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Title: A Doll’s House
Author: Henrik Ibsen
Genre: drama
Publisher: Dover Thrift
Published: 1879
number of pages: 72
my rating: 4/5

A Doll’s House is realistic play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The plot centers on the marriage life of Nora, a seemingly ridiculous housewife who is merely not taken seriously and controlled by her husband Helmer, who has recently been promoted at the bank. Nora has forged her father’s signature to pay for a visit to Italy with her ill husband without his knowledge, making him think that her father provided the money. When her childhood friend, Mrs Linde, is desperately seeking a job, Nora promises to ask her husband to give her one. This threatens the job of Krogstad, a lawyer, who may be replaced by Mrs. Linde. He happens to be Nora’s secret loaner, so he blackmails her, threatening to reveal Nora’s forgery if his job is given to Linde, even though he has also committed forgery before. This leaves Nora anxious, as she travails to prevent Helmer’s reading of a letter from Krogstad; this situation forces her to confront her husband and finally question her role as woman.

Ibsen’s uniqueness is his ability to convey everyday and realistic situations with suspense. Nora is woman trapped in society’s perception of a wife’s role. She is playfully addressed by her husband, who calls her a “skylark” and a “squirrel”, and as Nora herself says in the end, has never addressed her seriously. Although Nora proves that she subliminally understood her hapless role, she seemed unconscious of it, accepting her husband’s ridiculous remarks. At the end, she commits the scandalous doing of leaving her children and her husband, declaring, “ I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are…” and slamming the door shut after herself. Before a woman leaves her husband, she may stay for the sake of her children, but Nora does not do this. She considers herself a human being before she is a wife and mother, and does not let this alter her decision.

According to Sparknotes, Ibsen’s believes that both partners should treat each other equally in a marriage. Nora’s abandoning her husband and children may have been scandalous, and arguably irresponsible, but I think that Ibsen posed that question as a reflection of the society he was living in, which is comparable to today’s.

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In his 2000 memoir, Out of Place, Palestinian critic and Columbia University Professor, Edward Said, recounts his life (mostly his childhood and early adulthood) in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and ultimately the U.S.

The theme of this book is feeling “out of place”: being a Christian Palestinian Arab American, Said was affected by the political upheaval around him, and his father’s difficult scrutiny of him, or “bullying” caused him to be shy and lack esteem as a child. His complicated but close relationship with his mother is also a major topic in this book, about which he writes several passages, showing his skill at putting subtle expressions on paper; he also rounds up the book with the topic of his mother.

Out of Place is an honest and moving account of coming of age and belonging. It is astounding how Said remembers the details and names of his formative years, and especially the people – family members, teachers and friends – who have influenced his life.

At a later phase of the book, Said writes harrowingly about the experience of being fatally ill and the feeling of nearing death. Out of Place is not just an episodic autobiography, but a sort of reflection and realization of the past which shaped the author’s life. Edward Said’s writing contains memories and scenes infused within each other; each memory smoothly leading to another: It is a mesmerizingly absorbing book and page turner..

Said writes lively accounts of the many dimensions of school life in Cairo and the United States: the cunning tricks he and his friends played on his teachers, corporal punishment, unjust teachers (astonishing how one remembers those school authorities who used to pick one you), friendship, loneliness, and generally the bizarre and absurd things of school.

He also discusses his avid love for classical music and literature. As a young person, Edward was, even if subliminally, aware of the the effect of colonization and dispossession, for he had lived through it himself and observed its victims. Out of Place is an ebullient account and reflection on an intellectual’s life, filled with rich and touching memories and dialogue (made all the more vibrant with Arabic phrases).

I think that Out of Place is a quintessential book in the memoir genre; read it.

Out of Place on Amazon

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Title: Other Colors: Essays and a Story

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Note: I’ve read most of the essays on this book, but not every single one of them.

Other Colors is a collection of non-fiction pieces and a story by the Turkish Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk. The book is mainly composed of literature, politics, and personal essays, including an interview and Pamuk’s Nobel Lecture.

Other Colors is a wonderful book because it shows the reader an honest portrait of Pamuk. It includes many thoughtful pieces which Pamuk has written over the years. In the section Books and Reading, Pamuk reflects on great authors such as Camus, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Victor Hugo. The good thing about Other Colors is that there is something in there for everyone and every mood, ranging from amusing reflections on everyday life and Pamuk’s childhood, to his observations and thoughts on Europe and Istanbul.

Pamuk’s essays, especially the ones on his childhood, family and on literature, were very inspiring for me. He writes deeply about the process of writing and reading, often discussing what thoughts are in the reader’s minds and literature shapes one’s identity.

Pamuk writes in “In Kars and Frankfurt”:

“…For it is by reading novels, stories and myths that we come to understand the ideas that govern the world in which we live; it is fiction that gives us access to the truths kept veiled by our families, our schools, and our society; it is the art of the novel that allows us to ask who we really are.”

Finally, I’d like to mention Pamuk’s Nobel Lecture, “My Father’s Suitcase”. It is one of my favorite pieces of writing by Pamuk. He writes about the pleasures of reading, and his father’s failed attempts to become a poet, and how, nevertheless, he was always encouraged by him. You can read the lecture or download it here.

The best way to know the true Pamuk is to read Other Colors, in addition to his stories, of course. Pamuk proves to be a great and sympathetic writer and literary person. His reflective essays are very true, delectable, but also sad at times.

Other Colors at Barnes and Noble

http://www.orhanpamuk.com/ and Pamuk at NobelPrize.org

Read my review of My Name is Red, also by Orhan Pamuk

NyTimes review of Other Colors

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Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart, is set in the village Umuofia in Nigeria. It is about the personal struggle of Okonkwo, the main character, to live contrary to his father’s own shameful and ignominious life. Therefore, he is often harsh toward his wives and children and tries not to show any passion or friendliness. Things Fall Apart also chronicles the colonization of Achebe’s village by European missionaries and its effect on the Igbo people.

Things Fall Apart is divided into three parts, the first two provide the reader with an insight into the cultures and tradition of Umuofia, using Igbo language for local terms. Before the missionaries arrived and introduced the Christian religion, Achebe shows that the village, although having its issues, was functional. Men of honor received their deserved rankings and the gods were respected. However, there were people who were unaccepted in the society, and others who felt baffled by things they didn’t understand, such as Okonwo’s son, Nwoye. Those were people who had a chance to at least explore their identities and feel they belonged to a society by the arrival of the missionaries.

Okonkwo, in my opinion, is a sad character because he is the type who doesn’t finally encounter a revelation in his personal journey, and in the end commits suicide. Superficially he appears as a harsh person for his fear of appearing effeminate. Although men and women had different roles in society, Okonkwo’s perception of manliness was beyond that of his village. He is haunted by his father, who died in debt and failed to provide for his family (even though a man was judged by his own achievements and not by those of his father), so Okonkwo works very hard and develops a tough attitude, often scorning his son Nwoye for what he sees as laziness. Okonkwo accomplished his wish; he showed everybody that he was unlike his father, and he gained several honors, but he was still an unhappy person.

The language of Things Fall Apart is simple but descriptive and renders beautiful imagery

“…And then came the clap of thunder. It was an angry, metallic and thirsty clap, unlike the deep and liquid rumbling of the rainy season. A mighty wind arose and filled the air with dust. Palm trees swayed as the wind combed their leaves into flying crests like strange and fantastic coiffure.”

Things Fall Apart shows that Africa is a complex continent, but also has problems like any other society (Ogbanje, or “a wicked child who is born and then dies only to re-enter its mother’s womb over and over again” and committers of dishonorable things such as suicide were cast in the Evil Forest)

Visit this BBC website to download a documentary of Chinua Achebe’s homecoming or watch it on Youtube.

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The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller, an adaption of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, where over a hundred people accused of witchcraft, some of them executed for that.

The Crucible begins with a group of young girls dancing in the forest, doing hysterical things and “conjuring spirits”, which was considered unacceptable in their society. When she is questioned by her uncle Reverend Parris, Abigail, one of the girls who were dancing in the forest, defends herself and the other girls by accusing their slave Tituba of conjuring dead spirits. Soon after, in hysteria, the girls start accusing other people of witchcraft. An investigator, Reverend Hale, and a group of judges are called to the town when Salem is turned into a hostile and terrifying environment of people pointing fingers at each other.

Although it is less popular than Death of a Salesman, The Crucible is a moving play. Through the hysteria of witchcraft accusations, the play focuses on Elizabeth and John Proctor. Abigail, who is having an affair with John Proctor, gets fired by Elizabeth when she discovers this. Now Abigail, like many others, has a chance to take vengeance, so she accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft. John Proctor, ashamed of his unfaithfulness, tries to convince the judge of Abigail’s untruthfulness to defend Elizabeth, who is known for never telling a lie. Now Elizabeth is put to the test in front of the judge to prove her innocence.

The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s response to McCarthyism and Communism, where envy and hostility lingered in the air. The Crucible is very dramatic, even when read. Because of corrupt judges and injustice, many people were executed. To me, the crucial points in the play were the accusers’ chances to admit their involvement in witchcraft and be spared execution. Yet there were memorable people such as Rebecca Nurse who refused to tell a lie and faced execution for that. The superficially impenetrable judges and officials, such as Deputy Governor Danforth and Reverend Hale, are revealed for their hypocrisy when things turn out worse than expected.

A thing I was thinking about while reading the play and after that was Abigail, an untruthful and vicious girl, a bully. She was actually the one who started all this havoc by first accusing Tituba of witchcraft. Girls can be very deceiving.

I highly recommend the Viking Library Critical Library edition of the Crucible. It doesn’t just include the play, but also commentary by Arthur Miller himself and essays and reviews of the play and its production. It also has documents and records of the Salem Witch Trials. It certainly enriched my experience of the play.

An excellent movie adaptation of The Crucible is the 1996 film starring Daniel Day Lewis as John Proctor.


The Crucible movie poster

The Crucible Shmoop studyuide

wikipedia

The Salem Witch Trials

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gatsbyThe Great Gatsby tells the love story of the rich Jay Gatsby and the childish, wealthy Daisy Buchannan. Set in the Jazz Age following World War One, it chronicles the attitudes of the new arising society. After five years, Gatsby finds the chance of accomplishing his dream: winning back his old lover Daisy, with the aid of the new outsider, Nick Carraway, who comes to Long Island to sell bonds but becomes deeply involved in the story. Gatsby is disappointed in the end after discovering that the notion that Daisy deeply loves him was untrue.

I think that Nick Carrway’s point of view was a very good way of describing the new period after World War One because it showed the attitudes of its people from another detailed perspective.

 

“That fellow had it coming to him. He through dust into our eyes just like he did in Daisy’s, but he was a tough one”.

Tom Buchannan says this after he and Daisy confront Nick for the last time; but more importantly, after the shooting of Jay Gatsby. After vainly trying to convince him otherwise, Nick loses hope of making them understand the truth. Tom doesn’t seem to know that it was Daisy who recklessly killed Myrtle, the wife of George Wilson the garage owner, with whom Tom was having an affair. Daisy, who knows that she killed Myrtle, doesn’t tell Tom the truth and follows along. In my opinion, knowing the truth wouldn’t have changed anything on the behalf of Tom. Although he doesn’t know the truth, he doesn’t want to know. He is content with living luxuriously and care-free in his ignorance.

When Gatsby becomes rich, he turns into a material man. Before the war, Daisy leaves him for the wealthy Tom Buchannan. The past five years, during which he turned himself into a millionaire, he has been thinking of fulfilling his dream of getting Daisy back, with the dreamy notion that she still loves him and had been faithful to him all those past years, like he had been. In the movie and in the book, his confusion is shown in this moment:

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once—but I loved you too.”

Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.

“You loved me TOO?” he repeated.

“…It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”

This is still relevant today. Tom and Daisy both have narcissist attitudes, and when they are engulfed in their own depressed worlds, they care not what they do around them, and they have no guilt over their doings.

The 1974 movie a good companion to the book. To me, it focused more on the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy. Mia Farrow performed an excellent portrayal of Daisy Buchannan. I didn’t think that she overacted. She visually showed Daisy’s character as it was. Robert Redford also very-well depicted the “cool” and mysterious character of Gatsby. However, some silent moments in the play seemed like gaps to me, they were awkward.

The people of the Jazz Age, as Fitzgerald depicted them, were fascinating:

“I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited, they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.”

After not even having Gatsby (but some “acquaintances” of his) and even enjoying themselves at his great mansion, they accuse him of being a German spy and of killing somebody. This shows the immorality and vicious gossip in the 1920s.

I find Gatsby’s situation sad because he has always genuinely loved Daisy, perhaps something rare in that period, but he thought he could win her back and please her through material and his great house. Gatsby was so determined in achieving his dream that he thought he could repeat the past (“Why of course you can!”) He reminds me of Florentino Ariz, in Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, who waits fifty-one years, nine months, and four days for his lover’s husband to die. The difference is that Florentino achieves his dream, proving the power of enduring love and patience, unlike Gatsby, who has been patient also. Florentino did not attempt to change himself or his status; but Gatsby thought he could win back Daisy through the wrong way; millions and materialistic luxury.

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A brief introduction of the book: In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet, the fussy and sometimes inappropriate mother of the Bennet sisters, aims to have her five daughters married. The novel starts with the arrival of the wealthy Mr. Bingley to town, who has newly rented a Netherfield estate. Mrs. Bennet wants him to marry her eldest and most beautiful daughter, Jane. However, the novel centers on Elizabeth, the clever and sharp-witted second oldest sister, and her relationship with, or “first impressions” of Mr. Darcy. He is the wealthy taciturn and superficially cold friend of Bingley. Issues of wealth and class are apparent in Pride and Prejudice: The Bennets live reasonably well, whereas Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are extremely wealthy.

Pride and Prejudice also focuses on the silly, and often funny, social behaviors of people. Jane Austen displays how people, especially females, can manipulate their acquaintances and be aggressive toward others through social gestures (such as ignoring somebody or refusing to enter one’s house) and conversation.

At their first ball in Netherfield, Mr. Darcy shows total disinterest in dancing with anybody, and Jane forms an obstinate negative impression of him from that point, not even allowing him to prove otherwise. Pride and Prejudice deals a very wise issue, which is judging people by negative thoughts on them. This is displayed through Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Elizabeth makes the grave mistake of believing everything she hears, especially when it adds to her original opinion. Through a deceiving Mr. Wickham, Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship worsens, leading to an utterly unjust and harsh judgment of Darcy from Elizabeth, and to Elizabeth’s shameful regret for harming Darcy.

Although not my favorite of books, Pride and Prejudice is nevertheless very engaging, but it goes beyond that. Pride and Prejudice confronts very important social issues: prejudice and misunderstanding. Most of the novel is about Elizabeth’s misunderstanding of almost all of Darcy’s relationships, actions and intentions, and her prejudice toward him. He is a most pitiful character, in my opinion.

I think that throughout the novel, Darcy has been victimized by Elizabeth, the evil-intentioned Mr. Wickham, and all the people who dislike him, with the thought that he is proud. I never thought Darcy to be a vain or proud man. He is merely observant and solemn. First, Elizabeth despises him for breaking the relationship between her sister Jane and Mr. Bingley by advising Bingley to leave town, but after reading his long letter, she comes to face the truth that Jane never showed deep affection toward Mr. Bingley. This brings me to the conclusion that Mr. Darcy only cared for the happiness and best interests of his friend. After Jane learns more about him, she discovers that Darcy is a very sincere and kind man.

 

“Anyone who has gone along with the notion that the pride highlighted in the title of the novel in embodied in Darcy now has to contend with the discovery that both this quality and its pair are being attributed to Elizabeth.”

-Introduction in Oxford World Classics edition of Pride and Prejudice.

 

Regarding the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightley, I find it a pretty good interpretation of the book, enjoyable by readers of the book and nonreaders also. The movie wasn’t exactly accurate compared to the the book, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that Matthew Macfadyen excellently performed the role of Mr. Darcy, making his character even more lovable. Although set in the 18th century, I felt the movie was modern. The style of the novel is formal, and I think the movie added a touch of satisfaction and fun for viewers. But to really appreciate the story, one should read the book in addition to watching the movie. One must put in mind that the movie is short, and many important scenes, such as Mr. Darcy’s letter, had to greatly shortened.

The movie did not ignore the issue of wealth. The glib Elizabeth seemed somewhat humbled and at the same time amazed as she gazed at Mr. Darcy’s extravagant paintings and sculptures at his colossal mansion, after roughly rejecting his marriage.

I must add that Mr. Collins, the man who is to inherit the Bennets’ estate, was overly caricatured. Elizabeth was not a very likable character throughout the movie. She was very mean to Mr. Darcy, and had a tendency of sticking her eyes where they shouldn’t be; but after all, she is a proud and prejudiced woman, and wasn’t meant to be admired in the novel. But she still gets a happy ending: a man with high merit, and a lot of money.

Mattew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy

"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."

Pride and Prejudice

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