Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review

"Faust" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
My grade: A- and impossible

Firstly, let me explain my grading. I really have to separate my grades for Part I and Part II of the tragedy; as can already be deciphered, I belong to the camp that claims that each part can really stand on its own, rather than each being only one part of the whole. Therefore, my grading can be understood as so: A- for Part I, and impossible for Part II.

For those of you who don't know, "Faust" deals with the age-old tale of one man making a deal with the devil. And while the first part is relatively easy to follow, although I would argue definitely tied down to an outdated place and time, Part II deals primarily with allegories and classic mythology. To understand the second part, one definitely has to be well-versed in the mythological world, which I am not. Additionally, the second part definitely leaves the world of people, and becomes completely submersed in the world of spirits, both literally and figuratively-speaking.

What I also found very interesting in the first part is to see just to what extent Bulgakov borrowed from and was influenced by this work when composing "Master and Margarita". It would perhaps be interesting to read the two books back to back; starting with "Faust, Part I" and moving on to Bulgakov.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review

"The Calligrapher's Daughter" by Eugenia Kim
My grade: A

Although it took me time to get into this book, the final absorption was complete and long-lasting. I cannot shake off the images and the emotions this book has unearthed. It is a beautifully-told story about a woman growing up in Korea, starting in 1915 and spanning all the way to 1945. Although mostly fiction, the story is inspired by the life of the author's mother.

The details of people's lives, described in the book, are often unbelievable and always uncustomary in our western ideals. Kim defines piety and filial respect through the actions displayed, and puts into context a life entirely removed from present-day. Aside from the actual content of the novel, Kim is an amazing storyteller and writer! Truly poetic prose, even when describing terribly gruesome circumstances.

The only thing I didn't really like about this book was the central (and important) theme of Christianity. I felt it was overdone, and yet (or perhaps especially due to the fact that) I felt like the purpose of religion here was not to sway the reader in any direction, but rather portray how important religion was in the lives of these people.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review

"the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" by Mark Haddon
My grade: B-

My grade is based largely on the fact that I found this book boring, which is a terrible thing for a book to be. Especially a book of this kind, which has a very interesting concept to it. This is a fiction novel, narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy. And while his perspective, habits and way of thinking are interesting and new, the book gets old quite quickly. I somehow had the feeling that it would have more success with a younger audience, for example school-aged kids, although technically this book is aimed at adults.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review

"Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
My grade: A

It will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with Murakami's work when I say that he is somehow not of this world. And I mean that in a good way. I am not aware of another writer, who is better capable of creating such an outrageous world, with such conviction, profoundness and confidence. This is definitely a writer, from whom much can be learned, both about writing and life.

In some ways, this novel reminds me of "The End of Mr. Y". Both deal with a second reality lair inside people's heads and call forth knowledge of physics that is beyond me. Nonetheless, this was a very interesting book, to say the least and well worth the effort.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review

"The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner
My grade: B

This is the true story of one man's quest for happiness. He takes you on a canny, and mostly amusing, tour of the world, as he seeks to find what makes some cultures happy and others just the opposite. He provides interesting, and often funny, insights into different peoples and their land.

In general, though, I would say this wasn't much of an eye opener for me. It's true, I wasn't exactly struggling with my unhappiness; I firmly believe I know where it comes from, and have it in grip (I firmly believe that). I found it interesting, nonetheless, to meet some of these cultures from Weiner's perspective, and will perhaps take a lesson or two from his conclusions.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Review

"Flying Leap: Stories" by Judy Budnitz
My grade: A-

This is a compilation of short stories, some of which are absolutely amazing. Budnitz seems to have a fascination with starting with something common and normal, and slowly (or sometimes quickly) warping it into something outrageous. She occasionally touches on something so profound, so fundamental, before leaping away from it, I would really love to read a deeper analysis (from her) on some of these topics. A very good read.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
My grade: C

Generally, I have to say this book is well-written. But good writing alone doesn't equal worthwhile reading. This novel makes no point whatsoever; at least, I didn't get one. It describes an America of the 40s, which is entirely unrecognizable to me, although perhaps nonetheless accurate. There is a huge lack of morality in virtually all of the events that take place, although the author seems to neither praise nor judge it, nor really comment on it one way or another. Additionally, due to the repetitiveness of the events, the book gets quite boring at some point, and getting through it became a feat of its own for me.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Book Review

"Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall" by Anna Funder
My grade: B

As a lot of you probably guessed, this book is about East Germany, and what took place there. Funder is a reporter, and carries out various investigations into the goings on of the GDR, obviously after the fall of the wall. She definitely provides a clear and honest lens into yet another dark time in Germany, and if you are not much familiar with what took place east of the wall, this is a good book to read.

Having said that, two things were lacking in this book for me, and technically they are tied in together. Probably due to Funder's journalistic background, she often times in the book doesn't make a statement and doesn't take sides, when I wish she would. Likewise, her reporting is often just that, reporting; I'm missing some emotion, although I wouldn't say this book is void of that altogether.