Not only is there a whole lot of built-up sexual tension throughout the entire novel, the narrator has such a love affair with the English language that it’s downright sexy.
I love that this novel operates on so many different levels: there’s the horrors of the Holocaust and the Auschwitz labour camp, and it’s tied back to the embarrassment of slavery in what is recent American history, and there’s also the violence and passion of Sophie and Nathan’s relationship.
I was particularly drawn to Stingo’s struggle as a writer, and how the book is really a bildungsroman in that Stingo matures not only in the literary sense (that is, into a true writer), but also – gratefully – sexually.
What a great read! I completely disagree with critics who say that this book glorifies war – I think, rather, that it glorifies the soldiers and acknowledges what they suffer through for the sake of country. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, which as I understand interpreted the novel quite differently from the way Heinlein supposedly intended… but the book is really great. I get the impression that if you liked the book, you may not like the movie.
A few things stood out for me:
- The banality of war: Several times I noticed that Heinlein’s tone shows how desensitized Rico becomes to violence. Very scary!
- Whoa, he’s Filipino? Kevin & I were talking once about how it’s wonderful that nationality could be just an afterthought – so often race is the most important identifier in literature and I just don’t buy it sometimes. Also, I wonder what he said in Tagalog…?
- I was very interested in the idea of gaining full citizenship only through volunteering for military service. (I mean interested in the idea, not interested in actually having it implemented in our society!) Although I do wonder how it might work in a place like the United States. Very intriguing concept though.
Next in the Educate Myself in Classic SciFi series, I read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin, at the recommendation of Themba. I was really impressed! It’s about a physicist, Shevek, who comes from the satellite planet Anarres and goes to main planet Urras. Anarres is supposed to be a world of imposed anarchy, or at least a society with no central power. Despite all intentions to keep any group from gaining power over another (or perhaps because of this), society still somehow starts to develop a sort of power imbalance. On Urras, however, Shevek is quite literally imprisoned by the overly capitalist society.
I was particularly interested in the linguistic relativity elements (I guess because I’m a language person), especially the idea that language on Anarres wouldn’t have a possessive form at all because that whole concept isn’t part of the collective mindset. It reminds me of Anthem, of course, and how their language exists exclusively in the collective tense.
However, I can’t help but feel that the book may not mean quite as much to later generations (say, people born in the 1990s onward) because (a) they didn’t grow up with the Soviet Union and there is a very clear parallel to the US-Soviet Union tension on Urras, and (b) the ansible probably doesn’t sound all that amazing to people for whom texting and videochatting are the norm. Just a thought.
Anyway, very highly recommended. If you liked Anthem and/or Stranger in a Strange Land, you’ll like The Dispossessed. Especially you libertarians.
Now, everyone has always told me that Catch-22 is an absolute must-read and everything. But I had no idea it was so BIZARRE. I mean, it’s really outrageous. And it’s supposed to be, I can see. It’s definitely outrageous to the point that it’s hilarious, but it’s set in a context that one must never laugh about – war.
Overall I feel like the book means to make the reader uncomfortable, and Heller does this well. And he really is the master of unexpected juxtaposition. You’ll read a sentence where he tells you what the characters say or feel, and the next sentence completely contradicts that. He really keeps you on your toes the whole time just with simple tricks like that. It’s completely unnerving – and even more impressive because of that!
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is the titular first of the series. It’s about six-year-old Ender who is recruited to go to Battle School, where only the most intelligent children are sent to learn to fight the buggers. Ender turns out to be amazingly well-equipped to not only succeed, but to exceed expectations at Battle School, and he quickly becomes the top soldier, set to become commander quite soon.
While I’ve always read a lot of praise about this series, I’ve also seen just as many people decry the novel for its violence. I think it’s important, though, to think about our capacity for violence, and more importantly, why we engage in violence and whether we’re actually aware that we’re committing acts of violence. I think Card did well to bring these issues up.
I’ll read the rest of the series once I can actually find them! But for now I’m moving on to other books.
Being the books-turned-into-movies fanatic that I am, I had to read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. In case you haven’t seen the movie, it takes place in the last stages of World War II and is about a Canadian nurse staying in a deserted village in Italy caring for a critically burned mystery man. He is known only as “the English patient”. Along comes Caravaggio, an old family friend of Hana’s, who is revealed to be a thief turned spy. Then Kip enters the scene, and he is a Sikh sapper who feels unwelcome everywhere because of his race. The only Englishman whom he ever felt any connection to was killed while dismantling a German bomb.
What I found most interesting about the characters in this novel was how they all seemed to have lost their identities – not just the English patient. I suppose I can relate most to Kip though, because his identity loss stems from having left his home country and coming to the West, where he is constantly underestimated and unwelcome.
At the same time it seems as if the English patient is the only one who is surest of his own identity even if it’s lost. Perhaps because he willingly shed his identity and nationality? Anyway I can’t imagine not feeling tied to a country; especially in a case of wartime in which nationalities and solidarity of nations were at their utmost importance! I’m not sure how I feel about his actions but I also don’t feel that he was necessarily guilty of anything but adultery.
Now I have loved Margaret Atwood as a novelist and a poet for a very long time. We read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school and I couldn’t put the book down. And this stanza from her poem Variations on the word sleep have always called to me:
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.
Anyway, to get back to The Blind Assassin. I honestly found it really confusing. I figured out that it’s about a woman whose novelist sister dies in a car accident, while everyone assumes she committed suicide. The story switches back and forth in time and among several characters from separate generations. Each separate story arc was interesting enough but it was far too confusing for me to keep track. Sadly I couldn’t really love it because it was just so disjointed that I couldn’t get attached to anyone.