When I was in grad school, I took a Captivity class, where the focus was on the 18th and 19th century subaltern---people deemed to be of inferior statWhen I was in grad school, I took a Captivity class, where the focus was on the 18th and 19th century subaltern---people deemed to be of inferior status by the dominant culture, and included groups as diverse as women, Native Americans, Africans, Asians, and really anyone who did not conform to the patriarchal hegemony: i.e., white Christian males---and how the subalterns managed to find their voice.
Part of the study of the subaltern was understanding how acculturating and adapting the dominant culture’s ways did not necessarily bring equality, and more importantly, how the path towards finding their own voice involved much resistance and defiance despite being faced with unrelenting prejudice from the dominant culture. Because in finding their own voice, they gained a certain degree of freedom, a freedom which was separate and distinct from the freedom that was withheld from them by their captors, and which would not be realized in full until the twentieth century.
At its heart, The Golem and the Jinni is a tale of captivity. We have the Golem---a woman made from clay whose personality, character and uniqueness have all been pre-programmed---who was created to serve as a wife for a man who was generally disliked by all around him. He became her Master and when he dies shortly after he wakens her, the Golem is left adrift. Then we have the Jinni, an ethereal, ineffable, god-like creature whose entire being---his personality, character, temperament and disposition---has been trapped in a human body for millennia, that he can’t even say his own Jinn name out loud.
There are any number of secondary characters---all important to the narrative in their own way---who are also held captive in one way or another, such as: • Ice Cream Saleh, a doctor possessed by an ifrit trapped in him. The ifrit, in turn, traps Saleh in his own head, where he is unable to look at anyone around him for all he sees are ghouls, skeletal beings, nightmares. Saleh wants nothing more than death, but this eludes him. • Schaalman, a kabbalah-practicing disgraced rabbi, creator of the Golem. Knowing himself as an evil man, he fears death and what awaits him on the other side. He is trapped by his own desire to discover the secret to immortality, at any cost. • (view spoiler)[ibn Malik, the wizard who trapped and bound the Jinni in human form, who claimed him as his slave. But since his spell has linked his life to the Jinni’s, and the Jinni has been held captive for millennia, ibn Malik’s soul has been forced to jump from one body to the next, always following the same violent path towards malevolence and wickedness. (hide spoiler)] • Anna Blumberg, a young Jewish girl whose sole desire is to experience love and life to the fullest, and who does, until she has to deal with the harsh reality of a single, unwed woman with child. Trapped culturally, engaged in a battle against not only the mores and traditions of her culture, but also of the times. • Sophia Winston, an upper-class lady, daughter to New York’s richest magnate, who is trapped within the expectations and confines of her own society: schooled as a lady, she is expected to wed an acceptable gentleman of means she barely knows, then become a mother and doyenne of society. She wants nothing more than to travel and experience life but is not allowed this. It isn’t what ladies of her stature do.
The Golem and the Jinni is a sprawling tale not only of the two main characters, Chava the Golem and Ahmad the Jinni, but also of what it means to be Jewish or Syrian, what it means to be Muslim or Christian, what it means to have faith or none at all. It is a story of minorities, a story of immigration, and it is a story of a growing New York. For New York is as much a character in the novel as any of the other human and non-human characters in it. Home to a diverse crowd of people, of different races and religions and beliefs, New York comes alive when the Jinni goes off exploring his new home, then becomes even more so once the Golem and the Jinni finally meet and experience New York together.
The novel is so beautifully written. Helene Wecker is the kind of writer who has the sense of the lyrical about her. Her words flow languorously, the language at times soothing and melodic, and at others, rhapsodic and dangerous. She allows her readers to get to know her characters intimately, spending a good amount of time developing them, jumping back and forth in time---sometimes hundreds of years---to ensure that each character gets his or her fair share of development, that each one gets to say who they are and what they are about. In fact, she spends so much time upfront introducing the reader to her large cast of characters that Chava and Ahmad don’t even meet until we’re two-fifths of the way into the novel. The first part of the novel reads more like a series of short stories, each chapter or section within a chapter devoted to one character or one life, drawing the reader in deeper and deeper into the story, weaving each one into this tapestry she’s creating, but without really allowing us to see the full tableau, not yet, not completely.
But this is Chava and Ahmad’s story. One is practically a newborn, created just before her journey to New York, while the other is hundreds of years old. But when both finally come face-to-face with their new lives in New York, each is young, each has to undergo growing pains, and each has to learn how their lives fit into this new world and with the people around them. Each has to figure out how what to do with their lives, not truly their own, with their own set of restraints and boundaries, and how to keep others from discovering what they truly are, which is the largest shackle of all.
Chava and Ahmad themselves couldn’t be more different. Chava, gentle and inquisitive in nature---because this is how she was created---has long, philosophical discussions with both the Rabbi who finds her in New York and takes her under his wing, as well as Ahmad. Where her discussions with the former is more a pedantic kind of instruction---the Rabbi, after all, knows what Chava is and wants to ensure she can not only survive in New York but can also rise above what a Golem is---her long talks with Ahmad are more passionate, more heated for he challenges her to be more, to use her talents and skills and to not just sit idly by and accept what she has been told. He wants her to embrace her Golemness, to not hold back when she can be so much more that the ordinary humans surrounding them.
Ahmad, accustomed to the freedom he had as an incorporeal fire Jinni, is incensed by his inability to be as he was. His shackles---an iron cuff put on him by the wizard ibn Malik centuries ago---is not only a constant reminder of what he lost, but also of what he can be, but can’t. He sees Chava as a creature who has the freedom to do and be so much more, but chooses not to. She chooses to live an insular life, coded and guided now by the Rabbi’s teachings and her own inhibitions. This enrages him: here he is, shackled, tied to a human form he despises, unable to be himself, unable to remember what was done to him or what he had done as a slave to the wizard, unable to free himself, and here is the Golem, so capable of being more than what she is, of breaking free, but she refuses to do so.
This dichotomy in the two creatures, in Chava and Ahmad, are what drives them toward each other and propels the narrative forward. When Chava discovers how she was created by Schaalman and what characteristics he’d imbued in her, she is devastated:
Obedience. Curiosity. Intelligence. Virtuous and modest behavior.
She will make him an admirable wife, if she doesn’t destroy him first.
It was edifying, in a sense, to see her own origins, but at the same time she felt humiliated, reduced to nothing more than words. The request for modest behavior, for example: it rankled her to think of her arguments with the Jinni on the subject, how fervently she’d defended an opinion she’d had no choice but to believe. And if she was meant to be curious, did that mean she could take no credit for her own discoveries, her accomplishments? Had she nothing of her own, only what Joseph Schall [Schaalman] decreed she should have? And yet, if Rotfeld had lived, she would hve been more than content!
So do Chava and Ahmad break free of their captors? I can’t answer that question because that will give the story away. But it is a story worth reading. It is a story worth spending time with. It’s slow going, but I think this is one of those stories where the pacing is deliberate and is needed, in order to lay the groundwork. Once Wecker enters the last fifth of the story, the pace picks up significantly and hurtles towards the ending at breakneck speed.
My advice: enjoy it. Savor it. It’s well worth it, and in the end, it is a lovely journey, with so many unforgettable characters. ...more
What a terrific premise! Fans of Star Trek will be familiar with the ever-revolving cast of "Redshirts" (from the original to TNG, DS9, Voyager and EnWhat a terrific premise! Fans of Star Trek will be familiar with the ever-revolving cast of "Redshirts" (from the original to TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise) and will be amused by this story written by Scalzi, who was a consultant on Stargate Universe.
I definitely would've given this book 4 stars for the story - it was inventive, creative, funny and very meta. Also, I can't remember ever reading a book that had a first-person, second-person and third-person narrative. It was definitely an uncommon literary device and it worked very well. The main part of the book was written in third-person omniscient, which is not really all that odd. However, each of the three codas were written in first-, second- and third-person (in this case, third-person present), focusing on three minor (but not inconsequential) characters of the main narrative. I didn't know how it was going to work out, but Scalzi pulled it off quite successfully.
My main problem with the novel was the writing (and is the reason why I didn't give this 4-stars). The story was great and the pacing was fine, but in all truthfulness, Scalzi did a lot better when he was writing the novel as a screenplay. Things came across much better when he used the screenplay format (in the first coda). The main part of the narrative, however, was bogged down by the choppy dialogue and his constant use of "X said" and "Y said". To wit:
Pages and pages and pages were filled with this kind of dialogue. Part of me wanted to scream out at some point and say "Use a thesaurus, for crying out loud! There are other words other than 'said'! You can use 'retort' or 'mused' or 'gushed' or even 'asked', 'implied', 'cried' or 'bemoaned'!" *sigh*
Granted, this is probably just my thing and is just me being too nitpicky once again. Still, it distracted me enough from the story and detracted enough of my attention from the awesomeness of the narrative (and of Scalzi). Would I read more of Scalzi's work? Sure...but I may just want to give myself some time before I tackle another one.
Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this to others. It's too good a story not to! ...more
Updated review: okay, okay, I've had some time to think about this, and the more I think about it, this book was really just okay for me (I know a lotUpdated review: okay, okay, I've had some time to think about this, and the more I think about it, this book was really just okay for me (I know a lot of others really enjoyed this novel).
I know I shelved this book in under "time travel" but this isn't a novel about time travel. Far from it. It's a novel about a man, Jeff Winston, who travels back in time, relieving his life until he dies. His death is a fixed point in time -- he never dies sooner or later, and he always dies on the same day, at the same time -- just like much of history remains as fixed points in time (thank you, Dr. Who!). Attempts to change major historical events (view spoiler)[(i.e., the murder of JFK) (hide spoiler)] aren't always successful and events will almost always occur, often with minor variations in details but with a similar outcome.
Jeff relives his life over and over again, and he gets a chance to change his life with each iteration. He creates different lives for himself, with different people, different circumstances and different histories. But each time, on the same day in 1988, he dies again, only to wake up at another point in his past life. At first, he wakes up a few days apart until his jumps back in time increase logarithmically, going from days to years until he wakes up minutes then seconds and milliseconds before each of his subsequent deaths.
While this novel has been labeled as sci/fi, fantasy or speculative fiction, at its heart, this novel is really a philosophical and psychological study of how a man deals with his knowledge of the future: a future he can't change, a future that is inevitable, a future where people he love cease to exist at the moment of his death. While his knowledge of the future is a blessing (i.e., he can provide for himself and his family financially, he becomes very successful, he can learn at his own pace, travel anywhere he wants, experience things he never did in his original life), he very quickly discovers it is more of a curse, for himself and those around him.
His life changes in his third iteration, when he meets Pamela, another person who replays time. She dies nine minutes after he does, on the same day in 1988. They try to spend the rest of their lives together, with each iteration becoming shorter and shorter as their jumps back in time increase. The novel deals with how they approach these replays -- both individually and together -- and how each one deals with the loneliness and frustrations of this strange existence, of trying to find meaning in the replays, of attempts to exact changes on society, of trying to impart a message to non-repeaters. Of trying to live with each other, with each other's decisions, and failing.
This was a strange novel -- wistful, morose, thought-provoking, melancholy, hopeful -- and it took a long time for me to really get into it. The writing wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Sometimes, it was stilted and at other times, Grimwood's thoughts would just come together so beautifully that it was almost poetry. It is obvious that Grimwood either spent a lot of time doing research or that he was just a very well-rounded individual with very eclectic tastes in art, books, philosophy, current events, travel, politics, etc. Personally, I didn't think it was as earth-shattering or life-changing as others have made it out to be. I didn't think Jeff was a particularly likeable protagonist. It wasn't that he did or said things that irked me; I just couldn't connect with him on an emotional level until much later, when he'd found Pamela.
There were also times when I felt that the novel was too much like Groundhog Day, but without the humor or the heart (even though the best parts of the book for me was when Jeff found Pamela, in each iteration). Unlike Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day however, Jeff doesn't change. He tries to change lives, sure. He tries to effect global and societal changes. These are all changes on the surface, but inwardly, he's essentially still the same 44-year old guy who died in 1988, same flaws, same warts. He remains blatantly the same throughout his various lifetimes -- his thought processes, his logic, his viewpoints. He doesn't become nicer and sweeter. He doesn't win the girl in the end. His positive personality change isn't what stops the day from repeating.
And I guess at the end, that is what irked me most: for someone who's lived 8+ lifetimes with all the experiences that came along with each one, for someone who's had a chance to enrich himself and those around him, it didn't seem like he'd really grown much.
Hmmm...if I hit "Save" now, I won't be able to change my rating to 2 stars...because it's very tempting right now. :-/
There is a reason I hate stream-of-consciousness novels. I can't follow it. I like my novels to travel down a path - it may veer off every now and theThere is a reason I hate stream-of-consciousness novels. I can't follow it. I like my novels to travel down a path - it may veer off every now and then, and that's okay because those little detours may prove to be wonderful, terrifying, heart-stopping, mysterious or whatnot, but they are almost always revelatory. Sometimes immediately, sometimes long after the fact that you need to really remember and say "Oh yeah, I remember when that happened! Huh! That's what that meant." Either way, it doesn't matter. Because the detours had meaning, they had purpose, and you can trust that a good (read: conscientious) writer will have a reason for taking you down that path. And in the end, it will be okay. You've traveled from Point A to Point B and took a dozen turns here and there, but you got there, and there was a point to it all. And in the journey, you were entertained, bewildered, thrilled, sickened, fell in love, hated someone passionately. In other words, you were cajoled out of the quotidian confines of your life temporarily, living vicariously through some fictional character's (mis)adventures.
My problem with stream-of-consciousness works comes down to this: I get lost way too easily if I can't see how anything is connected, and when I start getting lost, I get distracted and don't care to pay attention anymore, and the work just becomes tedious because all I can think of is "Where is this going? What just happened? Crud, I have to get the clothes out of the dryer. Wait, don't I have to go to the grocery store? Phooey, I'm out of kale. Is that the phone? I need to send that bill out. Oh, sigh, the dog needs to go out again. For a walk. In the rain. And she wants to roll around in the mud. After all the worms have come out. Great!"
And before you know it, 40 pages have gone by (and yet you have the distinct feeling that nothing has happened, but the character's thought processes have brought me from Point A to Point M to Eastern Jabib and the next thing I know, I'm in the slums of Qatar and I still have no idea what's happening because of all the navel gazing going on). The worst part is, not only do I not know what happened in the last 40 pages, but I don't care. And that bothers me, because when I read, I I want to care.
And while I stick to it and hope that at some point, it will all come together and make some sense (I am not that deluded to think it will all make sense), and there will be some big reveal that will tie everything together, there is a sinking feeling within me knowing that I am too far gone and the last two days have been a loss, and I get caught up thinking of what I will say in my review.
That was how I felt reading Zone One. Exposition galore. Ruminations about everyone and everything, past and present, tediousness and ennui all rolled into one. In the middle of a zombie attack, I want to feel that my hero is in peril (and by extension, that I myself am in mortal danger). I want to know how the next few minutes will play out...within the next few minutes. I do not want to be in the middle of a zombie attack with four very hungry zombies who want to eat me, and think about how people are holed up in Chinese restaurants where no one is allowed to have fun anymore, what my high school GPA was and how average I was back then, questioning the purpose of insurance forms years ago when people weren't zombies yet, what the crazy old coot from my old neighborhood was doing, running down an empty street, talking into a headset when all communications were down. Nope. I want to know if a zombie will pierce through my armor and will get to my wonderful meaty and bloody skin and whether the zombie will get a chance to eat me and turn me into one of them.
But no, I need to slog through pages upon pages of meandering, aimless, spaghetti exposition (beautifully written spaghetti exposition...I'll give Colson Whitehead that much, albeit begrudgingly). And for what? For what? Another 20 pages of blathering on and on about things that are totally unrelated to the attack that was supposed to last five minutes. It was the longest five minutes of my life. More like two hours.
For a great review of this book, see Mark Monday's review on goodreads. It was fantastic! I wish I'd read his review before I bought the book, but I didn't. Oh well. Weekend gone. Much like our intrepid zombie hunter....more
Well...I think Bruno summarized it thus: "I have never been a religious ape. I was and remain the chimp of the perverse."
The novel itself was a studyWell...I think Bruno summarized it thus: "I have never been a religious ape. I was and remain the chimp of the perverse."
The novel itself was a study in dualities: what it means to be animal and human, what it means to love your own kind vs. an outsider, what it means to cross that line from the inner being to the outer, and most of all, deciding to hold on to the innocence of youth (keeping with an animal nature) and accepting the incongruities of living as a man (becoming aware of what it means to be man and understanding the ego).
I read a lot of reviews about this novel, both good and bad. The salaciousness of a human-chimp love affair notwithstanding, this was a novel about Bruno's love not only for the woman who taught him language and what it meant to be human, but about Bruno's love for humanity itself. He wanted to be human; he didn't want the confines -- the innocence, the lack of language, the baser and more primitive nature -- of his life as a chimp. Bruno relished being able to communicate, to think, to recognize, to emote. That was the best part of this book: his growth from a baby chimp who was barely aware of his surroundings, to a primate who identified with his human captors so much that he didn't really think of himself as a chimp at all. He was human, with human feelings and emotions, who thought like a human and acted like a human, who lived and enjoyed all the perks of modern society. Still, as he says, he is and will remain a chimp of the perverse. Because no matter how much he counted himself as a human, his baser instincts have and will always be, that of his kind: of an animal who can and will act as an animal, especially when he recognizes that humans devolve, in the name of science, into their animalistic natures as well. While much will be said about the romance between Bruno and Lydia, about the consummation of this relationship, about what happens in the course of their time together, the book really wasn't about that. It was about his growth into a human and his love of humanity; it was also about Lydia'a ability to see beyond his apeness and recognize what made him a human. For these, I would give the book a solid 4. These were the parts of the book I enjoyed the most.
But I'll be honest...I didn't enjoy all the philosophical ramblings that Bruno took in the latter half of the novel. The way how Bruno rationalized things, at times, made him so obviously perverse (there it is again) that is was hard to like him, as a character. There were sections of the book where he would go on for pages, rationalizing, deconstructing, pontificating, and not always in a good way. I understand that Hale was trying to make a point: in the move from animal to human, there are many ideals and incontrovertible truths that Bruno will need to cogitate on, and he wanted to show Bruno's thought processes and the various directions it took him. I saw that and from a purely intellectual stance, I appreciated it. But a) this is fiction and b) it's a lot of unnecessary and repeated navel gazing. I want the story; I want to be moved. I'm a greedy reader like that. I don't want to feel as if I'm stuck in my freshman Intro to Philosophy course: I know I have to be there, but I don't need to like it, so I'll listen and I'll know enough to get me through all the tests and papers, but at the end, I won't really take anything in. For this, I gave the book a 2, for an average of 3 stars.
Oh, Sidney Carton. How I think you got the short end of the stick in this story.
Fie on you, Dickens! Fie!
When I first read A Tale of Two Cities back wOh, Sidney Carton. How I think you got the short end of the stick in this story.
Fie on you, Dickens! Fie!
When I first read A Tale of Two Cities back when I was a teenager, I was not necessarily a fan. I understood its historical import. I understood what Dickens was trying to do. I got the metaphors, I got the motifs and the symbolism, I got the themes (i.e., resurrection, revolution, societal and class oppression). In short, on an intellectual level, I appreciated it. But did I like it like it? No. I thought the characters were bland and were too predictable. The usual Dickensian humor wasn’t there. And the historical aspect of it wasn’t so much weak, but that Dickens’ discomfort with it shown through bright and clear. And if the author isn’t necessarily comfortable with what he’s writing, how can I, as a young, impressionable reader, be comfortable with it?
Also, I thought that the novel, as a whole, was kinda boring. Until Part III. Then it became interesting.
Of all the characters in the story, the one who really jumped out at me was Sidney Carton. He was an anti-hero. He was a drunkard, a good-for-nothing louse…or so it seemed. But he was also set up to be the hero from the very beginning. But Dickens pitted him against the oh-so-vanilla Charles Darnay, that bastion of propriety and goodness, that Carton seemed positively reckless and BAD, with a capital B. And if he’s oh-so-bad, how can he possibly be the hero of the story? So I say it again, fie on you, Dickens! Fie! Playing with my young teenage heart like that. Hmph!
To be perfectly honest, I was drawn to read A Tale of Two Cities again after reading Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series. (Yes, yes, mock all you want. Clare writes fluff. YA fluff. But highly addictive, utterly engrossing fluff. I am proud to say I ate it all up.) Dickens’ novel plays a huge part in all three of Clare’s books, and I wanted to see if I still felt the same way about it. Was Carton still as bad (and good) as I once thought of him? Would I still find it boring? Would I care for Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette a smidgeon more?
So lo and behold, over two decades later, I find the following:
• Sidney Carton is still as tragic as I initially thought he was. • Sidney Carton is still the only reason to read this book. • The revolutionary sections were harder to read this time around. • Still can’t stand Darnay. He’s just way too bland. How in the world could Lucie have fallen for him, I wondered over and over again. • Lucie is probably the worst heroine out there. Like, seriously? Girls are supposed to identify with her? For what? What has she done? She’s either a comforter or needs comforting. No spine whatsoever. As romantic heroines go, I’d give her a rating of 0.5. • How could I have missed that whole knitting peoples' names into stuff? The one prevailing thought that came to me each time Mde Defarge showed up? How many socks, shawls or scarves has she knitted in over a decade? And all these articles have names knitted into them? And that these names are the names of the people they intend to send to the guillotine? I hope whoever ends up with these knitted articles know what they’re getting. Oh, and these days, if she’s really able to knit names into articles of clothing, she’d make a killing big-time on Etsy.com. • Jerry Cruncher is a horrible husband. That poor wife of his. What a role model for little Jerry Cruncher!
None of the characters were really well-developed. The love triangle---if you could even call it that---was really weak, practically non-existent. I don’t know what Carton or Darnay saw in Lucie…maybe other than the fact that she was one of four female characters in the novel, and standing beside The Vengeance, Miss Pross and Madame Defarge, yeah, I would’ve gone with Lucie too.
So, say what you will, but I am utterly let down. I am not a fan.
And so now, in addition to saying “Fie on you, Dickens! Fie!” I will add in “Fie on you, Clare! Fie!” You led me astray with your love of A Tale of Two Cities, but know this: you can’t convince me to read it a third time, if it ever comes up again!
Because the Carton-Lucie-Darnay triangle was nowhere near the Will-Tessa-Gem love story. Will was more developed than Carton, and Gem was leap years beyond Darnay. And let’s face it. Tessa and Lucie? Not even in the same league. ...more
One of my first favorite books - a birthday book for my 9th bday - it made me laugh and cry the first time I read it, that immediately after finishingOne of my first favorite books - a birthday book for my 9th bday - it made me laugh and cry the first time I read it, that immediately after finishing it, I re-read it again...I try to read it at least once a year......more