Sunday, 28 April 2013

twenty-five.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)

"No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her."

 Catherine is 17 when she is to follow her neighbours to Bath for a couple of weeks to be introduced into society. She quickly makes friends with the Thorpes and she adores Isabella, and along with their brothers they explore Bath and its surroundings. And although John Thorpe has an eye for Catherine, she has fallen head over heels for Henry Tilney. And she tries and succeeds to befriend his sister, Eleanor. And when she is invited to go with them back to their home, Northanger Abbey, which she believes to be like Udolpho, nothing could be more perfect.

The part where Catherine is exploring her room with the curious chests and cabinets had me laughing out loud. I love how Jane is using Ann Radcliffe's the Mysteries of Udolpho so much, and I'm glad that I read it before this. The naivety of Catherine was something which irked, but also amused me. And  the whole conflict between the Thorpes and Tilneys over Catherine was also amusing. I didn't like how quickly things eloped at the end, and I'm sure it would have been fascinating to follow the exact events which happened after Catherine went home again.

This was one of the first books Jane wrote, although it was published after her death. And her latter works are definitely better. For me, it was the mocking of the gothic novel and especially Udolpho which made me like it. This book was April's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge.

“The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Friday, 26 April 2013

twenty-four.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

 "Her blog was doing well, with thousands of unique visitors each month, and she was earning good speaking fees, and she had a fellowship at Princeton and a relationship with Blaine - "You are the absolute love of my life," he'd written in her last birthday card - and yet there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she could be living, that over the months melded into a piercing homesickness."

Ifemelu grew up in Lagos, then moved to USA, the land of opportunities, when she got a scholarship and a visa. Her boyfriend of many years, Obinze, will join her once he is able to get a visa. But starting a new life in USA is hard, and especially when no one will hire you. When she is no longer able to pay rent she sees no other way out than take the position she was offered as a personal relaxer, which turned out to be the almost the same as selling her body. Loathing herself, she breaks off all contact with Obinze and sinks into a depression.

But USA is really the land of opportunity, and she is lucky to find a job as a baby sitter for a fantastic family. She has also started an anonymous blog about being a Non-American Black and all the discrimination and racism that still are very present in USA. The blog takes off, the studies are going well and she meets some amazing people. And then one day, out of the blue, she makes the decision to go back home to Lagos.

A candidate for the book of the year? At least I think so. I loved every sentence of the book and Ifemelu is such an amazing character. I loved how I got utterly lost in her world and it was so easy to picture the scenes. It is also an important book as it deals with the issues of identity and race, while painting a new and a more positive picture of Nigeria. Which is necessary, because when did you last hear something positive about Nigerians and Nigeria?

It is definitely the best book by Chimamanda so far. Read it! 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

twenty-three.

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (2006)

 "If you kill with homemade bombs it's called terrorism, and if you kill with machine guns and hunger it's called defense. It's a play on words, isn't it? Do you know what the difference is? We don't care. But your people piss with fear without a machine gun in their hands."

 Felix Chacaltana is the district prosecutor in Ayacucho when a burnt out body is discovered during the Carnival. Is it simply a murder or is the resurrection of the terrorist organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)? The Prosecutor has a difficult time getting the police to investigate the murder properly.

The setting is certainly interesting and as the author states in his note, most of the events in the book are true, they are just set in a fictional setting. And in the beginning it was certainly interesting to read about the prosecutor's struggles with the corrupt and lazy police. But as the story evolved, I was less impressed. I'm not sure why, but I think the main reason is that it just turned messy and rushed. I wish it would have stuck to the path with the terrorist and the resurrection theme.

Yet Roncagliolo does a wonderful job portraying the brutality of both sides of the conflict. And that even the best of men can have the worst intentions.  

Thursday, 11 April 2013

twenty-two.

the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)

 “Between the end of that strange summer and the approach of winter, my life went on without change. Each day would dawn without incident and end as it had begun. It rained a lot in September. October had several warm, sweaty days. Aside from the weather, there was hardly anything to distinguish one day from the next. I worked at concentrating my attention on the real and useful. I would go to the pool almost every day for a long swim, take walks, make myself three meals.

But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drank, the very air I breathed, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning.”

 Toru Okada has left his job when the cat in the house goes missing. His wife wants him to find the cat, which leads him to meeting some new and weird acquaintances. A woman called Malta Kano calls him and says that she'd help him find the cat. May Kasahara is a 16 year old living in one of the houses next door who has been in a motorcycle accident and therefore doesn't go to school. And then there is this unknown woman who phones him and asks him about sex. From there things get more complicated. One day his wife, Kumiko, simply disappears. Toru doesn't believe that she has gone willingly, and blames his nemesis; his brother-in-law.

This is the kind of Murakami I like. Nothing too weird, amazing characters, cats, corridors and sex. I also liked that Manchuria and World War II is one of the settings, and I definitely want to read more about the subject.  Murakami has turned into one of those authors whom I need to have at least one unread book from on my bookshelves. He is also best in small doses, so one or two books a year is enough.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

twenty-one.

the First World War by Michael Howard (2002)
A Very Short Introduction
How did the Great War start? And what happened?

I was going to teach my super smart class about World War I and I knew that I needed to come prepared to class, so I bought this small book of 156 pages and used it prepare myself.

It gives a very good overview of the reasons the different countries had to enter the war and a good overview of what happened in the war, both on the battlefields and back home in the major participating countries. But I missed a couple of things when reading it. Most importantly a simple time line because there are a lot of dates to keep track of. And then I would have liked more pictures, maps and statistics. 

And although it didn't answer all my kids' question like what did Japan do and how did it go with Serbia, it definitely made me able to do a much better job teaching the subject. 

  • Oxford University Press has published many Very Short Introductions books on a whole range of topics and I will probably pick of more of them on topics I feel I know too little about.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

twenty.

the Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (2013)

 "Fellow historians will be shocked, dismayed, and perhaps incredulous--I am daring to suggest that the Curse did not first manifest itself on June 4, 1905, which was the disastrous morning of Annabel Slade's wedding, and generally acknowledged to be the initial public manifestation of the Curse, but rather earlier, in the late winter of the year, on the eve of Ash Wednesday in early March".

 In the winter of 1905, Princeton was hit by strange events, deaths and people swore they saw ghosts and vampires walking around in the streets. For the prominent Slade family, the curse seems to evolve around them, and when the beautiful Annabel runs from the altar on her wedding day with another man, the scandal is complete.

The book description tricked me into buying this and reading it for Easter. Sadly, it didn't scare me at all, yet I enjoyed reading about the happenings in Princeton. I really enjoyed all the famous persons in this book, from Woodrow Wilson to Upton Sinclair and Jack London. Although if Jack is portrayed correctly, I certainly lost a lot of respect for him. It was also interesting to read about the feminist and socialist movements and the way upper class families reacted to these trends. My favourite character was Wilhelmina Burr(?), and I was disappointed when she sort of disappeared off to art school and thus out of the story.

But I found the historian's narrative really annoying, and confusing. And as I already said, I wish it had been more thrilling, although I really enjoyed those supernatural parts as well. Sadly I just wished I would reach the end, so I skimmed the last chapters which is probably the reason why I feel that I missed out on the whole explanation of the curse.

Joyce Carol Oates has done a great job with the setting of this book, and I simply forgot at times that this just came out and wasn't a classic. This is the fifth book in the Gothic series, and I will definitely read the others, as well as explore more of Joyce Carol Oates' books.

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