The most fascinating thing about this book is that it is a true story. In 1837, two young African princes were sent to the Netherlands as a gift to King William II, as part of negotiations between the Ashanti king and the Dutch. Although slave trade was officially forbidden, both parties were still interested in the "recruitment" of African men in order to work for the Dutch in the Dutch Indies. The crown prince and his nephew were are to the Delft to receive education, and it was planned that they would return to Ashanti as black missionaries eventually. One of the princes, Kwasi Boachi, tries his best to adapt the Dutch culture, whereas the crown prince, Kwame Poku, is unable to do so. The two, who were inseparable when they first left their home country, grow apart. The story is told by the 74-year-old Kwasi, who is writing down his memoirs in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He tells his story, and the reader accompanies him through his struggles, his wish to assimilate and his desire to belong to the majority - the whites - but although most people treat the princes kindly and they are welcome guests of the royal family, it becomes poignantly clear that they are considered an attraction rather than friends.
After completing his education, Kwame returns to Africa and wishes to live with his people again. But he has forgotten his native language, a fact which disappoint his uncle, the king, so much, that he denies Kwames return. Kwame desperately tries to remember his language, but this only leads to a state of delirium, and eventually he commits suicide. He was an outcast as a black guy in the white Dutch culture, and he was an outcast as a Dutch educated person among the Africans.
Kwasi, however, continues education in Weimar, Germany, and becomes a mining engineer. He is sent to the Dutch East Indies and hopes to become successful there. However, he is faced with racism as he had never really experienced it - by the hatred of a former class mate, but even more by a more internalized feeling of the Dutch authorities: that a black man is of a minor race, who should never have the authority that a white man has. Therefore, Kwasis success in business is inhibited systematically. Instead of being his own boss, he has to work as a secretary for his former class mate, who humiliates him (i.e. Kwasi has to take his meals with the servants), his letters to the government remain unanswered and when he finally receives the land he was promised to get to grow coffee, it is hardly usable. When he asks his workers why they wouldn't give their best for him as they do for his neighbor, they answer 'Well, that's easy; the neighbor is white'. And like that, Kwasi has to spent 50 years of his life in a country that is not his own, among people who don't accept him and among whom he is just an outcast.
The story in all is poignant and shows a deeply rooted racism in the Dutch colonial time. Arthur Japin did a very important job by writing this novel. Thanks to the book, the forgotten story of Kwasi and Kwame became a part of the collective Dutch memory. He even managed that the head of Badu Bonsu II, a Ghanaian prince was executed and decapitated by the Dutch and then shipped to the Netherlands, was returned to Ghana in 2009 - 172 years after the execution. Japin needed ten years of research for the book, but with great success. Kwasi finally is a part of the Netherlands now.
Berlin, 1958. 15 year old Michael Berg gets ill on his way home and is nursed by a woman named Hanna Schmitz, who lives in his neighborhood. When he sees her putting on her stockings, he falls in love with her. After he's cured from his illness, he visits her again. They end up sleeping with each other an an erotic affair develops between them. After some time, Michael starts reading to her.
Their affair lasts a summer - over time, Michael feels more attracted towards his school mates and is torn between his feelings, but always goes to Hanna. One day, she is gone without a word. The feeling he has betrayed her with his school mates never goes away.
He meets her years later in court. Michael is a law student following a process of concentration camp guards. Hanna is accused for deliberately joining the SS and not having saved women from a burning church where they were locked in on their journey from Auschwitz to the west. Hanna confesses everything, which is then misused by the other accused women. They say Hanna was the leader of it all and wrote the report. When the judge wants to take an handwriting test, Hanna admits she indeed wrote the report.
It is then that Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate and ashamed of that fact. So ashamed, that she'd rather spend the rest of her life in jail than to admit she can't read nor write, which would be enough proof she couldn't have written the report. Michael is torn again: should he talk to the judge or even to Hanna and try to convince her to tell about her handicap? He decides not to.
Michael has two big problems with Hanna and her past. First, he feels guilty for her deeds as a concentration camp guard because he has loved her. I think this is difficult to understand for non-Germans. German people, especially those living short after the war, bore a great weight of collective guilt on their shoulders. Loving someone who had been in the SS almost meant the same as having been in the SS yourself (at least, that's how Michael feels).
Second, he reproaches her for what she had done to him: after their affair and her sudden leave, he never was able to have a functioning relationship again. He compared all his partners with Hanna and she always took part in his life. His marriage only lasted four years. When Hanna was in prison for a couple of years, he started to record tapes for her, reading aloud the books he loved. It was this ever presence in his life (and her leaving him without a word, giving him the feeling he had treated her wrong) that he accuses her of, too.
I think this novel is rather difficult to understand at first glance. It is a short novel, only 200 pages, but you have to dive into Michaels world view to really understand him. The writer writes beautifully, but doesn't give the reader all the information; you really have to do some work with the book and maybe even give it a second read.
'Caliban's Hour is based on 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare. It is a sequel as well as 'the other side of the story', for 'Caliban's Hour' tells the story of Caliban, the wild creature that only has a side role in Shakespeare's play.
It's twenty years after the magician and rightful Duke of Milan Prospero and his daughter Miranda have returned to Italy from the island they had been living on for a couple of years. Miranda is now queen of Naples and the mother of three children. The creature Caliban has managed to leave the island and has come to Naples to take revenge for the treatment Miranda and her father have given him back then. Prospero has already died a natural death, so Caliban visits Miranda in her bedroom in the castle. He tells her he has come to kill her, but first she has to listen to his story.
And his story is a tragic one - from his birth up until that moment. His mother was a supposed witch. The people from her village had sent her out to the sea, pregnant and with a cut-off tongue, but instead of drowning, she landed on an island. Caliban was born on this island and therefore never had the chance to meet other humans. His mother was his everything, his God; he feared and loved her at the same time. He was still a boy when she died, and he was all alone with his island. He had never learned to speak, as his mother could only produce some grunts with her handicap. Language is a very important theme in the story - things were just things in Caliban's world, he knew what they were for, and it was good that way. He didn't have a name, but he didn't need one to know that he existed. He was there, on his island, and knew how to survive.
Some years after, the banished ruler of Milan Prospero and his little daughter Miranda land on Caliban's island. They had come there after Prospero was overthrown by his brother and exiled from the city. Prospero manages to attract Caliban, who is anxious but also curious, and very eager to connect to other people again; to have a family. It is Prospero who teaches him words. This might be the thing Caliban hates Prospero the most for, since with those words came the lies. The newcomer behaves like he is the ruler of the island now, and Caliban is inferior to him. This is something Caliban can't really understand - wasn't he born on this Island, and hadn't he always lived here on his own? - but he doesn't revolt out of respect for Prospero, and of hope that Prospero will recognize him as a son. Prospero teaches the wild creature a lot about science and culture, and finally gives him a name. He is called Caliban because Prospero had told his daughter the creature is a cannibal, and Miranda could not pronounce it correctly. Caliban strongly hopes and works for their recognition, but it turns out Prospero only wants to use him as a slave. Caliban stays a wild animal and his eyes. The bitter feelings Caliban has are heartbreaking. Caliban loves the beautiful Miranda, but she has learned to see him as an animal, not as a man. Nevertheless, she has always treated him as a friend, but when he touches her once, just because he longed to be close to her, she tells her father. Prospero gets furious and beats Caliban, who didn't even know that he had done something wrong, until he is crippled. Caliban doesn't manage to get away from his master, however, and he would stay their slave until they are finally saved from the Island. When they set sail to Italy again, they leave him behind. And to top all of their actions, they act as if they would do something good to him by doing that.
His peace was never to return. He had learned that there were creatures that were better than him (at least they think so), that he was just an animal with barely a right to exist. How could he ever love himself again? He was abused both physically and mentally, betrayed and left behind.
After finishing his story, Caliban is ready to strangle Miranda, but her daughter, who has overheard everything he had told her mother, jumps in between. She promises to go with him if he would keep her mother alive, for she has heard the story, and believes Caliban is not the monster her mother and grandfather believed him to be. They leave to live on the island again, where some of Caliban's pride can hopefully return to him.
I love the emotional load this story had. Caliban's sad bitterness comes to life so well on the pages. It's an important message Tad Williams is bringing here. It's exactly how the 'wilds' were treated by the European travellers who came to America and felt superior to everyone who was living there. But it most of all is a tragic story of longing for love and recognition and of the disappointment and loneliness that follows.
By the way, the person who called the book 'Die Insel des Magiers' ('The magician's island) In German clearly hasn't got the message.
A very interesting story about the miraculousness of our existence - while yet only very few people really seem to wonder about that. IF one thinks about it, it is a miracle you exist - not just talking about the origination of the earth and life on it, but the fact that YOU are alive means EVERY of your ancestors has survived natural disasters, pandemics, wars, diseases, etc etc. Well isn't that a miracle?
At the same time, this is a story about creation and the question whether we are real creatures or just products of someone's mind. But if there was such a God, why don't we ever see him? Because the creator cannot live next to its creations, for it would make them aware of the fact they are just creations.
These philosophical questions are packed in a wonderful fairytale like story, about a boy who travels to Europa with his father to find his mother and becomes a grownup on the way. He is one of the "chosen ones" so to say, by receiving the story of Frode and his patience cards that came to life.
A recommendation for every little philosopher around.
'The Grapes of Wrath' won a Pulitzer price and John Steinbeck won the Nobel's price for literature. And that is SO well-deserved.
The book was banned soon after its release because Steinbeck criticizes society in it. The story is set in the 30s and describes the time we now know as the Great Depression. After several years of drought and resulting dust storms, the farmers of Oklahoma suffered of great damage. Combined with the fast mechanization of farm equipment and the rise of capitalism, many farmers were forced to leave their farm and home. Tens of thousands people went on the road, heading to California, a state that was like a promised land for them. It is described how the situation was misused by, for example, car sellers: people were in desperate need of a vehicle, and thus seller could ask any price. The same thing for buyers of used goods: migrating people needed to sell their household, and thus buyers bid low prices. It is empathized very sharply that 'no one can be blamed. It is the bank, the society that forces us to do what we do.' It's confronting to see how people created their own hell - a situation that can't be made undone.
The book follows the Joad family on the road to California. Each character is unique and incredibly well worked out. They all have their background they carry with them - uncle John, for example, is haunted by his bad conscience and constantly believes he is sinning. Their development throughout the journey is beautiful, interesting, very credible and sad to witness. I especially was amazed by Ma Joad, who transforms into a strong, independent woman who takes the lead when the men aren't able to do so.
When they approach California, they hear negative stories already. And though the Joads keep hoping they will be lucky, the stories prove to be true. There are so many people on the road in search for jobs, the farmers can pay any price. They perfectly know people are starving and ready to work for any price, only to earn some bread for the night. Migrants, who are disrespectfully called 'Okies', are put into camps, and the police tortures them. The Californian authorities are afraid the immigrants will gather and start a revolt, and therefore they do everything to prevent that. Every now and then, they burn the camps down to force the people to move forward again.
Steinbeck proposes socialist thoughts, and was accused of communism propaganda. It isn't communism he is proposing, though, since he does not only suggest that people work for the whole, but also keep their individuality and personal freedom. He mainly criticizes the institution of very rich companies that own much property, making it impossible for mid-sized or small farmers or businesses to exist.
The writing is genius - the dialogues are realistic (I love the Oklahoma accent), descriptions are vivid, the pace of the story is perfect. I very much enjoyed the intersecting chapters not focusing on the Joads, but describing the overall situation in the US at that time. Somehow they even were more tragic although or because it was told from a greater distance.
I was already crying even before I knew what the ending would be, just because it was clear it couldn't turn all good in the remaining three pages. In fact the ending is open, but I think I can guess where it will lead to - the Joad family will further fall apart, some will die of hunger, some will leave. But Ma Joad will never stop fighting.
This is a tragically beautiful graphic novel. I’ve read a couple of novels about the Jewish suppression and Jew-baiting during WWII, but this novel hits the point like no other. The story is tragic, though or maybe because it’s written rather objectively.
The frame story is set in the late 70s in the USA. Art Spiegelman plans to write a graphic novel about his fathers’ history during WWII. He and his father do not get along well. Also, Art seems to blame himself for the suicide of his mother, because he never showed her the love she had longed for. Vladek Spiegelman has survived the concentration camps, but has grown to be a rancorous, greedy old man, who is racist to black Americans, who is complaining about his health and his second wife, even to his son – who clearly doesn’t want to hear about the marital problems of his father. I loved how Vladek still speaks English with a Polish accent. Art and Vladeks relationship is rather detached. Nevertheless, Art urges his father to tell him about his life in 1939-1945. Those events are shown in flashbacks told by Vladek and drawn by Art.
The characters are drawn as animals instead of humans – Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs. By making animals out of the characters, Spiegelman uses the only way to tell such a horrible story in the format of a comic book. Also, he reduces the differences between people of each ethnicity: they all look alike. And is this not exactly what happened during the war? Jews were all the same vermin in the eyes of the Nazis. Spiegelman depicted that by making mice out of them, which are hunt by the cats, naturally.
This book is so beautiful and powerful that it will touch one deep in the soul and leave an impression there for all times.
I absolutely loved this book. Not because it's the diary of a jewish girl that, after two years of hiding, had to go through horrible circumstances and died just before liberation. Not because I'm supposed to love or at least be positive about it. No, I loved this because of what Anne wrote and how she wrote it. This little girl was extremely wise, especially if you realize she was 14 when she was writing her diary. There is so much life lessons to learn from this book. This isn't a book about t I absolutely loved this book. Not because it's the diary of a jewish girl that, after two years of hiding, had to go through horrible circumstances and died just before liberation. Not because I'm supposed to love or at least be positive about it. No, I loved this because of what Anne wrote and how she wrote it. This little girl was extremely wise, especially if you realize she was 14 when she was writing her diary. There is so much life lessons to learn from this book.
This isn't a book about the Holocaust, as I've read in many other reviews, in fact Anne doesn't even write so much about the war. Rather, these are the thoughts of a teenaged girl who is finding her place in the world. She struggles with herself and with her parents, just like every girl in her puberty - with the only big difference that she was captive in a house in a time of war.
She writes about being accepted by her parents, about becoming a woman, about love, sexuality, and about what she wants to become. Anne had big dreams. She wanted to be more than a housewife, like her mother was. She wanted to study and learn, be a journalist and a writer - she would have become a great one, based on her diary writings - and she wanted to mean something to the world. She probably wanted to do more as she had the chance to do in her short life span, but she has made a big impression on millions of people, and I am so happy her father made that possible by publishing her diary.
After having read her diary letters, I bought a complete collection of her writings. During her time in the back house, she not only kept a diary, but also wrote several short stories and gathered 'beautiful sentences' from books that she loved.
To me, the best books are those that leave you with a tear in the eye when you turn the last page (with a sigh): this book did that to me.
The story is set during the great depression of the 1930s in a 'tired old town' in the southern State of Alabama, where the black Americans are not yet seen as full people. The book is told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout and stretches over two years, starting when she's six. She has a brother, Jem, that is four year older than she is. Throughout the book, Jem becomes a grown-up, struggling with himself as much as with the world around him. They live with their father Atticus, a lawyer, who has taught them moral above all other things. When Atticus defends the black Tom Robinson in a trial and - of course, the accused one is a black - loses the case, Scout and Jem cannot understand the unfairness of the way blacks are treated. Though the story is not even as much about black versus white people, more about good versus bad people. And even though it's clear there are people that do bad things, Atticus teaches his children one may not hate another, and one can only understand another persons actions ‘if you slip into his skin and walk around in it’. These are greatly important moralistic lessons – which made me think: ‘Am I doing it that way? Or should I change something in the way I approach others?’
Harper Lee did a great job in how she conveys these morals; she managed not to sound pedantic. Probably this is because the readers sees and hears things through the mind of the young Scout, who is in the middle of learning to understand everything she sees happening.
But apart from all the moral, the book also just is a great story. Scout is a little Miss Know-it-all, more a lad then a girl, and she adores her big brother. They and their friend Dill (who reminded me of Tom Sawyer, actually: the best-hearted boy in the world, and always ready for adventures) are intrigued by their mysterious neighbor Arthur ('Boo') Radley, who has been hiding in his house forever. It takes a long time and lots of attempts of seeing a glimpse of him before they realize there's nothing so creepy about him, and that he is probably just hiding inside because he does not want to be a part of the people. Tom Robinsons trial is really interesting - I had hoped so much he would win - and chapter 28 is so exciting that I had to hold my breath.
The main quote in this book (and it's full of very insightful quotes) is, I think, when Scout says: 'I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks'. This is the reason why I agree to all the people saying that everyone should read this book before they die. Though it may be quite naive to think that a book, this or another, has the power change people - at least it gives one something to think about.