Musings of a Bibliomaniac

Goodreads immigrant. Another victim of corporate tyranny. I blog at Musings of a Bibliomaniac along with my co-blogger Scarlet.

The Lover - Marguerite Duras Something dark and deeply unsettling simmers angrily beneath the surface of this narrative. This 'something' becomes so potent a force, arousing fear and feelings of disgust in the reader, that one is often tempted to abandon reading and save oneself from all the unpleasantness Duras shoves right in the reader's face without inhibitions.

'The Lover' is a brutally honest attempt at reconciliation with the past, irrespective of how much hurt and damage it may have caused. It is a tale of Marguerite Duras' childhood years spent in what is modern day Vietnam and reads almost like a memoir or piece of non-fiction at times.

The narrator of The Lover is sometimes a young girl of 15, sometimes a woman, sometimes a mere child, sometimes an old lady living in France as an established novelist and sometimes a girl caught in a painful identity crisis. Duras' erratic narration and tendency to flip back and forth between the past and present and her personal contemplations (slightly in a Slaughterhouse-Fiveish way) ensure that the reader occasionally loses the thread connecting all the events. But even so the story resonates strongly with the one reading and and one can barely prevent a disturbing image of human suffering from being burned into their mind.

The unnamed narrator's voice is strangely full of apathy and indifference. It almost lacks a clear character. There are times when the resentment in this young girl reaches a fever pitch and thrashes about restlessly for an outlet into the realm of reality. But in the very next moment, it reduces in intensity and assumes its former state of equanimity. It is as if she is torn between feelings of revulsion and longing and cannot pick one over the other. Her existence itself seems precariously balanced on the predominant emotions of hatred and love that she feels for the people closest to her.

She begins a turbulent love affair with a much older, rich Chinese man and this, in turn, becomes both a boon and a bane for her. He becomes her safe haven from the cruelties of life and the emotional and physical abuse she silently suffers at the hands of her own family members. But then, he also becomes the cause of her social stigma and shame - thus he is her tormentor and her savior at the same time.

I see the war as like him, spreading everywhere, breaking in everywhere, stealing, imprisoning, always there, merged and mingled with everything, present in the body, in the mind, awake and asleep, all the time, a prey to the intoxicating passion of occupying that delightful territory, a child's body, the bodies of those less strong, of conquered peoples. Because evil is there, at the gates, against the skin.

Initially it is hinted that the young girl is cold and indifferent towards her lover and possibly does not reciprocate his feelings. But at the end of the affair, she comes to the realization that her love for him may have been genuine after all.

A perpetual state of chaos seems to prevail inside the adolescent protagonist's head and this almost becomes an accurate reflection of the tumultuous times of a colonized, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Indo-China (present Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) - a war-ravaged land whose fortunes remained at the mercy of various colonial masters for decades.

Even though a doomed romance forms the main subject matter of this book, what often overshadows its acutely depressing tones, is the looming presence of Indo-China. Duras' love for this land shines through the haze of her traumatic years.
Because interspersed between the disturbing imagery, there are beautiful descriptions of Cholon, the Chinese capital of French Indo-China, bustling with life and activity, the river Mekong and the morning ferry carrying its passengers across to Saigon, where the young girl goes to boarding school.

Thus it is heartening to see that Vietnam is not reduced to the status of a mere backdrop in a tale of personal miseries but comes alive in its state of silent agony, in Duras' sparse but beautiful prose. Its sights and sounds and smells and landscapes become an integral part of this semi autobiographical novella and add a distinct character to it.

"The bed is separated from the city by those slatted shutters, that cotton blind. There's nothing solid separating us from other people. They don't know of our existence. We glimpse something of theirs, the sum of their voices, of their movements, like the intermittent hoot of a siren, mournful, dim.
Whiffs of burnt sugar drift into the room, smell of roasted peanuts, Chinese soups, roast meat, herbs, jasmine, dust, incense, charcoal fires, they carry fire about in baskets here, it's sold in the street, the smell of the city is the smell of the villages upcountry, of the forest."

The Lover does not make my list of all-time-favorites and nor may it merit a re-reading. But even then it rightly deserves the 4 stars I awarded it, simply because it succeeds in painting a moving picture of ambivalent relationships, that transcends the boundaries of race or ethnicity and appeals to the universal human spirit.
The Passion - Jeanette Winterson 2 stars for the phantasmagorical imagery and the story.
1 more star for the beautifully done ending and the immensely quotable lines on love and passion the writer seems to have clumsily crammed in to the narrative in the last few pages.

A Personal Matter

A Personal Matter - Kenzaburō Ōe,  John Nathan Reading A Personal Matter is nothing less than an agonizing experience.
It almost feels like somebody poking at and opening up our most secret, suppurating, psychological wounds and making them bleed all over again, thereby compelling us to wake up to the realization of their existence.
These scars and bruises make their presence known time and again by causing us pain of the highest order. And so we proceed to wrap them up in the protective wadding of false pretensions, carefully hiding them away from the scrutiny of the rest of the world and more importantly, ourselves.
But Kenzaburō Ōe does not only wish to cause us pain. He also forces us to acknowledge its perpetuity, accept it and achieve a state of harmony with it.

With every turn of a page, we find ourselves plunging deeper into the bottomless pit of shame, self-loathing and sheer grief along with Bird, our protagonist. But Ōe breaks our fall right when we feel we are about to land with a resounding thud and teaches us how to rise, how to summon the courage to confront grim reality and reconcile ourselves with the cruelties inflicted by fate.

Bird (nickname), a young man of twenty seven, keeps drifting in and out of consciousness throughout the length of the narrative. While walking along a busy Tokyo street he is capable of sparing a thought for his pregnant wife experiencing labour pains at the hospital and alternately seeking escapism in the form of dreaming about landscapes of Africa, a continent he desperately wishes to visit some day. He neither seems to feel passionately about his wife nor about the job at the cram school he has landed thanks to the benevolence of his father-in-law. In a sense, he is apathetic to his own life but we are shown that he is not immune from feelings of embarrassment.

Weak-willed and jittery, he refuses to accept the birth of a child with a grotesque lump on its head and crucial genetic deformities. He is appalled to hear his baby would never grow up as a normal child and shamelessly gives in to feelings of utter relief, when he hears from the doctor that chances of his baby's survival are next to none. Although immediately afterwards, he suffers from a keen self-hatred.

Over the course of the next few days, like the most cowardly criminal ever, he plots his own baby's murder - by conspiring with the doctor to substitute his supply of milk with sweetened water and, when that fails, by taking the baby to the clinic of a shady abortionist. Yet at the same time he shudders in revulsion at the thought of having to kill a helpless, sick little child with his bare hands. He fears being in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law both of whom seem to blame him for everything, and seeks solace in violent sex with an old lover.
Thus, Bird, seems to possess no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. He is a failure at life and everything he does. He is selfish to the point of entertaining ideas of running away with his lover to Africa, abandoning all his responsibilities. He only views his biological child as a callously assembled, defective mass of flesh, blood and bone. He refuses to give him a name or even acknowledge his gender and burden himself with the task of acquainting himself with his newborn son.

Bird is despicable in the true sense of the term.
But then at the same time, Bird is also the very personification of all our worst human weaknesses. He disgusts the reader but he also evokes feelings of sympathy and solidarity.
Because if we maybe honest enough with ourselves, there's a Bird in each one of us and his deformed baby is merely a symbol of the indignities of our own personal existence.
Slowly as the days trickle by after the birth of the unwanted child, Bird starts viewing the entity he repeatedly refers to as 'the monster baby', as a human offspring blessed with the powers of sensation and expression. It seems this indisputable fact had eluded him so far.

Thus begins Bird's gradual transformation, which the reader witnesses with mixed feelings. As he comes full circle, traversing the seemingly infinite distance between madness and sanity, so does the reader.
And when he finally finds hope in a hopeless place and sets into motion the long, convoluted process of acceptance, it is not the predictability of this ending which strikes us.
Rather, we are moved by the truth in Bird's realizations and actions.

Ōe has written about such a deeply personal aspect of his life (being the father to a brain-damaged son himself) with a mastery, truly characteristic of a Nobel Laureate. His writing isn't wordy or verbose yet it hits the reader's most vulnerable spot every time and makes one feel raw and cut up deep inside.

"The baby was no longer on the verge of death; no longer would the sweet, easy tears of mourning melt it away as if it were a simple jelly. The baby continued to live, and it was oppressing Bird, even beginning to attack him. Swaddled in skin as red as shrimp which gleamed with the luster of scar tissue, the baby was beginning ferociously to live, dragging its anchor of a heavy lump."

He does not want us to shed copious tears at the misfortunes that befall Bird or feel only an acute hatred for his indecision, but experience the entire gamut of human actions and emotions, no matter how blasphemous or socially condemnable each one of them maybe.
In slow succession, the reader becomes-
Bird, the indifferent cram school teacher.
Bird, the day-dreamer.
Bird, the miserable failure of a man.
Bird, the conspiring murderer.
Bird, the unfaithful husband.
And at the very end, Bird, the accepting father.

As one plows along, it becomes apparent that Ōe's aim has not been self-indulgent or cathartic story-telling, but instead, to take the whole world along on an immensely difficult journey, he must have embarked on all alone at some point.
Thus, A Personal Matter, ceases to be just about a personal matter somewhere.
Instead, it becomes one of the most life-affirming stories ever, meant to serve as a panacea for the ones suffering from the affliction of an undignified existence.

Ōe knows all too well, that he cannot make the pain go away. So he gifts us with the strength to endure it instead.

OOPS! 'I' fell in love! just by chance...

OOPS! 'I' fell in love! just by chance... - Harsh Snehanshu Interesting how among the numerous labels GR users have tagged this with, 'disgusting-novels' is one. That should speak for itself.

In response to a question like 'why on earth would you read something with such a horrible title?', I'd say that I only managed to read about 3 pages of this drivel (Oh wait calling this drivel will be an affront to the term 'drivel') before being seized by a mad urge to hurl the book right out the window. I reined in that urge somehow since I harbor a lot of respect for the printed page irrespective of its content. Also in my defense, an enthusiastic classmate thrust a copy of this into my unsuspecting hands a few years ago, knowing I was a reader and would perhaps like this. *shudder*
It was a free period to boot and I was terribly bored. Hence do not judge me too 'harsh'ly for this.

Not rating this, since giving it 1 star would be giving it one star too many.
Embers - Sándor Márai, Carol Brown Janeway Embers is a tale of heart-breaking beauty. The kind of beauty which is not apparent right at the onset but which makes its omnipresence felt as you keep turning the pages and reach that state of involvement with the narrative, where you cannot wait to feast your eyes and senses on another delicately structured sentence.
It lies in the pall of gloom cast by the shadow of some tragedy unspoken of, lurking in the dark, cobwebbed nooks and corners of a secluded castle, the relentless flow of time the sense of which the book tries to capture quite successfully and in the hollowness of life itself.

There is no worthwhile story to be found at its core since a reflection on love, betrayal and the consequences of human folly is nothing new. But it is the handling of these themes which is.
Sándor Márai has a way of creating a mood consistent with the dreariness of the story within and it is this mood which metamorphoses into an important character itself. Like an invisible, guiding force, this mood becomes the reader's constant companion as he/she slowly navigates his/her way around the imperfect lives of Márai's characters.
He ends up imparting a restrained elegance even to the meanest of human tendencies like the insane urge to kill another and to the chilling finality in a man's feelings of disillusionment with life and the people he held dear to his heart.

It is as if Márai's aim from the beginning had been not to bestow significance on numerous life events of a handful of people but instead on an acute analysis of human actions and how individual acts of indiscretion feature in the greater scheme of things. How eventually everything dies out and ceases to matter, after creating a few evanescent ripples on the surface of the placid lake of human existence.

A few irritants have kept me from placing this book on my personal, metaphysical pedestal of absolute literary perfection - the objectification of women, a subtle nod of approval to medieval values like the appreciation of gender specific character traits, the seemingly endless and tedious monologue in the latter half of the book and a sense of perverse vanity the central characters seem to derive out of their European ancestry caused me to take away that 1 star.

Barring these minor causes of botheration, Embers is near perfect. It glows powerfully with the spirit of all actions and emotions so distinctly characteristic of life itself, before burning out and surrendering itself to the inevitability of an ending.
Candide - Voltaire, Gita May, Henry Morley, Lauren Walsh What a blistering criticism of blind prejudice, ignorance, religious dogma, class distinctions and the stubborn opposition to newer ideas and thoughts! I fully understand now why Voltaire's writings helped fuel the French Revolution.
Salvation of a Saint - Keigo Higashino **A big thank you to Blogadda for kindly forwarding a review copy to me**

The task of reviewing a novel of the mystery-detective genre usually presents itself as a challenge to me. Not because it is hard to put into words what the story holds without giving away spoilers. But because a detective novel usually doesn't give a reviewer much to go on, aside from a mystery and its solution.
But despite being a book of the same genre, Salvation of a Saint, provides ample food for thought on the complexities of the human mind and offers the reader some philosophical meanderings to go with a regular offering of a mind-boggling mystery.

Without delay, let me get to the summary now.

Yoshitaka and Ayane Mashiba have been married for one year and yet their marriage is already falling apart. Why? Because turns out, both of them had agreed to treat marriage like a contractual agreement in which if Ayane fails to conceive a child within a year they will part ways. And, of course, Ayane has failed to conceive at the end of the stipulated time period.
So what happens next? Yoshitaka declares he is leaving her because he has already found prospective new baby-producer to replace Ayane. And it turns out that she is none other than Ayane's protege, Hiromi Wakayama, whose talent Ayane has helped hone herself.
And to put the cap on this madness, Yoshitaka gets killed in his apartment while Ayane is away in Sapporo on a visit to her parents and the detective in charge of the investigation falls for Ayane at first sight even though she becomes the chief suspect.
But then of course, she has a rock solid alibi. She was away from Tokyo when Yoshitaka was murdered.
How do you kill when you are physically hundreds of miles away from the scene of the crime?

Here in lies the novelty of Salvation of a Saint. It's not a whodunit as much as it is a howdunit.

To me the real villain of the story remains the victim and not the murderer. Because men who treat women like baby-producing machines and switch to one from another as easily as changing clothes, deserve to be at least squarely kicked in their family jewels, if not murdered outright. And I'm pleased to find out there are no misogynistic undertones in this narrative since Higashino doesn't gloss over this fact.
Now for my verdict on Higashino as a writer:-

If you are acquainted with anime such as Death Note, Monster or Detective School Q (Tantei Gakuen Kyu), you are bound to know that the Japanese, being big fans of logical reasoning and the science of deduction, have a penchant for creating stories with a worthwhile mystery at its center. And Keigo Higashino upholds that cherished tradition with this well-plotted novel.
He excels at creating a mystery which appears convoluted and unsolvable at the outset, but when it unravels slowly and all the pieces of the puzzle start falling into their place, the solution doesn't baffle one as much as the killer's dedication towards the very act of the murder does.

But I have a bone to pick with the translation - it doesn't always do a good job of capturing the true cadence of Japanese speech and the awkward sentence construction feels jarring at times.

A significant thing about this book is instead of one detective giving it his all to solve a murder, it gives you 3.
The detective in charge of the investigation, Kusanagi finds his judgement dangerously clouded by his growing fascination for Ayane. While his assistant Kaoru Utsumi, stubbornly convinced of the fact that Ayane is the killer, seeks out physics professor cum detective extraordinaire, Manabu Yukawa aka Detective Galileo to help her out.
But even while pursuing separate leads, all 3 of them arrive at the same answer.

The characters are not badly sketched caricatures but appear as people who could actually exist. The calmness of Ayane's demeanour even under suspicion, Utsumi's doggedness, Yukawa's brilliance and Kusanagi's quiet dignity shine through.

Kusanagi and Yukawa's friendship, rivalry and the grudging respect they have for each other add another dimension to the story. And it reminds one of the Lestrade and Holmes equation because like Lestrade, Kusanagi is the one getting the credit even though most of the work is done by Yukawa. Although a comparison between Lestrade and Kusanagi won't be fair since the former was essentially a pompous idiot while Kusanagi is balanced and reasonable.
It is also interesting to take note of Kusanagi's increasing concern over his own evaluation of the murder and the subsequent investigation - is he being objective or is he being too judgemental? and how does one stop his personal feelings from getting in the way of his professional assessment of a scenario?
His inner turmoil leads him to ponder over what makes a person commit a murder and the effect it has on their personality:-

"Kusanagi had met plenty of good, admirable people who'd been turned into murderers quite by circumstance. There was something about them he always seemed to sense, an aura that they shared. Somehow, their trangression freed them from the confines of mortal existence, allowing them to perceive the great truths of the universe. At the same time, it meant they had one foot in forbidden territory. They straddled the line between sanity and madness."

Lastly, this novel also dares to analyze the not-so-flattering shades of a woman's personality and how one woman is sometimes another woman's worst enemy - how an act of betrayal may cause a woman to seek out vengeance with a resolute, perverse passion.

Hence an impressed 3 stars.
Highly recommended to lovers of mysteries and it doesn't hurt either if you are a fan of Japanese literature in addition to that.

P.S:- I apologize for not shedding any light on how the title of the book relates to the murder or the core of the story. But to do that would be to reveal the crux of the story itself, which would be doing the future reader a grave injustice.

Review as in Aura of Sleepless Dreams
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks Initially I had thought World War Z was going to be a book I would be surreptitiously adding to my 'read' list, rating it and moving on to better reads quite unceremoniously.
I had considered not even the remotest possibility of reviewing it, because I assumed this was going to be one of those books one reads for sheer entertainment value and little else.
But here I am writing one anyway, because I think the author definitely deserves some praise for his powers of imagination, if not for the copious amount of research he must have put in to write this.

If you are looking for your regular dosage of blood, guts and gore or a deliciously disturbing montage of decapitated torsos and severed limbs, I suggest you look elsewhere. Because World War Z is different from your mainstream zombie book.
Sure it contains the appropriate number of grotesque scenarios and morbid imagery, but these are not its highlights.
Here the zombie apocalypse serves merely as a backdrop against which the fragility of the world order is exposed - how an unforeseen human crisis of unimaginably catastrophic proportions can make the painstakingly put-together fabric of our civilization crumble like a house of cards.
Instead of recounting the story of the survival of one particular group of humans, making their way from one safe haven to another, Max Brooks gives us the bird's eye view of the nature of the calamity.
The story of the human resistance against zombies unfolds from the perspective of not one but numerous survivors all over the world - military and navy men/women, war strategists, politicians, fraudulent businessmen, doctors, film directors, divers, ordinary civilians and so on. But the multiple points of view are compiled together in a single document, by an unnamed UN official to help create a clearer picture of the extent of the tragedy after the war has ended.
So what one finds in this book are minutiae regarding military equipment, weapons specially designed to fight off the living dead, strategies for quarantine and annihilation of infected people, psychological after-effects of surviving the disaster and living through it. Which makes it a lot more interesting and unconventional since the focus is shifted from the mindless violence perpetrated by a bunch of reanimated corpses and placed on human strengths and fallacies, instead.

So then why only 3 stars?

Because the different accounts start to sound repetitive and the novelty of the mode of narration wears off after you get past the halfway mark. The frequency with which the author bombards the reader with descriptions of tactics employed by military and navy men tires one out after a while. And often, he goes overboard while trying to display his ample knowledge of the socio-political landscape of various nations. The way the book feels like a piece of non-fiction rather than a fictionalized account, also curtails one's enjoyment of the story somewhat.
I would have rated this 4 stars had the book helped me maintain the same level of interest throughout.
That, however, does not mean it is unreadable. The 3 stars ought to say that much.
If you love your zombies yet cannot put up with mediocre writing and respect an author who cares to thoroughly research the topics he wishes to write on, World War Z is your next prospective read.



Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut Neither does a war bring glory nor does a win in one ensure the moral infallibility of an ideology over a conflicting one. Because, essentially, war justifies countering genocide by perpetrating more genocide. We all know that, right?

But no, we don't. We only think we do.
And that is what Kurt Vonnegut wishes to tell his reader, in a calm, disinterested and emotionless voice in Slaughterhouse-Five.
He informs us, in a matter-of-fact tone, that we don't know the first thing about a war and proceeds to explain to us what it really is, by fashioning a narrative as abstruse, disjointed and meaningless as war itself.

I must make a confession despite how morbid this may sound. I have a thing for war books because reading about the two World Wars which helped define our identity as a civilization in the last century is endlessly fascinating. And despite the horrendous nature of crimes against humanity that were committed in both, these two wars held up a mirror in front of us, helped us recognize our own failings as human beings and rectify our mistakes.
Which is why I agree with [a:Tan Twan Eng|591376|Tan Twan Eng|]'s views on World War II -

"Moments in time when the world is changing bring out the best and the worst in people."

But Vonnegut neither eulogizes war nor seeks to make our hearts bleed for the unimaginable loss and suffering it brings. Instead, he gives the traditional perspective on war a new twist by giving us a prolonged glimpse into the mind of a prisoner of war who was, perhaps, able to survive the brunt of it all, by detaching himself from his own reality and seeking solace in dimensions which only existed inside his head.
Billy Pilgrim's life or the way he viewed his own life in retrospect, appears to be as chaotic and nonsensical as the war he served in.
It is the sheer absurdity of the concept of war that takes center stage in this highly experimental novel - how the unfortunate victims of it carry on with their broken lives with a perverse sense of humor in the face of mindless brutality and utter madness.

I definitely look forward to reading more of Vonnegut now.
A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf Words fail me as I seek to express what I think of Virginia Woolf. Or to sum up in a few measly paragraphs, a book that may just have shattered into a million pieces all my illusions about the art of writing and reshaped my whole perspective.

Have you ever imagined a disembodied voice whispering into your ears, the wisdom of the ages as you flipped through the pages of a book? how often have you conjured up the vision of the writer talking to you, teaching you, humoring you and coaxing you to open your mind to newer things as you read a book?
Have you felt a book stop being just a book somewhere and instead appear as a beacon of enlightenment that shines down the light of knowledge upon your darkened, ignorant soul?
This is how profoundly A Room of One's Own affected me.

I will adopt this book as my writing Bible. I will read this every time I feel dejected, sad or terribly lost. And I will read this again and again, until I can ascertain that the message, the very spirit of this fine piece of writing has been assimilated into the core of my being.

Okay now that I've gotten the stream of incoherent gushing out of the way, let me try and bestow on this review some semblance of real meaning.

It will be irreverent of me to call A Room of One's Own a mere essay or something that grew out of a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge.
This is the essence of Virginia Woolf herself, captured at the peak of her glory, all within 111 pages. This is Woolf reaching out from within the confines of this book and handing out to you the precious fruits of years of her hard work - her thoughts, her research, her observations, her inferences, her views.
So what if it is about the subject of women? and writing?
Aren't women one half of the human race? The so-called better half at that. What is so wrong about getting to know about the history of their evolution as thinkers, as composers, as sentient beings with the power of expression but without the power to assert themselves?
So you better read it. Yes you, the silently scoffing and judging member of the 'stronger' sex. Yes you too. Because it does not only talk about women writers but life itself and the art of writing.

The blurb and the countless reviews famously identify this book as one of the greatest feminist polemics of the last century. I beg to differ. It will be unfair to tag it with the label of a polemic - a word with a highly negative connotation. Because Virginia Woolf's aim, instead, was to dispel all forms of negativity from the vocation of writing. Sure, she gives us the feminist side of things - but her voice is not full of seething rage or resentment but balanced, logical, sardonic and even humorous at times.

This is Woolf's homage to the spirit of those unsung heroines of the distant past who may have written poems, songs and ballads but were forced to adopt anonymity simply because it was unacceptable for a woman to write. Those imaginative souls who may have wanted desperately to write but could not because society thrust gender specific roles of the mother and wife on them and did not even bother educating them.
What if Shakespeare had an equally talented sister but who could never be another Shakespeare herself because she would have been mocked at had she expressed a desire to write plays or poetry?
Woolf asks us to spare a moment and reflect on the sad fate of these martyrs, history has not bothered to record.

"When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a woman."

She makes it clear to us that Jane Austen was a clever, clever writer because she never tried to adopt the style of a man's writing or his sentence construction. She created her own.
And with a rather limited range of experiences in the real world at her command, she could neither have written about bloody wars nor about politics - spheres women still hadn't earned the right to enter. Instead she wrote what she saw and witnessed in the sitting chambers of the houses of the gentry.
(This rekindles my interest in Jane Austen which had started to wane over the past few years.)

She also repeatedly stresses on how a woman needs a room of her own and money to be able to write. A room of her own because she needs a breathing space where she could revel in the knowledge of her identity as a person, as a woman, as a thinker over her identity as a dutiful daughter or wife or mother.

Although I disagree with her assertion of having money as a necessary criterion for aiming to become a writer, I think financial independence could have been a metaphor for empowerment of women or a reference to freedom from having to rely on someone else, especially a man, and to be able to decide the course of your own life.

Woolf ends her essay by exhorting both men and women to take up their pens and write, laying emphasis on the necessity of stepping outside the limits of narrow gender identities and be the writer with an androgynous mind instead - the one capable of uniting the spirit of both the man and woman and letting it reflect in one's craft.

And it is at this point, I felt truly thankful for her 500 pounds a year and a room of her own.
Since that may have, after all, allowed this marvelous, deeply enlightening piece of writing to come into existence in the first place.
Image of Africa/the Trouble With Nigeria (Great Ideas) - Chinua Achebe Presently, An Image of Africa has 37 ratings and 2 reviews (not including mine). While [b:Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays|113410|Hopes and Impediments Selected Essays|Chinua Achebe||109186], a compilation of essays by Achebe which contains this famous piece along with a few others, has 109 ratings and 8 reviews.

Which means this particular essay is as unknown and ignored as Heart of Darkness is universally read and worshipped.
This does not however indicate that Achebe has been given the cold shoulder by Goodreaders. (Oh no not at all, he is very popular instead.)
Merely this that, either most people on this site are not too intent on reading essays or not specifically interested in an African writer's denouncement of a most revered piece of literature written by a European.
Even a Google search wasn't able to cough up links to coherent reviews of Achebe's essay than a meagre 2 or 3, one of which was posted on a UK based website, which understandably enough, shot down all of Achebe's claims in the same way as the rest of the world may dismiss a threat of nuclear war made by North Korea.

Sharp, precise, thorough and keen in its deconstruction of Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a piece of mainstream literature fraught with racist implications, An Image of Africa does not only seek to label Conrad as a 'bloody racist' as the description says. (for your information, reader, he uses the word 'thoroughgoing' instead of 'bloody')
Achebe also brings to our notice, the often overlooked aspects of this literary fiction that is read by millions and taught as coursework for literature students worldwide, especially in American universities. Among the numerous critiques of Heart of Darkness, not one exists which points out Conrad's blatant dehumanization of the inhabitants of Africa as a manifestation of an obstinate white sense of superiority.
Which is why Achebe took it upon himself to write one.

"A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz.

Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art."

I think I ended up highlighting so much while reading that it would have sufficed to just highlight the entire printed text or leave it alone and consider the whole thing highlighted, anyway.
Achebe's line of reasoning and thought is impossible to slight and makes one see Conrad's much vaunted literary masterpiece in a new light altogether.
But another reading of Heart of Darkness is needed before I can extol the infallibility of Achebe's arguments with more conviction.
The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us - Simon Pegg, Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman I am officially scandalized.
Dale sleeps with Andrea. And it's not a one time thing, they have a continued love affair. Are you kidding me? Eww. Eww. Eww. I am thankful the tv show had the good sense to omit out this subplot. Okay let me say this again just because I want to - EWWWWWW!
Paper Towns - John Green At a superficial level, Paper Towns is not much apart from a regular YA novel.

It's about American teenagers doing what teenagers do - surviving high school, trying to fit into social cliques, getting into colleges, dating, breaking up, dating again, losing their virginities and so on and so forth.
Yet simmering deeper beneath that surface, it is a story flavoured with the bittersweetness of life itself.

It is about an unremarkable, often ignored boy named Quentin whose presence is almost taken for granted by every one around him. And it is about his polar opposite - a rebellious girl called Margo, Quentin's neighbor, who is seen only as the quintessential popular girl at school. And it is about the pair of them discovering who they really are underneath that exterior of carefully preserved appearances, through a long and convoluted process.

When Margo goes missing after a night of 'vengeance' wreaked on a handful of people at school who 'betrayed' her, the only person truly interested in getting her back or finding out her whereabouts is none other than Quentin. Because, predictably, our male lead has had a crush on Margo since he was a kid.
But how does he find her when she has disappeared of her own free will and apparently without a trace? - Turns out Margo has left clues behind for only Quentin to piece together and find out where she is headed and more importantly, why she has taken off abruptly anyway.
This puts Quentin at the head of a long, winding, physical and metaphysical journey of deconstructing the enigma that Margo Roth Spiegelman is, figuring out where she is and in the process of it all, coming closer to understanding himself and the people around him better.

As a woman who spent her teenage years in a country like India, let me say that American YA fiction makes us feel as if we're reading about people from an alternate plane of reality. While American teens go to prom, date, forge sexual dalliances, smoke pot, go clubbing,(sometimes) engage in illegal activities, take a gap year after school and mainly act and behave like adults (as per what is shown in tv shows and written in books), a good majority of Indian teens are busy taking private tuitions to get into the premier engineering institute in the country.
Because our society holds a degree in engineering in the highest regard and sees it as a one-way ticket to the realm of financial eminence.

So it's more of an understatement to say that we do not relate to American teens - we read these YA novels partly out of bizarre fascination and partly out of curiosity.
But rarely do we stumble across a YA story which is able to surmount the barriers of stiff cultural divides and sing to the universal human spirit instead.
Paper Towns is like that rare gem in a genre well-known for its banality. It is alternately frivolous in its portrayal of teenagers and melancholic in its ruminations on life, love and the way we choose to put labels on people without caring to know the real person under the disguise of the stereotype.

But it is not free from its quota of cliches, minor flaws and inconsistencies. The pairing up of the school geek with the school beauty, her jock boyfriend, bitchy best friend and two additional nerdy boys as sidekicks of the male lead - these are but formulaic elements found in a run-of-the-mill YA novel.

Also, in real life a girl like Margo is unlikely to exist and even though she insists on the contrary, her penchant for drama and actions appear to be desperate bids for more attention - a fact John Green doesn't gloss over by making the side characters point this out to Quentin time and again. There's also something very Holden Caulfield-ish about Margo, a thought I just couldn't get out of my head.
Not to mention, the whole premise comes off as a little unrealistic as well - Margo is repeatedly shown to be a near invincible character whose plans and designs seldom fail.
But even so, the strengths of this book do enough to overshadow its shortcomings. John Green's fast dialogue and witty one-liners help you crack a smile here and there. -

"Getting you a date to prom is so hard that the hypothetical idea itself is actually used to cut diamonds."

"Girls dig you," he said to me, which was at best true only if you defined the word girls as "girls in the marching band."

Also some of the hilarious situations that Quentin and his friends find themselves in during the course of their road trip, made me laugh out loud multiple times which doesn't happen often.

Ben keeps bouncing his legs up and down.
"Will you stop that?"
"I've had to pee for three hours."
"You've mentioned that."
"I can feel the pee all the way up to my rib cage," he says. "I am honestly full of pee. Bro, right now, seventy percent of my body weight is pee."

And what sealed my absolute, unwavering love for this book was the ending. The sheer poignancy and symbolism of it will not fade away from my memories any time soon.
John Green dares to ponder on the difference between being in love with the hypothetical idea of a person and being in love with the actual person of flesh and blood, while staying within the limits of a genre not noted either for its depth or emotional range.

And this is why, Paper Towns stays with the reader long after he/she has finished reading it - as a great story and as a somewhat sentimental discourse on the imperfection of life.
It also reinstates my faith in the existence of good young adult literature.
Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke If science fiction usually treads the fine line between mere speculation and actual scientific feasibilities, then Arthur C. Clarke can be accused of taking a cosmic leap of faith into the realm of highly unrealistic speculation, in this book.

For at least 75% of the narrative, I remained largely clueless about where the story was heading and for the remaining 25% I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the ludicrousness of it all.

Aliens, who are referred to by a fancy name like 'Overlords' (*eyeroll*) to boot, come down from a distant galaxy in the universe and establish their rule over Earthlings. Earth transforms into a kind of utopia in a hundred years during which disease, poverty, hunger, crimes, social inequality, threat of nuclear wars are permanently eliminated thanks to the diplomacy and benevolence of the Overlords. And then comes the shocker or the real reason for the Overlords colonizing our cherished planet - turns out the almighty Overlords are no more than mere agents in the service of an even higher form of intelligence called the 'Overmind' (*more eyeroll*) who seek to tap into the reserves of metaphysical power of the mind of man and help mankind transition into the next stage of evolution.

Don't bother trying to make sense of that last part. It didn't make much sense to me either and I generally keep an open mind while reading science fiction. And what happens at the end sounds way more ridiculous that what I wrote for the sake of this review.

In his effort to explore a subject like existential crisis (why are 'we' here? what is the meaning of life?) and ponder on phenomenon Science has still not been able to explain convincingly enough, Clarke has taken a tumble into the abyss of sheer absurdity. Not even willing suspension of disbelief helped endear me to your theories Mr Clarke.
Mankind's purpose of existence is to birth an ultimate generation of not-very-human children with potent psychic powers (*insert more eyeroll*) who achieve a sort of communion with the 'Overmind' (was this Clarke's euphemism for 'God'?) and get to be one with the Universe. While their progenitors eventually die out, thereby, wiping out the last of the human species as we know it. (Huh?)

Neither is Childhood's End event-driven nor does it contain the heart-stopping suspense that I have come to associate with Clarke's creations. And to further intensify my lack of interest in the book, none of the characters made an impression.

I guess Clarke's aim was only to propound a theory (albeit a far-fetched one) rather than to weave an intriguing tale revolving around space exploration/travel. And I was clearly not among the target audience of this book.

But this does not in any way diminish my love for Clarke. My science-fiction adoring soul, will come back to this man time and again, in search of a story as fascinating as [b:2001: A Space Odyssey|70535|2001 A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #1)|Arthur C. Clarke||208362].
I just hope I find something better next time.

**Originally posted on:-April 3rd, 2013**
Death in Venice - Michael Henry Heim, Thomas Mann, Michael Cunningham "On a personal level, too, art is life intensified: it delights more deeply, consumes more rapidly; it engraves the traces of imaginary and intellectual adventure on the countenance of its servant in the long run, for all the monastic calm of his external existence, leads to self-indulgence, overrefinement, lethargy, and a restless curiosity that a lifetime of wild passions and pleasures could scarcely engender."

Read this if you appreciate long, wordy passages (like the one above) so exquisitely crafted that they wrest attention away from the main narrative. Read this, even if your moral compass directs you to wrinkle your nose in disgust at the innermost thoughts of an ageing author pining after a beautiful, fourteen year old boy in Venice.
The literary richness and the lush beauty of Mann's prose demand you read this.
The Razor's Edge - W. Somerset Maugham 3.5 stars

In a nutshell, this contains Maugham's indictment of the culture of materialism, upper class snobbery and the story of a man's spiritual awakening and search for the true meaning of life. He has analyzed the opposite ends of the spectrum of human tendencies and juxtaposed themes of kindness and human goodwill along with the basest of human feelings such as contempt and jealousy in a way truly characteristic of a master of the art. But some portions were unnecessarily drawn out. And I felt Maugham's deliberate reveal of himself as a character in the story and as the narrator, didn't add anything to the narrative and instead mellowed down its intensity to a certain extent.

Currently reading

Padgett Powell
The Pure Gold Baby
Margaret Drabble
The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear
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