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Posts from the ‘Classic Club’ Category

The Russian Nobleman

Vladamir Nabokov called this book “the first and fundamental Russian Novel”; in fact he was so frustrated by the what he considered the lack of qualitative translation of this critical piece of work of Russian Literature, when he started to teach at Wellesley College in 1944, that nearly 20 years later, he would produce his own attempt, which would as always create a furor, like everything Nabokov did; but that is another story! This “novel: which he considered key to Russian literature is not even a novel, but rather a work of poetry, describing the life and times of one Russian nobleman in the early 19th century Russia; it’s called Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. This work which has spawned an Opera, several films and more translation that one can count was published in Russia in a completed form in 1833 and was to change the very nature of Russian prose!

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This novel in the poetry form follows the lives of Eugene Onegin, Vladamir Lensky and the narrator, a fictionalized Pushkin from the early days in the glittering society of St. Petersburg, to the estates of the Russian country, where all three meet and become friends. Eugene is a dandy, cynical and selfish who is easily bored, does not find any creature or object interesting beyond a short stipulated time and who comes to the country after inheriting an estate from an uncle, to overcome the boredom he had begun experiencing in the glittering society circles. He becomes great friends with the narrator and Vladamir Lensky, a young, naive poet of 18; and it is Lensky who takes Eugene to the home of Olga, his finance and the younger daughter of a fellow landowner. There Eugene meets Tatyana, Olga’s elder sister, a quiet romantic girl, who is drawn to Eugene and goes on to confess her emotions to him eventually. However, Eugene rebuffs all attempts and states that he will become bored with marriage and Tatayana should be careful of baring her soul in such a manner. In an effort to reconcile a listless Tatayana, Lensky invites Eugene to her name day, stating it will be a small gathering with only the girls, their parents and two of them; however on reaching Eugene realizes that the entire country is there and to get even with Lensky for what he considers his “traitorous” act, starts  off a chain of events, that will alter the lives all four!

I read the translation by James E. Falen, and words fail me to say enough and more about this work that would do justice to its brilliance. The characters, to begin with, are masterfully etched out, standing independently and distinctly, sometimes, white, sometimes grey, sometimes, a unique hue of its own! I have read the Eugene Onegin was considered an anti-hero by many but this seems to be a simplistic definition; the protagonist is a brilliant, creative individual lacking enough outlets to use his brilliance in the limited occupations and social restrictions of early 19th century Russia. He is capable of considerable goodness, but can also be mean and caught up in pettiness. Lensky is a perfect foil to cynical and bored Eugene; he is optimistic, full of vigor and constantly eager to see life with all its beauty and perfection. Finally, in Tatayana, Pushkin created a memorable heroine,  innocent and untouched by worldly requirements, her heart burns with a certain purity, which establishes itself a strong moral character as life experiences are forced on her and then tempt her! She is the one solid ethical character around whom the rest of the amoral characters revolve, bringing out her contrast as an ideal and worthy! Even the minor characters are wonderfully drawn and support the main cast ably. The conversation between a love-struck Tatyana and the wise old Nanny is an illustrative example of such interactions. As a narrative, this poem is faultless; it brilliantly combines worldly with the ethereal, practical with the spiritual; the fictionalized Pushkin at several instances breaks away from the main plot to digress into some deeper questions of life including what is art? But he is not only able to skillfully bring the audience back to the main narrative, but also create several instances of suspense when the reader rushes through stanza in an effort to understand what happens next! This in itself would have been enough to make this outstanding example of poetry in a narrative form, however, the brilliance of Puskin takes it into a whole new level by the wonderful and deeply moving lyricism of the language, that manages to convey the strongest and most powerful emotions without for a moment sounding maudlin. I am quoting the translation and can only wonder, how beautiful the original will be –

“Another! No! In all creations, there is no one else whom I’d adore,

The heavens chose my destination and made me thine for evermore,

My life till now has been a token in pledge of meeting you, my friend,

And in your coming, God has spoken

You will be my guardian until the end.”

Vissarion Belinsky wrote that in Eugene Onegin one could find “an Encyclopedia of Russian life” and I felt this through the novel. From the glittering ballrooms of 19th century Moscow to the quiet and haunting landscapes of the large and unending estates of the countryside, this work covers it all. There are travels by coaches and name day celebrations; there are landowners and peasants and relatives and army men; there is a range of amalgamation of items and details which all beautifully come together to present a vivid and lively picture of Russia. Once again, the sheer magnificence of this effort leaves one breathless.

Finally, a word on the translation; translating this work cannot be easy and it took a genius of Nabokov also 20 years to come with a manuscript that does justice to the original. James Falen did a wonderful job in keeping things simple and I believe as close as possible to the original narrative and yet make it easy for the reader to read and absorb what is essentially a vast body of information in poetry in a different language which is actually a story! Though there is the use of some words like “awesome”  which cannot have in vogue in the period this work is set, they are far and few, and do not take anything away from the brilliance of this work!

To end, this profoundly beautiful piece needs to be read by anyone who considers themselves Connoisseur of literature!

The Spinning Story

I know, I know, the path to hell is paved with good intentions! 2019 was supposed to be the year, I read more and post more! In fact in spirit of unrivaled ambition and complete disassociation from reality, I chose a 100 books as a Reading Goal on my Good Reads. Half a year has since passed by and I am so behind, that the word “catch -up” is something that can only tickle my funny bone!

In a year of dismal reading record, the one thing that I am proud of is that I was able to participate in the 20th Classic Club Spin Read and what’s more, surprise, surprise, I was able to complete my spin book well within the timelines; though the blog post, as usual is late! I had a very “Quixotic” list this year and I cannot honestly say, I was looking forward with enthusiasm. However, the spin number turned out to be a good number and I got James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic – Tales of the South Pacific as my Spin book.

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Tales of South Pacific is a series of short stories or novellas, related with a character or an event and was published in 1947. The stories were based on Michener’s own World War II experience in the South Pacific and the stories are all fiction, steeped in real life events, based on the author’s observation and experience during his stay there. The stories deal with a variety of aspects that the US armed forces stationed in the island had to deal with – from the harsh realities of war, where death is inevitable and expected to the emotional aspects, of loves found and lost and friendships that survive the worst possible tests! The Cave , is a description of an action that happened in islands and where US Navy triumphed with of an English informer who infiltrated into the heart of Japanese military base and was later caught and killed. Mutiny traces the lives of the descendants of the infamous, Mutiny on HMS Bounty and their effort to save the natural habitat of the islands from the US Navy as the latter try and build a landing strip for the aircrafts that was vital for the success of the war in the region. An Officer and a Gentleman, looks at the loneliness and emotional desert that some of the officers felt and the many ways that they tried to conquer it, not always in the best manner or conduct. Stories like The Heroine, Fo’ Dolla, and Those Who Fraternize are all love stories that takes on the questions of color, acceptance and challenging the set norm, in times when old prejudices were slowly being dismantled by a world that had gone of the hinge. There poignant tales of courage and valour like The Aristrip at Konora and the happy memories that help keep sailors hold on to reality, like Frisco.

I can understand, why the book won a Pulitzer. It gave a brutal, honest and somewhat emotional narrative of a war, from which the US and the World was just recovering. It challenged the set status quo of class and color and privileges and sang the songs of a new World Order, which the Dumbarton Oaks Conference was supposed to achieve in the form of United Nations.  This book is all of that and then some! This was Michener’s first book and the unique narrative style that he would pioneer over other novels, like The Source, Alaska and Texas, was put down in paper for the first time. Short stories linked with one event or character came into being in the Tales of South Pacific. But it is not just the narrative style and the subject which makes this book a great read, it is the characters whom he brings to life, with all their nobleness and frailty that captures the readers imagination and makes them relate to them, admire them and sometimes, disparage them as well. The author’s thorough understanding of the Military affairs and conduct, comes through in every story, bringing authenticity and history to act as strong pillars to the stories. The  author captures the tiny detail of the people, the heat, the lack of facilities and the make do efforts to bring some semblance of comfort in the harshest conditions, and makes for the very heart of the book! While not all stories are all at par, most are and the last few tales especially bring out the brilliance of the author as he captures, in a moving and heart-breaking style, the unnecessary loss of lives of good men and women, in a war that makes little sense! 

To end, I believe in later years, James Michener produced a much higher degree of fiction, especially in novels like Caravan and The Source. However, the Tales of South Pacific is a must read for an honest, authentic and powerful story of World War II

 

And The Spin # is …..

The Classic’s Club has spun the number and it is 19! 19 seems like an odd number; excuse the pun, but we get #1, #8 or even #20 but never #19. So it’s very interesting to get a 19! This per my list, makes me read Tales of South Pacific by James Michener.

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I must own I am very very relieved to get this book and not something like The Rigveda, which is tremendously difficult to understand and takes a lot of time and concentrated focus, or so people who have read the book tell me. However, Michener can be a bit of a unpredictable read as well. I loved his  The Source and Caravan, both go into my all time favorite and not be missed lists; he has also written Sayonara, which is the most ridiculous piece of writing to come from an author as brilliant as him. I also have his Alaska, which with all my heartfelt sincere attempts have still not been able to finish and it lies next to my bed side table, with a bookmark accusingly sticking out from page 237. Also as I was discussing with Brona, all his books are chunksters, so tackling them anyway, is a challenge. Having said all of this, the fact still remains that when Michener gets it right, he writes what can only be described as deep, insightful and heart rendering books! I am hoping Tales of the South Pacific will be one of them. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and there is that la-de-da musical as well, but neither is a guarantee of the novel’s actual power. Many Pulitzer’s have failed to actually keep their promise, atleast to me and I often wonder, why they were rated so high. As far as the musical is concerned, well, the lesser said the better! I guess, I will find out soon enough! The book arrives today and I have per the rules till May 31st to finish it and I am hoping to do that sooner than that, as I have as always, bitten more than I can chew.

Cleo, my soul sister and my friend, who inspires me to do all great and crazy things is also participating in the Spin and her #19 is like va-va-voom interesting. It’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. This is an outstanding classic and our lives are replete with quotes and phrases from Johnson and Boswell. No way, could I pass this up. It’s too complicated for me to read alone and I would have needed some proding. Well, someone heard my prayers, and now I am buddy reading with Cleo on this. I need help!

To end, the die is now cast and I have books to be read! I am super excited to be part of the Spin again and realize now, how much I missed it! Without further ado, then, let’s read! Happy Spinning all!

The Return of the Spins

The Classic Club Spin has been one of my favorite reading activities. Thanks to this activity, I have read many books, which I would NOT have ventured into and in hindsight I know I would have missed out on such great and enriching works! Work and personal life however for last one year has been crazy, forcing me to let go of several spins and while I did feel upset about missing out on quality reading, there was very little I could do! I was planning to miss this spin as well, but then, I realized that I cannot always keep leaving out things that I truly enjoy for the things that must be done. I really cannot after a point get anything done, if I do not keep evolving myself and reading Classics is surely one of the best ways to do that. Furthermore, Cleo, my soul sister and my partner in crime whose life is equally busy and chaotic, has decided to plunge into this Spin and like always inspired me to join her madcap adventures. So, here, I am ready to Spin again.

The rules are simple and I quote directly from the CC Spin Page

  • At your blog, before next Monday 22nd April 2019, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.
  • This is your Spin List.
  • You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

 

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Ivan Kramskoy – Reading Woman (portrait of artist’s wife) From Wikimedia Commons

I usually pick books randomly, but Cleo again got me hooked on this randomizer and when I ran my Classic’s list, this is what came up as my first 20 –

  1. 9 The Eustace Diamond by Anthony Trollope
  2. 14 Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. 1 The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarrington
  4. 16 So Big by Edna Ferber
  5. 15 Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
  6. 2 The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
  7. 30 And Quiet Flows The Dawn by Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
  8. 12 The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope
  9. 21 Son Excellence Eugène Rougon by Emile Zola
  10. 40 The Meghadūta by Kālidāsa
  11. 22 The Kill by Emilie Zola
  12. 46 Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
  13. 17 The Rig Veda; Translated by Wendy Donier
  14. 27 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  15. 25 Mr. Harrison’s Confession by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. 26 The Bucaneers by Edith Wharton
  17. 39 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  18. 29 Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  19. 24 Tales of South Pacific by James A Michener
  20. 41 Kumarasambhava by Kalidasa

Some of these books, I really want to get to like, #3, #10 and #12; while others like #7 kind of scare me; but then, I know for a fact that books which I found intimidating were the ones I ended up loving the most! Thus, now I await Monday and the lottery of what I shall finally read!

Happy Spinning everyone!

The Archbishop of New Mexico

Yet another late post; a book that should have been read & reviewed in April, finally trundles into mid May and I go with the philosophy, that truly, some things are better late than never! As part of The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, an event hosted by Adam, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, was my TBR book for April, and though I managed to finish the novel within the month, but just never got to posting a book review!

Death Comes

Death Comes for the Archbishop chronicles the life and works of Archbishop Bishop Jean Marie Latour and his Vicar, Joseph Vaillant , as they attempt to establish a Catholic Diocese, in the newly captured New Mexico territory of United States. The novel begins with the Bishop and the Priest travelling from Ohio though difficult terrain to establish their Diocese in New Mexico. After some initial setbacks, including a trip that took a year and on arriving, realizing that the local Mexican Clergy, refuse to recognize the authority of Jean Marie Latour, the two worthy settle down to tame the wild elements of the Church which so far had been in lackadaisical fashion managed by the Mexican priests, and bring true piety and relief to the inhabitants, whether European or American or Indians. Over the years, they develop friendships with the local Indian leaders as well the American Businessman and Mexican Ranchers; they rescue an abused woman from the tyranny of a violent husband and convince yet another, to give up on her pride and declare her true age, so that she does not lose her wealth. They try and overcome the acrimony that exists between the local Mexican Priests and the new wave of leaders that Vatican was sending forth and enable the building of  a Romanesque Church. Finally they both end their days, in this land, Father Valliant pre-deceasing Father Latur, as the Bishop of Colorado. Father Latur now retired chooses to stay in New Mexico instead of returning to his homeland in France, dying in the company and service of the people with whom he worked and whose devotion to him till the end was unstinting and complete.

Ms. Cather remains as usual her brilliant self. The dry, difficult land of New Mexico, with its parallel institutions of the Indians, Mexicans and Americans cultures and politics comes alive in this slim novel. In sparse, but succinct prose, Ms. Cather manages to convey, not just the atmosphere, but also the depth of the characters and their past history, all the while, moving the plot along, in such magnificent manner, that leaves you in awe both as a reader and a writer. The lives of Father Latur & Father Valliant, Wikipedia, advises is based on the life and times of Jean-Baptiste Lamy & Joseph Projectus Machebeuf respectively and I am not sufficiently well read to comment on how true to life the portrayals are; however in the characters of Father Latur & Father Valliant, Ms. Cather, created the epitome of spiritual leaders, who like all humans were beset with doubts and weaknesses, but still lead their people, providing comfort, support and spiritual guidance as and when needed, with minimum interference and with a lot of respect for different cultures and practices. The ensemble cast is equally good, providing much needed “materialistic” and “earthy” props to the religious/spiritual narrative of the main protagonists. The thing that really stands about Ms. Cather’s writings is her sense of humanity; writing in 1927, she made it clear in her quiet writing style that the government’s practices against the Navajos, who were exiled to the Bosque Redondo, killing many of its population was unacceptable and defined the very principles of humanity! To end, I can only say, this is a beautiful, lyrical book, that seems to sings songs of the land and lives of the New Mexico Deserts!

About Summers and Reading

I am seeing many posts around the internet, celebrating Summer! Reading and Summer seems a most conducive combination; reminds of my summer vacation from schools, with 2 and a half month of bliss, reading and eating! Unfortunately, as  a Project Leader, I do not get summer vacations and more importantly, the concept of an idyllic summer with bright, cheerful days and quite balmy nights is dispelled in my part of the word and instead replaced by unceasing, pounding heat,  that makes one feel like one is being slowly baked in one’s skin in the very middle of a vast furnace, with the earth and the sun belching out fire! Temperatures have hit 51ºC or 123º F and there is no respite in sight….monsoons when they come, if they come, will be hailed as Godsend by most, especially the farmers of this country, struggling with heat and drought!

Realities are harsh and books as usual provide a consolation from all that is mundane and distressing! Therefore without further ado, lets plunge into June Bookish Plans! As most are aware, for May, I had dispelled all reading plans because I had tremendous catching up to do; thankfully, I am almost caught up with all, but there are still some items that need to be finished, but hopefully should finish soon! I venture towards June again finally with a reading plan!

My Read Alongs continue on track as planned – I am hoping to finish the Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien Read Along with Cleo as I had planned in June. I should also make some progress in the ever challenging The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser which I am reading with O, Cleo, Jean, Ruth and some other readers; I am going really slow with this one as it takes up quite a bit of time to truly understand and absorb the various levels of intellectual gymnastics that Mr. Spenser had laid out for his readers! The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens read along is also in the plans and its an effort to really read it in piecemeal fashion, considering I am enjoying it tremendously! I have added another to my overspilleth list with Hamlette’s Jane Eyre Read Along. I have increasingly developed a great love for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the cold of England is very bracing psychologically, sitting in the stewing pot! Among the reading challenges, where I am really truly behind is my 12 Month Classics Reading Challenge – I am still to finish Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis for May and I have for June themed A British classic,  Dombay and Son’s by Charles Dickens. I am also somewhat struggling to catch up on my Reading England project, and for this  I am reading The Darling Buds of May by  by H. E. Bates covering Kent. Finally for my Women’s Classic Literature Event, I am reading a modern and albeit a relatively lesser known classic  by Katherine Ann Porter  – Ship of Fools. In a stand alone event, I am also reading The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy as part of Margaret Kennedy Day hosted by Jane, who had two years ago introduced me to brilliance of Margaret Kennedy’s works!

That is all I have planned for June; like I said I have had to play catch up and am still struggling to complete everything that is outstanding. This is also the first time I am giving the Classic Club spin a miss – I have yet to finish Death comes to Archbishop by Willa Cather which was my last Spin Read and also my Women’s Literature Reading Event for April and it is only fair that I venture into another Spin only after I had finished the previous one!

That’s the plan then! Wishing you all a fabulous and less heat generating summer and a scintillating brilliant reading time!

May-ish Reads

Ah! May…..the fire breathing months on Indian plains, where the sun burns and earth scorches and you wonder if hell is like this! Joy! Naturally, so joyous a month will begin with something depressing and nasty and it did – to celebrate the May coming, the weather here turned nasty and between pollens and pollutants, my lungs practically gave away! I have spent the last two weeks in bed, trying to work from home for projects that will not wait and read on books that required little if any brain work! Needless to say I am completely and disastrously behind all my reading schedules!

I have not read a single page from Murder at Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe for my April reading for the 12 Months Reading Challenge and here is May where I had committed to reading Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis for the theme of An American Classic. I have not turned a page in my Women’s Classical Literature Event cum Classic Club Spin 12 reading of Willa Cathar’s Death Comes to the Archbishop and I am not even getting started on how much I have to catch up on my Reading England Project or my epic read alongs like The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens! I am behind, behind and way far behind in all my reading plans! The plan for May is therefore to re-group and catch up! I am not starting any new book until I finish all my spill overs from March and April. I am not even going to start on Arrowsmith, till I have finished everything else. But there are exceptions and I am only human with absolutely no self control when it comes to books and this I have committed to read along with Cleo and Hamlette for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, but the good part is that it does not start until the end of May, so I should have made some significant inroads to my overloaded pile. And knowing its May and it is the anniversary of The First War of Independence in India, I will for sure go back and read one of my most favorite and one of the best work of fiction based on the event – The Shadow of the Moon by the inimitable MM Kaye! Like I said  I have enough and I mean ENOUGH to read on my plate and this one time I really really need to stick to the schedule!

Therefore I bid adieu and head back to plunge in the tottering pile of books! Hopefully I should find my reading rhythm again, but until I plough through the significant amount of that pile, I keep my post short and well, I cannot really do sweet!

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