Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Tale of Genji- book 10

So I finally finished The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and I would just like you to all know that I HATED it. I definitely would not give it a place in my top 10 greatest novels of all time. I don't care if it is an 11th Century novel that revolutionized the genre by being the first novel to include feelings, and thoughts. It's horrible.


1)It has no point. The book basically follows Prince Genji throughout the course of his life and his many loves. The journey through these many loves doesn't seem to be sharing any great truth about life (well except for the fact that life is fleeting...or evanascent as the book liked to say over and over again). For me that wasn't enough of a moral or a pretext to get through all Genji's carousing and whoring around.

2) It is a chauvanistic story which includes, rape, molestation of children, multiple wives and a series of men "having their way" with women. For those of you who don't know, part of my job is to educate youth about the dangers of sexual exploitation. This book is just filled with men taking advantage of women. Genji brings in a young child because he reminds him of his fathers concubine who he once had an affair with and basically raises her until she is maaaybe 14 and forces her to become his lover. This is what he says of the situation "A man can shape and mold her as he wishes and becomes fonder of her all the while"

And here is another quote when he rapes one of his many loves. "He would make his way past the most unblinking of gatekeepers and hav ehis way with her"

And lastly of another tryst: "self loathing was not enough to overcome temptation"

3) Genji is a whining snivelling idiot who creates his own issues and then complains when they cause him trouble. For instance:

"It seemed that his life must go on being complicated" (This is only because his whoring around gets him trouble with the court, his many ladies and his family.

"He sighed, almost wishing it were not the case that each of his ladies had something to recommend her. It made for a most complicated life"

"All my life I have made trouble for myself which I could have avoided"

That all being said there are a few good points to the novel.

1)As a study in 11th century Japan it is fascinating. I loved how men and women spoke to each other in poetry mostly just hinting at their meaning. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Like snows that wait for their comrades to return" (how cute is that??!!)

"Go we late or soon more frail our lives than dewdrops hanging in the morning light"

"startled from my dream by a wandering gusyt of teh mountain gale. I heard the waterfall and at the beauty of its music wept"

2)The description of the changing seasons and flowers made me really want to see (and smell Japan). The talk of cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and wisteria left me thinking that it must be a very beautiful place. This left me particularly sad in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami.

"A willow trailed its branches in a deepening green and the cherry blossoms were rich and sensuous"

3) The novel had some interesting things to say about relationships . I loved this quote:

"we all have our strong points-or in any event I have never myself seen anyone with none at all. Yet when you are looking for someone to fill your whole life there are not many who seem right"

"it is in general the unexplored that attracts us, and Genji tended to fall most deeply in love with those who gave him least encouragement".

I definitely identify with that one. I have always tended to be interested in people who have no interest in me.

4)The book also talks about some Buddhist tradtions that I found very interesting. In 11th century Japan at least the characters all felt at the end of their lives that they needed to become nuns or monks and spend the last few years of their lives preparing for the afterlife in the hope that they might find a place in the afterworld. As a Christian who doesn't have to work for my salvation I found the thought very sad that they needed to strive so hard for the next life.

"if you join the competition for salvation which we see all around us"

"even in writ which the Buddha drew from his nobel heart are devices for pointing obliquely at the truth...if one takes a generous view, then nothing is empty and useless"

That quote I actually like!

Okay, that's all. I am done. I don't want to spend another second on this horrible book!!! The next novel I am reading is Emma. I have never wanted to read Jane Austen, mostly because I am stubborn and like to be counter culture, but I am actually excited to see what all of the fuss is about. This book, is much smaller and I should be done in 2-3 weeks no problem.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

While you are waiting

The Tale of Genji is REAAALLY long, and its taking me awhile to read it. So while you are waiting, why not take a minute to enjoy this blog from my former blog. (which is no longer in existence). I Love this book and read it in one week in February in 2009. Enjoy!

The novel "A Trip to the Stars" is a startling find, especially given that I found it on the bargain table at Chapters for 2.50. The novel chronicles Mala and Enzo an aunt and her 10 year old nephew who are seperated one fateful day at a planetarium. The remainder of the book follows their seperated paths and their various quests to get back to one another. The book is filled with lost people, who are seeking lost things. It was this description of the lost people looking for lost things that drew me to the book. I was pleased to find such an exciting steal and spent my whole vacation week reading the novel at any spare opportunity I had. It has now moved to the top of my list of favorite novels and I want to read it again because their is so much packed into it. As I usually do in movie and book reviews I will do a numbered description of some of my favorite points.

1) This book is too smart for me! I had to read it with a dictionary sitting beside me because there were a few words that I didn't know. The ones that stick out include natatorium, quincunx, and palimpsest. Do you know what these are?

Heres the definitions:

Natatorium: Swimming pool

Quincunx: a grouping of five objects or people. One in each corner and one in the middle. In the novel this refered to the way the garden was structured

Palimpsest: a piece of parchment or something similar where text has been erased completely or partially to make room for new text. In the novel this refers to a scar that had partially healed and could barely be seen.

The book is filled with references to explorers, philosophers, famous works of literature and a description of several constellations I had never heard of. I felt like I was missing a lot of really important references to things that I should know. For instance, the book makes reference to The Arabian Nights several times and I have a suspicion that parts of the book parallel stories in the Arabian nights. Makes me want to read it now! Several characters, locations and buildings are named after constellations. I caught a few of these because I know some constellations and others I caught becuase I was told by the author.

2) The author loves names. I got the impression that every item and person in the book was named that way for a very specific reason. I had a suspicion that if I had looked up the names in a dictionary or found out their meaning in a foreign language it would have told me something about the nature of that character. For instance Alma (the aunt in the story) changes her name to Mala after she loses her nephew. The author clues us in that this means "bad" in a different language. Mala is racked with guilt over the loss of her young nephew and sorts this out as the book goes on. Several of the characters are named after constellations and two mute characters are named Aleph and Aym which are the two characters in the arabaic alphabet that don't have sounds. I have always loved naming for character and if I ever right a book my characters will have names that hint very subtly at the nature of their character. I love how God changes names in the bible when a person's character goes through a significant switch.

3)There is my favorite kind of puzzle and mystery in this book. It is a story that chronicles the lives of two people and shows how their lives work out for good in the end. The message of the story as I see it is that everything happens for a reason and that people come into our lives just when we need them. Also, the events in the story are bleak and hopeless at times but every instance of things that happen in the story eventually work out for the main characters good. The author is kind enough to let us see how Mala and Enzo are connected even though they are miles apart. It is exciting to know that Mala runs into a hotel owner named Canopus in Thailand, while Enzo stays at his former hotel in Las Vegas. And it is exciting to know that the spider collector who Mala works for in the first year seperated from Enzo is the same spider collector who arrives at the Hotel Canopus and lives with Enzo, years before a connection is ever made. There are more little things like this but the biggest and most suprising of all would be a shame for me to ruin. It fills me with glee just thinking about it and leads to Mala's revelation that everything happens for a reason.

4) This book is set in a childhood dream location of mine. Enzo lives in a hotel with well over a hundred rooms. When I was little this was one of my dreams: to own a house with at least a hundred rooms. As a child I thought it would be great to have a room for every purpose or activity that you might ever want to engage in. The author does a fantastic job of showing us the fine details of many of the hotels rooms. It is a place filled with great mystery and I so wish it was real so that I could explore it at leisure. The other location that the book is set in is the desert. The desert has a very deep meaning for me after God did some major healing work around the desert. I love the desert and the wide open spaces. Much of Enzo's life is surrounded by the desert both in Las Vegas and in Acoma.

5) This book shows in painful detail what happens when a person tries to run from themselves. I have done this and know the feelings that fill you when you are trying to escape your own brain. Mala is filled with guilt over losing Enzo and she travels far and wide trying to escape herself. She stays on various Islands all over the world and also gets involved in some mind altering substances to numb the feelings she is feeling. I have seen both of these methods played out in people around me and know well that people physically remove themselves to far of places as well as mentally remove themselves when their realities are too painful. For a brief time after university I tried to escape myself but was unsuccessful. Thankful our God is a god of love and I was eventually able to stop running.

6) This book has a beautiful love story attached to it and it makes me want to cry even thinking about it. Mala and Cassiel meet in Vietnam during the war and through a series of events are torn apart. He leaves her with a bracelet made out of shrapnel removed from his body and formed into the shape of stars and isn't seen again for many years. He also leaves her with a sign for a celestial fix which is what navigators use to show they have found the right path. At the end of the book he asks him to marry her and gives her a ring with a diamond in the shape of a star and the symbol for the celestial fix etched in the bottom. I love the intimacy and uniquenss that implies and would love to have piece of jewelery that had that much intimate meaning attached to it. This book is great for showing the importance of having symbols to show where you have been and how you have changed. Enzo carrys items left over his mom when she was younger, Mala has a necklace she found right before she left for vietnam and the shrapnel bracelet and Cassiel keeps a leaf that Mala wrote both of their names on. I am a huge fan of symbols and can't wait to have a wedding ring and all that it symbolizes. In the meantime, especially while reading this book (which left me with a huge sense of longing and looking for something...only I don't know what) I have my ring that I bought myself at Creation Fest that says in Hebrew "your maker is your husband". I am wearing it right now actually, as I am still suffering from some post valentines depression.

7) I love that this book doesn't have a neat and tidy ending. It ends on an unfinished note, much like our lives. For a book that is very much about life, it is a fitting ending one that leaves me feeling satisfied and happy. (I know that many people will likely not feel this way however).

All right I think that is enough. I do sugggest that everyone reads this book as it is just so beautiful. It is the kind of book I would want to write if I ever had the motivation to spend that long plotting one out. Here are some quotes:

""And hte halfway house, I also realized, was an natural outgrowth of my uncles pre-occupation with lost people and lost things" pg 137

"For exampe, the fact that English word desert comes from the Latin desertare, as in "to desert", and means not an empty, but an abandoned place" pg 113

"That when you find what you really want, you know that losing it would be worse than losing your life. That makes me afraid" pg 86

"The worse thing about fear is what it does to you when you try to hide it" pg 86

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Magic Mountain-Book 9

Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann was a difficult book to find. I have noticed that tends to be the case for books that have been translated into English. This book was originally published in German. Suprisingly, even though this book is set in a TB Sanatarium and very little action occurs, I actually really liked this book. This book is more about the psychological growth of the main character Hans Castorp. He means some interesting characters during his 7 year stay in the Sanatarium and two of them intentially take him under their wing as a "pedagogic" pupil. This style of novel is apparently referred to as a bildungsroman which focuses on a the changes that occur for a young person who is seeking answers and truth on their real and spiritual journey that they take. Why haven't I discovered this genre before?? I love novels that focus on real life issues and the quest for truth.

First off I want to mention that I love all the great little phrases this novel uses throughout the book. Mann refers to life outside of the Sanatarium as the "flatlands" and everyone within the Sanatarium talks about "life up here". One of Hans Castorps mentors refers to him as "lifes problem child". When Castorp goes off to think about life and philosophize he refers to is as "playing king". I love them and may perhaps take to using the phrase "playing king" in my everyday life!

Several themes emerge out of the rantings of his two teachers. One, Settembrini the Italian humanist, focuses on the individual, reasoning and logic and the other, Naphta the Jewish communist, focuses on faith, communism and anarchy. After listening to both sides Hans Castorp decides that he doesn't like either.

One of the themes he spend the most time thinking about is death. This is only natural for an orphaned boy who is living in a sanatarium where people die every day. Castorps first belief is that there is something holy and honorable about death. In his early experiences with his parents, and grandpa's death he felt drawn closer to the holy and sacred things of life when he was surrounded by death. He almost puts death on a pedastal for which his mentors chastize him and point out, "if it isolates death in a dualistic fashion... it becomes a force of its own opposed to life, an antagaonistic principle the great seduction- and its kingdom lust"

The book equates parts of love and death as being closely linked as they are both uniquely tied to the body and our life in our body (as opposed to spirit).

"Both of them, love and death are carnal, and that is the source of their terror and great magic"

The second theme and the most consistent throughout the book is love. Hans Castorp meets a beautiful Russian lady named Clavdia Chauchat who has been at the Sanatarium for along time. He obsesses over her and doesn't know why until he falls asleep one day and dreams of a boy who he was obsessed with as a child and asked for a pencil. Clavdia looks similar to this boy and he realizes that he must have been attracted to him as a child. It is not until the eve of her first departure that he even exchanges a conversation with her, but that doesn't stop him from fantasizing about her at all times. She is hinted to be the reason that he waits there for 7 years and is possibly the cause of his dubious illness and fever that appears to have no physical cause.

As a girl prone to obsessive love, not based in reality myself, I was highly intrigued by these parts. Reading his justifications in print makes them seem crazy (which they are).However he does express himself with poetic beauty and he points out that, "Love is nothing if not foolish, something mad, and forbidden, and adventure in evil"

He idolizes Clavdia and puts her on a pedestal much like he does the idea of death:

"I have always loved you, for you are the 'intimate you' of my life, my dream, my destiny, my need my eternal desire"

The narrator comes up with a beautiful description of Castorps experience. He was, "head over heels in love, as people say, and yet not in the happy sense of the idiom but...terribly in love, dependent, subjugated, suffering and serving-was nevertheless a man who remained shrewd enough amid his exacting slavery to know what his devotion was worth".

I have always said this this kind of love is like idol worship and one of Castorps mentors points out the same thing to him. "you run the danger of idol worship. You are venerating a mask".

Here are some of my favorite quotes on love and passion from the book:

"passion means to live life for life's sake"
"passion means to forget oneself"
"it is...downright life denying to make a tidy distinction between sanctity and passion in matters of love"

(that quote is my favorite, because to me love is a holy, sanctified experience even though it is also passionate and wild)

"love is always, simply itself"

There is also some interesting things said about faith and God which I loved.

At Christmas one of the residents pointed out that at Jesus's birth " and idea had been born back then, which ahd continued to triumph down to the present, and that idea was the dignity of every human soul".

I love that idea, and that is one of the main reasons I follow Jesus.

And another neat quote:

"Man himself is divine in that he feels. he is the very feeling of God. God created him in order to feel through him"

The main theme is definitely love. The revelation given during the most important scene in the book where Castorp almost dies alone in snow storm, and dreams a fantastical dream is LOVE.

"I will keep faith with death in my heart, but I will remember that if faithfulness to death and to what is past rules our thoughts and deeds , that leads only to wickedness, dark lust, and hatred of human kind. For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts"

And the very last quote of the book when Hans Castorp returns to the "flatlands" in the midst of world war I says, "And out of this worldwide festival fo death, this ugly rutting,fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all around-will love someday rise up out of this too?"