After hearing so much about Babel's great short stories, I finally decided to tackle them this winter, my heart full of anticipationNot for everyone--
After hearing so much about Babel's great short stories, I finally decided to tackle them this winter, my heart full of anticipation.
The collection was for a large part, a disappointment. His early stories aren't really worth reading, and his Odessa stories, though much praised, are really flash fiction pieces with almost no recognizable story structure and not much interconnectedness. The character of Benya Krik is interesting, but we don't really get to know much about him. His celebrated Red Cavalry stories are better, but still uneven.
Some stories are definitely interesting to be sure (e.g. "Salt," "The Story of a Horse," "Squadron Commander Trunov," "Sashka Christ," and "My First Goose"), but I might have had too high an expectation for his shorts. Or since many of them do read like memoir-esque sketches or anecdotes, it might have been wrong of me to expect full contemporary stories on the level of Flannery O'Connor.
At any rate, the stories I found most interesting were his later autobiographical ones. His childhood experiences are just wonderfully rich with a host of unforgettable and quirky characters. Babel tries longer forms with these, and so they feel more "traditional" with familiar story structure.
So that was my impression on the first read through. I'll probably need to come back and reread some of the Red Cavalry and later stories to appreciate Babel's work and accept his (alleged) place in world literature.
I read this in college about 6 years ago and loved it. Now I read it for the second time and still loved it. TruSecond time around and still amazing--
I read this in college about 6 years ago and loved it. Now I read it for the second time and still loved it. True, it's long and sprawling, but I just have to say that I cannot help but be awed by the sheer force of the book.
The only way I could characterize the experience of reading this masterpiece is that the book is full of energy. Characters never seem to just say, go, stand, stay calm, or simply do anything. Instead, they exclaim, yell, rush to places, jump up, throw open the door, tremble, gnash their teeth, and do everything in a frenzy or "with great feeling." By modern standards, it definitely borders on the melodramatic, but Dostoevsky does it with so much mastery and genuineness that you cannot help but be absorbed into the story and to each character without the least amount of cynicism or mockery.
The book, however, is not without its flaws. I particularly didn't like the long middle section on Father Zosima, which, except maybe some of his crucial teachings, I found to be wholly extraneous and boring. Also, I was slightly thrown off balance by the long interlude (50+ pages!) with Kolya, Ilyusha, et al. after Dmitri's arrest and before his trial (Book 10). I was annoyed at first, but gradually got into the story, so all was well by the end.
These flaws notwithstanding, I must hasten to add that the rest of the book is amazing. The trial scene in particular is simply magnificent. Everything that went before the scene culminates in a dramatic explosion that makes you wonder how in hell anyone could have pulled it off. It's hard to do justice to this scene and other extraordinary scenes like the Grand Inquisitor. Dostoevsky builds up both the prosecutor's case and the defense attorney's case so convincing and with so much passion that it's little wonder that this spectacular scene made the much celebrated Alan Dershowitz want to be a lawyer when he read it.
Other scenes I loved this time around, and not the first time, are: the delirium scene where Ivan confronts the buffoon Devil and Alyosha's speech after Ilyusha's funeral in the very end. The former was just fascinating in that it was scary how much I got really into the head of Ivan through the buffoon of the Devil. The latter was simply moving and brought tears to my eyes. There really aren't many stories that can do this.
I came across the unannotated version of Lolita in summer 2004 when I was a raging philosophy maniac whoShe was Lo, plain Lo without the annotations--
I came across the unannotated version of Lolita in summer 2004 when I was a raging philosophy maniac whose obsession was everything existentialism and thinking about The Meaning of Life - in general, I wasn't a very happy person to say the least.
Toward the end of a strenuous and almost cruel summer reading syllabus I had imposed on myself (Soren and Friedrich I could handle, but Martin and J.P. gave me the existential headache), came this brilliant gem of fiction, an oasis in the desert of angst and bad faith, a breather for my nothingness of a mind that craved being-not-in-the-world. Thanks to Vivian Darkbloom, I achieved veritable transcendence of my ego.
Onto my impressions of the novel. I remember the first part being tantalizingly erotic and second part average. So engrossed was I in poor Humbert Humbert's fantasies and seduction that, in a manner of speaking I had to repeatedly resort to the good old manuo-frictional means of extinguishing the fire of my loins. The second part, however, disappointed me and when I began my second fill of Lolita, I remembered nothing about the second part, save the scene where Humbert Humbert makes an advance at Dolores when she's studying and she says, "Oh not again."
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if you have had your fill of Lolita once without the benefit of the annotations, you can easily understand my plight when I decided to go through it again, especially when one is loath to have recourse to the all too conventional means of extinguishing the aforementioned fire. But my apprehensions came to naught.
The annotations, I must confess, are tremendously helpful. I did not recognize to what magnitude I missed the allusions, echoes, jokes, and delightful word plays our Hum engages in. It is staggering how much he is able to weave into the narrative. Frankly, I missed, without exaggeration, 100% of it. I was, as the diligent annotator notes in his recondite and illuminating 64-page introduction, Nabokov's ideal reader-puppet.
Not so, this time. Thanks to the annotations and two years of reading hard literature plus two years of French, I was able to see the cracks and holes in Lolita and enjoy it an artistic artifice that it is. Strangely, I experienced no tumescence - not one bit - and enjoyed it on a totally different aesthetic level.
In short, although the prolix and detailed annotations may have taken away from the reading experience, I still enjoyed Lolita very much. There are slow parts, however, I had a hard time getting through. For example, the first 20 pages of Part Deux where H.H. and Dolly travel across les etats unis boasts more than enough expositions to drive you to the edge of despair and tantrum.
My favorite scenes are, in order: 1)the last scene with Humbert and Quilty; 2) the Enchanted Hunters hotel scene; and 3) the interviews with the Beardsley School headmistress. Like any work of literature, there are more than its fair share of slow parts whose necessity is in big question at least from the humble reader's perspective.
Insofar as the novel manages to both engage on the gut emotional level (especially the first time without the annotations) and intellectual, literary, and artistic level, Lolita remains, and will remain, one of my absolute favorites.
The four stars for the second level of reading. Overall, I give it 5 stars.
So I bought this at no less a bookshop than Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, with its stamp on the title page (it looks great!), and I began reading it
So I bought this at no less a bookshop than Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, with its stamp on the title page (it looks great!), and I began reading it there, main out of interest for the nihilistic character Kirillov famous for contemplating rational suicide.
There are interesting scenes, scenes you can get only in a Dostoevsky novels—the philosophical discussions, the dramatic finale, flashes of insight (especially the suppressed chapter, "At Tihkon's" in the appendix)—but I have to concur with what Hemingway said about the great Russian author's works: it's badly written.
Granted, it may very well have been a norm back in Fyodor's days, but almost every chapter ends with an overt cliffhanger (which is understandable, given the novel's serialization), characters shriek and brandish their fists and tremble all over and do all sorts of other overly dramatic and even cliche gestures that are simply impossible in contemporary fiction, exclamation marks abound, people say yes confirmingly or shout yellingly (I am exaggerating here, of course), dialogue is used awkwardly to describe things ("Oh you what are you doing, you're grabbing a pen and scribbling!"), all the characters are simply loathsome, grotesque douchebags—save maybe for the real hero of the novel, Stavrogin, whose motives unfortunately remain annoyingly incomprehensible without the suppressed chapter (all the reason to read it), and—the last straw—there really is no narrative thrust you can ride on through the interminable 700 pages.
The plot iis diffuse, which can't be helped given the subject matter (political intrigue and conspiracy). At more than several points I asked myself what was the point of all this intriguing and thinking (perhaps I'm missing the historical/philosophical backdrop, or something). More problematic is that there is no one strong character you can latch onto. If the narrator spent more time with Stavrogin, or Kirillov—the only interesting characters in the whole book, imo—then it would have tipped the weight and created a more satisfying narrative center.
I did appreciate the Dostoevskian concern with ideas and how they could eat/consume people—which is especially relevant even today, what with Richard Dawkin's concept of cultural memes and the spread of information highways that give greater power to ideas than ever before. And of course, the Hamlet-like bloodbath of an ending that out-Dostoevskies all other Dostoevsky novels (that I have read).
But overall, it is a book that I will probably not come back (unlike Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, both of which I read twice and will probably read again and again).
Recommended only for hard-core Dostoevsky fans....more
The Double must be read with the following in mind: it's Dostoevsky's second novel written when he was onlSeminal, early work and mature work in one--
The Double must be read with the following in mind: it's Dostoevsky's second novel written when he was only twenty-five. The story is a slow, painful read and has none of those Dostoevskian moments of confrontation, emotional outpouring, and human contradictions. The prose is even tedious to the point of being annoying--with certain words and phrases repeated throughout. The main character is a coward and gets on your nerves constantly with his interminable and insufferable thoughts that lead to no action.
In short, it's an intolerable story.
And yet. Yet. Just underneath the veneer of Gogol ("The Overcoat" and Dead Souls), you can discern flashes of mature Dostoevsky: the constant internal struggle to act (Notes from Underground) and the Dostoevskian blurring of the boundary between reality and unreality (The Crime and Punishment and Ivan Karamazov's confrontation with the devil in The Brothers Karamazov). So Goliadkin's double is acknowledged by his superiors when he first makes his appearance and when you assume it's a tale of a schizophrenic, you soon realize the double is not just the creation of a sick mind, but may exist, though at moments, you're not really sure. This kind of blurring occurs in Crime and Punishment where dreams invade reality in Raskolnikov and--to a certain extent his double--Svidrigailov's worlds. So The Double is a jejune, yet important work that can shed light on Dostoevsky's later works and should be read as such.
Now, The Gambler is another story. It's written twenty years after The Double and you can see the difference. It starts out a bit slow but gathers speed and starts galloping toward the climax, complete with all the familiar Dostoevskian elements of confrontation, contradiction, and emotional outpouring. It also portrays the character of different nations--France, England, Germany, and Russia--and makes some very interesting points about them. It's a charming story that was, alas, written in a rush to make a deadline for an unscrupulous publisher who could have appropriated all Dostoevsky's works in the past and any he would write for the next nine years without any royalty. But Dostoevsky still manages to create something highly entertaining, deep, and satisfying.
All in all, The Double is okay and The Gambler is awesome....more
"Man's life as commentary to abstruse / Unfinishd poem..."--
I loved it. The poem, the prose, the structure, the story, the comedy, the irony - the boo"Man's life as commentary to abstruse / Unfinishd poem..."--
I loved it. The poem, the prose, the structure, the story, the comedy, the irony - the book delivered it all.
The ostensible subject of the book is a poem by a fictional poet John Shade with hilarious commentaries/footnotes by his supposed close friend Charles Kinbote.
If you're not liking the set-up already, please stay away; it gets better.
Kinbote hilariously and almost willingly misunderstands and misinterprets the poem to mean something entirely different and basically hi-jacks the literary commentary, goes off on tremendous tangents, and chronicles his own life in the footnotes thereby making John Shade's observation in his poem true:
Man's life as commentary to abstruse Unfinished poem. Note for further use. (p. 67, Italics author's)
Thus Pale Fire is about Charles Kinbote's life as commentary to an abstruse and unfinished poem by John Shade.
No need to make fool of myself for adding more comments to an abstruse yet finished work.
The exhaustion and the exhilarating sense of accomplishment I'm feeling right now after almost two whole months of hard struggle with this 1,200-DONE!
The exhaustion and the exhilarating sense of accomplishment I'm feeling right now after almost two whole months of hard struggle with this 1,200-large-page monster of a book are decidedly similar to those I felt after finishing Shakespeare's complete works, although in this case, I'm forced to conclude that the book hailed as "the best novel of all time" is grotesquely OVERRATED.
Leaving aside all of his numerous annoying authorial interjections and prolix philosophical ruminations whose sole effect consists in taking the reader's attention away from the story and consequently boring the hell out of the reader, I'll have to say that the plot was non-existent, the characters unremarkable, and the overall story too sprawling and unfocused - in short, hopeless and irredeemable.
The writing - or the translation thereof - was static, pedantic, dry, dull, and long-winded.
OK, but it's a work of art you say? A new kind of book that incorporates history and art? A book that portrays Russian life during the time period?
It would in fact be a work of art if the author had done that AND offered an engaging story.
The only reason this book didn't get one star is that I was intrigued by the HUMAN drama that Pierre and Natasha go through. I didn't care an iota about other characters. Prince X dies... oh, sad. Next. Y suffers from unrequited love. Tears. Next.
Frankly, I was nonplussed by the sheer, mind-boggling boredom and mediocrity of the book, especially when I actually ENJOYED reading Tolstoy's other magnum opus, Anna Karenina. I also massively missed Dostoevsky as I craved for more human drama and journey into the human psyche.
In sum, War and Peace was a disappointment, which is a radical understatement and euphemism, but what can I say. Read his Anna Karenina or any of Dostoevsky's books. But this-- it's not worth the trouble.
I've finished reading it just to be able to say I read it, and I don't think I will EVER be revisiting it.