Concise Summary: The book is difficult. Words such as immoral sophistry and highbrow drivel come to mind.
The last part induced me to raise the rating...moreConcise Summary: The book is difficult. Words such as immoral sophistry and highbrow drivel come to mind.
The last part induced me to raise the rating from one to two stars. In this part Lawrence Durrell switches from excessive philosophizing to a resolution to the "characters" egotistical behavior. Things actually happen; we see what these people have brought down on themselves. In fact there ARE some wonderful descriptions.
There is no humor.
I fail to believe that Lawrence Durrell delivers a balanced view of Alexandria, the city itself, in the 1930s. It is one-sided.
Any positive attributes of Lawrence Durrell's book are completely destroyed by Jack Klaff's narration. Justine's voice sounds like a ghost: weak, feeble, about to disintegrate before our eyes. Balthazar's voice resembles that of an automaton. It is quite simply impossible to listen to this without either laughing or leaving the room. By the end, I wanted to continue with "Balthazar", but I simply couldn't due to the terrible narration.
I struggled with this book. I hated it until the very end of Part Three, of which there are a total of four. My opinion changed dramatically at that point. It went from a one star to a four star book. I know what changed and I know what didn’t change. I will try and explain so you can decide whether this is a book for you, but this is just my personal reaction to the book. Each one of us approaches a book with different baggage.
For the majority of this book all I saw were four characters egotistically satisfying their own desires, needs and wishes. Self-centered characters using people. Sex and jealousy and self-gain. I tremendously disliked the style of writing. The adjectives that went through my head were highbrow drivel, pretentious language and convoluted philosophizing. A friend here at GR, Sandra, described it as “amoral sophistry”. I thought she hit the nail right on its head.
The book presents the thoughts of an unnamed narrator that has a girlfriend called Melissa, but he also has an affair with Justine, who is married to Nessim. Sexual jealousy leads Nessim to have an affair with the narrator’s girlfriend, Melissa,the typical “I am going to get back at you” response. So, two couples, both playing around. The Alexandria Quartet is about “modern romance”; this book, Justineis the first of the four books. The first three books look at the same events but from different individuals’ perspectives. The second book, Balthazar is from Balthazar’s perspective. The third book is Mountolive and the fourth is Clea. Only the latter book moves forward in time, the first three set in Alexandria before WW2, and the last extends through the war and is set in Corfu. These four books are about how couples relate to each other.
For much of the novel I was both disgusted with the complicated language and the ridiculous philosophizing. Then in the last part I all of a sudden felt a shift from the egotistical self-centered choices to what are the consequences of this behavior. The focus became relationships and how people interact and how we hurt each other and how what we do is affected by our past experiences. Adultery is going to affect not only the two who are cheating but the other partners and related friends. There are secrets, there are lies and none are left unscathed. What starts as egotistical flirtation turns into a huge deception having tremendous repercussions. Each will draw different interpretations of what really happened. Is there one truth? The majority of the book follows people going after their own personal goals, the end follows what then happened, what were the consequences of these choices. It was this that interested me. The next novel will give another interpretation of the given facts. I NEED to know more. I thought I would not continue, but really I have to at this point. There is no stopping now. “Balthazar” is my next read!
I like how the author describes events that occur and sceneries and places, much more than his complicated theorizing and philosophizing. At the end there, when things start happening, there is a marvelous description of a hunt. It really came alive for me.
To be fair, I have to show you what you must deal with before things start moving along. The following lines begin with the narrator’s thoughts and then are followed by Justine’s in quotes.
In this plain courting of martyrdom, I realized that we showed out love at its hollowest, its most defective.
“How disgusting I must seem to you,” said Justine once. “With my obscene jumble of conflicting ideas. All this sickly preoccupation with God and a total inability to obey the smallest moral injunction from my inner nature like being faithful to a man one adores. I tremble for myself, my dear, when I tremble. If only I could escape from the tiresome classical Jewess of neurology. If only I could peel it off. “! (At the beginning of part three.)
These lines are quite simply too high brow for my taste. Say it simply, please! Or just be quiet….. On top of the content, if you choose the audiobook narrated by Jack Klaff, as I unfortunately did, you have to hear these lines, and the experience is not pleasant. The narration is terrible! This is the worst narration I have ever encountered. Whisper Justine’s lines hoarsely, slowly, in a low masculine voice, as if you were trying to impersonate a weak, feeble figure that is about to disintegrate. Do remember that Justine is NOT old, she is a woman, and she is young. This is the worst narration I have ever come across. Hereto forth Jack Klaff is blacklisted….at least by me. His voice for Balthazar is horrible too; only the book’s narrator’s voice is OK. I tremble when I think that I have to hear more of his narration as I continue the next book. I must make a conscious effort to listen to the words and their meaning rather than how they sound. Honestly the narration is BAD!
I would not continue listening to the next audiobook unless I felt I had to, but I simply HAVE to understand these characters more fully. I don’t want to leave them. I have to see each one’s perspective. I guess it all comes down to the fact that I care for these self-centered foolish idiots that so annoyed me in the beginning. I will focus on the author’s description of events and places rather than his excessive philosophizing. Since I feel I have to continue, I must give this book three stars. It is that simple.
One more thing: I don't think this book gives an accurate picture of Alexandria in the 30s. It overemphasizes the negative. All cities house whores and sexual deviants. Little of that which is nice is described. Will the following books be more balanced? I hope more is related about the city's multicultural atmosphere rather than focusing on aberrant sex.
The French in the novel is not translated.
ETA: I tried Balthazar. I really did. I AM curious, but I simply cannot listen to another minute more of the narration by Jack Klaff. Neither can I take hours more of Durrell’s philosophizing. I give up. It is too much for me. I am giving this book two stars. No more. Sorry, I changed my mind.(less)
She had always wanted words. She loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape....moreThe writing ….what can I say? I love it:
She had always wanted words. She loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water. She returned to her husband. “From this point on,” she whispered, “we will either find or lose our souls. Seas move away. Why not lovers? “
When we parted for the last time, Maddox used the old farewell: “May God make safety your companion”. And then I strode away from him saying, “There is no God.”
Both excerpts are found in ”Part Nine: The Cave of Swimmers”.
With some friends, one can disagree about almost everything and still one remains friends. The writing keeps the reader wondering and thinking, and it flows beautifully. It creates an ambiance; it creates a sensual feeling. Rather than depicting sex crudely, the lines create an atmosphere of sensuality that is inviting. That is what I felt when I listened to “Part Eight: The Holy Forest”. I do not understand the meaning of every line, but my mind keeps churning and for me the sentences sing. Physical attraction cannot be pinpointed to words and thoughts, it just exists. You feel comfortable or enticed simply by the other’s presence. You feel the tension or the ease in the author’s lines.
I suppose I should have copied other sections…..There are so many that are lovely. Ondaatje draws scenes that you never want to forget. Chapter ten: They are celebrating Hana’s b-day. They are outside on a terrace of the wrecked Italian villa. It is night. The “English Patient”, the burned one is upstairs in his room. By the way he is not English…. Kip has made a dinner for them, a dinner that is for the others because he only eats “raw onions” and fresh vegetables and he will never drink the wine. He is a sapper, an explosive expert, the one who dismantles the unexploded mines of which there are many in Italy following the war. The date is 11945. He is also a Sikh. It is he that has collected snail shells and put oil in them for a flicker of light. Caravaggio, the maimed Italian thief/spy, a long-time friend from her childhood will give Hana a story. And Hana, she pulls off her sneakers and climbs barefoot onto the table and sings the Marseilles. These are the four main characters of the story. Are you curious about these individuals? How do they connect? What do they feel for each other? How have they changed each other? Do you enjoy beautiful, suggestive, delicious writing? Well then, read the book. Or listen to it, as I have done.
Christopher Cazenove is the narrator of the audiobook. You easily recognize the different characters’ voices. I particularly love the voice of the “English patient”. There are a few songs. I wish he had dared to sing them. I love it when narrators do that.
I removed one star because sometimes it is quite difficult to understand what is going on. You certainly have to pay very close attention. The jumps in time and character speaking can be confusing. (less)
This book is currently available for $2.29 in Kindle format at Amazon. At this price and having checked the sample, I...more**spoiler alert** BEFORE READING:
This book is currently available for $2.29 in Kindle format at Amazon. At this price and having checked the sample, I figured why not try it. Hypatia and the Alexandria library - the subject matter is interesting.
I have the hardest time writing reviews for those books that neither anger me because they are so terrible nor excite me because they are so wonderful. This is such a book.
I wanted to learn more about the life of Hypatia, the famed woman astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who lived at the turn of the 5th Century CE. I wanted to learn more about the Library of Alexandria and the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismagistus. However, after reading this book, I feel I could have gotten the same from a rapid search at Wikipedia. In fact I did feel compelled to read at Wikipedia anyhow. There are today so many unsolved questions. The author has done an admiral job of offering us one possible explanation detailing Hypatia’s death and the circumstances of the burning of the library. In an epilog she has explained where she has altered known facts, willfully allowed anachronisms and specified the unknowns. I cannot criticize that. It is just that I simply didn’t learn enough. This book is a dramatization of one possible scenario.
So let’s look at the manner of dramatization. I believe a primary problem for me is that the tone of the novel is too cinematic. Many people enjoy plot oriented books with dramatic turns and bravado behavior. This is a book for them. I think it is totally corny when in the heat of the fire a character throws a shard of emerald and, whamo, kills the bad guy…….
This felt like fiction to me. Given the acknowledged known facts, how can these be puzzled together to make sense? This is how the author has approached the subject matter. This is in fact logical, but it becomes “too cleaned up”, too simple. This event has to happen so that event can happen. A message is to be delivered so the characters do this or that so the message can be given. True life is so much messier and complex. In this novel, a repentant bishop is just too “sweet” for my tastes, but you see the author wants to make a particular statement that will please her readers or her own beliefs. We know that Bishop Cyril did exist, although some events remain unclear. The author has chosen one very plausible alternative to profess her point of view and to achieve a moving story. In addition, there is clear forewarning of coming events. I appreciate more subtlety.
The author employs a few writing gimmicks, for example, the repetitive use of a one word sentence: “So.” The reader is supposed to stop and pause and think and then go on. It is just that it was used repetitively.
The author imagines one character who has a wonderful view of religion based on kindness, compassion and understanding. This character states that he follows all religious beliefs not limiting himself to just one. A person of any faith will nod and say: THIS is what religion should be about. I too thought the lines beautifully expressed how religion should be manifested. THIS is what we must seek. Pretty lines that I guarantee all will love……..but again, a bit obvious. On a Kindle you can see the number of people who have marked a particular passage. Yup, everyone loved these lines. No one could hate them.
For me this book was good, but I wanted a lot more. I want more nuances. I wanted more complicated people. I wanted more answers. Unfortunately we do not today have all the answers. That is certainly not the author’s fault, but we have to decide if we want to spend time on the book.
This book is the first of the planned Mediterranean Trilogy. It is optioned for television. Many people will enjoy the cinematic feel. If you are curious for more, visit www.WrittenInTheAshes.com/Hannah (less)
Do you remember when you were a child and you lied there in bed while one of your parents told you a story? I am not talking about their reading you a...moreDo you remember when you were a child and you lied there in bed while one of your parents told you a story? I am not talking about their reading you a story, but rather they invent it for you as they speak. Or even better, you were told of your parent’s childhood memories, things that had happened to them when they were a child. THAT is how this book feels, if you listen to the audiobook version. I would recommend listening to it. The narrator is the author herself, and in this case the experience is magical. It is magical because she expresses what she wants to convey through her words. She sighs and laughs and is sorrowful at all the right points. This audiobook experience is wonderful. Let me add, while I speak of narration, that in her youth, growing up in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, English, French and Italian were used. They were used daily. Arabic was also a central language to her life style. Arabic expressions make up her childhood experiences. All of these languages are who she is. As a result, when she speaks French in this autobiography it is not a learned tongue but the tongue of her youth, and it is wonderful. There is no translation. The language spoken is genuine. The narration is perfect, splendid and wonderful.
Through the words of this book you get a peek into another person’s life. That person is from a Sephardic Jewish household. She grew up in Egypt in an extremely affluent family. A large family with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and these people become your own friends. She traveled to Europe over the holidays – Paris and London and Switzerland and more cities. You visit them with this family. What I want to emphasize is that you are part of the group; you are one of them. You eat with them, the Jewish repasts are crunchy or sour or deliciously sweet. You splash in the waves with them. And then when granny dies you feel so terribly sad. I feel like I know these people.
I love the words this author uses to express herself. She offers us lines that melt in my mouth. That is what her lines did to me. I am not sure that others will react as I did…….. I like how she wonders if writing this book was merely an ego trip, but concludes that “the past is the foundation on which we build our lives”. I will read more by this author. I like her writing style and her life philosophy.
I thought this book would teach me about Egyptian history. I thought this book would show me what it was like to live through the Suez crisis in 1956. It did, but not really. What I mean is that this is only one family’s experiences and their wealthy lifestyle is certainly not typical; you do not get a general depiction of the times. What I did experience was a wonderful and unique peek into another world. It was so honest, and yet told with politeness and understanding. Don’t expect family brawls, even when views conflict. This is not really a book to choose if you are looking for history. I didn’t get what I expected, but indeed much more!
The title is explained in the book, and it is fun. There is Arabian music at the beginning and end of each chapter, the ambiance created is enticing, you are drawn right in. An advantage to reading the book, I have been told, is that there are wonderful pictures included. Maybe a family tree is included? That would be helpful! Then you would see in the chart exactly who is who. Still, listening to this book was delightful from beginning to end. I highly recommend it. (less)
I have read other books by Anne Roiphe. I love the author's ability to create a time and place, to depict it with such detail that you s...more NO SPOILERS!!!
I have read other books by Anne Roiphe. I love the author's ability to create a time and place, to depict it with such detail that you see it, smell it, hear it and feel it. Again she succeeds with this, right from the beginning chapters of this novel. Here, in this story, we are transported back to Alexandria, Egypt, to 1883 when cholera is ravaging the city. There is a race on – which country's scientists will find the cause for this disease? Louis Pasteur has sent three young French scientists to Alexandria, along with clear guiding instructions and a servant boy named Marcus. The three are Louis Thuillier, Emile Roux and Edmond Nocard. And then of course there must be some romance thrown into the story, so Roiphe has thrown in Este Malina, the lovely daughter of a respected Jewish doctor. But look how Roiphe describes, with all the senses, Alexandria:
At last shore, the carts piled with goods rattling along the narrow planks of the docks, the strange sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, the gold sandy color of the buildings, the customhouse with its soldiers in uniform, braids and buttons glistening in the heat, and the donkeys with their long ears flattened back against their heads and the children with their hands out, crouching in the doorways, flies stuck to their encrusted eyelids. The smell was strange: dung, saffron, ginger, banana, human sweat, fish packed in barrels, waiting to be carried to the market. They saw turbans and loincloths, and sandals made of paper and wood. Bells were ringing, men were calling out numbers in Arabic and French and English, and sailors were tying up sails. Louis felt dizzy. Marcus placed the large carton they had brought on a wagon, and Louis hopped up on the front seat, with Roux and Nocard behind. Marcus rode standing on a rail in the back. They headed for Hotel Khedivial at the corner of rue Cherif Pasha and rue Rosette, where they had taken a week's lodgings. (at 7% of the book)
Roiphe is not only adept at describing places and scenes, but also people. Here we have a bit about Marcus:
The three of then walked into the café. Marcus followed them, his eyes glazed. If he were a dog, someone would have patted him on the head; as it was, he sat at a table in the darkened room, repeating his uncle's words as he departed Paris: "Travel is broadening for a young man. Shakes you up, it does" He did feel shaken, but was he broadened? His stomach still heaved and he barely sipped at the absinthe drink that Louis had ordered for him. It was on the table in a long thin glass, pale green, cloudy; the taste of licorice pleased him, but the burning in his esophagus did not. A boy who is not quite a man is not eager to know the outlines of his esophagus, the details of the act of eating, the route the food takes to his stomach. He prefers to think of himself as not so much a body with parts as a blossoming landscape, springtime in the pastures. He stared at his drink and grew sleepy. (7%)
You can also see from just this short passage that a major theme concerns the science of disease and the human body; how it functions, when well and when ill.
And who is Louis? Take a peek at the first dinner party, when the three scientists are invited to the consul general, M. Girard:
At dinner, Louis was seated next to the very round, rosy-colored wife of an Alexandrian doctor……The first course seemed to be a thumb-sized fish lying on a bed of mushrooms. Then concoction had a strange smell. Louis picked up his fork and mutilated the fish, smashing it into the mushrooms, without bringing the smallest piece to his mouth. Slowly he drank a glass of wine, after wiping the rim of the glass with his napkin.....he glanced down the table and saw a young woman with long dark haired back with a bright green ribbon. Her skin was coffee-colored, like that of the natives. Her eyes were dark and wide. Her neck was long and graceful. "Who is the young lady down the table?" he asked his companion.
"My daughter,"replied the lady. "She is beautiful, is she not?"
"She is," he said.
"Beauty is an asset in a woman," said the wife of the doctor.
"Of course," said Louis. Not wanting to seem like a beast, he added, "Beauty is worthless without character."
"True," said the wife of the doctor, "but character is often worthless without beauty – in a woman, that is."
Louis fell silent. What should he say next?........
Louis had never in all his life been served by a butler. There seemed to be ten of them in the room. He had never tasted the fowl with tiny bones that floated in a gravy on his gold-rimmed plate. He had never eaten from such a plate. He had never put such a large silk napkin on his lap before. He had never tasted such fine wine. In fact he did not like it quite so well as the kind purchased by the glass at any corner café in Paris, but he knew enough to know that this was his failure, not his host's. (9%)
That is enough. Are you intrigued by the characters, by the place, by the book's subject? You must decide if you are drawn to the descriptive writing style, learning about Alexandria and cholera. Do you want to know more about Louis, this young scientist, who know so much about chemistry and yet feels so misplaced in the splendor of the elite Alexandrian upper-class society?
I like that the history of cholera and what was known concerning the disease are documented here in the book. Here follows a quote concerning the history of the 1817 outbreak of cholera in India:
According to a conclusion arrived at in 1819 by the Bengal Medical Board, the "the proximate cause of the disease consisted in a pestilential virus, which acted primarily upon the stomach and the small intestines and the depressed state of the circulatory powers and diminished action of the heart were consequent on the severe shock which the system had received in one of its principal organs." (45%)
Many interesting facts are presented. It had been claimed on several occasions that the wealthy had purposely poisoned the poor using cholera to remove them from cities. And how does it feel to dissect a human being, a young child killed by cholera, to find the cause, to find the microbes there on the "imperfect lens"? Think, if the lens could be improved? Think, if they could only see more! You will find yourself washing your hands rigorously as you read this book!
Neither is the book just about cholera. It is about fathers and their daughters. It is bout both mother to son and mother to daughter relationships too:
One was married oneself, and showered with candies by one's friends, and lifted on high by the men of the community, and everyone admired you and the real life began and you had a daughter and the daughter grew and you went with her to purchase the dress for the most important event in her life. Was this not the way it had always been, generation after generation, l'dor v'dor, as they said in Hebrew. (55%)
What if your daughter is headstrong and wants to herself plan every step of the marriage without her mother's interference? Are times changing? I am just wondering?! But then I read a few pages more and I smile……. Este and her Mom certainly do not agree on everything. In fact, they do not agree at all, so they drop the subject. Now I feel more normal. :0)
And there is more……. You will be glued all the way through to the very last page. You must not look up the character names or cholera in Wikipedia! What an adventure! There is a clear and detailed author's note at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent reading this book. I highly recommend it. It is a terribly fun read. Even when things are grim, I was laughing. Wait till you see the behavior of the French consulate's wife! (less)
Maybe this will appeal to those who appreciate short stories. Some people want a message delivered in few words. I prefer enjoying a longer trip from...moreMaybe this will appeal to those who appreciate short stories. Some people want a message delivered in few words. I prefer enjoying a longer trip from start to end. Yes, a clear message is delivered, but is life so clear and uncomplicated? Shouldn’t ambiguities be left unresolved?
I read this book because the author is a renowned contemporary Egyptian writer. I am glad I tasted his ware, and it was interesting to learn of life in Egypt on the upper Nile, near Luxor, far from the busy life of Cairo and Alexandria. The story takes place before and during Israel’s takeover of the Sinai in 1967. The theme? Unification of Egypt’s disparate elements, blood feuds and the Muslim and Copt co-existence. That is an awful lot for a total of 106 pages.
Many Arabic words are transliterated, rather than translated. The book includes a glossary of these transliterated words. There is also an introduction that “explains” how we should interpret this story. Do yourself a favor and read it after you read the story. :0) Much is pretty darn obvious. (less)
I did end up enjoying this book. I grew to like Mutmodjmet, Nefertiti's suster. This was a light, fun read.
**************************** Updated 1/2 thr...moreI did end up enjoying this book. I grew to like Mutmodjmet, Nefertiti's suster. This was a light, fun read.
**************************** Updated 1/2 through: My GR friend Diane was so kind to give me this link to the author's site: http://michellemoran.com/books/nefert... I needed to know what was fact and what was fiction. Hmm, there is quite a bit of fiction here!
And the character portrayal is not blowing me over. Something feels wrong. I am trying to put my finger on what it is that bothers me. It is that this story is told by the younger sister of Nefertiti, She is a very different person from her older sister. Nefertiti is a strong-willed, power seeking person. Very, very self-confident! That is not so surprising. Her younger sister is more thoughtful, wise in the ways of herbal healing, considerate and honest. Her thoughts help readers understand what is happening. However sometimes she turns to another character in the story and voices her opinions. This I find unbelievable in certain situations. She would have never survived had she spoken as she did! She is the character I like in the story, and yet at the same time I feel she is unbelievable. This is a major problem for me.
I do not consider this book a waste of time. I am learning about the Egyptian court of 1350 BCE and Befertiti, Also, I admit it…..at points it is terribly exciting! :0) Will someone be assassinated?
?efertiti and her younger sister are 15 respective 13 years of age when the book opens. It is amazing how we baby our children nowadays. Just a thought(less)