Monday, December 31, 2012

Charles Dickens in Love by Robert Garnett


* * * * 1/2

The book's description from the publisher's website (Pegasus Books):

When Charles Dickens died in 1870 he was the best-known man in the English-speaking world—the preeminent Victorian celebrity, universally mourned as both a noble spirit and the greatest of novelists. Yet when the first person named in his will turned out to be an unknown woman named Ellen Ternan, only a handful of people had any idea who she was. Of his romance with Ellen, Dickens had written, “it belongs to my life and probably will only die out of the same with the proprietor,” and so it was—until his death she remained the most important person in his life.She was not the first woman who had fired his imagination. As a young man he had fallen deeply in love with a woman who “pervaded every chink and crevice” of his mind for three years, Maria Beadnell, and when she eventually jilted him he vowed that “I never can love any human creature but yourself.” A few years later he was stunned by the sudden death of his young sister-in-law, Mary Scott Hogarth, and worshiped her memory for the rest of his life. “I solemnly believe that so perfect a creature never breathed,” he declared, and when he died over thirty years later he was still wearing her ring.Charles Dickens has no rival as the most fertile creative imagination since William Shakespeare, and no one influenced his imagination more powerfully than these three women, his muses and teachers in the school of love. Using hundreds of primary sources, Charles Dickens in Love narrates the story of the most intense romances of Dickens’s life and shows how his novels both testify to his own strongest affections and serve as memorials to the young women he loved all too well, if not always wisely.

Prior to having read Charles Dickens in Love, I'd had minimal knowledge of Dickens. I knew next to nothing about the person he was, and of the writer I knew only that he was prolific and a staple of literary talent and productivity (I have only ever read Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol). I am very happy that despite my seeming lack of interest in and a glaring lack of knowledge about Charles Dickens, I decided to read Mr. Garnett's book. Charles Dickens in Love became to me a perfect invitation to enter the author's life through his novels. Dickens was a fascinating and complex person. A person for whom to live meant to love and love he did.

Now, I usually do not read biographies. But if they are written in a way Robert Garnett wrote his book, I may have made a mistake by avoiding this non-fiction genre. Garnett's writing is crisp, approachable and very friendly for a person new to Charles Dickens especially, but for all readers in general as well. I appreciated that I was allowed to draw my own conclusions as to Dickens's life, conduct and personality. Yes, it is clear that Mr. Garnett cares deeply about Charles Dickens and has a detailed and extensive knowledge about that author's body of work as well as his personal life. Garnett's hope that we, as readers, would also come to care is also present between the pages of Charles Dickens in Love. But never once did I get an impression that there was some scheme contrived by the author to portray Dickens in as becoming light as possible and leave all infamous deeds of his in the background. No. As a matter of fact, I felt only indignation and deep dislike towards Charles Dickens for his treatment of his wife, for his egocentric attitude and clear love of himself. However, as the story progressed, so did my feelings thaw and in the end, I hope I can think about Charles Dickens in a more objective light, always keeping in mind that life is never, ever black and white.

I am so impressed with Charles Dickens in Love, that I have designated 2013 to be my year of reading some of his novels. Robert Garnett weaved books such as David Copperfield, Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Oliver Twist into the narrative of Dickens's life and his loves so neatly that I simply cannot put them out of my mind. One small piece of waning to some: if spoilers of any kind ruin books for you, be prepared that you will encounter them when reading Mr. Garnett's book. I didn't mind them at all. I feel that what I read about in Charles Dickens in Love will instead enrich my reading experience when approaching Dickens's masterpieces.

FTC: I received an e-galley of Charles Dickens in Love from Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Best & Worst ~ My 2012 in Reading

As 2012 coming to an end, the list are popping up all over the place. Since I always go against the grain and don't really care for opinions of magazines' critics (a mixture of experience and instinct), my reading differed from theirs quite a bit. But I'm ending this year quite satisfied in the literary choices I made. Here's an overview of what I liked and didn't, if you care to know. Be warned that not all I include here were books published in 2012.

My Best Reads

Published in 2012

1. The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

2. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey

3. Toby's Room by Pat Barker

4. We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen

5. Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Shelley Emling

6. The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

7. Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

8. Wilderness by Lance Weller

9. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

10. A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

11. The Sadness of the Samurai by Victor Del Arbol

12. The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

13. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

14. Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

15. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Published Before 2012

1. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

2. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

4. Falls the Shadow by Sharon Kay Penman

5. The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

6. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

7. Maisie Dobbs & Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

8. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler Olsen

9. Winds of War by Herman Wouk

10. The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller

11. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

12. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Unfortunate Disappointments 

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

2. Helen of Troy by Margaret George

3. The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Special Mention for an Outstanding Audio Performance

1. Holy Bible: Word of Promise New Testament

2. The Word of Promise The Gift of Psalms

Friday, December 14, 2012

Roman Tales by Stendhal, translated by Susan Ashe


* * * 1/2

The book's description from NetGalley:

Revered by key literary figures including as Balzac and Merime, Stendhal is best known for his novels, but his shorter works were just as powerful. In this brand new translation, Susan Ashe brings his greatest Italian stories to the modern reader, whilst staying true to Stendhal’s style and brilliance. 
The collection includes:
-    The Abbess of Castro
-Vittoria Accordamboni 
-The Cenci 
-Along with accompanying essays by Charles Dickens, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Stendhal himself. 
Together, these stories convey Stendhal’s love of Italy and admiration for the society’s honesty, sincerity, and above all, passion. ‘Roman Tales’ will reaffirm Stendhal as one of the great French masters of the 19th Century.
Stendhal is one of those authors that I have known of for a long time (his Red and Black was recommended to me by my Language Arts teacher in high school) but that I just never read and what's worse, couldn't even give myself a good reason why. I reached for this collection of short stories then, mainly because I figured it would be a good introduction to Stendhal and a way to decide whether I'd want to read more of him.

This collection turned out to be somewhat of a mixed bag. I loved The Abbess of Castro (the longest of the stories). Stendhal is witty there and his admiration for Italy and Italian people is evident. He didn't even try to disguise it in any hyperbolas or metaphors. His sharp criticism of the French (his natives) and biting comparisons to the Italians are quite fun to read whether one agrees with it or not. Here's a fine example of what I mean:

In sixteenth-century France a man could show his manhood and true mettle (...) only on the battlefield or in a duel. And as women love bravery and daring, they became the supreme judges of a man's worth. Thus gallantry was born. This led to the successive destruction of all passions, including love, thereby benefitting (sic!) that cruel tyrant whom we all obey - vanity (...)
In Italy a man could distinguish himself as much by the discovery of an old manuscript as by the sword (...) Passions rather than gallantry held sway. This is why Italy gave birth to a Raphael, a Giorgione, a Titian, and a  Correggio, while France produced all the brave commanders of the sixteenth century, each of whom slew numberless numbers of the enemy and yet today are utterly unknown. (loc. 149-57)*

Throughout that first novella as well as the remaining stories Stendhal doesn't hesitate to point out such cultural and national differences negatively contrasting his native country with Italy, Spain or even Germany.

Probably the most interesting aspect of Roman Tales to me is Stendhal revealing himself to be both a historical author and a translator. It presents a certain charm as well as a new perspective on history when learning about it from a figure to whom 16th century may have been long gone but nevertheless not as long ago as five centuries it is for us. Stendhal may have even had better resources in available texts and maybe even oral history that hadn't had a chance to become utterly diluted by outright fibs or myths. And again, Stendhal had an opinion or two on historians as well.

If anyone wants to know the history of Italy, the important thing is not to read the widely accepted authors. Nowhere has the value of a lie been better appreciated, nowhere better paid. (loc. 181-82)*

I don't know about others but I think those words spoken in the 19th century are astoundingly accurate to many historical writers of the late 20th & early 21st centuries.

Stendhal as a translator is yet another beast. He claimed that the stories within Roman Tales were not his creation but merely translations of the records put together from witness accounts of actual incidents. According to what Norman Thomas di Giovanni wrote in his introduction, the stories are Stendhal's own creation, albeit based on the records available to him, not an ad verbum translation. And I got the same feeling after the fourth or fifth time Stendhal reassures the reader about it. It's a clear case of 'Madame, thou protest too much'. The introduction however is fantastic and sheds a lot of light on who Stendhal was and his creative body of work. It will certainly make you all the more excited to begin reading the stories.

One thing that I could do without was "The Cenci" story. It was almost all narrative, without barely any dialogue and despite it being a short story, it still got pretty tedious. I admit to having skimmed it after about one third of the way.

A Note on Translation

The stories are translated  by Susan Ashe, who appears to be quite an accomplished Italian translator. This edition also mentions other translations done by her, in cooperation with Norman Thomas di Giovanni, also an Italian translator. The quality is evident in the stories, I don't really have a word of criticism to impart here. I greatly appreciated the fact that the translator decided to eliminate certain parts of the collection, even though the purists in the translating world would cry 'foul!' on this one. But Stendhal really seemed to be in love with long, descriptive passages and 'careless repetition of words and phrases that today we find only clumsy and annoying' (Di Giovanni, loc. 120-29) seemed to be right to be eliminated so that a contemporary reader may enjoy the tales. The process of translating this particular work is described nicely, even if not in length, in the introduction and explanations given are absolutely valid and shed a little bit of light into the world of translating.

FTC: I received an e-galley of Roman Tales by Stendhal from the publisher, HarperCollins via NetGalley.

*All quotes are from an unedited copy. Please verify against a finished one for any inaccuracies.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wilderness by Lance Weller


* * * * *

The book's description from Lance Weller's website:

Thirty years after the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It’s a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.
As Abel makes his way into the foothills, the violence he endures at the hands of two thugs who are after his dog is crosscut with his memories of the horrors of the war, the friends he lost, and the savagery he took part in and witnessed. And yet, darkness is cut by light, especially in the people who have touched his life—from Jane Dao-Ming Poole, the daughter of murdered Chinese immigrants, to Hypatia, an escaped slave who nursed him back to life, and finally to the unbearable memory of the wife and child he lost as a young man. Haunted by tragedy, loss, and unspeakable brutality, Abel has somehow managed to hold on to his humanity, finding way stations of kindness along his tortured and ultimately redemptive path.
Quite simply, Wilderness is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. Beautiful in the writing which inspires strong emotions of compassion, sympathy and appreciation of both the nature of people touched by tragedy and suffering and yet persevering to live a meaningful life without giving in to despair and loss of morals, and the Nature, with its landscape, the wilderness surrounding humans, this powerful element of rebirth, always escaping absolute destruction. Heartbreaking in how much pure evil can live in the hearts of men who are determined to hurt others and ruin their lives simply because they can. Heartbreaking also in watching innocent people get hurt, suffer and die in the nightmare of what is perhaps the worst of all wars, civil war (not that there are good wars because there aren't, ever). And Civil War and the battle of the Wilderness is an important event in American history this novel deals with as well.

The Battle of the Wilderness in 1864

Lance Weller is such a talented writer that saying how unbelievable it is his Wilderness is a debut novel seems somehow trite and taking away something from the depth of Mr. Weller's gift. It just somehow doesn't seem to matter whether it's his first or tenth novel. What matters is the story, the characters (good and evil and somewhere in-between) and the meaning, all of which will linger in one's memory for quite some time. Really, I would be surprised and not a little disappointed if anyone who reads it, would find Wilderness lacking in anything.


FTC: I received an e-galley of Wilderness by Lance Weller from the publisher, Bloomsbury via NetGalley for a review.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Notes on Chopin by André Gide, translated by Bernard Frechtman


* * *

The book's description from the publisher:

An inspiring discourse on the power of music from one of the twentieth century’s most important figures, André Gide. 
André Gide, one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century and a devoted pianist, invites readers to reevaluate Frédéric Chopin as a composer “betrayed . . . deeply, intimately, totally violated” by a music community that had fundamentally misinterpreted his work. As a profound admirer of Chopin’s “promenade of discoveries,” Gide intersperses musical notation throughout the text to illuminate his arguments, but most moving is Gide’s own poetic expression for the music he so loved.

I'm not very familiar with the works of André Gide, the French writer, philosopher and Nobel laureate. Notes on Chopin did thankfully give me a pretty good idea of what kind of writer Gide was. He had strong opinions on topics he cared for and it's very clear in Notes on Chopin where he didn't hesitate to use strong words, such as imbecile when talking about pianists who misunderstood the music of Chopin, or barbarity when describing what direction the whole music movement was going. I admit, it was refreshing to read such unchecked anger and indignation when nowadays one is surrounded by authors who seem to be walking on tiptoes careful not to make to strong of a statement dictated by this awful monster of 'political correctness'.

First and foremost, Notes on Chopin is a kind of an homage to Chopin by one of his most ardent admirers who not only was passionate about classical music but also knew quite well what he was talking about. Such knowledge is displayed in what is perhaps the most exasperating side of this work for readers who are not music afficionados: very technical explanations and instructions on how certain notes should or should not be played, complete with drawings of such noted, names of tempos, etc. Thankfully, Gide counterbalances his classical music 'lessons' with opinions and judgements that at times become thrilling and spicy, as well as inviting to music laymen, such as myself. Whether he does it with intent is quite another issue. Something tells me, not so much. André Gide seemed to have taken on a pompous and condescending attitude, and he certainly didn't care one whit about it.

I may be unjust in such judgement of this accomplished and esteemed writer. It may also be some residue from reading Notes on Chopin. One probably shouldn't pay any mind to it. Mostly because, even if you know little about Chopin or classical composers, it won't be a waste of time to devote a day at most (the book is quite sort) to reading this book/essay. Especially if one likes to expand one's knowledge in the field of music world.

A Note On Translation

This Open Road e-book edition has been translated from French by Bernard Frechtman. After some investigation of mine as to his body of work, he seems to be quite  an accomplished translator of French literature. It is therefore somewhat baffling to me that there should be errors, such as can not instead of cannot, repeatedly appearing throughout the book and signs of a bit of a struggle with sentence composition making a few of them sound slightly off and/or awkward. I'm inclined to fault the translation and the editing equally, instead of putting the blame solely on Mr. Frechtman's. Overall, it doesn't make the reading experience unbearable. This issue only takes a little bit of enjoyment away from what otherwise is a work quite worthy of a reader's time and attention.


FTC: I purchased Notes on Chopin e-book.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey


* * * * *

The book's description from the publisher's site:

A studio executive leaves his family and travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to hide for 20 years.
In her tour-de-force first novel, Juliann Garey takes us inside the restless mind, ravaged heart, and anguished soul of Greyson Todd, a successful Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and young daughter and for a decade travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to keep hidden for almost 20 years. The novel intricately weaves together three timelines: the story of Greyson's travels (Rome, Israel, Santiago, Thailand, Uganda); the progressive unraveling of his own father seen through Greyson's eyes as a child; and the intimacies and estrangements of his marriage. The entire narrative unfolds in the time it takes him to undergo twelve 30-second electroshock treatments in a New York psychiatric ward. This is a literary page-turner of the first order, and a brilliant inside look at mental illness.
So very little is written about mental illness. And whatever is written that's of any value is almost never read by the right audience. I hope that Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See will end up in the hands of readers who must read it not because they suffer from mental illness but because they share their lives with a manic-depressive, depressive or schizophrenic person. I have no idea how Juliann Garey managed it but she wrote exactly what it feels to be mad and that there's no 'snapping out of it'. Ever. Because when you try to hide your illness, like Greyson had, it won't eventually go away but return with a vicious vengeance.

Greyson's bipolar disorder finally reigns supreme over his mind and his life. It's absolutely heartbreaking to be a remote witness (as a reader) to how the lives and spirits of Greyson's, his father's and every person's who loved them get ravaged by this invisible monster. But you will not be able to tear yourself away, no matter how much what you read will make your heart ache. Therein lies the power of Ms. Garey's writing. Her prose is beautifully spare, with enough impact to pierce your heart with sorrow for those people who find themselves ruled by a potentially very deadly disease and can do nothing about it, just like they couldn't do anything to prevent it from happening.

Juliann Garey will make you her hostage for the time it'll take you to read Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See. This is not a feel-good novel, it's disturbing, and it's tragic in many ways. But the way this author captured what is going on in the mind of a person affected with a mental illness (bi-polar in this case) is brilliant, precise and as close to the truth as you can get. It's torture and Greyson has to live with it until he dies. In the end, the choices made will be more easily acceptable to any reader, especially those who thankfully never have to live through Greyson's nightmare.

FTC: I received an e-galley of Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See from the publisher, Soho Press via Net Galley for a review.

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey will be on sale on December 26, 2012.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


* * * * *

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

‘Now that I had finished, the beauty of my dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart …’

Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. 

Mary Shelley’s chilling gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. Frankenstein would become the world’s most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.

Many thoughts float through my mind now that I'm finished with this gem. These thoughts seem to be in disagreement with the majority of other readers (fans or not) of Frankenstein. But maybe this tale is a classic precisely because it means so many different things to so many readers. I don't usually use 'timeless' in relation to any pieces of literature, or at least not lightly. But Mary wrote a timeless story if ever there was one. Here's why:

People are assholes and I'm part of 'people', and Frankenstein is a mirror of truth that shows humanity's real reflection and if there have ever been monsters populating this world, it's always been people that are the most dangerous, the most destructive and the cruelest. Maybe Prometheus is not supposed to be praised for saving humanity (there are multiple versions of that myth so, who knows?) but was in the wrong and Zeus was correct in wanting to let humanity perish? Whatever your conclusions may be, one thing is certain: the story of Victor's creation is heartbreaking and I indeed shed tears of sorrow. That being was a beautiful one. He was someone instinctively prepared to be good, do good and see good in others. Whatever evil he did was grounded in what he learned from humans, starting and ending with an all-consuming selfishness and obsession with revenge he learned from his creator, Victor Frankenstein.

What I'm mainly in disagreement with other readers (and lit. critics) is that I don't see any direct link between Mary Shelley's story and religion, God and the dangers of trying to play god in science, and hence going too far. I think if there is anything we're getting warned against, it's the dangers of our passions that can turn into obsession and  push us over the edge where no morality, no good or evil any longer exist but only our singular drive to achieve what we obsess over. It blinds us to everything and everyone. Victor tries to give that warning to the young man to whom he tells his story. As a matter of fact, it's actually one of the first things he says. He even mentions how, if we took our time and not let the sick obsession take over our beings, America would have been discovered much later but without the tragedy and bloodshed the actual discovery otherwise left in its wake*.

I also think that Mary Shelley was in fact a very talented and deliberate writer even then, even at nineteen. I know that many criticize her for the lack of polish and certain amateurishness in her writing. And I'm sure those people know what they're talking about, some of them are my reading friends who I'm 100% certain know what they're saying. But here's my thought: choosing to let Victor tell his own story, she made his account reflect his hideous personality with an accuracy that wouldn't have been present if told in the third person by Captain Walton to whom the story was told. Third person narration would have been too impersonal to have the same impact or too tainted by the potential narrator who was clearly enthralled by Victor. Hence, Victor is despicable because Mary wanted us, the readers, to perceive him as precisely such. Criticism, therefore, of the whole book based on a reader hating Victor is unfounded and should, I think, be re-considered.

**Minor Spoiler**
Victor is in thralls of the very obsession he's moralizing against to the very end, when on his deathbed he is willing to tie the young captain and the lives of everyone on the ship to the promise of chasing after Victor's monster until he is killed. So yeah, Victor is quite a little hypocrite too.

Last but least, the fact that Captain Walton, who also tells his own side of the story in letters (again, a lot more personal and with more impact) is feeling grief over Victor but not over the fate of Frankenstein's creature, that he sees nothing bad in and feels no anger over Victor's conduct/self-pity/self-glamorization is very telling as well. That right there seems to me to be Mary's commentary on the whole of humanity, on our bigotry, hypocrisy and inability to see and cultivate true beauty and innocence.

Frankenstein is really a beautiful and very sad story. It's worth everyone's time. The one thing I don't think it is, is a horror story. It's not at all scary. As I mentioned above, I actually cried over the tragedy of Frankenstein's creature. His despair, helplessness and hopelessness are truly moving. Not a story I will soon forget, if ever.

FTC: I purchased a copy of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

* It's not a direct quote, just my mixture of paraphrasing and interpreting of what Victor said.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe + a few thoughts on his other works

Africa, my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this you, this back that is bent
This back that breaks
Under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
Springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.

David Diop, 'Africa'

Forgive me for the length and for thoughts encompassing the three Achebe's books that comprise the African Trilogy (and a little bit on Anthills of the Savannah), rather than writing a straight-up review of Things Fall Apart. Achebe and these four books are close to my heart. I had loved Achebe's writing, his message and motives for writing from my very first reading. So much so, that I chose this writer's work for my master's dissertation as the only student in my academic year at my university (everyone else went all Shakespeare, Victorian or Austen). What you'll read below then, are just my general thoughts as I remember them from some few years ago.

Chinua Achebe is a post-colonial Nigerian writer who almost all his life has been struggling to bring back to his own nation the sense of dignity which had been lost in the process of colonisation and gaining of independence. Achebe's ways seem to be of contradicting the long lasting idea of wild, uncivilised Africa. However, one should pay attention to the fact that Achebe does not put blame for what had happened to Nigeria on the white man only. He admits that what has been taking place in his country after the end of colonialism to the present day is the pure example of neo-colonialism.

The poem quoted at the beginning refers to complex history of African path to the twice-lost freedom. First, this freedom was taken away by ignorant Westerners, who came to Africa and claimed it as their own. And it was taken away for the second time by African leaders who, under the disguise of the saviours, gave the false liberty a 'bitter taste.'

Although Achebe has written much more literature than what I mention here, the four novels I speak of are probably most important ones. Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease create the African trilogy. Their main purpose is to display step by step the impact that the advent of the white man had on the Nigerian nation. Achebe introduces the Igbo [known as Ibo as well] people since he is the descendant of their tradition. He is on the crossroads of cultures because his parents were converted Christians but the rest of his family remained faithful to the tribal Igbo tradition. In effect he was given the possibility of learning both the religion of the colonisers and the culture of his ancestors. That is why the deep insight into two different and antagonistic worlds enabled Achebe to objectively display the past culture of the Igbos and the relationship between his nation and the Europeans. He is very critical about the white man's attitude towards Africans.

Equality is the one thing which Europeans are conspicuously

incapable of extending to others, especially Africans.

But anyone who is in any doubt about the

meaning of partnership in that context need only be

reminded that a British governor of Rhodesia

defined the partnership between black and white as

the partnership between the horse and its rider (...) For

centuries Europe has ruled out the possibility of a dialogue.

You may talk to a horse but you don't wait for a reply!


Since he does not expect the white man to clarify the true vision of past Africa, and, moreover, he is not willing to give the white man such a right, Achebe feels inclined to show to his people that they had a civilised and rich past.

Things Fall Apart is the novel which describes the life of the Igbos before the coming of the colonisers. It introduces the complex religion and political systems that operate within the tribe. The social and moral values seem very often controversial, but at the same time they show the loyalty and faithfulness of the Igbos towards the systems they had constructed themselves.

Arrow of God is the continuation of the previous novel since it reflects the situation of the Igbo people right after the meeting with Europeans and the dangers they faced when accepting the new religion. No Longer at Ease, the last novel from the trilogy, introduces to the reader the situation the young generation of Nigerians is put into right after the gaining of the independence. There is the atmosphere of hopelessness and being lost in the disarray of old values and the new ideas about modernity with its corruption and ignorance. The main characters of these three novels fail because of the lack of flexibility in their personalities. However,the novels themselves do not carry negative pictures of these characters because they failed. The meaning of those novels is rather that the three men were left for themselves, they were abandoned by their kinsmen. And a single person, even if he or she has got the right intentions, cannot possibly realize them by him/herself.

Anthills of the Savannah is the fourth novel that completes the message (although can be read quite independently). It is different from the three mentioned above in the way that it shows the change of Achebe's attitude towards the situation of Nigeria. In this novel Achebe does not accuse colonialists for the devastated condition of his country any more. He makes it clear that these are Africans themselves that are responsible for the actual state of things in Nigeria. He proposes definite solutions for saving Nigeria from the impotent leaders. He claims that writers should take a strong stand and not hesitate to criticise the hopeless governments that reside over Nigeria.

The above essay/ review/ piece of writing is the beginning of what I hope to be a series of posts on Achebe's work.

I'm really hoping Achebe will be awarded Nobel Prize this year. It really is about time.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Shelley Emling


* * * * *

The book's description from the publisher's website:

A new portrait of the two-time Nobel winner and her two daughters.
Focusing on the first family in science, this biography of Marie Curie plumbs the recesses of her relationships with her two daughters, extraordinary in their own right, and presents the legendary scientist to us in a fresh way.
Although the common image is that of a shy introvert toiling away in her laboratory, highly praised science writer Shelley Emling shows how Marie Curie was nothing short of an iconoclast. Her affair with a younger and married man drew the enmity of a xenophobic French establishment, who denied her entry to the Academy of Sciences and tried to expel her from France. But she was determined to live life how she saw fit, and passed on her resilience to her daughters. Emling draws on personal letters released by Curie’s only granddaughter to show how Marie influenced her daughters yet let them blaze their own paths. 

Factually rich, personal and original, this is an engrossing story about the most famous woman in science that rips the cover off the myth and reveals the real person, friend, and mother behind it.
What an amazing book! Despite it being a non-fiction one and centering around scientific subjects, I blazed through the whole 256 pages in one day (I'm a very slow reader and have two toddlers to contend with, so it is an accomplishment that doesn't happen often) and I only want more. Especially more of Ms. Emling's writing. She makes physics and chemistry approachable and easy to understand. As a matter of fact, for the first time in my life I was riveted by science and scientific research and discoveries. All my life, when it comes to science, I have suffered a severe case of ADD.
Understandably, to all of a sudden read an entire book in which science is one of the major topics with unswerving attention feels like some kind of magic charm performed by the writer.

A book hasn't made me this excited to be reading it for a long time. Marie Curie (or as she has always been called in Poland, Maria Sklodowska-Curie) was an exceptional woman, exceptional scientist and an exceptional mother to Irene and Eve. There has been criticism of her long periods of time spent away from her daughters (including almost never being there for their birthdays, important graduation dates and such) but the truth is she raised two wonderful women, strong, capable and very much accomplished in their own right, who had always been loving and devoted daughters, never having said a bad word about their mother. Shelley Emling took great care to show how difficult a life Marie had after her husband's death and what she had to contend with in order to be all she had been. Indeed, one could say that Marie was the prototype of today's woman who believes we can be both successful as mothers and career women. I loved Marie's bluntness about it as well which applies to modern critics of those who choose to work and raise children:

I agree, of course, that it is not easy for a woman to bring up children and work out of the home. But (...) I don't think that he has considered the rich women who leave their children to a governess and give most of their time to social visits and fashion. (p.36)*

In other words, let's not be hypocrites.

Eve Curie
Irene Curie

For a short book, there were a lot of things I learned about both Marie's personal life and the world of science she lived in. There are interesting passages about  Einstein, Edison, Bohr et al that made me want to seriously consider doing more reading on their lives as well. And maybe I will one day.

What I most want to do and what Marie Curie and Her Daughters has inspired me to do, is to learn as much as I can about other women, friends of Marie Curie, who were just as exceptional as she but of whom I hardly know anything such as Missy Meloney and Hertha Ayrton. They were pioneers and crusaders in the female world of the first half of 20th century and we would all do well to learn from them.

As my final thoughts I'll offer this: Marie Curie and Her Daughters reminded me and kept me in awe of how proud I am to be Polish, to be American, and most importantly to be a woman.

FTC: I received an ARC of Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Shelley Emling from the publisher, Macmillan Palgrave for a review.

*the quote is from an unfinished copy, please verify against a published book

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome


* * * *
The book's description from the publisher's website:

Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames would suit them to a T'. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather-forecasts and tins of pineapple chunks not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.'s small fox-terrier Montmorency.  

Three Men in a Boat was an instant success when it appeared in 1889, and, with its benign escapism, authorial discursions and wonderful evocation of the late-Victorian clerking classes', it hilariously captured the spirit of its age.
I forgot just how funny Three Men in a Boat was (I had read it once before but remembered nothing). It's a kind of a travelogue, with three friends rowing down the Thames but really, it contains historical commentary that's clever and hilarious (the courting of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn) and anecdotes from the lives of all three men (and some from the dog, Momntmorency).

Three Men in a Boat is a staple of wit, cleverness and sarcastic humor. That's more or less widely known. But Jerome K. Jerome wrote a classic that holds quite a few surprises. Besides it being a book filled with hilarity, Three Men in a Boat is a tale that contains surprising insight into the nature of man and the insight's timelessness. Many a comment applies to the society of the 21st century just as much as it did to the 19th century, when the book was written, and it will apply to societies centuries to come.

How they [people] pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha'pence for; with expensive entertainment that nobody enjoys. with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with - oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! - the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore (...) It is lumber, man - all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars." (p.29-30)

Another surprising thing was how beautifully Mr. Jerome could write. I was shocked a few times when after some comical adventure or two, the narrator would say some really wonderful bits. It was completely unexpected and made me appreciate the whole novel even more.

It [sailing] comes as near to flying as man has got to yet (...) The wings of the rushing wind seem to be bearing you onward, you know not where. You are no longer the slow, plodding, puny thing of clay, creeping tortuously upon the ground; you are a part of Nature! Your heart is throbbing against hers! her glorious arms are around you, raising you up against her heart! Your spirit is at one with hers; your limbs grow light (p.140)

There is one thing that I didn't appreciate so much. It's the subject of rowing, towing and sailing that described the technical side of it all. I simply didn't care for it and it made the story drag a little at places. But of course, there was always something funny or even profound (yes, profound) following that made reading the slightly boring parts worth it.

FTC: I bought a copy of Three Men in a Boat.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Toby's Room by Pat Barker


* * * * *
The book's description from the publisher's website:

With Toby’s Room, a sequel to her widely praised previous novel Life Class, the incomparable Pat Barker confirms her place in the pantheon of Britain’s finest novelists. This indelible portrait of a family torn apart by war focuses on Toby Brooke, a medical student, and his younger sister Elinor. Enmeshed in a web of complicated family relationships, Elinor and Toby are close: some might say too close. But when World War I begins, Toby is posted to the front as a medical officer while Elinor stays in London to continue her fine art studies at the Slade, under the tutelage of Professor Henry Tonks. There, in a startling development based in actual fact, Elinor finds that her drafting skills are deployed to aid in the literal reconstruction of those maimed in combat.

One day in 1917, Elinor has a sudden premonition that Toby will not return from France. Three weeks later the family receives a telegram informing them that Toby is “Missing, Believed Killed” in Ypres. However, there is no body, and Elinor refuses to accept the official explanation. Then she finds a letter hidden in the lining of Toby’s uniform; Toby knew he wasn’t coming back, and he implies that fellow soldier Kit Neville will know why.

 There can never be enough books about WWI experience. Not for me, at least. I will never know enough. But with each, well-written story I learn more. And Toby's Room is exceptionally well-written with crisp simplicity that cuts to the bone. This was my first experience with Ms. Parker's (a Booker Prize winner) writing and it left me in awe of how the lack of flowery, ornate writing opens the door to clarity.This clarity is essential to make the human tragedy that continued long after the war was over, real to the contemporary reader (we all know it was real, but knowing and actually feeling are two different experiences).

Even though Toby's Room is a sequel to Life Class, it's also a stand-alone novel. I read it without having a clue it was a sequel and had no issues with being confused about characters or previous story-lines that you sometimes get dropped right in the middle of when starting with book two in a series. I was however quite shocked with the strong beginning, wondering whether I really was reading what I thought I was. I loved how Pat Barker so unassumingly led me from a straight path on to a hurl down a sharp hill in the beginning chapters  and then ended the story in the same, unexpected manner - one of the final scenes, the story of Neville's about what happened with Toby truly took my breath away and I found myself wiping tears off my cheeks in disbelief. My strong emotions however were not due to some shocking, suspend-your-disbelief-now event (it was something rather quite believable) but to the author's mastery of writing. It felt like she set a trap for me with her calming, down to earth, simple story-telling just to deliver a heartbreaking blow.

The whole book is sad, of course. I mean, how can it not be? It's about the worst coming-of-age experience possible. You enter your late adolescence full of dreams, ideas, crazy fooling around and then it all just stops, it's taken away because your guy friends, fiancees, boyfriends have to go and fight and die, or come home terribly disfigured, most likely with wounds to their bodies, souls and spirits that will never heal. And then you start to think those horrible but inevitable thoughts that maybe dying on the war front would have been better. That's what Toby's Room is and it's beautiful in the sorrow of the bright, talented people who were denied a chance. Life would never, could never, be back to what it was supposed to be. Life was now this:

It seemed, looking back, that he's grown around the loss, that it [grief] had become part of him, as trees will sometimes incorporate an obstruction, so they end up living, but deformed. (loc.1888-90, Kindle ed.)*

But then, the most surprising thing was to find out that despite the tragedy, the talent prevailed and was used in one of the most amazing ways and also, again, heartbreaking ways: to help the doctors with reconstructive surgeries performed on the surviving soldiers, painting those wounded before and after surgeries. If you're interested (and you should be), please see some of those paintings by Henry Tonks (who was also featured in Toby's Room) at Gillies Archives.

FTC: I received an e-galley of Toby's Room from the publisher, Doubleday via Edelweiss.

* The quote is from an unfinished copy. Please verify against a published book.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness


Did Not Finish

The book's description from the author's website:

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.
For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.
Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
I think I'm pretty much done with romances. Every single one I've read in the past couple of years seemed to be dumber than the one before. A Discovery of Witches takes the prize in the latest string of romance novels written exclusively for stupid people. Don't let the categorization as fantasy fool you. I thought I was going to read a fantasy book about a smart, independent woman who also happened to be a witch and who would, to be slightly brash, kick some ass. When you think that not only did she have ordinary humans and fellow witches to contend with, but also demons and vampires, then it's easy to get your hopes up, settling in to what promised to be a smart escapist adventure of a read. It's not smart, the only time 'escape' would enter my mind was when I wanted to run from the story, and sitting home with my three kids is more of an adventure than spending time with the stuck-up, boring witch Diana Bishop.

I am not a reader who discounts a novel because the main character is unlikable. Not always. There are unlikable characters that were assigned such a role by an author (whether as a straight-up anti-hero or as a way to display that world is not made up of people we only want to fall in love with but that there needs to be a balance, if only to have some fun) and I have found myself absolutely loathing a character but also loving a story. And then there are characters that we're supposed root for, like, adore, what have you but an author fails to deliver in the characterization department and unknowingly (due to the lack of writing skills) manages to base a whole novel on a person that will make me at best roll my eyes in exasperation and put the said book away in disgust at worst. Deborah Harkness' character, Diana Bishop fell somewhere in between exasperation and disgust. She was such a perfect specimen that I began to wonder if she might have been an alien creature. She had the best powers any witch could have, she was a genius with all kinds of doctoral degrees, her bookcases no doubt brimming with awards for her scholarly work (of course, she was also a very young genius, not even forty yet), she was beautiful, made a vampire famous for his disregard for women fall madly in love with her, and of course she would eat like a horse without gaining a pound. All this blinding package came complete with Diana's obliviousness to all those wonderful attributes she possessed. Did the author read a manual for romance writers on how to write a run-of-the-mill romance, checked each staple requirement as she kept writing about Diana the Prodigy and that completed her education on writing? That's certainly how I imagined the process. And that's what made me decide to not waste my time on this book any further, along with minor (in comparison to the main character) other ridiculous cliches such as stunningly beautiful yet attractively dangerous vampire or a no-nonsense aunt with a hot temper as guessed it, a redhead.

One question remains: Why the hell are so many readers loving this book?! I'm not going to offend individual readers, but that A Discovery of Witches has such a following and such high ratings is yet another sign of our society's declining intelligence.

FTC: I wasted my hard-earned money on this book.

Monday, September 10, 2012

We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen


* * * 1/2

The book's synopsis from the publisher:

This stunning debut novel—drawn from the author's own life experience—tells the moving story of a family of eleven in the American Midwest, bound together and torn apart by their faith
The Rovaniemis and their nine children belong to a deeply traditional church (no drinking, no dancing, no TV) in modern-day Michigan. A normal family in many ways, the Rovaniemis struggle with sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and forming their own unique identities in such a large family. But when two of the children venture from the faith, the family fragments and a haunting question emerges: Do we believe for ourselves, or for each other? Each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi, drawing a nuanced, kaleidoscopic portrait of this unconventional family. The children who reject the church learn that freedom comes at the almost unbearable price of their close family ties, and those who stay struggle daily with the challenges of resisting the temptations of modern culture. With precision and potent detail, We Sinners follows each character on their journey of doubt, self-knowledge, acceptance, and, ultimately, survival.
I enjoyed this novel very much and was convinced it would be another winner for me among literary writers debuts. Hanna Pylväinen most certainly displayed a significant writing talent, especially when portraying the family dynamics, within the most unusual family nonetheless.

I appreciated the most that despite the Rovaniemis family living according to very strict religious rules, the author didn't make a parody of them or their religion. Nor did she point an accusing finger at anyone. She left the choice to form opinions to the readers. At the same time, Hanna told her story, in her own way, with her own opinion to be found between the pages. No small achievement for any writer, if you ask me. The truth is, 'we' are no more normal than 'them' and just because something is unknown to the majority of society, it doesn't make it weird, unacceptable or intolerable. Every one of us in this world has something that could be perceived as 'weird' to others. If you're a reader like me, who's looking for a moral or some kind of life truth in a story, We Sinners is something you may enjoy.

I was loving every page of We Sinners...and then it ended so abruptly and with a story that, while interesting in itself, had little to do with the rest of the book and should have been a prologue instead of the ending, that my enthusiasm deflated and I ended up quite disappointed. I got no emotional closure considering pretty much every member of the Rovaniemis' and I wanted so badly to keep reading and to find out how their lives really turned out. I could not believe when turning the last page that that was it. It made me quite angry. However, Ms. Pylväinen is a very talented new writer who I believe only has to spread her wings a little wider. I will read her books as they get published with no hesitation. 
FTC: I received We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen from the publisher, Henry Holt & Co. for a review.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

When a Woman Lets Go of the Lies by Cheryl Brodersen



The book's description from the publisher's website:

Author and speaker Cheryl Brodersen encouraged thousands of women to cast their worries to God’s care in her book When a Woman Lets Go of Her Fears. Now she inspires them to embrace their identity and fulfillment in Christ by shedding the lies that have plagued women since Eve: “I’m not good enough.” “God isn’t strong enough.” “I’m too flawed to be loved.” “God can’t use me.”
Cheryl presents engaging teaching, relevant examples from women today and from the Bible, and biblical, practical guidance to help women believe in God’s
  • sufficiency to meet their needs
  • promises and power through His Word
  • plans for goodness and fruitfulness
  • blessings that follow obedience
Since Eden first blossomed, God has offered women love, guidance, fellowship, and purpose. Cheryl helps today’s woman exchange the burden of deception and pretense for the abundance, freedom, and fruitfulness God intended from the very beginning.
I got through 24% of this book and out of courtesy decided to read no more. After the initial disappointment at the superficiality of insight and at the simplistic metaphors, I realized that I was reading just to find more to complain about. And this is not the reason why I chose to read this book or any other book, for that matter.
Just to give you an example of what I mean, when I say that the metaphors were simplistic and in effect, quite erroneous:

When talking to a particular woman who was going through difficult times (although what they were is not mentioned, which I think is another shortcoming) about trusting in God's promises, the author compared it to the process of baking a cake.

'I gave her the illustration of baking a cake. If I follow the recipe I can have the assurance of a delicious dessert. However, if I decide to omit a step like sifting or beating, or I choose to leave out an ingredient, I can't blame the recipe if the cake is a failure.' (location 472 in Kindle edition)

In other words, if we do everything God tells us to do, we'll receive the fulfillment of His promises, we'll enjoy 'a delicious dessert'. But we cannot disobey Him in any one of the rules (omit an ingredient or skip a step in baking), because then there will be no cake.

It couldn't get any simpler than that. My mind formed two questions immediately, however.

Has Ms. Brodersen life been really that easy, free of major complications, struggles and/or tragedies, that she could afford such a naive comparison?

What happens when I bake a cake, follow instructions to a dot, do not omit any ingredients, and the result is still a failure? This is not a hypothetical question, either. I happen to fail at baking every single time, no matter how much effort and time I put into it.

By resorting to such simplistic comparisons, the author automatically excludes people like me.

I reach out for such books to find advice and comfort, and some insight on how to proceed with my life riddled with struggles. I couldn't find it in When a Woman Lets Go of the Lies and at the danger of adding even more unanswered questions to my repertoire, I gave up.

FTC: I received an e-galley of the book from the publisher, Harvest House Publishers via NetGalley.

When a Woman Lets Go of the Lies by Cheryl Brodersen will be published and available for purchase on October 1st, 2012.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper. John FitzGilbert is a man of honor and loyalty, sworn to royal service. When the old king dies, his successor rewards the handsome and ambitious John with castles and lands. But King Stephen has a tenuous hold on both his reign and his barons, and when jealous rivals at court seek to destroy John, he backs a woman's claim to the crown, sacrifices his marriage, and eventually is forced to make a gamble that is perhaps one step too far.
Rich with detail, masterful in its storytelling, A Place Beyond Courage is a tale of impossible gambles and the real meaning of honor.

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the very few historical authors writing today on whom you can rely to deliver historically accurate and at the same time attention capturing stories. A Place Beyond Courage is a prime example of this. Even though the actual events on which this story is based are riveting in themselves, Chadwick adds her personal touch by focusing our attention on figures not as well known as King Stephen or Empress Matilda but crucial in the shaping of history nonetheless.

John Fitz Gilbert, the father of Chadwick's most famous hero, William Marshal, is rarely mentioned in popular historical fiction, despite the fact that, as this novel helped me learn it, he was that crucial figure in the fight for the throne of England. I'll be honest, he is perhaps the most desirable character to me from all the historical fiction books  I've read so far. The way Ms. Chadwick builds up his case (not entirely out of thin air either) as not quite the villain we, contemporaries might think him to be is very convincing. True, John Marshal is not exactly the perfect knight his son will be but that only makes him all the more exciting and more fun to read about. Frankly, the more I read about his offspring, William Marshal, the more I wish he inherited some dark traits from his father. Maybe then I'd be more inclined to read novels about him. Did John really gave up his toddler son, sent him to certain death without so much as a wink? Or was there much more to the story, was John in a place from which he would emerge a somewhat broken man, regardless of what his personal decisions might have been? It is a moral dilemma and the author helps us realize that rarely is anything in life clear-cut, especially when it comes to choices between one's honor, country or family. Regardless of what you'll end up feeling towards John Marshal, be it hatred, fury, love or admiration, I guarantee you will feel a lot. One thing Elizabeth Chadwick doesn't write is bland characters.

Speaking of characters and personal touches, the one distinct trait I've come to recognize in Chadwick's books is a presence of a strong female character. In A Place Beyond Courage it is Sybilla, the second wife of John Marshal. While almost all females in the Middle Ages can be regarded as strong, considering what they had to contend with all their lives, Sybilla takes a special prize for having the courage to think for herself, to use her common sense in all matters, to question things, arrive independently at conclusions and act accordingly. Sybilla simply is a kind of woman I most want to identify with when reading novels. I say 'want to' because as things stand, I'm not all that myself and only wish to be 'when I grow up'.

A Place Beyond Courage is a splendid book, all around: the high quality of writing, the great amount of research and the quick-paced action. At the risk of sounding cliche, there really is never a dull moment in this novel.


FTC: I've received an ARC of A Place Beyond Courage from the publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc. for a review.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The River by Michael Neale



The book's description from the publisher's website:

“You were made for The River . . .”

Gabriel Clarke is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The rushing waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventure.
But something holds him back—the memory of the terrible event he witnessed on The River when he was just five years old—something no child should ever see.
Chains of fear and resentment imprison Gabriel, keeping him from discovering the treasures of The River. He remains trapped, afraid to take hold of the life awaiting him.
When he returns to The River after years away, his heart knows he is finally home. His destiny is within reach. Claiming that destiny will be the hardest—and bravest—thing he has ever done.
One of the most frustrating books I've read. The most frustrating spiritual book I've read.There really isn't much to say, because unfortunately there wasn't much to this book.

My expectations were much higher than what I found in The River. They were based on what others were saying about it.

 Michael Neale writes an amazing story that—I believe—will change lives.

The inspirational read encourages readers to evaluate themselves, their motives and the toxic issue of forgiveness in a fascinating story of daring adventure, letting go of the past and finding courage to step into the future.

 I think everyone can relate to the protagonist's experience of having to let go of the pain from his past in order to embrace the future for which he's destined. *

I'm looking for a better direction in my life. I have been a seeker for a very long time, for complicated reasons. I thought Neale's book could help me be inspired, if nothing else. As it is, The River is changing no one's life any time soon.

I may be a skeptic and need some convincing but who are such books written for, if not for people like me. If your intended audience is that which already agrees with what you preach, then there's no justifiable reason to not market your book as such.

Frankly, I can't imagine who will read The River and find it exceptional, with a powerful message and a potential to change lives. There was nothing revelatory in this book. The message of the value of forgiveness is rather simplistic and frankly, insulting, especially to those readers who need true inspiration and know that real life rarely serves such easy solutions as the author would have us believe. Also, contrary to what is said by the endorsers, Michael Neale is not a very gifted storyteller, at least where the written word is concerned (people stating that may be intellectually dishonest or just plain dishonest, I'm not sure which one is worse).

If I seem a little harsh, it's because I care about spirituality and inspiration, and I especially want to find them in Christian writings. Unfortunately, more and more often these books are written in a style of an 8th-grade essay, as if Christians couldn't possibly comprehend anything more complex. The River is no exception. It made me angry. I wanted to write a lot worse opinion on this book when I first finished it. I doubt I'll harm the sales any, though. I already have a feeling it will be the next The Shack, regardless of what this reader's inconsequential opinion is.

* The quotes are from several Goodreads reviews.

FTC: I received The River from NetGalley for review.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A slight change of direction.

As you grow older, you grow up. At least that's the idea. I started blogging four years ago quite by accident and without much thought to it. I saw so many book blogs and figured I could have one too since I loved reading books and wanted to talk about what I read. I don't have many opportunities to talk about books in my life, even fewer to talk about books and not be treated with patronizing indulgence. It somehow happened that within my immediate family, I'm the only one who reads with a deeper purpose than simply passing time and treats reading not as a silly hobby but something serious that brings added value to my life.

Four years later, I feel I am in a place that allows me to make more straightforward and somewhat calculated decisions. This blog, which used to be Reading Extravaganza, is one thing I can and will change. I am doing something I should have done four years ago. I am finally giving it a direction.

Axe for the Frozen Sea is now a literature blog, not a book blog. What I will try to do here is create a bridge between literary fiction and commercial fiction. I don't want to write a novel that will be in the middle of these two. I am not a writer, I'm aware of what I can and cannot do. Unlike what seems to be 90% of today's population, I don't want to write books. I belong to that very important group of people for whom books are written, paintings are painted, music composed. I make art a part of my life. Unfortunately, the trend that worries me is that writing is no longer seen as art by an unbelievable number of people. It's sad but not tragic. As all other art, true writing will persevere.

I want to show you, whoever you might happen to be, that literary fiction is not pretentious or a whole lot of nothing dressed in big words no one understands. Literary fiction is instead beautiful, it has depth, it has lessons to teach you if you're willing to learn, and it will help you understand why writing is a gift very few people are born with.

I would also like to show those on the other end of reading tastes that 'commercial' fiction (I do hate that word, in all honesty) is not all worthless rubbish written by money and fame seeking individuals, who are nonetheless keen observers of the general public. Genre novels, such as horror, thriller, fantasy, crime et al, are penned by many talented writers whose passion for writing shines through their stories. If it were up to me, I would do away with the distinction altogether. Splendid fiction should be just that. Novels should be judged on the quality of writing, not on which category or genre they belong to.

What is happening in the book world nowadays is tragic. The readers' standards are so low as to be almost non-existent, the atrocious books published and read nowadays are an insult to all the unforgettable literature that is facing a danger of becoming obscure. Not to mention we're now raising a generation of young people who not only religiously read Twilight trilogy instead of Grapes of Wrath or Les Miserables (yes, I read both in tenth grade and I was not an exception) but are encouraged to do so because after all it doesn't matter what one reads, as long as one reads. This may possibly be the most nonsensical and dumbest sentiment I've ever heard. This phenomenon is too complex to be written about in this post. I will write a separate one. Yes, I do have a strong opinion on it (I have strong opinions on a lot of issues, which condition I find a lot more preferable to trying to be falsely objective and in effect not have opinions at all).

I suppose this post may be called my blogger manifesto. And if it is that, then the posts published within this blog are my reader manifesto. I will always speak up for literary works of art and against the rubbish written by semi-literates that should never have seen the light of day.