The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

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The Sun Also Rises

The story takes us from Paris, France after the First World War to the fiesta and bull-fighting in Pamplona, Spain and the people, places and happenings in between.

I’m not very sure how to gauge this book. To be sure, this would have been my last book of Hemingway had I read it first and not The Old Man and the Sea. I’m fond of The Old Man etc. and Hemingway’s beautiful prose is what makes me pick-up The Sun Also Rises. But, and it is a big BUT, the story just didn’t cut it for me. Maybe my expectations are too high for a Hemingway novel. Or maybe, the novel is too intelligent for me. I’ve read that many considered this his magnum opus, the book of all his books. To be fair, he was a good writer. But the characters, oh the characters! I dislike the lot of them. How many times do they really have to drink in a day? I wouldn’t want to be friends with them. I might tolerate the narrator, Jake Barnes, but he was an a*hole all the same. I do believe he deserved that punch even if it came from another loser-stalker-combo guy. It would have been easier had he, Jake, sweep the girl off her feet and be done with it but if it had been, there wouldn’t be story, no? Okay, I’m rumbling.

Still there is a saving grace. Montoya, the hotel proprietor, where the main characters stayed during the fiesta, is a sort of a reflective man. Although, the irony is not lost on me, bless his heart when he asked Jake’s advice to prevent a young matador from being ‘corrupted’ by the glamour only to have the young man associate himself with a broken lady with Jake’s help.

A lot has happened but at the end, I feel that nothing in consquence has happened at all. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind reading another Hemingway.

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Maya by Jostein Gaarder

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Maya
By Jostein Gaarder
Published in 2006

 

“It takes billions of years to create a human being.  And it takes only a few seconds to die.”

What to think of this book?  While my mind is spewing so many thoughts I am left speechless yet amazed at the same time.  I could not confidently say I understood even a little bit of what Mr. Gaarder wanted to convey.  In fact, I am befuddled more than ever to the point of questioning my own existence and consciousness. Cogito, ergo sum.  I think therefore I am.  Rene Descartes couldn’t have said it more convincingly.  But what is thinking but a mere trick of the mind?  Or isn’t it?  And what is dreaming then?  What is consciousness or unconsciousness?  Am I in a state of consciousness because I am thinking and writing this at the same time?  Or am I in an unconscious state because while writing this, my mind is also engaged in listening to wonderful music?  But one thing is sure, I am writing these things and questioning it at the same time so there is no doubt I’m a thinking being!  I lived and I breathe with life!  I am consciousness itself!  I am a part of the universe and the universe is part of me!  I am in the universe and the universe is in me! How marvellous!

Below are some pieces I’ve written almost at the end of the book.   I will not include, except for the page number, the sentences or phrases that triggered me to write these passages so as to add a little bit of mystery.

“Why was I not excited about this?  Surely, when one is consciously alive at the turn of the millennium, it is reason enough to be excited and celebrate life?  What was I doing? – p.289

I cannot say I never thought of living forever.  Yes, I might have thought about it for a fleeting second but I’m resigned to the fact that I’m going to die sooner or later – later preferably.  My only wish is live to a hundred.  Or is that too much?” – p. 291

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Published in 1866

This is my second book of Dostoevsky.  The first was the The Brothers Karamazov.  It took me quite a few months to finish that novel.  Although quite disturbing, the novel was filled with passions in varying degrees shown by most of the characters – the father as well as the sons.

Crime and Punishment, not unlike the previous novel, delves into the human psychology and morality among other things.  The central theme is the commitment of a crime and the subsequent guilt one feels.  Raskolnikoff, a young ex-student, who falls in an abject state of poverty and self-pity murders an old money-lending woman and her sister (albeit unintentionally) and steals her money out of desperation.  Days after the  murder, the young man is taken ill –  the guilt has taken a toll on him affecting his mind and constitution.

Dostoevsky’s crime is somewhat an unusual one.  Raskolnikoff is committing a crime to save himself as well as others from people who he thinks do not deserve (from one reason or another) to live.  Raskolnikoff is a smart student who is very keen with his surroundings.  From an article he wrote before the crime and from his conversations with different personalities after, he seems to imply that ‘justifiable’ murder is not immoral nor is it a crime.  He compares it to a nation going to war with another nation to defend one’s turf and people.

However, as all crimes, there are consequences.  In the case of Raskolnikoff, his punishment is also his redemption.  Although, I don’t agree with the idea of a ‘justifiable murder’ yet nor can I denounce war when no other alternative is open to defend one’s nation.  But I suppose killing one person as oppose to going to war are two different things.

Crime and Punishment is a battle between conscience and freedom.  The novel is dark and compelling but a Dostoevsky ending without redemption and salvation at the end is no ending ( at least with the 2 novels I read).  Dostoevsky believes that a man who falls into evil can still rise and find redemption from his actions as experienced by Dostoevsky himself.

Reading Dostoevsky is, I find, an interesting and quite an enjoyable experience.  Others may cringe just at the thought of Dostoevsky (and believe me I used to cringe, too).  They might be put off of all the ‘intellectual’ things Dostoevsky is rambling about but I think Dostoevsky is a genius.  He may not be the greatest writer but I’m sure he was writing from his heart.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle

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The Summer of the Great-Grandmother
By Madeleine L’Engle
First Published in 1974

“Tell me a story when you were a little girl.”

In The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, L’Engle shares her stories (both blissful and painful) and reflections during the last summer of her mother.  Her mother is 90 years old, sliding into senility but gives no signs of quitting this world.  L’Engle is torn between her love for her mother and her wishing her (mother) to die as she does not want her mother to be placed in a nursing home when no one in the family would be able to take care of her.   As she tries to recall the mother she knew (and never knew),  L’Engle also traces back to her roots from the stories told by her mother and grandmother.  L’Engle also wonders if her granddaughters and the sons and daughters to follow will still remember and keep alive the story of their family just as she remembers her ancestors’.  This reminded me of a topic discussed in a Philosophy course I sat when I was in college.   “Death, The Final Test of Immortality” was written on a printed handout.  It said that when a person dies our fidelity is what makes the person immortal.  By remembering those who have gone before us, we keep him/her alive in our memories and in our hearts.

This is a story about living rather than dying.  Anybody who has experience the decline and eventually the loss of a loved one can attest that the pain one felt is overpowered by much love and at the end what remains are the beautiful memories and peace in one’s heart.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother is Book 2 of the Crosswicks Chronicles.  Crosswicks is the name of the farm owned by Madeleine L’Engle and her family.  I’ve been a L’Engle fan since A Wrinkle In Time (which I did not care to read when a friend was raving about it and regretted 2 years after but that’s another story) and it is my fervent wish to read all her books.

The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder

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The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder
Translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson
Published in 2008

“The Castle in the Pyrenees is the story of Solrun and Steinn, a couple once desperately in love, who were cast apart by a mysterious event.  Thirty years later they meet by chance, in a village deep in the mountains of Norway.  It is a place that may hold the secret to their break-up, and to the people they since become.

As they return to their families, Solrun and Steinn embark upon a secret correspondence, and begin to question their current lives and loves.  But as they realise that their years apart need not have been so, a figure from the past intrudes painfully on the present.  And now it is important than ever to answer two questions: who was the Lingonberry Woman? And what did she want?”

Few minutes ago, I have just finished one of the most compelling and, I would say, beautiful story written. Although I usually write my opinion of a book few days or even weeks after I read it, this is an exception.  My emotions are still at its peak that it’s difficult to get some sleep.  I would not be able to shut my eyes anyway.

In The Castle in the Pyrenees, Solrun and Steinn’s story is told through their email correspondence.  As expected of Gaarder, the novel has a lot of  philosophical exchanges over the course of their emailing.  There were be beliefs questioned, faiths shaken and self-doubting.  Although, at one point, they share the same belief about humanity, the world and the universe, there is this “mysterious event” that separated them for years.  The novel also explores the consciousness of the universe and humanity’s place in it.  Has the universe a consciousness of its own? Or are we, the living creatures, it’s consciousness?  Or is there some mysterious, supernatural force behind our existence?  But most importantly, the novel is about Solrun  and Steinn’s love story and the rediscovering of themselves, their relationship and their beliefs.

Through Solrun and Steinn, we are able to take a glimpse of the many places of Norway – Oslo, Bergen, Lake Eldrevatnet, the glaciers, the beautiful fjords among others.  I have never been to Norway, nor will likely to, but I take comfort that I have read it’s wonderful sceneries in an equally wonderful book.

(The Castle in the Pyrenees is a Magritte painting of a huge lamp of rock floating above the ground with a castle on top of it.  Solrun and Steinn once posted a picture in their bedroom and tried to solve quite differently the phenomenon  of the suspended rock, thus the title of the book.)

Weekend Finds

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I had a blast Sunday!  I started to have my regular jog/run at 5:30 in the morning. 2 hours later I felt fresh and relax.  Swimming would have been next on the activity list had a friend and I miscommunicate.  To amuse myself, I went to a local bookstore ready to be lost in a book’s pages  but I literally felt lost as the store was jam-packed with people.  I forgot it was just the first week of classes and, as the bookstore also functions as a school supply shop, schoolchildren accompanied by their parents, were eagerly selecting notebooks and papers and pens.  Suddenly, nostalgia hit me! I remember my school days.  However, as I have no time and patience to wrestle with overly excited young people, I went instead to another bookshop .  And then lo and behold!  They were having a weekend sale – as much as 90% off from the regular price.

As suggested by Fiona of The Book Coop and MissMeliss of Bibliotica, I picked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson.  I also found Jostein Gaarder’s latest book The Castle in the Pyrenees and Maya and put them in my cart as well.  I very much like Gaarder’s novels.  They are beautifully written and they make me keep reading them over and over again.  I especially loved the Solitaire Mystery.  I like the idea of a book within a book.  Also, the novel The Christmas Mystery is a delightful read on a Christmas Eve.

On a table, where lots and lots of books arranged seemingly without order, I spotted Madeleine L’Engle’s.  I grabbed it immediately without knowing the title first.  It doesn’t matter, I thought.  It’s L’Engle.  The Summer of the Great-Grandmother is the title, by the way.  It is book 2 of the Crosswicks Journals.  I’m not sure yet if I have to read book 1 first before this book.  But as all L’Engle’s series I might not need to.

And then there were random picks.  I like random picks.  It was how I met Edith Wharton many years ago when I picked her novel Summer without any idea who the author was.  Across The Mystic Shore by Suroopa Mukherjee and The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl were two random picks.  I though the name Matthew Pearl is an author of long ago but apparently he’s not.  His other books include The Dante Club and The Last Dickens.

So, I went out of that bookshop carrying 7 books, an uncontained happiness and a more refreshed feeling than that of the morning jog.  I love Sundays!

Manila International Book Fair 2010

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The 31st Manila International Book Fair is slated on September 15-19, 2010 at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Complex.  There over 100 exhibitors who will join the said event. For more information, click on the link provided above.

There will be lots and lots of books!  I can hear the pounding of my heart just at the thought of books! What more with a library-ful of books!  How unfortunate that I live miles away.  I really would want to go.  Anyway, there are still 3 more months so I guess I should start planning now.  Manila, here I come!

I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume

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I Am A Cat (Three Volumes in One)
By Soseki Natsume
Translated By Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson
First Published in 1905

This is an amusing yet curious story of humans set in a Japanese society of the early Meiji era told by a nameless and seemingly unloved cat – the title character of the story.  The cat is a highly opinionated creature ready to throw sarcastic comments about humans and their faults.  What is extraordinary about this cat is it’s above average intelligence and which according to it, the ability to read human thoughts.  I am no cat lover but the first volume made me want to adopt the creature as my own or even just stroke its lovely fur.  I was greatly enamored by it at the same time disdained the human behavior.  However, as it continues to berates human faults and peculiarities, it has seemingly become like them – proud and pompous.  When it points out ridiculous culture (may they be western or japanese) and behavior, I was skeptical.  However I became irritated with the cat, I cannot just dismiss its observations.  True, the human character is a complex study with its peculiarities and absurd behavior.  Soseki’s characters are still very true today as they were centuries ago – pompous, vain and selfish humans.

With Soseki’s knowledge of western culture and Chinese Literature, an amusing, nameless cat, and a handful of colorful human characters is a satirical novel full of humorous criticisms.


Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Metamorphosis
By Franz Kafka
First Published in 1915
Translated from the German by William Aaltonen

I was rummaging through the shelves of a bookstore looking for a copy of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov when I found Kafka’s Metamorphosis.  In the end, I went out of that store holding Kafka and no Dostoevsky.  It felt surreal.

“When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from troubled dreams, he found that he had been transformed – in his bed – into a kind of giant bug.”

So begins the story of Gregor Samsa, a commercial traveller by profession and the protagonist of one of Franz Kafka’s most famous novel.   If transforming into a giant bug is also one of that “troubled dreams”, we can only surmise but the metamorphosis wasn’t a dream.  Apart from the transformation, Gregor also realizes that morning how he hated his job and it was only out of responsibility for his parents and his sister, Grete, that he had taken the job.  What we were not told is how and why Gregor metamorphosed into a “giant bug”.  Had he eaten something or was he beaten by a bug (more like Spiderman except that Spidey is a lot luckier) or has he offended the bug kingdom and cursed him into turning one of them?  Again, we can only formulate our own story.

As the story progresses, his family’s feelings also transforms – from repugnance to pity to fear to spite and when he died, to hope.  When his sister couldn’t take it anymore, bursts all her sentiments and can only see him as a monster, not her dearly beloved brother.

“’That thing has to go!’ Grete cried. ‘It’s the only way, Father.  You have to stop believing it’s Gregor.  We’ve believed that for far too long, that’s why we’re so unhappy…this monster dogs our footsteps, drives our lodgers away and schemes to take over the whole flat…’”

However, Gregor’s metamorphosis is not all a bane to his family’s situation.  In fact, because there’s nobody to support them financially, it allows them to act and rely on each other in order to live.  His father took a job in some bank; his mother was doing needlework for a clothing store while his sister worked as a sales assistant and took to studying shorthand and French.  It is as if  Gregor’s  transformation to a hideous creature is his family’s transformation and coming back to life.  And when he died, their despair has also died with him leaving only hope and dreams for the three of them.

That feeling when I went out of the bookstore gripped me until turning the last page of the book. It was so surreal and so bizarre.  I couldn’t help feeling I was also transforming into a bug or whatever Gregor Samsa turned into.  I wonder of all insects, Kafka chose that monstrous bug and not a butterfly or something less hideous.  But if he chose something else, there wouldn’t be a story so mysterious and sometimes repugnant yet captivating, is there?

The Brothers Karamazov

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The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew
First Published in November 1880

I started to read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky for Belleza’s April Read-Along.  I thought it would be a heavy read so I bought Alice Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll to counter whatever effect it may cause me.

The Brothers Karamazov is written as an account of the Karamazov tragedy by a person who resides in the town where the Karamazovs live.  The Karamazovs are the principal characters of the novel.  Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is the patriarch of the Karamazov family.  He is described as a brute and a buffoon and takes pleasure in doing what others expected of him to do.  Dmitry or Mitya, the sensualist, is the eldest of three brothers and the only son of Karamazov by his first wife.  Ivan or Vanya, the intelligent, is the elder son and Alexie or Alyosha, the mystic, is the youngest son, of Karamazov by his second wife.  The older Karamazov does not care for his sons so much so that when their mothers died, they were taken by their  mothers’ relatives to be taken cared of.  Smerdyakov,  the older Karamazov’s cook, is rumored as the latter’s illegitimate son by “reeking Lizaveta”.  The Karamazov’s both strength and weakness is their passionate nature.  It is the strength of Alyosha and the weakness of his brothers as well as their father.  Dmitry and the old man are not in good terms because of money and love.  They are rivals of young and beautiful but cunning Grushenka’s affections.  The Karamazov tragedy mentioned is the murder of old Karamazov and the trial and eventually the conviction of Dmitry as the murderer.

The book as a whole delves into the existence of God and the purpose of man’s living.  Alyosha, whose angelic face and gentle nature, is a firm believer of God.  He believes that God is the center and goal of one’s life.  On the contrary, Ivan is an atheist.  He implied that since God did not exist, “everything is permitted”.  However, Dostoevsky affirms God’s existence through Elder Zosima’s last speech, a monk at a nearby monastery where Alyosha is a novice.

I consider the book as a novel of spirituality, philosophy, psychology, justice and love.  One thing is true, that the human character is constant.  Dostoevsky portraited characters whose behaviors are still true today.  Whatever the shape and look of the world, man (and woman) would behave consistently.  But through the ages, man’s ideas have evolve as humanely as possible.  It is also shown that one’s actions, however, small they may be, may have greater repercussions.  Dmitry’s drunken brawl has taken a toll on the young Ilyusha when he witness his father beaten and insulted by Dmitry.

And indeed it was a heavy novel!  I think Dostoevsky has succeeded in bringing out different emotions in me throughout the novel – happiness, sadness, bitterness, anger, loathing, adoration, pity, love, fear, loyalty, irritation, frustration, apprehension, and amazement among others.  I even cried during Ilyusha’s funeral and Alyosha’s speech.  I supposed one could never helped it.

* The Brothers Karamazov is considered, if not the greatest, the best work of Dostoevsky.  It is considered as his chef d’œuvre.