Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

And with this book, I declare all my reading challenges for 2012 completed!

Graham Greene Reading Challenge 2012

Travels with my Aunt is my third and final installment for the Graham Greene Reading Challenge hosted by Carrie of Books and Movies. My previous two titles are The Quiet American (1955) and The End of the Affair (1951).

Here they are. Look at the book covers, all from the Penguin Classics Graham Greene Centennial Edition (2004), trade paperbacks with French flaps. It’s a delight to just hold them in my hands:

Graham Greene Books

Travels with my Aunt (1969) is my first taste of Greene humor. Compared to the other two I’ve read, which are intense and deeply serious, this one is a light comic relief.

A conservative, retired bank manager Henry Pulling found a new relative at his mother’s funeral, his Aunt Augusta. She is everything he is not, an eccentric and liberal seventy-five-year-old sets to open a whole new world for his nephew. Upon Aunt Augusta’s insistence, Henry accompanies her travelling in Europe. In the process, she widens his contacts with some shady characters, opens his eyes to an underground world he has never imagined, leaves his trails with police investigations, and overturns his carefully guarded self into disarray.

The humor in Travels with my Aunt reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and makes me think that, if it were written as a play, probably it would have been more effective and enjoyable.

I mean, considering it takes Greene only 180 pages to tell the complex story of The Quiet American, and 160 pages to depict the deeply conflicting The End of the Affair, why would he need 254 pages to jot down some travel notes. That’s right, he narrates in details and often digresses to leave us with some clever one-liners along the way. But, if he had picked up the pace a bit, and tightened up like the two previous books I read, I would have appreciated it much more. Okay, it’s selfish wishful thinking on my part, me being a very slow and easily diverted reader.

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Ireland Reading Challenge 2012

ireland-reading-challenge-2012

And earlier in November, I’d finished The Ireland Reading Challenge 2012 also hosted by Carrie at Books and Movies. I aimed at the ‘Shamrock Level’ and read four books of at least three different genres. Here are my selections and links to my reviews:

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden (Novel)

Everything in this Country Must by Colum McCann (Short Stories)

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (Play)

Dubliners by James Joyce (Short Stories and Novella)

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No plans for taking up any Reading Challenge for 2013 yet. However, I do have two Read-Along’s planned for the coming year. Hope you can join me then. Will post soon.

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Liebster Award

I’ve been tagged, and I didn’t know it. A few weeks ago Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza tagged me for a Liebster Award. Didn’t find out until now. As the icon shown above, the Liebster Award is to discover new blogs… well, blogs that one may not have visited before.

So here I go to answer 7 good questions. Thanks, litlove, for first asking them. Here they are:

1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?

I think literary prizes are good pointers, their shortlists are often guide to my longlist of TBR’s. I like to follow the Booker, Giller, and Pulitzer, awards from the UK, Canada, and US.  I even watch book awards if they show on TV, like the Giller here in Canada. Yeah, you can tell I love award shows… but for some reasons, I’m not so thrilled about the Nobel literature prize.

2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?

They say the first book is usually autobiographical. So let’s see if that’s any easier. Also, something that I can turn into a screenplay after it’s published… like killing two birds with one stone.

3. Describe your ideal home library/study.

A big comfy couch for reclining. Large coffee table beside for laptop, books, notebooks, junks, enough space to put coffee mugs and snacks. Built in book shelves, with books of course, artworks, a music system, and overall artistic chaos. And oh, a large flat screen TV facing the couch. Books and films always go together for me.

4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.

Kazuo Ishiguro. I like his style. His An Artist of the Floating WorldRemains of the Day and Never Let Me Go cannot be more diverse in their setting and subject matter, which shows how versatile the writer is. I think his works can last the test of time. The other is Yann Martel. If he can write Life of Pi we can cut him some slack for slipping a bit in the next piece. If Pi can reach shore and be rescued after 227 days adrift at sea, I’m sure his story can survive the test of time. Also, really appreciated the writer’s effort to send our PM Stephen Harper a book every two weeks to enrich his reading.

5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?

Modern Library’s Top 100, you can pick any titles from it. Here’s the link. Thanks.

6. What’s the last book you did not finish and why?

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, 2010 Booker Prize winner. I stopped at about page 50. I know, I should have gone a bit more before I quit, but, my patience just couldn’t stand the test of time. However, I think I’ll go back, restart and finish it, some day.

7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?

What? Not being able to acquire anymore? The answer is a no-brainer. And also, I’m afraid the perfect books for me now may not remain perfect through the years, considering how changeable I am. Anyway, acquiring books is one of life’s major pleasures and I just don’t want to give it up.

Ok, now, the next 7 targets to answer these 7 questions, how about Janell of An Everyday Life, Catherine Sherman, Gavin of Page247Hedda at Hedda’s Place, Alex of The Sleepless ReaderSigrun at Sub Rosa, Grad The Curious Reader. Just for fun.

According to the idea of the Liebster Award, you’re to tag 7 other bloggers and develop your own 7 questions if you like.

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Anna Karenina Read-Along Parts 5 – 8… And The Curtain Falls

Funny, writing a post on this last part to wrap up our Read-Along is much harder than I first thought. Where do I begin?

Here are just some thoughts.

Tolstoy the Psychoanalyst… and More

First, this is not just one story but several, and not just appreciating a 19th C. writer in distant Russia, but this is Tolstoy the master storyteller. I’m amazed at his craft. What a sharp observer of human nature, the incisive psychoanalyst decades before Freud, not only piercing into the minds of women and of men, but our canine pals as well. Tolstoy the dog whisperer. Why, the hunting scene in Part Six is a unique exploration into the cognitive dissonance of Levin’s four-legged hunting partner Laska. And Tolstoy has amusingly shown us why dogs are man’s best friend. They know their master’s shortcomings, yet still remain faithful.

Tolstoy the Late-Night Show Host

And then there’s the humor. I was surprised from the start that Tolstoy’s style is so light and sometimes even deadpan. The best quotes comes from the minor characters. Here’s one from Yashvin, Vronsky’s friend from the military, condensing the 800 plus pages in a nutshell:

 ‘A  wife’s a worry, a non-wife’s even worse,’ thought Yashvin… (p. 544)

Tolstoy can make one superb late-night show host. Listen to this:

A man can spend several hours sitting cross-legged in the same position if he knows that nothing prevents him from changing it; but if he knows that he has to sit with his legs crossed like that, he will get cramps… (p. 528)

That was what Vronsky feels with regard to society. And we know Vronsky gets more than just leg cramps.

Tolstoy the humorist? Or realist? Even the most casual remarks could bring me a smile of agreement. Like here, responding to Vronsky’s urge to go out for a walk, Oblonsky has aptly voiced out my sentiment:

 ‘If only it was possible to stay lying down and still go,’ Oblonsky answered, stretching. ‘It’s wonderful to be lying down.’ (p. 589)

All the World’s a Stage

Mariinsky Theatre, preeminent venue for music and ballet in 19th C. Russia

And then there are the spectacles. Society’s a stage where people are actors and spectators all at the same time. Tolstoy throws in many scenes reminding us that. When Anna and Vronsky come back to Petersburg, they appear separately in public at the theatre, something that Vronsky insists and Anna is indignant about. Vronsky seems to favour the spectator role, searching out people through his opera-glasses. In contrast, Anna would rather be the actor, bravely ignoring reverberations, be on centre stage. From his glasses, Vronsky saw Anna’s head, “proud, strikingly beautiful, and smiling in its frame of lace.” But now that he has her the mystery vanishes. Her beauty, though still entices, begins to ‘offend’ (p. 546).

Anna, oh Anna…

If Anna could have detached more and emoted less… Of course, she has never expected how fickle love can be, or that passion is so short-lived or changeable due to varying circumstances, or that too much of it could smother and delude. Ironically, she does look before she leaps. If only she has used her rationale for better judgement rather than calculating when the middle between two train cars will come, all for satisfying her own delusional revenge on Vronksy.

Further, which should have been no surprise to her, that marriage has ties that linger even after intimacy ends. Anna does not choose Vronsky over her husband, but Vronsky over her son, the two loves of her life. She has chosen romance over motherhood. If I’m being a tad bit unsympathetic, maybe that’s Tolstoy’s doing.

What’s surprising to me is that Tolstoy is quite matter-of-fact about Anna’s predicament. His description of Anna’s tragic demise is just one paragraph, and after that, no more mention of her. Following that comes Part 8, wrapping up the whole book with the limelight on Levin. Quite puzzling really since the book is her namesake.

Levin … Tolstoy?

At the end, is Tolstoy offering a contrast to Anna’s tragic end by detailing Levin’s spiritual awakening? The master storyteller certainly doesn’t shy away from issues which would be considered sensitive subjects and even taboos today, like God, religion, spirituality and morality. So in the book entitled Anna Karenina, Levin has the last word. Umm… which leads to a speculation that Tolstoy might have ‘an agenda’ behind his writing. Is he proselytizing?

More and more these days, I’m seeing people getting edgy about others presenting the case for faith, especially taking offence when it comes to Christianity. Nobody would squirm a bit if suddenly one day you declare you’ve become a Zoroastrian. Mind you, Tolstoy’s handling of Levin’s conversion is reasonably and philosophically grounded, albeit that sudden spark of epiphany is too overwhelming and spontaneous to be rationalized.

And all is within context of the story. Levin, having exceedingly gratified by marital bliss, by the pure love of an angelic woman in Kitty, and witnessed the miracle of life in seeing the birth of his son, has opened unreservedly his heart and soul towards God. We can read it as it is, a convincing turn for a character who has consistently been authentic and genuine in his search for meaning.

If we take offence to this ending, suspecting a hidden agenda from Tolstoy, then we could well shed similar sentiments towards other writers whose faith, convictions, or philosophical viewpoints are presented overtly or seeped through silently in their works. Would we be equally alarmed or offended when we read, for example, Thomas Hardy with his naturalism, Camus and Sartre their existentialism, Graham Greene his Catholicism, Isaac Bashevis Singer his Judaism, Somerset Maugham his Buddhism, and for that matter, Salman Rushdie his atheism? There’s no neutral writing, is there? Every writer breathes into his writing that which stems from his or her own personal world view and hopefully authentic self.

Funny too how Tolstoy in his time could so freely describe Levin’s spiritual awakening and explicitly write about the argumentations for the Christian faith in a literary work. Just makes me think that there might be more freedom of expression in days past than in today’s society.

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So here we are, at the end of another Read-Along. Thanks to those who has participated in reading these 800 plus pages with me. To all who have stopped by the pond and thrown in a pebble or two, I’ve appreciated the ripples. To those who are just curious onlookers, your visits mean no less. It’s been a fun ride. Hopefully we’ll do another one in 2013. Will you join us then?

And now, to the movie…

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Do go and visit these other Read-Along participants and join in the discussion there:

Janell of An Everyday Life

Bellezza of Dolce Belleza 

Care’s Online Book Club

Stefanie of So Many Books

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CLICK HERE to read my first post on Anna Karenina Read-Along: Parts 1 – 4

Photo of Mariinsky Theatre from russiantourguide.com

Saturday Snapshot Nov.10: A New Gravatar

After a few years of using the blue ripples as my Gravatar, recently I’ve created a new one. It combines several of my interests… at present. I designed the set and took the photo in a mini makeshift ‘studio’, a little corner on a desk.

This Gravatar depicts pages rippling in fight, the soaring power of words. From the symbolic to the actual, most noticeable in the background is my bird book, guide to a new-found passion.

Underneath the pages in flight is Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. While Hemingway may not be my favorite writer, the title of this book is significant, albeit you can’t see it here. Less noticeable is the screenplay I’m writing at the base of the pile. Can you see the brad? And oh, the title of the open book? Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself.

Books, films, birds and screenplay in progress… a moveable feast.

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Thanks to Alyce of At Home With Books for hosting Saturday Snapshot.

Posts you may like:

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway 

Roger Ebert in Toronto: A Close Encounter

Dubliners by James Joyce

This is my fourth and final instalment for Ireland Reading Challenge 2012 hosted by Carrie of Books and Movies. What first attracted me to this newly published edition (August 2012) by Modern Library was its cover. I’m very fond of Modern Library’s classics in trade paperbacks, mainly because of their elegant covers as well as the size of the type. Interesting how type size has become a factor for my reading enjoyment in recent years… ok, no more elaboration on that.

While Joyce’s later works Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are considered iconic works of 20th C. literature, for some reasons I have no desire to take up the formidable challenge of deciphering them. But Dubliners, a collection of short stories written in his early 20’s, looks to be a much more manageable task.

With this new edition comes a new introduction, written by the Booker Prize winning author John Banville (The Sea, 2005). For me, two points stand out in his introduction. First is that Joyce himself had indicated that Dubliners could well be his best work. An admission that he might not have wanted to be publicized.

Second, Banville has slipped into a sentence an implied definition of ‘greatness’ in a literary work. Here’s it is, as he talks about the story “The Dead”:

It is indicative of the greatness of this story that after nearly a century of critical commentary and scholarship dissection it remains an enigma.

If the inscrutable is used as a qualification of greatness, then there are a few great ones in this collection.

Dubliners compiles fifteen short stories. In order of their arrangement, they cover the point of view of childhood, adolescence, to adulthood, yet they share similar themes based on love and loss, life and death, religion and conscience. It’s interesting as I caught myself while reading that I did not see the characters so much as residents of Dublin. They appear borderless. Their particular location and life situation might be tied to Dublin and Ireland at a certain point in time, but the issues they have to deal with transcend boundaries.

A twist that the stories seem to share is: people are not what they appear. Often, the picture presented in the first part of a story leads to an ironic ending. Further, below the surface of a character, there are unfathomable depths of feelings, conflicts, memories, longings and desires. Joyce’s superb writing takes the reader with him as he peels off layer after layer to show us the human soul… but not devoid of charm and humour.

Most of the stories are swift and short, some maybe like scenes and vignettes, their descriptions and character depictions sharp, precise, and succinct. The last one ‘The Dead’, the one that Banville notes as an ‘enigma’ in the introduction, is the longest with 55 pages, the highlight of the whole book.

Here are my favourites:

An Encounter – sometimes a most unlikely stranger can help us see ourselves a bit more clearly.

Araby – famous story that many of us might have read in school, adolescent infatuation, missed chances and the uncontrollable happenings in our everyday life.

Eveline – One may feel discontent with one’s claustrophobic life, but given the chance to escape, freedom may just be too risky a choice to make.

A Little Cloud – Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, but some people may just be destined to stay in less green pastures… Our lot, is it by fate, or, by choice?

A Painful Case – Anna Karenina in short story form… well, maybe just a coincidence.

The Dead – A 55 page and by far the most gratifying story for me. Joyce sets the stage with a Christmas party and presents some lively characters, slowly focusing on Gabriel, a loving husband, and maybe drenched in a bit too much self-importance and confidence.

All’s well until the twist comes at the last 10 pages. A song at the party resurrects his wife’s memory of a young lover who died for love of her at 17. As the husband excavates his wife’s long past story, he comes to a humbling self-realization. His initial passionate sentiments for her change to jealousy but finally turn into a greater clarity of what love is.

I must quote this last sentence of the story, don’t worry, no spoiler, I’ve already given you that, but just for the beauty of the prose, and the meaning that runs silent and deep:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Here is my take on this ‘enigma’ of a story…

as the snow falls upon all
it is love that connects
among the living
and with the dead.

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Dubliners by James Joyce, with a new introduction by John Banville. Published by Modern Library, NY, Paperback Edition, August 2012, 249 pages.

My other reviews for Ireland Reading Challenge 2012:

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Everything in this Country Must by Colum McCann

This Fall: Read the Book Before you See the Film

UPDATE: This list will be updated whenever there’s new info. So, bookmark it if you like. Just added Lincoln (Team of Rivals), The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. CLICK ON THE TITLES to read my book and film reviews. For others, the link will lead you to info of the production.

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Some highly anticipated film adaptations from literary sources will be coming out this fall. Released in this latter part of the year, to be premiered at major film festivals, some of them are poised for the Awards Season next spring.

Here’s an update of these great expectations. The Great Gatsby for some reasons has delayed its release until next summer, so one less book to read if you’re to finish them before the movies come out.  These titles also make good selections for book groups:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

To premiere in the UK and at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on the same date, September 7. You still have time to read this masterpiece before the film comes out as a general release in November. You may need to read a bit more than 10 pages a day if you start now. But still doable. Update: The Read-Along has just been completed. The film is now screening in selective cities. Read my book reviews here for first half and here for the last parts.

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

To premiere at TIFF on Sept. 8. Legendary filmmakers Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) join hands to make this ‘unfilmable’ acclaimed literary work. Tom Hank, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent…

Update: The film has been released and has received mixed reviews. 

Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

How about this… The French notorious literary classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, published in 1782, adapted into film in the 21st C. with a setting in 1930’s Shanghai, China, helmed by Korean director Hur Jin-Ho, cast with Chinese and Korean actors. I’ve seen two adaptations in the past, Michelle Pheiffer/John Malkovich’s Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Annette Bening/Colin Firth’s Valmont (1989), but this one strikes me as something totally different.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

In time to mark this bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, a showcase of British talents: screenplay by David Nicholls (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, When Did You Last See Your Father) directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and A Funeral, Harry Potter), Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Jeremy Irvine (War Horse)…

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The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

World premiere Nov. 28, 2012 in New Zealand for Part 1 of the Trilogy, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in Dec. 2013, and ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ in July, 2014. Peter Jackson attempts to reprise his Rings magic with cast from previous Rings Trilogy Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom… Again, we’ll get to see beautiful New Zealand as setting.

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Les Misérables by VIctor Hugo

A film version of the stage musical to be released in December. Directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper of The King’s Speech. If you want to hear them sing, here’s the chance… Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried…  The trailer is mesmerizing. Update: The production has just been shown in industry screenings and received euphoric reception. Major contender for 2013 Oscars.

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

To open the 50th NY Film Festival on Sept. 28 with its world premiere. I’m glad this 2003 Booker Prize winning novel by Canadian author Yann Martel finds its film adaptation in the hands of Oscar winning director Ang Lee. From the trailer, I have the feeling that Lee has masterfully grasped the magical realism of the book. Lee’s versatility ranges from Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) to martial art (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I highly anticipate this one, albeit as someone prone to motion sickness, I’m apprehensive about seeing the rough ocean journey in 3D.

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Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Film Review

To premiere at the Gala Presentation at TIFF Sept. 9. Salman Rushdie turns his Best of the Booker, epic novel into screenplay, working closely with Canadian director Deepa Mehta on the film production. I’m interested to see how magic realism transposes from the literary to the visual, albeit I know full well the two are different forms of artistic medium. For the few of us who had spent four months reading along, I think the only regret we have might be that we can’t go to see the film together.

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Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones

Winner of the 2007 Commonwealth Prize, Lloyd Jones’s character Pop Eye Mr. Watts brings to the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville during the civil war in the 1990s not just Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, but friendship to a 13 year-old girl Matilda. Film adaptation directed by Chronicles of Narnia‘s Andrew Adamson. And for all you fans of ‘House’, Mr. Pip is none other than Hugh Laurie.

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On The Road by Jack Kerouac

First screened at Cannes Film Festival in May and later in Europe, producer Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of this beat generation classic finally comes to North American at TIFF this Sept. Directed by Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) and with a cast including Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Published in 2007, the book was included in Guardian‘s list of 50 books that defined the decade and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The story of a young Pakistani working in NYC, graduated top of his class from Princeton, finding love in an American girl, and success on Wall Street, has his world turned upside down after 9/11. The film just opened the 69th Venice Film Festival last night. Directed by the acclaimed, India-born Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), the film and the book should stimulate lively discussions in your book group. Stars Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber.

Teams of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Film Review.

It has been noted that Steven Spielberg ensured the film rights to Goodwin’s book even before she wrote it. His film Lincoln is partly based on it, an epic production that reportedly involves more than 140 speaking parts. Acclaimed as a strong Oscar 2013 contender, the film portrays Lincoln’s tenacious fight for the passage of the 13th Amendment.

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What Maisie Knew by Henry James

James’s novel published in 1897 has its film adaptation set in modern day New York City. It depicts a family break down from the point of view of a six-year-old girl as she is torn between her parents going through a divorce. Film directed by Bee Season and The Deep End’s Scott McGehee and David Siegel, Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgård star.

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Posts you may like:

Lincoln (2012): Some Alternative Views

Anna Karenina Read-Along: Parts 1-4, Parts 5-8

Midnight’s Children Read-Along

Midnight’s Children Film Adaptation: Movie Review

Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Read the book Before the 3D Experience

CLICK on the following links to my previous posts for lists of film adaptations from other literary titles in development or with film rights sold:

Great Film Expectations

Upcoming Books Into Movies — List 3

More Upcoming Books Into Movies

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Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Reading Maupassant reminds me why I love Jane Austen.

To be fair, I’ve only read one of the numerous short stories and one novel of Maupassant’s, but all of Austen’s six novels. So it just may not be apt for me to generalize the former. But focusing on just this book, Bel Ami, I can say here’s a protagonist whom I can never cheer for nor find amiable, to put it mildly…

Maupassant uses a scoundrel as the main character and have us follow his ascent, unscrupulous at every turn, as his ego and desires are being fed all the way to the end, and then some more. An antihero, the poster boy of realism in his depiction of late 19th C. Parisian high society?

Jane Austen has also written a protagonist she described as “A heroine whom no one but myself would like”. But comparing to Bel Ami‘s Georges Deroy, Emma Woodhouse is angelic. How do I even start to think of a parallel… imagine Wickham of Pride and Prejudice and Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility, combine them and magnify their nasty streak ten folds, then you’ll have Georges Deroy, nicknamed Bel Ami by the women in his life, ‘good friend’, a most pathetic irony.

The time is 1890’s Paris. Georges Duroy is a former soldier living in poverty. But call it luck or call it will, Duroy ends up a prominent figure in Parisian high society. This is how he does it.

Women. At one time, there are four significant females in Deroy’s life. These are upper crust, influential beauties. To Duroy, they are but rungs up the social ladder, each a conquest.

First is Madeleine Forestiers, the wife of his benefactor, editor friend whom he runs into coincidentally, and who saves him from poverty by bringing him in to work for the newspaper La Vie française.

The second one is Clotilde de Marelle, a married woman whom Duroy has made mistress. She aptly analyzes the Mars and Venus chasm of gender differences on that elusive notion called love. To Duroy, she says:

I know perfectly well that for you love is merely a sort of appetite whereas for me it would be more a sort of… communion of souls which doesn’t exist in a male religion. You understand the letter and I understand the spirit.

The third is the big boss of the newspaper Monsieur Walter’s wife Virgine, who has such a crush on Duroy that she loses her senses when he successfully schemes and manipulates her daughter Suzanne to elope with him.

George Wickham has plenty to learn from Georges Duroy because his subsequent wedding after the elopement is not a hush hush patch up, but a glamorous celeb nuptial, fully legit and the envy of all. By now, Duroy has climbed to be editor of La Vie française and made himself a Baron, changing his name to Du Roy for a more aristocratic sound. And we know full well that the conquest doesn’t stop there.

In one earlier incident, Duroy comes out of a gun duel unscathed, albeit a bit numbed. With his life spared, he could well have used such a near-death experience as a springboard to a new beginning and a turnaround of his ways. But his lucky escape has only fuelled his hubris and reaffirmed his self-importance. After the duel, he thinks himself invincible.

Is he immoral or amoral? I feel I have to choose the latter in order to find some amusement in following this unscrupulous character. Is it realism or sarcasm? I have to mix them both in order to seek some reading enjoyment. And with the English translation by the Cambridge scholar Douglas Parmée, there are the occasional descriptions that sounds… curt. But are they the original intent as realism dictates, or the collateral effects of translation? Can’t make up my mind on that one. Just an example:

The elder sister Rose was ugly, as flat as a pancake and insignificant, the sort of girl you never look at, speak to or talk about.

There, I find myself having to choose or debone or mix and stir in order to wash down better when reading Bel Ami. Under Maupassant’s pen of realism, Duroy is relentless all the way to the end. Just goes back to my love for Austen’s works… why, I can take in big gulps, devour and be totally satisfied. There are Wickham and Willoughby, but ultimately my yearning for some sort of poetic justice can be gratified. For my reading pleasure, I’ll take Jane’s idealism anytime.

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Bel-Ami by Guy De Maupassant, translated by Douglas Parmée, Penguin Classics, movie tie-in edition, 2012, 394 pages.

As you can see from the book cover, Bel Ami has been adapted into film. To literature purists, I suggest you look for another edition. Whenever I read about Georges Duroy, which is on every page, Robert Pattinson’s face keeps haunting me, and images of Uma Thurman as Madeleine Forestier, Kristin Scott Thomas as Virginie keep conjuring up in my mind. Now I haven’t even watched the film… oh the suggestive power of a book cover.

This concludes my Paris in July entries for 2012. Thanks to Karen of BookBath and Tamara of Thyme for Tea for hosting.

To Paris again next year!

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

How do you get to Paris from Bombay? Food, Food, Food.

What better transport is there than a light vehicle that provides a fun and wild ride, taking me out of Midnight’s Children‘s Bombay to my next destination, Paris in July? Thanks to Karen of Book Bath for organizing the trip.

This delightful, breezy read is that speedy transit. It tells the story of Hassan Haji, a Muslim boy who lives above his grandfather’s restaurant in then Bombay and how he ultimately ends up as a three-star chef in Paris.

Growing up immersed in the savoury aroma of Indian food and spices,

I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot…

Hassan is endowed with an exceptional gift of culinary talent. After the Partition and the death of his grandfather, religious and political turmoils push his family out of the country. They first land in London, later immigrate to France. The boisterous family finds a home in the resort village Lumière near the Alps and starts its own restaurant Maison Mumbai, serving Indian dishes and bringing a welcome change to the villagers.

Hassan soon is jealously noticed by the veteran, feisty two-star French Chef Madame Mallory across the street. She is the proprietor of the small country hotel, Le Saule Pleureur. Her restaurant is a haute French culinary establishment that plays Satie in contrast to the Indian music from a loudspeaker at the Haji’s. After many animated and almost cartoonish conflicts between Madame Mallory and Hassan’s Papa, Abbas Haji, both concede to the reconciliatory move of allowing Hassan to become Chef Mallory’s apprentice.

Thus, Hassan takes the one hundred-foot journey and crosses the street to stay at Le Saule Pleureur, learn all he can from the great Chef and answer ‘the irrefutable call of destiny’ to be one himself. Towards the end of his apprenticeship, Hassan is left on his own to create recipes for pigeons, gigot, and hare, all to the satisfaction of Chef Mallory. After three years under her wings, Hassan is ready to move on.

Chardin’s Grey Partridge Pear and Snare on Stone Table, one of Hassan’s favorite paintings.

Next step, Paris. Hassan starts as a sous chef with a couple of smaller restaurants. After a few years, he decides to open his own and is approached by a benefactor who offers him reduced rent in an upscale location near the Panthéon. The one-hundred foot journey has brought him fine training, now he can take flight.

Here is his trademark dish:

the Siberian ptarmigan, roasted with the tundra herbs taken from the bird’s own crop, and served with caramelized pears in an Armagnac sauce.

We as readers are privy to the actual cooking procedure beginning with the feathered live bird.

For me, more a movie buff than a foodie, the book conjures up many cinematic images… the colours and conflicts in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the prejudice in Chocolat, the sumptuous offering in Babette’s Feast, and, the training sessions in the The Karate Kid. Dev Patel (Marigold Hotel, Slumdog Millionaire) will be perfect for the role as young Hassan. I couldn’t help but think, this book is good movie material.

And then I found out from the Acknowledgements after I finished, the book is an homage to the late Ismail Merchant, the film producer behind the Merchant Ivory productions (Room With A View, Howards End, The Remains of the Day) who met an untimely death in 2005. The bond between the author Richard Morais and his friend Ismail Merchant was food. This book was started with a subsequent movie in mind.

In-depth research has gone into writing the book, culinary history, recipes, game, desserts, soups, the French kitchen, the Indian kitchen, restaurant operations, even for me the uninformed and casual eater, there are plenty to savour. The book is a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights. My only criticism is that its literary treatment may taste a bit raw, simplistic, and at times, didactic. However, read it like a comedy, it can satisfy like a dessert.

~~~ Ripples

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, Scribner, NY, 2010, 245 pages.

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Midnight’s Children: Book Three

Click on the following links to the different sections of the book:
Midnight’s Children Book One
Midnight’s Children Book Two, Part A
Midnight’s Children Book Two, Part B

CLICK HERE to read my Movie Review of Midnight’s Children

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Finally, we’ve come to the last section, the most eventful and catastrophic in our protagonist Saleem Sinai’s life. I must admit, my enthusiasm sagged a little at the end of Book Two, through no faults of Mr. Rushdie’s. Book Three sent me to some major Googling to be informed. After reading what I found on the Internet, I was fully awake.

The tumultuous waves of history swept Saleem along like an open dinghy. The 1965 Indo-Pakistani War over Kashmir ‘wiped out’ his family in a bomb blast. Saleem was ‘wiped clean’ with no memories of his own identity. He subsequently joined an intelligence gathering unit in the Pakistani military, his super sensitive nose being the major asset. In 1971, another war awaited him as he headed from West Pakistan into East to counter the revolutionary Mukti Bahini in their fight for an independent Bangladesh.

Perhaps fate had a gentler hand than humans. Saleem, now ‘buddha’ as he was ‘purified’ of all his past, got lost in the Sundarbans jungle. For seven months, he escaped the war between the two Pakistans. When he reemerged he witnessed atrocities done by his own Pakistan army he could not believe. Ten million refugees from East Pakistan walked across the border into India. As a result, the mightier Indian army led by Sam Manekshaw intervened and soon ended the war, with Pakistan’s Tiger Niazi surrendering with his 93,000 men. Buddha shed his uniform and became a deserter in Dacca, independent Bangladesh.

Tossed amidst the raging sea of national and personal upheavals, our protagonist, though a drop in a sea of six hundred millions, felt the burden of history and came to a self-realization. Rushdie’s description is powerful:

Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me… I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world.

With the Bangladesh Independence victory parade came a band of magicians from India, among them was Parvati-the-witch, one of the Midnight’s Children. Seeing Saleem again and calling his name out loud in excitement, Parvati cured his amnesia. She smuggled him in her basket back to India. Subsequently, Saleem stayed with Parvati and the magicians in the slum of Delhi. The silver spittoon he carries all these years is a perfect metaphor of his life… once born with a silver spoon in his mouth as a changeling, Saleem now comes back to where he would have been if he had not been switched at birth, the spittoon.

Saleem met his changeling rival, Major Shiva now. A loyal supporter of PM Indira Gandhi, Shiva had risen as Saleem fell. A national hero and a womanizer, Shiva went to the magician ghetto and took Parvita away. Months later she was sent back to the slum when he learned that she was pregnant. At the end, it was Saleem who married Parvita, knowing that she would give birth to Shiva’s son.

Baby Aadam Sinai was born at midnight, June 25, 1975, on the brink of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency measure in gripping absolute power, another fateful night of the nation’s history. But Saleem knows his son who is not his son will have a different path:

Aadam was a member of a second generation of magical children who would grow up far tougher than the first, not looking at their fate in prophecy or the stars, but forging it in the implacable furnaces of their wills.

With Shiva as the biological father, baby Aadam once again flowed back to the blood line of his grandfather Ahmed Sinai, the offspring of a changeling comes full circle back to his rightful lineage.

Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay conducted an anti-poverty operation to eradicate the slums. Parvati was killed in the clean-up. After her death, Saleem had a chance to go back to his birth city Bombay with his son. There he reunited with Mary Pereira. She was now Mrs. Braganza, manager of a pickle factory. Her changeling crime forgiven, Saleem now worked in her factory, paralleled his work as a writer preserving history:

… in words and pickles, I have immortalized my memories, although distortions are inevitable in both methods. We must live, I’m afraid, with the shadows of imperfection.

Is an author liable for what he writes in a work of fiction? The line delineating reality and fiction in Midnight’s Children is often blurry. Do Saleem’s views parallel Rushdie’s? Like Saleem telling his life story to Padma, Rushdie in Midnight’s Children could well have gone all out to unleash his sentiments towards the historical progression and political turmoil of India, the Partition, Pakistan and later Bangladesh.

In Book Three, Rushdie was particularly critical of the suspension of civil rights, censorship of the press and arrests of subversive elements during the Emergency as Indira Gandhi seized absolute power. But it was for a more personal description, a single sentence about Indira in this section of the book that brought Rushdie a defamation suit in 1984 by Mrs. Gandhi when she was PM again. In context, the sentence is Saleem’s account, but has to be removed from publication after that year. Rushdie mentions it in his introduction to the 25th Anniversary edition.*  The author still has the last word.

Midnight’s Children is an epic chronicle that carries multi-layered meaning and parallels, a feast of stylistic literary offerings. As an outsider, I feel I have only scratched the surface. But with just this outer core, I’ve been much entertained and informed. I will be back for more.

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A note of appreciation to Mrs. B of The Literary Stew who planted the seed of this read-along, and Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza who supported the start-up. My hearty thanks to all who have shown interest, participated at one time or another exchanging thoughts and insights in your reviews and comments, as well as those who are silent readers. All your contributions have made this four-month endeavour gratifying and worthwhile.

Review posts for Midnight’s Children Finale:

Janell of An Everyday Life

Gavin of Page247

To read my reviews of previous sections of Midnight’s Children, please click the links on the sidebar.

We must do this again some other time. Book suggestions?

* Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, 25th Anniversary Edition, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2006, 533 pages. (Book cover as image above)

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Midnight’s Children is one of my most anticipated films for 2012. Here are the actors playing young (Darsheel Safary) and adult Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha):

Here’s @SalmanRushdie’s Tweet regarding the release dates of the film: ‘Canada, October 26th; UK, November 9th; USA, being finalized, should be around the same time.’

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Listen Up: Audiobook Week 2012

June is Audiobook month, and today begins Audiobook Week 2012 (June 25-29), thanks to Devourer of Books for hosting. This is my first time participating.

Audiobooks are not new to me, albeit I’ve not been a regular listener. But 2012 is the year I rediscover the pleasure and benefits of them, and become a ‘chain user’. Mainly, it’s a time-saver for me. I listen to CD recordings of books while driving. That’s a great way to finish a book. Yes, after much pondering, I say ‘finish’ instead of ‘read’. The difference I’ve written in a previous post Dances With Words.

Yes, books on CD’s still, because there’s a large collection at our local public library. Audible.com, well, here’s a little story.

Have you ever been given a gift and then see it taken away as you open it? This is exactly my experience on this year’s Mother’s Day. My son gave me Colin Firth’s reading of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair through Audible.com. Sweet… both the giver and the gift. We unwrapped the gift together, trying to download the recording, but was told its copyrights did not apply to Canada. So, we can’t listen to it above the 49th parallel. So much for free trade and open borders.

Anyway, I’m resigned to continue listening the old fashioned way… CD’s, while patiently waiting for Colin Firth’s reading to be transferred onto them.

The following are the audiobooks I’ve finished so far this year:

Reviews coming up. Happy listening everyone!

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The Downton Ripples

Or, How I Overcome Downton Abbey Withdrawal Syndrome.

First, I bought the Blu-rays and rewatched both Season 1 and 2 several times. And then, I let my curiosity lead and follow mere intuition. Downton has prompted me to seek out books and films with setting in the early part of the 20th C.

I was most intrigued by the irreversible changes modernity has brought about, but on a more sombre note, I was moved to learn of the grave number of lives lost in a war I knew so little, WWI.

As heir to Downton Matthew Crawley has aptly noted while fighting in the trenches:

War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.

The Great War did not end all wars as claimed, but had ended countless lives of a young generation, and altered numerous others. On the positive side, it had toppled society’s status quo and broken down previously impenetrable barriers, when men of different social classes fought side by side in the trenches, and where women played a substantial role in the war effort.

And then there are the stories of individuals and families… I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this reading and watching spree. But I have to stop somewhere and share with you what marvellous works you can follow while waiting for Downton Abbey Season 3 to arrive.

So, here’s Arti’s Annotated List of Downton Ripples:

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon — A springboard to all my WWI period exploration. What impressed me was that Highclere Castle itself was actually turned into a hospital during the War and many of its staff enlisted and some killed. I was moved by the number of casualties and the horrific conditions in the battlefields. My full review of the book is posted here. 

The World of Downton Abbey — by Jessica Fellowes, niece of write/creator of the series Julian Fellowes. A compendium to the production, the hardcover larger-sized book is filled with photos, background info and quotes from the actors. After skimming through the whole book, one item stands out: Mr. Bates’ fall. That’s when Mrs. O’Brien trips him and he falls flat on his face on the gravel. How did they shoot this? Any special effects? Well, unfortunately for Mr. Bates, none whatsoever.

This is what Bates, Brendan Coyle said:

I must have done it 18 times and by the end I was wounded! I wore knee pads and a torso shield, but when you fall you have to really commit to falling.

Ouch! Some method acting.

Lost Empires (1986)— 7 Episode mini-series based on J. B. Priestly’s novel set in 1913, a year before WWI broke out. Colin Firth is young Richard Herncastle. Lost both parents at 19, he follows his Uncle Nick on his travelling magic stage show, learning the ropes of the itinerant performer in the music hall circuit. A coming-of-age saga chronicling the loss of innocence in love and life. Some noted actors in the series include Sir Laurence Olivier and John Castle.

A Farewell to Arms (1929) — Hemingway’s WWI semi-autobiographical sketch of love and loss. I listened to the audiobook read by Mad Men’s John Slattery. In authentic Hemingway style, his narrative is matter-of-fact and stoic. After that I watched the 1932 movie adaptation with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. An adaptation that makes me wish Hemingway was the screenwriter and director.

Brideshead Revisited (1945)– Evelyn Waugh has used a huge and magnificent mansion owned by an aristocratic family to tell his story. Something like Downtown but in a much serious tone. Its subtitle “The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder” sets the stage for a tug of war between God and man. I listened to the audio book read by Jeremy Irons, who has turned Waugh’s narratives into pure poetry. Probably the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to.

I’m still watching the 11 Episode TV series (1981) with Jeremy Irons playing the main character of Charles Ryder. So far, I’ve enjoyed the detailed and slower-paced depiction of the work. The book really needs a whole series to tell its story.

I’ve also rewatched the 2008 movie adaptation. As much as I respect the actors in it, Emma Thompson, Matthew Goode, Michael Gambon… I think it has trivialized Waugh’s masterpiece. The adaptation has taken the crux of the matter out and replaces with photogenic visuals and a story converted for more popular appeal. But it could well send one back to the book for curiosity’s sake.

Easy Virtue (2008) — For something totally light and swift, I rewatched this movie based on a Noel Coward play. Filled with Coward’s own music and some Cole Porter, the film depicts how the changes of the times have brought to yet another aristocratic family.

Larita (Jessica Beale) is the first woman race car driver to cross the finish line in Monte Carlo. The year is 1930. An American, she marries on a whim John Whittaker (Ben Barnes), the son of an English aristocratic family… and quickly becomes enemy on the home front to matriarch Veronica Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas), and subversive ally to her husband, disillusioned WWI officer played by Colin Firth. If you’re interested, here’s my full review of the movie.

A Handful of Dust (1988) — After Brideshead Revisited I went on to watch another of Evelyn Waugh’s adaptation. Again, a large mansion… how many of these architectural heirlooms do they have in England? Anyway, the master of this house Tony Last (James Wilby) is too busy looking after his property that he loses his wife Brenda (Kristin Scott Thomas). Title comes from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922)… that sent me into reading the poem again.

Goodbye To All That (1929) — Autobiography of Robert Graves, English poet and writer. I’m most impressed by the men of letters in that period, they enlisted readily. Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon were both involved in the most devastating battles in France. Both were seriously injured. Deep in the trenches they wrote poetry. Their views towards the war changed as time went by, but their experiences in the battlefields brought about poignant legacies as eye witnesses of a horrific war and its aftermath. Ironically, Graves handles his subject matter with some light-hearted reminiscence.

The Remains of the Day (1993) — Not quite the same period but a bit later in the brewing year before England’s engagement in WWII. I rewatched this film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winning novel in full, sumptuous Merchant Ivory style. The film leads me to think of a few parallels… Darlington ~ Downton, Stevens ~ Carson, but I’m glad Carson has more heart. And in both Downton and Remains of the Day, a character named Richard Carlisle.

The list goes on with Passchendaele and Birdsong yet to read and watch. But I know when Season 3 of Downton commences, I’ll gladly return and transfix myself once again in the Crawley family.

What have you been doing since Downton Abbey?

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You may also be interested in:

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Saturday Snapshot: Book Sale 2012

For Paris in Julyclick here to my home page. I’ll be starting to post the first week of July. 

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by At Home With Books.

Every year the gigantic book sale organized by the Servants Anonymous Society in our City kicks off my summer reading stock-up. This weekend begins their tenth annual book sale at the Crossroads Market. Here’s a photo of the books I hauled back yesterday, all in like-new condition, all for $1.50 each since I’ve got 20 of them.

Many of the titles I’ve been watching out for some time. Some of them I came to know when I read their reviews on your blogs. Glad I can find them in the book sale and in such good condition. A few of the books look like they haven’t been opened.

Here’s the list in no particular order:

Travels In The Scriptorium by Paul Auster

England, England by Julian Barnes

Pulse, stories by Julian Barnes

Home by Marilynne Robinson

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Lit by Mary Karr

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Lottery by Patricia Wood

Blindness by José Saramago

The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphreys

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Cool Water by Dianne Warren

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

One Summer by David Baldacci

The King’s Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (biography of Lionel Logue)

Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau (autobiography)

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Any of your favorites here? The Sale lasts for three weekends beginning June 8. If you were me, would you go back in the next two? Know my struggling sentiment?

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