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.
This is a great gothic novel with all the ingredients that it takes: a sinful monk, madness, supernatural elements, the devil's temptation...
The capucine monk Medardus drinks from a devil's elixer which makes him sin: he desperately falls in love with a young girl, Aurelie, who confesses to him to be in love with him but then disappears. For Medardus, this is the beginning of a mad quest for her love; he wants to possess Aurelie whatever it takes. He leaves his monastery 'in order to heal from sin', but he is actually going to find Aurelie. Under a false name, he gets to live at both the baron's and the ruler's residence, where he meets her again. But she is afraid of him, and above all, he is a monk - so they cannot be together. Under another false name and a new apperance, he meets her once more in the palace of the ruler. When he is about to marry her on the ruler's wish, he rages in madness and kills her - at least he thinks so.
On his travels, Medardus is accompanied by a mysterious, mad double, and it wasn't until late in the book that I knew for sure this wasn't just a vision or a creature of the mind. He travels to Italy and repents for his crimes, and then returns to his home monastery. There, he meets Aurelie and his mad double once again: Aurelie becomes a nun, but his double murders her when she has just spoken her vow. Medardus, happy that Aurelie has passed free from sin, dies a year after.
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.