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.

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 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!