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The Warrior from Geatland….

I know this is long overdue, but like I keep saying, better late than never! I have always wanted to read Beowulf; for a student with an honors degree in English Literature and somebody who is obsessed with English classics, this poem got strangely left out in my wide circle of reading. It could be because old English scares me, it could have been because prose and not poetry is my preferred medium of literary indulgence, and epic poems especially fatigue me. (I loved Odyssey but barely managed to survive Iliad; I am not even getting into epic Indian poems like Ramayana and Mahabharata – at least the latter reads like a thriller, but still action and drama in ancient India in rhythmic structure…it takes SOME effort to finish!) Anyway whatever the deep sub conscious reason, Beowulf remained unread and part of my TBR for a long time. Until Cleo decided to do a rescue act and organized a Beowulf read along in May, an event, that finally made me pick up my Beowulf translation of Michael Alexander and begin to read it!

Wikipedia tells us that that Beowulf was composed between 8th to 11th centuries by an English poet who remains anonymous. Though this poem was considered to be one of the first and original works of English literature, is very much set in the Saxon lands of Northern Europe and tells a tale inhabited with the Swedes and Danes.  The poem primarily deals with the battles and triumphs of Beowulf, a hero of the Geats (modern norther Sweden) and spans over 50 years from his youth till his death. The poem begins with the distress felt by Hrothgar, the old King of Danes, whose people are being devoured by the monster Grendel. Hrothgar was once a brave and valiant King and though he remains noble and kind, he is unable to take any action against Grendel. Beowulf, then a young warrior from Geatland , hears of the troubles of Hrothgar and with band of courageous comrades, sets out to kill Grendel. Beowulf and his team enter Grendel’s lair, but Beowulf alone fights the monster and kills him ripping his arm from his body. Enraged at her son’s death, Grendel’s mother ends the celebrations at Hrothagar’s Hall by carrying off one of Beowulf’s most trusted warrior, Aeschere. The Geats and Danes once again set off in pursuit of this monster and Beowulf finally kills Grendel’s mother in her cavern. Hereafter, Beowulf returns home and becomes a King to his people and 50 years pass of peace when life is once again disrupted for the hero when a slave steals a cup from the lair of the dragon, who sees the theft and is enraged and begins buring down all habitation. Beowulf again musters his warriors and sets off to kill the dragon.  Soon Beowulf is locked in a deadly combat with the dragon and his men fearing their own lives, flee the battle, leaving Beowulf alone. Only one loyal retainer, Wiglaf, remains steadfast and helps Beowulf slay the dragon. However Beowulf is mortally wounded and soon dies. Wigalf predicts the defeat of the Geats in the hands of the Swedes, because of their betrayal of Beowulf and the dragon’s treasure is left where it was found.

What can I possibly say about the poem that has not been said before? Since this is a translated work, I cannot really comment on the language, but it is the structure of the story and characters that takes your breath away! It is a grand adventure, it is story of a simpler time, but its values of courage and loyalty and nobility still sustain. It is an epic adventure and yet is also a story of mankind. Beowulf is the natural hero – brave, strong and loyal. He has all honorable intentions and acts with principle even when the greatest rewards are for his taking. For instance when Hrothgar makes him a brother to his own sons, after killing of Grendel, he could have easily taken over the Danes, but does not do so. Even in his native land of Geats, after King Hygelac’s death, though Beowulf is urged to take over the kingdom, he supports Headred the son of Hygelac and only becomes King at Headred’s death. But this poem is not only about Beowulf, all other characters shine through. Hrothgar has no longer the ability to fight monsters, but his goodness still makes his revered and loved by the Danes. The contrasting characters cleverly point out that there is a difference between a good warrior and a good king and one may not always be the other – a very revolutionary concept in a time filled with wars and disturbances. Wigalf, the brave solider who could have taken the easy way out, but chooses instead to do stand by his King and do his part for no reason or reward, except that it’s expected of him. Even the monsters come to life and can be seen through the mind’s eye as they destruct and kill.  The characters bring in all the fragility and tension that inhabit human nature, the concerns on divided loyalties and the choices man makes. I also loved the unique blend of pagan and Christian beliefs that comes through the poem. Christianity was its nascent stages in when the poem was being composed and the poet beautifully marries the nobler aspect of Christianity with the good solid belief system of the pagan world which has seen its people through many a terrible times.

It is a wonderful read and I loved the grandeur and the simplicity of the story and will definitely go back for several re-reads! Thank you Cleo for not only organizing the event, but also for all the research and back ground reading that you provided, that made this work, even more joyous to read!

Filling the Blank…..

I know I have been away and have not posted a blog in a while, but way too many things were/are crowding in my life so, I had to stop and breathe a little bit, before I got back on the treadmill!

So what has been happening you ask? Work to begin with! Some weeks ago I had spoken about a position I wanted to apply and had to study for? Well, I REALLY had to study and study and study some more! It was all Six Sigma and Project Management and Leadership and all that! Not that I minded the studying but it was on top of working nearly 14 hours a day! But I plodded on and on and ….I got the promotion!!! I made it!! The new position is effective July 15th and though I know that I will have more work than ever now, I am super excited and super relived to have moved out of my old role, where things were getting really rotten and it was kind of heartbreaking to see what I had worked so hard to build, fall apart! Anyway, the company is not mine and if the powers that be cannot see the rotting roots, well, there is not much I can do. I tried and failed to show them reality and now I have done my part and it’s time to move on!

The second BIG event which kind of made all my blogging initiative take a back seat was the fact that our house is getting revamping up! I have selecting wall paint colors, having debates about the kind of wall lamps to buy and generally figuring out which wau to most effectively manage this home improvement project. There are carpenters and painters all over the apartment and my flatmate and I are confined to one room, so despite our infinite comradery, we are ending up treading on each other’s toes! Needless to say that I will be glad when all this over – a more comfortable apartment is a thing of joy, but the path to that end is threaded with thorns!!

Reading naturally has taken a back seat because of all the professional and personal chaos. However with the house refurbishing slowly winding down this week, which also happens to be my time off from work, before I take up new position, I should be able to make some huge leaps in my reading!

That’s all for now folks! I will back with more in-depth posts soon.

Twenty and Some More….

I was planning to review Beowulf Read Along hosted by Cleo. But then I came across the Twenty Bookish Questions post by Corinne and my plans took a turn. It’s has been a stressful week. I had to deal with a lot of Six Sigma kinda of stuff for the interview which I had mentioned in one my previous posts. Therefore, this seemed like a fun – stressbuster thing to do before I plunged into my usual book reviews. (I promise Cleo to review Beowulf next for sure)

Therefore without much further ado, I plunge in –

  1. Favorite childhood book

It’s a toss-up between Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A.Milne and very little known outside of East India, a collection of folk tales that have delighted generation of readers from my grandmother, to my mum and to me; it’s called Thakurmar Jhuli literary meaning Grandmother’s tales and its was compiled by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar

  1. What are you reading right now?

A Time of Gifts Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

  1. What books do you have on request at the library?

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Dame Rebecca West

  1. Bad book habit

I get distracted by too many books. I may be in the middle of 4 books and suddenly a review will make me put them on hold while I plough through the 5th book.

  1. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Nothing. I have bought way too many books recently!

  1. Do you have an e-reader?

Sigh! Yes! Kindle! (Surprise! Surprise!)

  1. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

Not too long ago, I used to read one book at time, now I read several together. For reasons why, please see the next answer!

  1. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Absolutely. To begin with I have started reading several books at the same time because. I see so many good books out there and the TBR is never going to see an end. I have also started reading many things outside my comfort zone basis recommendations and suggestions by fellow bloggers – books that I would have never read earlier!

  1. Least favorite book you’ve read this year

I stem the tide of unpopularity again and state once more – The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  1. Favorite book you’ve read this year:

Too many to list – but competing for top position are The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Howard’s End by EM Foster

  1. How often do you read outside of your comfort zone?

More lately than I had before; again this is change that has come about since I started blogging as I come across more and more books which while completely outside of what genres I read, are so very wonderful

  1. What is your reading comfort zone?

Classics, especially Regency/Victorian era classics, Historical Fiction, War books

  1. Can you read on the bus?

Yes! Have been doing that since as a kid used to take bus to school and used the half an hour ride to read more – naturally not school books!

  1. Favorite place to read:

My bed! Its huge and comfortable!

  1. What is your policy on book lending?

I am not lending because no one GIVES it back, especially non reader variety!

  1. Do you dog-ear your books?

I used to until I moved in with my flatmate, who insists that books should be kept in pristine condition!

  1. Do you write notes on the margins of your books?

Not in the books, because I like my books to look shiny and new, but I do have book diary that is constantly paired off with whatever book I am reading!

  1. Do you break/crack the spines?

Yes…especially those I read again and again!

  1. What is your favorite language to read?

English and Bengali

  1. What makes you love a book?

So many things – history, plot, the characters, the language, the truth of lives that the author may bring out!

  1. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

That I like the book!

  1. Favorite genre:

Historical Fiction

  1. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did):

Science – Thanks to Stefanie, I am venturing into reading more science books, but I have a long way to go!

  1. Favorite biography:

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomlin

  1. Have you read a self-help book (and was it helpful)?

Several, especially Management self-help books and forgotten them all!

  1. Favorite cook book:

None…me is the Masterchef of my kitchen!

  1. The most inspirational book you’ve read this year:

Well it is June, so technically any book between June last year to date – in which no surprise, one book that teaches me and inspires me every time I read it – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; re-read November 2014

  1. Favorite reading snack:

Sandwich, chocolates, instant noodles, fruits, water, wine…give it all!!!

  1. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience

Time for more brickbats – Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert!! Shudder!!

  1. How often do you agree with the critics about a book?

Most often and then there are DIFFERENCES and the twain shall never meet!

  1. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

Not good; because I am at the end of the day negating someone’s hard work! I try not to be completely negative, until the book just sucked off my patience!

  1. If you could read in a foreign language, which would it be?

Russian – to read War and Peace in original!

  1. Most intimidating book I’ve ever read

I thought it was intimidating, but thanks to Cleo, I really enjoyed it – Beowulf

  1. Most intimidating book I’m too nervous to begin

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

  1. Favorite Poet

Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti

  1. How many books do you generally have checked out of the library at a given time?

4 or 5 unless I have bought a stack of books

  1. How often do you return books to the library unread?

Many times – too many to count!

  1. Favorite fictional character

I cannot stop at one, you should thank your stars I am stopping at 3 only – Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, Ashton Pelham Martin from The Far Pavillions and more recently Margaret Schlegel from Howards End

  1. Favorite fictional villain:

Cathy Ames from East of Eden and Napoleon from Animal Farm

  1. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Xanadu by William Darlymple and anything else that I might fancy at that point in time!

  1. The longest I’ve gone without reading

Never – can’t remember a time when I did not read or was not read to!!!

  1. What distracts you easily when you’re reading

When people show up at my apartment without prior intimation and expect me to play the gracious hostess, especially on a Sunday night when I am rushing madly through a books before Monday start…aaaarrrggggghhhhh!!!

  1. Name a book you could not finish

Way too many to name!!

  1. Favorite film adaption of a novel

Mini Series – The 1995 BCC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Elhe and Colin Firth

  1. The most disappointing film adaptation

Harry Potters adaptations since The Goblet of Fire

  1. Most money I’ve ever spent in a bookstore at one time

Don’t even get me started!

  1. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

A bit, to get a flavor and if it tallies with blurb in the back!

  1. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through it?

Bad plots, inaccurate history, nonsensical characters especially the dew eyed butter melts in her mouth heroine types,

  1. Do you like to keep your books organized?

Like to – Yes; Do I – No!

  1. Do you prefer to keep your books when done, or give them away?

Always keep them – each book is a part of me and it’s a personal belonging and CANNOT be given away

  1. Are there any books that you’ve been avoiding

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  1. Name a book that made you angry

So many …let it be for now

  1. A book I didn’t expect to like but did

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

  1. A book I expected to like but didn’t

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – muddled Indian spirituality at its worst!

  1. Favorite guilt-free guilty-pleasure reading

1857 Indian Mutiny and World War books

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