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Posts tagged ‘Pulitzer Prize’

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 French Girl & The German Boy

After much deliberation and delay, I finally delved into All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Yes, I am aware I am really late for the party, but atleast I got here. This is especially significant, considering, I usually give prize winning novels a wide berth. Anyhow, I spent the two weekend nights all being super comfortable in my bed, drinking cups of Rose tea and reading this 2014 Pulitzer prize winning work!

The book is set during the World War II, briefly covering the year of 1934, before delving into the events that occurs 1940-1945. The novel tells the story of Marie-Laurie, a young blind girl, the daughter to the locksmith to the Natural History Museum in Paris. Marie-Laurie spends time in her father’s museum, talking to the curator and reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, knowing of her father’s love and care for her. Her orderly life is shattered and brought  to a standstill, when Hitler’s Germany invades France and she and her father are forced to flee Paris, in wake of the occupation. In search of refuge of some kind, her father finally reached Saint Malo, the home of her great uncle. Her great Uncle, an erudite brilliant man, has shut himself up from the world, being afraid of shadows, since his experience in World War I. The father and daughter are however kindly looked after by the house keeper and days begin to melt into month, as Marie-Laurie tries to adjust herself to her new surroundings. Across the border, in a orphanage, Werner and Jutta, the orphaned children of a mine worker, listen to distant voices in a hand made radio, made by Werner,that tells them of miracles of science and wonders of the world. Wener’s brilliance with radio sciences and engineering is soon discovered by those in power and he is sent to an elite school to get trained to mold the future of Aryan Germany. It is at this school, that in the angst to ensure, he does not end up with a life like his father, he makes choices, that he knows Jutta will never forgive and which in his heart he knows is never acceptable. However, these choices seem to drag him down until he ends up in Saint Malo, with one chance to redeem all his past.

Now come the part about how I liked the book…well, I liked it a lot!! I thought the descriptions whether of the sea or of being stuck inside the rubble was mesmeric. The prose of the novel, lifted me and seared my soul and painted some breathe taking pictures. I loved how each character was drawn out, not by the descriptions that the author wrote but by their actions and how each of the character was etched out and stood out clearly and independently of others. I loved how Marie-Laurie’s life was made independent of her visual inabilities and made her do brave things, without any dependency on any other character.  I loved the subtleties in the characters like Etienne LeBlanc and Frank Volkheimer. It was wonderful getting to know them and see their lives unravel. The plot deviates from the usual boy meets girl phenomena and delves into relationships that are just as rich and yet cannot be defined by the standards set by the society. However despite all the brilliance of the book, I cannot help but feel that in the end, Werner’s fate was a bit of cliche; like he had to made to pay for all the betrayals in a de-la grande style. I could not help but feel that Mr. Doerr, kind of treads on the line of Flaubert and Tolstoy in making the fatal flaw, the unforgivable flaw. I somehow cannot help but feel that Werner’s fate had it been a bit different, would have been less maudlin and made more sense. Finally, speaking of fatal flaws, I have a one – that is never of quite liking a historical fiction, if it is inaccurate in its facts. Mr. Doerr unfortunately ends up making a minor error, but to me, it glares like a red hot iron, taking away much of the credibility of the book. In page 135, Kindle Print, Etienne talks about listening to broadcasts from Pakistan. The chapter is set in 1940, full 7 years before Pakistan came into being!!! How can the author not check his facts? How can his editor ignore such a blatant mistake? Or is it to the North, events of the South do not matter? Mr. Doerr should know that while many French, American and German soldiers died, there were more than 2 million Indian troops who also fought defending a nation, that was not theirs, fighting for a cause they had no say in, all because as a country they belonged to the Great British Empire. Their identity and their heritage is disparaged by such errors, and their efforts negated, by the complete ignominy that is assigned to them by the careless stroke of the pen!

The Cosmic Bridge

I promised you in the last post that I would be back to talk about the The Bridge of San Louis Rey and guess what???!!!! Surprise!!! Surprise!! I am going to talk about The Bridge of San Louis Rey.

Now I know this book is one of the modern classics (I am still to completely understand that term!) and it won Thornton Wilder his first of the three Pulitzers and Yada yada yada!!  I am not a person who goes with Pulitzer and Nobel. I mean I fell in love with Orhan Pamuk, way back in my sophomore year when no one or at least a very limited population knew him outside Turkey! On the other hand, there is J.M. Coetzee and I know a lot of you out there swear by him, but I do not understand him at all and gave up on him after Disgrace! (I could not understand Lucy marrying her rapist!) Give me a good yarn with some creative language and I am a sucker for that work, though the world in general may have never heard of it! So, though this book was on my list, it was never a top priority, nor did I go out of my way to find and read it. Until, one fine morning while doing some online shopping for some exotic books (will tell you about them later!) I came across a discounted copy of the book and decided on whim to buy it! It was bought more like a task… a necessary chore that needed to be completed in the journey of reading through every type of fiction in print!

Then the inevitable happened….like all love stories, the thing that one ignores the most, one ends up falling in love (trust me! I speak from experience!), I fell in love with The Bridge of San Louis Rey.

Thorton Wilder was born to an US diplomat in 1897 and spent his early childhood in China. All his siblings were accomplished scholars and writers; in fact his elder brother was the Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. He began his career as a writer with the publication of The Cabala in 1927 and spent the next 40 years writing – his last work to be published was Theophilus North in 1973. Through his life he won three Pulitzer Prizes, the first one as mentioned in 1928 for The Bridge of San Louis Rey and two more for his plays – Our Town in 1938 and The Skin of Your Teeth in 1942.

The Bridge of San Louis Rey is set in 18th century Peru, where on a fateful day of July 20th 1714, the bridge spanning the San Luis Rey, built by Incas a century earlier, snaps and plunges to death 5 people. This tragedy is witnessed by Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, who then sets out to find more details about the lives of the 5 people and understand why things happen? Are some actions fated or does being good or innocent help in bringing on a definite life and its end? Or does the universe work according to a random cosmic plan? The book then explores the lives of the 5 characters –

  • Doña María, the Marquesa de Montemayor : The lonely Marquesa who spends all her efforts in trying to get closer to her daughter who had married an aristocrat across the oceans in Spain, to get away from her mother.
  • Pepita: An orphan girl raised at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas and sent by the Abbess of the convent to act as a companion to the Marquesa as part of her training, albeit unknown to her as the heir to the Abbess in the management of the Convent.
  • Esteban: Another orphan raised again at Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas, and who begins to work as a scribe in the theater along with his twin brother Manuel
  • Uncle Pio; The mentor, guide and protector of the actress Camila Perichole, who transforms a 12-year-old mimic called Micaela Villegas into the renowned Camila Perichole and remains faithful to her even when she becomes the mistress of the Viceroy.
  • Don Jaime: Camila Perichole’s son whom Uncle Pio takes with him to train the boy like he had once trained the mother.

The book ends with Dona Clara, daughter of Marquesa de Montemayor coming back to Lima and meeting the Abbess who takes her around the convent. Dona Clara is moved by the sights and sounds of the hospital and the sick and poor being cared for at the Convent. The novel ends with one of the most critical observations on mankind – There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Written a simple style with some wonderful play of words, this book’s is an easy read in terms of a tale. It covers less than 120 pages. However vis-à-vis a parable or rather a philosophy, the book is unique in the sense, Wilder manages to convey a lot of moral and insightful ideas, without seeming didactic or pedagogic.

This is a must read, but do not read it in a rush, but absorb the language and the ideas as nuggets over a slow afternoon, where you have the night to think them through!

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