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review 2014-10-18 20:46
BOOK REVIEW | The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

"The circus arrives without warning..."

 

It is a place of dreams, all in black and white, with spots of red on certain customers. In this circus, you cann watch a trapeze act that defies gravity, enter into a tent of stories, watch kittens jump through hoops, make wishes on wells, have your fortune read and more. It is opened from sunset to sunrise and only stays a few weeks before packing and changing location. Maybe it will come back to your town, but maybe it won't.

 

The Night Circus is a beautiful book about a whole cast of characters. We have Celia, the magical protege; Marco, the studious student; Tsukiko, the contortionist; Bailey, the dreamer; Herr, the clockmaker; Poppet and Widget, the eccentric twins; Chandresh, the master; Tara, the one who saw too much; and many more. They all work in a magical circus doing various activities, from performing to creating tents to handing out food.

What makes this circus so magical is that inside, unbeknownst to anyone except for the players, lies a game. The rules are vague, the boundaries are flimsy and not even the participants really understand what's going on.

 

"I have never fully grasped the rules of the game, so I am following my instincts instead."

 

I would say how the game works is exactly how this book was written. The language Morgenstern uses is beautiful and poetic, but very often it was hard to imagine exactly what she meant because she constantly keeps her reader in mystery. This is done on purpose to create an atmosphere that could perfectly mimic the circus. Although I loved how atmospheric this book was, sometimes not understanding the game and the temporal displacement of the novel were a bit too much. There desperation of the characters was never properly conveyed to the reader, but we were told often of how one of the players was exhausted/on the brink of a meltdown, etc. I never saw these meltdowns or complaints. I never felt them.

 

As the game progresses and more and more lives are at stake, I could never really feel how on edge everything was. There were very few moments when the circus would have a ripple that would cause something drastic, and when these drastic things happened I felt the panic in the moment, but never the build up. Because the rules and stakes of the game were so vague, it was hard to feel any crescendo towards a climax.

 

The novel is full of beautiful imagery that gives a new name to originality:

 

"When she opens her eyes, they are standing on the quarterdeck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink."

 

"Inside, the train is opulent, gilded, and warm. Most of the passenger cars are lined with thick patterned carpets, upholstered in velvets in burgundies and violets and creams, as though they have been dipped in a sunset, hovering at twilight and holding on to the colors before they fade to midnight and stars."

 

In a way, a lot of the creativity of this story reminded me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Beautiful images, exciting prospects, interesting concepts. The writing is what really propelled the book from being a nice read to being an amazing one.

 

Overall, I would recommend this book for fans of beautiful writing, for fans of experimental writing and for those that like fairy tales. If you're the kind of reader who needs proper foreshadowing and likes to have concepts and situations thoroughly explained to them, this might not be a book for you. For me, however, this book was beautiful and possibly the type of book you could read and re-read, finding more and more hidden secrets within.

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review 2014-09-20 05:02
BOOK REVIEW | Lilus Kikus by Elena Poniatowska
Lilus Kikus and Other Stories - Elena Poniatowska

5 deconstructing stars.

 

Lilus Kikus by Elena Poniatowksa, on the surface level, is about a young girl and her adventures as she grows up.  This book was first published in 1954 erroneously as a child’s novel due to the age of the protagonist (although her age is never clearly defined) and the simplistic writing style.  However, Lilus Kikus is bursting at the seams with a feminist and anti-patriarchal agenda.  

 

 As a modern reader, the evidence of this book’s agenda is so apparently and blunt that the only explanation as to how it could ever be passed as a children’s novel is because the publishing industry in the 50s, especially in Mexico, was dominated by men and they just didn’t expect this sort of commentary from a woman.

 

The reader is first introduced to Lilus when she is outside playing.  Lilus does not like to play with dolls (which are traditionally feminine), instead she prefers to play doctor and perform experiments (traditionally masculine roles).  As she grows up, she joins an all-girls school where one of her closest friend, the “Lamb,” is being sent away due to pre-martial sex that resulted in pregnancy.  

 

When Lilus is talking to her next door neighbor, the Philosopher, he says this of the Lamb:

 

“The lamb, the lamb… let me think.  Ah yes, the feminist.  The free thinker.  … Well, life started too early for her.” Lilus herself is neither fully feminine nor fully masculine, but she knows better than to try and stand up for her female rights.  She knows she will end up exiled like the Lamb and decides that "she would rather keep quiet.  It is better to feel than to know."

 

Indeed, the Lamb was born into the wrong time period, where women are not allowed to commit the same “sins” as men or hold the same positions.  They are meant to be beautiful, vivacious and submissive: “Also, Lilus had heard it said that dummies were the most enchanting women in the world.”  

 

One of my favorite parts of this book is when Lilus is describing her good friend, Chiruelita, who is very naiive and innocent.   Chiruelita is the picture perfect idea of a "feminine" lady, of a "delicate" woman.  She ends up marrying an artist and obeying him easily, until the one day she decides to think for herself and “with a languid gesture, the eccentric artist wrung her neck!”

 

If that's not a blatant statement comparing the patriarchy to the silencing of women, then I don't know what is.  It is baffling to see how original readers missed all of this subtext. 

 

Eventually, Lilus cannot be contained and is sent to a nunnery where she is completely oppressed, both by the patriarchy and the Catholic religion.  The ending is open – it can be read as Lilus searching for signs of rebellion or as Lilus searching for signs of God.  Either way, the message is clear: the woman’s place is in the silence of the men’s voices. 

 

All this in a “children’s” book.

 

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