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review 2017-11-20 07:17
The Chosen
The Chosen - Chaim Potok

I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak.  Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book.  I thought The Chosen was about baseball.

 

It's not about baseball.

 

What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence):  the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path.  But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV.  This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform).  Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.

 

I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for.  The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.

 

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people

 

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review 2017-11-18 20:04
Representation of Human: "The Odyssey" by Homer (translated by Robert Fitzgerald; read by Dan Stevens)
The Odyssey: The Fitzgerald Translation - Homer,Robert Fitzgerald,D. S. Carne-Ross

I humbly declare this book to be the greatest literary work of mankind. If you don't learn Greek (worth it just to read this Meisterwerk, never mind the rest of the immortal trove of Greek literature) you can read it in so many translations that have become classics in their own use of the English language, Fagles and Murray, just to mention two. Oh, what the Hades, let's throw in a third, not just for its brilliant translation, but also owing to the exotic character behind it: no less than Lawrence of Arabia.

 

The Homeric poems were sung in a less-enlightened time, in comparison with the later Greek tragedies, and with the later epics too. Apollonius' Argonautica was composed, post Greek Tragedy, and his audience would have been, no doubt, familiar with Euripides' Medea. Questions such as how justice and revenge affect societies were addressed by Aeschylus in the Oresteia; likewise, the reception of the anthropomorphic gods, and their pettiness, was raised by Euripides in Hippolytus and the Bacchae. Furthermore, the real nature and brutality of warfare was also raised in the Trojan Women. Throw in how one state views another state, and questions of racial identity, and you have The Persians by Aeschylus, and Medea by Euripides. Additionally, if you include Philoctetes by Sophocles, and the issue of how youth should conduct themselves is also raised. If you consider, too, Ajax by Sophocles, and you find that the bloodthirsty myths of an earlier age are filtered through questions that C5 Athenian society faced. What is better, the brute force of an unsophisticated Ajax, or the sophistry and rhetorical arguments of Odysseus in Ajax? By the time we arrive at Virgil, and The Aenied, brutal events such as the death of Priam by Neoptolemus in Aeneid Book II, are tempered with a more enlightened approach. Neoptolemus is condemned for killing Priam, and rightly so, as mercy is important, and exemplifies the Romanitas of 'Sparing the humble, and conquering the proud'. However, Aeneas doesn't show mercy in his killing of Turnus at the end of Book XII.

 

 

If you're into Greek Literature, read on.

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review 2017-11-18 06:24
The Alchemist
The Alchemist - Alan R. Clarke,Paulo Coelho

I bought this book while in Amsterdam for a couple of reasons:  The title first caught my attention, and the friend I was with said he'd read it and thought it was... ok.  But mostly because of the title. 

 

Since buying it I've read a lot of reviews that say it's... ok.  Which is why it sat on my TBR for so long.

 

Now that I've read it, I understand why a lot of people might think it's just ok.  Reading it, I'm left with comparisons that include fairy tales and Pilgrim's Progress; allegory plays a big part in this tale, although the message isn't all that hidden.  And the author doesn't even try to hide his, or his characters', faiths or spirituality; it's not preachy, but God and Allah are at the root of the plot.

 

Still, it's beautifully written, and well translated.  The allegorical nature of the story and the third person POV kept me from really being invested in what happened to anyone, but I did appreciate the truly omnipotent and omnipresent role the author gave to God.  He never tried to restrict the deity's role to just a traditional Christian or a traditional Islamic one; when he claims God is everywhere, he doesn't go about contradicting himself.  My appreciation for this refreshing lack of hypocrisy went a long way to overcoming my ambivalence about the fate of the characters, and elevated my appreciation of the book to a notch above 'ok'.  

 

If you prefer your spiritualism to be deity free, you're not going to like this book.  If that's less important to you and you're intrigued by the question of "why are we here?", this might be worth a look.

 

 

Book themes for International Human Rights Day: Read a book originally written in another language (i.e., not in English and not in your mother tongue),

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review 2017-11-17 20:10
I Do Repent, and Yet I Do Despair: "Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe, Simon Trussler
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe

For me, the key to Faustus is his interaction in Act V, Scene I with the "old man". The old man gives us Marlowe's theology:

 

Yet, yet, thou hast an amiable soul,”

 

—even after Faustus has made his deal with the devil and used the power he got for the previous 23 'years' and 364 'days', Faustus's soul is lovable. Just repent! Faustus replies:

 

Where art thou, Faustus? Wretch, what hast thou done?

Damned art thou, Faustus, damned: despair and die.”

 

Echoing the stories of Cain after his fratricide and Jesus on the cross, Faustus insists on his damnation. The old man contradicts him:

 

“Oh stay, good Faustus, stay thy desperate steps.

[. . .

…] call for mercy and avoid despair.”

 

The old man leaves, and Faustus speaks out his dilemma:

 

“I do repent, and yet I do despair.”

 

Mephistophilis calls Faustus a "traitor", and "arrest[s his] soul / For disobedience" — don't doubt the keenness of Marlowe's irony, or sarcasm —, and Faustus repents of his repentance —irony! sarcasm! —, and gets his final wish, to see "the face that launched a thousand ships". While he's going on about how he'll "be Paris" and get Helen—does Faustus not remember how that turned out??—, during his poetry the old man returns to the stage. When Faustus leaves, intoxicated with sexual love for Helen, the old man, before defying the devils who've come to take his body to fire (but not his soul), says of Faustus:

 

“Accursed Faustus, miserable man,

That from thy soul exclud'st the grace of heaven,

And fliest the throne of his tribunal seat.”

 

Faustus doesn't crave knowledge: he goes through the catalogue of human expertise at the beginning of the play and finds, study by study, their futility, and turns to "necromantic books": "A sound magician is a demi-god."

 

 

If you're into 16th century literature, read on.

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review 2017-11-12 08:00
Publieke Werken
Publieke Werken - Thomas Rosenboom

Have you ever been to Amsterdam and when you walked out of the Central train station wondered why there are two little houses built in the Victoria hotel? This book will tell you all about it!

 

Publieke werken was een van de boeken die ik op mijn lijst had gezet voor mijn Nederlands mondeling vorige week. Ik was waarschijnlijk een beetje optimistisch geweest bij aanvang van dit boek van Thomas Rosenboom, en daarom had ik ook verwacht dat ik dit boek ruimschoots op tijd uit zou hebben (was ruim twee weken voor het mondeling begonnen), maar dat bleek niet helemaal zo te zijn...

Het verhaal gaat over de twee neven Chris Anijs en Walter Vedder, beiden mannen die niet al te geslaagd zijn in het leven. Vedder krijgt ook nog te horen dat zijn huis plaats moet maken voor het nieuw te bouwen Victoria hotel. Hij is erop gebrand hier veel winst op te halen, en daarmee de overtocht naar Amerika voor 100 arme turfgraversfamilies te financieren....

De reden waarom ik dit boek niet ruim op tijd af had, lag met name bij het feit dat het boek me niet echt pakte, Er gebeurde vrij weinig, de sfeer is erg naargeestig en de schrijfstijl is erg beschouwend (ik zou bijna denken dat ik met een impressionistisch boek te maken had). Het duurde ruim 400 pagina's voordat ik het interressant begon te vinden en het lezen was sneller en makkelijker werd. Voor mij was dit boek dan ook niet echt een topper, want het kon mij niet echt boeien. Met moeite heb ik het dan toch uitgelezen en daar was ik dan twee dagen voor mijn mondeling klaar mee. Gelukkig maar dat het het laatste boek was dat ik nog moest lezen! Ik zou het boek het liefst twee en een halve ster geven, maar zal vandaag in een gulle bui dan maar afronden op drie sterren. Maar dan wel een zwakke drie sterren. Markant detail nog, het was me nog nooit opgevallen (en ben toch al heel wat keren in Amsterdam geweest) dat het Victoriahotel om twee huisjes heen is gebouwd...

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