As I began reading The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway(2008), it seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t place why. I finally figured it out: it reads like a dystopian novel, where people are struggling to survive in an oppressive war environment.
The characters in the book struggle just to get the basic necessities of life, their freedoms have been curtailed, they dream of life in the “good old days,” and snipers wait on the hills, regularly killing civilians as they walk across the street. There is little political explanation, and the reader of the novel feels a bit troubled by the pointlessness of the environment that has been created. We share in the characters’ dismay at the world and ask “why?”.
But of course, Galloway’s novel is not a dystopian fiction but fiction based on a real situation. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a novel of the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted for almost four years from 1992 until 1996. Although Galloway’s novel is a fiction, with a compressed storyline (we never learn in the text when during the siege it takes place, but it’s clear it’s been going on for a while), invented characters, and made-up scenarios, the facts of the siege are reality, and some characters are inspired by real people. Each time I recalled the reality of the recent history this novel describes, the book became all the more shocking and painful to read. (more…)
Yesterday evening I returned home from my classics book club meeting very sad. We read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and when I last read it, I remember wishing I could read and discuss with other classics readers. My classics reading group (last year, a total of four of us) agreed to give it a try this year.
Alas, the people in my group, different people from those who gave input on this years’ books, were nothing but scathing in their thoughts of Mrs Dalloway. It was too much work, there were no chapters, nothing happened, the characters were flat and boring (!). In short, they got nothing out of it.
I can relate to that feeling. I recently read The Red Badge of Courage and felt only joy when it ended because I was not enjoying it at all. But this was particularly hard since I so enjoyed my reread.
This post contains thematic spoilers for Mrs Dalloway.
It is not often that I finish a book and feel nothing positive. I tend to like most of what I read, and even if I don’t like it, I try to find something that sheds light on life in some way.
I struggle now to think of what I could possibly find redeeming in The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1894), a painfully realistic look at a young man in the midst of a Civil War battle. There’s plenty of symbolism for the high school student to find, but I don’t particularly want to read it with that depth. It was quite a blah book for me.
This post, however, will try to give two perspectives: an attempt to portray some of the depth that should possibly give one a reason to like it, and then a brief consideration of the reasons it just didn’t work for me. (more…)
Whenever I read a novel with stunning writing, I am always reminded why I seek novels with great writing to begin with. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (first published 1940) is one such novel. It is deceptively simple in its plot, dialog, and sentence structure. I felt I was there.
For Whom the Bell Tolls drew me into the middle of the Spanish Civil War. I felt the fear of mistrust, the pain of injuries, and a certain degree of hopelessness, as must be present during preparations for an offensive battle. But on top of the magnificent writing, Hemingway gave an insightful look into living life to its fullest for as long as you have to do so. Given its publication just before a major world war, For Whom the Bell Tolls must have resonated strongly with its first readers. (more…)
Sharing just my initial reactions are not enough for War and Peace, given its length and depth. I feel I should think about it some more. I’m ready to do so, now that I’ve let it sit for a week.
I think I needed that week. I have not read much at all this week so far (about 70 pages since I finished War and Peace last Tuesday morning). I’ve organized my thoughts into discussion questions for my book group (which met Wednesday night), and now I’m returning to the novel after a few days where I honestly didn’t think of Tolstoy, the War of 1812, or Napoleon at all.
Revisiting the novel through my initial reaction on finishing it and by reading all of your comments has been beneficial in organizing my afterthoughts. Emily says that when she feels impatience with a book, she slows down and asks herself, “Huh, this is an interesting choice the author is making…wonder what that’s about.” That is exactly what I didn’t want to do for this particular novel, but she’s right. (more…)