Anthony DoerrAnthony Doerr was sitting next to a man talking on his cell phone, in a train heading towards New York. When the train approached the PenAnthony DoerrAnthony Doerr was sitting next to a man talking on his cell phone, in a train heading towards New York. When the train approached the Penn Station, the signal dropped and the call disconnected much to the chagrin of the man who was talking. That made Doerr think about the things we cannot see - "the idea about all this electromagnetic radiation we can't see that's flying through walls and through buildings". (https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/...). Communicating through radio, and cell phones, bridging the huge distance that lay between the two ends was something that fascinated Doerr and he decided to write on the subject. He researched on radios and this research let him to the Nazi era. And the plot for the book All The Light We Cannot See[bookcover:All the Light We Cannot See|18143977] started taking shape.
When I started reading the book, it was a difficult and distracting read. Due to the complex language used, I found myself progressing slowly through the pages. And I would often want to opt for 'easier' works. But there was something that egged me on and I am happy to have finished the book. All in all, it has been a memorable read to me.
The story revolves around two characters - a blind girl Marie-Laure who is French and a young German boy, Werner Pfenning who is driven towards the magic of radio transmissions. There is the presence of that precious 'diamond', the Sea of Flames, which some believe carries a curse. The one who owns it will survive but bring disaster to those who are close to him/her. While he himself has never actually seen the stone, the warder of the museum says, "You have to believe the story." The stone looms large in the novel. Marie-Laure often speculates on the 'curse'. Things happen - events that change the course of her life in a way she had not imagined before. And just like Dr Geffard, the mollusk expert has told her, "You know how diamonds - how all crystals - grow, Laurette? By adding microscopic layers, a few thousand atoms every month, each atop the next. Millennia after millennia. That's how stories accumulate too. All the old stones accumulate stories. ...." Marie- Laure's story also accumulates layers, converging with that of Werner and then, drifting apart, only to merge again later towards the end.
Radio acts as a 'connect'. While it seeks to hunt down the enemy, it becomes way early in the novel, a means of hope. " Open your eyes, and see what you can with them before they close forever." It plays the music that fills the air around Werner with "possibility". It poses questions before curious minds - "So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?" Jutta, Werner's sister, is the voice of conscience that stays with Werner when he moves away from her. Jutta questions her brother about whether a thing that is being done by all "ought" to be done by them too. Her listening to radio broadcast makes her interrogate into the very idea of "purification" for which the Reich stands. She doubts "the staccato voice of the Reich" which "grows like some imperturbable tree". She does not belong to those who consider it as "the lips of God". She tells her brother that they are not "whole" - "We must be half something." What he refuses to hear from his sister, or perhaps hears but lacks the courage to believe in, he will hear from Marie-Laure through the radio. The radio, an instrument that is being used to capture, becomes a means of release.
Claire de lune by Debussy is a rendition of Paul Verlaine's poem with the same title. It is repeatedly referred to in the novel. The piece fits well with the larger theme of the book - a fight against the closed system of dictatorial rigidity. Werner's radio and Marie's adventures in reading are escapes within that closed system. The music of Claire de lune liberates. It lets the German Volkheimer listen not just to the notes but also "the silences between them" taking him to a place where his grandfather is. It gives Marie-Laure the courage to overcome her fear of General Von Rumpel. It brings back to Von Rumpel the memory of her daughter Veronika, who could sing. The world is being made a little human again, until the music lasts. Nothing is straight or simple in this world. As Marie-Laure contemplates:
"What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models. Mazes in the nodules on murex shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of eagles. None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes."
The world of Nazi brutality, the "greatest project" of "ordering the evolution of the species", of "winnowing out the inferior, the unruly, the chaff" starts shattering. It is a closed world. It does not let the light in. But it degenerates from within. "The entropy of a closed system never decreases. Every process must by law decay." The decline happens from inside, giving way to a different kind of loss and a different kind of gain. Death stares in the face, but it brings with it "sublimity", "the instant when one thing is about to become something else. Day to night, caterpillar to butterfly. Fawn to doe. Experiment to result. Boy to man."
Another significant character in the novel is Frederick, Werner's friend at the military academy. He is according to Anthony Doerr, a version of himself and of one of his sons. (http://tweedsmag.org/interview-anthon...). They belong to that category of people who "pay attention to things others don't", which may be their strong point but is a "social weakness". Frederick is philosophical, a dreamer. He loves birds. And while Werner thinks that he is weak, Frederick knows that " Some people are weak in some ways, sir. Others in other ways." His distraction is his way out of the brutality of war. He imagines the world when it was "one endless garden from end to end" - all connected, without divides.
The model house that Marie-Laure carries with her is a dominant symbol in the novel. It is a powerful antidote to the Nazi system that is closed and impenetrable. Whether it holds the real diamond or not is something that is not disclosed till the latter half of the book. The inspiration for the house lay in a Japanese puzzle-box the author received as a gift when he was eight or nine years old.(http://tweedsmag.org/interview-anthon...) He was not told how the box opens. He was expected to figure it out on his own. The model house is also like a puzzle box. Whether it opens or not, whether it holds the 'real' thing or not, is something one needs to find out. It is the opposite of "certainty". It is the representation of "disorder" and "randomness". It is an expression of "imagination". It is a proof of "minds" working - minds, which are "not to be trusted" because they are always "drifting toward ambiguity".
All The Light We Cannot See is a brilliant work. It has been praised much for the its lyrical prose, and that is definitely justified. And despite my initial difficulty with the novel, I found it mesmerizing and beautiful and would strongly recommend it to all....more
How do you think did I get this scar? Yaw, one of the character in the novel asks his students. The latter come up with various replies. They are allHow do you think did I get this scar? Yaw, one of the character in the novel asks his students. The latter come up with various replies. They are all speculating and when they are done, they ask their teacher Yaw for a finite answer. Yaw replies, " I was only a baby. All I know is what I've heard." This is perhaps one of the most important motif of the novel. What we hear or what is passed on to us is a matter of half-truth.....like the half-caste who stands neither here nor there. Yaa Gyasi's novel is a sweeping saga of family history through generations. At times, one tends to get lost in the maze of trees that stand tall in the story - opposing pillars that are part of the same soil but that are drifted apart by powerful forces of greed, racism and prejudice. The story of two sisters Effia and Esi give way to multiple currents of thoughts. Like a river that runs into different directions, separating at some point from its own water, and then perhaps meeting at some other point, the saga too takes us to distant locations. But the stone, the symbol of the past, the connecting link goes along too - as a token or a reminder. It is the memory-keeper.
Another significant strand of the story is that the narrative of slavery is not one-sided in the novel. There are moments when victim and perpetrator meet, and become accomplices in crime. This re-emphasizes the fact that history is only a story - the dominant one is that which is spoken by those in power. It will only be partially true. Much of it will be a fabrication or a cover-up. When Marjorie writes her poem, it pinpoints to this very complicity - We, two, wade./ The waters seem different/but are same./ Our same. Sister skin./Who knew? Not me. Not you.
Those interested in understanding history as fiction, history as mere stories whose truths ought to be interrogated will find Homegoing a compelling read....more
"Water does not resist. Water flows.....Water is not a solid wall.......But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand a"Water does not resist. Water flows.....Water is not a solid wall.......But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.......Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does." So advises Penelope's mother to her daughter. An advice that she understands not much at that time, but applies later in her life, while waiting for her sly, adventurous husband to return.
Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad is a re-telling of the Greek myth but from the point of view of the muted, 'shrouded' queen Penelope who is plagued by suitors devouring her estate. Her son Telemachus is a patriarch-in-the-making, expecting her mother to 'behave' in an 'appropriate' way and disregarding her as a figure of authority in his father's absence. With little support from anyone in the household, Penelope turns to the youngest 'twelve maids' who work as her spies, sometimes being raped, sometimes loved, but forever bringing news to the Queen. Odysseus's nurse, Eurycleia, is not consulted, not confided into the matter. A fact that causes much misery and deaths in the end. Atwood uses the element of story-telling while being aware of the fact that a story remains a story - a version that might be different and at times contradictory to some other version of the same thing too. Odysseus's adventures are stories heard by his wife through various sources and there is no way to authenticate them other then just believing them. But when it comes to the 'story' of Penelope, and her maids, some periods are imposed to bring 'closure' to the narratives that exist in the 'master's' absence.
The killing of the 'twelve' maids is a strand that runs through the novella, questioning justice and fairness in a patriarchy that demeans a woman by raping her, by considering her as a 'prize' or 'trophy' - a thing to be kept locked up. Atwood questions the objectification of women through history and myths in the chapter titled 'The Chorus Line : An Anthology Lecture' where the maids stress that they are "pure symbol". They continue to haunt Odysseus after death. In Hades, after re-births...probably asserting that injustices continue to happen, the male continues to wander off, and justice never delivered. Penelope tries to dissuade the maids but they shun her too, and Atwood leaves us to speculate Penelope's thoughts as she sees their feet 'twitching' - unable to touch the ground.
The book is a quick read, blended with humor and sarcasm. Atwood's use of The Chorus helps in setting a pace for the novella, reminding the reader about the temporal setting of the narrative but then the prose breaks through it and reemphasizes that the issues raised are from that - they are persistent and move beyond time and territory. ...more
A complex novel is my first verdict. 'For the time being/ words scatter..../ Are they fallen leaves?' The lines that set the pace of the novel in theA complex novel is my first verdict. 'For the time being/ words scatter..../ Are they fallen leaves?' The lines that set the pace of the novel in the beginning continued to haunt me till the end. Is it the story of Nao (now) or Ruth or the grandmother Jiko who claims to be 104 and replies to her granddaughter in riddles? Or is it the story of the reader, who like Ruth has caught hold of the words, and is grappling with them to make sense of her life's narrative? The message, though simple, is not easy to comprehend. 'To live, for now, for the time being....' - is overlapped with stories that cross time and paths. War, and the choices one makes question the entire notion of heroism. They find a parallel in the choices Nao's father makes every now and then. Is he a hero? Will he be able to live for the time being? The effect of war, economy collapse, inability to 'fit in', bullying, radioactive leakage, what we have done to nature, technology wrecking our lives, Zen Buddhism (reference to life as an elevator), quantum physics are major themes explored in the novel. At the end, all 'agency' becomes unreliable. It is 'tricky business'. It is perception. It is one way of 'seeing' and understanding.
This is the first novel I have read by Ozeki. I am intrigued that the writer in the novel and the author have the same name too. Agency at work....!!!
Would like to read more by the same author. And would also like to re-read the book to understand its nuances further....more
A novel about war? - Well, a novel about life and hope. A novel that will keep you glued as you sift through the pages and feel the pain of the characA novel about war? - Well, a novel about life and hope. A novel that will keep you glued as you sift through the pages and feel the pain of the characters involved. It is a story about two sisters, completely different and yet the way they react in difficult situations tells us more about their strengths and similarities. Morality, justice, familial ties - they exist on both sides of the war. And yet, each ethic seems to shatter as the narrative progresses. In the end, are we doomed? Not really. To find out, you need to, absolutely need to read the novel. Compelling and engaging book indeed. To read my complete review, visit my blog post http://istoppedtosmellarose.blogspot.......more
Illusions....isn't it something we all are trapped in....Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has managed to recreate one of the greatest epics, Mahabharata, inIllusions....isn't it something we all are trapped in....Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has managed to recreate one of the greatest epics, Mahabharata, into a story about a woman who chooses her fate as well as those of the ones she loves. And yet, one is forced to think whether she had an alternative to the choices she made. The flaws that each of us suffer from are the result of the illusions we love to hold on to. Even righteousness comes with a price - loneliness, as Yudhishtir's fate reveals. There are traps in everything that we do, or choose to do, in the wishes we make, in our actions as well as in our thoughts. Krishna's riddles are ample food for thought as Draupadi realizes. There is also love, forbidden and unspoken, that looms over the entire narrative. The last chapter is something that completely transported me to another world, an unknown, boundless space. The novel is an impressive read, hard to put down, once you have begun. ...more