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.

Review | Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

GHOST WARS by Steve Coll

Ghost Wars provides an extensive history of the “War on Terrorism,” outlining all the mistakes CIA and the American government has made and how they’ve ignored the results of their own decisions. But while this is a good non-fiction book I would recommend everyone read, a surprising amount of information in here is not very eye-opening.

I guess I have the men in my family to thank for discussing politics during those summer vacations and days-long visits where the women would be in part of the living room and the men on the other. I never found petty gossip about other women as compelling as petty gossip about politicians so I often peaked into my uncles’ conversations and because of that, a lot of earlier information in Ghost Wars had already been made aware to me via the conversations they had. Particularly the relationship between Pakistan-US and Pakistan-India. Depressing but intense.

But despite that, Ghost Wars is a small treasury of lots of new information (names, events, organizations) that I was not familiar with. While I never attempted to memorize all of it, the relationship between certain countries and how they mutated over the years did shed a lot of light on the on-going politics today.

Overall, this was a fulfilling experience but also one that makes me crave more. While I am now satisfied with knowing the origins of al-Qaeda, the rise of ISIS has peaked my curiosity as what America has been doing in the Middle-east with Israel and Palestine nowadays. Growing up in America, I was constantly encouraged to stroke the American ego by blinding myself to all else but thanks to white, racist America, I learned fairly quickly America is not the paradise it claims to be. It is the round-bellied, morbidly obese, utterly revolting, white bully I met in high school. Ignorant of all else but what it wants, willing to step over as many foreign lives as it takes as long they’re making money over it. Ah Capitalism! Thou art such a fucking bitch.

I would recommend this to people who genuinely want to learn the truth about current affairs. If you are incredibly patriotic to the point where you blind yourself to all the negative side of America (or any country really), this is not the book for you. If you are easily offended by religious beliefs and how they play into politics, this is not the book for you. Read this with an open mind and you’ll learn a lot about this world.

Yours truly,
An incredibly cynical pessimist who has no sense of patriotism (to any body or country), no religious beliefs, and no faith what-so-bloody-ever in humanity.

Rating – ★★★★☆

Review | The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

THE WOMAN WARRIOR by Maxine Hong Kingston

After experiencing Kingston’s writing in China Men two months back, when I saw the opportunity to read The Woman Warrior next, I was excited to begin reading. The premise of China Men didn’t appeal to me as much and, perhaps because of that, it was slightly boring for me, but The Woman Warrior was a much better read now that I knew what to expect from Kingston.

The Woman Warrior does what China Men did best, which is to blend and fuse fact with fiction with an expertise I’ve only experienced in Kingston’s novels. While the effect of her writing is not as potent as it was in China Men, I still loved her for breathing fiction into reality. It just makes for a better reading experience, it makes reality better.

Another aspect I thought was enjoyable was the intertextuality of the memoir. At several points in this book, we get to see her refer to characters we’ve already met in China Men and I felt more comfortable to have already been familiar with some of Kingston’s other relatives; to have already read some of their stories in China Men. I’m not sure which one was meant to be read first in this case, but I felt more comfortable with Kingston’s storytelling having already known her as a novelist.

What I was uncomfortable with in this book, though, are her assumptions about Chinese as a whole despite herself having only half a Chinese experience. As someone who was born in India but raised in America, while I do (unfortunately) have to lump together a lot of assumptions about Indians via my own experiences, I do comprehend that not all Indians are the same and I cannot judge one person based on my conversations with another. At times Kingston, maybe simply for convenience, merges all Chinese together with certain attributes and I’m a bit doubtful of this approach. Is she simply assuming we’ll know better even though she doesn’t explicitly say so? Or is she really merging all Chinese together based on her own experiences (good or bad)?

This is something that keeps me thinking because at times, her “moral of the story” is clearly illustrating how we often forget about the places we come from and why there’s a problem with this, but then in other moments, she just outright says something along the lines of “Chinese men…Chinese women…Chinese schools…” and a lot of generalizing occurs here. I noticed she also did this a bit in China Men and I’m aware that she’s also been accused of rewriting Chinese mythology without ever having gone to China in the first place. While I can see why she plays with certain elements and stereotypes in China Men, since it’s tagged as mostly fictional, in The Woman Warrior however—a memoir, or so it is labeled—, it’s a bit unsettling.

Regardless I can’t say this was not an enjoyable read. I would recommend it if you want to learn a bit more about the Chinese-American experience in an impressive writing style.

Rating – ★★★★☆

Review | Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak was a surprisingly fun and adventurous read. The setting and dialogue were unexpected, as I’ve never read a book which takes places at the turn of the century in North Carolina before, but it seems suitable with the spookiness of the plot much more than I would’ve thought. This is why Historical Children’s Fantasy is the best sort of genre to pick from for easy reads.

Beatty’s writing is constructed to really set you in the mood for this book. Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t expecting this novel to take place in early 20th century in North Carolina but the writing does a excellent job of designing the environment to fit the story. I noticed he used a lot of regional dialect which is a nice touch alongside the character dialogue that often portray characters as having a heavy Southern accent. It didn’t take a lot of imagination on my part to bring these characters to life in my head as I read along.

Serafina is an good-natured, amiable character. She’s curious, adventurous, and a perfect protagonist for the story. I liked her a lot. While she’s still growing and learning about newer and stranger things in the world, you can see that she has a long way to go. I’m not sure if this book is a standalone or will eventually be made a series but I would love to hear more stories from her life. I thought for sure that the mystery of her origin would be drawn out and that there would other books to look forward but I have doubts after finishing the book and receiving a clean ending. I must add though, I never would’ve guessed who her mother was—that part completely took me by surprise!

There was a section towards the beginning to the middle of the book that sort of felt slow to me. It wasn’t so much that nothing really happened in this section but that there was a lot of repetition in Serafina just walking around and stumbling upon things which became boring to read about. After I pushed through that phase, I’d wished that maybe some parts of what happened there could’ve taken place in one or two different settings just to shake things up a bit.

Nevertheless, Serafina and the Black Cloak was a thoroughly entertaining, engaging read. If you enjoy children’s fantasy with a good adventure and solid writing, this will not disappoint.

Rating – ★★★★☆

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.

20 Books in the Summer!

20 BOOKS IN THE SUMMER!

Hello lovely friends,

Cathy over at Cathy746books is hosting a read-a-long of summer reading (click here for the original post). The purpose of this project is for readers to select 20 books to read from here onwards until the end of September. While my entire TBR for the month of June has been laid out for me (via participation in various other projects), I thought it would be great to target some other books on my shelves and get reading in July, August, and September! 20 books in three month? I can do that! I read 22 books in May so 20 is completely doable! So here are my 20 planned books for the summer (including some of the buddy reads I’d already planned):

  1. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. The Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters
  3. Despair by Vladimir Nabokov
  4. The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  5. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  6. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (buddy read)
  7. Imago by Octavia E. Butler
  8. The Piano Lesson by August Wilson
  9. A Solider’s Play by Charles Fuller
  10. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (buddy read)
  11. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (buddy read)
  12. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (buddy read)
  13. The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman (buddy read)
  14. Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan (buddy read)
  15. The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott (buddy read)
  16. Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant (buddy read)
  17. Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson (buddy read)
  18. The Vorrh by Brian Caitling (buddy read)
  19. The Observations by Jane Harris (buddy read)
  20. The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai (buddy read)

If you’re participating or would like to, please link me to your TBRs!

Have a great day,
Cheers!