novella builds from a calm start to an overwhelming obsession to a tragic conclusion. The story is semi-autobiographical based on a trip that Mann and his wife took to Venice, where Mann became intrigued with a young Polish boy visiting the resort. Mann expanded on the idea to write "Death in Venice."(less)
The novella, The Little Prince, tells of the encounter between an adult and his inner child, the little prince. It can be appreciated by both children...moreThe novella, The Little Prince, tells of the encounter between an adult and his inner child, the little prince. It can be appreciated by both children and adults on different levels. The pilot narrator crashes in the Sahara, and sees a tiny golden-haired boy, the little prince, who had come from a far asteroid where he had lived with a single rose. Their conversations are part fantasy and part philosophical--thoughts about the superficial world of adults who lack the imagination and open-mindedness of children. The prince, who is confused about his feelings for the rose, meets a fox who tells him his secret about love: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
The fable was written during World War II when the author had escaped from German-occupied France to the United States. Like the little prince, the author was in exile. The little prince came from an asteroid where baobab trees were threatening to take over the area, suggesting how the Nazis were attempting to get a hold on our planet. The author also drew from his real experience of crashing in the Sahara in 1939 when he and his co-pilot were in an air race, and where he experienced hallucinations due to extreme dehydration. The story is illustrated with charming watercolors depicting the little prince. This is still a popular book, translated from the original French into many languages, and enjoyed by readers of all ages. (less)
It's a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, starting as she sets out in the morning to buy flowers for a party, and ending as her par...more3.5 stars
It's a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, starting as she sets out in the morning to buy flowers for a party, and ending as her party guests are leaving that night. The book is written in a stream of consciousness so the reader learns about the characters' feelings about the present, past, and future, moment by moment. Throughout the book, Big Ben and other London clocks sound the hours. Clarissa reads Shakespeare's words from "Cymbeline" about death in a book in a shop window early in the book, foreshadowing things to come.
The book was written after the devastation of World War I. Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran suffering from PTSD, sees hallucinations of a good friend who died in the war. One of Septimus' doctors will be attending the party later. Woolf and her husband published Freud's works, and Woolf had been treated unsuccessfully for bipolar disorder and depression. She shows that the medical and psychiatric doctors of the time were inept and unfeeling to people with mental illness.
Clarissa, a charming high society hostess, invites about twenty people to her party. We learn about her youth, her past loves, and her marriage as she shops in the morning. Was she happy in her marriage to Richard, or should she have married Peter who still loves her? We also see England's social structure through the eyes of many characters. There is a contrast between Clarissa's life, and the lives of working women.
I appreciated Woolf's writing which was often very beautiful, and her thoughts about the Great War, mental illness, and society. Her stream of consciousness writing gave impressions of past, present, and future which melded into a complete idea. I admire Woolf for trying a new style of writing, and might enjoy it in a short story of a few pages. But I found it difficult to concentrate on her stream of consciousness writing for a whole novel. There are other styles of writing that I prefer reading.(less)
In Foe, Susan Barton is set adrift in a rowboat after a mutiny on a ship sailing from South America to Lisbon. She lands on an island where Cruso and...moreIn Foe, Susan Barton is set adrift in a rowboat after a mutiny on a ship sailing from South America to Lisbon. She lands on an island where Cruso and Friday had been cast away years ago. In Coetzee's retelling of the Robinson Crusoe tale, Cruso is content with his simple life on the island. Friday has been transformed from a Caribbean to a black African whose tongue had been cut out by slave owners. The three castaways are rescued after Susan has spent one year on the island, but Cruso dies on his way back to Europe.
Susan wants to write their story so she contacts the author Daniel Foe to turn her narration into a book. But Foe wants to tell a different story about Susan than the one she thinks is important. Susan is also disturbed about Friday's lack of a voice. Although Friday has been liberated from slavery, he cannot ever really be free with no voice. The theme seems to be that the oppressed and disadvantaged have been silenced, and lost the authorship of their own stories.
J.M. Coetzee was writing in 1986 in South Africa where communication problems and cultural differences existed between the black Africans and white colonialists. The original Crusoe story was a fictional autobiography and adventure story with 17th Century ideas about colonialism, gender, and slavery. Coetzee has updated the tale by adding a woman narrator, an African servant, and a 20th Century outlook. (less)
During the time of the Gautama Buddha, Siddhartha goes on a journey in India to experience spiritual enlightenment. He lived as an ascetic with a life...moreDuring the time of the Gautama Buddha, Siddhartha goes on a journey in India to experience spiritual enlightenment. He lived as an ascetic with a life of self-denial for years. Then he lived a life of pleasure, learning the art of love from Kamala, acquiring possessions, and gambling. He then renounced that materialistic life, and took up a simple life as a ferryman. Siddhartha felt that every person must learn spirituality from their own complete experiences. As Siddhartha listens to the river, he feels connected with everything in the world in a timeless fashion. The story was an interesting look at Eastern philosophy.
Spirituality seems to have played an important role in the author's life. Hermann Hesse was raised in a missionary family and educated at a Pietist (Lutheran) seminary in Germany as a child. Later in life, he studied Eastern philosophy and wrote "Siddhartha."(less)
Published in 1981 during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer imagines a civil war where blacks overthrow whites. It's a ficti...morePublished in 1981 during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer imagines a civil war where blacks overthrow whites. It's a fictional time of terrible violence where whites have to go into hiding to avoid being killed in Johannesburg. The Smales, a liberal white couple with three children, have employed July for fifteen years as a servant. They have treated him well so he takes the family to his rural black village to keep them safe.
In the village, a master/servant role reversal occurs where the Smales are now totally dependent on July for everything--their hut, their food, even their lives. July slowly loses his subservient attitude, and the Smales feel powerless and vulnerable. Having the keys to the vehicle, a yellow bakkie, symbolizes who has the power. In addition, the Smales had the problem of not understanding the language and culture of the village. Of course, July and other blacks had been experiencing the reverse problem when they went into the cities to work for English-speaking whites.
The ending was ambivalent which disappointed me in the sense of not having closure. But it was probably a very fitting and realistic ending for that time in South Africa. No one knew what the racial tensions would bring while ending apartheid.
7/14/14 Rest in Peace, Nadine Gordimer. The 90-year-old Nobel Prize winning author, known for her books about racial tensions in apartheid-era South Africa, has died.(less)
Irma Seidenman had been living under a false identity as a Polish officer's widow in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. She is recognized by a former acquaintance,...moreIrma Seidenman had been living under a false identity as a Polish officer's widow in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. She is recognized by a former acquaintance, and is arrested for being a Jew. A group of Polish people set up a plan to rescue her.
The interconnected chapters of the book are each devoted to a particular character or incident. Together, the stories give a composite picture of the people in Warsaw during World War II, and a glimpse into the future for them. The well-written book had complex characters thrust into difficult, often tragic, situations.
In many ways, Poland--situated between Germany and Russia--was also a character in this book. "Was this country merely the territory for foreign armies to march across, the land behind the front lines, the strip of ground between them?....The outpost of the free world, squeezed in between tyrannies."
The author lived through that period of history himself. He was educated in the underground university mentioned in the book. After participating in the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans in 1944, he was sent to a concentration camp. After he was released, he was very active politically in the Solidarity movement.(less)
Toni Morrison has written a lush, earthy story, set in a segregated area of Ohio, about the black experience between 1919-1965. Nel, who has a very tr...moreToni Morrison has written a lush, earthy story, set in a segregated area of Ohio, about the black experience between 1919-1965. Nel, who has a very traditional childhood, becomes the best friend of Sula who lives in an unstructured environment. When they become adults, Nel got married, had children, and stayed in her hometown. Sula went away to college, and had affairs with many men, following the path of her sensual mother. Sula returned to her hometown after ten years, became the source of gossip because of her loose ways, and deeply hurt Nel. This is a story about female friendship, and about what constitutes good and evil.
The book is also a portrait of a small, vital black community facing hardship. The black men in the town have to deal with discrimination in hiring with even the government construction jobs closed off to them. I enjoyed Toni Morrison's complex characters and gorgeous writing. (less)
Published in 1899, "The Awakening" is a story revolving around personal and sexual freedom for women. The book was set in New Orleans and nearby coast...morePublished in 1899, "The Awakening" is a story revolving around personal and sexual freedom for women. The book was set in New Orleans and nearby coastal areas where women--and any property they accumulated after marriage--were considered the property of their husbands. Divorce was almost non-existent in that Catholic area.
Edna and Leonce Pontellier are vacationing at a coastal resort with their two little sons. Leonce is a generous husband in material ways, but does not connect well emotionally with his wife. Edna falls in love with Robert Lebrun, a young man at the resort. Robert leaves for Mexico since he realizes that the relationship would not have a good outcome.
Edna befriends two women with contrasting lifestyles. Madame Ratignolle is a perfect wife and mother, but Mademoiselle Reisz, a pianist, has a very independent life. Edna is unhappy in her life as a wife and mother, even though she has servants to do most of the work in the home. She has the opportunity to rebel when her husband goes on a long business trip and their children are sent to their grandmother's house for an extended stay. She begins a dalliance with Alcee Arobin, a man with a reputation of chasing married women. She asserts her independence by moving out of her large house into a smaller abode, dabbling in art, and is awakened as a sexual woman. When Robert returns later, she says, "I am no longer one of Mr Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose."
The book was very controversial because Edna left her husband and children for her own freedom, a move that would be socially shocking at the turn of the century. Even today, society looks down severely on women who abandon their children. Early in the book, it was stated, "Mrs Pontellier was not a mother-woman." Near the end of the book, it said, "Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night and never lifted....The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them."
The book has wonderful imagery of hunger and food, the draw of the sea, birds in flight, sleeping and awakening. Edna was a fascinating character. She seemed to be a woman who was unable to count her blessings, could only see the problems which were certainly genuine, and probably suffered from depression. She moved so much into a fantasy world that a solution seemed hopeless. Finally she hears the call of the sea, "The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, ther was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water."(less)
William Golding's experiences in the Royal Navy during World War II were significant in developing his bleak view of the basic nature of humanity. In...moreWilliam Golding's experiences in the Royal Navy during World War II were significant in developing his bleak view of the basic nature of humanity. In the allegorical Lord of the Flies, a plane carrying mostly upper class British boys crashes on a deserted island, and no adults survive. At first, it looks like an idyllic place to have fun away from adult control. The boys elect charismatic Ralph as their leader, and he tries to organize them in building shelters, gathering fruit and water, and keeping a fire lit as a rescue signal so they can return to civilization. The power-hungry Jack organizes a group to hunt the pigs on the island, which quickly gains savage, tribal overtones with face paint and violence. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, so I won't go into details of the plot.
The books show the conflict between civilization and savagry, between good and evil. There is a spectrum of human behavior on the island as the boys respond to their freedom away from civilization. Ralph has a strong conscience and tries to do what is right for the group. Simon is innately good and civilized. Piggie is intelligent, but is not a leader, and is a target for bullies because of his weight, his poor eyesight, and his asthma. Jack is hungry for power, has a violent nature, and manipulates the younger boys using fear of an imaginary Beast. (This type of manipulation has been used by many political and religious organizations.) Roger is the most violent and enjoys torturing others (a future Hitler or Stalin.) The boys on the island become more and more savage. Civilization is lost and replaced by primitive brutality.
There are many ways of looking at this book. It can be seen as a political statement about the brutality of a dictator taking over a society. Another view is religious with man's loss of innocence, and our innate evil destroying the Garden of Eden. The book can also be seen from a Freudian view with the struggle between the Id (primal instincts and desires), the Ego (conscious rational mind), and the Superego (conscience and morality.) But in all these views, the book is examining the basic nature of human behavior. In Chapter 8, the Lord of the Flies (the sow's head) tells Simon in a vision that the Beast exists within the boys. "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!....You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?"
It's ironic that the boys are trying to get rescued by the Navy to get back to civilization. But the Navy is involved in the savage behavior of war, using guns and bombs instead of sharpened sticks. This is a dark, pessimistic book with lots of action, and a good vehicle for discussions. It continues to be very popular in classrooms. (less)
"All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others."
This is a chilling look at the creation of a totalitarian state, and the role of p...more"All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others."
This is a chilling look at the creation of a totalitarian state, and the role of propaganda in establishing a state. Parallels can be seen between the major players in the Russian Revolution and the characters in the story. (Farmer Jones=Tsar Nicholas, Old Major=Marx, Napoleon=Stalin, Snowball=Trotsky, Squealer=Government Propaganda, Dogs=KGB)(less)
Published in 1962, "A Clockwork Orange" is set in the near future England at a time when teenage gangs roamed the streets committing senseless acts of...morePublished in 1962, "A Clockwork Orange" is set in the near future England at a time when teenage gangs roamed the streets committing senseless acts of violence. The teenagers speak in an argot called Nadsat, which is mainly English with some Russian words, Cockney rhyming slang, and Romany, as well as some invented words. If your edition of the book does not contain an appendix with a Nadsat dictionary, print up a copy at wiktionary. The author, Anthony Burgess, was a linguist, and he increases the use of Nadsat as the violence increases.
The book starts with Alex and his droogs (friends) spending a drug-fueled night beating and robbing people. They end up at a home where they beat the husband and gang-rape his wife. Alex reads a paragraph about free choice from the book entitled "A Clockwork Orange" that the husband is writing before destroying the book.
Later in the book, Alex is imprisoned and is chosen for the experimental Ludovico's Technique, a form of psychological conditioning (somewhat based on B F Skinner's work). It modifies his behavior so that even thinking about violence makes him nauseous and sick. This also results in Alex having no way to defend himself.
The book asks the question of whether man is naturally violent and evil (original sin). Is it better to choose evil with free will, rather than be good with no freedom of choice? Alex is no longer acting freely as a human being, but is acting as a mechanical thing. How far should the state go in suppressing an individual for the benefit of the state or community?
I won't go into the plot details and spoil the book. "A Clockwork Orange" is a book filled with horrific violence, but it has a clever dystopian plot and the fascinating Nadsat language. Anthony Burgess wrote twenty-one chapters in the original book published in England, with some sense of redemption but no true remorse, in the last chapter when Alex matures and becomes an adult. The last chapter was left out of the American books until recently, and was also omitted in Stanley Kubrick's dark film in 1971. So it's interesting to read an edition with all twenty-one chapters to see which ending seems more realistic.(less)
George Orwell saw the oppression of colonialism when he lived in India, and the horror of the Spanish Civil War. Then he...more "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU"
George Orwell saw the oppression of colonialism when he lived in India, and the horror of the Spanish Civil War. Then he witnessed the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin. This inspired him to write Nineteen Eighty-Four about a totalitarian state that uses surveillance, mind control, perpetual war, rationing, persecution of independent thinking, and changes in the records of the past to control the people under its power.
Written in 1948, Orwell's vision of the future in 1984 is an Oceanic police state called Ingsoc which is ruled by Big Brother and the Inner Party. The Outer Party carries out tasks involving propaganda, revising history, creating the language of Newspeak which removes words associated with rebellion and the past, organizing Hate Week, and constant surveillance. The proles are the lowest class who are kept undernourished, uneducated, and do the menial jobs.
Winston Smith, an Outer Party member, works in the Ministry of Truth where his job is to revise history. If the past looks like a time of misery and trouble, then the present time under the Party's control looks like an improvement. When Winston rewrites the past to make the Party always look good, he also totally eliminates troublesome people from the records as if they had never been born (unpersons). If the Party tells the people the revised past over and over again through propaganda, it eventually seems like the truth. A party slogan is, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."
A forbidden love relationship develops between Winston and Julia. Julia rebels against the Party for sexual pleasure. Winston is an intellectual, and believes in the freedom of the individual. His thoughts give the reader insight into how the Party establishes control over society. But their rebellions against the Party come with a high personal cost when they are captured by the Thought Police.
Orwell created a disturbing vision of the future, and many of his ideas have been seen in governments both before and after the book was published. He was also concerned about how technology would be used in surveillance of individuals. Orwell was brilliant in analyzing the many ways that the state can manipulate individuals and take away their freedoms. ___________________________________________
I visited the Peabody-Essex Museum in Massachusetts a few years ago. They have a Chinese house from the Mao regime in China. There was a loudspeaker at the house which blared propaganda all day long, and the villagers were not allowed to turn it off. It reminded me of the constant propaganda coming from the telescreens in this book.
"Community, Identity, Stability"--the World State's motto.
In the satire Brave New World, we read about the utopian/dystopian society of the World Stat...more"Community, Identity, Stability"--the World State's motto.
In the satire Brave New World, we read about the utopian/dystopian society of the World State. Their calendar starts in the year that Henry Ford rolled out the first Model T on the assembly line, and the book is set in 632 A.F.(after Ford). Mass consumerism is encouraged. Nothing is repaired, just replaced, so there is near universal employment.
Children are created in the Central London Hatcheries and Conditioning Center in jars on an assembly line where the proper nutrients are infused at the appropriate times. Multiples with the same genetic attributes are created so there will be the optimum number of people with a specific intelligence to match with specific jobs. The children are conditioned with positive and negative reinforcement, as well as hypnophaedia (listening to recorded messages while sleeping) so they will be content with their place in society.
Religion is replaced by community singery meetings. People do not spend time alone, but have strictly scheduled social activities. Physical satisfaction comes from promiscuous recreational sex where "everyone belongs to everyone else." People are never unhappy because they can just pop a drug "soma", a hallucinogen that is hangover-free.
Bernard and Lenina go on a holiday at a fenced reservation where the descendants of the Anasazi live in New Mexico. They get exposed to a primitive society, and Bernard questions the modern society he lives in. Bernard returns with John (the Savage) and his mother, a woman from the World State who was lost in the reservation years ago while on a trip. John is excited to go to the "brave new world", but cannot adjust once he spends time in the World State. The book deals with the contrasts between primitive society and the modern World State, the role of the individual, and the advantages and disadvantages of feeling strong emotions.
Written in 1932, at a time when assembly line production was being promoted and science was making many advances, the book is an interesting look at where society could be heading. It shows how technology could be used to control society, and the dangers of an overly powerful government. The book illustrates the conflict between the interests of society and of the individual. There's a lot of food for thought in this utopian/dystopian story.(less)
A young girl, Sophia, and her grandmother spent a summer on a small island in the Gulf of Finland with Sophia's father. They shared a love of nature,...moreA young girl, Sophia, and her grandmother spent a summer on a small island in the Gulf of Finland with Sophia's father. They shared a love of nature, and a deep affection for each other. Told in twenty-two vignettes, their conversations were wise, witty, and observant. It was a summer of discovery and of noticing the little things that make the world beautiful or scary--the sea birds, the soft moss, the gnarled branches, the power of the winds, and the battering waves of a storm.
"Sophia woke up and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead." Although there were no other mentions of her mother, it is obvious that death is simmering in the background throughout the book. Sophia asked about birds that die on the rocks, moths that fly into flames, and angleworms that are cut in half and regenerate.
Sophia was a little girl filled with questions about the world, a person near the start of her life. The grandmother was having physical problems as she aged. But the grandmother collected old wood and still saw the world through an artist's eyes. "Grandmother sat in the magic forest and carved outlandish animals...They retained their wooden souls, and the curve of their backs and legs had the enigmatic shape of growth itself and remained a part of the decaying forest."
The character of the wise, artistic grandmother was based on Jansson's own mother who died the year before the book was written. Sophia was modeled on Jansson's cousin. The author spent many summers on a similiar island. Jansson was a novelist, painter, illustrator, and comic strip artist. She was also the author of the Moomin books for children. Although she was a citizen of Finland, she was part of the Swedish-speaking minority and wrote her books in Swedish.
Jansson captured that special feeling of living close to the ocean. It brought back memories of vacations along the shores of New England. One never knows what will be swept up by the next wave, or blown in by the next breeze.(less)
The Metamorphosis is an absurbist story about Gregor Samsa, a man who finds he has been transformed into a giant beetle during the night. No reason is...moreThe Metamorphosis is an absurbist story about Gregor Samsa, a man who finds he has been transformed into a giant beetle during the night. No reason is given for Gregor's metamorphosis, and he acts calm about the situation. Gregor is such a good dependable traveling saleman that he only seems upset that he is going to be late for work. His supervisor from work is unsympathetic, and the business is portrayed as uncaring toward its employees. His family seems to worry more about the loss of income than for Gregor's welfare. As the story progresses, Gregor's emotions stay very human while his behavior becomes more and more like an insect. Gregor is so emotionally conflicted that he loses his appetite for food.
Gregor's family is undergoing a metamorphosis as much as he is. Although his sister tries to take care of him in the beginning, his family reaches the point where he is too much of a burden and they no longer value him. They are stressed, embarrassed, and financially struggling. Kafka seems to be pointing out how family dynamics change, and how society isolates people with physical and mental problems. The family members change from being very dependent on Gregor to becoming more self-sufficient. Their metamorphosis is complete at the end as they look to the future.
I really enjoyed this novella because it contained so much about human emotions as well as business, society, and family dynamics which often can be difficult and unhappy. Life is sometimes unfair as it throws terrible challenges at good people. This would be interesting to read in a classroom setting to hear other people's ideas about the book. The cute "Google Doodle" on July 3, 2013 showed a big upright beetle or cockroach coming through the door with a traveling salesman's suitcase in honor of Kafka's 130th birthday. That gave me the extra push to finally get around to reading this classic.(less)
Maya Angelou's interesting autobiography of her early years in a small town in Arkansas in the 1930s shows the hard life of the black community. Both...moreMaya Angelou's interesting autobiography of her early years in a small town in Arkansas in the 1930s shows the hard life of the black community. Both her intelligence and confusion are evident in her coming-of-age years in California. Some of her memories are heartbreaking such as the plight of the cotton pickers, or being a rape victim at eight years old. But she manages to find humor in some situations such as the time she tried to drive home from Mexico--with no driver's training--with her drunken father sleeping in the back seat.
She writes about being a black teenager, "The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power."(less)