Saturday, October 17, 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird - a review

i must say that i like the book. so you can expect the review from me to be a positive one, unlike some of the books that i've reviewed before.

the story is told from a little girl's point of view - Jean Louise Finch, or affectionately known as Scout, the tomboyish daughter of the lawyer in Maycomb, Atticus Finch. what makes this novel appealing is the fact that Harper portrays Atticus Finch as a serious and wise erudite who talks in intellectual English , which rubs on the speech and mannerism of his children. in the novel, it is Atticus who is portrayed as the good man or the "saviour" of the town - a highly respectable man who is educated and yet polite to everybody and who is concerned with equality and justice that in the end he is blind to the facts that Jem is not responsible for the killing of Bob Ewell and is willing to have his son tried -in the name of justice.

the setting is in Maycomb, a small town in the south, in the 30s, after the Depression Era. being the daughter of a prominent lawyer of a respectable family lends Scout the credibility in telling the story as it is - the close-knit neighbourhood with its residents' idiosyncrasies, tabooes and prejudice.

in the beginning the reader is told of the story of Boo Radley being kept in the Radley's house, which both fascinates and scares the children. this leads Scout, her brother Jem and friend Dill to think of exploits, daring each other to go into the compound of the Radleys'. but towards the middle of the story, Boo Radley isn't mentioned anymore and one wonders if Harper is saving him for last, because in telling stories, nothing is ever written by accident (that's why Rushdie took 5 years to write one of his novels).

harper then expertly manoeveurs the storytelling into presenting the neighbours - the town's gossip Miss Crenshaw, Miss Maudie, who loves baking and always has a cake for the children as well as gardening. she is the one responsible for telling the children how their father was like in his youth, thus elevating their high regards for him.

through the portrayal of Scout and Jem, we see the conflicts faced by them as children of a noted lawyer - to defend the father by involving in fights, or to hold their heads high as to not embarrass their father. this is even evident in Scout, as a tomboy she receives much pressure to become a lady from her auntie alexandra who accuses atticus finch of not raising his children properly. before their aunt decides to stay with them, Calpurnia, the black american helper, helps to raise them and teaches them how to read. thus, we see the children having a few mother figures, but only one father figure, the father whom they are proud of and really respect. although, i must admit that by having the children address the father by his first name, Harper succeeds in creating an interest in the reader.

the bigger issue being discussed is the issue of racism - especially so in the south. the black Christians have separate churches, just as they have separate seats in court, and uses pidginised English when talking among themselves, as noted by Scout. later, when Atticus is appointed as attorney to Tom Robbinson, the black american who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell. before the trial, the children are subjected to jeers by their school friends who accuse their father of being "nigger-lover". although the Ewells are known as the uneducated and poor, and although facts have been established that tom did not rape her, the jury decided to charge him guilty because of his skin colour:

"Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robbinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed" (Harper 266).

Harper uses Scout to bring to the readers' attention of how curious and odd a person's perception or prejudice is. Scout tells Jem of how Miss Gates (their teacher) can condemn Hitler's hatred towards Jews and yet she is still prejudiced about the blacks : "... how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home -?" (Harper 272).

just as i suspected, Harper saves Boo Radley for last. it is Boo Radley who saves the children from being killed by Bob Ewell.

and so, why the title?

when Atticus presents the children with rifles for their Christmas gifts, he tells them "shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (Harper 99). metaphorically, a mockingbird refers to good honest people. in this story, the mockingbird is epitomised by Tom Robinson, who is falsely and unjustly accused.

a well-planned, well-constructed, well-written novel.

thumbs up.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sense & Sensibility

this is not a new book, i grant you, but Austen's novels are rich of characters that you love and hate, and they come alive in the book, to portray life as it is in the 19th century England. i was inspired to read all Austen novels after watching the Austen Book Club.

this is the third novel that i read by Austen, the first being Pride and Prejudice (duh! haha...almost everybody who reads Austen starts with this novel) and the second is Emma (of which i had to study for my 19th century literature class). although i enjoyed the two novels, i can't say the same about the third novel. i saw the movie first before reading the novel, so it was a shock to find some alterations. i dont really like elinor dashwood, i think she's too reserved and cold (sorry miss austen, hehehe...) but at least Miss Lucy Steele is portrayed as someone that i really love to hate. of all the Austen heroines, i prefer Elizabeth Bennet and Emma, because they enjoy life.

i'm not going to elaborate much, since i didn't really enjoy this novel. hope the next one will fare better.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie: a review

finally after almost 3 months of reading, i khatamed the book last night. this Booker Prize shortlisted book is a far cry from what Rushdie usually wrote - and i was dumbfounded for the first few pages.

yes, dumbfounded.

Rushdie always likes to write about India, and also secularism and cultural hybridity, which makes the utopian Indian society. this is evident in Shame, The Moor's Last Sigh and his Booker of the Booker Prize, Midnight's Children.

in The Moor's Last Sigh, there is a part when he goes back in time and tells the tale of the fallen Moorish king who lost the last Islamic enclave - Alhambra. this going back into the past is the main thrust in The Enchantress of Florence - as he marries the story of the Florentine Argalia the Turk to the story of the Mughal princess. the marriage results in an almost fairytale like story, with magic realism woven into it. i'm surprised to find that the epic narrative effect is almost like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's in his 100 Days of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. however, Rushdie uses the setting of the Mughal empire, thus anchoring the novel to the history of India and also Rushdie's past.

Rushdie's idea of hybridity is still evident when he talks abt unrootedness and about losing one's identity as one travels in his character the Princess Qara Koz or Angelica. she discards her identity when she changes her lover, thus creating a palimpsest of identities which is peeled layer by layer when the identity is not wanted anymore. in her journey at the Ocean Sea of Mundus Novus, this losing of identity also blurs the distinction between what is real and what is unreal, what is past and what is the present.

it's becoming rather complex, isnt it? this novel will be a good study for literary scholars who delve into narratology, culture and the study of identity.

i think this is Rushdie's experiment which ends up resembling Marquez's work, i hardly recognised his style had it not been for the "uprootedness" and the small piece of explanation of theories which he likes to add in his novels. i miss his witticism and humour which he shows in his past work.

my feelings for his latest work is mixed - disappointment and also the struggle to accept his new style of narrative.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Love in the Time of Cholera - a review

this book was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a writer who was once a Nobel prize winner, and this is the 2nd book by him that i read. the first was 100 Years in Solitude.

this book celebrates love, especially an enduring and everlasting love that lasts half a century. of course, when i first read the pages when Florentino, who's so much in love with Fermina that he falls sick and keeps on chewing flowers (that's magic realism for you) and then has his heart broken when Fermina returns after a sojourn and tells him it's over, i cried. yes, remember i'm a sucker for romance.

but having said that, i must say that reading about the 2 protagonists' lives before they are reunited, i would say that i prefer Fermina's life, because it's stable. she leads a respectable married life. i feel sorry for Florentino at first, but after Marquez wrote about the fourth mistress that he meets, i just get disgusted. i mean, come on...this guy is in love with the idea of love!

and just because the love of his life's hubby dies, he drops all his mistresses and tries hard to woo his ex fiancee back.

talk about being an opportunist.

i'm sorry, mr marquez. but i really hate your hero. i wish he has more guts. or are you trying to turn him into a Casanova?

having said that, however, i do admire Marquez's writing, because for me he is a good storyteller, and is now another favourite writer of mine, aside from Salman Rushdie.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The White Tiger : a review

this book is penned by Aravind Adiga, who is in fact, a year my junior and is an Oxford grad. it's kind of refreshing to see a younger face as the winner of the Booker Prize.

the structure of the novel is of a letter penned by the protagonist himself in the course of 7 nights to a Chinese diplomat. it is nothing extraordinary as various authors such as Mary Shelley have used such in their novels.

although like the rest of the Indian writers who won the Booker Prize (which includes my favourite Salman Rushdie) he wrote about India, Adiga has a distinctive way of presenting India to the readers - a tale of a corrupted India told by a surprisingly honest corrupted "entrepreneur" who thinks killing his employer is a virtue. and a selfish tut!, i might add. yes, it did shock me, because it is not like Rushdie's celebration of a colourful and vibrant India, Adiga addresses the true nature of men - of finding morality in every deed we do, including murder, in order to become a man.

but in the end, we see the protagonist mellowing down, having tasted success.

what do i think of the book? an okay book, although Indians are portrayed in a different way this time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fahrenheit 451

this is a required reading for those taking literature in english 2205. fortunately for my students, i have decided to use Holes by Louis Sachar in my teaching. but unfortunately for me, i have to read all the texts in the current cycle for literature in english.

last year, the literature in english teachers had to watch the movie version of this novel. i slept. so you can just imagine the dread i felt when i had to read the book.

it's supposed to be a science fiction. setting: somewhere in the US (as usual), sometime in the future, when firemen do not put out fire, but actually start a fire on the house of those who misbehave by hiding books. so it's a story of ignorance and the quest for enlightenment and knowledge.

nice concept, but not a smart way to write.

Ray Bradbury is poetic. i can see that in the diction he uses. however, it is well-suited for a more genteel? type of genre. science fiction requires hard facts. the coldness and the precision of the language. but not the artsy, flowery, poetic language.

oh, just to tell you. i slept twice just to read 24 pages. in the matter of 2 days!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sea of Poppies: a review

this is another book shortlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize. written by Amitav Ghosh, the story is about a schooner bound to Mauritius - and the lives of the people who, by destiny, became the crew and passengers of the ship Ibis.

the story could have been well-understood if the the writer didnt resort to many Hindustani words as well as pidgin language used by the sailors. i think the overuse of the words killed the effect. i had expected to be familiar with the words as i went along, but there are too many foreign words. having said that, however, i salute Ghosh for using a lot of dialects, and also portraying the difficulty faced by Paulette Lambert, as she struggled in using English, thus making the struggle in the using other languages other than the native language more authentic.

however, Ghosh did a good job in portraying the suffering of the characters. the cruelty bestowed by the colonisers upon the colonised was well-portrayed, as i cringed when i read about the punishment the convicts had to endure.

however, i think that the story ended too abruptly, i feel that the story is unfinished. i'd give this book 7 out of 10.