Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

Finally! I have completed all my challenges this year right on time! I still have Dickens at Christmas to read for Dickens in December 2017, but it does not count as challenge. I will just enjoy my Christmas holiday with Mr. Dickens. What makes me proud of myself is that I successfully wrote reviews for ALL books for these challenges—even if it’s only mini reviews—which I failed last year. Here is the complete list, and I thank all the hosts for encouraging me to read many inspiring books this year!

Books read: 4/4

Books read: 6/6

A new-to-you book by a FAVORITE author: The Earth by Émile Zola
A book published between 1871-1880: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A book by Charles Dickens: Bleak House
A book by Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
A book translated into English: The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola
Book with a name as the title: Claude’s Confession by Émile Zola

Books read: 9/9

A classic by a woman author: Death Comes for the Archbishop by WillaCather
A classic in translation: Max Havelaar by Multatuli
A classic published before 1800: The Iliad by Homer
A Gothic or horror classic: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Book read: 12/12

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Jarndyce and Jarndyce was a legal case with a long history in the Chancery court. It's about a conflicting wills which affected many people of several generations and ruined many of its suitors’ lives because of the corrupted law system. Of the many victims are John Jarndyce, the owner of Bleak House, the two orphaned cousins Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, and Lady Honoria Dedlock. Together with another orphan girl which became John Jarndyce's ward: Esther Summerson, they become the leading characters of this book.

Dickens wove the story using voices of two narrators with different character: Esther Summerson's—calm and reserved, and the omniscient—rather cold and severe. This makes Bleak House less dull, but still I missed Dickens' warm and affectionate voice he used in several books I have read so far.

Unlike his other books, Bleak House was built by several plots or subplots which are often unrelated to each other, but for the (abundant) characters. The Jellybys and the Turveydrops, for example, are not really related to the others, except Caddy Jellyby who are so fond of Esther Summerson. Is it only Dickens's way to highlight Esther's amiable and unselfish character? But what about the Dedlocks? Lady Dedlock is another prominent character here, but although she was also suitor in the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, her part is not related to the law suit; which made me thinking what purpose does she really bring to us, reader?

Speaking of Lady Dedlock, she has become my favorite character of this book. From the moment she went to the burial ground, disguised, guided by poor Jo, I have said to myself: here is a brave, strong, smart woman with a steely determination underneath her elegant bearing. Compared to Esther Summerson or John Jarndyce, Lady Dedlock seems more humane, and thus more prominent. For a distinguished lady who had a dark past, how she could bear it bravely alone… that’s the real heroine to me. Esther and, especially, John Jarndyce are almost like fairytale’s character. Can one be THAT unselfish and always perfectly kind like Jarndyce? I would have loved him to be selfish, at least when his love was concerned, but for his lover’s happiness, he’d reluctantly give way to the man she really loves. That would be much acceptable. But, it’s Dickens anyway, and despite all that, Bleak House was loveable and memorable.

Oh, I forgot to mention Harold Skimpole, who, to me, was the WORST antagonist of all time! How can that kind of person ever exists in the world, I can’t imagine. Well, enough for the rants... I would have given Bleak House five stars just for Lady Dedlock’s sub-plot. The search by Inspector Bucket and Esther is so thrilling. And I could see whence Hercule Poirot’s investigating style was inspired—his casual talking to extract facts innocently, his systematic pattern of search (and his cool way to do it), and the way he confront the accused by shaking his/her emotion in front of others. Now, that part deserves five stars, but Esther’s narrative and the Jarndyce and Jarndyce are rather dull and unreal. 4,5 of 5 is my best compromise.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dickens in December 2017: Link-up Post

Hello Dickensian… we are almost midway through #DickensInDecember2017! This is where you can link-up your posts or reviews. The linky will be open until January 12th, in case you could not post your reviews in time because of the Christmas buzz or even New Year’s hangover.

Now, tell me how have you been with your Dickens? Are you in the middle of it? What book are you reading? Have you watched or do you plan to watch any Dickensian movie/series? Right now I am about 60% through Bleak House, and really enjoying it. Hopefully I can finish it this weekend, so that I can welcome the festive season by reading Dickens at Christmas. I also plan to watch Dickensian series during holiday. What about you?

Monday, December 11, 2017

My 2018 Reading Challenges

The most exciting month has come! December is always full of fun; from Christmas, holiday, and arranging for next year’s reading challenge! Besides Goodreads challenge (I will challenge myself to read 28 books—two books more than this year) and The Classics Club Challenge (I am doing my second round—2018 is the second year), I will be participating in three cool challenges:

Host: Books and Chocolate
Duration: January – December 2018
Goal: Read 12 books

A 19th century classicDombey and Son by Charles Dickens
A 20th century classicEast of Eden by John Steinbeck
A classic by a woman authorThe Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
A classic in translationThe Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
A children's classicFive Go to Billycock Hill (Famous Five)  by Enid Blyton
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fictionTowards Zero by Agatha Christie
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fictionJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
A classic with a single-word titleResurrection by Leo Tolstoy
A classic with a color in the titleThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
A classic by an author that's new to youWalden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
A classic that scares youThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkiens
Re-read a favorite classicThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Host: Roof Beam Reader
Duration: January – December 2018
Goal: Read 12 books (with 2 alternatives)

*The year is publication year of my copy*
1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (2002)
2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – Indonesian translation (2003)
3. March by Geraldine Brooks – Indonesian translation (2007)
4. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy – Indonesian translation (2005)
5. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (2009)
6. Cleopatra: A Life by Tracy Schiff - Indonesian translation (2012)
7. The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2002)
8. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)
9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2001)
10. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – Indonesian translation (2013)
11. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1995)
12. The Origin: A Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin by Irving Stone (1982)

1. World Without End by Ken Follett (2012)
2. A Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross

Host: Becky's Book Reviews
Duration: January - December 2018
Personal Goal: Read 6 Victorian books

_ Book published between 1841-1850: The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
_ Character name in the title: The Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
_ Gothic, suspense, mystery: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
_ Translated into English from another language: A Love Story by Émile Zola
_ British author: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
_ American author: Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Host: The Classics Club
Duration: January – December 2018 (second year of originally five years)
Personal Goal: Read 13 books

1. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
3. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
4. The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
5. The Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
6. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
7. The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
8. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkiens
10. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
11. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
12. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
13. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Now, let’s hope nothing huge and unexpected will happen next year, so that I can read and blog calmly throughout the year!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If God does not exist, then everything is permitted—this seemed to be the central point of argument Fyodor Dostoyevsky brought up in The Brothers Karamazov. Originally intended to be a trilogy, he wrote this amazing book to follow the life of a notorious family, the Karamazovs; from the father: Fyodor Pavlovich, to the three (legitimate) sons: Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha, and (most probably) illegitimate son: Smerdyakov. They are entangled into an intricate love-suspicion-jealousy-hatred relationship throughout the story, which lead to destruction both to (most of) themselves and to people around them.

So, how did Dostoyevsky put the above argument into this nicely-woven story? From the beginning the doubt and rejection of God and immortality scattered throughout the chapters. But the most serious one is in these two famous chapters: “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor”. In “Rebellion” Ivan poured out his disappointment of God for letting injustice and suffering happened to innocent people, apparently, for nothing. While “The Grand Inquisitor” is a poem Ivan wrote to question about free will God had imposed upon man. He believed that free will is impossible burden for mankind, because we will always have to answer to our consciences; that we will never be happy whichever path of life we choose, good or evil. If that was the case, then why wasting your energy by doing good? Is that true? Dostoyevsky let us readers judge the case by following the faith of the Karamazov brothers.

Of the three (plus one—the illegitimate) sons, Alyosha was the only one who chose “good” from the beginning. However, he too had doubt—albeit small—when his beloved Father Zosima’s corpse decomposed shortly after his death, while everyone was almost sure a miracle would happen to the saintly monk. But Alyosha soon got through his doubt. Dmitri, on the other hand, started as a scoundrel and sensualist; have plunge to the lowest, but finally managed to crawl up to the light. In the crucial moment, “something inside” ripped him from the fatal act—that is conscience.

But the most interesting case is Ivan. His “conversation” with the Devils shows how strenuous the battle of his conscience was; how bad his soul has been contaminated by evil power. Ivan was not atheist; he just did not accept God’s “interference” in human life; hence his belief of if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. That way, so he believed, man could do whatever he likes without weighing his conscience, and that would make him happy. This ideology eventually provoked a murder, and Ivan did suffer from his conscience. I’m glad though that in the end his good conscience won the battle at the end.

Moral value of this book is, that man must try first to understand God’s plan for humankind; and this must not be done with mind only, but much more with reflective soul. To logical mind, conscience did make one suffer; either when he tries to be good or, even more, when he does evil. And to be good is arduous, especially when one is born from a bad family like Karamazovs. What then? Dostoyevsky answered this by writing quite lengthy passages of Father Zosima’s speeches in the early chapters—which, I confess, seemed not to be related to the story when I read it, but made sense in the end. These passages contain some aspects that were missing from Ivan’s ideology: humility, and “all responsible for one another”—the later applied not only in evil, but also in love or good deeds. Young Zosima’s turning point moment was marked by his humility to his servant whom he has beaten the night before his planned duel. The same worked for Alyosha. Remember how Alyosha, when he was disappointed at Father Zosima’s humiliation, went to Grushenka’s, and what has made him turning toward “light” again then? Is it not after Grushenka pitied him; that Alyosha was astonished that she had pity on him—he who was nobody? Is it not a remark of humility too? Lastly, the remark of all responsible for one another appeared in Ilusha and the children story. Ilusha’s sorrow was caused by Dmitri is an example of how one evil deed to one person might cause suffer to a lot of people. The same also applies to love and good deeds.

So, Ivan’s ideology might partly be right; that free will could cause suffering. But on the other hand, it is also true that from freewill too love, charity, affection, and in the end happiness, was born.

5/5 stars for this great book; I would like to reread it someday!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Republic by Plato

I must take a mental note not to read any philosophical book during three of the last months of year! When reports and deadlines occupied most of my brain, I should have chosen some lighter books than Plato! Really… I almost put Republic down in the middle of 200s pages, but I know that if I didn’t finish now, I won’t probably pick it up again in the future. So, I kept on reading. And you know…it turned out to be rewarding in the end!

Republic is a conversation of some Ancient Greek men who were “on the threshold of old age”—one of them was Socrates. From common earthly matters, their conversation moved to a serious one: Does morality rewarding? Socrates thought so, but others disagreed. One of them said that “morality is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger party…” And that led to a discussion about governmental systems—the best and the worst types, as well as the same weighing at human’s characters. They even created from the scratch an ideal community in which happiness is in store for everyone—from the leaders (they call it “guardian”) to its citizen.

So, Republic is not a political book in the first place. First Socrates analyzed positive and negative points from several biggest governmental systems; then cross-referenced them with men’s character types. In the end, they all agreed that morality is, after all, rewarding. And actually, being the title of this book doesn’t mean that Republic is the best political system chosen by Plato. Here is the nomination according to Plato, and agreed by the rest (from best to worst):

- Aristocracy (complies with Plato’s ideal state)
- Timarchy or Timocracy
- Oligarchy
- Democracy
- Dictatorship

Like I said, I have chosen the wrong time to read Republic, so I didn’t have chance to make thorough analysis on the state models, and cannot decide which model is the most ideal.

The idea of one-person-one-occupation is good. That way everyone can work according to his passion and skill; that way he will produce his best, and in the end everyone will be satisfied. I also agree that the ruler (or guardian, using Plato’s term) must be provided with special education, on philosophy, in particular. But I strongly opposed to Plato’s way of exalting the guardian class, to the extent of restraining them from marrying other social classes, and even suggesting that children will be snatched from their parents and raised by the state. I agree that ruler of the state must have certain qualities, but that the kingship should be dominated by certain class… a big no!

To sum up, there are things in this book that are indeed relevant with our issues today; the idea about morality and philosophy really benefit us—and thus make Republic an important reading. But there are also other ideas that was really disgusting.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge


I have completed this challenge, 12 books in 12 months AND the two alternates also. Check below my entries with links to the review. Thanks, Adam, for ever hosting this challenge!


It’s back! After two sabbatical years (is it really two years?) of one of my favorite reading challenges, Adam has decided to host The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge again, yay! Thanks Adam, for I really need this kick right now to finally take on several books that has been in my shelf for years!

It requires us to read twelve books (with two alternates) from our TBR pile. This year I intended to read all twelve of them, so here they are… (the year is the publishing year of my copy):

1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (2002)
2The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – Indonesian translation (2003)
3March by Geraldine Brooks – Indonesian translation (2007)
4Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy – Indonesian translation (2005)
5Howards End by E.M. Forster (1910)
6Cleopatra: A Life by Tracy Schiff - Indonesian translation (2012)
7The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2002)
8An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)
9Possession by A.S. Byatt (2009)
10The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – Indonesian translation (2013)
11Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1995)

1. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - Indonesian translation (2008)
2. A Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross

Now, wish me luck for next year! *fingers crossed*

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dickens in December: A Reading Event | #DickensInDecember2017

credit for Dickens image

In my bookish life, December is one of the most exciting months of the year (besides April—because of… you know… one particular genius French author I happen to love! 😎). I love organizing, and around December I used to organize my reading schedule for the next year. All with reading challenges that everyone is posting, anticipation of reading (and rereading my favorites), it makes December so full of excitement and anticipation!

There is another thing. Since two or three years ago, I have been cultivating a new habit of reading Dickens only in December. Why December? I don’t know… maybe because Dickens is always associated with Christmas—hey, he is “the man who invented Christmas”, right? Or maybe, December always gives the perfect mood for reading Dickens… do you feel it too?? Anyway, now, I always put a Dickens or two in my December entry for next year reading lists.

And then I thought….why not creating a reading event of Dickens every December, just like what I have been doing with Zola every April (Zoladdiction—if you haven’t been familiar with it)? That will be super cool! And so…. today I am proud to announce my new reading event:


Why is it cool?
Reading Dickens IS always cool… do you need any other reason to read him?

How can I participate?
Just by confirming in the comment box, or by copy-pasting URL of your blog post about your intention to participate.

Must I own a blog to participate?
No, you can use your goodreads or Twitter or Facebook or Instagram account, or even… you can just read silently without social media sharings. But please don’t go “anonymous” here; use your alias name, at least. I hate talking to ghosts… 😝

Must I post a sign up post, reviews, or wrap-up post?
It’s you choice. I know December can be hectic (so many reports to prepare, humbug!), and totally understand if you don’t have time to write posts. But if you’d care to share your reading plan with us on the comment box, we’d be thrilled! In my blog I will post a scheduled kick-off post on December 1st and wrap-up post around Christmas so that you can share your thoughts or feelings (or URL of your posts) if you’d like to, as often as you want! You can also share it via social media using hashtag #DickensInDecember2017. Don’t forget to tag me! 😉

So, what MUST I do?
Read, read, and read as many Dickensian book(s) as you can! (books by Dickens or about Dickens) 💓

Last but not least… to spice up the event…

Are you super-excited with the upcoming The Man Who Invented Christmas movie?? I AM!! Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it…

You can also share your thoughts on the movie (or any other Dickensian movies) for this event.

Yayyy! See you next month! 🎉

===== UPDATE====
Please submit your reviews/posts in the link-up post.

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. Count 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 worships: 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 attends Gatsby’s glamorous party and has been curious about his host. But when finally meeting him, Nick is 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 wants 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 reflects 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 same restlessness leads 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 destroying. There is also a sense of change in the air—cultural change. Immigrants were coming (for Tom: “Civilization’s going to pieces), and Americans does not know how to react or where it would be heading.