XIEOUYANG tries again-- going for 75!!!
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I can find all kinds of excuses for not making to 75 books in 2011. And I am starting 2012 with the best of intentions. Anything so I can join again this year since I enjoy reading the comments and learning about authors from the heavy activity in this group.
Books read so far:
1. Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos
2. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
3. The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
4. Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee
5. White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
6. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
7. Skylark by Deszo Kosztolanyi
8. Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
9. Love and Summer by William Trevor
10. A Meaningful Life by L. J. Davis
11. Midnight in Peking by Paul French
12. Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
13. Cicero by Anthony Everitt
14. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
15. Single & Single by John Le Carre
16. Founding Federalist - The Life of Oliver Ellsworth by Michael C. Toth
17. Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac
18. The Deserted Wife by Honore de Balzac
19. The Twilight Years by Sawako Ariyoshi
20. Disobedience by Jane Hamilton
21. 41 Stories by O. Henry
23. The Shell of Sense by Olivia Howard Dunbar
24. Journey into the past by Stefan zweig
25. La Orgia Perpetua by Mario Vargas Llosa
26. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
27. Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
28. Confusion by Stefan Zweig
29. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
30. Beware of Pity by Stefan Sweig
31. Cervantes Street by Jaime Manrique
32. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
33. Silence by Shusaku Endo
34. Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald
35. The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
36. Deep River by Shusaku Endo
37. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
38. Callejon de Dolores by Francisco Perez de Anton
Hi Manuel! Thanks for the clarification on the welcome thread regarding your user name! I kept wondering if you "asian" in any way! But, now that you've explained that you are not, I'm curious as to where you came up with your name?? :)
*waves* ... I second that, now I'm curious about your screen name's origins!
Hi Valerie. My pseudonym is Chinese and it's a slight modification for the Chinese poet and historian Ou Yang Xiu, from the Song dynasty.
The reason I chose that is because I travel to China at least once a year and found that my Spanish name causes all kinds of misery for Chinese people to say. Xie Ouyang is much easier to read and pronounce.
Very cool indeed! The Chinese do have a hard time with their "R's" so I can see why they would have struggles with Spanish. ;) My name is Valerie, but more often than not, it's pronounced as "Valalee" by my family since their tongue has the R issue, haha!
Book #1 - Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos
I can't believe that January is halfway over, and I have finished only one book. And a short one at that. At this rate it will take me another 36 months to complete 74 more books! Hopefully, demands from work will ease up a little and give me more free time.
A very brief sketch. This is the story of a young lady, who is adopted by a friend of her parents when they die. The friend, Lope Garrido, is much older but nonethelss abuses her when she is very young. She is not fully aware that this is not a proper relationship, until later when she becomes of age. Lope is very jealous of her and keeps nearly imprisoned, with few opportunities to go out. But in one of those outings, inevitably, she meets a young painter with who he falls in love. A relationship develops between them; the painter, Horacio Diaz is his name, has a studio that she starts to visit frequently. They are both fervently in love.
But she makes clear to him, throughout, that she has no intentions of marriage. Nonetheless, the relationship continues flaming. At one point, he is called to visit one of his properties in the country, where his aunt lives. He moves there for what is originally to be only a few weeks but turns in fact into a couple of years. Yet communication continues between the two lovers, via letters several times a week. Through those letters we learn the development and growth of Tristana.
At one point, however, Tristana develops a problem in one of her knees that results in the doctor having to amputate her right leg. She adjusts quite well to having to use crutches but begins to lose her youthful enthusiasm for life, for learning, and for wanting to become an independent woman.
When Horacio returns to see her, even though he apparently accepts her handicap, she realizes that he's fallen out of love. But so has she. She does not have the illusions but becomes more pragmatic. Initially, Horacio comes to visit her every day, but those visits become less and less frequent until they stop. She does not seem to be affected by his absence. Later on, Lope informs her that Horacio has married. She has no reaction to this.
Lope is getting much older and Tristana becomes very attached to the Church. She had learned to play the organ during her recovery and comes to play in Church every day. Lope is advised that the best he can do is marry her, so she can be his lawful heir. He proposes and despite her earlier hatred for him, she agrees.
The most interesting aspect of the novel, aside from the great characterization of actors that Perez Galdos accomplishes, is the transformation of Tristana.
Despite her continuous daydreaming, she is very much affected by outside events. Initially, she is the naive girl who submits herself to Lope without any complaints, or much judgement on the morality of the situation. When she grows up and becomes of age, she realizes the unnatural relation and the hold that Lope has on her- she comes to hate him, but feels trapped. The next transformation is when she meets Horacio the painter, and she starts to think like a free woman, a person on her own who wants to be independent (remember, this is 19th Century Spain when women were only able to leave their home to marry someone and become fully dependend).
The last transformation is her resignation after her leg is amputated. She adapts very well to the fact of being one-legged, but looses all her dreams and ambitions and becomes almost religious in her thinking.
Lope is another interesting character. He is referred to as Don Lope to conjure images of Lope de Vega. The latter, the greatest Spanish writer (who wrote over 400 plays, many novels, extensive poetry, etc.) was famous for his amorous liasons with women- single or married. The Lope of the novel had been a great seducer of women all his life, Tristana is his last conquest. He comes as a despicable character, which he is. He is extremely proud, jealous, and petty. In the end, I guess because of old age, he becomes generous with Tristana. And repents for being the reason for her problems. But then it is too late. His marriage to Tristana at the end is perhaps a way of ending a novel in a cheerful note.
Hi Manuel! That's a great review of Tristana. Although it's not like the books I usually read, I'll probably give it a try. Especially the transformation of Tristana makes me curious!
Hi Kathy, unfortunately many of Perez Galdos books are not available in English. Although he is of the same caliber, if not better than Balzac, because both deal with the similar societal issues, Balzac became popular abroad whereas Perez Galdos did not (at least not in the US)
Luis Bunuel, the famous Spanish movie director, made a film based on this novel with Catherine Denueve I believe. I saw when it came out many years ago.
Hi Manuel! I was looking for a German translation - but without success. I just saw on Amazon that there's a French translation. I might try that because I can't speak Spanish.
Bunuel? I know "Le chien andalou", so that scares me a little...
Book #2 - Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I decided to read this book since a book I read for the library book club (The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine) was presumably based upon Sense and Sensibility, and indeed it was.
Although I started reading it (Sense and Sensibility) with some skepticism, it's not a man book after all and neither is The Three Weissmanns, I enjoyed and appreciated it tremendously. The discovery of similarities between the characters in the two novels, Schine's book is clearly based upon Austen's, was lots of fun. Although Schine made several modifications naturally, the essential plot and elements are carried through.
I'm not going to elaborate on the story, as it's probably well known to most LT readers, except those quite young. But I'd like to say that it truly is a wonderful story written very elegantly; enjoyable throughout.
Well, look at you Manuel! Two books under your belt and its only Jan 18th! Woot, woot!
Sense and Sensibility is one of my favored Austen's and I think I'll be looking for the Schine book. Glad you mentioned it.
Thanks for the encouragement Lynda. But I can do the math...at this rate I'll make only 36 this year. Aaaaargh.
Don't despair, Manuel. Some months will be better than others and of course I don't have to repeat the 75er's mantra, right?!
Lynda, It's not necessarily a case of despair because what takes me away from reading is work. But I do enjoy work tremendously, surprisingly so after so many years- which is good I think.
Hi Manuel! Austen is soo on my reading list for this year. I found such an awsome edition of Pride and Prejudice which just makes me want to read it.
Fortunately it's not really about numbers in a 75-books-challenge. ;) Seriously, but two books are not bad. Maybe you could join the readathons to read more. I'll do so this weekend. Here's the link if you're interested: http://www.librarything.com/topic/131320
Thanks for alerting me to that readathon Kathy. I really can't dedicate much time to reading this weekend. The Met opera tomorrow PM will take about 5 hours, plus a few other things and work stuff will eat all my weekend.
But I'll check it for the next time.
Book #3 - The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
Thanks to the inspiration and encouragement of this weekend's readathon readers, I started and finished this book. The book is next month's assignment of a local library's book club (I'll probably have to read it again before the meeting because by then I'll probably have forgotten even the title)
The story is Kane's fictional recreation of a, freak perhaps, accident that occurred in London in March 3rd, 1943. During one of the air raids from the Germans, Londoners as usual walked or run to their assigned shelters- typically in a London metro underground station. But the accident in point happened at the Bethnal Green station where, for inexplicable reasons, there was a crush of people at the bottom of the first set of stairs going into the station. A huge pile up of people formed as the ones behind were pushing trying to get it. In total, at the end, 173 died of asphtxiation as bodies piled on top of bodies.
Kane weaves an engrossing story focusing on a few central characters of her creation. I think the only real character she features is the magistrate, Sir Lawrence (Laurie) Dunne, who is assigned to carry on an inquiry. All others are fictional. Nonetheless, she writes a compelling story.
This is a book I'd recommend.
The Report sounds interesting. I passed through the Bethnal Green tube station a couple of times last summer, and I saw an exhibit about this accident during my first trip to London. I'm also curious about Bethnal Green and other East End neighborhoods, so I'll definitely add this to my wish list. Thanks!
Book #4 Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee
This is my fourth book so far this year!!! I should change the name of my thread to "Manuel's Lame List" or perhaps
"Manuel Has not Shame by Thinking he Can read 75 books" Anyway, my excuse (a true one) is that I've been overwhelmed at work this year. This isn't bad because I do enjoy what I am doing- unfortunately it's not leaving me much free time.
This book is another library group read. Were it not for that, I'd probably fail to stay disciplined.
A very surprising novel because I did not know much about the novel or the author- other than he was from South Africa and won a Nobel Prize. But as I read it I became convinced that once in a while the Nobel Prize boys do pick extremely good writers that have a lot of merit in their stories. Oftentimes it seems that the award is given for 'fairness' reasons- giving the prize to a person from a region that's never been given a prize. Or worse yet, giving a prize to make a political point like when it was awarded to Harold Pinter, whose only merit was in being a vitriolic opponent of President Bush (at the time that opposition to Bush was at its height)
Anyway, back to the story. It's a wonderful sad story about an old woman who is dying of cancer. She is all alone and the story is a long letter she's writing to her daughter who lives in America. The story mingles her suffering and physical and mental deterioration, with the deteriorating hell of South Africa's apartheid during its last years when brutality against blacks reached extremes. We don't know much about her past, but she's forced to face the inhumanity of living there at that cursed time.
Her life is inundated with people that she may not entirely want to have contact with, except for Florence who was her black maid. A derelict bum stations himself in her yard, and eventually becomes a friend to her- although he is always detached and non-committal but ends up helping her a lot in his own way. Her few relationships are strained- like the political life in South Africa at that time. On top of her cancer and the pain it gives her- she has to deal with the problems that these people are causing her. But she rises to the occasion.
It's a great novel dealing with the perennial themes of life and death, and freedom of course. And the inherent goodness of (some?) human beings despite their personal problems.
After reading this novel, I'm encouraged to seek other books he's written. I recommend it.
Nice review, Manuel. Age of Iron is one Coetzee that I have not read yet. But I agree with your assessment of the merit of his writing.
At least you're continually reading something, so you can still read a large amount of books this year. I'm looking for a local book group to be motivated to read also in busy times - but until so far that was a futile attempt.
I haven't read anything by Coetzee so far, but Age of Iron sounds very interesting and I'll definitely keep that in mind! I want to read something about the Apartheid-regime (fiction as well as non-fiction) and this book sounds like a good "getting in touch" with the topic. Nelson Mandela's biography is on my reading list, too.
As far as literature prizes are concerned: Yes, you're right, they are not the measure of all things! :) But I think they are a good way of putting up literature for discussion and to draw attention to books by "newer" authors (ok, maybe that is not true for the Nobel Prize, but there are many others). I got to know a few authors, because they won a prize - and just loved the books. (But of course, there's at least the same amount of books where I couldn't understand why exactly this one was awarded.)
And if a literary prize is allowed to be political - that must be questioned!
Have a nice weekend!
Book #5 - White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
While reading a book called Eight White Nights for a reading group at the library, that I was finding was getting stretched a bit too long, i recalled having read a few years back a similar story by Dostoyevsky called White Nights. Similar in title and the general plot of a boy who falls in love with a girl from the moment that he unexpectedly meets her. The surrounding circumstances are different, also Dostoyevsky's has four chapters named after each nigh and the modern one doubles the nights and chapters to eight. The narrative takes different direction of course. After all one is written 150 after the other, and very likely got its inspiration from the earlier one. I will write a commentary on both when I finish Eight White Nights
White Nights has the typical Dostoyevskyan desstitute characters, in this case two. The boy, whose name is not mentioned and who is the narrator, sees a girl one night, crying and seemingly going to jump off a bridge. When she sees him she starts walking away and although he was immediately attracted to her, he did not want to appear he was following her, plus he feared talking to her. But a few blocks away she is attacked by a man and the boy comes to her rescue. That's the beginning of four nights of meetings with her.
Through the story we find out that the boy is an extremely timid person who does not communicate with people. He also has not been with a girl ever, not even to talk to her (I think he is 26). He goes out often but does not talk to people. A large part of the story deals with his state of mind in trying to talk to Nastenka (that's the girl's name). Of course, being Dostoyevsky characters they are in extremely poor circumstances.
Other characters mentioned in the story are Nastenka's grandmother, who is blind and pins her dress to Nastenka's so she stays with her. This is bizarre. Also a boy who lives upstairs of Nastenka and her grandmother's apartment. Nastenka had fallen in love with the boy but he had left a year before the story beging, with a promise to come back to marry Nastenka in a year's time. This is the source of Nastenka's distress.
This is all I am going to say about the story itself. The writing and characters, as I said above, are purely Dostoyevsky. The downtrodden Russian common man of the 19th century. All in all I recommend reading this story. It's short, obviously and does not take much time. If you haven't read any Dostoyevsky, this short story is a good introduction to him- it will give you a real feeling for his writing style- you don't have to slog through Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov or any of his other books to find out this is not your cup of tea. However, Dostoyevsky's books have a lot of merit in themselves because of the way he deals with human and ethical issues generally.
it will give you a real feeling for his writing style- you don't have to slog through Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov or any of his other books to find out this is not your cup of tea.
Oh! so now you tell me! Just joking, Manuel :0)
I slogged through C & P years ago and right now I'm in quick sand with The Brothers.
Hope all is well with you. I know you're probably working too much but hoping you have a little time to relax with a good book.
Just able to finish a couple of books the last month. Both of them tied to book reading groups at the library. Were not for these groups, I probably would not have read much.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, one of my favorite authors. I had read Julius Caesar several times over the last few years but this is the first time that I had to pay close attention to all the characters, scenes and words, because I needed to be prepared to discuss and answer questions on it. Very different than reading just for entertainment- when you can gloss over difficult parts or don't feel a need to tie loose ends. Or even make sense out of the story or of many characters. But actually, since joining these groups at LT, I pretty much have to do the same thing- pay more attention and even take notes when reading a book. Which is good because I get more out of the reading.
Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi} is an interesting book. Also an assignment in a different reading group at the library. I just finished reading it last night and I need some time to think about it, before I draw any conclusions.
The story is very simple, and very different too. Takes place in a small town in the Hungary 'fin-de-siecle", at the turn of the 20th century. It centers on a family of three- the father is a retired archivist for the local government who spends his time doing genealogical research, the mother has not profession outside the house, and their daughter in her later twenties, who is very ugly physically. There is a shame among both parents for the lack of attractiveness of the daughter. So, they spend time by themselves, living a sad, dreary, boring life full of sacrifices (such as not enjoying decent food to save money). The daughter is sent away to visit her relatives in a different town, and during that week the parents go back to live the life they lead before their daughter was born, or when she was very young. They were eating out, staying out all night drinking (him), etc.
When the daughter returns, after a week. They go back to their earlier, normal and boring, daily routine. Just the three of them.
I think it's the guilt the parents feel about her ugliness that makes them behave that way. They are trying to hide her, and also by not exposing her to beautiful things, like good, elegant food, her ugliness will not be as pronounced. By avoiding those contrasts, she will feel more acceptable.
I would recommend reading Skylark. Although it takes a while getting used to all the Hungarian names because even though it's a short novel, only about 200 pages, it probably names upwards of 50 different people. None of them named John or Mary, but rather Priboczay or Szunyogh; not only difficult to read much less pronounce because of the lack of vowels, but also most of them multisyllabic. There was only one woman with a name recognizable by us Americans, her name was Olga. Nice, easy to say and remember Russian name.
I enjoyed Skylark when I read it. The Hungarian town is in present-day Serbia so I used it for Serbia in my Europe Endless Challenge even though it was in Hungary at the time of writing.
Lori, I can see why you may have enjoyed Skylark, not that I didn't; your interest in genealogy sympathizes with Akos, the main character, since he is also involved in genealogy.
Book #8 - Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
This book caught my attention after reading a book review in last Saturday's paper. It tells the story of Shin In Geun, a young North Korean who escaped and now lives in the U.S. What made his story more compelling than others of North Korean defectors, is that he was born and raised in a prison camp- so-called Camp 14 about 18 miles north of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
Both his parents, and an older brother, were also prisoners in the camp. Their crime had been the escape of the father's brother to South Korea. Apparently it's common practice in the North Korean regime to imprison as suspects all the relatives of a defector, because they can't be trusted or perhaps were involved in the escape. Young Shin was born in the camp but there is little he knows or tells about his parents. Other than when he was 13 years old, he snitched to his teacher that both his mother and brother were planning to escape. As a consequence they are apprehended and killed. Of course, the cruelty of North Korea means that the son and the father, who are not implicated in the planned escape, are forced to watch the public hanging of the mother, and the execution by shooting of the brother. Young Shin does not feel any remorse, a reason he snitched on them is that would assure him a larger portion of food perhaps. Hunger is the driving force of all his actions, and those of all prisoners as well as most North Koreans it seems.
Conditions in the camp were brutal, typical of communist regimes or dictatorships that treat prisoners worse than animals. Prisoners are made to work long hours under iinhumane conditions, they can't trust anybody since they know another prisoner may turn them in. The shocking thing is that a lot of the experiences Shin has he sees them as normal- he is not exposed to anything else. His education is very limited, has no knowledge whatsoever of the outside world, does not have any feelings for anybody good or bad. There is no love or hate in him, just a desire to get food to satisfy his hunger.
After his escape, that is aided by a number of helpful coincidences, he has trouble adjusting to the civilized world. Although he appears to be doing OK so far, he continues to have a hard time fitting in.
Aside from the story, that is the main argument for reading this book, the writing seems rather forensic and very descriptive. The author is a newspaper correspondent and, obviously after reading this book, I don't classify as a literary person. It's worthwhile reading the book as it opens one's eyes to the real brutality of the North Korean regime, similar to that of a few other places whose leaders do not allow for dissent from the regime's views like, closer to us, Cuba.
Excellent review of Escape from Camp 14, Manuel. That's definitely one for my wish list.
What a sad And brutal childhood. It appears as if all one's humanity is stripped away. Yours is a fine review Manuel but I think i'll take a pass on this one. I can't bear it when children can watch their family members Put to death And stand by emotionless.
#36 - I am glad you pointed out The Aquarium of Pyongyang that is a book that I want to read soon, since it's one of the books I read an excerpt of in the book From the Gulag to the Killing fields. The latter is a compilation of extracts or summaries of a large number of stories from numerous individuals who have suffered imprisonment under the world's communist regimes (Soviet Union of course, but also Poland, Hungary, China, Cuba, etc.)
Book No. 9 - Love and Summer by William Trevor
Initially I wasn't too enthusiastic about this book, one of the readings in my local library's book club. The title spoke to me something like 'cheese romance novel.' Even my daughter, who is back home from India waiting to start school in the Fall, made a snide comment about my reading habits!
However, as I started reading I realized that it was a different kind of novel. The beginning has a totally unexpected twist. Even though the plot is not unusual, Trevor carries it out magnificently. Unlike most modern novels where selfishness and immoral pleasures win the day, in this novel it's duty and responsibility the ones who win.
Further, I found it very refreshing to read a book void of four-letter words, foul language and pornographic scenes. I contrast this novel to Franzen's The Corrections or Freedom, both hailed as the Great American Novel by critics at the NYT or Esquire, where the preponderance of foul language made me wonder about Franzen's ability to write without resorting to shocking language, that after a while ceased to be shocking.
Back to Love and Summer, I recommend it.
Wow, Manuel and Darryl, you both have me wanting to read Love and Summer. Funny how some people may think that foul language is groundbreaking, but to express oneself in common language is so much more eloquent and straight forward IMO. An explitive can mean many things to many people.
I'm happy to see that you have time to attend your book club, Manuel! Have a great day.
Book # 10 - A Meaningful Life by L. J. Davis
Although I had never heard of Davis, an American author, I picked up this book in my last trip to Cambridge because I was intrigued by the title.
The story left a lot to be desired, it's not a satisfying one. The main character, Lower Lake is his name, is not very pleasant or attractive; neither are most others. Lowell seems to spend his life thinking about the purpose of it, but never doing anything about it. Whenever he does something, it's an impulse without much thought, like when he buys a dilapidated house in Brooklyn in order to restore it (this novel deals with the gentrification movement of the 60s and 70s when a lot of whites moved to black slums).
He lets things happen, to the point that the reader wonders whether Lowell has any redeeming quality. Even though he appears to be bright, after all he went to Stanford and was accepted at Berkeley for graduate school, he does not think things through. He is very introverted too and lets others take advantage and abuse him. While reading the novel I wanted to take him by the shoulders, shake him up and yell at him to wake up, to take control of his life. But he is hopeless.
Life just passes him by. One bad decision, or indecision, after another.
The writing itself is very good, I thought.
Book # 11 - Midnight in Peking by Paul French
A review of this book in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago drove me to purchase it, since I'm always interested in all kinds of Chinese history. It deals with the unsolved mystery of the murder of a young English girl, Pamela Werner who was in her late teens, in Beijing (Peking in the old ways) in 1937. This was a period of great turmoil in China. After the fall of the Imperial system in 1911, that was replaced by a short-lived Republic turning into a struggle among many factions, China was invaded by the Japanese in the early 1930s. Among all the confusion of the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Check fighting the Japanese and the nascent Communists under Mao Tse Tung, plus a number of warlords dominating cities or sections of the country, a discovery is made in Beijing of the body of a murder victim.
An investigation ensues with a Chinese detective and a British one leading it. You know that things will not turn out well when you find out that the Chinese detective can't go into the 'foreign compound" (called a legation that was a walled-in district where most foreigners lived and the Chinese couldn't go in unless they had a permission and special purpose). So the Chinese detective can't interrogate any British or foreign persons. Similarly, the British detective in charge is forbidden to go outside the foreign legation and get involved in the investigation among the Chinese population. Although he does a remarkable job of ignoring that command.
In the end, the investigation does not solve the crime. But the author does a good job of linking events and people together to arrive at a reasonable, although never verifiable, solution.
I would recommend this story with a warning. The crime is pretty gruesome and even though the descriptions are very forensic, there is still the mental image one forms when reading it.
Book # 12 - Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
A "business" trip to Napa gave me some free time to read- both on the way out there and return.
I became interested in this novel after my latest re-read of Madame Bovary, and it was worthwhile reading. Partly because it dealt with some detail on the revolution of 1848 in France, one of several European countries with uprisings against the governments in that year, and partly because it was very well written. My edition of the novel is one of Barnes & Noble Classics books, that I like because they typically have a good introduction plus plenty of footnotes and end notes. In this case, both were useful both for explaining some events and identifying the 'real' personages that populate the novel.
The core of the novel hinges around the growth of a young man, Frederic Moreau, who wants to move up in the world of society. Born in the small town of Nogent, with limited means, sees as his way to prosper by engaging or marrying a woman of means. At the same time, he feels that he must get a mistress- preferably of means too, naturally. He goes through several liasons and his passion for them ebbs and flows depending on how much they seem to have. His indecision leads him to missing on the best opportunity he had when he decides to marry a neighbor girl of his when they were young children, only to find out that she is marrying one of his friends.
Typical of most 18th or 19th century European novels, the characters see either an inheritance or marriage the ways to become rich. It's hardly ever hard work or dedication, but rather an unexpected turn of luck when one of their uncles dies and leaves them a rich inheritance. It's a perverse way of looking at the world. I see today's equivalent in the hope many people put on winning the lottery. Also, business people are most often depicted as not honorable people- they gain at the expense of others or society.
Back to the novel. I found it generally very engaging and a fast read. Although it's long (the B&N version is about 480 pages of small script) I couldn't put it down and had to figure out ways to get back to reading it.
I own L'education sentimental by Flaubert, but until so far I haven't had the courage to read it (because it's in French). I like your review a lot and maybe I will try to read the book soon!
And I just love editions which contain additional material about the book, its author and its time. Especially French editions give a lot of background information which helps understanding the book better. I haven't seen that in many English books - and in Germany that tradition simply doesn't exist.
Book # 13 - Cicero by Anthony Everitt
A trip to Austin (with one of my daughters to find housing for her since she's moving there to go to school in the fall) gave me free time to read. I took with me this biography of Cicero since I wanted to find out more about him, his life and his writings.
As far as biography-writing goes, this is a very well written and engaging one. It provides a wealth of information about Cicero's personal and professional lives, that give a well-rounded view of Cicero and his times. Luckily for the author, and us of course, Cicero was a prolific writer of letters- particularly to his friend Atticus who actually preserved them. The narrative is interspersed with a large number of quotes taken from those letters; they give a very contemporary, human view of Cicero. The author thus depicts Cicero as a 'real' human being with traits and weaknesses common to all of us.
I found very valuable the author's discussions of the politics, and the social and political structure of the day. After all, Cicero lived at one of the most significant moments of human history- the assassination of Julius Caesar and the fall of the Roman republic and beginning of the Roman imperial period. Cicero is shown as the prominent lawyer he was, as well as the most important politician of his time. He had a good sense of humor that often got him into trouble because he used it in his legal defenses to attach the opponents.
A lot of Cicecro's writings are available electronically in the "Project Gutenberg" website. If you have not seen it, you must since it has a huge collection of writings by thousands of authors- all free for download either in epub or kindle editions. I have read several of Cicero's philosophical essays since then.
I recommend this book to anybody who likes biography and enjoys reading history books.
Book # 14 - Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
On that recent trip to Austin I stayed at a B&B for the first time in my life. Turned out to be a great idea- much better than a hotel. Being there reminded me of this French novel, where most of the action takes place in a rooming house. Thus I decided to read it again- it's always good to read certain novels in our youth as well as our later years.
It's a sad novel. Pere Goriot (Father Goriot) has sacrificed all his wealth for his two daughters, who married a count and a well-to-do banker. Both disliked their father-in-law and forbid their respective wives to have any contact with the father. Goriot dreams and dies to have contact with them, which he does on occasion but surreptitiously. In the end, Pere Goriot dies destitute without seeing his daughters one more time. One of the principal characters is a young student, who had come to Paris to study law, but spent his time trying to move up the societal echelons (thus his friendship and love affair with one of the daughters). The novel is also about his turn around into a person that is concerned about his fellow human beings; losing interest in the material gains and lifestyle of the aristocracy.
In one respect, the novel has traces of King Lear- except that the father has only two daughters who are wont not to recognize him and abuse him. There is no Cordelia in Pere Goriot to make amends for the other two unfaithful daughters.
The only other one I've read is Eugene Grandet- many years ago so it's time to read it again. I need to get back to Zola and finish reading the Rougon-Marquart novels.
Book # 15. Single & Single by John Le Carre
Although I am a fan of Le Carre's fiction, not an idolizing one, I had never heard of this novel. After reading it I realized why- it's not one of his best. In fact, I'd classify it one of the worst, among those I've read of course.
The demise of the Soviet Union took away Le Carre's main source for his novels. But in this one he brings in the conversion of the Soviet Union to a (criminal) capitalist society favoring politically-connected individuals giving us the now famous "Russian Oligarchs." Also, it has money laundering, Russian mafias, drug trafficking and other sundry items to weave a very convoluted story.
In my opinion Single & Single is a far cry from Le Carre's better know novels such as The Spy who came in from the cold, The tailor from Panama, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I would not have read it were it not that I purchased it at a hefty discount in Milwaukee's Half-Price Books for $1.00.
Book # 16 - Founding Federalist - The Life of Oliver Ellsworth by Michael C. Toth
This is one of a series of books published by ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute) covering the "lesser known" founding fathers. Besides this one, four volumes have been issued previously; they cover the lives of Luther Martin, Gouverneur Morris, Nathanael Greene and Charles Carroll. These books provide thorough, yet fairly brief biographies of the subjects. They are a refreshing alternative to the current tendency of publishing extensive biographies running to nearly 1,000 pages covering every single detail of a person's life, most of which is immaterial and of little value.
Reading these biographies has given me a greater appreciation for the lives of the Founding Fathers. They were, for the most part, very remarkable individuals. They were very loyal individuals who had the interests of their country at heart. The majority were principled individuals with high moral standards. Such is the case, particularly, of Oliver Ellsworth.
Born in Connecticut, he always considered his state, and more so his town and home, the best place on earth. A lawyer by trade, even though his father had originally sent him to school to be a minister, He went to Yale College first and upon graduation went to the College of New Jersey (Princeton now). Among his classmates wasalso the founder Luther Martin, James Madison, William Paterson, Aaron Burr and Henry Lee were others attending Princeton at about the same time. Upon graduation he returned to Connecticut where he practice law for a few years. He married the young, 16 year-old Abigail Wolcott, 11 years younger than him. He remained married and loyal to her till his death.
During the revolutionary war he was in the Continental Congress very much involved in the nascent courts of appeals.They were the predecessors of the Federal Court system that would be set up, partly by Ellsworth, after the nation's founding.
He was appointed a representative from Connecticut to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He was very active in the discussions although he left the convention two weeks before the Constitution was signed. All the work had been done by then. During the convention, he sought to bring harmony among the various participants trying to balance the interests of the large states (e.g. Virginia) with those of the small ones such as Connecticut. We know the result of those discussions.
After the Constitution was signed and passed on to the states for ratification, he was very much involved in his states ratification process. Defending fervently the Constitution even though during the Convention he may not have agreed to all that was finally on it. He became one of the two Senators from Connecticut representing the first Congress. There he was instrumental in setting up the new nation's judiciary system. The Constitution itself only gave the general responsibility of the judicial power (in Article III) leaving the formation and boundaries to be set up by congress as it was needed. Ellsworth's role is crucial in determining the form and role of our federeal court system. He was afterwards appointed the first Chief Justice by President Washington.
He was the first Chief Justice to administer the oath of office of a president- in this case John Adams. Shortly after, Adams names him to be a commissioner to seek a negotiation with France. France at that time was not too pleased with the United States. Even though since the revolutionary war, both France and the US had maintained close relations, the signing of a peace treaty with England (the Jay Treaty) made the French very nervous and felt that we had betrayed them. Thus, the French navy started attacking US commercial vessels- in one year they capture more than 300. Ellsworth's role in achieving a treaty with France to solve these issues was crucial.
This was the last act he had on national politics. He retired to his home state where he died at the age of 64.
Just stopping by to see how your summer's been going, Manuel. It's good to see you're finding some time away from your busy schedule to get in some reading.
Hi Linda, this week I found a lot of time- I decided to come along with my daughter to Austin, where she's starting graduate school in September, since she was moving here. So I took a week's vacation and came down by train. The ride was a about 32 hours from Chicago, plus another 1.5 from Milwaukee to Chicago. There was plenty of time to read and I finished a couple of novels that I will comment on later on (Eugenie Grandet and The Deserted Woman, both by Balzac). Plus I did start reading the Politics by Aristotle- now the latter is more of a long-term reading since it requires more studying than simple reading.
Book # 17. Eugenie Grandet by Pere Goriot
Although I had read this book many years ago, I did not remember much of the story. Actually, the only thing I remembered was the title and author, so reading it was a new discovery.
The story revolves naturally around Eugenie herself. She is the sole heir of a miserly wealthy man who lives in a small town in France called Saumur. Also in the house live the servant, named Nanon but referred as Le Grand Nanon and his wife. Monsieur Grandet makes the three women suffer immensely by his miserly behavior. They are in continuous fear of him except that Eugenie loves him as he is her father.
Two neighbors of the Grandets, the des Grassins and the Cruchots de Bonfons both have male sons who they want to marry Eugenie, so they can get her inheritance. Even though the Grandets live in near destitute conditions, it's well known that he is very wealthy.
During a birthday party for Eugenie, when both the Cruchots and the des Grassins have come, a cousin of Eugenie unexpectedly arrives from Paris. He is a good looking (what else?) young man with impecable manners. Eugenie is immediately taken aback by him and falls in love, although she does not realize it. The cousin, Charles, is shocked by the poor conditions of his relatives and the dismal house. He does not know that his father has sent him to the country because he (his father that is), has become bankrupt and commits suicide. Eugenie's father realizes that he make a lot of money by taking advantage of his brother's bankruptcy. He sends either M. Cruchot or M. Des Grssins (I don't remember who) to Paris to straightened out the situation- offering to pay up his brothers debts. He acquires all the bills at 46 cents on the Franc and resells them at higher price but does not make good on his offer to clear his brother's name.
The cousin Charles is sent to the Indies (Americas) to make his fortune but before this, he and Eugenie spend a few blissful days falling in love. After a few years Charles returns, wealthy but not in love anymore. He is interested in gaining a position of respect in Paris and finds a suitable, noble girl to marry. Meanwhile, while Charles is in the Indies, Eugenie's mother and father die and she becomes a very wealthy women. She starts acquiring a lot of her father's traits- mainly his miserliness. She still lives in the same decrepit house squeezing money from all people. When she finds out that Charles is back and is going to marry another girl, she does a noble act and spends money to clear Charles name and reputation, by clearing all his debts, so he can marry.
Eugenie does marry the son of the Cruchots, but the marriage is inconsequential since the wedding is not consummated by one of her conditions. Also, she ends up inheriting all her husbands wealth since he dies very young. At the end, we see Eugenie as a very wealthy and happy 33 year old wooman.
I found this a very enjoyable story. All the characters are very well described- Balzac is a master of giving well rounded profiles of the characters. Similar to Pere Goriot, the novel also gives a fukll sense of life in the France of the first half of the 19th century.
Book # 18. The Deserted Woman by Honore de Balzac
I decided to read this one since it was fairly short and I was going to be on the train only for a short time. The novel was the right size to finish before I arrived at my destination (I was on the sleeper Amtrak train, the Texas Eagle, on my way from Milwaukee to Austin).
Unlike Eugenie Grandet described above, this one does not have a happy ending. Gaston de Nueil, a noble young man comes to the country to cure himself of some sickness. He is staying with some relatives who live a peaceful quiet existence that should help him recover. There he makes acquaintances of all the levels of society and learns about Mme. de Beauseant who is living a solitary life since she had an affair with a man despite being married. Somehow, young Gaston becomes terribly enamoured of the Madame and starts trying to meet her. She never goes out and does not take visitors. In the end, he is succesful in meeting with her and becoming her lover. They move to Austria for a few years where they lead an idyllic, albeit illicit, life. After a few years she decides they must return to Paris.
Gaston's mother naturally does not approve of this relationship and is successful in driving her son towards a young heiress, who is quite wealthy and would make a good wife for him. He marries her and is not happy with his lot. Mme. De Beauseant has rejected him and he is despondent. He ends up shooting himself with his hunting rifle.
This novel is interesting because of the way Balzac shows young romantic love, that is willing to give up everything. The story is interspersed with several letters written by Gaston or Mme. De Beauseant to each other.
I found one phrase at the beginning of the story quite attractive:
"All little towns are alike, save for a few local customs"
Sounds like Tolstoy paraphrased this in his introduction sentence to Anna Karenina.
Book # 19. The Twilight Years by Sawako Ariyoshi
As the title suggests, this is a novel about old age. But more than old age it's about caring for elderly, senile parents in Japan. Although this is a problem faced by many people in the U.S. already, it's a critical issue in the Japan of today. Compare these figures on the percent of populations that is 65 years or older:
That is, in Japan nearly one of every four people is 65 or older. That means they are not working and will likely need some kind of assistance in the future. Note that despite China's percentage being significantly lower than the US's, its situation will worsen very rapidly. High immigration rates in the US are keeping the number of young persons increasing. While in China with its one-child per family policy the number of young people is distressingly small.
Back to the story. It's about Akiko, a woman whose mother-in-law dies unexpectedly. Since her in-laws had moved to her house a few years back (actually, they had built a small cottage for the in-laws in their property), her father-in-law remains living there. Pretty soon it's apparent that Shigezo, the father-in-law, is senile and his wife (the mother-in-law now dead) had taken care of him and hid the problem from others. Now Akiko, her husband Nobutoshi and their son Satoshi are having to take care of him. But in reality Akiko is the one who bears the full burden.
The narrative movingly depicts the deterioration of Shigezo and the mental and physical stress of Akiko in trying to care for him. She's balancing house duties with her responsibilities at the office where she works. The author vividly shows the rigid attitudes of males in Japan and the high moral response of Akiko. Over time, Akiko begins to turn her duty into compassion and perhaps love for her father-in-law Shigezo.
This is a very moving book that tells the story of the situation that we are all facing, or will face, without resorting so much to the financial burdens of caring for an elderly, sick person. The focus is on the moral and filial responsibilities that seem to be such a rarity nowadays. The author is a woman who, naturally, can tell such a story with greater sensibility than I'd think a male author would.
I'd recommend this book highly for several reasons. One is the realistic way she treats the subject of senility. Second for the sensible manner in which she deals with the feelings and actions of the characters. Lastly for her depiction of the Japanese character, both male and female as well as the relationships between generations.
Very nice reviews, Manuel. The Twilight Years sounds highly interesting, so I'll look for it ASAP.
Book # 20 - Disobedience by Jane Hamilton
It seems that the only way I can find time to read is the duty enforced by belonging to a library reading group. This the first book of the Fall reading season. And a good one at that.
One of the reasons I joined a reading group, which is overwhelmingly populated by women, is that I'd be introduced and read books that I normally would not think about reading. My preference is to stay with the classics. This is not a classic but, nonetheless, is an entertaining read that has a lot of merit.
The story revolves around a family whose members are not really that attached to each other. The father is a high school history teacher with very progressive ideas, so much so that he was fired from his job in Vermont and thus the family moves to Chicago. His character is not very well delineated in the novel- he seems to be mostly a shadow. The mother is a very capable woman (the author is a woman, no great surprise here says I, the cynical reviewer) who is a great piano player and has an affair with a violin maker who lives alone, in a cabin, in a small town in rural Wisconsin. The other two characters are the son, who is the narrator and is the eyes in the story- everything is seen through his eyes. And the daughter who tends to be a tomboy and is obsessed with the Civil War. Both she and her father go to civil war re-enactments throughout the country.
Ooops, I have to get ready to go to work. I'll finish this later
Back to the review!
The son narrator discovers very early that his mother is having the affair. This occurred when he was helping her set her email account. So, from that point on, we learn about the ins and outs of the affair through the son reading her emails, both to the violin-maker lover and her friend Jane.
Book # 21. 41 Stories by O. Henry
I had never read O. Henry although from time to time I'd wanted to do so. Why? I guess because annually one hears about the O. Henry prize for the best short stories. I picked this book while visiting the O. Henry house-museum in Austin last month. It turns out it was a good purchase.
The stories are well written and satisfying to read. None of the post-modernist approach of unresolved, and oftentimes hard to follow plots. All the characters are well defined in the essentials needed for the specific story. The plots move along clearly well and, even though it seems impossible near the end, they all have a good resolution. For the most part they are 'feel good' reading. Some of them are very funny too. He has a knack for writing phrases, and making people speak, using words that are inappropriate but convey the meaning in a very humorous way. One I remember is when a person wants to look at the time in his watch, O. Henry says 'he interrogates his enormous gold watch.' There are many others too, unfortunately I did not write them down.
I'd recommend O. Henry to anybody- as long as one likes short stories (my wife for some reason I can't fathom does not like short stories at all). I will definitely seek more of his stories and very like re-read some from this book.
*waving* at Manuel
#58: I read a book of O. Henry's short stories a few years ago and very much enjoyed it. I am glad to see that you appreciate his writing too.
Book #23 - The Shell of Sense by Olivia Howard Dunbar
I knew nothing about this author until I received a PDF copy of this short story from the Library of America. I just found out recently that you can subscribe to the LoA for a free, weekly email linking to a story out of its editions. A nice way to read literature without spending too much effort or money.
Dunbar wrote stories for American magazines at the turn of the 20th century.
This is a story from the point of a ghost, a dead woman. She sees her husband and her sister and becomes very jealous of them. Initially dislikes what she sees and disapproves of the relation. But as she starts to see them, and hear their conversation, she comes to realize that her husband loved her and was very faithful to her while she was alive. And her sister, also loves her enormously, and misses her. At one point, both her husband and sister are ready to say goodbye to each other and go their own ways, not to blemish the woman'smemory. But the woman-ghost then realizes that all her assumptions were wrong and she makes it possible for both of them (husband and sister) to see the light and come together. The end.
Book # 24 Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig
This is a story of persevering love, despite all circumstances. A young man moves to live with his employer, the young man is relatively poor but very intelligent. He falls in love with his employer's wife, and she does with him. For a while the mutual attraction is not openly revealed, thought it's apparently real. At just the time they recognize it and are making a vow to live together, his employer sends him to Mexico for a few months, for a very significant business transaction. While there the First World War breaks out and he loses contact with her, communications are broken. As time goes by he marries in Mexico and has a family but after some years he returns home. He seeks her by going to her old home and finds that everything is seemingly the same, although she is now a widow. The try to follow on their earlier plans of going to live together. They travel by train to another town, check into a hotel. But then he remembers the lines from a French poem that she had read to him earlier, when he was living in their house, the lines said:
"In the old park, in ice and snow caught fast
Two spectres walk, still searching for the past"
And he realizes that he can not return to what was then. They realize they are not the same as they were and can not relive the past.
Zweig was a very popular German-language author in the first half of the 20th century. He escaped Nazi Germany and moved first to the United States and then to Brazil. But in Brazil, despite being able to live in luxury in a resort town, he was away from society he was used to. He ended his life by inexplicably committing suicide jointly with his second wife.
Nice review of Journey Into the Past, Manuel; it's one of my favorite novellas by Stefan Zweig.
That's one I haven't read yet, although I have read and enjoyed a number of books by Zweig. I'll have to look for it.
Book #25 - La Orgia Perpetua (The Perpetual Orgy) by Mario Vargas Llosa
This is a long essay on critcism of the novel Madame Bovary by Flaubert. Vargas Llosa describes it as the "novel that changed his life." Having discovered and read it when young, he's gone back to read it many times are in full or just parts of it. Each time he reads it, he says, he has enjoyed it infinitely because of "its solid construction, its clean and effective style and the innumerable suggestions and ramifications" that such a tragic story originates.
The book is divided into three sections, the first one of which is the easiest and most enjoyable to read. It deals with the influence that the novel Madame Bovary has in Vargas Llosa himself. it's a subjective evaluation of the novel's impact on him. The second part explores the structure of the novel, while the third part addresses the role of Madame Bovary as the first novel of the modern era. As I said, the last two parts tended to be more technical (and dry). Nonetheless, if one likes Vargas Llosa, one must struggle through it.
Would I recommend it for you to read? Not really- unless you are a literature major or want to understand more deeply the novel itself. As for myself, I definitely want to read Madame Bovary again but for enjoyment in reading it, and not for analyzing it.
Note: I'm only to my 25th book this year, I should have signed up with a different group! But I'm retiring next year so I'll have more time to read. Watch out Darryl, Stasia, Lynda, Rebecca, Calm and all of you who have intimidated me by your voracious reading habits! I'll catch up with you.
#61: If you have not read Zweig's autobiography, Manuel, I recommend it. It is entitled The World of Yesterday.
#64: You cannot be intimidated by my reading habits here lately! I am spending too much time on schoolwork :)
Stasia, I just read a commentary on that autobiography of his, it intrigued me. But i want to read a few more of his books before I jump into it.
I understand that! I hope you do get around to reading it one of these days though - maybe when you retire next year?
But I'm retiring next year so I'll have more time to read.
He, he, he, Or so you think (hope), Manuel!! YEt, consider this, you may not have read 75 books each year but the quality of your reads has been astonishing! In any case, I'm glad to see you that you'll soon have more leisure time to pursue all the activities you most enjoy!
I realliy need to read, Zweig, and Journey into the Past sounds like a good place to begin.
It's interesting that Vargas Llosa loves Madame Bovary since he is one of my favorite authors and yet my two readings of MB have left me cold.
And while I'm honored that you think I'm in the same league as Stasia, Darryl, and Linda, I can't keep up with them!
>64 Watch out Darryl, Stasia, Lynda, Rebecca, Calm and all of you who have intimidated me by your voracious reading habits! I'll catch up with you.
Ha! I accept your challenge, sir, and we'll see who comes out on top at the end of 2013. ;-)
Manuel it is not about the numbers and I must admit that the books you read intimidate me - there is a lot of quality reading going on here.
Good luck with the rest of the year and I wish you a happy book filled retirement
BTW ... I hope this makes you feel a little better about feeling intimidated ... I have only managed to finish 2 books, so far, this month ... and one of those I started in September:)
Thanks for the encouragement.
Few books I've read this year, however I continue acquiring books at the same rate as before, accumulating more "to be read" in the future books. Yesterday I went to Milwaukee and picked up in B&N three books:
"A Treasury of Royal Scandals" by Michael Farquhar. This is a collection of the naughty behavior of queens, kings, etc. through the ages. Reading totally for meaningless amusement.
"The Fall of Troy" by Quintus of Smyrna. As far as I can tell by glancing at the table of conents this is a story in verse, written as a sequel to The Iliad- what happens after the fall of Troy to the Greeks?
"The Ghosts of Cannae" by Robert O'Connell. This is a (sort of) military history, Not necessarily my favorite genre, but it deals with Hannibal's victory over the Romans in Cannae. You may recall from high school history something about the Punic wars, between Carthage and Rome, and of Hannibal and his elephants beating the Romans. This book centers in the most famous of those battles, and defeats, by Hannibal. Despite this lss, as we know, the Romans ended up winning over the Carthaginias, destroying Carthage, and becoming the dominant force in the Mediterranean.
Book #26 - All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Although this is the third time I read this novel. First time was way back in college. The second time a few years ago when the Sean Penn movie came out. And this third time as one of the selections in a library reading club.
i should say that all three times I've enjoyed the novel tremendously. Unquestionably, Penn Warren is an excellent writer. Reading his phrases and sentences is a joy- his use of language to express thoughts and ideas, and to narrate events is rich.
This is a historical novel, in a sense. It's the story of Huey Long the political boss of Louisiana in the 1920s and 1930s who under the guise of being a progressive was also very corrupt. The novel is rich in characters and their personnas are defined very well by Penn Warren.
Penn Warren does portray that Louisiana way of acting and feeling very well. When one is reading it one feels like you are there, in the deep South.
I like to read historical novels. However, what disturbs me is that I generally don't know what is true and what is not. A good writer will capture the essence of the individual actors, the real ones- but it's hard to say when that is happening. I'd like to hear your opinion on this. Do we care about this? That is, what is the borderline between historical truth and fiction? Who is the real person the one painted by historians or the one depicted by novelists and fiction writers? Does it matter?
Whatever your thoughts and ideas, I highly recommend this book
Book #27 - Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
This is one of the books assigned in another library reading group- this one concentrates in the Great Books.
Every time I read one of these books I again realize why they are called Great Books- because they are simply great. It treats within a mythological story the great themes of humankind. In this case, it's the wrath of Zeus because his once friend Prometheus opposes him by getting humans out of their dark condition (not knowing how to think, communicate and above all make fire), while Zeus wanted to destroy the human race. Although it's not clear from the play why Zeus would want to do that, it shows that Zeus like all powerful persons wanted to impose his will not matter how irrational it was not what the result would be.
Thus Zeus has Hephaestus (better known as Vulcan in Roman mythology) bind Prometheus to a rock in a desolate place- somewhere outside of Greece towards the Caucasos it seems.
The story hinges on the fact that Prometheus knows that the days of Zeus are numbered but won't tell Zeus' messengers despite his suffering.
All in all, it's an enjoyable read that does not take much time reading However, a lot of time may be spent trying to figure out a lot about the background of the story that is not readily known to us modern men, but it was well known to the typical Greek of the time.
Book #29 - Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
Another assigned book from one of the library reading groups I joined this year (it's the only way I am forced to find time to read!!!
This is a fictionalized account of the lives of two men in the early 20th century, Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and George Edalji, a young attorney whose father was Indian from Bombay (now Mumbai) and a Scottish mother. Edalju was wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit and partly due to racism evidence is mounted against him. Conan Doyle uses his deductive powers, and his famous name, to assist in clearing George's name.
The story is similar to that of Captain Dreyfus about the same time in France, a few earlier in fact, In this case, the French writer Emile Zola gave his name and reputation to help clear Dreyfus name.
Back to the Barnes novel. It's an interesting story, well told although sometimes it gets to be a little boring because he brings in too many names and details that are only remotely needed to carry the story forward. Also, in the first 100 pages or so the author follows the annoying practice of dedicating a few paragraphs to the life of George, switching to a few paragraphs about Arthur. With appropriate headings. So we have the title "George" with 2-3 paragraphs describing some stage in his growth, followed by the title "Arthur" with 2-3 paragraphs about Arthur's growth at the same period. The switching occurs, as I said, for about the first 100 pages but it got very annoying and disturbing.
Good Monday to you, Manuel.
I very much enjoyed your comments on All The Kings Men. I have a copy of this novel on my bookshelf and should try to slip it into my reading schedule in the coming year.
I like to read historical novels. However, what disturbs me is that I generally don't know what is true and what is not. A good writer will capture the essence of the individual actors, the real ones- but it's hard to say when that is happening. I'd like to hear your opinion on this. Do we care about this? That is, what is the borderline between historical truth and fiction? Who is the real person the one painted by historians or the one depicted by novelists and fiction writers? Does it matter?
Oh boy, Truth! I hold to the idea that if a historical novel is regarded as historical fiction then almost anything goes and one should expect the truth to be stretched in any number of directions. A reader should expect more truth in historical non-fiction, but even then, it's best to check a number of sources when scepticism exists. Also a knowledge of the author's agenda sometimes plays a part on how someone is represented.
I've read a few novels by Philippa Gregory and find her historical fiction to be entertaining even though I've been told she is not always accurate. But, again, if it's labeled fiction I just have fun with it.
Here is a quote from her website that explains the use of fiction when retelling a historical story.
Q. How much of what is written about the characters in the Boleyn series is fact and how much is fiction?
This is an almost impossible question to answer since each character and each novel is different. By and large the fiction fills in the gaps of the known historical record and brings it to life. In a story such as that of Elizabeth 1 when we know so much about what she thought and did the fiction animates the story that we know (and sometimes gives us a different slant on the well-known material) In a story like that of Mary Boleyn we know only the slimmest outline and the fiction fills in the gaps.
Book # 30 - Beware of Pity by Stefan Sweig
The more I read Zweig the more I like his writings. This particular one is a great novel I think. It has a strange beginning- strange because the narrative of the first few pages is ignored in the rest of the novel. It starts as a conversation that a character has with what he thought was a war hero (hero of Austrian army in the 1st world war). The "hero" starts narrating his story and that takes the rest of the book- Zweig never returns to the original character who listened to the story. Kind of strange I thought.
Nonetheless, the bulk of the story is great. Deals with the feelings and anguish of the young lieutenant who gets involved with a wealthy family, particularly with the crippled daughter, out of pity for the young girl. It's a fascinating novel following up on the sentimental dilemmas that the lieutenant has. At the beginning he is taken away by the fact that the family is treating him not as a soldier but as a real human being. His feelings and thoughts are appreciated by them. As the story evolves he is almost carrying two lives- one with the wealthy family, the Kekesfalvas, and the other with his fellow officers in the barracks who know very little about his doings with the Kekesfalvas, other than he apparently eats there every night and treats him well.
But as time goes, he realizes that he is driven by pity for the young girl. Also, the young girl has fallen in love with him, a feeling that he can't correspond. So he is torn by these feelings - loyalty to the family, but also repugnance to himself for taking advantage of them.
This is a great moral story. What is the duty of us humans? Do we only seek our own self-satisfaction or do we sacrifice for others? Especially for those less fortunate who have been dealt an unfair hand.
I wanted to read The World of Yesterday but it's not available in English translation inexpensively. I had looked at Barnes & Noble and there were copies of an old translation for about $80!!! However, I see that a new translation will be published shortly, I added it to my wish list in B&N.
Book #31 -- hmmm, I don't think I'll be able to hit 75 this year!
Cervantes Street by Jaime Manrique
A while back I had read a book review where the reviewer said he'd never been able to get past the first few chapters of Don Quijote, but thought that Manrique's book was the right introduction to Cervantes' masterpiece. It piqued my interest, even though I've read Don Quijote several times in my lifetime. I am glad I went ahead and read Manrique's book.
This is a somewhat true and at times very humorous narration of the life of Cervantes. The story follows the interconnected lives of two writers- Miguel de Cervantes himself and the presumed author of the apocryphal second part of Don Quijote that led Cervantes to actually write his own sequel or part 2 of Don Quijote. The lives of these two authors are told in the first person in intercepted chapters. Cervantes' known life events are told by Manrique very well, vividly embelished in many interesting ways. He captures his continuous struggles to make a living and become a successful and well known author, while often getting in trouble with the law. And Manrique invents Luis Lara, the character who writes the second Don Quijote under the name of Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda. He adds the interesting twist that both Miguel and Luis were friends in their youth, even though Luis was a nobleman while Cervantes was a commoner of (questionable) Jewish origin. But Luis comes to hate Miguel and spends the rest of his life thinking of ways to destroy Miguel.
Book No. 32 - The Murder of Roger Ackoryd by Agatha Christie
I've never been a fan of mystery novels, much less murder mysteries. Nonetheless I felt obliged to read this since it's one of the assignments at a library book club group.
Nothing much to say about it- it's well written and the dialogue interesting, even though often it becomes tedious. But in the end the murder is solved by Poirot, the wily Frenchman, so the reader can be reassured that all is well in the world. And, of course, the murderer is not the butler even though he was kind of suspicious character.
My only other comment is that I hope the club group does not pick another mystery novel.
Book No. 33 - Silence by Shusaku Endo
I am grateful to one LT reader, who I won't mention (Thanks Darryl!), for alerting me to this Japanese writer. This is a wonderful novel that deals with moral issues and the imposition or introduction of foreign religions to other lands. Specifically, it's about the reactions to Catholicism in feudal Japan. All from the perspective of one of the missionaries who had the fervor to bring salvation to the Japanese, only to find out that his message has to be delivered in hiding, lest the authorities find out and put him to prison and torture- which they eventually did.
Partly based on the true stories of missionaries who went to Japan in the 15th and 16th century, to be accepted initially but then brutally persecuted, expelled or most often killed. Many of the Japanese converted to Catholicism were also tortured and killed.
But the fascinating aspects of the novel are the mental moral dilemmas that the main character, Father Rodrigues, faces continuously under the pressure to apostatize his faith. Also, another interesting aspect are the discussions on whether the Catholic faith has to change to accommodate to what the author calls the "swamp of Japan."
All in all this is a novel that I would recommend highly. And I am in line to read more of Endo's books.
>84: I take it this was your first Christie? That wasn't her best book, but it's a Classic mystery... they're a different sort of beast than today's mysteries, with entirely different conventions appropriate for the time they were written. I'm an Agatha Christie fan myself, but I can see how someone coming to them for the first time without context might prefer... not to read another one. :)
hmmm, I don't think I'll be able to hit 75 this year! ..................And neither will I, Manuel. I suppose we can be considered the rebels, the non-conformists of the group. :0)
I happen to own but have not read The murder of Roger Ackoryd and I won't be in any hurry to do so. I buy and store Christie for when I want a light and easy mystery. So far that hasn't occured.
I've put Silence on my wishlist as I do not know much regarding this period of time nor much about Japan, actually, When one's only experience reading anything regarding Japan is Lost in Translation, there is an obvious void :0}
Book # 34 - Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book contains a number of short stories that he wrote initially to be published in magazines, such as Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. Later he issued them in two books- Flappers and Philosophers and Tales of the Jazz Age. Reading these stories gave me a better appreciation for Fitzgerald; i tended to think of him only as The Great Gatsby himself. Although the quality and interest of the stories varies, as one would expect, Fitzgerald invariably captures the zeitgeist of the 1920s (I've always wanted to use that word, zeitgeist, in a valid context). His writing is luminous, particularly when describing young women- which most of his stories are centered on.
I didn't know that the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was based on one of Fitzgerald's stories, included in this book. A while back I tried to watch the movie but turned it off after a short while- I felt the movie was insufferable. However, Fitzgerald's writing makes the tale much more interesting and very humorous. Perhaps I should consider watching the movie again. Or maybe not.
Nothing like having free time- I'm taking vacation since my return from Munich last week, and I've read three books in 4 days. I may increase the number read this year so I won't be so embarrassingly below the 75 mark.
Book # 35 - The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Another Endo book, after my interest was piqued by Darryl's comments on this author.
This book also deals with the travails of missionaries trying to convert the Japanese during feudal times. Based partly on actual historical events, Endo weaves a terrific story where two man, among many others, wrestle with the issues of belief in a Christian God. One of them is a Spanish missionary, named Velasco in the novel, who goes to Japan as a missionary partly driven by Christian zeal, but also dealing with his own pride of seeing himself as the redeemer of Japan, dreaming of being named at some point the Bishop of Japan. The other man, the Samurai of the story, Rokuemon Hasekura, is a Japanese that converts to Christianity out of selfish interest to accomplish his mission but ends up a believer. Both of them end up being executed at about the same time, when the government policies turned against Christianity and any foreign influences or contacts.
Both men are sent on a trip from Japan to New Spain (today's Mexico) to open up trade possibilities between the two countries, along with many merchants and crewmen. In New Spain they find that they need to continue to Spain itself in order to accomplish their task. Along the way, Velasco is continuously trying to convert the Japanese, both merchants and envoys, to Christianity. Some of the Japanese convert since Velasco convinces them it will be easier to accomplish their objectives if they are Christian.
The most interesting parts of the novel, besides the wonders the Japanese see as they enter the new lands and meet new people, are the dilemmas both father Velasco and Roku suffer throughout the trip. Velasco thinking of ways to convert the Japanese and dreaming of the merits he will earn by doing so. Roku continuously thinking that he does not believe and thinking the figure of crucified Christ is strange.
The author, Shusaku Endo, maintains the point that the Japanese are very different from the West. That a religion such as Christianity with its emphasis in another world after death has no meaning for them. They can't comprehend other life than the visible one. Also, for them the idea that of being saved and living in bliss after death is unacceptable since they think they will reunite with all their relative in the afterlife. How can they accept Christianity and be removed from their relatives?
Book # 35 - Deep River by Shusaku Endo
This is probably my favorite of the three of Endo's books I've read so far. It deals with similar religious issues he explores in the other two novels (I haven't looked what is the chronological order in which he wrote them) but seems to go deeper on this one, no pun intended. This is one of those books that once I finish it, I want to read again immediately.
Several Japanese go to India on a tour presumably to visit Buddhist sites- after all, India is the birth place of the Buddha. There is Mr. Isobe who's lost his wife Keiko after a long period of suffering in the hospital. But before dying she tells him that she will be reincarnated as a young girl; so he goes to India searching for his wife. In the process he comes to realize how much he took his wife for granted, and that he didn't become closer to her only until the last months when she was sick in the hospital.
Then there is the case of Naruse Mitsuko who, as a wealthy young student, lived frivolously and with her clique of friends made fun of a young, shy man named Otsu. She actually seduces only to reject him- all for fun. She marries a young, rich guy but nothing in the world satisfies her, but she's a total non-believer. At some point she learns that Otsu has joined a seminary to become a priest and that he is in France. He actually convinces her husband to go there for their honeymoon, and leaves her husband in Paris to enjoy the shows while she goes to the country, presumably to visit the locations of a novel she'd read while in college. She actually goes to visit with him and learns that he's having difficulty in the seminary because his Catholic belilefs do not concord those with the traditional church.
Another traveler is Mr. Numada, a writer of children's stories about animals. He had been very sick with a pulmonary disease who would keep a bird in his house- his wife did not like that at all. But when he is sick, she brings him a Myna bird to keep him company. The bird, in a strange turn of events, dies on the day that he decides to go through a critical operation. He is going to India too- in search of peace.
Finally, there is Kiguchi, suffering from the aftereffects of having fought in Burma. He went through a lot during the retreat of the Japanese forces- death and starvation all around him. He carries that burden, and the recollection of his close friend who actually ate human flesh to save Kiguchi.
The best parts of the book are the inner struggles of these souls in their search for some resolution that will give meaning to their lives. Endo deals again solidly with the issues of the Christina faith within the Japanese culture.
Book # 36 - Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
This book had intrigued me a while back, when I first saw it at Barnes & Noble. So I picked it up last week in Milwaukee. It's a (sort of) historical novel around the French revolution. The story itself, minus the history, is the prototypical romance, swashbuckling European-style novel. A young man is raised by his godfather; his parents are unknown and one suspected the godfather is actually his father. He has the de rigueur beautiful cousin that he'll end up marrying (in a sequel perhaps) and goes through all kinds of adventures, or misadventures, only to find out at the end that both his parents are noblemen, of course.
All in all although it's entertaining, it has not much value. The historical parts seem sort of mangled, but then the French revolution itself was mangled. And the plot is the standard semi-romantic story of adventure. I can think of many other books that are more worthy of reading than this one.
Book # 38 - Callejon de Dolores by Francisco Perez de Anton
This is the latest work by the Guatemala writer Perez de Anton. It's a crime mystery novel with heavy historical references, taking place in the dark year of 1929 in Guatemala, with side trips to the U.S. the central incident that drives the story is an airplane accident that happened in Guatemala City, precisely in the street title of the book (Alley of Dolores). From that point, the author weaves a story of intrigue, corruption, etc. that is sprinkled with a lot of interesting dialogue and narrative.
The author won this year's Miguel Angel Asturias prize, named after the Nobel prize winner, given to the best Guatemalan author.
Stopping by to wish you and yours a very happy new year, Manuel! Will you be making a 2013 thread?
Thanks Lynda- I wish the same to you and your family.
And, yes, I plan on signing up again even though I may be shamed again for not hitting the 75!! However, I am planning on retiring at the end of March (assuming they can find a replacement) so I should have more free time.
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