Tag Archives: review

The small house at Allington

30 Mar

Anthony Trollope remains one of my favourite authors. The small house of Allington is the second to last of the Barchester series, and a good read. I like Barchester Towers and Doctor Thorne more, nevertheless, The small house at Allington has been satisfactory. Published in 1862, it came out in book format two years later.

I particularly like the way it begins: “Of course there was a Great House at Allington. How otherwise should there have been a Small House?” Mrs Dale and her daughters Lily and Bell live at the Small House. The squire, the girls’ childless uncle, lives at the Great House.

Lily Dale, on meeting Adolphus Crosbie, tells her sister Bell (Isabella) that he is a swell. He is a London man, who knows what to say to everyone, more apt to shine in a ballroom than in a tête-à-tête. Lily is dazzled, and Adolphus as well of her purity. By the time he discovers that she has no fortune, he is engaged to be married. Will he keep his word, even after spending the last week of his vacation in Courcy Castle, where the Lady Alexandrina is?

The coming of age of John Eames is so funny. John is a long time friend of the family, and the admirer of Lily. He has written thousands of poems in praise of her, of which she has not seen even one. Will his friendship with the earl of Allington help him extricate himself from Amelia Roper, whom he cannot tell to her face that he does not love her?

Adolphus Crosbie is an interesting character. He takes leave of his betrothed swearing that he will be true to her, but soon changes his mind before the week is out. Isn’t it ironical that on his wedding day, he finds himself thinking about Lily, even with the Lady Alexandrina by his side? Perhaps he deserved it. Perhaps he did not deserve Lily Dale. He loved and let go, because he preferred to live in poverty –with- the- appearance- of- wealth rather than abject poverty. Poor man! It is no wonder the last words of the author concern him:

“As for Adolphus, he had taken his little vessel bravely out into the deep waters, and had sailed her well while fortune stuck close to him. But he had forgotten his nautical rules, and success had made him idle. His plummet and lead had not been used, and he had kept no look-out ahead. Therefore the first rock he met shivered his bark to pieces. His wife, the Lady Alexandrina, is to be seen in the one-horse carriage with her mother at Baden-Baden.”

The reader gets the last laugh.

This book is a swell, and Anthony Trollope is one hell of a swell!

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Cicero: that strong pillar of iron

8 Jun

Time: 50 B.C

Place: Rome

The Republic is long gone, at least practically. Theoretically, the republic lasts until 27 B.C. Now dictators rule, Cinna today, Surda tomorrow, Carbo the day after. Each one is murdered by their successor. They offer free games for the populace, and food. The mobs are kept content. They love their leaders, but their bellies more. They do not work for a living, aren’t they Romans, who are free to not take up work that could be demeaning to them? Aren’t they entitled to free food, by virtue of their citizenship?

Law. What is that? Somebody sneers. More games! More grain! They shout.

Julius Caeser is scheming endlessly. His loyalties shift with the wind, a more sly man never did exist. He keeps friends for his own ambitious purposes, though he treats them as real friends. Cicero is important to him, because he is a man of honour. He has him under his protection.

Cicero is a virtuous man, an “old” Roman, whose yea is yea. He is also prosperous from his law practice, although his wife Terentia thinks that he could be more prosperous if he hanged out with the powerful people. Like Julius Caesar, or Pompey, Crassus etc.

Somebody once said that a nation deserves the leaders it gets. The roman people and their vices are reflected in their leaders. Scheming, ravenous, lustful, deep in the pit of debauchery; their lives is a litany of vices. Today they adore Caesar, the vivacious, flamboyant and fashionable Caesar, tomorrow Catilina, whose beauty makes them go mad and cry. When he dies, they forget him within a week, and sing praise to Clodius, who now provides free grain and sport.

Marcus Tullius Cicero calls attention. He is like the conscience of the people and of the Senate, that august body whose members have long ceased to think they have one. As a young man, he studied hard. He is upright, even chaste. His law tutor, the famous Scaevola is stupefied, calls him naïve. When he takes up law cases, people flock to the Forum and the Basilica of Justice to hear his trumpet voice. As Consul, his four orations against Catiline, accused of treason, are world-famous. Here is how the first oration begins:

Cicero denounces Catiline. Fresco by Cesare Maccari 1882-1888

“How long, Catiline, will you carry your abuse of our forbearance? How much longer will your reckless temper baffle our restraint? What bounds will you set to this display of your uncontrolled audacity? Have you not being impressed by the nightly guards upon the Palatine, by the watching of the city by sentinels? Are you not affected by the alarm of the people, by the rallying of the loyal citizens, by the convening of this Senate in this safely guarded spot, by the looks and the expressions of all assembled here? Do you not perceive that your designs are exposed…?”

Cicero is like a white spot in a black background. The people drink in his words and fancy that their leaders are virtuous men, because Cicero is seen with them. But in the end, Cicero speaks out and none pay attention. Rome eventually falls. Only posterity hails him as a pillar of iron.

Review of Ebony by Ryszard Kapusinski

19 Apr

“This continent (Africa) is too big to describe. It is a whole ocean, a planet apart, a heterogeneous cosmos and of extraordinary richness. Only out of a reductionist convention do we say:Africa. In reality, save for the geographic name,Africadoesn’t exist”.

So screams Ryszard Kapusinski’s book, Ebony.

I was curious to read the book as I thought that as an African, it would give me an insight of an “outsiders” view of my continent. But little did I know what I was in for. The book is a curious mix of journalism and narration that has left me impressed, nay, very impressed, and pondering.

It is not about Africa, he (the author) goes on to explain, but about some people he met there and their experiences together: life with the nomads, revolutions, Zanzibar, the clan structure, Amin Dada, living in the slums, catching malaria, the little histories of the people’s fight to survive day after day, etc. Each of the paragraphs composes the vivid mosaic of a world pregnant with expectation.

However, it is not just an adventurous narration of some happy-go-lucky-tourist-gone-to-Africa.  Drawing from experience with living with the Africans (as opposed to the typical tourist in a beach hotel or in a safari resort that is common today), he writes with that wisdom drawn from watching and studying them, making light of day the profound determination and stamina he displays in many of his experiences. To tell the truth, I don’t think that I would risk dying of dehydration in the Sahara, to get to some lost town in the desert, nor drive a jeep at 1km/hr through a herd of buffalo to arrive in time to see the independence celebrations.

The author is a renowned journalist who has travelled on many occasions to many countries in Africa: Ghana, Zanzibar, Rwanda, Uganda, Benin, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan etc. He had the rare chance to witness the handover of power from the European colonizers to the natives. In his journeys, he avoided the official routes, the palaces, the beaches and the hotels, important figures, welcoming ceremonies and politics. He has lived with the nomads and in slums, suffered thirst in the Sahara and caught the much feared malaria, and survived. In this book, he tells of his extraordinary adventures laced with unwavering determination plus glimpses of the reasons that make Africa be what many in the West perceive it to be: a place ridden with disease, war, corruption, hunger and all other atrocities existent. In between the lines of Ebony, one can deduce that colonization and the neo-colonization, is a great evil. However, the natives are not free from blame, especially the leaders, who many times are more interested in filling their coffers than in working to build the nation.

Kapusinski, who has been called the best reporter of the century, thus emerges with an extraordinary work that confirms his profound and penetrating look at the so-called Dark Continent. In the words of Lawrence Wescher, this work is somewhere between Kafka and García Márquez.