Review | Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

BONJOUR TRISTESSE by Françoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse is one of those books that, while it’s quick and easy to read, generates a lot of contemplation.

Cécile, our narrator, is perhaps one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read about. She is a seventeen-year-old overindulgent, pampered child of a father who lives in his own life rather carefree. One summer vacation, Cécile’s life is interrupted by a blast from their past and things take a turn for the worse. It doesn’t help that this story is recounted by her adult self and the tone she takes clearly lacks of any empathy towards the troublesome decisions she’s made in her younger years.

Though Cécile’s unchecked attitude causes a lot of trouble in the story, the blame is to be equally placed with her father, Raymond. While he’s a quiet figure and doesn’t often get a voice—certainly not as much as the women, even Elsa and Anne—the way he’s raised Cécile is deeply problematic. He seems to dangle back and forth between what what makes everyone happy and what would be the right thing given the circumstance. Neither need be exclusive but at times they are.

The writing style works well with the narrative of the book. The fact that this story is actually told in flashback adds more to Cécile’s character and gives us a chance to observe the aftereffects of the events which take place in the book. It equally adds to our aversion of Cécile but at the same time, also emphasizes the negative consequences of being too frivolous with one’s decisions.

The ending is a bit problematic for me because it felt unnecessary to deal with the conflict between Anne and Cécile this way. I also had to question the morality of Cécile and Raymond with how irreverently they seemed to have dealt with the situation at the end. This ties back in to how the adult Cécile is looking back on her younger years and still doesn’t seem to think much of how much her actions has cost others.

Not a book meant for everyone but a satisfying read if you are comfortable with unlikable characters. It lays somewhere between a two- and three-star read.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Non-Review Review | Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

Like every other American, I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school but unlike everyone else, I merely thought of it as “good” book—not excellent, nor extraordinary. So I had minimal expectations of Go Set a Watchman and that was perhaps the best way to approach this book.

Some readers will be highly disappointed, some will be angry, and I imagine those who enjoy it will be the minority (rightly so). I have never cared much for Atticus as a probable role model for the society so no, I didn’t find myself utterly heartbroken to see his character devolve so greatly. In terms of writing and character development, I didn’t consider To Kill a Mockingbird anywhere near a masterpiece, other then the historical value it retains even today.

So yes, I did always believe that To Kill a Mockingbird was somewhat overrated and so of course, I did not expect much out of Go Set a Watchman. And I wasn’t enriched by much when I began reading either. All the characters have gone to hell and the writing is, once again, impassive and uninspiring. For the majority of the book, I could only find Jean somewhat relatable but even by the end, I quit caring for her. The most disappointing end to what was once a really great tale of its time…

I’d rather not go any further than that in sharing my opinion so I’ll leave it at that. I’m not sure how much my review would appreciated in this case anyway. I am still mulling over certain parts of the book but for now, I’ll leave it at two-stars.

On a final note, I also realize that there is a lot of controversy over the publication of this book and my thoughts on that are as follows: whether or not you are satisfied with how this book was published, guess what? It’s already published. And most likely would have been published after Lee’s death so…get over it. It’s here. Read it if you like, don’t if you don’t want to. I could go on to point out many more ethically immoral things the publication industry (and authors themselves) have done so it’s easier to just go with it honestly.

Rating – ★★☆☆☆

Review | Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Seeing as how I’ve had difficulties with short story collections in the past, I decided to read this particular collection in bits and pieces. The experience was quite unique but satisfying in the end. It seems short stories really do work best in short time periods.

I’ve been wanting to try Nalo Hopkinson was a really long time now and somehow have never been able to locate her works in bookshops. So obviously when I saw this one up for review on NetGalley, I pounced on it immediately. It took a while to get through as I’ve mentioned but I was quite impressed by some of the stories in this collection.

Like any short story/anthology collection, this one was quite varied in its themes, narrations, and the reactions it wangled from me. There were some stories in here which were awe-inspiring but then there were some I could barely get through, despite each of them just being short stories. It’s a very strange blend — I had so much appreciation for some, but then so much dislike for some others.

What I actually thought was the most impressive part of this collection is the little introduction Hopkinson provides in the beginning of each story. Because short stories are such microscopic, abstract narratives, having insight into the thought process of the writer penning them brought about a whole new dimension to the product. Not always, but often her introductions would set the stories perfectly into the “big picture” she was trying to emulate via her storytelling. Absolutely adored the creativity.

Other wonderful elements Hopkinson plays around with are allusions, literary references, and at times, what seemed to me, an attempt to retell a popular story or myth. This was both entertaining and frustrating. Frustrating because there was a story introduced with a connection to The Tempest and another which is inspired by Goblin Market and while I loved that she drew inspirations from these, as someone who’s read Goblin Market but not The Tempest, I was unsure how much I really like this technique. Obviously I’m missing out on some another layer of symbolism by not having read The Tempest, especially since I understood her story relating to Goblin Market more because I was already familiar with the poem.

In the end, I had some mixed reactions throughout my reading experience. Some incredibly thought-proving titles often lead to an undermining of the story and sometimes the simplistic ones caught my attention the most. Some predictable; some not. I also wasn’t a fan of the second person point-of-view perspective. While at times it can be exceptionally affective, I just have the hardest time with it.

I would recommend this to someone simply wanting to try a SFF short story collection for the first time, but am not sure how much this would appeal to more experienced readers as clearly this is a very diverse bag of narratives.

Disclaimer – A copy of this ebook was provided by NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced by any exterior motives.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Review | Blues for Mister Charlie by James Baldwin

BLUES FOR MISTER CHARLIE by James Baldwin

A play inspired by the story of Emmett Till, I knew this would be a rough read but underestimated by how much. For majority of the play, Baldwin had me convinced that the story wouldn’t play out the way Till’s story did but in the end, it shook me completely to realize just how indifferent the world really is.

In his introduction, Baldwin tells us:

The plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship.

The play opens with the death of Richard Henry, a Southern-born, African-American man, the son of Reverend Henry, who had just returned from the North with a colorful past of his own. At first, the list of characters is overwhelming but Baldwin does an excellent job of setting the characters apart fairly early on. Each character is easily established with individual personalities and despite the numerous characters, it is incredibly easy to keep track of everyone without getting lost.

Parnell and Meridian were probably my favorite characters of this play. Parnell, a white journalist, is trying to be fair and just but is torn between the white and black town. He wants to believe that Lyle has not killed the black minister’s son and yet, he has a history. He clearly fights more for equality then he does for justice, even though he seems to say he wants justice as it is rightly served. Justice requires reparations, equality requires letting go of centuries worth of oppression—a hard thing to ask of from any race. You cannot have equality without serving justice where it is due first. One cannot expect a black man/woman to forget the treatment of their ancestors until whites have acknowledge the centuries worth of torture, rape, murder, suppression, and absolute and utter humiliation their ancestors have caused.

Meridian, a black Christian minister, is another character that is torn between his faith and the reality. By the end of the play, he sees the light which has blinded him for long. My favorite passages comes from his character:

I’m a Christian. I’ve been a Christian all my life, like my Mama and Daddy before me and like their Mama and Daddy before them. Of course, if you go back far enough, you get to a point before Christ, if you see what I mean, B.C.— and at that point, I’ve been thinking, black people weren’t raised to turn the other cheek, and in the hope of heaven. No, then they didn’t have to take low. Before Christ. They walked around just as good as anybody else, and when they died, they didn’t go to heaven, they went to join their ancestors. My son’s dead, but he’s not gone to join his ancestors. He was a sinner, so he must have gone to hell— if we’re going to believe what the Bible says. Is that such an improvement, such a mighty advance over B.C.? I’ve been thinking, I’ve had to think— would I have been such a Christian if I hadn’t been born black? Maybe I had to become a Christian in order to have any dignity at all. Since I wasn’t a man in men’s eyes, then I could be a man in the eyes of God. But that didn’t protect my wife. She’s dead, too soon, we don’t really know how. That didn’t protect my son— he’s dead, we know how too well. That hasn’t changed this town— this town, where you couldn’t find a white Christian at high noon on Sunday! The eyes of God— maybe those eyes are blind— I never let myself think of that before.

Brilliant and the most potent description of African-American Christianity I have ever read. Christianity has always attempted to be the “savior” of people but it has brought more misery to the black population of America than anything else. It is also clear to establish that these are words from Baldwin’s own mouth.

I am still not sure of the connections between Juanita and Parnell, Juanita and Meridian, Juanita and Richard, and Juanita and Pete. It seems like Baldwin wanted to do something important with Juanita’s character but he might have been confused as to what. But still, overall, this was an intense and thoroughly satisfying play.

Rating – ★★★★☆

Review | Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters – Spoilers!

TIPPING THE VELVET by Sarah Waters

This is a helluva lot darker read than I expected it to be. And while it’s still a very well-written, well-thought out book, at times it’s a bit rocky. This was Waters’ first novel and despite the success that it is, I am certainly more appreciative of her later works. Still, as a Waters’ fan, this is not a novel to be missed.

Tipping the Velvet reads mostly like a coming-of-age story and that’s what might have tripped me up the most. Both The Little Stranger and Fingersmith read as mysteries, completely gripping page-turners but Tipping the Velvet is a slow-burner in the old-fashioned sense. This is a book where you really have to attach yourself to the characters to be interested. The story itself doesn’t hold a lot of comfort if you do not like our protagonist, Nancy. And it certainly took me a while to connect with Nancy (Nan).

I don’t know why it took so long for me to connect with Nan except that I was coming from a high that was The Luminaries, but by the end of this book, I really liked her. She is quite a complex character but bearing through those tough times when I had question the expectancy of her survival, I realized she has to deal with a lot of shit. Admittedly, how she deals with her kin is a little troubling but seeing as how heartbroken she was in the beginning, I kind of understand her pain.

My favorite characters in the book, no doubt, would be Florence and Ralph. Though I do realize that Ralph doesn’t really have much of a role, I just thought it was unbelievably encouraging of him to support Flo through all her decisions. I briefly wondered whether he was gay or not but either way, he’s just one of the few nicer characters that didn’t make me dubious over his intentions. Kitty, on the other hand, I never cared for from the beginning. At first I thought perhaps I was just being grumpy but, well, I wasn’t exactly wrong so no, I was not in the wrong as she really did turn out to be the bitch I thought she might be.

There are some really rough parts in this novel that did make a little bit more uncomfortable than I would’ve preferred. While there are some disturbing scenes to experience in Fingersmith too, some of the sexual content of this book is a little too out of my comfort zone. I’m used to Chick-Lit and even Erotica where the sex is supposed to arouse you (though most of the time it just amuses me) but in Tipping the Velvet, it made me squirm like I never have before. Waters’ certainly knows how to write some sexy scenes but given Nan’s position in some places, it was not easy to bear witness to these things.

I did feel like everything wraps a little too nicely in the end but at the same time, I am not going to complain terribly about it. It was a good, rich plot with interesting characters and as always, Waters is the queen of historical fiction. (It’s just a really nice coincidence that she writes about lesbians too.)

Rating – ★★★★☆

Translating Literature

Hello lovely humans,

I am here today to talk about something a bit different than my usual reviews. Today, I want to talk about language. Specifically, the English langue which we all know and love.

After coming across a translation software company by the name of Smartling, I started pondering about the importance of language for all of us. I compared such an immersive, substantial software to something more within my grasp (by which I mean free of course), such as Google, and began thinking about all the horrible mishaps Google translations have lead me into. And it all lead me into writing this post—a thought on how important it is for the literature we all love to be translated appropriated to it’s author ambitions.

Most of us who are avid readers of classical English literature comprehend the importance of the English language and what it means to us. It is the reason why we love reading, why we are encouraged to think critically, and it’s often how we challenge the norms of society. So what happens with our beloved words when they get translated? Can we only hope that readers across the borders are at least enjoying the stories we did? Or do we want to them to appreciate the English language for all it has to offer?

Take, for example, a book such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is a well-loved, well-cherished book which holds the hearts of millions of readers across the globe. But if you had to translate this masterpiece into another language, any language, how would you go about approaching such a task? Is the language important or is the story? How well can you balance the two?

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What we love about Jane Austen is not her ability to write and publish a novel in the early 18th century, but her capability of fully utilizing the English language and forming works with stories which remain everlasting but also the contrivance of wit and perception into her observations of the 18th century society and culture. If a work such as Pride and Prejudice is to be translated into another language, Austen’s language is at the heart of her work. If one cannot appreciate Austen’s language, one cannot even come close to understanding Elizabeth Bennet’s brilliance and virtue. This domino effect eventually leads to the failure of understanding why Pride and Prejudice is important to the Western world, why we love and adore Elizabeth Bennett. Without the nuances of pride, prejudices, and sarcasm spread amidst the landscape of Pride and Prejudice, it will fail to help non-English readers understand why Austen is important to us.

So is language important? I would say it is. While I certainly believe it’s a balance between the language and the story, without understanding the core meanings of the English language itself, one cannot understand it’s cultural evolution and distinctions as well as we would hope. Lost in translation would be the sarcasm, the challenges, the wit, and the care with which writers such as Jane Austen have proudly produced their work—and how we’ve happily treasured them in our hearts.

And here I am discussing someone such as Jane Austen but think of what could be lost if someone such as William Shakespeare were to be translated into a foreign language without a care about his language? Shakespeare is admired and revered in Western culture because of his unique, distinctive approach to English and if it were not for that, we would not have what I think of some of the most wonderful pieces of literature ever composed. Communication is what binds most human experiences and helps improve our shelves. It is a wholly immersive and an absolutely remarkable experience that needs to handle with care. One cannot understand the Shakespearean tragedy without the pain which underlines King Lear’s sorrows, or Juliet’s loss, or Lady Macbeth’s greed and her husband’s downfall.

So what are your thoughts on the matter? How would you approach a translation? Is the language important or is the story? What would you consider the most important element of translating something like Pride and Prejudice?

Yamini

Review | When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL by Marc Turner

When the Heavens Fall reads a lot like most fantasies do, which is both good and bad. Good because it’s a fun read while you’re at it, interesting and unique enough that you’re enjoying it while you’re in the book. But also disappointing because it really isn’t anything different from what a lot of other fantasy books have to offer. That is, while it clearly has it’s own story, characters, and world, it doesn’t manage to stand out on it’s own. It’s unique but not anything fresh or innovative.

Having said that, I am aware of the fact that this is the author’s debut novel and I do realize it’s only the beginning of a series. So while I made my way through this at a reasonable pace, if I do pick up the next installment in the series, I’m definitely hoping for more excitement. What I can say was more enjoyable was that the author offers more than one perspective in the story. A lot of the other fantasy I’ve read either just follows first person or opt out for third person omniscient. With this one, you get a lot of voices with their own stories so that aspect is a bit more filling in this book than in some other fantasies. At times, I was also reminded somewhat of The Way of Kings, but mostly in that we get more than one perspective.

I also enjoyed that we are required to learn about the fantasy world more via conversations and as the story moves along rather than major sections of info-dump where the authors pauses to explain the history of one thing or another. Sanderson does have a habit of dragging things out and while at times When the Heavens Fall did slow down for me, I don’t think it necessarily drags at any point.

Because I read this on audiobook, I must also point out that while the narrator—Oliver Wyman—does an excellent job at the voices, the narration of regular passages did seem a tad tedious. It often felt like he was narrating the book with his head down and his voice seemed a bit stifled. I’m speculating about this of course, but I just thought it strange that he does the character voices with such expertise but then I would have so much trouble concentrating on the regular, non-dialogue text. If I had to rate the narration separately, I would give it a four stars.

I would recommend this if you’re just looking for an easy fantasy read. If you want something wholly unique and original, this probably doesn’t have a lot which will impress you (especially if you’re a avid fantasy reader). But it’s a good read nonetheless and if I come across the next book in the series, I would love to give it a read.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Disclaimer – A copy of this audiobook was provided by Audible in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced by any exterior motives.