Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mini Reviews - Animal Farm & The Age of Innocence

As usual when the last three months in the year is coming, hectic is all around me. I still can catch up with my reading pace, but not with reviews. So, here are my mini reviews of two books I have finished—the eighth and ninth of my second The Classics Club challenge (three more to go for this year!).


Animal Farm by George Orwell

This is my first Orwell; 1984 will be following soon. It is an allegory of Stalinism—a concept I have had, until now, only a vague notion of. Orwell wrote it to satirize Joseph Stalin, with whom the UK was in allegiance with when the book was published (1943-1944). Orwell did his job well, anyone who read it would clearly see the message, and the fable is convincing and entertaining. I have only one question: What has become of Snowball? While the end of the fable was quite predictable, Snowball’s condition was one thing I looked forward to when approaching the end. But that was not the main focus of this book, of course. All in all, four of five stars I granted for Animal Farm. It is not striking, but quite inspiring and entertaining, and definitely well written.



The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I have no idea what criteria make a book earning Pulitzer Prize; but to me Wharton’s The House of Mirth is much finer than The Age of Innocence. The story is about old vs modern world of New York society. My favorite character is Countess Ellen Olenska. She is genuine, kind, and brave. She sets the example of being modern woman without compromising her conscience and integrity. Maybe she was to be the “victim” here, just as Lily Barth in The House of Mirth, but my sympathy, instead, is more for Newland Archer. I think he was the real victim; he was dragged by the old and the modern New York. Unlike Ellen, it seems that Newland doesn’t have a firm ground to stand on. And the ending is so devastating. I can’t imagine having a life like Newland’s: dry and hollow… for the rest of his life. All in all, it is not as I have expected, but still a treasure. Four of five stars.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

It’s official! Willa Cather will join the short list of Fanda’s favorite female writers. Other than Agatha Christie, J.K. Rowling, and Edith Wharton, most of my favorite writers have been males.

Ruth has told me that it is a slow-moving read, very quiet, a-lazy-day reading. And since my previous reading is Siddharta, which was so deep and meditative, I was so grateful to get next into this book (and will definitely read more of Willa Cather!).

Actually Death is based on life and career of two historical French Catholic priests who served as missionaries on the New Mexico around 19th century. Cather then wove them into this beautiful and quiet narrative; following neither plot, nor chronology. From scattered stories or events, Cather took us to learn not only the missionaries’ struggles against rooted faith of the Mexicans and Indians, but also the unfriendly landscape, the corrupt priests, and the injustice suffered by the innocent people.

With her slow pace, Cather was able to show vividly the raw but beautiful wild nature among the desserts and prairies. It is interesting and at the same time entertaining. And she was also brilliant in building the characters and highlighting the two priests’ sweet and mutual friendship. Their friendship, especially, is so sweet—how they were so different, but could understand each other, and always ready to support the other when needed. And through Cather’s deep scrutiny of these two personalities, we can see what make a good missionary.

Bishop (later archbishop) Latour is really fit for the post; he’s intelligent, healthy, mature, organized, with high discipline and self-respect. However he always feels lonely and unfulfilled, though he has achieved his ambition to build a cathedral, in the end his mission felt like a duty satisfyingly accomplished, and that’s all. The very opposite of his archbishop, Father Joseph “Blanchet” Vaillant is a warm, humble, and easy going person with weak health. He might not have had brilliant achievement, but he does his works with humble joy, even when he must sacrifice his own comfort. I think Father Joseph is the true missionary—he is chosen by God to do His Wish. And with his simplicity, he earned many souls. But in the end, both are really chosen by God—side by side, each with all in his power—to plough His Field in New Mexico.

What a refreshing, calm reading this has been!


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Siddharta by Herman Hesse

I have thought that Siddharta was about THE Siddharta Gautama—the Buddha—and that this book is all about Buddhist thing. But after finishing it, I just realized that Herman Hesse did not focus on a certain religion, but in the universal search of our Creator.

Siddharta was not the Buddha. He was a Brahmin son who was thirst of finding the “ultimate reality”. He is a brilliant young man, and when great teaching didn’t quench his thirst, Siddharta shook off his monk robe and took on every worldly habit he got on his way: sex, gambling, business—in short becoming “the child people” as he used to call ordinary people. He enjoyed these habits at first, and believed that only in becoming acquainted with worldly issues, that he would find peace. Instead of peace, he felt terrible emptiness in the end that he felt like jumping in a ditch. And then, while he was at the lowest bottom, his conscience led him to follow the spiritually inspirational river, and becoming a ferryman. Only then and there that Siddharta finally found the ultimate peace.

This little book has so much wisdom to contemplate on. I found it very soothing and calming. One day I brought the book to the apartment’s garden near the pool. There I have a favorite spot near one of the tower’s door to the pool; it is shaded in the afternoon, and quite secluded from the pool. Only people from that tower would occasionally pass there, but usually they just pass by and ignore me (maybe for them I am just a strange girl who choose to read a book in the hot afternoon, while everybody else is swimming!) Anyway, there I was on one hot afternoon, reading the last chapters where Siddharta loves to “listen” to the river’s voice; and I thought how lucky anyone who can lead a peaceful life like that! And I believe, after this, I would never listen to gurgling sounds on the lake or river without remembering Siddharta!

Siddharta’s long journey to find ultimate peace is so relatable to our modern life. Many people have been trying hard to seek God—sometimes by comparing one religion to another—but few really find the Ultimate Truth, and some have never even found it. And many more are still disputing over which religion is better and higher than the other. While the answer is very simple—Herman Hesse has shared it with us all these years through Siddharta.

The most interesting part of this book for me is how Siddharta listen to the voice of the river. I didn’t understand what it means at first, but I think the key here is the serenity. Being in the tranquil river means you can clear out your cluttered mind and soul, and only then that you can really listen to your conscience. The medium can be different for each person—for Siddharta it is the river, but for me, it is the rustling of leaves or the chirping of birds. It is not that Siddharta really sees a person’s face or an event reflecting from the water, but with his mind clear, he can see what is really in the depth of his conscience. So the voice of the river is really the voice of God.

I am very grateful that I have ever read this book—so inspiring, so soothing.


Friday, September 8, 2017

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

This is the first time I read detective novel with Victorian background. Here I can hear you yelling: ‘What about Holmes?’ Well, Holmes is Holmes. I mean, he is a real detective, and his stories were focused mostly on the crime-solving. While The Woman in White depicted ordinary persons who were forced to perform detective tasks to solve their own problem.

In this post, I will not trying to summarize the story, but only jotting down my random thoughts while reading this awesome book.

What I realized immediately after finishing this story is the difference between Dickens’ and Collins’ style. I naturally compared them because they were close friends—Dickens published Collins’ short stories in the periodicals he founded: Household Words—and I assumed Collins style would be closely similar to Dickens. I was not completely wrong, they had a similarity, but I think I like Collins better.

Collins’ characters—at least in The Woman in White; I have not read his other books—are as strong as Dickens’ but more plausible. I felt like knowing Walter Hartright or Marian Halcombe as real persons in real life, not just characters in some tales. Hartright is a drawing master; if he was in Dickens’ novel, he would probably be portrayed as romantic and melancholic person. But Collins made him an intelligent young man with strong will and courage. Laura Fairlie, though not as strong and brave as Marian, still found, now and then, courage to resist under her tyrannical husband.

Dickens’ characters are also mostly typical. Most of his villains, especially, can be detected almost at once. But with Collins, I found that several of the characters are in grey area. Lord Fosco is one example. Everybody tends to like him. Interestingly, it was Laura who first detected something artificial in him. And how he adored Marian, and acted gentlemanly towards his “enemies”. Beyond his lack of moral conscience, nobody would disagree that he is a kind gentleman. Another ambiguous character is Hartright’s Italian friend: Professor Pesca. Who would ever suspect that behind this funny and simple man with extra warm heart, laid a dark secret of being member of a secret organization (by the way, what organization can it be, indeed?)? And how very often do we, too, wrongly judge our friends or close relatives?

To summarize, I did really enjoy The Woman in White. I loved the uniqueness and originality of the characters; loved the neat and smooth plot; loved how Collins built it slowly—neither too surprising nor too predictable. And I also loved the mature love story; and enjoyed the little—just a little—twist of the plot. It is a detective story, but the highest aim is not to punish the villains, or to reveal the truth, or to excite our adventurer side; it is just what one must do for the loved ones—it is the act of love, honor, and humanity. Oh, I just love it!


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Iliad by Homer (second reading)

Thanks to Robert Fagles, I could at last really enjoy Homer’s The Iliad! (this is a very-very late post—I finished the book on May, but due to our moving-preparations lately, I haven’t been able to write a proper review for more than two months. My memory of the book has quite faded, but I’d try to recall things which I found interesting).

Years before, I have read the abridged translation of The Iliad. I knew this is a great epic poem that you should read at least once before you die. But unfortunately, this Indonesian edition that I read re-wrote the epic to a prose. Maybe it’s because my fellow citizen rarely read poems, so the publisher decided to sell it as a mere story book to make it more saleable (*sighing hard). Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it at that time, but still didn’t get the epic. I knew that I must read the epic one day. But, honestly, I slightly dread of reading an epic poem—hence my delaying of getting to it sooner. Then I stumbled upon this Robert Fagles’ translation, and finally….read this epic poem! ^_^

Now I can say that I love The Iliad! Since it is about war, some passages can be much similar. And the names… they were so much, at the end I couldn’t follow anymore, who was on which side (apart from the big heroes). Take that aside, it was a heroic story written beautifully as a poem. Often I couldn’t help reciting it when I was alone.

Do you tend to take side when reading war stories? I do. From the beginning, I took side with the Trojan. I have no respect for most of Achaean top chiefs—especially Agamemnon, Achilles, and Menelaus. They were selfish and arrogant; and thinking how disputes about women could cause (or alter the course of) a war—! Menelaus is probably the worse—he’s such a cry-baby! When a man lost his wife because another man stole her, he should challenge him to duel, and end it between them. But no, Menelaus ran to his brother, and never stopped him when he decided to start the war. No, I could never take side with the Greeks! And Achilles… what a spoiled little brat he is!

My favorite passage is when Hercules stopped at his house for the last time, meeting his wife and playing with his son. I know he is a temperate man (maybe his only flaw), but I think I loved him more than the others because of this scene. He deserved to be a hero. While his dear little brother….. meh! -_-

That was all that I still remember from The Iliad—definitely a worthy reading, a great epic. I still have to reread The Odyssey—which I have first read also from abridged turn-to-prose Indonesian translation—but with slightly less excitement that I have felt for The Iliad. Hopefully I am wrong!


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Great Gatsby Readalong: Update #4

Chapter five – Gatsby’s offer to “pay” Nick for his favor made me think that apart from his choice of getting rich, Jay Gatsby is quite a nice person. He is very polite, hate of asking favor from friends (his intricate ways in asking Nick to arrange meeting with Daisy), and he is the only one who doesn’t drink. And when he loves a woman, he respects her, and is loyal to her to the end.

According to Careless People, T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land has major influence in Fitzgerald’s ideas for writing Gatsby—not the plot, but the general theme and atmosphere. I have never read Eliot, and this can be my good excuse to mark him.

Now, I have mentioned in my previous post about Gatsby as a “novel noir”. So We Read On dedicated a chapter titled Rhapsody in Noir to discuss this; and it’s very interesting. First of all, the origin of Gatsby’s real name “Gatz” is gat—a slang for ‘gun’ in the twenties. There are at least three deaths caused by gun in this story. And don’t forget the car crashes that happened too many in such a short story (including Tom Buchanan’s which then revealed his affair with a chambermaid only a week after his marriage with Daisy!). Add it all with the desolate valley of ashes, the abandoned billboard of the oculist, and Wilson’s shabby garage. Yes… this is not a romantic story of unrequited love or the lost of illusion; it is the gloomy image that Fitzgerald felt was happening in America—emptiness and deadliness. Corrigan even questioned about Myrtle’s accident: “Who can say for certain whether Daisy’s hit-and-run murder of Myrtle, her husband’s mistress, is just an accident or a subconscious homicidal drive realized?” Yeah… that has made me shiver a little! And horrifyingly, it made sense to me.

Gatsby-Daisy’s reunion is full of emotion. Daisy was crying, but for what? Remember when Gatsby thrown his colorful shirts and Daisy cried? Of course she’s crying not because she has never seen such beautiful shirts before, but I think, because she lamented her faith of being a wife of the brutal man: Tom. If only she had waited for three more years, she would have had a rich AND loving husband: Gatsby. But after their trip, where Tom confronted Gatsby, and Gatsby persuaded her to flee with him, I think Daisy got so confused… and drunk. I think she realized that Gatsby would never fit in her circle—no matter how she loved him, her husband would always be Tom. But then seeing his mistress on the road… I don’t know whether she knew about Myrtle or not—probably she did—but that is enough to lead her to Corrigan’s homicidal theory.

I am still wondering about the history of Gatsby’s mansion which Nick told us, particularly this passage: “Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry”. To what exactly did Fitzgerald want to allude with it? What do you think?

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Great Gatsby Readalong: Update #3

Chapter four and five are awesome! Chapter five, especially, as this is where Gatsby-Daisy reunion took place. They are short, but hey!...there are so many interesting things I want to share, that I decided to only pour out my thoughts on chapter four in this post, and will write another post for chapter five. Here are my personal notes from the book itself and two companion books that I am reading along with Gatsby.

Chapter four -- The big question that arose from Gatsby’s and Nick’s chatting on their trip to New York for lunch is whether Gatsby was boasting or telling the truth, when he told Nick about his background. Fitzgerald never told us the truth (what is exactly Gatsby’s business, for example?); Gatsby remains a mystery. I think some of what Gatsby told Nick might be true, but the way he boasted it made Nick think he’s lying. Fitzgerald also boasted often in parties he was invited. It’s rather touching to see them—“nobody from nowhere”—in their struggles to climb the social ladder, not to be regarded as nobody.

On the same trip to New York, Nick laughed when “some negroes in limousine rode passed them with haughty rivalry”. This is the second time I noticed a bit of racism in this book, but maybe at that time, it’s not counted as racism. It’s just to show how Fitzgerald—or the American—felt that the nation was on the brink of changes, and that “everything is possible”. The hearse that also passed them creates a dark atmosphere into this story—something I have not realized until Sarah Churchwell labeled Gatsby as “noir novel” in Careless People. And to think of how many tragic deaths that had happened or told in the story; not only of Myrtle, Wilson, and Gatsby, but also “Rosy” Rosenthal—apparently a real person—of whom Meyer Wolfshiem witnessed the shoot.

Careless People revealed to me that Gatsby and Daisy are inspired by Fitzgerald’s (unrequited) love story. Young Scott was in love with Ginevra King, one of the rising debutantes in pre-war Chicago. Ginevra rejected him and later married a wealthy young man from her own circle. Fitzgerald took it that she discarded him because he was poor. Only on my second careful read of Gatsby that I realized how Daisy’s feeling about Gatsby and Tom. On her wedding dinner she was torn between love and money (she chose love when “drunk like a monkey” but eventually picked money after cooled up and could use her logic).

I wonder about the final paragraph of chapter four: “Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs...” What does it mean?


Friday, June 9, 2017

The Earth by Émile Zola

Brutal and violent! Zola is all out in this fifteenth novel of The Rougon Macquart cycle. I can feel how Zola’s love for his land was woven into an intense and emotional novel. And the blow! His crude way in telling the story really surprised me this time—the brutal rape and murder scenes… particularly the last one (yes, there’s more than one murder!). It really haunted me for few days.

Jean Macquart made his first appearance here (he will return in The Debacle), as an itinerant farm labourer on a small village, Rognes. Just like Etienne Lantier in Germinal, Jean was an outsider who became involved with Rognes peasants, particularly with the Fouan family. It all began when Old Fouan, being too old for working the land and longing for peaceful old age, divided the family’s land equally to his three children. From that day on the greedy children tirelessly scrambling over the ownership of even a strip of land, while ruthlessly abandon their parents to poverty and sorrow.

Here Zola highlighted the stubborn, blinded love towards the earth which then led to greed and savagery, even towards their parents and siblings. I can only imagine, when this book was first published, how shocked I were have I lived in the nineteenth century! No wonder some has regarded The Earth as one of Zola’s finest achievements, comparable to Germinal and L’Assommoir. I agree! The lyrical prose is still beautiful in some passages, but, at least for me, the severe of “the blow” is just second after L’Assommoir.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Great Gatsby Readalong: Update #2

The last few days having been hectic, and I didn’t have time to write about second chapter. So, this time (and maybe until the end of this readalong) I will compile few chapters in one post.

Chapter 2 is all about the green light and ash heaps (the valley of ashes).

Sarah Chuchwell, in Careless People, argued that the green light, toward which Nick has seen Gatsby stretched his hand, was probably inspired by the confusing new traffic signal in New York in 1922. The traffic signal tower that had newly been built on Fifth Avenue used “green” to indicate “stop”, while in any other railroad signals, green always the sign for “go”. This eventually led to many accidents. Fitzgerald could have used this phenomenon to write the famous gesture of Jay Gatsby’s stretching hand towards the green light—it might be that Gatsby misread the green lamp as permission to proceed, when in reality it told him to stop. What do you think?

Fitzgerald’s the valley of ashes might have been inspired by the Corona Dumps, the mountainous mound of fuel ash on a swampland beyond New York City—it was halfway between New York and Great Neck. These dumps, I imagined, created a contrast between the glamour of Manhattan and the grime of ashes, refuses, and even manure. The 1922 was said to be the age of advertising, when billboards could be seen throughout the city. And in the midst of these ashes Fitzgerald has placed the Dr. T.J. Ekcleburg billboard. Until now I have assumed that the giant eyes are the eyes God, but Sarah Churchwell offers other possibility: it could represent the new “god” that the New Yorkers worshiped: advertisings. It is indeed in accordance with the whole theme of Gatsby: illusion. I don’t know… I still have to think about it.

Chapter 3… finally, we met the enigmatic Gatsby! Nick attended Gatsby’s glamorous party and has been curious about his host. But when finally meeting him, Nick was surprised to learn that Gatsby is not what he expected. From the glamorous party, Nick expected Gatsby to be a “great” man, but in reality he is just someone who wanted to look great—“an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd”.

The party reflected the heart of the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. After the depressing war, people are restless; they do not know what to do; just want to be amused. Just what Daisy is in chapter one—laying on the sofa with Jordan, and later on when Gatsby visited the Buchanans. But the some restlessness led to carelessness. Jordan’s reckless driving, for example, and that is the portrait of New Yorkers at that time. Nick himself is restless when moving into Long Island—maybe partly to avoid having to break his engagement?

Chapter two of So We Read On (Corrigan do not follow Gatsby’s structure) is about how New York City has attracted dreamers. It promised success and glamour, something greater and different, but it often ended up bad, and even destroyed. There is also a sense of change in the air—cultural change. Immigrants were coming (for Tom: “Civilization’s going to pieces), and Americans did not know to react or where it would be heading.


Monday, June 5, 2017

The Great Gatsby Readalong: Update #1

I am participating in this exciting readalong at Hamlette’s. It officially started on June 1st, but I have had an early start about ten days ago. It is that I will be moving to a new apartment during June, so my reading pace might be slower this month. Another reason, my new books (two accompany books of The Great Gatsby) were so tempting, that I couldn’t stop myself from reading it! So, yeah, I’m stealing the start—sorry Hamlette! J

Following recommendation in the preface of Careless People, I decided to read The Great Gatsby, Careless People, and So We Read On simultaneously. Following Gatsby, Sarah Churchwell also divided Careless People into nine chapters, developing her investigation of events around Fitzgerald, following the story development of Gatsby. She even titled the chapters according to Fitzgerald’s original outline list for writing Gatsby. I had also taken a glimpse of So We Read On (the Introduction)—it provides another side of background history of how Gatsby was produced. But for Gatsby, I decided to put double efforts. First I will read first chapter of Gatsby, then consulting the same chapter of Careless People, and some pages of So We Read On. Then I will use the insight information from both books to go back to Gatsby again. That way I hope to be able to understand more on the making of The Great Gatsby, and what has made Gatsby that great.

Summary of 1st Chapter

In this part, I will share what I got from Careless People and So We Read On, or any new perspective on Gatsby, which I have got from both book.

Careless People
Nick Carraway is personification of Scott Fitzgerald in Gatsby. The resemblance is uncanny—in personal character (judgmental); in their way of thinking (luxury lovers, but also moralists who criticized its damaging effect).

In 1922 (the year Nick moved to Long Island), Scott Fitz also moved from Middle West to Manhattan. Several months later, there was a scandalous murder of an adulterous couple (Hall & Mills) which, Sarah Churchwell believes, has inspired Gatsby. Other events that might have inspired Fitzgerald: a car crash which has killed Charles Rumsey (celebrated Polo player—an “old money”), and the arrival of a shady businessman called Tommy Hitchcock who has moved into their neighbourhood. Seem familiar, eh? J

Interesting point: What does the green light represent? Dream? Hope? Or the color of money? We might have more suggestion on the next chapter.

So We Read On
There are so many themes one can find in Gatsby. This time (following Corrigan’s lead in the introduction of So We Read On), I will dig deeper into these specific themes:
- Social class
- God no longer exist

Speaking of social class, Gatsby IS other (half?) personification of Fitzgerald. Gatsby and Fitzgerald is both victim of social class distinction—they were “Mr. Nobody from nowhere” who struggled to belong to the “old money club”. Gatsby has got the money (through very hard working, and even bootlegging), yet not the breed.

1st chapter of So We Read On also speaks about water references or symbols throughout the book. When combined with Sarah Churchwell’s investigation about the confusion on the green traffic light around 1924, the famous ending of Gatsby’s 1st chapter—Gatsby reaching for the green light—could have a new meaning. I’m not too sure about this, but let’s see.

The Great Gatsby
Reading the above two books has helped me to understand more on what Fitzgerald has tried to tell us through this masterpiece, for which he had given his total effort. I began to see why Nick put Gatsby above all the rest, that “in the end, Gatsby is all right”, and furthermore, why “The Great Gatsby”. I have been wondering all this time, what is Gatsby’s greatness? He has a dream, works hard to achieve it—through shady businesses—but in the end still cannot reach it. Many people do that, even more honestly! But now I believe that the greatness lays more in the values that Gatsby (and Fitzgerald) believes. This is only my momentary reflection; I will come back to this later after completing the book. But this revelation excited me to delve deeper into this gem, and I can tell you that my admiration to Mr. Fitzgerald keeps increasing along the chapters!

How far have you been?


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Personal Canon: Books I Love & Made Most Impact

painter: Louise Catherine Breslau
Today is Indonesian National Book Day, and to celebrate it, I want to do this new meme I have seen in the book-blogosphere lately. I found it in o’s and Jillian’s, and decided to publish mine. My Personal Canon means books that I love, and/or books that made biggest impact in my life.

Émile Zola
If you are my followers or have known me long enough, you’d certainly know that this French author is my most favorite author, ever. An author whose works I am eager to read all without exception. So far, I have never been disappointed by his books. Okay, there are two or three that are not as good as the others, but overall, I admire his genius, his powerful stories, his passion in details, and his beautiful narrative.

Germinal – this is my all time favorite! The one book in which I found every elements I love of reading.
Le Bête Humaine – loved the narrative so much, and the human psychology side is very interesting.
L’Assommoir – it’s distressing but very powerful. Maybe it’s the ‘blow’ that actually made me loving it!
The Debacle – I think this is the best war themed historical fiction I’ve ever read!

Charles Dickens
How can one not love Dickens? His legendary characters, his sense of humor, even his own life… I don’t think Victorian era would be that interesting without Dickens! ;)
A Christmas Carol – how can you imagine Christmas without remembering some characters or scenes in this book; Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone” at least?
David Copperfield – still the best Dickens I have read so far.
Our Mutual Friend – a loving and warming book everybody will love!
The Great ExpectationsI think it’s Dickens best-in-writing. Not too much, not too mellow, not too dark. J

Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie is one author that had great impact on me as a teenager. From her books I learned about good and evil; that everyone can be evil (even a murderer); that it’s all about choice. Christie’s are my first adult books, and through her my fondness of justice and crime themes grew.
Curtain – the one mystery book that have ever made me cry!
Murder of Roger Ackroyd – her best in terms of plot-and-psychology-building.

John Grisham
After Christie, came Grisham. Still about justice, and I became fascinated with court scenes. I read and liked almost all his books, but my favorites remain these two…
The Chamber – this book taught me that there are many faces of racism and death penalty; and…
The Testament – loved the beautiful and peaceful scenes; soothing and touching.

Alexandre Dumas
Dumas is always the champion for poignant and intricate stories. And his books are usually long but full of action, thus offers long enjoyable moments of reading (just what you’ll need to spend long holidays).
Twenty Years After – this is the sequel of The Three Musketeers. Although less famous, I loved this book more because the friendship of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis was growing more mature and deeper here.
The Count of Monte Cristo – need to reread this! *note to self

Random Classic Novels
To Kill a Mockingbird  by Harper Lee – used to be my fave numero uno… until Zola stole it! ^_^
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerlad – always love Fitzi’s beautiful prose and his interesting symbols in this novel. And I always have interest in the jazz age…  

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton – I named Wharton as the female Zola after reading this (do you agree?) And she became instantly my most favorite female author.  
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – the morality struggle (and triumph) in this book is what I loved most… and the thriller of course.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville – what an epic!  
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – my latest favorite
Winnetou  by Karl May – I always have a soft spot for the Indians; and Winnetou is the perfect book to teach youngster about diversity. The story is set on the Wild West—so it’s full of action!—and the main characters are a German and an Indian. Their friendship is full of love, trust, and respect.

Play – the only one…
Julius Cesar by William Shakespeare – the only play that gets here… maybe because it’s about Ancient Rome. Always love everything about it!

History and Historical Fictions
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – a history that tasted like fiction. A painful reflection of injustice suffered by minorities; touching, and at once, inspiring.
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – loved the intricate story and the knowledge about building cathedral. I always like to read about people who have passion on some artwork.
Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris – again… the Ancient Rome effect. Plus, I have great respect for Cicero.
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone – similar to Pillars of the Earth, and Stone brought me to get inside Michelangelo’s mind and emotion, superb!
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – loved the painful love story!
Désirée by Annemarie Selinko – this one about Napoleon; loved the romance and a glimpse of one of the biggest generals in the world.

Series
The Adventure of Tintin by Hergé – my childhood books that took me to different countries, getting to know different people and cultures, thanks to the realistic-pictures by Hergé. In short, I grew up with Tintin; I learned many things through it—as I remember I once asked my dad while reading Tintin in Tibet: "How can yelling trigger snow avalanche?" (remember Captain Haddock scene?) Plus it always makes me laugh!
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – I remember… one day years ago, I leisurely opened amazon.com to see what books they’re recommending. In the top ten are both Harry Potter & the Sorcerer Stone (no. 1 for weeks) and Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secret; with a boy with a glass and lightning scar mounted on a broom in the cover. What is this?? I read the synopsis and got quite intrigued. But at that time I have never bought books online, so I soon forgot about that. But few months later, I saw the same book (the translation of course) displayed in front of my favorite bookstore, and I thought Ah…this is the book that made a lot of fuss the other day! So without further thinking, I bought both copies, read it, and instantly fell in love with Harry Potter. Now I think some magic must have got into me that day, because I’m not used to buy books beyond my comfort zone without much consideration (asking friends about it, read reviews, feel the book in my hand, return it to the shelf—and if I leave the store with regret, that means I REALLY want to buy it—then come back to the store next time to finally buy it!). So, yeah…Harry Potter has its place in my heart, and if you ask me now: Do you still love to read Harry Potter, after all these years? My reply will be: ALWAYS!


Friday, May 5, 2017

A Super-Exciting Project: The Great Gatsby Readalong

Sorry for having been silent for a few weeks. I have a delayed review of Zola’s The Earth for #Zoladdiction2017; which I have read, have been quit shocked by its brutality, but nonetheless have liked it; but still could not squeeze enough time and focus to write a proper review. Maybe in one of these days…

Meanwhile, I have been longing to post about this coming event:






The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite novels, and I have planned to reread it this year. My first schedule was July. But knowing that Hamlette of The Edge of Precipice was planning to host a readalong on June, I was super excited that I changed my schedule to adjust with it.

Besides Gatsby itself, I have planned to read two companion books: So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan and Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell. Considering that I might be moving to a new apartment during June, I doubt if I would be able to finish all, but I’ll just try.

Can't wait to get through this book!

My copy is still on its way from the bookstore, hopefully it'll arrive just on time!


Have you read The Great Gatsby? Care to read (or reread) it along with me, Hamlette, and (I believe) a bunch of other super-excited readers?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Claude's Confession by Émile Zola

Is this book really Zola’s most autobiographical novel? Maybe some of Zola’s hardcore fans have been curious about this. From the biographies I have read in books, introduction to Zola’s novels, or Wikipedia, I learned many similarities between Zola’s early life and the story plot of Claude’s Confession. Both Claude and Zola came from small rural village in very young age, and suffered from poverty and culture shock while living in Paris for the first time. But beyond that, I don’t know how many of the plot representing Zola’s real life or thoughts.

Like Zola, Claude must leave his rural life, and bunch of friends, to live alone in Paris. He felt lonely and out of place, that his only consolation is by exchanging letters with his friends. The main theme of this book is Claude’s passionate love over a tart named Laurence, whom he took in his place out of pity. At first he was disgusted of her vulgarity, and even determined to “purify” her. But from disgust came passion. Claude became passionately in love with Laurence. It was an unrequited love, though, since Laurence, who has been living in the street, has never known the pure love which Claude offered her. This ignorance made him extremely sick; then he began to lose senses.

This might be far away in plot and style than Zola’s more mature novels, but nonetheless, is quite interesting. I can sense Zola’s brilliant way of dissecting his characters psychologically, to study how it would react; exactly the way he would do later on in his Rougon-Macquart series. If you have been familiar with his books, Zola’s characters always have one extreme tendency (or madness). It could be the possessive love for money, sex, or even of land. In Claude, it was the obsession of purity and innocence. Claude’s ideal girl is one with pale complexion and virginal timidity (I have read somewhere that it’s also Zola’s taste of women—don’t know whether it’s true or not). And just the same as in his other novels, this madness is always ruinous. It’s as if, when you have this tendency, you would certainly go down into the bottom.

If you have interest in psychology, this novel will amuse you. For mere entertainment, it’s rather painful. But if you call yourself Emile Zola’s fan, well, I believe this novel would interest you to learn how Zola ever began his literary genius.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Max Havelaar by Multatuli

Multatuli is pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker, a Dutch civil servant of The Netherlands during its colonialism in Indonesia (then Dutch Indies) on 19th century. He was an assistance resident in Lebak (the Bantam residency of Java—now Banten) when he began to see—and growingly disgusted by—the abuses of Dutch colonial system. Dekker began to openly criticize (and later oppose) his government, which ended with his resignation. But far from ending his opposition, Dekker began to publish his writings exposing the scandals he had witnessed. Not having enough exposure with the newspaper and pamphlet, he wrote a satire novel under pseudonym of Multatuli: Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.

If you think this is a dull historical journal about coffee auctions and colonialism by a boring ex-civil servant, you are wrong! I have thought so in the past—hence have never considered reading it. But when I started reading, I found that Multatuli is really a talented and witty writer. Though implied by the title, this book is NOT about coffee trading; it is a satire about the injustice suffered by Indonesian people because of the colonial policy.

As an Indonesian myself, I was interested in how the colonialism have ever started, and why it took so long before the whole nation started to revolt. It only proved how clever the Dutch was at learning Indonesia’s archipelago and rich culture; to use the isolation of so many islands (with many different languages and cultures) to their advantage. Not only that, the Dutch knew one typical character of Indonesians: humble, obedient, inferior. And with our rich soil, no wonder any superior nation—if not Dutch, others would—could easily take advantage of Indonesia as their slave.

Back to the book, Max Havelaar (fictional character which is clearly representing Dekker) is a newly appointed assistant resident in Lebak. He was young, vigorous, brave, and honest. Soon after being appointed, he found out the practice of the regent (“bupati” in Indonesia) in employing local people or taking their animals by force, without paying, as a pretext to preserve his dignity. Instead of protecting local people to be burdened by these thieving, while they still had to pay taxes, Havelaar’s colleagues seemed to close their eyes of these injustices. They chose to please the regent to gain their support, and in the end to create an “all-is-good” report to the government. Other than that, the local people are also forced to grow coffee and sugar on their land, to be shipped to Europe, instead of growing rice for their food. In the end they became poorer and suffered more. Havelaar protested to Dutch government about these cruel treatments; writing many letters which eventually became a manuscript.

Interestingly, the book is narrated by two different persons with two different ways of thinking. The most dominant is a hypocrite, pompous coffee merchant named Mr. Droogstoppel. Max Havelaar’s manuscript accidentally came to his possession and—thinking that its coffee auction subject would be useful to promote his business—instructed his apprentice, Stern, to rewrite it into a book. Being a romantic young man, Stern, instead of writing about coffee trade issues, decided to take another course, that is Havelaar’s effort to fight the injustice done by Dutch government. It was really funny to read how Droogstoppel was furious and indignant of Stern’s romantic idea, while bragging about his hypocritical views. Finally, near the end, Multatuli took over the pen himself to write his own opinions, and closing it with sharp threats that he was going to expose every dirty detail if the government kept silent.

Max Havelaar might not be a great classic—in fact, if it’s not about my nation, I might have not picked it at first place—but we cannot ignore its big influence in Indonesian revolution in 1945 which ended Dutch colonialism, as well as colonialism at some other nations. It was such that the Indonesian greatest writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer called Max Havelaar as “the book that killed colonialism”.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The House of Mirth: The Second Reading

Reading your favorite book for the second time can sometimes be quite risky. You can end up either liking it the more, or disliking it. Because on second reading, you would be reading more thoroughly; examining the characters more closely, analyzing and calculating every cause and effect. Maybe you would still love it because the author wrote it beautifully, but most probably you would see the characters differently. Then you only focused on their fates, but now you might also see their flaws. It happened to me when giving Wharton’s The House of Mirth a second reading.

I still love it, yes, and perhaps even love it more now, as this time no curiosity on the plot obstructed me from savoring Wharton’s beautiful prose. But, as I delved more deeply, I began to question my (blind) judgment on a character I used to praise then. I’m talking about Lawrence Selden. Until last month he seemed almost perfect to me, now I began to see his flaw; that is his lack of trust in Lily when he saw her fled from Trenor’s house that night. But that didn’t make me dislike him; on the contrary, it made Selden more humane. Though I kept thinking how everything might have been different if Selden kept his plan.

On my first reading, my focus was on Lily Bart, whom I analyzed for WEM project. Now I had the leisure to take on Selden. I begin to feel that Selden is the motor of the whole story. It all begins and ends with him. Maybe Selden is Wharton’s own view of the society at that time. I haven’t had close study on her, but from wiki I learned that though growing up in upper class society, Wharton was one of its hardest critics. Selden, too, enjoys the privilege of being with the upper class, but he also ‘disgusted’ with them.

One of the most interesting things about Selden, is his theory of “the republic of the spirit”—the freedom of having choices to make; not being helplessly dictated by society. Wharton also rejected the standards of fashion and etiquette that were expected of young girls at the time, intended to enable women to marry well and to be displayed at balls and parties. She thought these requirements were superficial and oppressive [Wikipedia]. Instead, she was eager to have higher education. I think this is what Selden’s idea with his republic of the spirit—something that Lily Bart envied him for.

Another interesting point is, throughout the novel, there is a sense of ambiguity in Lily’s character. Lily Bart is introduced as an intelligent woman, who is able to skillfully read human characters to use it as a weapon for her advantage. She has maneuvered geniusly to attract Percy Gryce—though she failed in finishing it. Yet, she failed to predict her aunt’s reaction to her (rumored) scandal. I agree with Carry Fisher, that the cause of Lily’s fall is laziness and her longing of freedom and happiness (thanks partly to Selden’s influence!). In the Percy Gryce failure, it makes sense, but how can she be lazy when her whole life was depended on her aunt’s legacy? I just don’t get it.

All in all, I am grateful I have given The House of Mirth a second reading; I love it more now, and would one day revisit it again. Thanks to Adam for hosting the #CBAM2017, and to you all who have been reading this treasure with me.

For more about this book, you can browse my analysis and review on my first reading.


Monday, March 6, 2017

I am Doing it Again: #Zoladdiction2017 on April


If you haven’t been familiar with #Zoladdiction, it’s an addiction to any book by my favorite author: Émile Zola. It’s actually an event—one perhaps call it “challenge”, but if any Zola-ish thing could have been a challenge, NOT reading Zola is the real challenge to me, LOL! Anyway, for three consecutive years: 2013 to 2015, I have hosted #Zoladdiction during April. For me April is always the best month to read Zola. Firstly because April 2nd is Zola’s birth date; secondly because April always reminds me of Germinal—my all time favorite novel from Zola—thanks to this beautiful quote:

Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.

Last year I have to skip #Zoladdiction because of my tight schedule. But I turned out to be reading few Zolas during April anyway, so I have decided to do another #Zoladdcition2017 this year. Busy or not, I can’t spend a year without reading any Zola, because of…yeah… the #Zoladdiction… ^_^

I would be very excited if any of you would join me next month. There will be no obligations at all, no rule, no linky, no date, no reviews required, etc. because the fun of #Zoladdiction is really in the bliss of reading Zola.

If you want to chat or discuss about #Zoladdiction2017, just drop by here, or mention me on twitter or instagram or goodreads, using the hashtag. I will be reading Claude’s Confession and The Earth, but you are free, of course, to pick any book you like.

Will you join me? :)


Thursday, March 2, 2017

My 2nd Round of The Classics Club

Yayy… I have successfully completed The Classics Club Part 1 (March 2012 – March 2017). It was really a huge commitment to read around 100 classics in five years. When I started it, I kept asking myself, what if I lost my passion in reading classics in the middle of those five years? But I was willing to try then; and now I am grateful I have taken this challenge, because now I can proudly say: I DID IT! I should give myself a nice reward…another (or two?) beautiful book? ^_^

Anyway, my successful first project has inspired me to do a second round. It won’t be as ambitious as the first; I only planned to read 60 books in five years, starting yesterday (1st March). Here is the complete list:


More than half of them (35 / 60) are from authors new to me. The rest is dominated by two of my favorites—Dickens & Zola—of course! ;) Apart from the list, I also planned to reread several of my favorites, or the ones I thought deserved a second chance. One of them is The Divine Comedy. I have read Inferno few years ago, and quite liked it, but failed with Purgatorio and Paradiso (the later was a total failure because I almost didn’t understand all the cantos -_-). I believe, to read and really appreciate Dante’s poems, one needs to dig deeper and work harder.

Then, two weeks ago, when I was googling for a more suitable translation of The Divine Comedy (previously I read Longsworth’s), I stumbled upon a Youtube video of open course on Dante in Translation from Open Yale Courses, given by Prof.  Giuseppe Mazzotta. I tried the Introduction, and enjoyed it. So, I decided to have a go with the course to reread Dante. In a couple of weeks I will also order Prof. Mazzotta’s translation of Inferno. I am aware that I have only very limited time for my literary activities; but I think I can squeeze this course at office hours when I have finished my works, usually 30-40 minutes before 5 pm. Hey, this can be a nice incentive to get my works done as effectively as possible, so that I can use the extra time to attend the course! ^_^

Other than Dante, I also planned to reread The Great Gatsby this year. To accompany it, two companion books have also been seating on my wishlist shelf: So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan and Careless People by Sarah Churchwell. And maybe, I will attend another Open Yale Course on Gatsby… Yeah, after the Dante’s, of course I’ve been searching for more literary open courses available… and found one on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. Bingo! I did have The Sound and the Fury on my list, and maybe… I should have put To Have and Have Not into…. No. Wait. Remember, limited time! Just one book at a time, Fanda! @_@

I should stop here, or the list will swell to be 100 again…. So, wish me luck with my second round of The Classics Club, everyone! Have you done with the challenge? Will you go for 2nd round too?


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Three Theban Plays: The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles

For me, Greek plays always have their own charms. Compared to Renaissance’s or any modern plays, I find Greek’s is more intense in emotion. It always feels like I was in a theatre watching the performance live. I have actually never done this, but still….

If I remember correctly, the first play I have ever read years ago is Oedipus the King—I read Indonesian translation then—and have been mesmerized by it. One aspect I love in Greek’s plays is the chorus. It reminds me that I’m reading a play, not a story written as a play.

Oedipus Cycle begins with Oedipus the King, the most famous one. Reading it at much mature age made me realize a wider theme it covers than just a tragedy of a son who married his mother and killed his father—though unintentionally. It speaks a lot about destiny. Can we, mortal, avoid it? Oedipus had tried hard by fleeing from his country; nevertheless it happened without his knowing. And the blow becomes harder because, firstly, he has listened to the prophecy (and worked hard to resist his destiny), and secondly, he then insisted on having all the truth. I imagined, if he have never known the prophecy, he would still have stayed with the Laius; never have come to Thebes to become their King with pride, and to marry Jocasta… and so on. But speaking about destiny, one often comes to think also about free will. “Is destiny a real thing? That makes us like some puppet; don’t have control over our life? If so, does free will also exist?” So… when we are still thinking hard (without coming to a satisfying conclusion), we might want to move on to the second play: Oedipus at Colonus. And there… only there do we get the answer!

Oedipus at Colonus is the opposite of Oedipus the King, in term of the theme. Oedipus—in his old age and banishment—is now a more humble person. He admitted how he was dependent on his daughters’ loving care and Theseus’ generosity; that without them, he was helpless. He didn’t grudge against his bad fate; he could accept it and be peaceful with himself. Only after that, his life became meaningful by giving others better lives. How beautiful the lessons Sophocles taught us from these two plays; that Antigone—the last play—was almost felt like anti-climax.

All in all, Oedipus cycle is a very emotional, intense, engaging, and entertaining plays. My favorite is perhaps Oedipus at Colonus—I was happy for Oedipus’ reconciliation, and was fallen in love with Theseus’ calmness, generosity, and noble character.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (and other writings)

First of all, Penguin Classics should put a subtitle “and other writings” after Metamorphosis for this edition. I have a habit of ignoring list of contents or notes, because chapters/part titles often reveal the story plot. For me, curiosity is part of reading excitement, thus I don’t like anyone to reveal anything before I read it myself. When I need a reference or anything to help me understanding a passage, I will consult the introduction or list of contents myself.

So, without any subtitle, I assumed that when I opened the first page of the story, it had to be The Metamorphosis. “The Contemplation—printed largely on first page—I assumed to be a part title (silly me! -_-). And so I read on, chapter after chapter, yet I could not find any thread. Every chapter seemed to be independent story, though it also felt incomplete. Until I finally reached the part of The Metamorphosis. Only then I knew there’s something wrong. I consulted the “note on the text” in the front pages, and found that “The stories in this collection were written…..” Oh OK! It’s a story/journal collection then, not a single novella!

The first collection was Contemplation, written in first person POV. All of them have one same tone: wary, dejected, and lonely. The Metamorphosis itself had the same tone. The protagonist (Gregor) feels alienated and burdened by his job. But what disturbed me most is the reaction of his father, mother, and most of all, his sister, against his metamorphosis. The disgust is one thing, but how can they not feel any affection about their son/brother, that they want to get rid of him? It was Gregor who has provided for them before the metamorphosis, how easy it is for them to ignore his sacrifices!

In the next stories/journals, lack of recognition theme came again. In fact, I have jotted down aspects or themes that are interesting and quite often appeared throughout the book, here they are:

Engineer
Businessman
Lack of recognition from authority
“Life is astonishingly brief”
Huge gap between superior and inferior
Lack of gratitude > slaving
Mechanical structure
Wary
Dejected
Lonely
Suicidal behavior
No way out
Metamorphosed to animal
Caged > helplessness

So I think, to better understanding Kafka, or the meaning of his writings, is to find the connecting thread. Unfortunately I am quite hectic at present to much analysis, but I think it’s safe to conclude that Kafka wrote this book out of disappointment of his own life and maybe, of the social condition. To what and why? I have still much to analyze… or do you know? Have you read the book? What is your conclusion?


Friday, January 13, 2017

Back to the Classics 2017

After much (and rather long) consideration, I have decided to participate again in Karen’s Back to the Classics 2017. I have failed my 2015 challenge and skipped the 2016, due to my personal activities. This year I think I would have more time to reading and blogging, and I feel my love of classics need to be nurtured and satisfied once again. 

Hence, here are the nine (of twelve) categories and the books I picked for the challenge (wish me luck!)...



A 20th century classic 

A classic in translation.  
Max Havelaar by Multatuli

A classic published before 1800.
The Iliad by Homer

A Gothic or horror classic. 

A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

 An award-winning classic. 
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky