Saturday, October 23, 2021

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

👒 Lady Audley's Secret is the most famous novel of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It was labelled a sensation novel, because of the "accidental" bigamy committed by its "heroine". Braddon herself lived with her publisher John Maxwell and had children with him when he's still married, while his wife lived in an asylum. She could only marry Maxwell after his wife died.

👒 Lady Audley was Lucy Graham, a governess, before Sir Michael Audley was enchanted by her innocent beauty, and married her to become the lady of Audley Court.

👒 George Talboys is coming home to England after three years of gold prospecting in Australia, only to find that his pretty wife, Helen Talboys, has died.

👒 Robert Audley is Sir Michael's nephew, and friend to George Talboys. He brought his mourning friend to Audley Court, but Lady Audley avoided him. Nevertheless, he viewed a painting of Lady Audley when she's not at home, and seemed to be struck by it. Then, one day George Talboys disappeared on the next visit to Audley Court - leaving his friend, the listless Robert Audley, to solve the mystery.

👒 By the time Lady Audley tried to avoid meeting George Talboys, I thought I knew what her secret is. And when he's missing, I suspected that my lady's secret is way much deeper than what I've thought.

👒 For me, Lady Audley's Secret is a cozy and comfort reading. But I can imagine how sensational it was when first published in 1862. Though bigamy isn't extraordinary within the society of mid 19th century, I think it's considered rather daring when a woman openly wrote and published the subject in a novel.

👒 The story is believed to be inspired by a real event: Constance Kent case in June 1860, which became a sensation for years.

👒 Robert Audley, with his lazy, easy going manner, is easily my favorite character. I loved how he always treats Lady Audley tenderly and with respect, and how he considered what's best to do for her - when Sir Michael just left, ignoring everything with 'I don't want to know what you did for her' manner. I know he's terribly hurt, but how irresponsible and selfish it is!

👒 In the end, there's the question of Lady Audley's madness. Is she really mad? I personally don't think so. It is clear that she is self-centered and morally flawed, but I see her more as a trapped and scared animal in desperate attempt to free itself from the cage, and find a safe home. It's not madness; it's survival - desperate and persistent survival.

👒 And like any other women of that century, they were persistently belittled by men. In my opinion, George Talboys brings himself his fate when he left his wife just like that. For three years. Maybe his purpose is for improving the family financial - there's nothing wrong with that, of course - but how the wife is supposed to survive for years with neither explanation nor assurance? Men like Robert Audley or Sir Michael never blamed what George Talboys did to his wife, but of course Lady Audley's conduct is out of pardon, condemned without question.

👒 This novel is quite interesting, if not intriguing. The kind of reading I'd happily pick for comfort.

Rating: 4,5 / 5 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Watership Down by Richard Adams

🐰 I've found a new favorite this year! It's no less than an adventure novel featuring a group of rabbits, leaving their endangered warren (a network of rabbit burrows, where a group of rabbits live together), exposed to dangers, challenges, and excitement, to seek a new home.

🐰 From the first I have liked a rabbit named Hazel. I thought he'll make a great leader because he trusts Fiver, his younger brother, who prophesied that a catastrophe is about to destroy their warren (Sandleford). Hazel knows that each person.. err.. rabbit, I mean, has his unique strength, and that to succeed in a mission, he has to trust on his instinct and the others' strength. In the critical moment, he trusts Fiver, and they ran away from Sandleford without delay, followed by nine others.

🐰 After running into several dangerous adventures, they came eventually to a perfect down which they picked as their future warren: Watership Down.

🐰 The novel is special because, while Adams wrote convincingly about rabbit's life - indeed, I seemed to see them alive, hopping in front of me all the time - it is, at the same time, a perfect portrayal of human nature. Each rabbit represents different character we often find in our own society.

🐰 I believe any leader-to-be of whatever community needs to read this novel. There are numerous lessons they can learn for their own good. Not only for leaders, the followers can also learn every type of leaderships we commonly find in leaders, to guide us in choosing the right one.

🐰 Other than brave, intelligent, loyal, and visioner, Hazel's respect to other creatures is remarkable. He is one proof that a leader doesn't have to be perfect - nobody is perfect anyway - but he must be insightful, kindhearted, and compassionate.

🐰 Watership Down is a whole novel - adventurous, heartwarming, and inspiring; well written and relatable.

Rating: 5 / 5

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

🔅 The story is set in a fictional heath called Egdon. It's mostly about misperceptions and misplace.

🔅 Eustacia Vye was forced to live in the heath when her father moved there, though she hates it and prefers a more exciting life in a town.

🔅 When Clym Yeobright, a native of Egdon Heath, came home from Paris, where he'd been in the diamond trade, Euatacia sees a glimmer of hope. Marrying him would be her ticket of deliverance from the despicable place.

🔅 But in reality, Clym has returned for good, to open a school in Egdon. A fact that Eustacia should have realized, if she wasn't too obsessed by her dream of living in Paris.

🔅 Clym, too, should have realized Eustacia's longing, if he hadn't been focusing on his dream as a school principle. Anyhow, they both married, believing that the other must have wanted the same thing as him/her self. Misperception #1.

🔅 Egdon people - mostly illiterate - don't really like Eustacia because she's...well, different; the women even think her a witch! And so Eustasia despises them. She clearly doesn't belong there. But is it true that one can't live where one doesn't belong? How if one is forced to do so by circumstances; when one doesn't have enough resources to alter one's situation? What then? Surely one must try to make compromises. Yes, but that's only possible when one is independent enough to make the best decision for one self. Many people aren't that fortunate. Eustacia Vye, for instance, like many women in her era, can't afford that luxury.

🔅 I can well relate with Eustacia. I, too, was born in the wrong land. Tropical developing country with this crazy humidity and polution isn't for me. I despise it with all my heart! But I grew up here. My parents live here. What can I do? I compromise. I'm much more fortunate than Eustacia that, living in this era, I can be as independent as I want to.

🔅 To make it even unbearable, Mrs. Yeobright - Clym's mother - dislikes her daughter in law. She didn't even attend their holy matrimony because her son married the girl she didn't approve of. What a selfish, hypocrite mother! To be honest, I think Mrs. Yeobright is the main antagonist here, and an arrogant person who thinks herself higher and holier than others, truly deserves her tragic ending, which, by the way, is caused by a major misunderstanding.

🔅 Clym is the perfect copy of his mother. The way he treated his wife with arrogant accusation is disgusting. And it is one of the greatest ironies in literature, that all of the tragedies took place just because of one complex misunderstanding.

🔅 As usual, Hardy wrote how human's fate is influenced by Nature and circumstances. It's quite a dark novel with tragic heroine.

Rating: 4 / 5

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

♦️ It's one of the hardest reads for me. Is it because I've read it during one of the toughest phases of my life? Or is it just because Hugo's isn't my cup of tea? (I struggled too when reading Les Miserables - the abridged one!)

♦️ Synopsis:
It tells the story of the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, condemned as a witch by the tormented archdeacon Claude Frollo, who lusts after her. Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral, having fallen in love with the kindhearted Esmeralda, tries to save her by hiding her in the cathedral's tower.

♦️ Set in the 15th century, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or originally: Notre Dame de Paris), talks a lot about Gothic architecture and passion. Hugo took pain to describe (or rather "preach") about the grand architecture of the church, and how architecture is an important thing in men's existence, which was about to be replaced by printing (Confession: I skipped most of these parts!)

♦️ The hunchback, who is supposed to be main character of the story, is Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame, whose deformity from birth made him hated by the society. He was raised by Claude Frollo - an ambitious archdeacon - inside the Notre Dame church, and later on became its devout bell ringer.

♦️ Frollo, Quasimodo, and a gypsy girl named Esmeralda, are the three flawed characters whose lives were ruled by their passions. I can make excuse for Quasimodo, for he was cruelly marginalized by others, without opportunity to find sympathy and affection. When he became deaf, his world became narrower. Who can blame him for stubbornly loving a girl who was clearly ignorant of him and loved another?

♦️ Frollo is the antagonist here, that is clear. But what about Esmeralda? Is she a blameless victim? Not entirely. She sealed her fate when she flirted with Captain what's-his-name, and stubbornly loved him when she knew he's completely ignored her for another girl. Esmeralda is a clever girl, but she's controlled by her passion, so much so that when she finally met her estranged mother in the critical moment, her only focus was still the Captain. I wanted to strangle her so much when reading this passage - that's your mother who love you so dearly that she had sacrificed her life for you, you idiot!!

♦️ The only survivor of this tragedy is Pierre Gringoire, the poet. It's our reminder to not let our life be ruled with passion.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

🔹️ The first time I've heard about Paul Gallico was when I read his children-fantasy book: Manxmouse. His writing style is straightforward but nicely flows.

🔹️ Gallico wrote Mrs. Harris (Mrs. 'Arris) as a series of four novels. I read the first two: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York in a combined edition.

🔹️ Mrs. Ada Harris is a professional London charwoman, whose clientele are mostly wealthy and influential households. She saw a beautiful Dior's evening gown at one of her employer, and longed to buy one for herself.

🔹️ A combination of luck and perseverance eventually got her the chance to travel to Paris to buy a dress at the House of Dior. Can you imagine what kind of troubles she'd undertake to just arrive at the House of Dior - not mentioning to procure the dress?
🔹️ Mrs. Harris is an independent, adventurous, very clever, warmhearted woman. I love her views about hardworking. Though cleaning houses isn't the most enviable job, Mrs. 'Arris is very proud of her profession, and she derives a personal satisfaction from doing her job thoroughly and professionally.
🔹️ Her most valuable asset is her genuine congeniality. She touched heart and changed life of anyone she's met during her adventure. And that's how things became possible for her - that, and her optimism.
🔹️ The story is humorous and heartwarming. And it is set beautifully in Paris! A perfect book for Paris in July reading event (make sure you pick this one next year!), and the kind of reading you'd need when you're down.😊

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

Dumb Witness is probably, if not one of my favorites, certainly one of the most memorable Christie's novels for me. As a crime novel, its plot is mediocre. Indeed, there are some flaws, which is not of Christie's usual quality. But maybe, she has intended to write it rather casually, and out of her love of her family.

I loved it mostly because of one character: Bob, the dog. Yes, he is the fox terrier you usually see on the cover (at least I noticed that some editions use the dog's image on their covers). Does it mean Bob IS the dumb witness in this story? I wish!! Imagine, if only Bob did see the murderer did something, and unwittingly, when he asks Hastings to play, eventually leads Poirot to a clue - it would have been wonderful! But unfortunately, no. Bob just lends his careless habit of putting his toy ball on the top stair to inspire an accident.

Bob's owner is Miss Emily Arundell, a wealthy but prudish spinster. She makes it clear that after her death, her wealth would be divided equally to her nephew and nieces: Thomas, Theresa, and Bella - whom, in a way or other - need the money badly. One night during the stay of the nephew and nieces, Emily Arundell fell from the stairs after tripping over something. They found Bob's ball laid on the top stair in the morning, but is it really the cause? Later on Hercule Poirot found a nail covered with varnish on the top stairs (on which, deduced Poirot, the murderer tied a string that has tripped Emily Arundell). So, it's a murder attempt after all! - and poor Bob has been wrongly accused!!

There'd be a real murder at some point, but the one stuck in my memory is always the stairs accident, for two reasons. First, since it's the only incident which linked Bob with the case. And then, the incident itself seems to be rather forced. How can someone think of hammering and varnishing a nail in the middle of the night, while the nearest bedroom door is slightly opened?

As I said, it's a weak crime story; not one of Christie's brilliant works, I admit, but memorable and heartwarming nevertheless. Far from disappointed, I admired Christie more for writing variable crime novels which are are always entertaining!

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My writing mood still hasn't returned yet, but I need to get these thoughts out of my mind soon, so for the next couple of months (perhaps, hopefully shorter!) I would only jot down my random thoughts in a post after each reading. It might not be a proper review, but at least it summarizes the book/reading.

Here's my take on The Beautiful and Damned, which I've read in June (more to follow).

🔅 Anthony Patch is a self indulgent young man, an heir to a wealthy grandfather.
🔅 Irresponsible, lazy, and drunkard.
🔅 Gloria Gilbert is a self absorbed beauty.
🔅 Imagine the two combined in a marriage. The most unlikely couple who bring their own ego to the marriage.
🔅 Their only similarity is their decadent life of partying and excessive alcoholisn, seeking pleasures while waiting with assurances for Anthony's upcoming inheritance.
🔅 The story takes place before, during, and after the Great War in the early 1920s. Anthony even served briefly in the army during WWI.
🔅 It is considered to be based on Fitzgerald's marriage to Zelda.
🔅 Anthony has no idea what to do (all the time!) besides spending money.
🔅 Gloria's only concern was her own beauty (and spending money too).
🔅 In the midst of one of their craziest parties, the rigid-almost-puritant old Mr. Patch crashed the party, and the next morning disinherited Anthony.
🔅 The couple hired a lawyer to appeal against the testament for years, and meanwhile seemed to be paralyzed. Anthony only live for the future (with the money), and Gloria can't see a future when her beauty is fading.

A quite difficult reading, and not at all my favorite, though you'll get to see glimpses of Fitzgerald's beautiful narration here and there. If you feel like giving up mid story, just hang on patiently, for the final twist is worth the waiting!!

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Paris in July 2021: A Blessing in Tough Moments

Paris in July this year isn't just about fun for me, it helped me to stay sane during Covid-19 surge in July. That was perhaps the scariest moments in my life. Some of our acquaintances died from it, and many more were positive, even one of my colleagues. Now it all feels like a dream (it's not over yet, but I am much calmer now). Reading books and watching movies about Paris are my only consolations. It helps me to forget the scary world out there for a moment. And these are what I did for Paris in July:


Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

A memoir of a runaway journalist who arrived in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, without hope or job, and accidentally found sanctuary at a bookstore in front of Notre Dame: Shakespeare & Co. If you love books, Paris - particularly stories about the American writers and bohemian life style of 1920s Paris - well... this book is absolutely for you!

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

A light and heart-warming story about a London char woman in the 1950s who pursued her dream to go to Paris and buy herself a Dior dress. Along the way she unconsciously touched so many hearts and changed so many lives! Loved this book so much ❤.

I stopped reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame for a while, because who would read about Gothic cathedral of 15th century when death and tragedy are around you? But now I'm back for the readalong, ready to catch up!


Chef's Table: France (TV Series - 4 episodes)
Loved to see these passionate chefs who cook from what the experience in life. A beautiful documentary in French!

Julie & Julia (rewatch)
There... a movie about food too! A young woman who cooks and blogs through Julia Child's cookbook, and in the end finds her self-esteem.

French Toast
A South African woman who found in a diary and locket of her late mother, and goes to Paris to find her long-lost sibling. Some foods are involved too! :)

He Even Has Your Eyes
A french comedy about a Senegalese couple who adopted a white baby. Moving and funny!

That's all for now. Goodbye Paris in July, see you again next year!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

Mr. Shaitana is an exotic, wealthy, and mysterious man, who likes to collect rare objects. In an exhibition, he met Hercule Poirot, and told him about his latest collection: murderers. Yes, murderers. That is, people whom he knows or suspects had committed murders, but were untouched by the justice. Ignoring Poirot's warning about the danger of this kind of amusement, he invited Poirot to a dinner party where he would exhibit his collection.

The dinner party turns out to be very interesting. Of the eight guests invited, four of them are the murderers, while four others are the "sleuths": Poirot, Inspector Battle, Colonel Race, and Ariadne Oliver - the crime writer. All four have appeared in some of Christie's novels, and this is a rare occasion where we meet the four of them in one novel (usually there are max. two of them). After dinner, there's a bridge game. The sleuths are playing in the next room, while the murderers are playing in the same room where Mr. Shaitana is relaxing by the fire.

You must have guessed what happens next. At the end of the game, Mr. Shaitana was found dead, stabbed with a stiletto from his own collection. All of the four have, at one time or other, at least once or twice, left the table for a moment to get drinks, and none of them paid much attention of the others because their focuses were, of course, on the game. Or at least, for the three of them, because one thing is sure - one of them is the murderer, and the motive is to prevent Mr. Shaitana from disclosing their crime. But which one? Are they all have committed murder in past?

I must say this is one of the most interesting stories from Agatha Christie. The suspect has been narrowed down to four persons, with no alibi. Motive is clear. Method is straightforward. The only way to solve it is by digging into the past murders and analyzing the psychology of each murderer, including their method of playing bridge. Each member of the sleuths takes part in the investigation, but of course, in the end, it's Poirot's grey cells which will get to the final answer. Interesting case, with a bit thriller and some twists!

Rating: 4 / 5

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Paris in July

There's one reading event that I've been looking forward to this year: Paris in July, hosted by Tamara @ Thyme and Tea. I've been fascinated in Paris since my visit there 21 years ago (boy... was it that long??) I've taken a French course for some years before that, and since then, my love for everything French and Parisian grows each year.

You've probably known of my intention to read 300 classics in 20 years. I'm thinking about squeezing at least one book about Paris every year, just for my love for France. And reading it in July seems most appropriate, when France is celebrating le quatorze juillet (July 14th - the Bastille day)!

This year I'll be doing:

Reading: Time was Soft There: A Paris Soujourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

Paris and bookstore; that's probably a heaven-on-earth for me! One day... probably after my retirement, I'd be happy to visit the most famous bookstore in Paris, but before that, why not reading a book about it?

Reading: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

I'm also participating in Nick's chapter-a-day Read Along (began in 24th June). During July I'll be reading quite a lot of chapters of it, but I won't be finish it before August. Well... just the biggest part of it will be superb enough, I guess!

Some TV series in Netflix, probably The Parisian Agency: Exclusive Properties and a movie called The French Toast, in Netflix, or some other French movies/series that I might find interesting. Or I should probably rewatch  Midnight in Paris, Julie and Julia, or Call My Agent!

What are your plan for next month? Are you joining Paris in July? Whatever your plan is, I hope it'll be as fun as I think mine will be!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Hello June!

(picture from Pixabay)

I love June! Here in Indonesia, June and July are the freshest months of the year - cooler temperature, drier air (less humidity). It's always lovely to open the bedroom window in the morning, to let the cool breeze and the crisp morning fragrant in. I love to stand by the window and taking deep breaths while listening to birds chirping and tweeting, after months of suffocating air during the monsoons. Today is that day!! And I love 1st June most because it's a public holiday, meaning I don't have to rush to the office, and a whole day of fun things to do!

This morning my Mom and I made our favorite dessert (we both are sweet-tooth persons😁). It's Snickerdoodle Mug Cake day, baby! It's easy to make (no baking, we use microwave), fast, and very yummy!! We always serve it in four mugs, which we will eat once (one mug each) in the morning, and once in the afternoon. That will make our day! I've found the recipe from Pinterest. The best part is the layers of cinnamon-sugar in between spoonful of batter, which add a crunchiness in the moist sweet soft cake.

As usual, my June is for Jazz Age! I'm reading Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned right now (actually has started it a bit earlier). It's not really my favorite, but still readable. After failed in reading Tender is the Night years ago, and now this one, I'm quite certain that Fitzgerald's best writing is short stories and/or novella - he shouldn't have written more than 250 pages novels!

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels - poignant but beautiful prose with perfect composition, and with layers of depth in it. This Side of Paradise is quite another beauty. It's light, naive, and full of gaiety - it's hard to not like it. But both The Beautiful and Damned and Tender is the Night... well, I'm not really sure I could stand reading about the shallow and egotistical characters for too long - that's not fun at all! But Fitzgerald's short stories.. now that's a treasure. I don't usually love short stories, but I always love Fitzgerald's.

Nick's The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Chapter-a-Day-Read-Along will also be happening this month. It begins on the last week of June, and stretches to August (53 chapters in 53 days). I will put the timeframe here to make it easier for me to catch up, since I most probably won't follow the one chapter a day rule strictly, but will try to make 7 chapters on the weekends.

24 Jun - 27 Jun : Book I Ch. 01 - 04 ✅
28 Jun - 04 Jul : Book I Ch. 05 - Book II Ch. 06 ✅
05 Jul - 11 Jul : Book II Ch. 07 - Book IV Ch. 04 ✅
12 Jul - 18 Jul : Book IV Ch. 05 - Book VI Ch. 03 ✅
19 Jul - 25 Jul : Book VI Ch. 04 - Book VII Ch. 05
26 Jul - 01 Aug : Book VII Ch. 06 - Book VIII Ch. 04
02 Aug - 08 Aug : Book VIII Ch. 04 - Book IX Ch. 05
09 Aug - 15 Aug : Book IX Ch. 06 - Book X Ch. 06
16 Aug - 21 Aug : Book X Ch. 07 - Ch. 04

I will probably finish The Beautiful and Damned in mid June, so I am thinking of reading Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table next, before the Hunchback readalong.

That's all for today, folks! I've been writing this while letting my Snickerdoodle cooling down. And now I will be savouring it!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

One of Ours by Willa Cather

Claude Wheeler is a proud, restless, insecure young man who grew up in Lovely Creek, Nebraska - the son of a successful farmer. He acutely feels unfulfilled and purposeless in a passionless life dictated by his parents: the hardworking insensitive father Nat Wheeler and the pious mother Evangeline Wheeler. His mother has made Claude study at the Temple University against his will. But he then enrolled at the State University, and befriended the Elrichs, which are warm and charming - the opposite of his own family. That is the first time he felt at home, belonged to a family.

I was so devastated when Claude was forced to drop out school to manage the family farm. He had been a great student, and he seems to be happy doing it. Hate it when parents keep deciding their children's future without even listening to what they'd actually like to do.

Marrying the loveless and prudish, fanatic Enid Royce was a big mistake for Claude; he didn't even love her, I guess. It might be something that he felt he should do as a farmer... or he thought marriage will give him happier life, I don't know. His hope for happiness was smashed when Enid left him to China as a missionary. I always hate people like Enid, whose idea of doing a good deed is abandoning their own family to look after strangers in another continent. That is pure nonsense!

When we think Claude isn't about to be happy, the World War I erupted, and Claude enlisted in the US Army. For other young people, it might be the ideology of serving one's country, that encouraged them to enlist. But I think Claude saw it as a gate to freedom and purposeful life he had been dreaming of. It's nothing heroic; for the first time he felt he was needed, belonged to, and doing things that really mattered - a truly fulfilling life. And I'm happy for it. There's nothing more important for human being, than leading a fulfilled life. It's no matter what kind of life one's leading - as long as one has freedom and is at peace with one's self.

One of Ours has quite a different style from Cather's previous novels. It's not as quiet as Death Comes for the Archbishop or O Pioneers, though it still talks about life in the Prairie. However, it's also not as gruesome as usual war stories. Actually, it feels more like the war is just a background to write about Claude's feelings, maturing views about the world, and his journey to reach happiness.

Scattered bits that I've found interesting:

* The historical passage about Edith Cavell, the British nurse who saved soldiers' lives and helped some of Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium, of which she was later arrested and shot by German firing squad. I have never heard about this until I read this book.

* I suspect, Claude represented Cather's love for her land. It's not the farmer life that he disliked. It's rather that modernity and prosperity (that comes with modernity) killed the old sentiment about the land as part of nature and human's life. Modern people tend to regard land as a mean of prosperity, not a harmonious companion or partner in creating better lives (for both parties). This quote reflects that sentiment:

"With prosperity came a kind of callousness; everybody wanted to destroy the old things they used to take pride in. The orchards, which had been nursed and tended so carefully twenty years ago, were now left to die if neglect. It was less trouble to run into town in an automobile and buy fruit that it was to raise it."

* Beautiful quote about LOVE, came apparently from the man who had just been broken-hearted:

"Human love was a wonderful thing, and it was most wonderful where it had least to gain."

* Another oh-so-true quote when Claude closed his house for the last time - the house that he's built and furnished with love. After the broken heart, it became mere building without any value:

"How inherently mournful and ugly such objects were, when the feeling that had made them precious no longer existed."

One of Ours is a deeply moving novel. Though it was written a bit romantically, it's full of philosophy that brought you to ponder more about your own purpose in life. For me, it's a gentle, down to earth story that gives one a little side view about the war impact of World War I. For some, it's evil and unnecessary, but for few others, it's like the freshness of a new spring - all depends on where do you see it from.

I must say... very inspiring, Ms. Cather! The Pulitzer Prize in 1923 is very well earned.

Rating: 5 / 5 (a new prospect for most favorite read of 2021!)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

This third book of the Prairie Trilogy of Willa Cather is set around the turn of the century (19th to 20th). Narrated by the adult Jimmy Burden, it tells his memories and feelings about the pioneers life in Black Hawk, Virginia.

Jim arrived in Black Hawk as a ten year old orphan who would stay with his grandparents. He got acquainted with their new neighbor: the Shimerda family, immigrants from Bohemia, who were poor and unskilled in farming, but believed that their lives would get better in America. Little Jim soon befriended Ántonia Shimerda, the older daughter, who was a few years older than him. It's so pleasant to follow their adventures - Jim killed a huge rattlesnake! And through their innocent eyes, we see the real lives of these pioneers, as if we  live and struggle with them, feel the loneliness of immigrants who were uprooted from their friends, family, and everything dear to them in their old country, and must build a new life in a new and strange place. I was so sad for the death of Mr. Shimerda. I could imagine his blissful moment when celebrating Christmas with the Burdens, and how it must hit him so hard when realizing his own sad predicament. The contrast could have made anyone wants to die of broken heart. I felt your pain, Mr. Shimerda!

After Mr. Shimerda's death, Ántonia worked hard in the field, doing man's works to help her brother Ambrosch. Meanwhile, Jim's grandparents moved to the town. He went to school, and continued on to the state university in Lincoln. Mrs. Burden, who took pity to Ántonia, got her a job as housekeeper to the Burdens' new neighbor: the Harlings. She had a good time and good wages there, even learned much about fine housekeeping.

Fast forward to twenty years later, when Jim has become a lawyer after studying at Harvard. During those years, Jim hasn't visited Ántonia, who had returned to hard life in the field, dumped by a young man whom she loved, and then marry a Bohemian called Cuzak. Jim finally went to Black Hawk and visited the Cuzaks. Ántonia has become a stout woman, after the hard life and having ten children, but Jim was amazed to see the vigor of life is still in her. She had become for him, the true spirit and soul of the prairie. She, who loved and was proud of their land, and was happy with her life as a farmer's wife, with all the hard working.

My Ántonia is like a plate of nice comfort food. It's delicious, not too rich, but also not too light, where every ingredient compliments each other, creating a perfect combination. The blissful moment is when you're savouring it in your mouth; you don't want it to end, enjoying every chew. A moment before you're about to swallow it, you realize how amazing the taste is. Then after swallowing, you let out a satisfactory sigh. That's My Ántonia for me. It might not be a masterpiece, but it's so satisfying. And I know I'd want to reread it (often) in the future.

I realized that there are more in My Ántonia than a "delicious" story. The discrimination and prejudices against Bohemians or foreign people, for example. But for now, I would just enjoy the novel as it is; I might read more critically in the next reread.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

I don't think I've said this enough: crime stories are the toughest books to write a review of. Why, you can't reveal too much of the story, lest you throw a spoiler. And when you want to analyze the case, you must do it cautiously, or with elusive sentences to avoid revealing just a tiny fact that will lead your readers to spot a spoiler! Hence, the biggest irony of my reading life - Agatha Christie is the writer whose works I read the most, but her books are the ones I'm most reluctant to write the reviews. Everytime I read Christie's, I'm always: "Do I really need to write a review? Can't I just read on?" But you know me... in the end I'll just do it. Just like this one: The A.B.C. Murders. Since I found it almost impossible to say anything about this book without revealing clues to the murderer, I must warn you to stop reading right here right now, if you can't stand any spoiler.

Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and Chief Inspector with-dry-humour Japp are reunited to solve a new case. It all begins when Poirot received an anonymous letter signed by A.B.C., challenging him to prevent a murder which he/she is about to commit in Andover at certain date. The murder did take place in the exact time and place. The victim was an old woman who keeps a tobacco shop. Near her body was found an opened ABC Rail Guide. This would be the first of a serial murder which will take place in random cities which names are in alphabetical order, and so are the victims'.

Unlike the usual Poirot-Hastings duets, which are always narrated by Hastings, this one came with first and third POV alternately (the first being Hastings, of course). And this is where it gets very interesting. Everytime the pen was picked by the invisible narrator, it's always to tell about a nervous war veteran who became a travelling salesman. The man is epileptic, and often had a memory blackout. He's the kind of man whom people never care for - a nobody - but had been named after two of the greatest generals: Alexander Bonaparte Cust - ABC!

At first I thought this is where Christie took a variation from her usual most-unpredicted-murderer, or the most-predicted-but-with-double-plot-twist ~ you know what I mean?... I thought she'd let us acquainted with the murderer from the first, you know... to learn how it is working with a murderer psychology? Then she'd probably bring us to connect him with the real scenes. However, through the story I had a sense of going alternately between two realms, the real one (narrated by Hastings), and another so far away from the real scenes. This ABC guy, whoever he is, though he seems to do the crimes, doesn't seem fit with the personalities of the murderer. I didn't buy it, "Christie must have prepared a surprise here", thought I. And then near the end, I even had even a suspect, who at the end is proved to be the real murder.

So to me, while The A.B.C. Murders is an interesting piece in psychology, it isn't a masterpiece in terms of crime story. I liked the story of ABC as the war veteran and all, and I loved the two narrations thing, but when you can guess the real murderer when you're quite far from the end... well, it's not that great!

Final rating: 3,5 / 5

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Reading Update [January - April]

You might think it's funny, but I always feel that the first four months of my reading year is the most important one. If I screw up, the entire year would be a failure. But, if I somehow manage to strive, I'd be relieved, because I know it's going to be okay. That's why, I usually post my first (if not only!) reading updates in early May (or sometimes I call it 'post Zoladdiction'.) Now let's see how I've managed so far...


Original plan:
1. Eugene Onegin ~ Pushkin - for #CCSpin25 (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔
2. The Conquest of Plassans [reread] ~ Zola (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) ✔


3. Death in the Clouds ~ Christie (⭐⭐⭐⭐) ➕


Original Plan:
4. Nicholas Nickleby ~ Dickens - for #NicholasNicklebyReadalong2021 (⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔



Original Plan:
5. Things Fall Apart ~ Achebe (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔
6. The Tale of Genji ~ Shikibu ❌ - My copy is curiously missing from the bookcase!!?
- replaced by ➡️ Murder in Mesopotamia ~ Christie (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) ✔

7. The ABC Murders ~ Christie (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ➕


Original Plan:
8. The Sin of Abbé Mouret [reread] ~ Zola - for #Zoladdiction2021 (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔
9. A Biography of Émile Zola ~ Zola ~ Alan Schom - for #Zoladdiction2021 (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) ✔



Books read = 9 of 8
Challenge/readalong accomplished = 2
Most favorite = A Biography of Émile Zola



My Ántonia ~ Cather
One of Ours ~ Cather - for #CCSpin26
❌ Originally: Return of the Native ~ Hardy


The Beautiful and Damned ~ Fitzgerald - originally for #JazzAgeJune2021, but unfortunately Laurie and I are not able to host, so I'm going to do this 'quietly'.
The Hunchback of Notredame ~ Hugo - for #hunchbackreadalong (Nick's Chapter-a-Day-Read-Along)


✳ (continuing) The Hunchback of Notredame ~ Hugo - for #hunchbackreadalong
❌ Originally: His Excellency Eugene Rougon [reread] ~ Zola - my least favorite of Rougon Macquart, can't stand it, so.. SKIP!
✳ (non classic/non fiction) Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. ~ Jeremy Mercer


✳ (continuing) The Hunchback of Notredame ~ Hugo - for #hunchbackreadalong
Pilgrim's Progress ~ Bunyan
Return of the Native ~ Hardy

Wish me luck for the next four months! I had a feeling it would be awesome.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021 Wrap Up

April has gone, and Zoladdiction 2021 has quietly ended last week. I was a little bummed out of not making this event more lively, or giving it more effort. I didn't even remember Zola's birthday in April 2nd! But life's like that, often unpredictable, and things happen when you least expect it.

You might have noticed that I've been less and less blogging lately. My posts are mostly reviews, and I didn't either reply to most of your comments (which I'm truly sorry!), nor comment to your posts. It's because lately daily work and family matter have been consuming more of my time, that when weekends come, I feel a bit numbed, and need more time to get relaxed. And how can one think of a book and produce a good post, unless one's relaxed and in a good mood?

Back to Zoladdiction, I had barely time to read and post my reviews, but nothing else. I thank all of you who have participated on this event, but I'm also sorry not to manage it more properly. I did read your posts, but didn't have time to leave comments. Here are some of our posts for Zoladdiction 2021:

📕 The Sin of Abbé Mouret | Émile Zola #FRAclassic (Brona)
📕 The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola [Second Read] (Fanda)
📕 Zoladdiction 2021: La Debacle by Emile Zola (Karen)
📕 A Biography of Émile Zola by Alan Schom (Fanda)

For you who have read for Zoladdiction, but haven't had time to post your thoughts before it ended, or I haven't add your posts - don't worry... you can come back here and leave the link in the comment section anytime - I will add it here.

Again, I thank you all for celebrating (albeit quietly) Zoladdiction 2021 with me. I only hope I can make it more fun next year!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Biography of Émile Zola by Alan Schom

This is the second Zola's biography I've ever read - the first being F.W.J. Hemmings's The Life and Times of Émile Zola - and I'm glad I had picked it. I found it more comprehensive, that, after finishing the book, I felt like I knew Zola more intimately than I've ever had. While quite familiar with his history (his genius civil engineer father's death when Zola was 7 y.o., the family's poverty and struggle in Paris, Zola's failure in Baccalaureate test, etc) from Hemmings', and his involvement (and even exile) in the Dreyfus Affair from Michael Rosen's The Disappeaance of Émile Zola, I've never been intimately "acquainted" with him, in terms of his personal character, his views, or love life, which this book amply provides. Here are some interesting bits I've gathered along the reading:

✔ François Zola (Zola's father) has been involved in "temporary disappearance of 1500 francs of regimental funds" while serving with the Foreign Legion in Algeria. The incident was later brought by Zola's enemies in Dreyfus Affair, in order to defame him. However, Schom argued that it is more likely that the money fraud was caused by François Zola's careless bookkeeping, instead of intentionally. Nonetheless, it's one of the many causes of Zola's depressions during the Affair.

✔ The 19 year Zola dreamed of finding a true love with a "good angel" - tender, kind, loving woman - and worried that he'd never find one. However, his first and only marriage with Alexandrine (neé Gabrielle) was loveless, and only out of convenience. Zola needed a practical woman to support him as writer, while Alexandrine needed security and honorable position. Only in his later life, did Zola meet his true love and his dream woman in Jeanne Rozerot, who gave him two children and the comfort of family life to the middle agwd and lonesome Zola.

✔ Zola was a hardworking man. Though he was forced to take a clerical job for a living in his early 20s, he still managed to write. Then, a small inheritance from a deceased grandfather helped him to choose journalism as his main job, paving his way to financial freedom to pursue his dream of writing fiction. And after he became a successful writer, Zola still worked hard, often working on more than one task at a time, that he sometimes must engage his friends to do researches for him, so that Zola later could use their notes as his writing material.

✔ Do you know that Zola was quite a successful librettist? His earlier career as playwright might be quite disastrous, but later on his L'Assommoir has been staged as a successful play. But his best achievement in theater was perhaps his collaboration with Alfret Bruneau, the French composer. Zola provided some of his works for Bruneau's operas, and he even acted as librettist for at least two operas: Messidor (1897) and L'Ouragan (1901).

✔ I'm familiar with the fact that L'Assommoir was Zola's first successful book, that launched his career as a respected writer in France. But La Debacle was in fact his most successful and best selling book. Even Nana has surpassed L'Assommoir in sales number!

✔ As a human being, Zola is actually a sensitif, patient, loyal, persistent, and generous man. He strongly held on his principles (truth and justice), never hesitate to sacrifice his comfort to fight injustice. But he could also be indecisive, especially when it comes to his marriage. Schom criticized Zola for never divorcing Alexandrine and marrying Jeanne, as the triangle love later proved to bring sorrow for all parties. But I think Zola was too kind and loyal to leave Alexandrine, who has supported him through their ups and downs, though he could hardly stand Alexandrine's emotional temper and headstrong. He also proved to be loyal to his whiny and parasitic friend: Henry Céard. But only in Alfred Bruneau, I guess, that Zola found a true friend with mutual affection and respect.

✔ From Zola's portrayal of the Jews in L'Argent (Money), Schom concluded that Zola was anti-semitic, though later he would change his views while defending Alfred Dreyfus (why, though? This isn't in accordance with his consistency). I personally didn't see Zola as particularly anti-semitic. His portrayal is only describing characteristic of Jews as he might have seen or known, just like in his portrayal of priests in The Sin of Abbé Mouret. Did he hate priests or Jews in particular? Not necessarily, he's just presenting the facts - whether he liked it or not.

There are still a lot of small bits about Zola which I could not write all here. You simply must read the book to understand more about Zola as a person. Had I lived in 19th century France, I would have honoured to be one of his friends, or better still, his protegés (for he's so generous towards them, always encourage them to be successful). All in all, Émile Zola is an amiable human being, when he's not depressed or indecisive. And I'm so grateful to Alan Schom to have written this biography in so intimate and personal way.

As a bonus, here's from Denise's memory (Zola's daughter) - the last time Jeanne and the children were to see Zola alive - and it's so heartbreaking!

"On 27 September, he [Zola] came to Verneuil to kiss us goodbye, and we were all to return [separately] to Paris the following day. I no longer remember why, but we did not accompany him, as we usually did, to within a few hundred feet of his house, going via the village streets where, so often during the [Dreyfus] Affair, women would throw their dirty dish water over us as we were passing. Now, instead, we stood at the front door, watching him walk away, turning to look at us once more, and then continuing, finally disappearing round the corner."

Rating: 5 / 5

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola [Second Read]

I read The Sin of Abbé Mouret for the first time three years ago, in Zoladdiction 2018. If you want to know what the story's about, you can click the link above, which will bring you to my first posts of the book. On this second post, therefore, I will talk less about the story, but dig deeper onto the nature-vs-church theme, and Zola's own aim on writing this book.

Only on this second read did I see how this book plays an important role on Zola's Naturalism. If you are curious about Naturalism as literary movement, this book will throw you some lights. Naturalists hold on the power of Nature as supreme, and distrust any institution that (they think) restrain it - Church (and religion) is one of these, though I don't see why they thought so, while the Bible (Book of Genesis) says that men are created by God to manage the earth and everything in it. Of course I realize that the 19th century Catholic Church held different views from our modern Church (maybe after the Second Vatican Council in 1962? - I'm not sure - but I know that the Council did bring huge change on the Church). Nature and Church should not have been separated.

Zola's hatred of clerics
I think Zola's hatred of Church might have been, first, triggered by its clerics. There are two kinds of clerics in this book: The pious, calm Abbé Serge Mouret who denounces physical pleasure which he believes hindering him to the utmost communion with God; and the coarse, hypocrite, cruel Brother Archangias with his love of worldly pleasure, and hatred of women. Did Zola make Abbé Mouret "triumphed" over temptation and sin at the end as a warning to the Church of France? That it should be concerning its "own business", i.e. religion and morality, rather than interfering in politics and state business?

Zola's second reason of hating priests is perhaps related to his believes in procreation and fertility. He hated celibacy and might regard it as unnatural. But I think he's overreacting here. How many priests were there compared to the whole population? So what if few of them chose celibacy? It won't make any significant change...

What I still didn't get is, if Zola disliked the Church that much, why did he make it triumphed in the end? Abbé Mouret finally conquered his weaknesses, Albine was chocked to death by the nature, and the church, though in dilapidated condition, was still intact. Again, this book might have served as a warning to France, because Zola believed that the Church was opposed to procreation and science (and therefore against nature), so naturally it should or will one day crumble. It shows how Zola, despite his meticulous researches on the Church (the Sacrament, rituals, devotion, etc.), and his vivid portrayal of Abbé Mouret's spiritual struggles (you'd think he experienced it himself); he understood nothing about religion, or particularly, Catholicism. It's a shame that one so genius in writing, could not or refused to see beyond his own principles. I mean, one can disagree with some views other than one's belief, but at least one should tolerate others who believe in it.

Ironically, Zola's vivid portrayal of Serge's spiritual journey has been a sort of inspiration for me. It reminds me to never be proud of my spiritual "achievement" (whatever it is), since we will never be free of temptation. The more we think we are holy/pious, the bigger be the risk of temptation. And that's what made me love Zola. His principles might be far different from mine, but he's so dedicated to his writing, that he could inspire others to hold on a principle that is the very opposite of what he might originally want to aim. If I hadn't known Zola, and this is my first book of his, I might have thought he's a devout Catholic!

So how do I think about The Sin of Abbé Mouret after the second read? Let me see...
- The neverending description of the Mass is boring! It feels like after compiling tons of information about it, Zola'd thought: 'I might as well use it all - not gonna wasting my efforts!' - I am a devout Catholic, but reading it all like encyclopedia is really tedious.
- Abbé Mouret's spiritual journey to true repentance is inspiring.
- This is the best story that explains Naturalism as a movement.

After weighing all aspects, here is my final rating (and thus changed my previous) : 3,5 / 5

Monday, April 19, 2021

Classics Club Spin #26 Lucky Number Is....


The Classics Club has picked the lucky number of 11, and it means I get to read...

One of Ours by Willa Cather

I'm so excited because next month I'll be reading two Willa Cather's in a row... for the whole month! In case you have not read my earlier post, I have planned to read My Antonia for May, then one more book for the #CCSpin. And how lucky I am that it picked another Cather's which I have also listed for the Spin!

One of Ours is the novel which won Willa Cather a Pulitzer Prize in 1923, so it must be a wonderful one. And hey.... isn't the cover of my copy also wonderful?! <3

So, what do you get for the Spin? Are you excited too? Anyway... have fun!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Chronologically, Murder in Mesopotamia is considered the prequel of The Murder on the Orient Express, and indirect sequel to The Mystery of the Blue Train. Hercule Poirot is on a trip to Iraq, when he is summoned to investigate a murder at an archeological site at Tell Yamimjah in Iraq.

The story is told from the point of view of Amy Letheran, a professional nurse who was hired by Dr. Erich Leidner - head of the excavation work - to attend to his beautiful wife Louise, who is lately jumpy and nervous. Now, Louise Leidner is something of a character. Nurse Amy found that the ladies dislike her, but the men adore her. However they mostly agree that Louise Leidner is a self-centered woman; seeking attention by hallucinating that she is in some danger.

Efficient and kind, Nurse Amy immediately gains trust from her 'patient'. Mrs. Leidner confides in her, her secret past. Louise was actually a widow before marrying Dr. Leidner. Her first husband was a possessive man called Frederick Bosner, who was a spy during the Great War. He was sentenced to death, managed to escaped, but later died in a train crash. After his death, Louise often got anonymous threat letters every time she's attracted to a man. Is it her husband, who somehow survived from the train crash, or is it his younger brother who also had a crush on her? She isn't sure, but she is in constant fear.

After Leidner married her, the threats stopped, but for a moment. Louise began to receive the letters again a few months ago, along with 'other horrors' (apparitions which nobody else saw). Is she hallucinating, or whether whoever has been threatening her, has come to take avenge? Is that why the atmosphere in the site grew tensed lately - as if there's a forced politeness around these people (Leidner's collegeaus and crews) who, normally, are like a little family? Then one day Dr. Leidner found his wife alone in her room, struck dead by a heavy unknown object.

Hercule Poirot finds the case as an interesting one; he finds neither alibi nor motif related to the victim. Therefore, he focused his investigation on the psychological side - the strong character of Louise Leidner, and particularly, her past.

Murder in Mesopotamia is one of Poirot's case, in which, the key to the murder-case is in the psychological side. While in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The Curtain, the key is in the murderer's, in this case, it's the victim's. And for me, these are the most interesting cases. Clues, alibi, motif - we can find these in most of detective-crime stories, but not many crime writers put the emphasize on the psychological side. From the few, Agatha Christie is one of the best. This one, now, becomes one of my most favorites.

Rating : 5/5

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Classics Club's CC Spin #26

Classics Club Spin is back! And about time too! After the usual hectic of the first four months of the year (not mentioning the two reading events that I'm hosting this year), I really need a refreshing kick to calm my nerve and to be back to my usual reading vigour.

What is CC Spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 18th April, 2021, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

On Sunday 18th, April, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by the 31st May, 2021.

And here's my list:

1. My Antonia - Willa Cather
2. Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy
3. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
4. Watership Down - Richard Adams
5. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
6. Elizabeth and Her German Garden - Elizabeth von Arnim
7. The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton
8. Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope
9. Eugenie Grandet - Honore de Balzac
10. I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
11. One of Ours - Willa Cather
12. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier
13. The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
14. Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
15. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
16. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
17. The Imitation of Christ - Thomas A Kempis
18. The Scarlett Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
19. Red Pony - John Steinbeck
20. Under the Net - Iris Murdoch

Some of the list are from my 2021 Reading Schedule. I will definitely read no. 1 in May anyway, so any number I'd get, I will read it alongside My Antonia. But if no. 1 gets picked, then I'm lucky! :)

Do you join CC Spin too? Is there any title you expect me to get, or is in your list too?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Okonkwo is a young man of Igbo ethnicity who lives in Umuofia village in Nigeria in the late 19th century. He grew up witnessing his lazy and cowardly father brought disgrace to the family, so it's no wonder that he becomes a fierce and strong warrior with toxic masculinity. Okonkwo resents weaknesses and femininity, beats his wives and children, to show off his manliness (and I think to convince himself that he is the very opposite of his father.)

One day the Umuofia clan took a boy, Ikemefuna, as a "settlement" (the boy's father has killed an Umuofia's woman), and selected Okonkwo as the guardian. He gets to like the boy, while worrying for his son's (Nwoye) lack of manliness. Unfortunately, the clan then decided to kill Ikemefuna due to an Oracle. An elder chief warned Okonkwo not to participate in the murder, as it would be like murdering his own son. But Okonkwo ignored it, so as not to be regarded weak by his people.

After the murder, Okonkwo's life turns from bad to worse. Things begin to go wrong, and Okonkwo and the whole family are eventually exiled by his people. At the time of the Okonkwos' return to Umuofia, their land has changed. White missionaries had been coming to introduce Christianity, and slowly but surely changed the whole society. One of the first converts is Nwoye, Okonkwo's own son, who had never forgiven his father for killing his best friend Ikemefuna, and who is more inclined to Christian's teaching than his people's violent way of life. Okonkwo bitterly sees how his people do not hold on to their tradition as tight as he, and begin to embrace a new one; he sees that his world is changing, and things fall apart.

Things Fall Apart is not an entertaining read. I do love reading about foreign cultures - and Achebe's writing is flowing beautifully in telling the story - so I really enjoyed the earlier part of this book. I disliked Okonkwo's toxic masculinity, but I sympathized with his disappointment on his father, and how he worked hard to dispel the bad "legacy". I understood that Okonkwo is shaped by his society. However, my sympathy's gone when he committed the murder. To let his people do it without fight from his side is cruel enough (but still understandable considering their views), but committed the crime with his own hand... I just can't! I lost my respect for the main protagonist of the book I'm reading, so what remains?

Besides the women, Obierika (Okonkwo's friend and neighbor) is the only one character I can stand. He's the neutral voice of the book, the common sense. He considers, reasons, questions their tradition, he sees beyond their little world, and does not think something is right just because the "oracle" said so.

Moral of the story:
✔Changes aren't always bad, as we never know what might happen in the future.
✔Better use our common sense and consider everything proportionately.
✔When change is inevitable, embrace it wisely, or we'll get "extinct".

Considering all aspect, here is my rating:

3,5 / 5

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021: Master Post

It's April! And it means Zoladdiction 2021 begins this very day! 

This is the 8th Zoladdiction I have hosted in this blog. For you who are not familiar with, Zoladdiction is an annual reading event during the month of April, to celebrate the birthday of Emile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works.

As usual, we will read Zola's works, or works about Zola during the month, and of course, to share our thoughts (or anything related to Zola) to the world.

A formal sign up does not really required for participating, just let me know that you're in. And please tag or mention me on Twitter, or just leave a comment here, whenever you post anything for Zoladdiction. That way I can share/tweet/retweet it.

Now, let the fun begins.... 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens | #NicholasNickleby2021 Wrap Up

Two weeks ago is supposed to be the last weekly part of our Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021. However, for some reasons (strained right arm was one of these), I have failed to write any post at all until this weekend. Thus, this post will serve as my final review of the book, as well as a wrap up of our #NicholasNickleby2021 Readalong.

Nicholas Nickleby is by far the most comical novel by Dickens I have ever read. The Pickwick Papers is another comic piece that guarantees to make you laugh, but I categorized it more as a series of picturesque journal of a club which were compiled to make a novel - it lacks a significant plot to make it a whole one. Nicholas Nickleby, on the other hand, is a wholesome novel with satisfying plot, memorable characters (even the minor characters are interesting and colorful), and, even though presenting a grim subject such as the cruelty of faulty schools in Yorkshire, it is highly entertaining with all the extremely hilarious scenes!

Summary of the previous chapters:
Chapter I - XI
Chapter XII - XXI
Chapter XXII - XXXI
Chapter XXXII - XLI
Chapter XLII - LI

The last sixteen chapters tells Nicholas' strategy to save Madeline Bray from her doomed marriage with Arthur Gride - a scheme by Ralph Nickleby to gain money, which Madeline's father owed him, as well as to snatch Nicholas' lover, and thus avenging him. It is nice to read how the rescue operation involves all the good people - Nicholas' friends. It seems to represent the battle of the bad v the good, of which, the good always wins. As usual, Dickens rounded up the ending of each characters "beautifully" for the good ones, and most especially for the wicked ones - though I think Sir Mulberry Hawk needs more sufferings before his death: some excruciating painful illness perhaps?... 😎 And then... there's the epic breaking up of the Dotheboys Hall - thanks to John Browdie! Apart from the wretched condition the boys must have been in after the breaking up, that was perhaps one of the most satisfying fictional "closures" ever!

Love is in the air, indeed, as three of the female characters finally meet their future husbands. Yes, I love how Dickens found a match for Miss La Creevy - not that she won't be happy without, because when you have love and gratitude, you'll have peace and happiness. I just hope that she'll keep her miniature painting business just to keep her busy while Tim Linkinwater is working at the counting house. That will give her the utmost happiness and satisfaction, which she fully deserves.

I've been discussing several topics covered by Dickens in the weekly update posts. The main topic is corrupted educational system in Yorkshire for unwanted children, which Dickens had write it so convincingly, that public investigations were held upon the real schools, and many of them were closed for good. Bravo Dickens! I'm more interested, however, in one minor topic which Dickens, unintentionally perhaps, has hinted in this book, that is: social treatment towards women in 19th century (and how the women perceived it).

Interestingly, five women are subjected to special interests from men throughout the book, though with different intensity: Kate Nickleby (from Sir Mulberry Hawk), Henrietta Lilyvick - neé Petowker (from old Mr. Snevellici), Mrs. Nickleby (from the gentleman with the small clothes 🤭), Miss La Creevy (from Tim Linkinwater), and in a way - Madeline Bray (talked of by a registry office clerk). When Kate Nickleby became the topic of free gossips by Sir MH in a drinking house, Nicholas Nickleby thought it abominable (and attacked the assailant). The same happened when Frank Cheeryble heard the clerk was talking (admiringly but perhaps jokingly?) of Madeline Bray in public. These gentlemen were indignant that the ladies are talked of publicly without respect. The clerk protested that he only praised Madeline's beauty, which was strongly supported by the bar maid. Two different classes view the case differently.

Then there is the indignant Mr. Lillyvick, who was angry with Mr. Snevellicci's openly flirt with his (Mr. Lillyvick) wife, while Mrs. Lillyvick accepted it as normal, and was even angry with her husband for being insensible, for it's only a joke (the same woman who later eloped with a man - poor Mr. Lillyvick!) Mr. Lillyvick, though comes from working class, is quite gentlmemanly-minded. The same subtlety is showed by the clerk Tim Linkinwater when wooing Miss La Creevy; he never forced himself on her, only using his affectionate tone (poetic and funny!) WHEN he's assured that the lady reciprocated his feeling. The very different manner is showed by the gentleman with the small clothes, who, ignoring Mrs. Nickleby's polite implore to leave her alone, kept forcing himself on her, though romantically hilarious. Mad as he was, I don't believe he'd be any better when he's sane. These instances only proof that honor doesn't always come with wealth nor class - it's something you can never earn by yourself.

Over all, Nicholas Nickleby is a very entertaining novel with satisfying plot, hilarious scenes, and most memorable characters. It instantly becomes one of my favorites.

I thank all of you who has participated in this Readalong, for your accompany, posts, and comments. It has been a memorable and also inspiring reading event. For you who didn't or haven't finished, don't be disappointed - it's just not your time yet, but I'm sure you'd pick it up again some other time, as it's really a fun reading. I wish I could wish we meet again in next readalong, but for now, I'm not sure at all there will be another. Let's just see!

Final rating: 4,5 / 5

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021: Announcement - #Zoladdiction2021

Zoladdiction will be back next month! This would be the 8th Zoladdiction I've hosted in this blog. For you who are not familiar with it, Zoladdiction is a reading event on April, to celebrate the birthday of Émile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works. For the whole month we will read, post, and talk about Zola - his life, his works, and his influence.

What's in Zoladdiction 2021?

  • This year I encourage you to go beyond reading.
  • Yes, we will still read Zola, but during April we can also share/post/tweet/talk about just any thing that is related to Zola. A book you're reading reminds you of Zola? Share it! Found Zola's quote/picture on Pinterest? Share it! Watched movie about Zola? Share it! Anything at all.
  • If you chose to read quietly, it's OK. You can pick one of Zola's works, or Zola's biography, or any books about Zola by other writers.
  • To participate, simply leave comment, or mention me on Twitter, using hashtag #Zoladdiction2021, and tell me your plan for Zoladdiction (it might inspire others).
  • If you blog about your participation, leave the link in comment box.

This time I will not be reading alone. Brona will be my reading buddy; we will read The Sin of Abbe Mouret (it's a reread for me). I plan to read one more book, but haven't made up my mind of the title. Either a biography or short stories collection, it will depend on how much time I'd got left before end of April.

So, are you in? What's your plan?


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 Week #5 Update

This is the fifth weekly update of Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021, and we are approaching more and more near the end. How do you progress so far? What chapter are you in?

The story's getting better and better, that I actually read through some chapters of the next week portion! But here are some of the most important scenes/events from Chapter XLII to LI:

- Enter the scene: Mr. Frank Cheeryble, nephew of the Cheeryble Brothers. Nicholas accidentally witnesses him striking a man who is insolently talking of a young lady of Frank's acquaintance - exactly what Nicholas himself had done to Sir MH! And as if Dickens approved of our discussion on week #3, he included these conversations:
The man struck by Frank (by the way, he's Tom, the clerk at the register office): "A pretty state of things, if a man isn't to admire a handsome girl without being beat to pieces for it!" A girl, waiter, agrees with him, while Nicholas, John and Tilda Browdie, agree with Frank - whose reply is: "But beauty should be spoken of respectfully - respectfully and in proper terms, and with a becoming sense of its worth and excellence." The girl concerned is actually Madeline Bray, the beautiful young lady Nicholas is fallen in love with.

- When Charles and Frank Cheeryble visited the Nicklebys, Smike is, again, distressed. I have suspected from last week that he is secretly falling in love with Kate, and now notices painfully that he wouldn't be able to compete with Frank Cheeryble. Poor Smike!

- Ralph Nickleby is blackmailed by his former clerk, Brooker, but Ralph coolly dismissed him. Unabashed, Brooker approaches Newman and seems to tell him some interesting secrets.

- Ralph and Squeers attempt to reclaim Smike by forging a letter indicating that Mr. Snawley (the man who submitted his wife's son to Dotheboys Hall in earlier chapter) is Smike's biological father. Fortunately Nicholas and John Browdie throw them away.

Good quote about parental affection:

"Parents who never showed their love, complain of want of natural affection on their children - children who never showed their duty, complain of want of natural feeling in their parents - law makers who find both so miserable that their affections have never had enough of life's sun to develop them, are loud in their moralisings over parents and children too, and cry that the very ties of nature are disregarded. Natural affections and instincts, my dear sir, are the most beautiful of the Almighty's works, but like other beautiful works of His, they must be reared and fostered, or it is as natural that they should be wholly obscured, and that new feelings should usurp their place, as it is that the sweetest productions of the earth left untended, should be choked with weeds and briers."

- Nicholas becomes the Cheeryble Brothers' agent to help poor Madeline Bray-who has lost her mother and must support her deeply-in-debt father-by (pretending) procuring her artworks to provide her money.

- Another episode of the old gentleman with the small clothes. It happens when Frank Cheeryble and Tim Linkinwater are visiting Mrs. Nickleby and Kate (Miss La Creevy is there, and she is flirting with Tim.. ahem!) The mad man makes an entrance by the chimney and throws all of them in panic, but at least this episode puts Mrs. Nickleby back to reality (not without jealousy when the mad man switches his attention to Miss La Creevy!)

- Vincent Crummles & co. is leaving England and moving to America to start a new chapter, but of course they don't go without a proper party with Nicholas.

- Sir Mulberry Hawk still insists on taking revenge against Nicholas. Lord Frederick Verisoft doesn't agree, and their quarrel ends in a duel. It's a pity that it's Verisoft who's killed; I was hoping very much it'd be Sir MH. He flees to France, instead. For good? Let's see..

- Enter a new vilain: old moneylender Arthur Gride, who offers to pay Walter Bray's (Madeline Bray's father) debt to Ralph, in exchange of Ralph's help to get him marrying Madeline. Gride possesses (illegally) a will of her grandfather, that she will inherit the money upon her marriage. Newman Noggs heard Arthur and Ralph's discussion, but doesn't realize at that time that Madeline Bray is one and the same lady Nicholas is falling in love with. The catastrophe is known to Nicholas only one day before the wedding day - what will he do to prevent it?


Of the numerous villains in this story, who do you think is the most corrupted and heartless, who you hate the most?

I think Sir Mulberry Hawk is the most heartless of all. I hate him from the beginning, and I don't see any chance redemption from him. He's been living a dissipated life for too long; adding that to his high egotism, fuelled by idolatry from his pupils, Sir Mulberry Hawk has become what he is. 

Ralph Nickleby is the main antagonist here, I know, but I'm still hoping for his redemption, a deep regret in the end, at least. He is quite moved by Kate's miserable situation in earlier chapter, anyway. The problem is he is too attached to money. He had two choices, but he picked his business first. While Sir MH... I don't believe he ever thinks about anything else beyond getting what he wants. Regret? Maybe never...

Now let us hear your opinion! You can leave comments below, or you can post on your blog if you feel like it, but don't forget to leave the link here so we can visit and comment.