Reading Fyodor


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I signed-up on a Brothers Karamazov read along with Belleza.  The book was written by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I once tried to read Crime and Punishment by the same author but I felt like drowning in my emotions so I stopped.  And everytime I see a Dostoevsky book, I cringed at the thought of reading it.  That was many years ago and right now my emotions are in check, or so I believe.  The read along will start on April so I have at least a month to prepare.  It is a perfect time for me since my classes will be finished by then.  Also, what better to do during summer than have a good book and read under the shade of a tree or while sunbathing?  Yes, it’s almost summer in this part of the world.  But first, I have to finished James’ before the month ends or it will take me another year to reread it…again.

I was planning to read A Path of Daggers, the 8th installment of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan after James’ but the read along was an opportunity for me to at least finish one Dostoevsky piece.  Who knows I might end up reading all his works.  Besides, knowing that there are others who are reading with me inspires me to read until the last sentence of the novel.


What Maisie Knew


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What Maisie Knew
Henry James
Published in 1897

“What Maisie Knew” is my first introduction to Henry James.  Although I’ve known James through Edith Wharton, I have never tried to venture to his works until now.  In fact, I’ve never intended to buy this book had it not been for Ian McEwan’s Atonement.  You see, Vintage Classics sold their books by pair (at least at the bookstore where I get my books).  I bought McEwan’s and got James’ too.

Meeting Henry James was quite difficult.  It has been a couple of years since I got the book, tried reading it a few times but I couldn’t get to the next page.  I got distracted easily and tried rereading it but I couldn’t, for the life of me, GET IT.  I couldn’t moved on!  I decided to abandon it.  I was painfully rejected.  It seemed James did not want to be introduced to me!  I know it was a crazy thought but what the heck.  So for two years, it was comfortably tucked in my bookshelf.

So what started me to pick it up again?  I don’t know, no, I knew.  I refused not to know Henry James and Henry James cannot stop me.  Surprisingly, he has not tried…yet.   I am finished with the first ten chapters and currently into chapter eleven.

The book opens with a bitter divorce case between Maisie’s parents, Beale and Ida Farange.  Maisie is about 6 years old –  too young to understand what is happening around her.  Her parents are battling for the custody of Maisie, not out of genuine love and care, but to taunt the other.

“….They had wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could…do each other.  She should serve their anger and seal their revenge….”

The final decision is for Maisie to be split to both parents, that is, she will spend six months with her father and the remaining six months with her mother – like a shuttlecock pass from one to the other and back again, as James put it.  Both parents made Maisie a sort of messenger of insults.  In one scene where Maisie was fetched by her mother from her father’s house, it is clear how deep the hatred each parent has with the other.

“…’And did your beastly papa, my precious angel, send any message to your own loving mamma?’  Then it was that she found the words spoken by her beastly papa to be, after all, in her little bewildered ears, from which, at her mother’s appeal, they passed, in her clear shrill voice, straight to her little innocent lips. ‘He said I was to tell you, from him,’ she faithfully reported, ‘that you’re a nasty horrid pig!'”

We can only imagine the scene that follows.

So many things had happened within the first few chapters of the book.  By then Maisie had already had a nurse and 2 governesses – Miss Overmore and Mrs. Wix, a stepfather, Sir Claude – whom her mother met while in Paris, and a stepmother – whom her father married a day before her mother announced her engagement.  Her stepmother is, in fact, her first governess employed by her mother and who wishes to be called Mrs. Beale.

But of all twists and turns, that Sir Claude and Mrs. Beale should meet, that Maisie – bless her innocent heart –  has a deep affection to both stepparents more than her own, that Mrs. Ida Farange would fallen out of love with her current husband just as fast as she had fallen in love, that Mrs. Wix should like, really like, Sir Claude,  are something that makes the ball rolling.

Henry James’ novel is an exploration of childhood and innocence.  It is like listening to a child’s heart and mind speaking, questioning and trying to fit in in an adults’ chaotic world.

I wonder if my thoughts when I was a child were the same as Maisie’s.  Come to think of it, did I even thought so much as a child?

Breakfast at Tiffany’s


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Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Truman Capote
Published in 1958

Young, free-spirited and beautiful Holly Golightly, immortalized by Audrey Hepburn, clad in a little black dress and dark glasses, in a 1961 film of the same title, is just it – restless,  finding a place she can call home, like Tiffany’s.  She is a highly publicized it-girl in upper New York who lives in a brownstone apartment with her no-name cat.  According to her, she did not named the cat because they are both independent of each other, that is, they do not belong to each other.  They don’t possess each other.  When Holly breaks her bail condition and decides to go to Brazil, she leaves the cat in “a street in Spanish Harlem. A savage, a garish, a moody neighbourhood[sic]….”  After a while she feels guilty and realizes that the cat belongs to her and comes back after it  but was unable to find it.  The novel is a first person narrative with ‘Fred’ as the narrator, who lives above Holly’s apartment, befriends her and falling a little in love with her.  He tells the story of how he met her, their time together and consequently her escape to Brazil.

Holly is, as most of us, craves for something more in her life.  Although married with a faithful albeit older husband,  she tossed her simple, country life in exchange of the more glamorous New York life.  And that ‘something more’ she finds in Tiffany’s.  There are a lot of Holly’s in this world – restless, dissatisfied, craving.  But those Holly’s are looking so far away, when, in fact, what they really want is just beside them.  Sometimes, I feel like shouting at these Holly’s to get a grip of themselves.  But really, I have no right to judge how others want to live their lives just as they have no right to judge me.  We live our lives as we see fit.  We can only hope we will arrived somewhere where we belong.

At the end, we learned that Holly is in Africa. It seems that she had arrived somewhere to where she belonged. Or so it seemed.

Rashomon and Other Stories


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Rashomon and Other Stories
Akutagawa Ryunosuke
First Published in 1915

At last I was able to finished this book.  I have heard many praises from critics about the movie Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa although the main story of the movie is taken from the short story In A Grove.  The book contains 6 different short stories – In A Grove, Rashomon, Yam Gruel, The Martyr, Kesa and Morito and The Dragon.

I particularly liked Yam Gruel.  It is the story of a low-ranking, homely-looking samurai who desires to have a fill of yam gruel, considered as a supreme delicacy in those times.  Because of his “red-nose”, he is the butt of jokes among fellow samurais.  Even the children would tease him to no end.  But the samurai just ignored them or simply smiled at them.  His ultimate purpose in life, he decided, is to eat yam gruel to his heart’s content.  At the end of the story, we find the samurai fulfilling his purpose.  And then what next?  The samurai thought that once he would eaten his fill of yam gruel, he would be a happy man.  Alas, nothing has changed.

The story of In A Grove in the movie Rashomon was a little different and extended.   It is  a must-see movie.  I’ve seen the movie through streaming but if any one can point me where to buy a CD or DVD copy, it would be most welcome.

Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window


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Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window
Kuroyanagi Tetsuko
Translated by Dorothy Britton
Published in 1981

It is exactly 52 minutes past 1: 00 am, er, say 53 minutes. Yesterday, I practically slept the whole day, that is why I am still up and about hoping that sleep may come again. I was browsing the web with nothing in particular when I chanced upon this. I am no book reviewer. My brain cannot articulately says what my hearts feels. But I so wanted to join and make my own review of a Japanese book I recently read and found beautiful in its own innocent way. Actually, I was trying to search of good books to read written in Japanese to practice my Kanji, that is, when I chanced upon that site. Most of the books suggested were by Murakami, which I have also been reading. The book I referred to was Totto-chan – The Girl by the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. It was recommended to me by Andi-san, an Indonesian classmate during my AOTS days. Oh, how I missed those 3 months!

Anyway, Totto-chan is the story of Kuroyanagi’s childhood in Tokyo, Japan just before the war. Totto was an inquisitive child, full of curiosities that her first teachers find problematic and was soon expelled from her school. Imagine, expelling a child! The story starts one fine day when Totto-chan’s mother took her to her new school. The train ride was so exciting that Totto-chan asked if she could keep the ticket. She also found a ticket inspector’s job interesting that she told her mother that when she grows up she will become a train ticket inspector. The story centers on a unique education system on a unique school headed by a kind school principal and how this kind of education influenced the children’s character and development. The story also tackles Totto-chan’s different relationships – with her family, the school principal, her classmates and even the school janitor. Totto-chan is such as wonderful and fascinating child!