Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Bright Side of Life by Émile Zola

The twelfth novel of the Rougon-Macquart cycle turned out to be the most autobiographical of Zola's. He wrote The Bright Side of Life when he was 44 years old, and was in one of his much mental instability cases caused by the death of his two friends – one of them was his mentor: Gustave Flaubert – then followed by his mother's. From age 30, Zola too has been suffering from necrophobia (irrational fear of death) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. From these few facts, you know what's to expect from this novel. Despite of the original title: La Joie de Vivre, there's also a balanced dose of pain and sorrow. In fact, The Bright Side of Life is all about paradox: life force vs death, health vs pain, optimism vs pessimism. But Zola's true aim is that optimism must counterbalance pessimism, which was spreading in France when he wrote it.

Our heroine this time is Pauline Quenu, the daughter of Lisa Macquart and Quenu (from The Belly of Paris). She is, perhaps, the most mentally-stable member of the Rougon-Macquart clan. From the first, Pauline is a cheerful, hopeful, loving, and persevering young girl. Whatever her condition is, she always brightens her surroundings, spreading positive vibes around her. Pauline was orphaned after Lisa's and Quenu's death. She was adopted and lived with Chanteaus family on the seaside village called Bonneville. She tended her uncle Chanteau, who suffered from gout, with extra tenderness. And with Lazare, her cousin, Pauline often played outdoor near the seaside. Now Lazare was Pauline's opposite. He was gloomy and pessimistic, and gradually it became clear that he suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He had an obsessive fear of death (necrophobia) – yeah, he is Zola’s embodiment in this novel – and he could never settle his mind on anything. Despite of their huge age difference and character difference, Pauline and Lazare were attracted to each other.

Pauline inherited a large sum of money from her parents, and from the first Madame Chanteau insisted that she would keep the money intact in the drawer at her desk until Pauline come of age to manage it herself. However, with Lazare's incapability to earn money, Madame Chanteau began to borrow Pauline's money for daily household, which the girl was always too pleased to lend. Then Lazare would come up with an idea which he believed will make the family rich, but had no money to fund it. Pauline would lend her money for capital, of which the Chanteaus made sure of returning after Lazare's success. He failed eventually, the money evaporated, and the pattern repeated over and over again! Madame Chanteau, out of her shame and indignation of "begging" from her niece, eventually just took the money without consulting Pauline. Moreover, she shut down her conscience by turning the blame to Pauline. She made herself believed that Pauline has brought bad influence to the family, and began to treat Pauline with hostility. On the face of all this, Pauline felt sad, but persevered and maintained her loving and cheerful manner. Pauline and Lazare were about to be married (Madame Lazare's genius idea of legally robbing Pauline's money), but one day in came a sophisticated town girl called Louise, whose femininity attracted Lazare. So now, it's not only her money, they robbed her of love too. She has sacrificed everything for the happiness of others, yet she was treated badly.

"Le Joie de Vivre" copy in Van Gogh's "Oleanders" - 1888

I have been wondering through the story, why Zola titled this book the joy of life, while it is filled with sorrow and pain – Pauline's heartbreaking is nothing compared to Louise's suffering in her greatly painful labor (Zola pictured it too vividly, that I felt my stomach ached only to imagine it!) So, where is the "joy"? I think this is the most philosophical novel from Zola which I have read so far. It takes us to reflect upon life and its meaning. Why must we continue living and persevering if at the end death is inevitable? Is life all sorrow and hopeless, then? Through Pauline, Zola wanted to raise France from its pessimistic slumber. Life might not full of joy, but the joy of life is in life itself – being alive, having survived through perseverance in one's daily routines, sharing, loving and sacrificing for others' happiness, that is the joy of life! That is humanity. I loved how Zola symbolized Pauline’s emotional struggles with another “living character” of this book: the sea! When Pauline is happy, the sea is calm and beautiful, but when jealousy outburst (the only family-inherited “flaw” found in Pauline) violently shook her, the sea too became dark, raging, and turbulent.

In a way this novel is very Zola, but at the same time, it's very un-Zola – in term of the writing style. You won't see any of his usual exaggerated (or as I prefer to call it: intense) narrative. It was actually Zola's intention from the beginning to create a "simple" story. "This is the novel I want to write. Good, honest people placed in a drama that will develop the ideas of goodness and pain. Then, it will all be down to how it is written. Not my usual symphony. A simple, straightforward story. Environment still playing its necessary role, but less to the fore; description reduced to minimum. The style direct, correct, forceful, without romantic flourishes. The kind of classical language I dream of writing. In a word, honesty in everything, nothing dressed up." ~Zola's preliminary sketches of this novel. To be honest, I rather miss his “dressed up”, powerful, intense style – a quality I rarely found combined with beautiful prose in any other writers. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most honest books I’ve ever read; it’s OUR lives, OUR journeys, and OUR struggles.

My score: 4 / 5

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Classics Club Spin #20

Alright, I’m not supposed to squeeze any book into my tight schedule at present. Yet, who can ever resist The Classics Club Spin, although I have said earlier that I’d skip this round? Following Brona’s example of picking only “slim volumes” from her list, I tried to do the same. So here’s my list, consisting of books under or equal to 300s pages.

  1. The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)
  2. Othello (William Shakespeare)
  3. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neele Hurston)
  5. The Warden (Anthony Trollope)
  6. The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
  7. All the Pretty Horses (Cormack McCarthy)
  8. The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams)
  9. Persuasion (Jane Austen)
  10. Hard Times (Charles Dickens)
  11. The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton)
  12. This Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  13. Agnes Grey (Anne Brönte)
  14. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson)
  15. Silas Marner (George Eliot)
  16. Murder in the Cathedral (T.S. Eliot)
  17. My Antonia (Willa Cather)
  18. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
  19. The Cannery Row (John Steinbeck)
  20. Under The Net (Iris Murdoch)

Not all of the books are on my shelf at the present, I might have to buy the e-book from Playbooks if my copy has not arrived in time; but that’s OK. My bigger concern is whether I can make it by 31st May, as I’d be reading Gaskell too next month…. Anyway, it’s just for fun, isn’t? And for that, I’m in!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Zola: Photographer

Near the end of his life, Émile Zola became a passionate photographer. He learned the subject from his journalist friends, and along the way he even perfected a shutter release system that allowed him to take a selfie – sorry, the word hasn't even been invented that time :P – I mean to photograph himself. Like his writing, Zola always worked wholeheartedly. This book is a compilation of 208 photos, diary entries, and letters collection, selected and compiled by François Émile Zola (Zola's grandson) and Massin (French art director and book designer). It contains photos taken by Zola, as well as family photos taken by others, divided into seven categories:

Life in Médan
Point of interest: photos of Zola's house. You might be interested to learn that Zola named the left tower "Nana", while the right (square) one was "Germinal" - do you think it's each book's revenue that paid for the tower building?

Zola'h house in Medan
View from Zola's house - no wonder he pictured the trains so vividly in La Bete Humaine, eh?
The little island near Zola's house - Loved the play of lights on the water! Zola would have had a long paragraph describing it in a novel, I bet!

A Second Family
Point of interest: ALL of Jeanne Rozerot's (Zola's mistress) and the children’s. It provides many detailed aspects of Zola's triangle marriage with Alexandrine (first wife) and Jeanne Rozerot (ex Madame Zola's seamstress). I have always wondered, at what stage of their household lives it was, when Jeanne "entered the scene". This book provides the answer: it was a couple of months after the family's holiday in Royan, of which Jeanne was taken along by Alexandrine (Madame Zola). Alexandrine's health (she was often “indisposed”) prevented her to accompany Zola on his outgoing walks, and so she arranged Jeanne to walk with him. That was, I think, how it all began.

From the photographs, I assumed that Jeanne was tender and caring, the exact opposite of the strong, businesslike Alexandrine. But maybe, most importantly, Jeanne has given Zola the children, of which Alexandrine has failed, despite her great household management. Zola adored children, and I guess family gave Zola the peaceful mind he needed to produce his masterpieces.

Tea Time a Verneuil house

I loved especially these three "Teatime" photographs; you can feel the peaceful and calm atmosphere when the family gathered around a small table out in the garden, under the shades of a tree, enjoying a cup of hot tea and biscuits. These were taken from the Zolas' garden in Verneuil, to where Zola would walk from his house in Médan (where he stayed with Alexandrine) every afternoon to have tea with his second family.

Another tea time - I love Jeanne's natural pose!

By the way, they were three different photos of different occasions – do you notice the piles of biscuits on two plates in the second photo, which was different in the first (it looks like cakes?), and they wore different clothes too. I loved Denise's dress and hat in #2. And the Zolas have a cat too! Is it the real inspiration of Minouche-the cat in The Bright Side of Life? :) What I love most of all of these photos, is their natural pose. I believe 19th century people didn't use to capture their daily lives with camera; it only showed that Jeanne and the children were so used to it that they could act that normal – thanks to Zola's passion in photography.

See the abandoned teacup with teaspoon in it in Tea Time #1? It must have been Jeanne's. As if, after serving tea, maybe after one or two sips, Jeanne would get up and say: "Wait, a couple of photos first!", just like what we do nowadays, the difference is only that we would instantly post it in Instagram, while theirs would have stayed in the film, to be professed later by Zola in his darkroom.

Tea time under the trees

I can look at these photos forever, devouring every little details, such as the teapot (I liked its 'twirling' shape), the floral tablecloth with fringes, and the way the little family sipped the hot tea from their teaspoons; exactly my habit of drinking tea. By the way, what's your habit – do you sip directly from your cup, sip it from teaspoon, or from the saucer? (My dad used to do the later to drink his coffee.) Do you see the chair cushion lying on the stool on the left in photo #3? Who do you think have abandoned it - Zola, perhaps? And who took this photo? Could it possibly be Jacques (Zola's youngest boy)? Do you think Zola has taught him to use the camera at very young age? Well... I can go on and on with my imagination, but these photos really made me feel like I was there too with the Zolas! One more thing, I loved how, maybe after tea, the Zolas stayed there to relax; Denise would be reading, Jacques doing homework under guidance of Zola? – loved Zola's chequered bowtie, by the way! ;), while Jeanne was crocheting. So peaceful...It's indeed a family goal!

Relaxing after tea?

The Trip to Italy
Zola made a trip to Italy on 1894, staying for six weeks. As you might have guessed, he was preparing materials for his second installment of Three Cities: Rome. It was during this visit that Alfred Dreyfus was arrested as a German spy.
Point of interest: none, as there's only several random photos.

Exile in England
Point of interest: almost everything, especially views from his hotel rooms, and a street scene near Crystal Palace. He took tons of wonderful pictures here, perhaps because he was alone, boring, distressed; and needed some action to focus his energy upon.

View outside Zola's hotel in London

A street in London

Zola's Paris
You could feel Zola's love for Paris from pictures he took, which are all gorgeous, every single one of them. I loved especially some of the place Clichy, and the swan lake in Bois the Boulogne (with Denise and Jacques feeding the swans).

Place Clichy after rain

Denise & Jacques feeding swans, supervised by Jeanne

The World's Fair of 1900
Point of interest: although perhaps not the best pictures he had taken, I admired Zola’s night shots, especially on Eiffel. People didn’t risk taking night photos at that time due to bad results, but Zola, of course, took no heed on it, and did his best to capture these:

A night photo in the turn of the century

Eiffel during 1900 World's Fair

Portraits and Still Lives
The last part consisted personal, as well as group, photos of the Zolas. Most of them were Jeanne’s (she’s quite photogenic for a 19th century woman!) One of it shows Jeanne smiled and tilted her head, which I think is quite unusual pose one took at that time for photograph. The point of interest of this collection is perhaps Zola’s portraits sans glasses – which is a rare sight. He looks a little different, don’t you think? I think his vigorous look comes from his glasses… :) And from this collection, you can also get a rare clear picture of Alexandrine.


Like I said, I have enjoyed very much reading through this book. If you want to get to know Zola as the man behind his pen, this book is a treasure! On the other hand, I think we readers would always be indebted to both Alexandrine and Jeanne, for without them, we might never read masterpieces from Zola. Alexandrine, particularly, has suffered the most from the triangular love; making peace with Zola and Jeanne and putting up with their peculiar relationships, and even going as far as ensuring Zola’s children got what they deserved after their mother’s death. It only proved her to be a great woman of strong courage and generous heart. And I was a bit relieved that Zola at least has never left or abndoned Alexandrine. 

Score: 5 / 5

Monday, April 1, 2019

Zoladdiction 2019 Master Post

We are here at last! Zoladdiction . BEGINS . today.

Grab your book, read, and experience nature and life, which are always celebrated in Zola’s books.

The linky will appear below this post, started on the 15th, where you can add your reviews or other Zola posts. Do not forget to share them on Twitter or Instagram too with hashtag #Zoladdiction2019! I will retweet/repost them on my accounts.

Everytime you catch interesting snippets (you’ll find many from Zola’s!), do not forget to capture them and share on Twitter or Instagram! Use these prompts to help you:

For further explanation on the prompts, you can check my pinned tweet (just click “show the thread”), or my “Zoladdiction” highlight stories on my IG.

As Zoladdiction originally started as celebration of Zola’s birthday, let us make effort on April 2nd (or before, if you need to prepare something!) and spreading a lot of attention to Zola, by sharing our personal “Zoladdiction” on blog, Twitter or IG. It can be just a photo of your Zola collections, or sharing how you have first found Zola, or maybe you’d like to post a personal challenge to read all his books? – anything to show our love/appreciation to Zola. He really deserved that!

And now, let’s have fun!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Twenty-Four (Bookish) Things

I first saw this meme from Brona's; who has adapted an existing meme into this bookish one to highlight some of her forgotten TBR piles. It's fun, and really helpful, so I work one too.

Our family bookcase

*4 Books on My Desk*

The Bright Side of Life by Émile Zola
Because I just can’t wait till #Zoladdiction2019 in April! In my defense, I’m reading it very slowly, devouring everything while taking notes, that I think I will finish it on April anyway. 😁

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis
I have actually started this two weeks ago, but I was in no mood for another biography, after getting quite bored with The Black Count. I might take it back after Zoladdiction.

The Pen and the Brush by Anka Muhlstein
Another non-fiction; but I read this one to prepare for a post I plan to publish during Zoladdiction (if I have enough time to do it!)

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
Have started this a few weeks ago too, but neither a biogrpahy nor a detective story could keep me from reading Zola (I’m a chronic Zoladdict!)

*4 Books on the Bottom of the Pile*

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
I can’t even remember how or where did I find this book. It must have been when I often shopped at the local second-hand book market, like a century ago. Should read this soon, maybe this year.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
This is actually the second copy I owned. I bought the first one (with movie-cover) from second-hand book market. Few years later someone sold her collections, and the Wordsworth Classic edition of this book was included. I bought it, and sold my own. However, until now I still can’t manage to read it, shame on me!

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
Similar to Nicholas Nickleby. In fact, this was perhaps one of the first books I bought when I seriously thought of investing in classic books. So sorry, Martin... I mean Dickens!

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King
Talking about TBR Pile, I also have a digital pile in my phone! This book is among the first I acquired last year. Now that I’m in for Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge, this one might have to wait a little much longer!

*4 Books New to the TBR*

The Divine Comedy by Dante (John Ciardy’s translation)
Preparing this for Adam’s coming readalong of Dante’s Divine Comedy. After years of indecisive quest of THE translation I should read, I finally made up my mind on John Ciardi’s. Hopefully I made the right decision!

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Have read a lot of good reviews on this, I’m excited to read it... hopefully very soon!

Under the Net by Irish Murdoch
This book has been on my wishlist for years, but I was still unsure about Irish Murdoch. Until Brona’s review convinced me to try.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
John Grisham is always one of my “autobuy” authors. Bad news is he produces books MORE regularly than my reading of his books (and it’s certainly not healthy for my cedit card!) Thus, I was deligthed when my secret santa gave me this last Christmas! Now... I must find time to read this before Grisham publishes another book. (Oh! He has!! {-_-})

*4 Books that Won Awards*

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I plan to read this for next Halloween. And this is one of the books I buy for its beautiful cover!

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
A winner of Pulitzer prize... must read this soon!

The Martian by Andy Weir
It’s actually an impulse buying, because I’m a fan of Matt Damon (whose face is on the cover!). But there are good reviews about the book (I quite loved the movie). It also won the Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Science Fiction in 2014 (and I rather trust Goodreads readers than a bunch of literary cristics anyway), so, why not?

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir of a Childhood by Frank McCourt
I bought this from a friend, having heard praises about it for years. And only today did I realized it has actually won a Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997. Well, another biography to read!

*4 Books I’m Keen to Read ASAP*

His Excellency Eugene Rougon by Émile Zola
Only four books from the Rougon-Macquart series which I haven’t read yet. This is one of them, along with The Bright Side of Life. I have ordered a copy of The Dream (it’s still on the way to Indonesia), which left only Doctor Pascal (of which OUP has not yet published its latest translation) to complete my collection.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
This will be my first Gaskell, which makes me excited, but also intimidated by its length. But, to be honest, I’m rather craving for Victorian reads right now! Helena from @reading.the.classics is hosting #elizabethgaskell2019 readalongs in Instagram, and I will join in for North and South on May.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Besides two Christmas short stories which I read (and loved) last year, I haven’t yet read any Trollope. This year, Sir, I promise!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
As I wrote above, I WILL read this on Halloween!

*4 Books I’m Thinking of Discarding Unread*

Now this is, by far, the most useful segment! I live in an apartement, thus do not have much space for keeping my books; ‘only’ one family book case (my mom and dad’s is a quarter of it, and the rest is mine – I’m a bad child, I know!) which is now almost full. I need to discard books which do not ‘spark joy’ anymore, to get space for the new ones. I will definitley discard more than 4, but these ones are for sure:

Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough
It was a longtime-ago-birthday-gift from my bookish bestfriend: Melisa, who is familiar with my obsesion with Ancient Roman things. I would have been thrilled about this one, but after having browsed some pages, I found it uninteresting (I have failed McCullough’s The Thorn Birds long ago, and I’m not sure I want to read anymore from her for the time being). So.... sorry Mel!

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
It’s an on-and-off book for me, meaning that one time I’m keen on reading it, but next I’d be intimidated, then really braved myself to read it, but put it down again in the end. I WILL read it at any rate, but for now I’ll just discard my copy (Indonesian translation which is meh!), and will buy an e-book when I’m ready to take it!

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak
I kept wondering why I have (bought?) this one in the first place. Anyway, I must have thrown it away long ago....

Perempuan Bernama Arjuna by Remy Sylado
Remy Sylado is an Indonesian writer, and this book is supposed to be the Indonesian version of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World – a novel from which you can learn about history of philosophy in a fun way. I was curious at that time, but it just does not spark joy anymore....! :)

How about your TBR pile? Are they under control? ;)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

The third published detective novel of Dame Agatha Christie brings us to Northern France, to a village called Merlinville-sur-Mer. Hercule Poirot has been enjoying a successful career of a private detective since his triumph in Styles case. He is now sharing a room in London with his companion-sidekick: Captain Arthur Hastings, who would take again his role as narrator for this story.

It all begins when Hastings met a French girl on the train to London. She's anything but a lady: bold, independent, temperamental; type of girl the old-fashioned Hastings dislikes. But he was somehow smitten by this girl, who gave her name as "Cinderella" before she left Hastings at the end of the journey. The next morning Poirot received a letter from a French millionaire Paul Renauld, urging Poirot to come to his residence Villa Genevieve, because he feels his life is in danger. Intrigued, Poirot and Hastings departed in no time, only to find out on their arrival, that Renauld has been murdered the night before.

Now, this story is the exact opposite of The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1). Styles is a very simple case; so simple that it looks—but in the eyes of Hercule Poirot—like a household accident. But The Murder on the Links is full of extravagant clues and evidences. First of all, the body was found in a newly dug grave on a golf course (hence the 'Links' on the title) behind Villa Genevieve. M. Renauld was stabbed in the back with a tailor-made letter opener knife, souvenir of war from Jack Renauld, his son. Madame Renauld was bound and gagged by two masked foreign men, who forced Paul to hand them a "secret". The day before, Jack Renauld and Paul's chauffer was sent away from the vicinity. Their neighbor, a mysterious lady who lives with her beautiful daughter, Madame Daubreuil, was known to have deposited a large amount of money into her bank account for the last months. There was also some mention about Santiago-South America, where Paul Renauld had had some business. Then a second corpse was found inside a shed, with an identical letter opener stabbed into his chest! The last piece of the riddle is a love letter inside Paul Renauld's coat pocket, which was signed by Bella Duveen, the search of whom led our detectives to a couple of acrobatic actresses: The Dulcibella Sisters, one of whom was none other than Hastings' love interest: Cinderella!

Can you imagine a fast paced investigation, with a handful of plot twist and deceit, and a romantic love story (in Hastings' part)? You guess correctly. Add a snob Sûreté detective, who mocked and insulted Poirot's style, and then on became Poirot’s nemesis into the scene, and you'll find a hugely entertaining novel!

Of Poirot-Hastings cases, I have always a soft spot for this one. I loved Poirot's fatherly feelings for Hastings, their relationship changed from mere detective-sidekick to a more affectionate term. I loved their bantering over Hastings' romantic-sentimental view on the case investigations (especially when involving young beautiful women, LOL!). But I loved specially how Hastings represents common people, aka the readers; who are often deceived by sentimentality and action in crime cases, and rarely using—as Poirot often stressed it—‘our little gray cells'; who, when falling in love, would recklessly commit foolish things, or even attack our master if we thought he would put danger to our beloved. Hercule Poirot is always a kind demi-god, almost supernatural human, but Hastings is... well... just one of us!

Last thing… Of the three books I have read so far, I perceived something which I have missed on my first reading, which is the shifting women role in the world after World War I. I first noticed this from Hastings' surprise that a decent girl (Cinderella) could have had interests in a gory murder scene; that, and Cinderella's raw language, and her boldness. Then I also remembered Tuppence in The Secret Adversary. There also seems to be a pattern here (Secret Adversary and Murder on the Links); old fashioned men attracted to modern women. Moreover the center figures of the three books are always women: Mrs. Ingelthorp and Evelyn Howard in Styles, Jane Finn and Tuppence in Secret Adversary, and most distinguished is Murder on the Links which are full of strong and brave women: Mrs. Renauld, Bella, Madame Dabreuil, and Marthe Dabreuil, even Cinderella; and Christie really made a significant contrast here between the men and the women.

Considering all this, 5 / 5 is a fair credit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Announcing Zoladdiction 2019 | #Zoladdiction2019 – Sign Up

Get ready, Zoladdicts!… coz Zoladdiction will be back in less than a month! For you who aren’t familiar with it, Zoladdiction is a yearly dedication to the French Naturalist writer: Émile Zola. For a month every April we will do Zola-ish things. Why April? Because it’s Zola’s birth month (he’s born on 2nd April 1840). The main object is to promote or (if you haven’t known him) to get to know Zola’s writing and works. And I can guarantee you, in the process you’ll have so much fun! ;) I have been hosting this for six years now, and am very much hoping that you’d join me this year!

What will we do? Let’s get down to it…

Signing up

  • To help spreading the words, this year I encourage you to post on your blog or social media your participation in Zoladdiction,. But it’s really up to you; you are free to participate silently too if you want.. :) Want to list books you plan to read? You’re welcome! We’ll be delighted to find a reading partner! (^_-)
  • Next, put link to your (blog or social media) post in the linky below, so we all know who we’re having fun with!
  • The linky will be closed in 30 days, but you’re free to join in anytime during April.
  • Share your posts on Twitter and/or Instagram, with hashtag #Zoladdiction2019.


  • Read anything Zola: books by him – you can look in here for inspiration, books about Zola (fiction or nonfiction), or Zola’s short stories, or just essays about Zola’s works. You can read only one work, or as many as you want.
  • Write a review for books you read, it can be on blog or just a few sentences on your Twitter or Instagram, then put the link in the linky below Master Post (will be published on 1st April). The linky will be up around the 15th or 20th, and will be there for a month, so you will have about two weeks to finish your review.
  • Share your posts on Twitter and/or Instagram, with hashtag #Zoladdiction2019


  • Not only reviews, you can post anything about Zola. You just found something interesting about Zola’s personal life, perhaps? Or you feel like writing an essay about his writing style? Just share it with us!
  • Don’t forget to link it up in the linky (same linky with the reviews).
  • For more fun…. I have provided some prompts to get you creative :) You may post on Instagram, Twitter, or blog, anyway suits you. Use hashtag #Zoladdiction2019 on Twitter and Instagram.
  • I can only think up to 11 prompts so far, so if you have ideas, please share, I’d be more than glad to use it!
  • You can post whenever you want during April, and you can repeat each prompt as many times as you can.
  • Only for number 2, let us post on April 2nd to celebrate Zola’s birthday! If you are too busy to post regularly, I’d be grateful if you can join us at least on this one only

Here are they:

My Zola stack – show off your stack for #Zoladdiction2019

02 (only on April 2nd)
My Zoladdiction – today is Zola’s birthday; how deep is your love for (or just knowledge about) Zola? Show us! (selfie or shelfie is allowed) (^_-)


1st lines – of the book you’re reading

I’m reading Zola – show us the proof! 😏

Zola Scholar – introduction or notes from editor (or author - if non-Zola) of book you’re reading

My Edition – book cover show-off time!

Chapter capture – capture 1st page of the chapter you’re in!

Gets Artsy! – painting or other arts related to the book you’re reading!

Zola the man – personal or family photos which intrigued you

Landscape – Zola was an Impressionist at heart, and novel was his canvas! Capture these from book you’re reading!

Lighting – Like a painter, lighting and angle was important for Zola in presenting his scenes. Capture these from book you’re reading!

I will make an e-poster of these prompts to be posted on IG and Twitter, for easy reminder. If you haven’t, please follow me on IG and/or Twitter: @fanda_a to get updates on #Zoladdicton2019.

And now, I’m sooo exciting to begin! Aren’t you? ;)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

On Friday, 7 May 1915, during World War I, RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by the German, and sank down the sea near Ireland. On board was a young British intelligent officer who was carrying a secret document. Seeing that the women had bigger chance to be rescued (because of 'women and children first'), he trusted the oil skin packet containing the document to an American girl.

Fast forward to 1919, when the war was over, two childhood friends met: Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley. They were jobless, broke, but also restless. I guess there were many young people felt the same at that time. Tommy was a demobilized soldier, and Tuppence was ex war-volunteer. Jobs were scarce, and they were penniless. In the meeting, Tommy casually told Tuppence an interesting conversation he overheard on the street about a girl called Jane Finn. This particular passage was actually inspired by Christie's own experience; she overheard two women speaking about a Jane Fish – ‘what an extraordinary name!', thought she. Christie then used it, after changing the last name from Fish to Finn. Tommy and Tuppence concluded their meeting with a decision to form a joint-venture business: the "Young Adventurers, Ltd", planning to take any job they happened to encounter. A Mr. Whittington overheard their conversation, and interviewed Tuppence with the aim to recruit the young partners to do a secret job. When being asked to introduce herself, Tuppence didn't want to give her real name, and instead blurted out the first name popped in her head: Jane Finn! How Mr. Whittington was enraged and shocked on hearing it, and literally sent her away.

Intrigued by that event, Young Adventurers decided to publish advertisement, requiring any information about Jane Finn. They got two replies. One from a Mr. Carter, an intelligent leader, who explained that Jane Finn was the young girl who was trusted the secret document onboard Lusitania; that she has survived, but then gone missing for years. Mr. Carter recruited Tommy and Tuppence to locate the girl and get the document, which was now more dangerous than ever, as it will compromise the Government if it fell in the hand of a powerful enemy, who was now emerging. At the same time Mr. Carter warned them of a mysterious and dangerous 'Mr. Brown', the powerful mastermind behind the enemy whom no one has ever seen.

The second reply of the advertisement was from Julius Hersheimmer, a young American millionaire, who claimed to be Jane Finn's cousin. Without hesitation he was willing to fund the Young Adventurers to find his cousin. Tommy and Tuppence set at once to work, amused at first at their ability to secure their first job so fast and easily. But then, things began to unfold. They were forced to go separate ways, following different trails, entering dangerous zones, and always... shadowed by the presence of the elusive Mr. Brown.

The Secret Adversary is Christie's second detective novel, but it was already very different from her first: The Mysterious Affair at Styles. While Styles was narrower in scope - a murder in a close family, Secret Adversary took a national crisis, intelligent service, and a coup-d'état attempt. In Styles we met a retired crippled detective Hercule Poirot; here a vigorous young amateur couple. The slow pace in Styles is the exact opposite of fast-paced Secret Adversary. Personally, I much prefer the family or small-country-murder cases, one thing which set Agatha Christie apart from most of her contemporaries. However, I  liked Tommy-Tuppence's chemistry - not mentioning their cute, shy romancing throughout their first (of four) adventures (I liked the later less, due to the lack of this aspect). I also enjoyed following their warm and witty interactions, and loved how the sensibility and calmness in Tommy worked perfectly well with the intuitive and imaginative qualities in Tuppence. As Mr. Carter said, their differences complete each other.

In the end, the suspects for Mr. Brown were narrowing down to the three men  the young adventurers have trusted and involved in the adventure. As usual, the culprit is always the one we least suspected. I have been 'deceived' in my first reading about thirty years ago; but I also vaguely remembered the happy ending of the girl who suffered most in this story, which helped me to remove a certain man from the suspects list. This is the disadvantage of rereading mystery/detective novels; the surprise gets less and less with each reread.

Anyway, it was a thrilling and enjoyable suspense, worth of rereads (but only every ten years or so when you have forgotten most of the plot, ha!)

Final score: 4 of 5

Friday, February 22, 2019

O Pioneers! By Willa Cather

When you feel like reading but your present mind is like a spinning wheel, trust Willa Cather! And so did I. O Pioneers! was my second Cather after Death Comes for the Archbishop. 'O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather's first great novel..' is printed on the back of my copy, the Vintage edition. And indeed, it was great for a first work!

O Pioneers! is the first of Great Plains trilogy, succeeded by The Song of the Lark and My Antonia. Depicting the first immigrants who settled as farmers in the Nebraska country, the story focused on the Bergsons, a Swedish-American family who owned and farmed their land. Before the father died, he trusted the land management to Alexandra, his only daughter who was much more able compared to her two brothers, Lou and Oscars, while their youngest brother Emil was still a little boy. The Linstrum's land was next to Bergson's farm, and for years Alexandra and Carl - the Linstrum boy - were friends. After two years of tereible drought and crop failure, many of their neighbors left the land to seek better opportunities in other counties, including the Linstrums. But Alexandra, despite of Lou and Oscar's objections, kept staying. Bold, strong-willed, and intelligent, she loved and trusted their farmland, and by her intuition and eagerness to learn modern techniques, she succeeded in making it prosper, while their neighbors failed.

Sixteen years later, the Bergsons were the richest landowner there. Carl Linstrum visited for the first time after he tried (and failed) to prosper in Chicago. Lou and Oscar suspected him of wanting to marry Alexandra. They trudged the idea if receiving an outsider into the farm, while it was they who had worked hard for years. Carl, who has realized after those years that he truly loved Alexandra, had no choice but left, this time to Alaska. But not before he witnessed a growing flirtatious relationship between Emil (now a handsome young man) and a married Bohemian woman, Marie Shabata, who, with his husband, has brought Linstrums' land after they left.

If you seek a slow-paced, soothing book, O Pioneers! is perfect for you. But for one tragedy near the end, this book is generally calm. It gives us chance to witness the characters dynamically developed. At the beginning, Alexandra was my favorite. But I was disappointed after she blamed Emil and Marie, while pitied Frank over the tragedy. I realized that adultery is never right, but you can't stop people of falling in love with anyone. And really, it's Frank's fault too that his wife must find another love. She fell in love head over heels with him in the first place, but he just wanted her to suffer during their marriage. Marie is flirtatious in nature, but never unfaithful. And on top of everything, murder is the ultimate crime. I can probably (though difficultly) forgive adultery, but never murder - passionately or coldly. I personally will never forgive a man who deliberately seized a gun when he was just suspicious. No, Frank has always been a murderer-to-be from the beginning. He just sought for a justification to take revenge on Marie. (-_-)

Fortunately Cather ended the story happily. At least, Carl Linstrum deserved it!

All in all, 4,5 / 5 is my final score.

Monday, February 11, 2019

This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (An Indonesian Clasic)

Finally, I came to read this book which is considered one of the highest achievements in Indonesian literature. Set in the end of 19th century during Dutch colonialism in Indies (Indonesia), this book highlights the injustice imposed upon Indonesians (particularly the Javanese) by the Dutch for three and a half centuries.

Before continuing to plot summary, let me explain first about the ladder of social status at the time. On top, of course, was the Pure Blood - Dutch or other Europeans who lived in Indies. Below them was Indo - children who were born from European and Native (most are illegitimate); while the bottom are inhibited by the Natives. These statuses set their rights in all life aspect, from education, cultural, to legal.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who first 'wrote' the story orally to fellow prisoner when he was a political prisoner by Indonesian government, told the story from Minke's perspective, a Javanese - thus a Native. Descended from a prominent family with royal blood, Minke was able to study in H.B.S (the Dutch school), which at that time were exclusively attended by Europeans or Indos. One day he met a proud and remarkable woman: Nyai Ontosoroh. Nyai means Native concubine of a Dutch man. When she was a young girl of fourteen, Nyai Ontosoroh was sold, without her consent, by her father to Herman Mellema, a Dutch businessman. Her Humiliation encouraged the Nyai to passionately teach herself of science, business, and literature, under the guidance of Mr. Mellema. She soon became a cultured and intelligent woman, far superior even from any European or Indo women.

Minke was impressed by this enigmatic woman and her wisdom; and from his frequent visits, he soon fell in love with Annelies, the daughter of Nyai Ontosoroh and Herman Mellema. Through his study at H.B.S. and his involvement with the Nyai, Minke became an open minded person. He believed more and more in the equality of men; and unlike most Natives (including his own family), he was bold and confident towards Pure Bloods or Indos; whereas before, he had a slight inferiority towards his school buddies or teachers. Minke also proved that he was a good writer. His future seemed bright, especially after marrying the beautiful Annelies. Now he had everything that others could only envy.

Nyai Ontosoroh & Annelies - from the upcoming movie
this year

Then a tragedy came, and like a snow ball, it shattered and smashed all the liberal people's lives and hopes, one by one. Annelies, that poor fragile woman, must endure the pain of being separated from her beloved husband not long after their marriage. And although their marriage was authorized by Islam law, it was later considered illegal by Dutch law. Their lives and happiness were torn apart by a mere piece of legal paper authorized by the colonial government. As much hope as Minke and the liberals have ever put for a better future of the Natives, this tragedy reminded them of their complete helplessness under the colonialist. This Earth of Mankind criticized the abuse of humanity because of ambition, arrogance, and greediness of the colonialist; because one nation regarded itself higher than others. 

This book might not be my favorite, but it struck me of how far the colonialism had shaped Indonesian character as a nation today. We have had our independence 74 years ago, but most of us are still so much alike the Natives in this story: the inferiority towards European (or foreigners), the laziness, the ignorance, and shallow-mindedness. Would we be like this if history had been kinder to us? Or has it already been like that far before the colonialism era? We might never know...

One thing I liked from this book is the way Pram created divers characters to portray many different views and interests of those who were involved in the colonialism era. There's the liberal Pure Blood such as Magda Peters, Jean Marais, and Doctor Martinet, whose views were beyond race, but more on personal qualities; while other H.B.S. teachers and most of the Dutch considered the Natives as low as animals. Then there was the snobbish Indo such as Robert Mellema, who hated the half Native blood in his veins and wanted to be taken as European; while Jan Dapperste, the Native who was adopted by European parents, hated his name, and even run away from his parents when they wanted to take him to Europe, because he preferred to stay in his native land. Pram let us "live" in the heart of colonialism era through his characters - that's the main interest of this book, compensating Pram's writing style which, though vivid and bold, is not very special. I hated, though, the scene where Minke chased Darsam to the neighbor's house; I couldn't understand why Pram ever wrote it ridiculously similar to a cheap soap opera scene! That scene alone deserved one star off of what I have intended to give this book.

Minke met Annelies for the first time

On the other hand, I could mostly relate to Annelies's character. In Goodreads, many readers slander her personality as spoiled, weak, and egotistical. But I happen to know at least one real person who is similar to Annelies: my own dearest mother. I don't know what you call that... hmm.. symptom, illness? But like Annelies, my mom is never able to live independently on her own; she needs to cling to someone who loves her and accepts her as she is, and whom she trusts. As a young girl my mom was very depended on her ailing older sister. Then when she (the sister) died, my mom was so depressed and unstable, that the psychiatrist advised my father (who at that time has been attracted to my mom) to marry her very soon, as to give my mom a new solid "pillar" to cling to. What I tried to say is that there are some people in this world who are very dependent to others, not out of laziness or childishness, but because of their mental deficiencies. Annelies, I suppose, is one of this kind. And if we tear this kind of people off their "safety net", it would damage their mental balance. They tend to be suicidal too, which make it more dangerous. On this story, Annelies has also gone through these symptoms, from her calm but dispirited, into her subservient manner, before the Dutch brought her abroad. You can imagine how I was shudder while reading through this part! I kept screaming inside my head: "No, no, please don't do that, have mercy!" For it reminded me very much of my own mother; I imagined, if this should have happened to her, I know she would have never survived. And so, if Pram really knew about this mental problem, I predicted Annelies would have either gone crazy or committed suicide in the next book. Oh, have I told you that This Earth of Mankind is the first book of Buru Quartet

Considering all the strength and weakness of this book, my final score is:

4 / 5