Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review

"The Beans of Egypt, Maine" by Carolyn Chute
My grade: B-

This is an interesting book, mainly about the very poor and uneducated Bean family. There is definitely talent here, but just like the author has said, this work feels unfinished. Perhaps my problem with it is that the author is clearly and profoundly of a much higher class than the Bean family itself. Their overly simplistic ways of life have already been interpreted and are not exactly presented in an 'unbiased' manner, if a writer is ever unbiased. Chute was definitely trying to defend, and perhaps explain, the Beans' way of life, but she has presented it in such a complex way, that the message is often lost. This book would send a much stronger message, in my opinion, if Chute had let the Beans do more of the telling.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review

"Seven Notebooks of Life"* by Tonino Guerra
My grade: didn't finish

This book is a compilation of very short stories and poems of Guerra, who is, I guess, known mostly for the films he has made. The works are definitely not bad, but they are very neutral to me. The stories are those of his life, short snippets from here and there. Perhaps one has to really be attached to the cities/famous people he is writing about, but I personally found it hard to focus on a story that is half a page long. The writing is good, but not really exemplary. I know nothing of Guerra's films.

* I read this book in Russian, and the title given here is a direct translation from the Russian one. This is, however, a compilation of short works, a sample of which could be taken from any other compilation of short works by Guerra.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review

"Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith
My grade: A

The saddest part of this book is that it depicts a reality that by and large was true, based on everything we now know, and what I know to be true from my parents, grandparents and their friends. This is a story of the life in Soviet Union, particularly during Stalin times. It is mostly a story of fear; but also of defeat, sadness, integrity and sadly, life. Since I have begun reading this book, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. What a terrible fate for millions and millions of people.

I wonder what sense this book makes for people who have no connection whatsoever to the USSR. Your opinions, and anyone's for that matter, are most welcome here. Perhaps it will not make an impact on you as it has on me. I would liken the utter gruesomeness one confronts in this book to the one found in McCarthy's "The Road", although this novel is completely different.

If I were capable of looking at this book unbiasedly, I would comment on the successful, but apparent, attempt at a page-turner and the somewhat absurd plot development towards the end, but since I'm not, I'll just say it's worth your time. This is a book, and a feeling, that will stay with me for some time.

Big brother, this is one for you!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review

"The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand
My grade: A-

This is one large project of a book, just to read, nevermind to write. If you don't love literature, don't even attempt to read this novel; you will not succeed. It is incredibly dense and complex, and probably some of the best writing I have ever seen - or, at least, comparable to the best. My only criticism of the writing itself is in the rather predictable and sappy ending, when plot definitely kept me on my toes.

Ayn Rand presents here her unique philosophy, objectivism. She introduces her concept of the ideal man. She has not convinced me of either. Firstly, I would argue that the ideal man is feasible to Rand only because he doesn't actually exist and in her world, there is only one such man. If the world were infested with Howard Roarks, Rand's main man, they would no longer seem all that ideal. In fact, I think most would agree that such a world is not possible. Rand's argument would have been more convincing if she placed Roark in a society full of others just like him and shown how well, if at all, such a society would function, and if a set of each-man-for-himselfs could even be labeled as a society.

Secondly, I believe Rand's argument flies out the window if one is to consider parenthood seriously. I think the majority of people who have children have felt at one point or another what it is like to put him/herself second. It comes as no surprise to me that Rand herself didn't have any children. To proclaim that the proper life philosophy is to pursue one's own happiness at any cost and to serve one's own ego goes against the basic animal instinct to reproduce, an instinct Rand seems to have been missing (ignoring?).

Having said that, I have to admit that I agree with Rand on a number of things. I, too, believe that each man should have the capacity to think for himself and not be led by the opinion of other people, but what to do with people who are lacking in this capacity? Likewise, I agree with her concept of personal integrity, and being able to face yourself in the mirror, although she is far from the first or last writer to focus on this subject.

In general, I believe Rand was a genius of a kind. Were she not, she would have been unable to write this novel, speaking from a literary perspective. I'm not sure how good she is at philosophizing though, mostly because I don't think her theory could hold in the real world.