Friday, 23 May 2014

“What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school?

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928)

 “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.” 

Paul Bäumer is a young German soldier on the Western Front. He conscripted with many of his fellow class mates and some of them are in the same troop. As the years go by, he watches them die one by one, and ponders about the meaning of it all.

We follow Paul in the trenches, in the hospital and home on leave. And what do we learn? That war is awful and meaningless. The intensity in the book mixed with sudden prose hit me straight in the face and it was impossible to lay down.

While reading, I kept wondering if this book would have been so powerful if it had been written from the perspective of the winning side. Because once we know that Paul is German, we know he is doomed to lose. It is definitely a really important book, and as it is a century since the Great War began, you should read it.

This was May's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle. I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise (at this time in life anyway), so I'm grateful.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

twenty-two.

the Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)

 “But he was no longer in Tollygunge. He had stepped out of it as he had stepped so many mornings out of his dreams, its reality and its particular logic rendered meaningless in the light of day. The difference was so extreme that he could not accommodate the two places together in his mind. In this enormous new country, there seemed to be nowhere for the old to reside. There was nothing to link them; he was the sole link. Here life ceased to obstruct or assault him. Here was a place where humanity was not always pushing, rushing, running as if with a fire at its back.” 

Subhash and Udayan Mitra are brothers, growing up in Calcutta. While Subhash has an academic mind, Udayan is fascinated by the Naxalite movement, which wants Communist rule in India. Subhash moves to Rhode Island to continue his education, Udayan stays behind and gets more active in illegal activities, but also marries a girl without his parents consent.

The police are rounding up the members of the Naxalite movement, and one day they are coming to the Mitra household. After capturing Udayan, they murder him in front of his parents and wife. Returned for the funeral, Subhash learns that Udayan's wife, Gauri, is pregnant. He decides to marry her and bring her back to Rhode Island.

The themes of the book are interesting, and I enjoyed reading it. But towards the end, the book felt too long and especially the last chapters seemed unnecessary. Jhumpa Lahiri has an interesting voice, and I will definitely read more by her.

Having read all the shortlisted works for Man Booker Prize 2013, I have to say that although I enjoyed the winner; the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, my favourite is Harvest by Jim Crace.

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