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review 2020-09-09 17:26
The Captain's Daughter and Other Stories by Alexander Pushkin
The Captain's Daughter: And Other Stories - Alexander Pushkin

There’s a little sense of dissonance when I read a classic and my response is “huh, okay.” This is especially true when I read the classic in translation; in this case, the translation is very smooth, contemporary, and easy to read, which causes its own form of dissonance. These now feel like contemporary stories rather than something written in the early 19th century, and compared to contemporary stories they don’t particularly stand out to me, but then I neither read them in their original language nor am familiar with the history of Russian literature so as to appreciate the ways in which Pushkin was blazing a new trail.

The stories:

“The Captain’s Daughter”: This novella occupies almost half of the book. It involves a romance between a young officer and the angelic daughter of the captain, set during the time of Pugachev’s rebellion, and Pugachev himself is the most vibrant character in it. The story moves along briskly and is fairly satisfying, though the characters are not particularly complex. This edition also includes an omitted chapter, which is interesting in that Pushkin ditched a bunch of melodrama and overt paternalism.

“The Tales of Ivan Petrovich Belkin”: These five stories, mostly around 15 pages each, are given a framing device in that they were all collected by a fictional young dead man, but they aren’t actually linked, so I’ll discuss them separately.

“The Shot”: The narrator pieces together the story of a multi-episode duel from others. It’s a bleak world in which men are expected to kill and die in duels over the most mundane insults, and those who refuse lose all respect from their fellows. (Pushkin, sadly, died himself in a duel at age 37.)

“The Snowstorm”: A prank disrupts a love affair. This is a cleverly structured story, in which after reading the end you go back and read over the earlier parts with fresh eyes, something I love in a short story. It made me uncomfortable in that I didn’t find Burmin’s behavior deserving of a happy ending.

“The Undertaker”: A man has ungenerous thoughts and is punished with a nightmare. Um, okay.

“The Postmaster”: Another narrator piecing together someone else’s story, this time of a postmaster and his prodigal daughter. This didn’t do much for me.

“Mistress Into Maid”: A sweet little story about a forbidden romance, also involving some pranking, but this time harmless. I enjoyed this one.

“The Queen of Spades”: This is a somewhat longer story about gambling and obsession, in which a calculating young man will go to almost any length for a guaranteed win at cards. I found this one pretty good and with a satisfying ending.

“Kirdjali”: Eight pages about the legend of an Eastern European bandit. Okay.

“The Negro of Peter the Great”: This is an unfinished fragment, around 40 pages long, of what was perhaps intended to be a novel. The title isn’t politically correct these days but the “Negro” in question is a (lightly fictionalized?) version of Pushkin’s own maternal great-grandfather, Abram or Ibrahim Gannibal, who was brought to Russia as a boy, adopted by Peter the Great as his godson, sent to France to study military engineering, and later returned to Russia to be an important figure in the military and the court. The fragment deals largely with Ibrahim’s love troubles, as well as his relationship with Peter the Great, who’s presented in a very positive light. This is interesting from a historical perspective though a fragment is unlikely to satisfy in a storytelling sense.

Overall, I’m glad to have read some work by a classic author I hadn’t been exposed to before, and appreciated the window into 18th and early 19th century Russia. But while the writing is perfectly fine, I can’t say any of it blew me away. I also have the sense that this collection doesn’t represent Pushkin’s best work, much of which was poetry and plays.

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review 2020-08-27 07:25
Candide and Other Stories by Voltaire
Candide and Other Stories - Voltaire

TITLE:  Candide and Other Stories

 

AUTHOR:  Voltaire

 

TRANSLATOR:  Roger Pearson

 

EDITION:  Oxford World's Classics

 

ISBN-13:  9780199535613

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DESCRIPTION:

"Candide is the most famous of Voltaire's "philosophical tales," in which he combined witty improbabilities with the sanest of good sense. First published in 1759, it was an instant bestseller and has come to be regarded as one of the key texts of the Enlightenment. What Candide does for chivalric romance, the other tales in this selection--Micromegas, Zadig, The Ingenu, and The White Bull--do for science fiction, the Oriental tale, the sentimental novel, and the Old Testament. The most extensive one-volume selection currently available, this new edition includes a new verse translation of the story Voltaire based on Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale: What Pleases the Ladies and opens with a revised introduction that reflects recent critical debates, including a new section on Candide."

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REVIEW:

 

I enjoyed the poem "What Pleases the Ladies?" and the short stories "Micromegas" and "The White Bull", but "Candide", "Zadig" and "The Ingenu" I found to be a bit tedious and long winded even though they weren't all that long. Unfortunately, world classics don't seem to appeal to me much. I can't say how accurate the translation is but it flows nicely without being clunky.  The notes at the back are helpful.  I just wish they would stick the damn notes at the bottom of the relevant page instead of making the reading flip to the back all the time.

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review 2020-07-13 09:08
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm - George Orwell

TITLE: Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale

 

AUTHOR: George Orwell

 

PUBLICATION DATE: 2018 (originally 1945)

 

EDITION: Penguin English Library

 

ISBN-13: 9780241341667

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DESCRIPTION:

"'All animals are equal - but some are more equal than others.' When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless élite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another."

 

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REVIEW:

 

You may call this a political or social commentary, a satire, an allegory, a moral story, or a combination of a whole lot of other things. The novella is still relevant today and should be a warning to the general public to think for themselves and question everything, instead of dully going along with the approved narrative (whatever it is). At the end of the day, this is a short and witty observation of animal human nature.

 

PS: This is not a children's book. The book is better if the reader has some knowledge of history and adult concerns (i.e. putting food on the table, economy in general and politics).

 

 And just because:

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text 2020-07-09 10:22
Reading progress update: I've read 514 out of 683 pages.
The Iliad - Homer,Bernard Knox,Robert Fagles

Aeneas is saved from imminent death at the hands of Achilles by Poseidon - because he has to go on to lead the Trojans and found a new kingdom, elsewhere.

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text 2020-07-06 03:26
Reading progress update: I've read 512 out of 683 pages.
The Iliad - Homer,Bernard Knox,Robert Fagles Aeneas faces off against Achilles, but he can't just get on with it - he's got to spout off about his ancestry first...
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