The End of April

Summer is here and while these are not the months to be rejoiced in my part of the world, I cannot help but feel, that Winter this year was, well, troublesome! In a sharp departure from the pleasantness that usually surrounds my Winters, this Winter was quite literally terrible and I am very very glad to see the end of it! I think this may be a first for me, where I am happy to see Winter go and almost, key word almost, overjoyed to welcome Summer!

April, unlike her predecessors was actually a very good reading month, and though I did not cover much ground during the Readathon, overall, the month was quiet enough to allow me some solid reading time! And not only that, seems like the most of the books I picked for April also turned to be a winner! So then, here’s to April’s recollection –

(P.S. I think, by now everyone is conversant that this snapshot is not my idea, but borrowed and is a combination from Helen’s monthly post of Commonplace Book post   and O’s ideas of  Wordless Wednesday )

From A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
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He had never thought of himself as much of a praying man, but as he sat in the car in the growing darkness and the minutes passed, he knew what it was to pray. It was to will goodness out of evil, hope out of despair, life out of death. It was to will dreams into existence and spectres into reality. It was to will an end to anguish and a beginning to joy.

From Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

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Your of two mind Sergei. Please tell me, because criticism is constructive.It defines our purpose and leads to unanimity of efforts.”

From Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

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Why are you doing this?”Arkady asked. “It keeps the mind alive.”

From February – Selected Poems by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrew Kneller

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Oh, February, To get ink & Sob! 

To weep about it, spilling ink

From Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith

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“Who is right?” asked Polina. Now that, Arkady thought, was question only asked by the very young

From Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

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A week after the newspaper advertisement, I was trying terrifically hard to remain calm!

From Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

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“Only a Woman, divine, could know all that a woman can suffer”

That’s it for my April reading! It was a good months, and here’s to May and more books!

Of Seasons, Longings & Despair in Soviet Russia

Allen Ginsberg, in his biography, Ginsburg : A Biography by Barry Mills had explained poetry as something which was “not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”  This meaning of poetry and the work of the poet comes out in all its vivid forms in a collection of Boris Pasternak’s poems, February, translated by Andrey Kneller. Boris Pasternak, the 1958 Nobel Prize winner who declined the honor under pressure from the Soviet Government, and whose work, Doctor Zhivago has been immortalized in every possible form of media,  was born in a well to do Jewish family (though the Pasternaks had assimilated into the Russian Orthodox Church for years) and had lived through the most turbulent years of Russian History – World War I, Russian Revolution, World War II and the Great Purge, had captured all this changing history of the land and her people and thought about it and then poured it into words of great beauty and resonance, in an act of making a private world, public!

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Boris Besides the Baltic Sea, by Leonard Pasternak, 1910

February is a slim volume of only 110 pages but within it, are 27 pieces of powerful poetry, that touch upon a variety of subjects ranging from politics, the faith of Pasternak’s beloved Russia, Nature, Christianity and Love! The compilation begins with the said poem February, first published in 1912, and in sparse, terse words, Pasternak manages to blend in the pathos of the last dregs of winter, with mankind and poetry. I fell in love with the simple but powerful opening lines of the poem –

Oh, February, To get ink & Sob! 

To weep about it, spilling ink

One poem that especially was singed into my imagination, is apparently nameless, and powerfully captures the rule of Stalin and its destructive forces on a person and his soul!

The cult of personality is stained,

But after forty years, the cult

Of gray monotony and disdain

Persists like the day of old

Each coming day appears lackluster

Until, it’s truly hard to bear

It brings but photographic clusters,

Of pig like and inhuman stares.

The cult of narrow minded thinking

Is likewise cherished and extolled.

Men shoot themselves from over drinking,

unable to sustain it all.

There is a soul searing piece called Noble Prize, written, after he declined the honor which captures the raw anguish and pain of Pasternak on the stands he was being forced to take, by the very same country and government, he did not choose to abandon or flee, while all his family and friends left, believing in the ultimate good of Lenin led Socialist society! And here in lies the greatness of the poet, that despite all the angst and heartbreak, he ended the poem in hope and faith –

Even now as I am nearing the tomb

I believe in the virtuous fate

And the spirit of goodness will soon

Overcame all the malice and hate

Yet another poem titled Hamlet, captures the need to walk away from a predestined plot, to address something more urgent and ephemeral!There are lovely play of words in his poems about nature, from White Nights to the one called Spring Flood, to yet another work called Easter. His love for Olga Ivinskaya comes through in all the glory of meeting, falling in love and then when Ivinskaya was sentenced to Siberia, of longing, guilt and memories, in the poems titled as Meeting  and then, Parting. The fact that Pasternak was a student of philosophy is a fact that is never really far off in his poetry and in many of his writings,  he touches upon ideas of what is tangible and what is transcendental, especially in his poetry of nature. In Autumn, he says, 

The Lodge’s wooden walls now gaze

At us with grief and hopelessness.

We never vowed to break the restrains’

We will decline with openness. 

There are many powerful and moving things in this collection that shines like a beacon of what poetry is all about! Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!

 

The First Time of Everything – Top 10 Tuesday

I started this post on a Wednesday and then work came and intervened like never before and suddenly the next Tuesday is upon us! But we must finish what we started, so here goes neverthless….

I never ever do Tuesday Top  (hosted by The Broke and Bookish) simply because a. Its already Wednesday in my part of the geography and b. Tuesday and Wednesday’s are killer days at work! But I do love the lovely ideas our host always comes up with and keenly follow the Top 10 responses that my usual comrades in arms post – Cleo, O, Brona, Ruth and Helen. I love comparing their responses with mine and just in general chatting about books and more! I know this week was a throwback freebee, and I loved going down the nostalgia path of all my fellow blogging friends. But I really really loved the Spin that Helen put on it – of recounting top 10 books from her first year of blogging. Now this was a nostalgia trip, I simply could not pass up!  And though in 2012, I was still figuring out the nature of my blog because of which I only blogged about a few books, I added my own spin and added some books I read and loved that year but did not blog!

  1. Three Comrade by Erich Maria Remarque – Now what has become one of my all time favourites, this book was procured after much fanfare from my roomate and a lot of difficult logistics, since it was a copy was not available locally. However all the trouble was worth it as I followed the joys and tragedies of three young men in a country gone crazy on eve of World War II
  2. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – I discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and her brilliance in 2012. I always knew she was someone I should read but my first attempt of North and South had left me unhappy. So the last minute rush before the library closure and a hurried decision to pick this book turned out to be a life changer. As we travel around Cranford with Ms. Gaskel and the denizens of this town, we discover joy, laughter and just rollicking fun. The book turned me into a devotee and I would go on too read North and South and many other books by Ms. Gaskell with much love and absolute wonder!
  3. London by Edward Rutherford – I love historical fiction but there are not too many authors who can keep your attention over a 1000 pages as you wander over the initial beginnings of London to modern day World War II setting, following the lives and fortunes of 4 family. Edward Rutherford managed to this and more, he managed to create brilliant novellas connection the past and the future with a page turning plot line and minute attention to detail. One of my all time go-to books!
  4. The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye – Yup! This was the first time I posted about this novel and since then I have not slowed down, rounding it off with a Read Along his year! Let’s just say I and this tale of Mutiny and loyalty in 1857 India have come a long way!
  5. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder – This was another one of those; I began with hesitation and ended of falling in love with the time defying wisdom of this simple tale set in 18th century Peru where a bridge collapses and the narrator helps us look deeper into the lives of those who died in the accident and discern the subtle from the obvious!!
  6. The Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay – Poetry, ballad and an ethereal love story of a trust that went wrong, this lyrical book set in Stalin ruled USSR brought about the harsh realities of a toleterian state and the most beautiful prose ever to describe a land of innumerable secrets and beauty!
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – There has been so much that has been written and said about this book that I cannot write or add any more praise to this book! All I can say, what a wonderful lovely read!
  8. The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Yet another story set in Stalinist Russia, a modern cult classic that was denied publication when originally written. Part allegory, part love story, one of the most captivating and ingenuous piece fiction that I have ever read!
  9. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling  – Ms. Rowling showed us again the imagination and versatility can even make a plot based on the mundane sounding town council election a gripping, hard hitting and a humanitarian tale!
  10. Good Omens by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman – Bunch of kids out to save the world, with a support of a demon who went good and a somewhat eccentric angel, in a battle of Good vs. Evil – what is there NOT to like???!!!

When I look back on my 31st Dec post of the best books I have read through that year of 2012, I see that so many books endured in my memory, translating to many re-reads and yet so many faded away! That’s time and that’s nostalgia for you!

A Very Special Date

Raahrarraaahhhh!!! Tara Dum! Tara Dee!!! Roll the drums and bring on the fanfare, for today, ahem! ahem! we celebrate the 5th Anniversary of Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices!!! (Virtual confetti being showered!!!) Yay!!Its the big 5 blogaversary!

It’s been 5 years since I started this blog after being rather disgusted over a over-hyped thing I saw at the mall on Valentine’s Day. As most know, 5 years down the line, my thoughts have not changed much as was evident from my last post. Oh! Well…everything changes and nothing does. But not really!

Over the last 5 years I have gained so much that I could scarcely believe was possible when I started out that February morning of 2012! I have written more blogs not only for myself but also for many other sites. I have felt myself improve as a writer and in the process become a more evolved individual. I have a read more books and ventured into literary spheres which I would have scarcely ventured into had it not been for all of you opening up the erudite vistas for me. I have read such a variety of non fiction, classics and poetry than I would have thought possible in February 2012, forcing me out of my comfort zone and making me look at the world at large in whole different perspective! I have read Metamorphosis by Ovid and Bewoulf because of Cleo. I have read science fiction because of Stefanie and found innumerable lost authors, thanks to Jane who has a knack for finding these authors. There are sooooo many others who have made me read so many different things! You all have helped me not only read more but also do things that I would have not thought possible from participating in marathons to cooking yumilious carrot ginger soup!! You have made me grow in all possible ways! Most importantly, I have made some awesome friends – friends I have not met, but who have stood by me through thick and thin, through deaths and dumpings and cheered me on when I was promoted or took one an adventurous road trip. Through 1000 miles of geography and cultures that separate us, they came together as a bunch of kindred souls while helping me navigate through the choppy waters of life! Finally my readers, thank you for sticking around and reading my blah-blah. I am sure you do not always like what I write and may often be bored, but thank you for sticking around and reading anyways!

Since I was/am feeling all sentimental anyway, I thought I will complete the trip to the very end and feel nostalgic as well. Therefore I went back and read some of my older posts and thought I will share some of them with you, especially the ones which most seemed to have enjoyed and were also kind of personal blogging milestones –

  1. Satire be my song….List of 10 best satires from all time – February 19th 2012 – One of my very fast posts, about things which I liked the best – books!
  2. Love and Mutiny in the Time of British Raj – July 1 2012 – I begin to get into the groove of book reviews.
  3. The Year Through Posts -December 7th 2014 – Inspired by Jane, this seemed a perfect way to wrap the year!
  4. Defining Style – An Alternative Perspective – February 17 2015 – Where I venture out of bookish blogs and start posting for other sites!
  5. Celebrating Freedom – The Home and The World Read Along – July 19th 2016 – I host my very first Read Along!

It’s been such wonderful 5 years of learning, fun and cherished memories! Thank you for being part of this wandering with me and for enriching my life with your ideas, enthusiasm and thoughts!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changes in the Ancient Greek-Roman World

Now this post should have been like written centuries back, but what can I say except life, vacations, friends and finally sickness caught up and this post went lower and lower in the priority, until today, when I finally swore that I will not budge until I had written this post. Considering it took me 3 months of solid reading time to get through this book, it is of utmost important that I devote atleast one post to it!

Back in January, in a fit of complete madness, when possessed by book demons who tempt you to read all kinds of things, I agree to a read along – Metamorphoses by Ovid, with Cleo and O and couple of others. The idea was to read a book every week starting from January and finish the fifteen books by March-April. It seemed doable enough and come on, this is Ovid; in the absence of a real Classical education, this was as close to a group study/help event I was going to get to read one of the most important texts of the Roman world! There was no intention of giving up on something like this and through hail and high water, sometime exhilarating and sometime faltering, I managed to complete the book, early August.

This is an epic poem which is a compendium of all Greek and Roman legends. Each books talks about certain events that led to a metamorphoses of a God, demi-god or human into some feature of nature, tales with an intended moral epiphany. I am not getting into the details of each book, instead I leverage Wikipedia to provide an overview. For details, I would strongly recommend you visit Cleo or O’s  blog post for an excellent summary of each book! For now, Ovid divided the poem in 10 books comprising pf about 250 myths, from the time of creation of the world util the rule of Julius Ceaser. The Books can be broadly categorized as –

  • Book I – The Creation, the Ages of Mankind, the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaëton.
  • Book II – Phaëton (cont.), Callisto, the raven and the crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury and Battus, the envy of Aglauros, Jupiter and Europa.
  • Book III – Cadmus, Diana and Actaeon, Semele and the birth of Bacchus, Tiresias, Narcissus and Echo, Pentheus and Bacchus.
  • Book IV – The daughters of Minyas, Pyramus and Thisbe, the Sun in love, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, the daughters of Minyas transformed, Athamas and Ino, the transformation of Cadmus, Perseus and Andromeda.
  • Book V – Perseus’ fight in the palace of Cepheus, Minerva meets the Muses on Helicon, the rape of Proserpina, Arethusa,Triptolemus.
  • Book VI – Arachne; Niobe; the Lycian peasants; Marsyas; Pelops; Tereus, Procne, and Philomela; Boreas and Orithyia.
  • Book VII – Medea and Jason, Medea and Aeson, Medea and Pelias, Theseus, Minos, Aeacus, the plague at Aegina, the Myrmidons, Cephalus and Procris.
  • Book VIII – Scylla and Minos, the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Perdix, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Althaea and Meleager, Achelous and the Nymphs, Philemon and Baucis, Erysichthon and his daughter.
  • Book IX – Achelous and Hercules; Hercules, Nessus, and Deianira; the death and apotheosis of Hercules; the birth of Hercules;Dryope; Iolaus and the sons of Callirhoe; Byblis; Iphis and Ianthe.
  • Book X – Orpheus and Eurydice, Cyparissus, Ganymede, Hyacinth, Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis, Atalanta.
  • Book XI – The death of Orpheus, Midas, the foundation and destruction of Troy, Peleus and Thetis, Daedalion, the cattle of Peleus, Ceyx and Alcyone, Aesacus.
  • Book XII – The expedition against Troy, Achilles and Cycnus, Caenis, the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, Nestor and Hercules, the death of Achilles.
  • Book XIII – Ajax, Ulysses, and the arms of Achilles; the Fall of Troy; Hecuba, Polyxena, and Polydorus; Memnon; the pilgrimage of Aeneas; Acis and Galatea; Scylla and Glaucus.
  • Book XIV – Scylla and Glaucus (cont.), the pilgrimage of Aeneas (cont.), the island of Circe, Picus and Canens, the triumph and apotheosis of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, legends of early Rome, the apotheosis of Romulus.
  • Book XV – Numa and the foundation of Crotone, the doctrines of Pythagoras, the death of Numa, Hippolytus, Cipus, Asclepius, the apotheosis of Julius Caesar, epilogue.

This book has inspired, poets, play-writers and painters. Its effects can be seen even in the 21st century and needless to say has many complex and layered meanings in it. Ovid creates a world which both incredibly frightening at the same time extremely interesting – like a world you are scared to explore, but cannot seem to draw away from! There is intense violence in the book; some of the most grotesque violence I have ever read were in this book – violence that defines imagination and brings in shuddering horror! Violence against women is another theme that runs through the book – they seem to be constantly chased and violated by some God or other for their beauty. Makes one wonder, why these creatures were designated Gods in the ancient world, because they seem to display very little God like behavior and you would never want to be a nymph in ancient Greece, because first the Gods chase you and rape you and then the God’s consort turns you into a tree or an animal for enticing him! Yeesh! In fact Ovid’s woman do not come out in a good light, either they are making each other’s life miserable through curses, or lusting after father/brothers. There is a certain antagonism against the women that comes through in all the 15 books.Having said that, let me re-emphasis that the Gods are no better and their deeds no very God like either – challenge them and you will fall, defy them and you will fall , ask for forgiveness, that too may be denied! They indulge in wars which sound like bar brawls and the only thing that seems to keep em’ going is to engage in some kind of sexual escapade! To me this kind of action from Gods seemed difficult to relate, especially growing up around Hindu mythologies, where Gods are Gods because of the exemplary conduct; it was difficult to wrap my head around a concept of a God with as many failings as a common mortal! It is written in meter of epic poetry, very much in the lines of The Illiad and The Odyssey, but in a significant departure to those poems, Ovid combines all kinds of genres in Metamorphoses – there is tragedy, comedy, drama, irreverent humor mocking the Gods, love poetry as well pastoral hymns! Yet while writing an epic, he subverts some of the key events which are considered of epic nature – The battle of Troy and the adventure of such heroes Achilles or initially Hercules. But then, considering the breath of his work, Ovid may have considered skipping some of the more well known events to focus on lesser known stories! He briefly touches on these subjects/heroes and nimbly and quickly moves on to other subjects! of Another unique feature of this book is the way Ovid plots the books together; in a daring leap of innovations, he plots the books through themes and yet manages a chronological timeline which propels the reader from one century to another. Though there are times, the plot seems to jump leaving certain threads hanging, yet one cannot help but appreciate the different approach to a timeline.

To end, this has not been an easy book to read! Especially towards the end, I have had to struggle to continue and the treatment of Roman myths was a let down. Also the amount of violence and the kind of personal pleasure that Ovid seemed to describe it and re-visit it disturbed me greatly! However there is no taking away that Metamorphoses is a grand adventure, a Goddish tour-de-force if you will and while I do not like the poet much, I cannot help but say, that read this book atleast once!

 

 

Poetry Month Tag

I am not sure how I get into these scrapes…wait hang on! I do…Thanks to all the “influential” blog-universe friends, I sign on to do stuff,  about which I am completely unsure off. It’s a different matter, that most of the time, I end up LOVING the experience, but to begin with, it is kind of daunting. This time the influential friend is Cleo and she convinced me that one poem a week to celebrate Poetry Month Celebration is easily doable! Well, it does sound easy and I am half way into it as well, but I also have like a zillion books to read and a million blogs to write and trillion projects to execute at work and …ok! Deep Breaths! I am over my hysteria!  To be absolutely honest, I am loving the poems (Thank You Cleo, if it was not for your encouragement, I would not tread alone on those literary waters) I am reading (blogs coming up soon) especially considering I don’t get along with Poetry too well; and it made sense that I participate in the questionnaire as well; I mean what is the sense of doing things halfway anyway??

The Poetry Month celebration has begun at The Edge of the Precipice, and Hamlette has posted questions to answer as part of the April reading event.  Worth giving a shot….

Poetry Month

What are some poems you like?

  • Geetanjali by Rabindranath Tagore
  • Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti
  • Ode to the Nightingale by John Keats
  • Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

What are some poems you dislike?

I really have not come across a poem that merits a “dislike”!  There have been instances, where I have struggled with some of the works, and kind of given them up as a lost cause, but that is more from my inability to really connect with them rather than the work itself. Case to the point – The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and To the Skylark by Shelly

Are there any poets whose work you especially enjoy?  If so, who are they?

I loved my recent tryst with Christina Rossetti and I have always enjoyed Robert Browning. My most favorite is Rabindranath Tagore. He wrote in my native language – Bengali. What makes him stand out is the wide range of poems that he could wrote that encompass practically all human emotions with all the sensitivity and aestheticism and unmatched grandeur! 

Do you write poetry?

No! Nix! Nada!

Have you ever memorized a poem?

Way back in school …The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge, The Charge of the Light Brigade by Lord Tennyson and some other other works by Robert Louis Stevenson. We had a class on Elocution through middle school and my teacher was convinced that learning and reciting a long poem would lead to brilliant oratory skills. I am yet to see the connection!

Do you prefer poetry that rhymes and had a strict meter, or free verse?  Or do you like both?

I like both. I do enjoy rhymes a bit for than free verses, however there are just way too many bad rhymes, so I am kind of cautious, about my preference here!

Do you have any particular poetry movements you’re fond of?  (Beat poets, Romanticism, Fireside poets, etc?)(If you haven’t got any idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine!  You can check out this list for more info, if you want to.)

I love the Romanticism and the Fireside Poets! I also love the Oral tradition, that encompass some of our best loved epic poems from Mahabharata to The Illiad to Beowulf! 

My plan is to read one poem per week . In the last two weeks I have already read and I plan to read two- three more….I will update this list as I figure it out.

  • Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • A Light Exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson

Some Goblins, Some Songs & A Birthday

For somebody enormously fond of literature and passionate about readings, my adventures in Poetry are next to none. Despite majoring in English Literature for my undergraduate degree, I could not develop a liking for this form of writing. I always felt that it takes a very developed and highly sensitized brain to truly appreciate poetry and somehow, I seemed to lack both in the right measure to really become a connoisseur. So I remained in the margins, reading up what others wrote about the texts assigned to me and managed to get the degree with honors, largely because I loved prose and drama. Anyway since the dismal tryst with poetry, I have usually kept such reading limited and at bay;however this year like I keep harping and I am trying to do things differently, as in reading Woolf and Zola, both of which I had dreaded and ended up loving, that not to venture forth with this other albatross seemed silly and I decided to plunge ahead. Since I was planning to take baby steps in reading poetry, I decided to start with someone whose works I have read in the past and enjoyed and did not not struggle through – Christina Rossetti fitted the bill to a T and her Goblin Market and Other Poems seemed the thing that slid very nicely into my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event as well The 12 Month Reading Challenge, March theme being, A Classic that has been recommended! Goblin Market has been recommended to me for like FOREVER and now was a good time to start!

The Penguin Edition of Rossetti’s works is a collection of the poet’s 20 poems, the most famous being The Goblin Market. The poem describes the coming of the Goblins to sell their wares – the most delicious and freshest of fruits apples, cranberries, peaches, apricots, pears, grapes, pomegranates etc. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie who live together hear the coming of the Goblins; Laura is tempted by the descriptions of the fruits, but Lizzie cautions against going and purchasing the fruits from the Goblins. Laura however is tempted and one evening lingers around the stream waiting for the Goblins to come and bring their fruits; when the Goblins arrive, she realizes she does not have any money to buy the fruits but the goblins offer to take a piece of her golden hair instead. So Laura gives up some of her hair, gorges herself on goblin fruit, and heads on home to her sister.The next day Laura and Lizzie go about their work in the house, Laura dreamily longs for the coming evening’s meeting with the goblins who will come again with their delicious fruits. But at the stream that evening, as she strains to hear the usual goblin cries of their fruits, she realizes that although Lizzie still hears the goblins’ voices, she no longer can. She slowly begins to fall ill and starts to waste away.  A worried Lizzie has to act soon and decides to confront the Goblins in an effort to save her sister!

This is the primary poem of the collections consisting of 28 stanzas and provides much food for thought! There is of course a vast deal of analysis that is available on this poem and they range from feminism, to sexual freedom to anti-Judaic character treatment etc etc. There is no denying that there is a sexual element to this composition, however, my take is that simply, Rossetti was rebelling against the social mores and restrictions, especially the ending, where the Victorian fallen woman, instead of dying away in oblivion, is resurrected and lives to a ripe old age! There is also the creation of Lizzie as a “hero” noble and brave who goes out to find a cure for her sister – there is no Prince Charming to the rescue here, but rather a theme of how woman must stand by each other! Then there is the aspect of being cautious against things we seem to little understand and letting them be.The poem uses an irregular rhyme scheme and irregular meter and allows some time to pass before the word finds its partner, which makes for a very unique reading experience and is best if read aloud. Apparently this poem was written for children, but I am not quite sure, if that was the only purpose of Ms. Rossetti.

I loved the collection and I completely  “besotted” is the word is guess, by the images and the themes that Ms. Rossetti uses to bring forth in her poems. While I really enjoyed the revolutionary spirit of Goblin Market, I also loved her “Song – When I am dead, my dearest” I cannot help but feel that though this particular poem bespoke of sadness of departing in death, there is also the same element of rebelling that was present in the Goblin Market, where the narrator ironically and iconically points out that the ‘dearest’ will not remember her! Yet another poem, a memorial for Keats called On Keats. Keats was a poet she greatly admired is as beautiful in its lyricism as much as its in its ode to the master poet “Here lies one whose name was writ, In water: while the chilly shadows flit, Of sweet Saint Agnes’ Eve; while basil springs, His name, in every humble heart that sings, Shall be a fountain of love, verily”. I also loved “A Birthday“, a poem where the narrator celebrates and expresses her joy at the upcoming birthday of her love. I loved the simple innocence of a true love and the brilliant way she weaves the words to create a lasting imagery! There is so much I can say, yet all of it will be insufficient to accurately describe the brilliance of this collection! Therefore, I leave you with only one thought – Please read it yourself!

 

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!

Bookish Snapshots – 2014

2014 has finally come to an end and I cannot in all honesty say I will miss it. It’s been one of the worst years of my adult life and good riddance to bad rubbish is all I have to say for these last 12 months. Having said that, there is a need to qualify the previous statement with some home truths – this has been a year of loss of more than one kind and of illness; however it’s also been a year of wonderful friendships that have sustained me through some dark days. It’s been year of finally figuring out what really matters and going after it, even if I fall a couple of times on the way. Finally it’s been a year which I could not have survived without the therapy of books and more books. Through my difficulties, it was the friendship and care of both the fictional and non-fictional characters that kept me going.

This last post of the year is therefore nothing but a quick round up of the how my reading mapped out for the year with a listing of the best books for me in 2014.

To begin with, in my 1st January 2014 blog post, I had laid down a reading plan for the year; my score against this plan is well middling, with win some and loose some!

  1. 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – I was expected to read at-least 15 Historical Fiction works and I completed 18 (review for two yet to come). Phew! One thing done!
  2. A Century of Books – I read about 10 books between the stated time period of 1850-1949; at this rate it will be 2024 before I finish this project. I have therefore decided to extend the deadline by 2019, which makes it 5 years – 20 books per year, way more doable!!
  3. Books on History – I failed miserably – I had planned on 12 and I finished only 4. This is one area of serious improvement. I have been neglecting non-fiction for last couple of years and it’s time to get back to it!
  4. Poetry – I had planned on reading 4 volumes through the year and I managed 3 including Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Not bad at all for starters!

Now for the final round up of my top 12 books (I want to break all stereotypes in 2015 so I am not going with a top 10/15 kind of thing!)

  1. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope – The characters, the subtle irony and a vivid display of Victorian England in all her grandeur as well as her pettiness. Oh! Mr. Trollope, you remain the best among the best!
  2. The Source by James Michener – This was a re-read and with age, this book’s depth just keeps on increasing. Michener’s story telling is compassionate and as sympathetic as this book takes the reader through more than 2000 years of Israel-Palestinian history through her people. Historically accurate and completely free of judgment, this book discusses the definition of “God”, “identity” and “homeland” without any fanatic aspersions. Viva Mr. Michener!
  3. The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield by Katherine Mansfield – This was the first time ever I read Katherine Mansfield and I simply fell in love with her work! Beautiful poetic language, sensitivity to glean what is not so obvious and fun. Brilliant is the only adjective that seems appropriate!
  4. The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern – Innovative narration style together with deep understanding of mankind made this book a wonderful read! I mentioned this in my post as well that what could have been a clichéd story, has been very cleverly crafted into a lovely heart searing sometimes tragic and sometimes optimistic tale.
  5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Speechless – I decide to quote what I felt directly from my post on this book –“The book is SCARY!!! I am not someone who is usually daunted by supernatural plots, but for the last three nights, I have slept with the lights on!!!!!I am so glad that I read this book finally and I have to agree with Stephen King (whose books by the way I really dislike!) who wrote that this book was one of the finest horror novels of late 20th century!!”
  6. Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey – Gorgeous, sumptuous and absolutely delightful. More 17th century customs, to long forgotten cuisines to damm good story, Ms. Bailey pulls it all together to make this novel a scintillating read!!
  7. The Feast by Margaret Kennedy – Oh! Lovely! Simple and lovely – a morality tale for the modern world told with humor, honesty and some of most moving words. I can now say “Margaret Kennedy” devotee for life!
  8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – Unique narrative, a very balanced approach to what goes in being bad without giving into maudlin sentiments and a very creative understanding including one of the most intriguing images of what heaven constitutes off!
  9. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell – What can I say about Ms. Gaskell that has not already been said? True picture of 19th century mill workers condition, with all its harsh realities does not make this book tragic. In fact, Ms. Gaskell, very finely teaches us to look beyond the obvious to discover true greatness of mankind!! Sheer brilliance!
  10. My Antonia by Willa Cather – Wonderful characterization, beautiful description of the land and relationships that go beyond the clichés, Ms. Cather captivates us in this early 20th century tale of friendship, generosity and human endurance in the frontier towns of US.
  11. The Narrow Road to Deep North by Richard Flanagan – Intense, difficult, and dark, yet this book is a marvel. Through deep moving and soul searing words, Mr. Flanagan brings forth a tale of surviving love and war, in the back drop of a Japanese POW camp during World War II
  12. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric – I am yet to do the review, but one word, is enough – SPLENDID!!

That rounds up my year of reading. To end, I came across this poem in The New Yorker and I wanted to quote it last line as they seemed very apt!  It’s by Ian Frazier and goes something like this –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.

There’s no need to enumerate

Just how gloomy it’s appearing.

Ever-better days are nearing!

Though dark nightmares be distinguished,

Still the light is not extinguished

By the darkness crowding ’round it.

Find hope’s advent by the sound it

Makes somewhere out in the distance:

Bells that ring with soft insistence,

Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,

Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,

Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,

Wings of angels quickly flying,

News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.”

Here’s wishing all of you & your loved ones a brilliant, successful and joyful 2015!! Cheers!!

Odds and Ends!

I was seriously not planning to blog today; I am in-between books and nothing exciting had happened that needed to be declared! Well, that’s when I came across these two nuggets and I knew that not sharing these with my book obsessed fellow bloggers would be a cardinal sin –

The first is a children’s poem by David McCord called Books fall Open and I thought it applied well to us adults as well – here goes:

Books fall open, you fall in, 

delighted where you’ve never been; 

hear voices not once heard before, 

reach world on world through door on door; 

find unexpected keys to things locked up beyond imaginings.

What might you be, perhaps become,because one book is somewhere? 

Some wise delver into wisdom, wit,  and wherewithal has written it. 

True books will venture, dare you out, 

whisper secrets, maybe shout  across the gloom to you in need, 

who hanker for a book to read.

Sigh! The absolute and unadulterated joy of reading!

Then came this one and I have to admit to most, especially #1, #3, #6, #10,#15 (Big Sigh! Lost count of how many times I have done this!) #16 (My work place is FULL of these moments!) and Naturally #17!

17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand

That’s all I have for today! Happy Reading!