The Earth

By Emile Zola.

I first heard about Zola in a comment by Paulette many moons ago. She wasn’t talking about the earth though. This I read because of a short review by Mark Twain where he said the book had so much sex, the French stopped its serialisation in their dailies. I told myself that must have been a lot sex. I am afraid, Mark Twain lied. I was disappointed.

The Earth is set in Rognes. Our star characters are peasants and their attachment to their land.

The peasants in Rognes are indifferent to religion and seems to me to take great pleasure in pissing of their priest.

La Grande is the meanest grandma in the whole book.

Fouan is one unlucky man. Divides his land to his children and they take turns turning him out from their houses until, finally, he is murdered by Buteau(his son) and Lise(niece and wife of Buteau) who suffocate him in their house and attempt to burn his corpse. The Buteaus get away with the murder of Francoise and that of old Fouan.

Tron kills Hourdequin out of jealousy so he can have La Cognete, the mistress to the boss.

Hyacinthe is that easy going son who is not a slave of the land as his fellow peasants. When their father Fouan gives each of them their inheritance, he mortgages his so he can drink and live a merry life. La Trouille, his daughter, is a thief.

The characters are well developed. The story quite well told. At the end, one wants to know what is in La Grande’s will and the manner of her death.

Or what happens to Jean, that unhappy man whose wife leaves him nothing and is turned out of the house by his in-laws.

And the issue of the war with Prussia. How does it end.

It is a book I would recommend.

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Catch 22

By Joseph H

I don’t know how many have read this old novel written many seasons ago. Other than its length, it is such an interesting read. In some place, we have the chaplain ask

Had the almighty God in all his infinite wisdom, really been afraid that men six thousand years ago would succeed in building a tower to heaven?

Or the comment by Dunbar

Didn’t it seem improbable that the answers to the riddles of creation would be supplied by people too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall?

And then the Chaplain’s reflection about presiding at funerals. The author writes, and I think many of us who have attended funerals would agree

The chaplain felt most deceitful presiding at funerals and it would not have astonished him to learn that the apparition in the tree that day was a manifestation of the almighty’s censure for the blasphemy and pride inherent in his function. To simulate gravity, feign grief and pretend supernatural intelligence of the hereafter in so fearsome and arcane a circumstance as death seemed the most criminal of offences.

I am loving this book!

Of human bondage

an autobiographical novel by Maugham, W. Somerset.

Somerset is a great writer. His plot flows smoothly, his descriptions are vivid and his characters are real people of flesh and blood. They are not caricatures and at the end of the book one wants to meet with Philip. Minor characters are introduced and done away with when they are no longer useful so creatively that one only realizes this after several chapters. It is a book that is hard to put down and not good to start when you have work to do.

He tells us the story of Philip Carey orphaned as a boy. Philip was born with a deformity which will affect his life sometimes in almost tragic ways but also help him to have such a deeper understanding of human nature. After the death of his mother, he is left to the care of his uncle W. Carey who is a clergyman at Blackstable parish and aunt Louisa who are childless.

His early education involves preparing him for work as a minister. On one of the school holidays, he inquired of his uncle if it the words of the promise of Jesus,

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am

were true to which the uncle responded in the affirmative. Philip decides to pray to have god heal his club foot. This should be easier than moving mountains you reckon. When after a month nothing happens, he confronts his uncle who does not give him a satisfactory answer. He doesn’t seem too pleased but lets it pass.

At the time that Philip was to go to Oxford to undertake studies in theology, he tells his uncle he is not going. By this time Philip no longer believed in god. He opts to go to London to apprentice as an accountant, a job he soon discovers he isn’t tailored for. After 6 months, he gives up this pursuit and tells his uncle he feels he can paint and draw. He goes to France where he meets with Fanny, Lawson, Cronshaw and Hayward a group of people with whom we will see his life revolve around for almost the rest of the book.

Fanny is a student in the art class who is hated by everyone. Philip tells us she has no talent and does not understand why she keeps trying. She must have fallen in love with Philip. She hangs herself either because she was so poor or because the words of M. Foinet who told her plainly she was wasting her time.

To Philip, after M. Foinet told him he had no talent, he added

There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one’s means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for the people who despise money. They are hypocrites or fools. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn.

 

After 2 years in Paris, Philip has also realized he is not made for art. He can’t draw nor paint properly. This time however wasn’t wasted. It is during the stay in France and the evening discussions they held in the taverns with Cronshaw and the others that he arrived at the conclusion that life is meaningless. This moment was so profound to him, as it should be to all of us, that a meaningless life had no more sting. He was happy. He was almost free. His first freedom had come at the moment he concluded there was no god. This marked a second great moment in his life. HE also learnt to appreciate colour, lines and beauty.

Their discussions were varied and interesting. They covered several aspects of human life. For example while having beer one evening, they were having a discussion about art and Cronshaw says

What you are here for I don’t know, It is no business of mine, But art is a luxury. Men attach importance only to self-preservation and the propagation of their species. It is only when these instincts are satisfied that they consent to occupy themselves with the entertainment which is provided for them by writers, painters and poets.

Cronshaw continues to say

Art is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life.

Elsewhere Cronshaw tells him

The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that I am ready to accept it. I act as though I were a free agent. But when an action is performed it is clear that all the forces of the universe from all eternity conspired to cause it, and nothing I could do could have prevented it. It was inevitable. If it was good I can claim no merit, if it was bad I can accept no censure.

There are several such conversations  between the group of friends.

Our hero returns to London after quitting art to try his hand in medicine. He meets Mildred, a waiter who for reason we will never he fell so madly in love with that regardless of what humiliation he suffered in her hands, he still loved her. He was a hero for love.

He drops out of medical school in his fourth year after he lost some money and for 2 years he waited patiently for his uncle to die. He couldn’t understand why the man of god held so hard to a life that was no longer worth living. Why didn’t he go to heaven to meet with his maker sooner or did he at that last moment realize all this was in vain and that he was only certain of life on this side of death. It is an interesting question I guess.

Finally we meet the family of Athelny Thorpe who Philip makes friends with and with who he spends most of his days when he is not working at the hospital. We meet their daughter Sally who Philip marries at the close of the book and we can only hope they lived happily ever after.

I don’t know about you

but I find this talk by Kirillov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed very interesting. This is towards the end of the book where Pyotr Stepanofitch has an interview with Kirillov, wants him to write a suicide note claiming responsibility for some murders that have just taken place among them. Kirillov says

I have no higher idea than disbelief in god. I have all the history of mankind on my side. Man has done nothing but invent god so as to go on living and not kill himself; that’s the whole of universal history up till now. I am the first one in the whole history of mankind who could not invent god. Let them know it once and for all.

They continue the interview then he says, as if continuing his earlier train of thought, that

I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no god and not kill himself on the spot. To recognize that there is no god and not to recognize at the same instant that one is god oneself is an absurdity, else one would certainly kill oneself.

Nikolay Stavrogin says in a letter to Darsha he cannot kill himself for an idea, in fact he says he can’t believe in an idea as Kirillov. At the end he kills himself and says no one is to blame.

I think everyone is possessed in this book.

What are your thoughts on the statements by Kirillov on unbelief?

When god was a rabbit

by Sarah Winman

Is a beautiful story of a lady, her relations and friends and about god.

God died in this book, am serious! But then god was a rabbit who was run over by their guest. An interesting question asked in this book is why a rabbit can’t be god.

It’s the story of Joe and his heartbreak, after being ditched by Charlie. She tells us of the fateful September 01 and the several days of heartache, headache of looking for Joe hoping that he is alive, which eventually he was found to be but he had lost his head, literally speaking!

It’s the story of Golan the pedo.

The story of Arthur, a fine gentleman with an eye for detail, a good man all the same.

It’s the story of Nancy her aunt, a lovely person by all means.

It’s the story of Jenny Penny her best friend who ends up in a jail for the murder of her abusive husband. You should read the story of how things transpired that fateful evening. Fortunately for us and for her, she was released from prison and the two friends reunite.

It’s the story of Alan, their faithful driver, a former criminal[we don’t know his crime], his son Alan Jr and the granddaughter Alana[the parents expected a boy].

She tells the story of her one night steamy sex on one night after the disappearance of her brother. The scene is graphic, very graphic and well written.

She tells us the story of Ginger, her singing and her cancer and most of all her big heart.

And finally, though I should have started with this, she tells the story of her father a non believer whose non belief is rocked twice. The first time he says he prayed to win the lottery which he did and which allowed them to move to a more serene neighbourhood. The next time is when his son, Joe, can’t be found for almost a week after September 11.

I don’t want to take your desire to read the book by telling you everything that she wrote, so go here and read the book. You will thank me 😛

Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy

I finally managed to finish this book, not that it was boring, far from it, but because in the process I decided to read several other books. Tolstoy tells a very interesting story of love, betrayal, politics, farming and life in general. His set of characters includes the who is who of society, the middle class and the peasants.

Anna Karenina is the wife of Alexey Alexandrovitch who is several years her senior. He is a government operative who has been portrayed as being cold and spends very little time with his wife and their son. He gives all his life to his work which for a time, actually for most of the book, things are going on well for him until after he has been cuckolded that the powers that be seem to be ignoring him. Fortunately for him, he is oblivious to being ignored by others in government. He does not realize that his suggestions are being overlooked and every time he starts a conversation, no one seems to be listening. His life is turned upside down when a young soldier, Count Vronsky, falls in love with his wife. I should add Vronsky was taken off his feet when he was going to meet Kitty, a young damsel who had fallen head over heels in love with him and who the mother expected he would marry.

In the beginning Anna and Vronsky keep their affair hidden from the eyes of her husband. As fate would have it, she becomes pregnant with his baby. They decide to tell Alexey who is distraught with this information but acts the gentleman. His only concern is that she does not soil his name and make his life in public unbearable. He, being a believer, doesn’t want to grant her a divorce since he feels this is against his church so they go on living together but under very difficult circumstances. She continues to see Vronsky and says she is disgusted every time Alexey shows up. She has a difficult delivery and is bedridden for a while. While in this state, she writes to her husband, who had left for Moscow to come back. He comes back and she looks like she is dying. He is moved, in a way that we can only describe as spiritual, he forgives her all her faults in the hope she will die and end his troubles without the need of a divorce. She refuses to die, recovers fully and goes on seeing Vronsky. She asks Alexey to allow her to go away with Vronsky which he does but remains with the son.

Kitty who falls in love with Levin, the same guy she had initially left in preference to Vronsky. They get married in a few months and go to live in the country where he has a farm. He is an unbeliever and enjoys having philosophical discussions with Oblonsky, Kitty and Dolly’s brother. He is writing a book on agriculture and the labour situation among the peasants. Kitty is pregnant, they move from the farm back to Moscow to be close to doctors. She is in labour for so long, that Levin, a non believer, in desperation begins to pray for her quick delivery.

Levin’s brother, Nikolay falls sick and dies.

Oblonksy is an irresponsible and absentee husband. Leaves Dolly to fend for their many children while he has fun elsewhere in the political circles in Moscow having sumptuous dinners, attending concerts and basically being a useless father.

Sergey Ivanovitch, Levin’s other brother who lives in Moscow has been working on a book for six years. The reception is so bad, he doesn’t know what to do with his life. He visits Levin in the farm to rest a while.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna volunteers to take care of Alexey’s household. She feels she has found the right person who is going to love her after her first marriage failed miserably, do they ever fail differently by the way?

It is a lovely book. Go read it, that’s an order!

And go watch the movie too