Dark and funny. This book is about life; not all terrible, but not all rosy. The main character, Sasha Goldberg, was a black, Jewish Russian. She grew...moreDark and funny. This book is about life; not all terrible, but not all rosy. The main character, Sasha Goldberg, was a black, Jewish Russian. She grew up in a small town Siberia called Abestos 2. Her decisions in life took her to different situations that I could completely relate to. Growing up with a mom who worked all the time to put food on the table and did her best to give you the best opportunities; seeking a father who you long to be close to but yet leave you with disappointments after you get to know him; being self-destructive even though you knew better; etc. I could sense that Sasha felt lost and lonely in her world. She lived in the moment because it seemed to be the "safest" thing for her to do. If she would look back, it might bring her tears; and looking forward might bring despair. The end, when Sasha reminisced about her home in Abestos 2, saddened me. Being an emigrant myself, I don't think you could ever forget "home." It's a place where you feel you belong even if it's a rotten place.
The story is real and complex. I really enjoyed the book, and I caught myself laughing out loud many, many times. (less)
What a good book and a fascinating story! The book focuses mainly on the 50+ days war leading to the siege of Constantinople, the modern Istanbul. The...moreWhat a good book and a fascinating story! The book focuses mainly on the 50+ days war leading to the siege of Constantinople, the modern Istanbul. The book discusses the people and events of both sides in such details that I feel like I was there. Crowley did a great job with his research. This is the war that changed the landscape of Christian and Islam worlds as we know it today, and what an amazing event. It makes me wonder if the outcome would be different had the Vatican stepped in to help. After all, Constantine and the city were holding their own for more than 50 days, with the help of the landscape and great defense systems, despite being completely out numbered, . Crowley tries to stay very neutral, considering the significance of the event that further divided Christians and Muslims. He said that the siege, even though "the day had unfolded in pitiful scenes and terrible instances of massacre, there was nothing particular to Islam in this behavior. It was the expected reaction of any medieval army that had taken a city of storm. The history of Byzantium could produce many similar episodes that were only incidentally conducted on religious grounds. It was no worse than the Byzantine sack of the Saracen city of Candia on Crete in 961..." (233-234.)
Sultan Mehmet only wanted the Red Apple for "the possibility of world power that it seemed to contain." I'm reminded of how superstitious people in the old world were. So many prophecies had predicted this event. The fear was there in Constantinople even before there was the actual war. Leaders were willing to risk lives under the tales told by star alignments. Today, leaders use "intelligence" to make decisions whether to go to war. But in the end, is intelligence really more superior than gazing at the stars? After all many great civilizations were built upon gazing at the stars...(less)
That wasn't exactly an uplifting book, was it?! What was I thinking that a book with "death" in the title would be lively??? And this from a man who w...moreThat wasn't exactly an uplifting book, was it?! What was I thinking that a book with "death" in the title would be lively??? And this from a man who wrote Anna Karenina! :)
Ivan Ilyich is a man with a successful career. "His official pleasures lay in the gratification of his pride; his social pleasure lay in the gratification of his vanity." Though his success has been driven in part by the hatred for his wife, Praskovya Fedorovna. It's ok, because she despises him in turn. So, as Ivan Ilyich is laid dying, he starts to reflect on his life, probably as many of us would, and asks if it has been a good life.
I really enjoyed the book. Aside from the book being short, it was simple. No character development needed. Just one simply theme... one that many of us have thought about it at one point or the other: death. He didn't romanticize death and dying. He highlighted all emotions that one could possibly go through: sorrow, anger, loneliness, acceptance, etc.
My mom often say that everyone knows their birth date, but no one knows the date they'll die. So, as the saying goes, live your life like it's your last day. Or imagine your own obituary—what would it say.
********************* ***SPOILER ALERT*** ********************* As Ivan Ilyich laid dying, he didn't get the feeling that his life had been as he imagined:
"Then what does it mean? Why? It can't be that life is so senseless and horrible. But if it really has been so horrible and senseless, why must I die and die in agony? There is something wrong! Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done," it suddenly occurred to him. "But how could that be, when I did everything properly?" he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.
Death comes to us all, and sometime you (lucky?) get a chance of righting the wrongs. So what kind of death would we get??? Would it be like Ivan Ilyich??? What's more important is what kind of life would we think we have at the end: the "right life" or the one filled with sorrows and regrets.
Wow - what a book! I enjoyed it so much that I read the book again just after I finished it! The story was of life under in Romania the control of Nic...moreWow - what a book! I enjoyed it so much that I read the book again just after I finished it! The story was of life under in Romania the control of Nicolae Ceausescu and took place mostly on a tram, as the narrator (we never learned her name, by the way) was on her way to the "appointment." As the tram rode on, she recounted events and people in her life.
The book wasn't an easy read (the book jumbled around a lot and had no chapter break), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really liked her writing style. It was witty and imaginative, like "My heart turned so hard, it would have struck her dead if I had thrown it" or "Good. It was a beautiful word to say, because it couldn't be bad" or "My grandfather had brown eyes with that subdued gleam you can't get with glass because it hasn't suffered."
Not only the writing was witty, it was also sad and bleak. It felt detached... like her feelings on the situation that she was in. She said at one point that:
People who are summoned develop routines that help them out a little. Whether these routines really work or not is beside the point. It's not people, though, it's me who's developed them; they came sneaking up on me, one by one.
...It's too much to expect my routines to really help me. Actually they don't help me so much as help move life along from one day to the next. There's no point expecting them to fill your head with lucky thoughts. There's a lot to be said for moving life along, but there's essentially nothing to say when it comes to luck, because as soon as you open your mouth you jinx it away. ... The routines I've developed are about moving from one day to the next, and not about luck.
So sad : (
You had to really pay attention to the details, which was quite hard because her narratives were like random thoughts bouncing from one direction to another. Everything led to a puzzling ending. It was so intriguing, which was why I had to read it again!
***SPOILER ALERT*** My conclusion to the ending was that she believed Paul had betrayed her and that he actually was working for the government. (There's another theory that Paul and the old man were having relationship, but I think that was less likely.) The whole thing with the old man started when Paul had the accident with the gray truck. She said: "The more Paul talked about the old man, the less I thought his presence there was just coincidence." Paul actually commented that "there was something fishy about that old man," but concluded that he hardly knew what was going on when the accident happened. When the went to the flea market, the old man was there and "...Paul sold him the Java and decided that the old couldn't have been from the secret police, otherwise he wouldn't have offered more than anybody else. I'm not so sure."
Also, she reminisced at one point:
I was wondering about the games that life plays, and on my way back from the shoemaker I went through all the possible ways of getting fed up with the world. The first and the best: don't get summoned and don't go mad, like most people. The second possibility: don't get summoned, but do lose your mind, like the shoemaker's wife and Frau Micu... The third: do get summoned and do go mad, like the two women in the mental home. Or else the fourth: get summoned but don't go mad, like Paul and myself. Not particular good, but in our case the base option.
So "the trick is not to go mad."
I'm not sure if my conclusion follows what the author had in mind when she wrote the book, but I think it's enough for me to have my closure and move on : )