Tag Archives: book reviews

What we should all choose to read

4 May
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The book is set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s. Historical events that provide the backdrop for the story are the end of World War II, the holocaust in Europe, and the creation of the state of Israel.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok is by far the best book I have read in a long time. Not only is it well written but deep as well. Anyone who has ever experienced the depth of true friendship will find this book a treasure. The themes are profound and universal; you don’t need to be a Jew to enjoy this story.

The story is about two Jewish fathers and their sons. A baseball game gone crazy makes the two sons meet. They become fast friends. Each discovers the other; what they stand for, their hopes for the future, their family inclinations. Despite their differences, they are very good friends. This book teaches friendship and empathy in the deepest level.

I particularly liked the two quotes that I found at the beginning of the book:

-When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him.

In the same way, the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one. -Karl A. Menninger

-True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in the worth and choice. -Ben Jonson

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The last chronicle of Barset

12 Apr

149789This is the last of the Barsetshire tales. It is so hard to keep flipping the pages knowing that at some point, one will flip for the last time. Many of the characters are already familiar: The archdeacon and his family, the bishop of Barchester and his wife Mrs. Proudie, the humble abode of the perpetual curate at Hogglestock, the Framleys etc. The clergy of the Church of England is Trollope’s specialization.

The story centres on the alleged theft of a cheque of £20, by none other than the Rev. Josiah Crawley. Everyone is keen to unravel or take advantage of the mystery. Old family rivalries are renewed, friendships are strengthened, and lovers find comfort in each other and hope for the best. It is indeed a trying courtship between Major Grantly, whose sister married a Lord and Grace Crawley, whose father has been accused of stealing the cheque of £20.

John Eames, who we left heartbroken in The small house at Allington for his unsuccessful bid for Lily Dale, makes a final effort to win the lady of his dreams. I must admit that I expected things to go differently. Why can’t Lily learn to forget the past i.e. to forget Adolphus Crosbie’s jilt and agree to live her life and not dwell on what could have been?

As for Crawley, how sweetly the reader relishes his triumph on Mrs. Proudie. She is absolutely domineering, she is the bishop. But here comes a pauper, almost disgraced in the face of men, who is able to tell to her face what everyone thought about her all along! The ending in this regard is no surprise, but it is dramatic.

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Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

Anthony Trollope had this to say about the book:

I regard this as the best novel I have written. I was never quite satisfied with the development of the plot, which consisted in the loss of a cheque, of a charge made against a clergyman for stealing it, and of absolute uncertainty on the part of the clergyman himself as to the manner in which the cheque found its way into his hands…. I have never been capable of constructing with complete success the intricacies of a plot that required to be unraveled.I agree it is well written. I could hardly keep down the book. Both Trollope and some of his later critics have considered The Last Chronicle to be his greatest novel. I am no literary critic, but among his books, I like Doctor Thorne best.

Are there any Trollope fans out there?

Review: The picture of Dorian Gray

10 Apr

5297 When I finished reading the book I thought: Did I just read a book about ugliness? Did I just read a book about inner ugliness, which is worse? I felt like throwing up. The question I asked myself, and I still do is: why was this book written?

Dorian Gray is a beautiful fashionable young man whose is idolized by his friend Basil, a painter. Through Basil, Dorian gets to meet Lord Henry, a fact that Basil regrets bitterly. The book is all about Lord Henry’s influence on Dorian who ultimately “sells” his soul for eternal youth and beauty.

The picture of Dorian Gray was obviously written for a purpose. In fact, it is Oscar Wilde’s only novel. Much can be said about it in the literary sense: themes of beauty, art, friendship; symbols such as the painting and the yellow book etc. Much has been said about its connection with the author’s life. I wonder if I am not making things worse be still saying something about it.

Try as I can, it is difficult to forget the book. There are the almost hypnotizing phrases that issue from Lord Henry’s mouth that leave one dumbfounded. True, Lord Henry is Dorian’s corrupter, but it is amazing to see Wilde’s argument put so beautifully together. Lord Henry manages to convince him to live his life according to his maxim of pleasure, pursuit of art etc.

As Dorian goes from bad to worse, there is almost no hope for him. The reader would like to stop reading; the stench of foul things is perhaps too much to bear. It seems as though the book is a glorification of the pursuit of pleasure at whatever cost.

However, I don’t think that that is the reason for the book. In the last chapter, there is this sentence: It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for. But for those two things, his life might have been free from stain. His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, an unripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts. Why had he worn its livery? Youth had spoiled him.

Youth. A mystery. A gift. A curse perhaps? Each one makes it what they would. But as far as the book is concerned, I can breathe easily. The sentence quoted above restored the hope that I had almost lost.

Review: Callista by John Henry Newman

8 Apr

4635826This is one of the books that I would re-read any time of the year. Set in Proconsular Africa, it tells the story of third century Christians. It revolves around three characters: Callista, a Greek decorator of sculptures, Agellius, a farmer and a Christian and Caecilius, the persecuted bishop of Carthage. It tells of the clash between paganism and Christianity.

Callista, unsatisfied with an empty life and with the pagan culture surrounding her, seeks for the truth. She is attracted by the beauty of Christianity, but considers it too good to be real. Agellius tries to woo her, but Callista sees his real motive: he takes advantage of her curiosity of his religion to gain her for himself rather than for his God. Juba, Agellius’ brother is scornful of his Christianity and together with his uncle, tries to make Agellius “come back to his senses”.

A chain of events then follows: the plague of locusts that leave the city of Sicca devastated, the possession of Juba, the arrest of Callista on the charge of Christianity and the implementation of the edict of the Emperor Decius regarding the Christians: christianos ad leones (Christians to the lions). Will Callista be set free or will she be killed, even though she is not a Christian? Will she convert before it is too late, and if so, who will help her? All this drama waits for the reader.

The review in Goodreads says: Far from being tied to the past, Newman’s novel challenges the assumptions of the modern reader in unexpected ways. More perhaps than his major works, Newman’s fiction reveals the contours of his imaginative life, the range and power of his prose writing, and the wider literary culture which he so often subordinated to his higher vocation or the demands of controversy. Callista’s picture of the Christian venture of faith, so close to Newman’s own, and the setting in his beloved church of the Fathers in Roman North Africa, make it one of his most characteristic works. Callista is an important text for understanding Newman’s lifelong vocation as a Christian apologist, and the importance for him of the early Church.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

8 May

Contrast between rural southern England and the industrialized north is perhaps the most apparent theme in the above book. The Hale family, from the south, is forced to move north by the decision of the father to renounce the Church. The changes they encounter: smoke, a cold and rough people, dirt etc are a stark contrast to what they were accustomed to before. Margaret befriends a working-class family and gains first hand knowledge of and sympathy for an industrial family’s difficulties. Meanwhile, her father gives Classics lessons to Mr. John Thornton, the local manufacturer with whom Margaret frequently comes into conflict over the conditions of the working class in England.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s book has many themes:  the need for reconciliation among the English classes, the importance of suffering, the value of placing the dictates of personal conscience above social respectability. Here are a few lines regarding the last element.

Mr. Hale, Margaret’s father, has doubts about his religion, as a result of which he sees himself bound to renounce his parish and look for alternative means of supporting his family, regardless of the implications. Margaret, the proud and austere heroine, controls her feelings and goes to her mum’s funeral, although strictly speaking she was not bound to attend.

Perhaps the most striking thing that she does in this regard is when she convinces Mr. Thornton to face the workers on strike and talk to them as men, not treat them like beasts by waiting for the police to put “reason” inside their heads. Mr. Thornton takes the challenge and addresses his workers, but not before Margaret realizes that one of them has picked up a stone, presumably to hit Mr. Thornton. She rushes to his defense, convinced that if she is between him and them, they daren’t attack. Her act is of course interpreted by the servants as her display of love for Mr. Thornton, she becomes conscious of it at this time, but when he proposes, she admits that it was something she would have done for any man.

It is not until Frederick, her brother, comes and the death of Leonards that she is able to see the generosity and good breeding of Mr. Thornton, whose being a “shop-boy” earlier in his life and a mere manufacturer had shocked her and had not fit in with her idea of a “gentleman” .

I leave out the details of her change of mind, due to my change of mind!

Riders, Dragons, the fair folk and an evil King: Eldest by Christopher Paolini

23 Apr

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I am now reading Eldest by Christopher Paolini, which makes me almost unable to do anything else. The pages flip as if enchanted, and my heart beats faster as the saga unfolds. The typical epic of the good and the bad, and the struggle between the two. Eldest is the second book in the Inheritance saga.

After Eragon arrives at Farthen Dun, with the injured elf-maid Arya that he had helped rescue from the Urgals, he is faced with another challenge: war. The Varden, who have helped cure Arya, expect his untiring help, while the dwarves are not so pleased to see him. He is lucky, he manages to kill Durza, the empire’s feared loyal servant. As a result, the empire’s army disintegrates and the Varden win the battle, with the help of Eragon, the new Rider, and his dragon, Saphira. To fulfill his promise to Brom, his instructor, he must head on to Ellesmera, the elves’ place, and receive further training necessary if they are to stand against Galbatorix and the empire.

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Back in his village, his cousin Roran is in danger of capture, as the empire plans to capture him as bait for his cousin, Eragon. The only way to survive is to find their way to Surda, and seek protection form the Varden, the only people brave enough to openly oppose Galbatorix, the evil king. Roran and the group from Carvahall must brace the cold winter in the woods, feed themselves, and evade the Raz’ac ( the empire’s servants), a queer race of creatures with beaks, foul smell and ear-splitting shrieks.

Will Eragon manage to absorb Oromis’ decades experience and training in just a few months? Will he withstand the sword-play that he must do everyday with the arrogant elf Vanir, suffering seizures as a result of his wound from Durza, the Shade? Then there is his infatuation with Arya, Queen Islanzadi’s daughter, which threatens his concentration in the much-needed training. Will he be able to face Galbatorix’s increasing power?