My grandfather was born in Hreljin in 1923, when it was Yugoslavia and in what is now Croatia. When I heard about Yugoslavian Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina, I had hoped for a glimpse of what life was like in my ancestor’s homeland during a tumultuous time. Although my grandfather’s home

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Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad is considered by many to be one of the best novels written in the English language, a fact made all the more remarkable to me by the fact that Joseph Conrad wrote in not his first or second language but his third language, a language he learned after

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Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 (written maybe 1588 or 1592, possibly revised 1594) dramatizes the beginning of the War of Roses (which lasted from 1455 to 1485). It portrays the animosity between the leaders of the House of York and the leaders of the House of Lancaster as they bickered amongst each other for power,

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I have not read many gothic novels. The only one I’ve read is Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, which I was not a fan of (thoughts here). Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (first published 1831) seemed far above The Monk in terms of quality. In addition to the better writing, there was the symbolic centrality

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Summer by Edith Wharton (published 1917) is a short novella about a young woman searching for her place. In some places, it’s been cited as Wharton’s most “erotic” work1. Charity Royall does come to her own sexual awakening over the course of a summer, but Wharton writes about Charity’s choices without too much sexual reference.

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The three plays by Tennessee Williams that I’ve read in the past few weeks all dealt with loneliness, the fragility of dreams, and the masks we all wear as we go through life. Given these themes, it’s no wonder a thread of discontent and depression seemed a hallmark of Williams plays. But add a stupendous

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Although I don’t think her debut novel is necessarily as polished as her later novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stunned me with her perfectly crafted story in Purple Hibiscus (published 2003). It’s full of symbolism, but the touching story of a girl coming to terms with life in general (her abusive

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John Milton is much smarter than I am. Reading Paradise Lost, I haven’t felt that lost because I’m familiar with the general religious traditions he’s talking about. There are “pagan” traditions mentioned too, but I haven’t felt lost, and footnotes help. Reading Milton’s early writings is a different story. I feel like he’s purposely trying

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In The Masterpiece, Zola captures the pain of creation, as he claimed himself: I want to depict the artists’ struggle with reality, the sheer effort of creation which goes into every work of art, the blood and tears involved in giving one’s flesh, in trying to make something that lives.  (Introduction to Oxford World Classics

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