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review 2014-08-04 12:32
July-ish reads: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

Have you read Angela's Ashes? Well, the aim of this book is pretty similar. An implicitly autobiographical story about Frances Nolan and her family, during her childhood at Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn, Brooklyn. 

In the novel it's not a simple point in the map, a casual location where the author places the characters, but it is extremely alive. Here it figures as the home of the not-so poor but not-so rich, the home of who has the costant fear of not being able to have a decent daily income (or, like we could say today with the monthly salaries, to make it at the end of the month), but in one way or another there's always a solution to make it by their own till the end. Here the art of getting by rules. There's an unbearable number of days where a soup bone is the only offer for lunch and dinner, but there are also those bright and joyful Saturdays where Frances can spend the saved cents for a little sweet. 

On the first side, Frances doesn't want to show to dear strangers her homeland, so dirty and poor, but on the latter side, when she saw Manhattan and the upper-area of New York a deception came, because..Brooklyn is better, Brooklyn is hers. In fact in this place all the sorrows and joys of the first two decades of Frances Nolan grow, burn and then consume theirselves. And this is the telling of those times, the times when we were living in Brooklyn.

 

And I loved it. A "fat" book but extremely fluid. I've felt completely into the story and their characters, with the little events of everyday life, those unavoidable unfortunate events of a lifetime and on the same line also those accepted with a big smile. It was so genuine and the character were vivid, real. I don't share the critic of others towards the "sentimental" tone and I don't understand why when we deal with poverty all has to be extremely rough and tough. I've appreciated instead how Frances' perspective has influenced all the story. The pains of living in precarious conditions were tangible, a sort of smell in the air through the entire story, so including the adjective of "idealistic" under "sentimental" would be wrong.

And I've loved how it was perceived the deep love of the little Nolan towards the father, even if it wasn't an example of probity. Some moments linked to that were sincerely moving. 

The grow up of the characters was also real, and I'm so glad that Frances (Betty too) became a strong and self-reliant woman, I would be proud if she were close to me. And I can say that I was feeling all the sacrifices that weighed on her shoulders, the smell of dust in the substratum of the skin due to the need of rull up her sleeves and climb down the craggy reality of living to gain something for herself. 

I'm really happy, it was such a heartwarming piece of work. 

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review 2014-08-02 20:03
July-ish (and Junish!) reads: The Brothers Karamazov, Fedor Dostoevskij
The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky,Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear

I've delayed this review because I was (and I am) strongly convinced that adding my opinion to the list of million of opinions in the world about the book was..unnecessary. Particularly because giving to The Brothers Karamazov 4 stars could be judged as a crime! But, to appease the potentially angry crowd, I don't have anything to say about the outstanding quality of the book, 

 

The Brothers Karamazov is an explicative title: apart from clarifying that the story is about three brothers (Dimitri, Ivan and Aljosa) and their tormented lives in the year taken in examination, for me it's also a masterful sum-up of the human content of these 800 pages. Even if Aljosa is clearly the leading character and somehow the hero of the story, the book is not called Aleksej Karamazov but it involves all the three brothers. There's a strongly intellectual division: Aleksej is the kind, caring, understanding and above all fatifhul soul; Dimitri is the impulsive, passional one (he's not fully aware of himself like Ivan or Aljosa), Ivan instead is the most intellectual of the tree: skeptical so faithless, a bit nietzscheian (even if without success), more tormented and wavering than Aljosa (not exactly ambiguos) if we consider the moral side, like a living human without a God behind should be if he's not an evil.  Here we are clearly reasoning with chief systems, in fact the three tendencies would be partial and a little "exaggerated" if not related to the other two. If we unite the three tendencies we have somehow the contraddiction and multitudes of a single "standard" human soul. Sometimes faithful, loving; sometimes skeptical, in crysis, uncertain, wavering and full of suspicion; and sometimes impulsive, unreasoning, dedicated to follow our istincts without much thought about it. Clearly everyone tends to be more an Aljosa (admirable, then!) or a Dimitri, or defintely closer to Ivan than Aljosa on the intellectual side. I'm Ivan in my deepest inner world, but I try when I remember it to be more an Aljosa, particulary towards other human beings. I end up being a sort of mix between them, I'm not so masterfully crafted as a human being to be a sort of saint like Aljosa and sometimes I don't even try too hard (my most sincere apologies).  My mother would say that I underestimate my dimitrian part, and she's probably right. Not because she's the mum (not only! c'mon!), but because I have my passions too. So, maybe you don't know it (!), but a dostoesvkijan container is so large that pratically it contains the whole human soul, represented by the three kind of human answers to the question "how do your person respond to the word reason?" (and I would add the condition of intelligence then, because you are not able to be Ivan or Aljosa if you don't even have any ability in the exercise of thought. That's understandable, extremely developped consciences like Dostoevskij somehow need to reflect extremely developped inner worlds in their characters). And now, when I say The Brothers Karamazov, what Dostoevskij tried to face here is reassuringly clear.

 

Let's not deepen the father issue too, I would finish tomorrow and I have to please myself with some good food in my stomach (and it's painfully rare sometimes, Karamazovs suffers for big issues but sometimes I just want a *good* cake to be temporarily satisfied with my life). 

So how the three reacts to a disgrace of a father is explicative for the conflct between passions and reason, now identified with social laws for example, not anymore with the only intellectual side. Ivan's reaction to a certain fact in the second part is a model of the Freudian side of the novel (even more for DImitri if you think that I'm making a reference to Oedypus, even I was thinking more about the cohabitation of conscious and subconscious), and the entire second part of the novel too. Their impulses towards the father were extremely understandble, but what divides the freedom of feeling and the responsabily of acting?

That trial somehow seemed to invole every conscience in the tension between ourselves and the average morality. 

(spoiler show)

In general, the reactions to all the ugliness in the world (the evil in Smerdjakov, the father, death and so on) are one of the tension deployed during the story. 

 

Now, sorry for the long post and let's deal with the big why: 4 stars?!

It's only an emotional matter that prompted me to not give the highest rating. Even if I was interested and admired by the represented multitudes (even in the style, sometimes tragically emotive, sometimes humoristic, sometimes deeply philosophical, like all the waves which moves a lifetime), I was not truly fond of the entire novel. I love with all myself White Nights, but in this case my appreciation is mostly reflective and not instinctive, emotional like the unconditional affection between two creatures. We could say that the Ivan in me appreciated this book, but not the dimitrian part. Ouch! 

Why? I can't tell with rigor: maybe because it was explicitely and infinitely more inclined to the intellectual chief systems than White Nights, who involved me as a single person and type. And it could not be a critic, but in some way this affected the more primordial attachment to the story. It would not even be a coherent reason for my person, given that I loved The Myth of Sysiphus for example,  I tend to be fond of the figures with who I share my thoughts about life, and I'm really interested in many philosophical matters. Maybe because I tend to avoid theology and all the intellectual tensions in this book was mainly towards the question of God and faith? No, this exact philosphical matter doesn't engage me like others. 

A lot of questions and no certain anwers. A typical dostoevskijan novel has so many implications that it's difficult to explain rationally the hows and whys of the emotional reactions to them. 

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review 2014-08-01 13:45
July-ish reads: Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
Birds of America - Lorrie Moore

I know Lorrie Moore only thanks to Goodreads and my wandering into it. Here in Italy she's completely unknown (and then not translated, that's a pity, because a readin in translation would have helped me a little). I know that she's very appreciated, even if a considerable part of Goodreads can't  share the most common phrases about her. 

This is in particular was one of her books with the highest average rating (4.12/5 with 8394 ratings, quite reliable). It focuses on human loneliness, nearly always of the same kind in almost all the short stories. There's a quote I liked very much:

 

One of the problems with people in Chicago, she remembered, was that they were never lonely at the same time. Their sadness occurred in isolation, lurched and spazzed, sent them spinning fizzly back into empty, padded corners, disconnected and alone. (Willing)

 

Surely it can't be applied to all the lonely protagonists of the collection, but they would understand this quote in the most sympathetic disposition, and I understand it too. This is the most important fact in my read: I could deeply understand what Lorrie Moore was exposing in a precise way because..well..I could be a character of hers. Actually I would appreciate her silent ironic touch on my unsuited loneliness. In fact all the characters can't really relate to their husband, boyfriend or even friends. There are even some levels represented: the lover, the family and the community. "Community Life" is eloquent in this case and my favorite one. Why this loneliness? These badly arranged couples? Bad choices committed for not being alone. But not necessarily, sometimes just because the future can not be known and in the present the other seems interesting, likable, when time doesn't have ruined the first impression yet. Unfortunately then comes the deception and a routine which traps them in dreary cohabitations. And  the description of the light sense of "existential maladjustment", the sensation of wasting time occupying the wrong spot for your bodies, the isolation, alienation and loneliness..well, I've felt that they were described with a deep sense of truth and comprehension by Lorrie Moore. 

But three stars are not given randomly. Even if I appreciated the subjects and how they were reproduced, sometimes the stories were..not exactly boring but heavy and long to follow, I was not always interested in some characters, and...I fell asleep one time. The feeling of light boredom overwhelmed me after the first short stories, near the end of the collection. I can't fully explain what doesn't work in the telling, maybe just the pacing, a bit uncaring of vitalizing itself. Surely the perspective is inward-looking, so it was more important to know the characters than the plot (even if it clearly exists and developes), but sometimes it was not enough to not make me lose attention, given that the suggested feelings were similar. 

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review 2014-07-30 14:24
July-ish reads: Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions - Banesh Hoffmann,Edwin A. Abbott

Maybe you will all know the substantial plot of this novel, but I'll say it for eventual isolated cases. Flatland is an alternative world in two dimensions, populated by flat geometric figures. The main character tell us of the features of this world and "people": the gerarchic society, some habits in everyday interactions, and so on. Besides there is a second part where the main character, a square, will explore other dimensional realities: Lineland, Spaceland and Pointland. Worlds with other dimensions. 

 

I can't think of a more fitting adjective than "remarkable". There is an afterword in my Italian edition which contains a such a right observation: between the madness of an imaginary world built from its basis and the coherence and intelligence of its principles there is the most distinctive feature of this brilliant novel. It has the characteristics of the incontrovertible evidence. I've thought about what can be considered more phraiseworthy: a complete fantastic world in which imagination has the total power or an imagined world still lied to rigid and inevitable mathematic laws to respect, so, less similar to "an autogenerated fantastic burst"? Is an unconfined imagination more phraiseworthy than a subtle intelligence in uniting already existing geometric principles to an imaginary world?

Inventing from nothing personal laws for our creation can be the most remarkable and marvelous thing to do, if it succeeds, but the "adversary" mentioned is no less so.

And Abbott does it perfectly. 

Particularly in reinterpreting his actual society in geometric figures, social laws. An outstanding intelligence and inventiveness: I mean, thinking about all the implications in applying the figure of the straight line to women could be sufficient: I appreciated what was said behind the sharp consequences in exposing the beginning or the end of it (an allusion maybe to our feminine nature, gentle, kind and loving but also cruel when we want) besides the social critic, so as I said how they are perceived in the English sexist sociey of that times. In the second part a valuable example could be Pointland and the philosophical implications in thinking "non-dimensionally". So well represented. That could be applied perfectly to how in adding dimension the represententatives of them were more open and ready to accept differences, like a "three-dimensional mind". 

 

For a moment I've thought that Abbott was sharing the beliefs of his people, but then! I was not fully aware! In fact there was that "unsaid" which lies on the surface, the subtle smile of a silent satire. I loved that thin line between endorsement and critic. 

A really appreciated surprise. I'm a slouch in maths and being able to follow Abbott's explanations and reasonings has been reassuring. I was avoiding this precisely because of the fear of not being able of understanding. Well:

 

At the end of the day

She said a realized "yay!"

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review 2014-07-24 13:11
July-ish reads: Pan, Knut Hamsun
Pan - Knut Hamsun,Sverre Lyngstad

The novel is a harmonious appreciaton of nature by a man in love with the wrong girl. Well, I've added the last three words, probably you will not find them in a strandard description of the plot. A pure personal opinion.

And I've not even been right and clear: the protagonist has always loved the nature and he's fully delved into it, far from the everyday society. In certain way here the nature is like a third character, similar to the arms of a mother: always there, ready to sustain his loneliness, even enhacing it.

And this is one of the several points that distances him and Eduarda, the love he will discover during the story. Eduarda is a young girl, a woman of the world surely.

She has some faults of her age: she is looking for "the man of her dreams", a total idealized figure for which she suffers and treats badly who is not able to measure up to it, even if not intentionally. And, most of all, she's one of the strongest reason for my dislike towards the book. i have not anything towards disconnected dreamers, but she's pretty annoying, if not dull like every character in the novel. In fact she's also capricious, unstable, a bit snobbish when there are the right circumstances, and..well..a bit stupid too then (I can't remember a single interesting line by her). 

The question is: why all this fuss for her?

But I guess that this is a universal interrogative, given the many wrong couples existing in the world. 

I didn't liked even how in some ways she's cuddled in her faults, like she doesn't have responsabilties towards her actions and immature beliefs. Arrrrrgh, homicide! I hate that!

 

And like I said, the other characters are not so remarkable. The protagonist is simply uninteresting. He's so uninteresting that there's nothing to add. Surely he reprents the same love for nature, and the many description in the novel are inspiring, but in this case.. the reader is a wrong choice. I've some problem in relating to nature (insects everywhere, aaaah!) and I really don't share the same dedication to it like him, so I'm not the most receptive person about this subject. 

Why then reading this book? I was hoping that a good love story could instill a fascinating pathos in the descriptions, but the prerequisite has totally failed. 

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