Through the eyes of Jack Burden, we follow the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a politician in a Southern State in the USA. Originally an idealist (his biggest project is to build a hospital that offers care for everyone, for free), he soon learns that achieving his goals is practically impossible without corruption.
Jack observes this development of his friend and boss. More than a story of Willie Stark's career, this novel follows Jack's personal development. He falls in love with his childhood friend Anne, starts studying Law - a topic that doesn't interest him in the least, but he chooses because he suspects his girlfriend expects him to study it -, but breaks up with her for a reason unbeknownst to himself. He becomes a journalist and somehow ends up being Willie Stark's right hand, helping him in corrupt businesses which also makes him manipulate his childhood friend Adam, Anne's brother, and attempt to manipulate Judge Irwin, a longtime friend of his mother and a kind of mentor for himself - with fatal effects.
Over the course of time, Jack has developed a nihilistic approach, seeing himself as merely an observer of life and his relations, but a number of events make him realize that everything that happens does have a direct cause, and in turn every action he takes has consequences.
A very strongly written book, deeply psychological, and the language and style is much fun to read.
I think Annie Proulx deserves to be called the Mistress of Bizarre Deaths. The cruel ways in which characters meet their ends was already what I remember her Wyoming stories for, but this book tops all of those!
The only stable factor within Accordion Crimes (except for the deaths) is a little green accordion, which throughout the book gets into the hands of countless people from various descent. Roughly a century goes by, while Proulx takes us on a wild and windy road through her limitlrss fantasy. The book is divided into 8 parts, and each of those has families with other roots in focus: Italian, African, German, Irish, French, Mexican, Polish, Norwegian, and travelling through the States of Louisiana, Iowa, Texas, Maine, Illinois, Montana, and Mississippi. While telling stories of ordinary people, all with some interest in accordion/traditional/folk music, Proulx gives us insight into the history of migrants, acceptance, assimilation or staying true your own traditions, and racism in the US. Even within the seperate parts of the books there are short stories, which makes me marvel about the immense variety of stories and character Annie Proulx has in store. Her harsh humor made me smile quite some times, the US is a bitter country when you base your impressions on Proulx' narrations. Nevertheless, I always love to get lost in them.
‘Heart of a Dog’ is a satirical novel which attacks Bolshevism. It was written a year after Lenin’s death and at the height of the NEP period, when communism appeared to be relaxing in the Soviet Union. It wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until 1987, but in the “underground” it circulated nevertheless.
In the story, a professor takes care of a stray dog, from whose perspective the story is being told initially. It soon turns out the professor didn’t take in the dog, which he names Sharik, out of pity, but because he wants to conduct an experiment with him. On his operation table, he gives the dog a human pituitary gland, as well as human testicles which were taken from a homeless guy with bolshevist sympathies….. After the operation, the rest of the story is being told by the professor’s assistant, Bormenthal. In the days and weeks following the operation, the dog’s manners and his looks begin to transform, until he is a human being (albeit quite a primitive version of one). The professor and Bormenthal attempt to teach him manners, but they fail dramatically. Rather, Sharik, who renamed himself Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov, turns out to become an aggressive Bolshevist.
The novel is quite hilarious, I grinned at Bormenthal’s desperation several times. Of course it reminded me of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, though that one is more of a horror story whereas this has quite a dose of satire. 4 stars.
This book is exactly how I know Annie Proulx: a bit harsh, a tad mysterious, and taking place in a small forgotten town somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the United States. The story centers around Quoyle, a middle-aged man who lost his parents after they jointly committed suicide. He’s married to an abusive woman, Petal, who openly sleeps with other men and does drugs. When she and her drug-addict boyfriend try to sell Quoyle’s daughters, Petal dies in a car accident. The police returns the two girls to Quoyle, whose life is really falling apart at this time. Without having to much of a plan, he drives to Newfoundland, where his father grew up and his aunt Agnes is still living. Agnes convinces him to stay and build up a life of his own here. He finds a job at the local newspaper, where he’s to write about accidents as well as incoming and outgoing ships; the shipping news.
He meets several locals and step by step learns more about his ancestors. The life on the wild island transforms him. It’s like he’s finally finding to himself, discovering his inner worth, and emerges from his shell. This allows him to develop a close friendship and eventually a relationship to a woman, Wavey. He learns that human relationships can be enriching and not just threatening. Beautiful!
It takes quite some courage to write a book (and a 1000-pager on top of it) with a selfish, shallow, profit-driven main character. But Margaret Mitchell does it. Even the best thing is: she does it só well that Scarlett isn’t even detestable. Somehow, you can understand her motives, you know what’s driving her to act like she acts, and that makes her likable in spite of all her flaws.
When I started the book, I expected it to be a slushy romance, a bit kitsch. To blame for this expectation was especially the blurb stating the work to be “The greatest romance of all time”. Well, that’s debatable, to my humble opinion. If you consider Wuthering Heights a romance, then this is certainly is!
Rather it is a fantastic historical novel combined with a coming-of-age story. I’ve got a weakness for American history, and after having read books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Twelve Years a Slave, I found it exceedingly interesting to learn about the opposite perspective for once. It taught me – once again – that history is never black or white.
Margaret Mitchell knew her stuff, undoubtedly, and she knew people, too. Her main characters never get predictable: think of Rhett’s sudden decision to enlist, to Melanie’s courage in precarious situations, Ashley’s lust, and even Scarlett’s got her weak moments. The dialogues are genius (oh how I enjoy Rhett’s sarcasm), the historical backgrounds dosed in perfectly.
The ending, too, encompasses everything one did not expect (nor hoped for) and it kept me sobbing during the last ~40 pages. And I love books that make me sob. Consequently, this book got a prominent place on my jewels-pearls-treasures shelf.
This went straight onto my "jewels" shelf - what a gem!
Larry McMurtry takes us on an epic cattle drive from southern Texas to unsettled Montana. On the road, disasters of all sorts occur to the cowboys: sand storms, Indian attacks, snakes, a grasshopper plague, thunderstorms, theft and revenge. There's gambling, whoring, drinking. There's disputes and despair. But even the first 100 pages, where nothing much happens, are gripping. McMurtry's excellent and subtle humorous writing made me feel totally content with reading on for 800 pages about everyday life in the "fart of a town" Lonesome Dove.
The characters are splendid - they all have their own ways, their history, and throughout the story one really gets acquainted with any of the main characters (which are quite a few). I love how McMurtry does not put just one character in focus, but one gets to learn the thoughts and feelings of at least fifteen people. This gives the book so much dimension.
But the Hat Creek outfit leaves Lonesome Dove and crosses the plains all the way to the Canadian border. On the road, we also get to meet a sheriff from Arkansas, his unhappy wife and his deputy, whose lives we follow for a while. We see a friend of the outfit wander off, we see a girl getting kidnapped. Except for the natural disasters, there's love, betrayal, revenge and personal histories that influence the characters, their goals and their relationships.
Every page is worth reading. I've grown so attached to Call, Gus, Deets, Newt, Lorena and Clara that I hugged my book after finishing it. I'll miss them!!
East of Eden is, in my opinion, a masterpiece in literature. Spanning a period of over twenty years with look backs to the time of the civil war, it tells the story of the Hamilton and Trask families. Always interchanging the focus characters in between chapters, Steinbeck manages to create an incredible proximity between the reader and the people in the story. Without becoming cardboard characters, they all for one possess specific treats which make their actions credible. This doesn’t mean they don’t develop, though. We can follow Cal, for instance, fighting against his own badness. He wants to be good like his twin brother in order to gain his father’s love. Steinbeck smartly confronts us with the question if boundless goodness really is the best way to go.
And just like Cal, all of the characters have their hidden insecurities and weaknesses. Cathy, who is impersonated evil in this book, has her weak and fearful sides. Self-confident Will Hamilton eventually admits to himself he sought success as a businessman because he couldn’t just join the poor yet happy way of life his siblings and parents lived, but wanted to help them financially and save them. Aron is the widely loved angel who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but in fact lives in a fairy tale world because he wouldn’t be able to cope with the harshness of reality – and proves so by running away when he gets confronted with it against his will.
Samuel Hamilton, the good soul that would always be there to help others without asking anything in return but a friendly smile, has great presence throughout the book, even after his death. Lee always reminds him, tries to be like him. Sam’s fresh look onto the world and his urge for inventing things inspire Lee. And Lee in turn inspires others, Abra in particular.
This book gives a great, great view on interpersonal relationships, on personal development throughout the years and on the inevitability of life. It shows us what is really important instead of making lots of money or having lots of friends. It shows us that everything that happens in our lives will leave its traces and form us, but also that we can stand up against things and move on: Timschal.
Pheeeew. How am I going to write a review about this? The book left me in discomfort and still I think it's beautiful.
A father and a son wander through a burned America. The sun has disappeared, everything is grey and covered with ashes. Only a handful of people seem to be left alive. Many of them are so desperate that they would kill and eat other people. We never experience what exactly has happened - if it was a natural disaster or a nuclear war or something else.
The man and his son call themselves "two of the good ones". The boy's biggest sorrow is that they would never kill somebody. He would rather die than eating another human. The boy is personalized goodness anyway. It was heartbreaking reading the dialogues and the boy's worries expressed in those. The dialogues are very minimalistic and I think that I was made them so strong.
The book is one sequence of hope and despair - a struggle of surviving without knowing why it would be even worth to survive. What is it that makes the man so willing to get forward - what motivates him? Is it just the fear of giving up? I think he does it for his son. He doesn't want the boy to feel the same despair as he. He wants to give the boy the feeling there is still something to fight for. And that's what keeps the boy upright indeed. That's what eventually will make them both die as two of the good ones.
Although this book was written before Harper Lee's world famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, it takes place after the events described in that. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) is now a grown-up girl of 26, she has left Maycomb, Alabama and lives in New York.
Once a year, Jean Louise returns home for a two-week visit - that's where the book starts. In this visit, she is confronted with things that shock her deeply. In her father Atticus's documents, she finds a pamphlet referring to the "Black Plague". Jean Louise follows her father and her childhood friend to the Citizens' Council meeting where Atticus introduces a man who delivers a deeply racist speech. Jean Louise is horrified and feels betrayed by her father - who had always taught her that all people should have the same rights, but now seem to represent an entirely different point of view. Jean Louise and Atticus talk about the issue in his office, and to Jean Louise's horrification, Atticus admits openly he doesn't believe black people are ready to receive full civil rights, including the right to vote, as white. Jean Louise is raging because of her father's betrayal, feels lost and alone, curses at her father, returns home and starts packing her things to leave Maycomb forever.
When she is about to leave, her uncle Jack arrives and slaps her in the face - bringing her back to reality. He tells her she has always been idolizing her father, believing that his opinions would always be the same as hers. He tells her she should begin seeing Atticus as a man of flesh and blood, and that Atticus was attempting just that in their earlier conversation.
She returns to Atticus's office and apologizes - but Atticus tells her he is very proud of her. He had always hoped she would grown up to stand up for her own ideas of write and wrong. Jack or Atticus (I fail to remember) tells her persons like her are needed to make significant changes in the world's ideas of racial equality.
Harper Lee shows a variety of emotions and ideas on the post-war racial issues and puts those into the historical context an incredibly accurate way. The fact that this is still highly topical today (with the refugee crises everywhere in the world, the attacks on black people by police officers etc.) made me connect to the story very deeply. Beautifully written.
Fahrenheit 451, the temperature paper needs to start burning. The story takes place in about 50 years from “now” (in which “now” is 1953, when the book was published). Books are banned, because they make people unhappy. Now, being a book lover, this is a really strange sentiment, but on a second thought, and taking it broader than just novels, it actually might be true. Today, in 2016, we live in a mediocracy. If I consult myself honestly, I have to admit that I probably would be happier if I wouldn’t know as much as I do; if I wouldn’t been able to reflect on events happening in the world. Because of my education and the knowledge I gained from books, I know both what would be a good and what would be a bad world.
In the world of Fahrenheit 451, people are kept shallow on purpose. TV shows are hollow, as well as conversations (which 90 percent of the time deal with TV shows). The characters in the TV shows are called “family”; living rooms are equipped with surround screens. People have in-ear radios they listen to all day. It isn’t really that bad, but fact is we live in a world with 50” TV screens broadcasting a lot of trash, most of the people in public transport are staring at their mobile devices, and half of them wears ear plugs, too. In that aspect, Ray Bradbury had an astonishingly accurate vision of the near future.
But the book focusses on someone who wants to break this habit. Guy Montag wants to think again, wants to read books again and learn from them. He longs for the ability to reflect and make his own decisions, instead of following the masses. This is a very brave endeavor, not only because he risks to be killed by the authorities, but also because it comes along with a certain responsibility. After all, if one thinks for himself, you are the master of your own actions. It is an easy and safe feeling to just do and think what everyone else does and thinks.
This book made me think about if I’d be like Guy, or a “follower”. The theme still fits to present-day, which is what this classic makes a classic :)