Human Acts by Han Kang

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Human Acts

Han Kang

Korean Literature

I am making a bold statement when I say this is so much better than The Vegetarian.
The story starts with a 15-year-old boy named Dong-Ho desperately searching for the corpse of his best friend in the aftermath of a mass massacre. In the center of the novel is South Korea’s Gwangju Uprising, a mass protest against the South Korean military government that started in May 18, 1980. (Which became the pivotal moment for South Korea’s struggle against authoritarian regime and their fight for democracy.)

The themes in this book deals with otherworldly entities, much like The Vegetarian, Han Kang explores the self, the soul and its meaning.

The narrative is in second person that threw me off and also drew me in. It jumps around characters’ point of view till you get to the culmination of the novel. Han Kang is unsparing in her words and she creates a difficult and unbridled imagery that lingers.

Human Acts does not make for a cheery read, this is not for the faint of heart. I recommend this book to readers of Historical Fiction and those who love macabre stories. Also, it is recommended that you read about the Gwangju Uprising and the horrors of the event for you to get the full experience of this amazing novel.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson

American Literature

The story begins with Mary Katherine Blackwood, nicknamed Merricat who lives with her sister Constance and their Uncle Julian in a huge house, with a massive expanse of land, in the periphery of the village. Merricat and her family have lived in the village for a very long time and the villagers sort of don’t like—abhor them even. This evokes the question of WHY. Why do the villagers hate the Blackwoods?

The narrator is probably one of the most compelling and gripping characters I’ve read. She’s a fascinating character, in the sense that, she’s 18 years old but thinks like a 12-year old girl and has quite a liking to whimsical fantasies about the moon and flying horses. Not only that, her thoughts are morbid and disturbing when she talks about her hatred for the villagers and how she wishes they would all have some kind of a wood rot, and they would rot from the inside out and die and she’d step on their dead bodies while carrying her groceries. I love Merricat, and I wouldn’t want to classify her as an unreliable narrator, yet.

The themes in this book were very gothic and dark but not as overblown as other gothic books I’ve read. It deals with isolation and how some people prefer it that way, persecution and mob-like attitude of the villagers.

It’s difficult to actually say that it’s a flaw but the setting didn’t really evoke the sense of eeriness, or that haunting feeling as I thought it would be. The juxtaposition of the gothic elements and the child-like nature of the narrator didn’t really sit well with me. Nevertheless, this book has one of the best opening paragraphs that immediately drew me in. The writing is well executed, and a good book to start when getting into classics.

Overall, great plot and story, compelling characters and a great short read. I definitely recommend this to readers who love solid characters and are looking for a Halloween-y read.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

 

Otogizōshi: The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu

This book of Dazai was written in the spring and early summer of 1945. The story opens up with the narrator,Dazai himself, reading the story of the folktales to his children when the air raid is happening and they are in the confines of the bomb shelter.

There are four stories in this book of fairy tales; The Stolen Wen, Urashima-san, Click-Clack Mountain and The Sparrow Who Lost Her Tongue, in which Dazai attacks and analyzes the characters, the plot and the relevance of the story and the impact of it in children during his time. He compulsively reflects and projects his real-life concerns in the book and persistently provides commentaries on the events of the stories, ultimately retells the stories and add more depth to the characters and the plot. The theme that is uniform across Dazai’s novels–the apathetic acceptance of loneliness (which is found heavily in No Longer Human) is also established in this book; it is a classic Dazai theme where the main character does not find sustenance with his surroundings thus resigned to live his/her life in loneliness and “desirelessness”. An example would be the princess in Urashima-san, who owns leagues and leagues of land but is content on smiling at people and proceeds to staying in her chambers not thinking of anything and not talking to anybody; as well as the man in The Sparrow Who Lost Her Tongue who “spends the rest of the day in his desk, wriggling on his cushion or nodding off or jerking awake until dinnertime and hits the sack thereafter”. An additional theme that is also present, is the appearance of utopia, places of reprieve where the characters find themselves free to do what they please (the story of Urashima-san when he finds the Dragon Palace), a place you can find warmth that you cannot have at home (the Sparrows Inn in The Sparrow Who Lost Her Tongue). None of this is permanent, of course, but the characters are transformed and have found peace in themselves when they leave the utopia.

This is my 4th story of Dazai and so far, it doesn’t disappointment. His place in the Japanese literature is well deserved. Highly recommended!

The Diary of Anais Nin Volume 1: 1931-1934 by Anais Nin

The Diary of Anais Nin Volume 1:  1931 – 1934

Anais Nin

Non-fiction

This volume encompasses her friendship with Henry Miller and his wife June, her complicated relationship with her father, her interest in psychoanalysis and her struggle as an artist. She immensely talks about the self, and her search for the woman, Anais. She writes, “I have always been tormented by the image of multiplicity of selves. Some days I call it richness, and other days I see it as a disease, a proliferation as dangerous as cancer. My first concept about people around me was that all of them were coordinated into a WHOLE, whereas I was made up of a multitude of selves, of fragments.” I am mesmerized with her insights about the facets of woman penned with so much candor and passion.

Anais Nin is absolutely the writer I endeavor to become. She writes beautifully, elegantly and articulately. Even the most tedious thing that happen in her life comes alive because of her mastery with words. She is drunk with life. Whenever I read her diary, it gives me such a feverish delusion that I could write like her, too.

I could only wish I was less critical of my own writing to write freely and unbound as she did. This is a deeply powerful read–I recommend it to all women readers.

Wait. How does one even review a diary? I am doing her no justice.

PS: The fact that this is an expurgated diary eluded me. I feel really daft. HAHA

 

hercule poirot #1 – the mysterious affair at styles / agatha christie

I have been seeing Agatha Christie “The Queen of Crime” books across Instagram since last year and have joined a book club dedicated to reading her books. I liked her books and decided to quit the book club and just read at my own pace.

Title: The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

My Thoughts: There are already tons of reviews for Agatha Christie books that I feel it is redundant to add more. Instead, I will just do a list of my thoughts while reading her books. 🙂

  • This is the first of her published works.
  • Hercule Poirot and Hastings is a duo like Sherlock and Watson.
  • The plot is not that amazing. It is not jaw dropping or suspenseful. It was okay to be honest. I guess I continued reading it for it’s readability and I like Poirot and his quirks and his attitude to cleanliness which, if you ask me, is borderline OCD.
  • I find Hastings (his trusted assistant and his roommate) a funny fellow and also a fool. He gets upset when Poirot doesn’t tell him his findings.
  • It’s the first book in the series so you should not pass reading this just because it’s not as popular as her other works. It sets an example to her simple style of writing. When I say simple, there are no dramatic scenes or even wow factors. It is like reading in a matter of fact manner, but in a fun way!

Rating: 4/5 stars

penguin little black classics 04 – 06

18579913_1604875056222468_4432638160526114816_nPENGUIN LITTLE BLACK CLASSICS NO. 4
Author:
 Thomas De Quincey

Title: On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts

Summary: The provocative early-nineteenth-century essayist casts a blackly comic eye over the aesthetics of murder through the ages.

My Thoughts: So this book is about a group of gentlemen discussing about the aesthetics of murder. This is in satire form. But you know, all satire’s lost on me except of course Animal Farm (which is a great book BTW). Much to my disappointment, there was no detailed gore in this book.

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

18645117_1495150223858197_439353335946936320_nPENGUIN LITTLE BLACK CLASSICS NO. 5
Author:
 Friedrich Nietzsche

Title: Aphorisms on Love and Hate

Summary: The iconoclastic German philosopher’s blazing maxims on revenge, false pity and the drawbacks of marriage.

My Thoughts: Honestly, this is a poor example of Nietzsche’s philosophising. This is too short and you can’t even comprehend some of the things that he’s trying to say. This review is only for this edition. I believe that you should not pass up reading this great work!

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

PENGUIN LITTLE BLACK CLASSICS NO. 616465812_1088160864617895_9037367165157638144_n
Author:
 John Ruskin

Title: Traffic

Summary: The radical Victorian art critic’s excoriating defence of dignity and creativity in a world obsessed by money.

My Thoughts: Traffic is like a college minor subject you have to go through to get credits. For what it’s worth, I did enjoy and agree to some points but that’s about it. It would’ve been nice to listen to the audio as this is a lecture. It’s difficult to read it off a page.

Rating: 3/5 stars

 

P.S.  I have reached an impasse with these little black classics. My goal was to read through all of them by the end of the year but the last few have been quite painful to read. So the best thing would probably be to just read 2-3 books per month and I think I need to dedicate a few hours just to read it. I’m starting to think that it was not a good idea to get the entire collection.

penguin little black classics 01 – 03

I opted to just review three Penguin Little Black Classics books in one post, as my reviews for this series is usually short. So here is my review for Books No. 1 to No. 3.

PENGUIN LITTLE BLACK CLASSICS NO. 1

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“You’re not doing anything to me,” said the Priest, “but you don’t let me do what I’d like to you, which is love my neighbour as god commanded.”

Title: Mrs. Rosie and the Priest

Author: Giovanni Boccaccio

Summary: Bawdy tales of pimps, cuckolds, lovers and clever women from the fourteenth-century Florentine masterpiece The Decameron.

My Thoughts: Who knew 14th century literature could be so lewd! These short stories came from the Florentine book The Decameron. Humor as one of the main points decided that I should get the complete work. It is lighthearted and good for the weary heart.

Rating: 4/5 stars

PENGUIN LITTLE BLACK CLASSICS NO. 2

Title: As kingfishers catch fire

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“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s”

 

Author: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Summary: Considered unpublishable in his lifetime, the Victorian priest’s groundbreaking, experimental verse on nature’s glory and despair.

My Thoughts: This one is just bad haiku. You tend to set a mind frame when you read something like ‘consered unpublishable in his lifetime” but I’m sorry Gerard but I think your poems are far too religious for my taste. Included in this little book are diary entries that still didn’t catch my eyes. These poems are difficult to understand and I did not enjoy them to be honest.

Rating: 2/5 stars

PENGUIN LITTLE BLACK CLASSICS NO. 3

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“This is the saga of Hrafn and of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue, as told by the priest Ari Thorgilsson the Learned, who was the most knowledgeable of stories of the settlement and other ancient lore of anyone who has lived in Iceland.”

Title: The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue

Author: Anon

Summary: Ranging across Scandinavia, England and Ireland, a Viking-age epic of two poets in doomed pursuit of Helga the Fair.

My Thoughts: Who doesn’t like tales of princesses and warriors? This a story of Gunnlaug, a viking poet-warrior and Hrafn. He meets the most beautiful woman, Helga the Fair and asks for her hand in marriage. But of course, Helga’s father disagreed and tells Gunnlaug to come back when he’s mature. Hrafn finds out about this arrangement and steals Helga. The plot thickens at this point and ends in a fatal disaster. This is my first time reading about Scandinavian literature. I found it hard to get around too because of the torrent of names being thrown at you. It’s a good read if you’re a fan of adventures.

Rating: 2/5 stars