Metamorphosis; an unsettling story about alienation

Author: Franz Kafka
Genre: Classic
Pages: The particular edition that I have (pictured below) is 299 pages long but includes a number of other short stories. Metamorphosis alone is 63 pages.
My rating: 5 stars

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“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

If there is a book that grips your attention from the very first sentence 👆🏻, it is Metamorphosis. The opening sentence sets the theme for the novella – which is absurdity and wildly irrational event. Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant insect. His surroundings appear normal and he thinks he’s in some sort of dream. He attempts to roll over but is unsuccessful due to his new body. He tries to scratch an itch but when he touches himself with one of his many legs, he is disgusted. Gregor’s mother knocks on his door which he keeps locked out of habit. When he answers her, he finds that his voice has changed. A little while later, his office manager comes into the apartment to find out why Gregor has not shown up for work. The manager starts to chide Gregor for his recent work performance. Gregor protests, and of course his voice has become totally incomprehensible at this stage. Using all his might, Gregor rocks himself to the floor and manages to unlock the door using his mouth. Horrified by Gregor’s appearance, the manager bolts out of the apartment. Gregor tries to catch up with him but his father drives him back to his room using a cane and a rolled up newspaper. Gregor got injured  when he was squeezing his way back into his room and exhausted, he fell asleep.

That was part 1 of the novella. At this point curious me was totally engrossed and googling about cockroaches. I don’t know why I was quick to assume that the “giant insect” would be a roach. Kafka did not get into specifics. So, anyways, part 2… Gregor wakes up to find that someone (his sister) has put milk and bread in his room. He’s excited because that used to be his favorite food but quickly discovers he has no taste for it. The sister, seeing his food was untouched replaces it with rotting food stuffs which tickles Gregor’s taste buds. Whenever the sister brings in the rotten food, he hides under the couch for fear that his appearance will frighten her. Gregor spends most of his time listening to the family conversations through the wall. Before his metamorphosis, Gregor used to be the sole income earner for the family, working in a job he loathes just so he can provide for the parents and sister. He even planned on sending Grete to a conservatory for violin lessons. Due to his current state, the family is in a bit of a fix financially. His father, who used to pretty much laze around the house now had to take up a job. The mother busied herself and Grete took up a job too. Over the course of the next few weeks, Gregor begins to grow more comfortable with his new body and finds out that he enjoys climbing the walls and ceilings. Noticing his new amusement, Grete decides to remove some of the furniture from his room to give him more space. With the help of her mother, they begin to move some of the furniture pieces. Gregor at first was excited at the prospect of having more space for his crawling activities, but quickly gets distressed that they are taking away items that define his individuality and in essence stripping him to be what he is, an insect. He comes out of his hiding spot and takes his position on a picture hanged on a wall, as if laying his territory. Gregor’s mother see’s him hanging on the wall and passes out from shock as it was only the second time for her to see her son in that state. In the commotion that followed, Gregor’s scurries out of the room where he encounters his father who has just returned home from work. The father throws apples at Gregor and one of them gets lodged in a sensitive spot in his back. He manages to get back in his room but is severely injured.

“Was he an animal, that music could move him so? He felt as if the way to the unknown nourishment he longed for were coming to light.”

In part 3 we learn that in a bid to increase the dwindling family income,  Gregor’s father has rented a portion of their flat to three boarders. Grete has been asked to play the violin for them. Since the apple-throwing incident, Gregor took great care to avoid crossing paths with his family. But the allure of his sister’s music grew on him and he crept out of his room. The three men were initially interested in Grete but as she played on, they grew bored with her performance. Gregor on the other hand was transfixed by it. In a show of brotherly support, he inched closer to Grete. The boarders spot him and were alarmed. The father tried to shove the boarders back to their quarters but they used that incident to announce that they will move out immediately without paying rent because of the horrible conditions of the apartment. This greatly frustrates Grete who is now tired of taking care of Gregor. She tells her parents that they must find a way of getting rid of Gregor or else they will all be ruined. The father quickly agrees on this, wishing that Gregor would understand and leave on his own. Gregor does understand. He slowly crawls back to his room. His recent injuries have taken a toll on him, and coupled with the conversation he just heard, he dies. The family is greatly relieved when they find out about Gregor’s death. They take a celebratory walk outside and recount their finances. The father and mother realize that in spite of the recent hardships, Grete has blossomed into a lovely lady and they should now consider her marriage prospects.


“He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”

And there you have it – Kafka’s bizarre Metamorphosis. I devoured this in one sitting and when I was reading it I didn’t put much thought about the layers that Kafka so masterfully spinned. But let me tell you, days after I read it and I’m still drawing up relationships on what Kafka could have meant when he wrote this tale. Here are some of my half-formed notions..

  1. Absurdity.
    The opening line of the novella recounts the bizarre event of Gregor’s transformation in a quite straightforward manner. Gregor woke up as a giant insect, yet he didn’t freak out. Neither did his family or the three boarders when they first saw him. The only character who took Gregor’s change with any degree of normalcy was the office manager who ran out of the apartment upon seeing him. Shouldn’t the family have called for a doctor or tried to at least find a reason for Gregor’s change? Why were they unusually calm? He’s a bug, hello? Kafka sort of portrayed the metamorphosis as a normal event – like people change into insects all the time in the 1920s – and that sense of quick acceptance makes the story all the more absurd. 
  2. Autobiography
    Before I embark on reading an author’s work for the first time, I make a point of researching briefly on the author’s life. I like to get a background feel on a writer and try to figure out what influenced him/her to write that particular story. With Kafka it was easy. I’ll go out on a mill and say that Gregor’s character is based on Kafka himself. Apparently, Franz Kafka had a very rocky relationship with his father. We see in the story that from all the family characters, it was the father who was the least sympathetic to Gregor. In real life, Kafka felt that his father was over bearing and treated him like trash.. perhaps to the point of making him feel like a disgusting insect.
  3. Perspective
    Is Metamorphosis really about a man who wakes up to finds himself transformed into a cockroach or is Gregor a schizophrenic who believes he’s been turned into a human sized roach who terrorizes his family in his mental state? Kafka left that open for us to interpret. He requested his publisher at that time to remove any image involving an insect of the cover.

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    The first edition Metamorphosis cover –

  4. Metamorphosis
    Of course the most clear change is Gregor’s metamorphosis into an insect. But when you deeply analyze the book you see several metamorphosis. The whole family metamorphosized from being utterly dependent on Gregor’s income to getting jobs of their own. Perhaps the biggest metamorphosis after Gregor would be the sister, Grete. She went from being the one who primarily took care of him (getting his meals, removing his furniture) to suggesting that the parents should get rid of him.
  5. Alienation
    The greatest point to take away from Metamorphosis is the psychological distance it creates between Gregor and those around him. What influenced Gregor’s attitude towards himself was the reaction of his parents and sister. He became completely ashamed of himself, striving to completely hide himself from view. The change makes him both physically and emotionally separate from his family. Bringing this point closer to home, how do we treat people with disabilities? If someone close to you got into a car accident which hideously transformed him/her, would we treat them any differently? Its fitting that Kafka named his character ‘Gregor Samsa’. Samsa translates to ‘alone’ in Czech.

I’m sure there’s so much more to analyze from this bizarre but totally relevant story in our society today that I have not touched yet – mind/body disconnect, dissonance of the human spirit, etc.  This novella gets 5 stars for me. I cannot recommend it enough.

Seriously guys, read it. I’m sure online copies can be easily downloaded. Its a classic that’s well worth an hour or two of your time.

 

 

 

Review – The Fishermen

Title: The Fishermen
Author: Chigozie Obioma
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 414
My rating: 3.5 stars

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“Listen, days decay, like food, like fish,
like dead bodies. This night will decay, too and you will forget. Listen, we will forget.”

A very frustrating story of a Nigerian family told in the voice of a 10 year old, Ben. The father takes a position with Central Bank of Nigeria that takes him away from his family of four boys on the cusp of adolescence. The boys start getting into trouble, the mother cannot manage on her own, things go from bad to worse. The boys bumped into a mad man who prophesied that the eldest, Ikenna, will be killed by fishermen. Now at that time, the brothers used to fish at a local river. Ikenna falls for the ramblings of the man mad and completely believes that his brothers are out to kill him. What happens next is a self-fulfilling prophecy/Greek tragedy. Ikenna is killed by his brother, Boja, who then commits suicide by jumping into a well. Obembe coerced the youngest brother, Ben, into a plan to avenge Ikenna and Boja by killing the mad man. They were successful but Ben was caught and charged with manslaughter. Obembe escaped to Benin.

“The prophecy, like an angered beast, had gone berserk and was destroying his mind with the ferocity of madness . . . until all that he knew, all that was him, all that had become him was left in disarray. To my brother, Ikenna, the fear of death as prophesied by Abulu had become palpable, a caged world within which he was irretrievably trapped, and beyond which nothing else existed.”

There, that the gist of it all.

Before I begin yet another long rant on why I didn’t like this book much, lets start with the positives. First, it is SO refreshing to read African literature that is not overly centered on politics and war. Obioma mentioned the military regime subtly, but he did not center the entire story on it. Another thing which I absolutely loved was the use of animism in describing the changes the characters went through. It was original and uniquely African. Obioma definitely has talent. His writing has a mythic quality and he does a great job documenting the family dynamics, especially the relationship between the brothers

I do not understand how this book got all those accolades. Man Booker Prize nominee? That’s implying that the world-building and prose is at the same level as Marlon James (Brief History of Seven Killings) or Hanya Yanagihara (A Little Life). Come on. We all know its not. Interesting premise, yes, but painfully predictable. Before you say I’m hating on African Literature (because I’ve been getting quite a lot of those lately) please do not get me wrong. For a debut novel, its fantastic. And to think Obioma was only 28 when he published it makes one wonder how much better his craft will be when he reaches his peak. But if we pile up accolades on an author who isn’t at that level yet, aren’t we doing him a disservice?

Do you know Africa? Or are you still stereotyping it?

Title: How to Write About Africa
Author: Binyavanga Wainana
Genre: Non-fiction, Satire
Pages: 44, pocket size
Publisher: Kwani Trust
My rating: 4 stars

“Some tips: sunsets and starvation are good.”

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Throughout the book adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader and a sad I-expected-so-much tone

This was a fun read. A ridiculously fun read. Under “irony” in the dictionary, there’s a little picture of Wanaina. It’s a very short, tongue-in-cheek reflection about Africa and the people who write about Africa. A few posts down my feed I went on a long rant about African literature focusing on the same generalizing themes.. (wildlife, AIDS, coups), well this little book talked about the same thing but with lots of dry wit and panache. I loved it!

Wainaina tackles stereotypes about Africa with effortless humor – Africa is one large country; African cuisine consists of monkey brain; a “country” of breathtaking red sunsets but plagued with HIV/AIDS, war and famine; a land of naked breasts and rotting bodies. Wainana writes that Africa is worth romanticizing but not deeply thinking about. Through the humor you can also feel Wainaina’s anger and sadness as he highlights how Africa’s most important people are celebrity activists, aid workers and conservationists

It’s a very short read, can be done in half an hour. Compromises of three stories. Well, the term ‘stories’ would be inaccurate because it’s non fiction. So, yeah, three short essays but packs a punch. It forces the read to ask him/herself.. Do you know Africa, or are you still stereotyping it?

“Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbow or renaissance. Because you care.”


Snippets of Wainana’s book read by actor Djimon Hounsou

You can read the entire piece electronically here

The Sellout Giveaway

Two blog posts in the space of a day! Before you congratulate me on my stellar level of commitment and dedication, this is NOT a lit review but shameless self-promotion of a Giveaway I’m co-hosting on my Instagram Account with Ides of March

The book we are giving away is none other than last year’s Man-Booker Prize winner ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty. Disclaimer: I have not read the book yet so I can’t go out on a limb and push for it. BUT its got some stellar reviews and a won a bunch of prestigious awards. And hey, we all love a satire novel, am I right?!

So anyways, the Giveaway has been running for a week and it ends on the 5th of March so get on my Instagram here and look for the post I’ve highlighted on the screenshot below. Terms and Conditions apply.

Good luck!

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Rambling Instagram post on African Literature 

Here’s an unread pile of African literature that I hope to cover this year.



‎‏

  • The Fishermen – Nigeria ‏
  • Diaries of a Dead African – Nigeria ‏
  • Tram 83 – Congo
  • ‎‏The girl who was raped – South Africa
  • ‎‏Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges – Kenya
  • ‎‏Tracking the Scent of my Mother – Kenya ‏
  • How to Write About Africa – Kenya
  • ‎‏Teaching my Mother How To Give Birth – British nationality but Kenyan born. So, Kenya 😂

‎‏I must confess, I don’t like African lit much. Man, doesn’t that feel nice to get off my chest! Thing is, I find a lot of African novels are biased towards colonialism, how the west sucked us dry, poverty, AIDS, bla bla.. lots of underdeveloped political undertones. And yes, these are events that happened and continue to occur. They are a part of our identity and we should discuss them. Write about them. Read them. Not denying that. But can we just get a good storyline, you know? A horror story, dystopian, sci-fi anything really.

‎‏Brings to mind a quote by Chinua Achebe when he said: “There was [one] thing that we tried to do and failed – and that was to define ‘African literature’ satisfactorily. Was it literature produced in Africa or about Africa? Could African literature be on any subject, or must it have an African theme?”

‎‏Makes one wonder.. Is the fault with us? Do we unfairly give African authors the heavy cross of representing their countries? Shouldn’t we grant them the artistic freedom as other authors are, to explore different genres and new themes? In my opinion, African literature should solely be defined as ‘created by an African’, regardless of where they are or what they write about. In fact, the more diverse, the better. What African authors need to understand is that we don’t want “African-ness” in the books. We just want good books written by Africans.

‎‏Moving on, who else thinks that West African authors carry the torch for the rest of the continent? You know they do! Put aside the heavyweights Chimamanda Adichie and the late Chinua Achebe, I still feel that West African stories are much more entertaining and free flowing than their East African counterparts. Or maybe I’ve read a bit too much of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and have been scarred for life! What is it that West African countries are doing differently? I think they’ve embraced creativity and thinking outside the box. Look at Nollywood, which we love to hate. But you gotta admit, it’s creative, cultural and modern at the same time.

‎‏On a lighter note, can someone PLEASE tell me that it’s okay to be Kenyan and not like Thiong’o. Please? I can’t be using the name “Kenyan Bibliophile” and not appreciate the founding father of Kenyan Literature. Huge moral crisis! I think that’s why half of this stack is by Kenyan authors. Overcompensating much.

‎‏P.S: Got those books from Magunga Books. Yes, they have an agenda to take every penny of my savings. Check them out. I believe they deliver internationally

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That was originally a post on my bookstagram (@KenyanBibliophile) and it resulted into a very interactive discussion. With the encouragement of a few followers, I decided to plaster it here. Below are some of the comments.




Review of ‘A Farewell To Arms’

Author: Ernest Hemingway
Title: A Farewell To Arms
Genre: Classics, Fiction
Pages: 293
My rating: 3.5 stars

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“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

You all know by now how much love I have for the classics genre. And we can further focus my adoration on one particular author, Ernest Hemingway. His writing capabilities aside, there is just something enigmatic about the man which I find fascinating. I’ve read a number of his books with my favorite being ‘A Moveable Feast’. That was until ‘A Farewell to Arms’ made its way into my little eager hands. And we now have a new E.H favorite. Then why the measly three-and-a-half-star rating, you ask. Because the book was brilliantly written with that descriptive prose that solely belongs to Papa. The dialogue was an absolute charm to read. But the ending was abrupt, sort of like he got tired of writing. And there is nothing I hate more than sudden endings.

When Hemingway was 18 he was eager to fight in the Great War. Poor vision kept him out of the army so he joined the ambulance corps instead. He was transferred to Italy where he was the first American wounded in that country. Ten years later, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was born which, like ‘A Moveable Feast’, is a semi autobiographical novel about his experiences during World War One.

The below Bradley Cooper scene from “The Silver Linings Playbook” accurately describes the gist of the book

I do hope you clicked play above because I don’t think I can improve on Bradley Cooper’s synopsis! In the end the leading lady, Catherine, dies during childbirth after she gave birth to a stillborn baby. And the story ended. Just like that. As in, that was it! What did the protagonist, Frederic Henry, do next? Did he go back to the front line? Did he go back to America? I wish Hemingway gave us a little bit more there. I think authors owe their readership a responsibility to at least give them some sort of closure. I mean, some of us get emotionally invested in the characters, and to end the story as abruptly as he did, was, well.. rude.

Or in true Hemingway fashion, maybe he was trying to show us that war alters the course of everything and leaves one empty. Either way, I still didn’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of the novel; drawing attention to the boredom that can be experienced even during times of war and how the horrors of death can make a staunch soldier give up arms altogether.

Another thing, can we talk about the character of Catherine Barkley for a second? I love reading a book which has a strong female presence. I mean, who doesn’t, right? And Catherine was anything but. I found her character shallow and robotic – coming in and out of Henry’s surrounding – mostly his bed. It appears that the sole purpose of her character was to show that Henry, a man that never loved, could love.

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“Oh, darling, you will be good to me, won’t you? Because we’re going to have a strange life.”

I mentioned earlier that I fell in love with the dialogue in this novel. Here is a excerpt of a conversation which I found to be charming and witty.

–If you ever live to be as old as I am, you will find many things strange.
–You never seem old.
–It is the body that is old. Sometimes I am afraid I will break off a finger as one breaks a stick of chalk. And the spirit is no older and not much wiser.
–You are wise.
–No, that is the great fallacy. The wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.
–Perhaps that is wisdom.
–It is a very unattractive wisdom. What do you value the most?
–Someone I love.
–With me it is the same. That is not wisdom. Do you value life?
–Yes.
–So do I. Because it is all I have. And to give birthday parties. You are probably wiser than I am. You do not give birthday parties.
–What do you think of the war really?
–I think it is stupid.
–Who will win it?
–Italy.
–Why?
–They are a younger nation.
–Do younger nations always win wars?
–They are apt to for a time.
–Then what happens?
–They become older nations.
–You said you were not wise.
–Dear boy, that is not wisdom. That is cynicism.

These are the kind of conversations you wish you were privy to. Seated silently by the fireplace listening to Hemingway converse with a ninety year old Count. This was pure bliss to read. Compare this with the dialogue between Frederic and Catherine. Its cringe worthy at best.

Fun Fact: Hemingway wrote 49 different endings for this novel! Why in the world he settled on this one is still a mystery to me. I just found out that there is a Scribner edition of Farewell to Arms that includes ALL the alternate endings PLUS one suggested to him by F.Scott Fitzgerald! Like that’s not enough, the edition also includes rough drafts and the original artwork cover! Its a gold-mine, especially if you’re a self-confessed Hemingway fan. I’m pretty sure there will be an ending in there that will fit my liking and all will be forgiven.

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What I wouldn’t give for this edition!

Aspiring authors, take note. If you fail, try and try again. About 49 times!

Love and light,
Fifi

Reading statistics and the magic of Paul Kalanithi’s words

I always thought of myself as a voracious reader, but I realized, to my absolute dismay, that ‘normally’ I read two books a month (back when I used to be head-under-water busy with my career). Whenever I clock in six to eight books in a month would be when I’m going through a rough patch and I use books to escape all the drama and negativity that life can sometimes throw at you. Reading removes me from the structure of my life. I enter different time zones, the characters and settings occupy me and I inhabit other realities – at least for a short while – and that in itself gives me a much needed reprieve from my reality. If that isn’t magic then I really don’t know what is!

So in a good (read happy) month, I’d read two books. In a drama filled one, I’d read half a dozen! This sparked off a haphazard Google search on how many books a person reads on average. Of course, an 800 page classic isn’t the same as a 150 page self-help book. Books vary, and “number of books” is a wide metric. Luckily, this isn’t a post-graduate thesis, just brushing-the-surface-curiosity. Get this, the widely held average is one book in a whole year, which means most families haven’t read a book in a decade! Shocking. These guys haven’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook when stuck in traffic. I’m pretty sure there’s a high correlation between that and the number of reality TV spinoffs and internet memes. It seems quite likely that the bookworm will be an even rarer species in another decade or two.

Guys, do not be average. Pick up a book today!

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Author: Paul Kalanithi
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Pages: 256
My rating: 5 stars

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“What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”

“When Breath Becomes Air” is a memoir written by the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi who was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer when he was only 36 years of age, and passed away less than two years later. Thirty six. Let that just sink in for a second. Here’s a young doctor, a non-smoker, and he’s got a deadly stage IV lung cancer. Could life be any more cruel?

The first half of the book can almost count as the coming-of-age of a neurosurgeon with a deep love for literature. He talks about his upbringing as the child of an Indian immigrant who ensured that her children will not be victims of an impoverished school system. He wrote this of his mom: “She thoroughly interrogated me regarding every drug teenagers take, never suspecting that the most intoxicating thing I’d experienced, by far, was the volume of poetry she’d handed me the previous week.” He writes about his relationship with his wife – also a doctor – who he met in medical school. He had an impressive multifaceted career –  studying biology and literature at Stanford, then history and philosophy of medicine at Cambridge, and finally neurosurgery at Yale.

Paul Kalinithi shows us just how powerful literature is. He highlights that it was literature that helped him with walking the line between objective medicine and compassionate humanity when it came to treating his patients, and through that he gave us an inside view of medicine as practiced at its most intimate level.

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“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

The second half of the book shows us the devastating speed of disease and death, and how Paul is suddenly transformed from a doctor to a patient. It must have been odd for Paul to suddenly be on the other side of the playing field. There are heartbreaking descriptions of how at one point the cancer seemed to have almost disappeared and how he had again cautiously made plans for a hopeful future with his wife, it returned with a vengeance that he had to finally stop working. There is no bravado in the story; as he says, the tumor was what it was and you simply experienced the feelings it brought to your mind and heart.

The most heartbreaking part in the book for me was when Paul was deliberating whether to write a series of letters for his daughter to read at different stages of her life. He decided against it, citing that he doesn’t know what kind of girl she will turn out to be. Instead, he leaves her this one message: “When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

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Cady was 8 months when her father passed away.

Another reason I absolutely loved the book was the afterword written by his wife, Lucy Kalanithi. You could almost see the different writing styles between the two, both equally beautiful. In a sense, the book was incomplete – Paul died before he could properly finish it. And it was the wife’s ending that gave it some sort of closure. Somehow it took me back to Charles Warnke’s powerful piece “You should date an illiterate girl” when he writes,

“…but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love…”

Lucy Kalanithi played her part in writing the story of Paul’s life and he will live on through his book. His daughter will understand the kind of man her father was and the heritage he left behind. And we should be humbled by this beautiful tale of failure and fear, of uncertainty and despair, and of poetry and philosophy. I cannot recommend this book enough.

P.S: Bill Gates called this the best non-fiction he’s read in a long time. So there. If you need any more encouragement to read it.

P.S.S: I’m sure I’m breaking some copyright laws when I say that I have the electronic version of this book and you can email me if you’d like a copy!

 

Book Review: The Princess Bride

Author: William Goldman
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 399
My rating: 4 stars

Do not get fooled by the girly, chic-flick title. This book ticks every box imaginable. Fencing, fighting, true love, even truer hate, giants, beasts, rodents of unusual size, torture, chases, escapes.. everything under the sun I tell you! It is SO hard to find a book that successfully combines silly humor with dramatic action and adventure. If you’re looking for a light read to keep your mind off things, this is definitely the book to pick.

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“You seem a decent fellow,” Inigo said. “I hate to kill you.”
“You seem a decent fellow,” answered the man in black. “I hate to die.”

Structure -> We have got to start with the structure of this book. I have been going on and on about it on my Instagram Stories that the narrative is unlike anything that I’ve read before. The actual title of the book is “The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The “Good Parts” Version Abridged by William Goldman.”

Phew. That’s a mouthful! The original Princess Bride was written by this Morgenstern fellow, and apparently its unbelievably long – so what Mr. Goldman does is abridge it with only the “good parts”. Bless him. What’s unique about this is abridgement is Goldman’s narrative. Its genius and witty and will make you wish you knew the man personally. He makes several editorial notes where he comments on his own story, add things that the story alone cannot do, and even points out things he finds odd…in his own story! GENIUS.

Plot -> Set in the renaissance era, this young and beautiful woman called Buttercup (yes, Buttercup) lives in a farm in the country of Florin. So this sadistic chica delights in taunting the farm hand, Westley, by demanding that he performs chores for her. Whatever she asks of him, Westley’s only response was “as you wish”….

No no no no no. I feel like I’m going to abridge Goldman’s version of the abridgement and spoil it for you in the process.I want to tell you EVERYTHING that happens – from Fezzik the giant to Inigo the Spaniard, to the dread Pirate Roberts and Prince Humperdinck’s plan to kill the princess and frame her death on another country to feed his appetite for war.. I am not doing a good job on keeping my mouth shut, am I?! Let me just tell you guys, pick up this book and prepare yourself to laugh out loud.

Immediately after I finished the book, I went on YouTube and watched the movie adaptation. Like everyone else, what I really wanted to see was this:

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Epic stuff man! The movie was great, but the benefit of the book is, as usual, the fact that you get inside the character’s heads and backstory.

Love and light,
F

2017 Resolutions

January 22nd.

It’s fitting I post my resolutions now when most people have already crashed and burned with theirs. Muahahahaha. But seriously now, how are those squats coming along? And the detox diet? Well, this self professed book nerd is going after more ambitious and realistic resolutions. Bookish ones!

Last year I set a random goal of 50 books on Goodreads, and I’m pretty sure I hit my mark, except I didn’t actually log everything in. This year, its not just about the numbers but more of branching out to different genres and widening my reading scope.

1. My forefront resolution for this year is to BLOG CONSISTENTLY!  Clearly my attempts to post every week have been, well, laughable. So let’s be realistic and set it at two posts a month, shall we?

And hey, this is my second post for January, so yeah, right on target  😎

2. Read more non-fiction
I had an interesting discussion with a friend a couple of days ago and he said that I’m a “fiction purist who scoffs at reality“. Ha! Spot on. But of course I didn’t admit that. What resulted was a childish “No I’m not”/”Yes you are” argument. I always thought of myself as a cultured, deliberate and diverse reader. But truth is, I love me some contemporary/classic fiction. It’s my default genre. There’s something about fiction that allows us to experience more worlds than we could ever experience otherwise. On that note, one of my resolutions is to get out of my literary comfort zone, broaden my horizons and try to read more books in a genre I’m not versed in.

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Some of the non fiction I hope to tackle this year. Clockwise: Dead Aid, On Anarchism, The education of a British protected child

I’m ready to give the nonfiction sections of bookstores a browse. What’s the worst that could happen? If I don’t enjoy a book it sure as hell won’t be a waste of time if I learned something from it. The best scenario? I spend time enjoying a book that taught me new things. I don’t want to get over ambitious here, so I’ll cap it at 5 non fiction for this year.

3. Brush up on the classics
That was also my goal last year, and I read eleven classics. Five Hemingway’s (duh), four Achebe’s, one J. Hogg and one J. Eyre. My goal this year would be to diversify my range. Throw in a couple of Russian classics (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy), break my F. Scott Fitzgerald virginity (why has it not happened yet?!), and I absolutely must read Ulysses. I’ve put that off for far too long

I know I’m biased when I say this, but honestly guys, the classics have stood the test of time and in them we find characters/experiences/emotions/perspectives that are still relevant today. They also provide an opportunity to understand history and culture in context. Most people find them somewhat challenging in terms of language but I personally love that archaic prose. Call me an old soul or whatever. I’m a classics kinda girl, through and through.

4. Read all the shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize 2017
If I had to pick one literary award it would be The Man Booker Prize. I find their shortlist to be the creme de la creme of literature. This resolution might prove to be a challenge however due to the limited selections in our local stores. Every bibliophile’s frustration. I remember going into a reputable local bookstore last year and asking the attendant for Yanagihara’s A Little Life. The clueless look on his face left me quite perplexed.

5. Tackle at least 3 Memoirs/Biographies
They say that biographies provide the most valuable lessons in life with the ability to change your perspective and improve you as a person. I’ve been meaning to reread “12 years a slave” so I guess that would count as a third of my target. I’d love to get hold of Steve Jobs and Oscar Wilde biographies. And Cleopatra. And Julius Caesar. Heck, and Mark Antony while we’re at it. I’ve always been fascinated by Roman history and it would be great to read better accounts of the lives of these great personalities as opposed to what I’ve pieced together from pop culture.

6. Harry Potter.
Sigh. I give in to the Harry Potter fandom on Bookstagram. Whenever I comment that I haven’t read any HP book I’m met with (almost audible) gasps and bewilderment. So hello hogwarts and sorcerers. I shall be making your acquaintance this year.

Target? Read one HP this year.

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Happy reading
Love and light
Fifi

My Top 5 Reads of 2016

Yes, I should have posted this towards the end of December. I have run out of excuses for you.

I read some pretty amazing literature last year – some new, some not quite so new. Here they are, in no particular order, my favorite picks of the year.

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James Hogg – The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
When the term “grossly underrated” was coined, it was meant for this book. Demons, possession, doppelgänger, religious fanaticism, murders, suicide, grave disturbers.. what more can you ask for? It’s set in 18th century Scotland and the language, oh God, that beautiful archaic prose..

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“Nothing in the world delights a truly religious people so much as consigning them to eternal damnation.”

Fun fact. Though this book is now considered a classic, at the time of its publication it was ill-received by the general public because of its unflattering depiction of predestination and Christian fundamentalism. Many were of the opinion that the work was a product of alcoholic delusional on the the part of the author. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I dare you, READ IT!

P.S: read my full review here

Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that my love for Papa runs deep and strong. In fact, the literary highlight of 2016 would be my introduction to Hemingway. It all started in January when I read “The Old Man and The Sea” whilst lazing around the beaches of Zanzibar. I’ve read four of his books since then and trust me, I’ve used all my restraint to not include them all as my Top 5! So I settled on choosing my favorite from the lot and ‘A moveable feast’ was an easy pick. The memoir of a young and broke Hemingway trying to make it as a writer in Paris is both uplifting and heart wrenching. Just the mere fact that the great Ernest Hemingway had doubts about his writings portrays just how vulnerable and scared one can be at the start of a new venture. Makes me want to hug the man and assure him that he will be loved and revered by generations to come.

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“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

I guess what makes ‘A moveable feast’ stand out in comparison to his other works is the portrayal of the man himself. When people say “Hemingway” they conjure images of an older, bloated, boozer bragging about his macho accomplishments but when I think of the Hemingway in Paris, the first impression that comes to mind is a younger, intellectually virile, aware and alert man.  At only 182 pages, Hemingway portrayed a world of beauty and innocence – which a few years later was irretrievably lost to him through his fame, alcoholism and his unquenched desire for adrenaline.

Elif Shafak – The Architect’s Apprentice
Beautifully written poetic prose has always been my Achilles heel. Add historical facts, Rumi quotes and a dash of creative fiction to the mix? Take me now! This is a historical fiction novel that takes place in the 1500s Turkey during the height of the Ottoman Empire. The story follows this young Indian boy named Jahan. He arrives Istanbul with this white elephant named Chota who is meant to be a gift from an Indian leader to the Turkish sultan and Jahan ends up being the elephant’s caretaker. The novel basically follows his life over the course of many decades – you see him sort of just growing up and maturing from a reckless child to an apprentice of renowned architect, Mimar Sinan. In that sense it’s kind of like a coming-of-age storyline.

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“It seemed to Jahan that, in truth, this world, too, was a spectacle. One way or another, everyone was parading. They performed their tricks, each of them, some staying longer, others shorter, but in the end they all left through the back door, similarly unfulfilled, similarly in need of applause.”

The Architect’s Apprentice is a wonderful historical novel, competently written, beautifully lyrical in tone, well paced and full of a compelling narrative.

Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life
Under ’emotional’ in the dictionary, there’s a little picture of me. Trust me when I tell you this, I have enough tears to last me several lifetimes and they can appear on cue just like that *snaps fingers*. And its for that reason alone that I tend to shy away from emotional/romantic typa books. Not my genre. When I found out “A little life” was among the finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2015, I decided to pick it up last year without reading a single review, not expecting that I would be thrown into a kaleidoscope of emotions. And thrown I was. Its probably one of the most depressing books, yet it’s written in the most raw and honest prose I’ve ever had the pleasure (or misfortune) of reading. A chapter into the book and I had an inner monologue that went something like this: “Fifi, stop reading it. This is the kind of book  you should avoid. Put it in a box. Put the box in another box. Bury it in your closet.” Suffice to say, I bawled my eyes out thanks to Ms Yanagihara.

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“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

The level of character development will leave you in awe. The story follows four college friends – an artist, an actor, a lawyer and an architect through their walks of life. I’ll admit, it hurt me to read this at times-because yes, it is very graphic material (i.e. self-harm, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, drug use) that makes the reading cringeworthy in parts yet very relatable. Her prose is raw and jarring, and revealing of the many emotions that humans experience. It’s never explicitly beautiful, not flowery or overwrought with adjectives or descriptors. But it has its own beauty that comes from its ability to convey these feelings, making you feel every pain or happiness that the characters feel.

I actually finished reading this late December and I will write a detailed review, ahem, soon.

James Marlon – A Brief History of Seven Killings
I’m yet to post a full review about this action thriller of a book on the blog or on bookstagram for that matter. Reason being, I whizzed through this 600 plus page book in less than a week, and there was so much to take out that (2 months later) I’m still collecting my thoughts. This is hardcore and brilliant, folks. Repeat after me: HARDCORE. AND. BRILLIANT. The novel is centered around an attempt on Bob Marley’s life and somehow, the author effortlessly spins you round a web of gangs and posses, reggae and ganja, rapes and drugs, murders and international politics.

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“As small as America’s dick is, those limeys will stretch across the Atlantic to suck it.”

I plan on re-reading this book later this year, and this time – s l o w l y. I’d like to stop and google aspects of Jamaican and Caribbean politics in the 1970’s, (I normally research a lot when reading. Google is your friend. But the book was so suspense filled that I couldn’t tear myself away from it), listen to the reggae songs Marlon listed, and also completely stop and read some of the books that he referenced to in order to gain a better understanding and a greater appreciation for what can only be described as an amazing piece of literary work by Marlon James. Take a bow, son.

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It’s not lost on me that out of the 5 books I’ve only reviewed 2 on the blog. My inconsistency leaves me wanting. There were also ridiculously long spells of inactivity on my Bookstagram. What can I say other than life got in the way? 2016 has been one of the most difficult years for me, with a lot of personal obstacles that I had to overcome. That’s no excuse, granted, and I’ll (try to) up my game this year.

May 2017 be filled with impulsive bookish purchases, surprising plot twists and beautifully written prose!

Happy reading people!