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.
I want to give this book 6 out of 5 stars. Or 7. Or a million. Or I want to name a star after it.
I do shed a tear with books when things get emotional. I didn't throughout this book, but when reading the last 5 lines I sobbed. And still did when I reread those lines this morning. I think it requires a lot of writing talent to build up such a reaction throughout 700 pages. And Amos Oz certainly has that talent.
Through the history of his family, Amos Oz tells a history of Jews in Eastern Europe and early Israel from the late 19th century to roughly the 1960s. We learn about their fate, their courage, their hopes, their disappointments. All throughout the book we know his mother died when Amos was only 12 years old, but it's not until last two pages Oz reveals what happened exactly. But the family history, the situation in Jerusalem in the 40s and early 50s, all the anecdotes - they build up to understanding why Fania fell into depression and eventually took her own life.
Amos Oz performs magic in the way he picks his vocabulary and constructs his sentences. I do love words. When the writing is beautiful, I don't care much what actually happens in a story. But a book turns to a gem to me when it combines best of both worlds - as this does.
He carefully chooses what anecdotes to tell, and some of those he mentions several times throughout the book, strengthening their relevance.
I will often think of Fania and little Amos when I hear a blackbird sing.
Raimund Gregorius is a middle-aged (57 year old) teacher of classical languages. One day, while he walks to work, he encounters a young woman on the bridge who seems to be desperate and indending to jump. He saves her. They don't talk, but she writes a phone number on his forehead and tells him that she is Portuguese. Since it is raining, he takes her to the school, where she can dry up and stay in his classroom for the time being. She leaves his classroom without saying anything, instead, she puts her finger on her lips and just disappears. This encounter is a turning point in Gregorius' life. Not long later, Gregorius goes, too, leaving his books and his students behind. He is intrigued by this woman from Portugal and goes to the Spanish bookstore he knows well, since his ex-wife is Spanish. In the Portuguese section he finds a book written by Amadeu de Prado, entitled "A Goldsmith of Words". Being a lover of language and words himself, he asks the owner of the book store to translate a the first paragraphs and he is enchanted immediately. He decides to buy the book together with a Portuguese language course and a dictionary. He spends the night learning basic Portuguese and translating a couple of chapters of De Prado's book. De Prado writes about life and reflects on why people do what they do, and this touches Gregorius extremely. It turns out he is in a kind of crisis himself and decides this is the time to just do what he feels like doing instead of playing his role in society and act like people expect him to act. To leave the life he has been living behind; and start anew. He writes a letter to his headmaster saying he will not be at work for an unknown period, and boards the train to Lisbon. He is dertermined to find De Prado, the man behind the words. When it turns out that he has passed away, he visits people that have known him, talks with them and gets to lean Amadeu through them. The reader follows Gregorius on a quest through history, ideas and reflections on life.
Pascal Mercier is the pen name of Peter Bieri, a Swiss philosopher. This novel contains his philosophical ideas on life and free will. And those aren't just thoughts that I can identify with real well; it is also written beautifully. A book that I will always treasure.
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.
'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.
Victor Hugo is a true master of language. Under his pen, words turn into gems, forming perfect jewels when strung together. No matter what he writes about, it sounds delightful. A joy for every literature loving eye. But he does not just write about anything; he is also blessed with the gift of writing magnificent storylines and creating extraordinary characters. The main characters in this book are tragic in all kinds of way: tragically ugly (Quasimodo), tragically innocent (Esmeralda), tragically in love (Claude Frollo). One could even say that captain Phoebus is tragically plain.
In ‘Notre Dame de Paris’, Hugo brings a church and a city to life. I choose to use the original title, because the main character is not, as the English title suggests, the bell ringer Quasimodo. I would say the main character is love. The ugly outcast and the priest love the beautiful gypsy girl, the gypsy, in turn, loves a captain. But it’s not just the passionate love the plays its part. The story also is about everlasting love and pain for a lost daughter and the unconditioned love for a younger brother. The bell ringer, the priest and the girl all suffer from unrequited love (even if Esmeralda doesn’t realize that her soldier just wants her for one night, naïve as the young girl is). Unrequited love can be taken for granted if one silently accepts it, as Quasimodo is forced to do because of his looks. But it can also evolve to jealousy, hatred and thirst for revenge – the feelings that swell in the breast of the priest. And so the one who loves her crazily brings her to the gallows. Pierre Gringoire, one of the characters in the book, correctly states: “That’s life… It’s often our best friends who make us fall”.
This is a great and very important book on the development of human life and the world.
Mary Shelley wrote this story in the beginning of the 19th century, when science was developing in an enormous speed. More and more was possible with new scientific discoveries. In fact, scientists were experimenting with bringing animals, even humans, to life using electricity. Mary Shelley, who enjoyed a great education, knew about this and wrote this book. It warns us for the other, dark side of scientific progress: if we don't combine scientific potential with our own reason and moral, bad things can arise; things we aren't prepared for... This happened to scientist Victor Frankenstein in the novel. He is obsessed by the idea of animating dead things, and without thinking about anything else, he brings a human-kind being, excisting of dead bodyparts, into life. He detests it from the moment it takes his first breath, then banishes it and calls it 'a monster'.
The story is surprisingly relevant also in our time, 200 years after. The plot says a lot about humanity in general. We create something that we then detest but do not blame ourselves, but the thing we created instead. For example, we all drive a car and complain that we are in traffic. In Mary Shelley's time, but also now, we are surpressed by the rise of big cities and industries - that we created ourselves. We don't feel free anymore because we are online night and day, 7 days a week; but seem to forget that we created this situation ourselves - by scientific developments and 'improvements'. Are those really improvements, or are we creating more and more monsters, that will eventually haunt us? Think about the global wars of the past century, think about the nuclear threats, and answer for yourself. Science is said to kill God - I think it's different: science makes us think we are gods. With one significant difference: God thought about his creation before performing it.
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.
The Man Who Laughs is a a brilliantly written, beautiful masterpiece by Victor Hugo. It's a real shame this book is so little known. Hugo is a magnificent thinker and he can put his philosophic thoughts into words in an absolutely brilliant way.
Gwynplaine, a 10-year old, homeless boy, is being left at the coast of Portland by a group of people. He fights his way through the snowy night, rescues a little babygirl from the breast of her mother, who has already passed away, and when he finally reaches the city of Weymouth, which could be his saviour, nobody would open the door for the two little orphans. Finally he comes to a waggon, in which lives Ursus, a travelling doctor and philosopher, and his wolf Homo. Despite Ursus murring about them kids taking away his poor dinner, he adopts them. When the day sets, Ursus recognizes that Gwynplaine is one of the victims of a group of people called 'Comprachicos': he was bought away from his parents and his face was operated so that Gwynplaine has an everlasting smile on his face, originally in order to show him at year markets and make money.
The kids grow up living with Ursus, travelling around and performing a play, which is a huge success, as nobody can resist laughing out loud when seeing Gwynplaine's face. It's beautiful how Gwynplaine and the girl, Dea, love each other and thank God for having each other.
When Gwynplaine gets to know his true identity of Lord of England and is forced to join the House of Lords, he tries to talk into the other lords to do something for the poor, as he has lived in the middle of that part of society. But partly because of the content of his speech, partly because of his dismantled appearance, none of the lords listens to him. He soon has to admit that the rich live for the rich only and don't care about the poor. He runs away, returning to find Ursus and Dea and live the poor but happy life he had with them, but the fragile Dea, who could not bear the shock of the loss of her brother and lover, is already dying. When she passes away, Gwynplaine takes his own life, and hopes for a better life in the afterworld.
Gwynplaine’s facial appearance is why this story is so poignant - Gwynplaine is condemned to always smile, whereas he lives in the poorest of situations. He tries to make an influence when he recognizes he is a mighty lord, but due to his face he won’t ever be taken serious.