Tolstoy Marathon # 2 : The Candle by Leo Tolstoy

thecandle  “…We all know that it is wrong to kill a good man, but even God would take that way the life of such a dog as he is. It is our duty, if we have any love for mankind, to shoot a dog that  is mad. It is a sin to let him live. If, therefore, w e are to suffer at all, let it be in the interests of the people…”

-Leo Tolstoy, The Candle

An uprising among the serfs is about to break out when the lords of  the land   keep on turning their  backs on their human rights.  One serf  has at last spoken up due to the arrant cruelties he has  experienced suggests that Michael Simeonovitch, the superintendent, be killed. But Peter Michayeff, a pacifist,  stopped them , for commiting such a crime leads to condemnation. Paranoid he may be, Michael sends an elder man to spy on the secret rancorous meeting  of the serfs. When the elder man reports to the superintendent, Michael  realizes , with the  insistent platitude  of his wife, that he is prone to perdition. To change the life he leads, he goes to the village to reconcile. Unfortunately, he falls off his  horse and dies. Upon hearing the horrible accident and the cruelties befall  the serfs , the noblemen freed their serfs.

“ The power of God is manifested not in Evil, but in goodness. “

The story deals with   cruelties among the slaves with their suppressed feelings they can no longer stand, a factor which can trigger revolutionary act; the moral question when it is an evil  to kill a person;  or when  the humility  or turning –the-other-cheek  biblical teaching  is a perpetually necessary mean to put an end to an animalistic  slavery; and  all in all, how God plays a role in such a  realistic scene of human life.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Tolstoy Marathon # 1 : The Emperor’s Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy : A Book Review

emperor's questionsAfter reading Anna Karenina ( 5 /5 stars )  a few years ago , the time when I was still looking for a job; plus  this recent  A Confession ( 4 /5 stars ), and  being  borne upon the fact that Leo Tolstoy is  considered by prominent literary lovers from different aspects of society as  the  unparalleled best novelist in  the world  , I promised myself that I would read all his books at my disposal , more even so that  we  can have now an access to any classics  in the internet.  Since I cannot  splurge on his other books yet , that I want to collect in my  own library someday, I would begin with his short stories as one of my friends on Goodreads put it and thus I would call this  mission from now on :  “ Tolstoy Marathon”.

Tolstoy Marathon #  1 The Emperor’s Three Questions or simply  known as The Three Questions 

An emperor   philosophically existentialistic would give a great reward to whoever could   best answer his three a la riddle  questions :

 First: What is the best time to  do each thing?

Second: What is the most important people to work with?

Third: What is the most important to do at all time?

 Unsatisfied with the answers of the persons who had at once made way to the palace , the emperor turned to a hermit  living in a far forest. As the emperor only saw the  small forest of the forest, he ended up realizing the answers based on his experience with the said hermit and a persecutor.

 The emperor learned  that :It is important to live at the present time, with whom the people you are , and how to make them happy.

_________________________________________________________________________

Somehow enlightened, the Emperor promised  that he would apply the insight by heart. As he wanted  to have a second opinion, it occurred  to him that there was one person known throughout his kingdom he had not turned to yet: the bookworm , living in a house  filled with  books to the rafter somewhere in Timbuktu.

 Reaching the book lover’s dwelling place, the emperor found him sitting on a sofa, burying himself in a voluminous book   and around him was  the  musty stacks of books he had to keep up with.

 “ It must be  a novel by James Joyce  “, thought the emperor.

 When the bookworm saw the emperor, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to immerse himself in the book.

 The emperor approached him and said, “ I have come here to ask your second opinion with three questions:

 When is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?”

 Hearing these, the bookworm  put down the book; his eyes  popped out, sparkled with interest in the questions. He looked as though he had not gone  to bed yet, for he had been reading the whole night.

 “ Your Majesty, just read and read and read.”

 Blushed by the answer, “ How about the most important people to work with? “

 “ Your Majesty, make friends with the other bookworms and be part of their book clubs.”

 Noticing the bookworm unmoved from his crossed- sitting position ,and  his eyes backed  to the book, for he was used to being paid homage.

 ” Seriously, what is the most important thing to do at all times?”

 “Share your ideas you have learned from the books with the people .”

 Weird he looked for the Emperor and stifled   an air of  disappointment,  off he went leaving the  bookworm with his business.

 Rating: 4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

A Confession by Leo Tolstoy: A Book Review

tolstoy

I have been an avowed atheist   for two years. I  had mustered up enough courage to abandon the Christian life after a long battle  of shattering the  doubts. I was not able to do so because of the fear instilled in me that I would go to hell or not be saved from the Judgment Day. At that time, I was still  an utter simpleton believing in something beyond logic. After reading some said  heretical books such as of Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion , Sam Harris’ A Letter to a Nation  and An Atheist Manifesto ,  Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great , and George H. Smith’s  Atheism: The Case Against God ,  I have been awoken to the reality as though the experience  was a rude  awakening. So, do  not dare lecture me that I must be veering  off my faith because faith is another argument of foolish illusion. By the same token, I have  read  one apologetic  book to defend  the sides of  the Christianity  . Still, the side of the atheists  stands for me. For sure, I would be the subject to the brick brat here on Goodreads. Like  or unlike this , it is  neither here nor there.

This book deals with  Leo Tolstoy’s  midlife crisis in his spirituality and existentialism. Like  what the atheists above experienced , Tolstoy came to the point that he questioned the religious teachings foisted upon him since he was still young. To find the answer, he went on a pilgrimage until he thought he had  found the answer to his questions: He concluded that God does not exist.  Still, not completely  convinced , he  had the persistent and obtrusive  realization that there may be Supernatural unknown which can be called God. His experience was like backsliding to his delusion. In other words, Tolstoy ended up as agnostic- a question which has been a debate among religion and atheism apologists.

If Tolstoy  had existential crisis  in his 50’s ,  it may be ridiculous  for others if I say that I have had come to it  in my 20’s .Perhaps, information  in the internet is now accessible to everyone.

Tolstoy, as a rule,  is considered as  the world’ best novelist . His writing for others is considered  flawless. No doubt in this book, every sentence is beautifully written-  the  aftereffect of his emotional impact, an experience  bears  half resemblance to  Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore and AntiChrist by Nitzsche. Probably   the big credit is to its English translator.

As a bright philosopher put it that there are many kinds of truth  since there are many kinds of beholders, you might misunderstand that Tolstoy’s’ intellectual  hubris is conveyed in the sentences. In this book, Tolstoy said that people who believe in something beyond logic are not intellectual. Come to think of it. Do not be  carried out by your deep-seated beliefs.

Rating : 4/ 5 stars for  Leo Tolstoy’s beautiful sentences.

GOD and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway? by John C. Lennox: A Book Review

stephenI can feel that John C.  Lennox is deeply devoted to his God. Thus, I cannot blame him if he is such a dye in the wool; he is not far different from the said notorious atheists  such as Sam Harris,  Christopher Hitchens,   and Richard Dawkins , militantly criticize all  the major religions in the world.  I may be an avowed atheist as I always put it here bluntly,  in accord with their proposition that God does not exist, but I have at last agreed with the famous contemporary British philosopher , Alain de Botton, that in practicality, people need religion , in a sense that  without it,  is dangerous  since  such practice has become part of  culture around the world. In fact, Alain de Botton  is an atheist too.

In this book, originally a response article to  Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design  (co-authored with Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow ) that appeared in the Daily Mail, September 3, 2010, John Lennox, a Mathematics professor and religious adviser , contradicts  Stephen Hawking’s claim  that:

 “ Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

In Lennox ‘s  apologetic opinion, the Universe  and everything  needs a creator: God. However, the problem with John Lennox’s argument is anthropomorphic and pantheistic.  Cognizant he may be of these facts , he points out that the Universe and all natural phenomena cannot come into existence without a creator: God. If so, what does he mean by God? In a sense that God is  in human form, a superhuman with such superpower to be able to create everything even the vast Universe? Such an idea is beyond our imagination. Or does  not he  mean that   creator is a  force  as what pantheists believe? How about  the idea of Carl Jung that human is the God itself? Since he argues that everything cannot be put into action without an agent?

John Lennox argues that scientific laws and theories do not  actuate human and have cause nd effects; they, according to him,  only describe how things happen. They are even untestable; for instance, the idea of M-theory.  He must have overlooked or, to put it mildly, brushed the fact aside that scientific laws and theories have   been the bases on explaining how things happen  and are changing ,or  can possibly happen  in the future , since the time immemorial. To put it bluntly again, I ‘d rather believe in those laws and theories than in something irrational, inconstant, and illogical.

Miracle is another argument not only John Lennox, let alone the believers turn to to believe that God exists. As far as we  are concerned, miracle means  something happens without explicit and rational explanation. In other words,  when people are not able to explain a phenomena, they invoke God. Once again, God means in superhuman  or pantheistic form? How about drawing the conclusion that   such case is under the subject to extensive and thorough studies Period.? The problem with believers is that they are instilled in the fear of denying  God’s  existence. And this is the point of Alain de Botton as I have mentioned above.

For me, not in a bellicose and belligerent way, John Lennox’s argument is a product of  religious upbringing. His reasons are incorrigible. But to avoid religious collision, I will take deBoton’s opinion: Respect one another. Sad to say, it turns out not to be a religious anti-dote at all.

I could have liked the book by giving it 2 out of 5 stars  only if Lennox were not so “ idealistic”.But 1 star does not necessarily mean this is poor, but in a sense that how the book convinced me. This is the way here on Goodreads it is!

The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing : A Book Review

Since Goodreads, the world’s largest book club site , honed my appetite for reading books, particularly gave me the ideas of  what books I should read, I have been  updated with the  famous  and acclaimed literary writers , not only with the classic but also with the contemporary writers-I have the  list of 1001 Best Novels of All Time as well as  the magazine, TIME’s 100 Best Novels since 1925, and now I want to include the Most Banned Books- I tend to be getting more familiar with the authors ‘ names ;and at the same time, I search for them in the Wikipedia. I can know them more when I read  and hear them in the news. One of the writers known to me now is Doris Lessing.

Doris Lessing is considered as one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of the second half of the twentieth century. She is mostly known for her novel The Golden Notebook– the novel , not to mention her other books, that has  been  elusive at my stomping ground. If I lucked out to spot it there, I would definitely, without balking, make a grab for it and fork off at any cost. Nevertheless, I am fortunate to have found it.

dorrisThis is the collection of  Lessing’s  four novellas:

The Grandmothers ( Rating: 3/ 5 stars )

 “ Lunacy is one of the great invisible wheels that keep  worlds turning .”

-Dorris Lessing, The Grandmothers-

This is the story of two mothers, Rozeanne and Liliane, bestfriends since high school, become neighbors upon their marriage. Their  friendship will remain solid despite their family lives  crumble: Rozeana will divorce her husband whereas Liliane’s husband dies of a car accident. But the real center of the story that  readers will definitely find repulsive on account of conventional belief in our  society   is that Rozeana is  infatuated with Liliane’s son, and so is Liliane with Rozeana’s son.

If I were  such a deep-seated moralist, I would give it 1 star  out of 5 stars to express how disgusted I could be. To demonstrate my dismay more, I would  scream bloody murder by setting this book  on fire or  by singling it out on social media that Doris Lessing is such an immoral writer.   How dare  Doris Lessing write such a story educating  people that irrational infatuation with someone whose age gap is beyond your sexual needs? Ridiculously reactionary   I could be. But in the name of literary value, Lessing intends to write out such situation  which could really exist beyond our customs. In fact, the lesson behind the story is that life could be complicated when your moral choice is out of the sanity.

Victoria and The Staveneys ( Rating:  4 / 5 stars )

 “I If I say I am going to eat you all up, you must not take it as more than  a legitimate expression of my sincere devotion.”

-Doris Lessing, Victoria and The Staveneys-

A big challenge for a writer  is how to make  a very simple  concept of the story he/she has thought explode into  a pyrotechnic  novel- a novel that is so impressive that the author is almost put on a pedestal.  So writers could have their own alternative styles; it could be chronological, in a way that the  story  goes from the beginning to the ending; manipulating, in a way that the plots are jumbled until  you get lost the track; symbolic , in a way that the novel appears to be enigmatic, deciphering that you  are at your wits ’end, and many, many more. The examples of the novels – as far as I observe from the books I have  already – which styles are chronological are the classics  such as Charles Dickens’ and Leo Tolstoy’s’,  manipulating; Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin ( 4 stars ), symbolic; Martin Amis’s The Information ( 5 stars ). In other case, there are some writers whom I find genius, for not that  can they  write with the styles above, but  with the way that appears simple, but others are not very much used to , they put into their thoughts a story, as though writing is a piece of pie for them. So far , I have known one  good example of those writers, Toni Morrison. And  Doris Lessing has proven me that she could  be as good as Toni Morrison upon reading this novel. I was dumbfounded.

The concept of the story is  very common among us readers.  A black and orphaned woman gives birth to two children with different men. Her first child  is of a rich white man while the other one of a black man. In the end, she will find her first child slowly  absorbed in the world of white privilege until she becomes estranged from her.  As you know , a common situation on TV dramas, such situation exists in reality, but this novella impressed me , for the writing finesse of Doris Lessing  made it fantastic. She divided the story into different time and place with beautiful plots  and settings- a style I  bet my boots  only she has. Furthermore, she wrote it with beautiful sentences- sentences which are so light and meditating to read.

The Reason For It (  Rating 4/ 5 stars )

“ Tell it. Call The Cities together and tell it . Then it will be in all their minds and cannot disappear.”

Doris Lessing, The Reason For It

Among  four, this is quite deeper and more enigmatic and  philosophical which  requires higher level of critical thinking and a little background in history   to connect with what Doris Lessing is trying to drive at.

Simply  put, the story is about a member of Twelve, tells  of   the history of his civilization and of how  his said civilization is slowly disintegrated after choosing the  son of Queen Destra, DeRod as her successor and who turns out to  lead the barbarous  life . After much reflection, the narrator comes to the conclusion that DeRod should not much be  attached to the blame, for he is an idiot . Thus,  he , DeRod, does not know  what he is doing.

In the context of  literary analysis, the theme is probably about Barbarism and Civility: People tend to be simpletons  when they lead the life of barbarity, but when they embrace the life of Civilization, life becomes rational as the title puts it, “ The Reason For It”

Once again, I read  in awe, not even able to put my jaws back , of the writing styles as Doris Lessing  did in Victoria and The Staveneys.  Dear me! I could have even almost tossed it in the air.

A Love Child ( Rating : 3/ 5 stars )

“ I’m not living my own life. It’s not my real life. I shouldn’t be living the way I do.”

Doris Lessing, A Love Child

James, a young British soldier,  gets drafted and dispatched to South Africa and India during World War II. There in South Africa, he has a love affair with  a British woman, Daphene, She gets pregnant , but James never knows  it until he receives a  letter in reply to his first letter to Daphene expressing  how he  misses her. After twenty years, he flies to South Africa to look for his son; however, he ends up merely with   his picture he will keep, but remain incomplete and stagnant.

Comparatively, this is the heftiest among four. I could feel  not only the abject misery of the soldiers  but also the burden the protagonist keeps to himself. Perhaps, Lessing’s beautiful craft of writing conveyed her target feelings in the sentences. I have nothing to say more.

Indeed, Doris Lessing is one of the most celebrated writers in this century. There is something in her books, in her writing styles of which  only she  bears all the  hallmarks, at which some readers might not get, so they would  end up finding  this boring. I may  have  compared her with  Toni Morison, but Doris Lessing is Doris Lessing whereas Toni Morison is Toni Morison. I wonder if I can still find this so-called “only-the-writing-style-she-has “  in her The Golden Notebook.

Upon reading it, I have  shattered all my  illusions that , “ Writing  at any cost is not impossible. “ Eureka! ^^

Reading Just in the Nick of TIME”S 100 Best Novels

Aside  from  my lists on  1001 Best Novels of All Time, completing TIME’s 100 Best Novels since 1923 is also one of  my goals as a bookworm.  So , despite my  demanding job as an ESL teacher , I make sure that I always make time to do it. Also,  in order not to get behind the prices of the books on the said list, I go to a flea bookstore four times in a month because sometimes the prices of the second- hand books are soaring.

Out of 100 ,  I have read 17  so far. Here are the books included on the list :

  1. all-the-kings-men1All the King’s Men (1946 ) , by Robert Penn Warren. This novel won Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1946 . The story is about William Tallyhoo who wound up an influential politician by default. The novel depicts the moral life of the politician in the political arena.  On Goodreads, the world’s largest book club,  I gave it 5/5 stars because I liked the concept of the story granted that  reading novels  about political drama is not my cup of coffee. It is an apotheosis of a politician whose desire to make a difference in politics turns out to be in  between two moral choices: to play or to gamble .
  1. Animal Farm (1946 ), by George Orwell.animal_farm2  (Rating: 3/5 stars ) This is one of the books I read this year. Were it not my co-teacher, I could not have read it, for I am not able to buy one at a big book store, nor have I found it at BookSale branches yet . But still, I want to get one as my own.

This is said to be a satire against Communism under Stalinism. George Orwell used anthropomorphic characters to illustrate the animalistic disadvantages of Communism as a form of government at that time over Democracy and Socialism.

  1. theassistantThe Assistant (1957 ), by Bernard Malamud. ( Rating : 3/5 stars ) I love Malamud books. I have read his other astounding Pulitzer Prize -winning novel, certainly superior to this one, The Fixer. His works are doubtless worth reading because they reflect in human existentialism. That is why I cannot resist   hunting his other works.

The story is about immigrant life of the Jewish in the USA in 1950’s. Malamud wanted to illustrate how the Jewish survived  by adapting to the socio-economical life in America.

I will never forget  the  Jewish protagonist in this novel because he was prejudiced   and  dumped when he was found “intact” by his American girlfriend.

  1. Beloved ( 1987), by Toni Morrison.  ( Rating 5 / 5 stars )belovedToni Morrison is one of my favorite authors. I am envious of her skills in and mastery for writing an Anglican novel, whose writing styles are typical of nationalism being a Black American. This book  led me  to the door discovering her  by reading her other novels such as Jazz,  Sula, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye. In conjunction with a famous literary web site, she is considered as  one of the 50 Best American writers , in parallel with Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, et al.  Since then, I have been crazy about her.

As I  reviewed on Goodreads , Beloved can never be imitated for its   dumbfounding proses. Toni Morrison is such a wizard writer that she created a book readers will never forget. So, If you are a non-native speaker, make  sure that you read it in a nook with serene ambience. This is somehow a hard book to absorb.In addition, to understand it more, I suggest you watch its movie adaptation which one of the main characters  is Oprah Winfrey.

The novel certainly pertains to Black American life,  but you will end up finding it a little gothic.

  1. theblindassasinThe Blind Assassin (2000), by Margaret Atwood . ( 4 / 5 stars ) I want to read Atwood’s other novels , particularly her the-talk-of-the-town Handmaid’s Tales before she could be one of my favorite authors. But please, forgive me for exclaiming this, just I tend to get overwhelmed whenever her name is brought up, “ Holy Moses! This writer is not human. She is a mental harasser. “ When I read The Blind Assassin , I had a hard time connecting all the different characters from  the different plots. It was like I was manipulated or prevaricated , or to put it , drawn away ; but yet, I was attached to it.
  1. The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), by Thornton Wilder.  ( 4/ 5 stars )1927_theBridgeOfSanLuisReyHarperColCover01_reduced_worksI have not written my review of this book yet; I have just finished it recently. This is not that as thick as Twilight by Alice Meyer , but its content is sooo philosophical that it is dangerous to criticize. I have still been pondering over the quotes appealed by the protagonist.
  1. The Corrections (2001) , by Jonathan Franzen. ( Rating : 4/ 5 stars )CorrectionsA perfect example of a modern novel written with classical writing  finesse  which  paints a portrait of  a disintegrating  American family  life. Admittedly, I had a  never-to-put-a-book-aside bout with this. There were times that I had to lay it down from time to time when I could not get some sentences through my head. Still, I enjoyed it because there are some quirky themes. In addition, I liked its  unforgettable ending as though I had   just finished watching a movie.
  1. The Day of the Locust (1939), by Nathanael West.the-day-of-the-locust Among 17 books this is the only one that received 2 /5 stars from me on Goodreads. I did not enjoy the story much despite that it has a literary value in a sense that N. West wanted to limn how it  is like  when one dreams of Hollywood. In fact, it had not received much more critical acclamation before it was put on a pedestal.

The novel also emphasizes mobcracy, the  power of a mob to demolish a certain bad situation.

If you give it a try, make sure that  its cover is hard bound and not as small as pocket book.

  1. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), by Willa Cather.arcbishop ( Rating: 3 / 5 stars ) I read this book during Lenten season a year ago.

This is compelling because the story is about a moral church against the immoral church and the state.

  1. The Great Gatsby (1925), by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby( Rating : 2/ 5 stars  )An Americanized novel. That is why it is part of American studies. This has become more popular when the famousHollywood actor, Lionardo DiCaprio played the role of the Great Gatsby for its movie adaptation in 2013.
  1. Invisible Man ( 1952), by Ralph Ellison .invisible man( Rating : 5 / 5 stars ) A novel that I was too overwhelmed to have given it 5 /5 stars on Goodreads. I was astounded at R. Ellison’s writing craft that he was able to shed the light on division among blacks  apart from the effects of  racism.
  1. Lord of the Flies ( 1955 ), by William Golding. lord( Rating:  5/ 5 stars ) Definitely, this is my most favorite novel so far because most of the main characters are all young boys.

The story is about a group of young  students who are cast away on a  remote, uncharted island  when the plane they will be riding on a trip crashes. The group will have a leader, but a member greedy for power will take over him in a dictator way.

There are some scenes that tend to linger on in my mind  as well as break my heart when this book is brought up such as what happens to the group of Ralph and Piggy, when how Simon is mistaken for a monster by killing him to death- let alone when how Piggy is killed with a large  boulder.

The story could be  more heart-breaking if you see its colored movie adaptation. Break a leg!

  1. Mrs. Dolloway ( 1925), by Virginia Woolf.dolloway ( Rating : 4 / 5 stars ) I was always intrigued by this then. I wondered why it is such an immortal among the literati. In fact, the line taken after the title is very popular, “ Mrs. Dolloway! Mrs. Dolloway!” Besides, it is just all about throwing a dinner party. Nevertheless, there is something philosophical behind the story.

 

  1. Native Son ( 1940 ), by Richard Wright. native-son( Rating: 5 /5 stars )The novel I could not stand posting on my facebook then that this almost knocked me off my socket. The story is kind of suspense that the faint-hearted are not advised to read it.

Wright was so genius that he wrote such a novel intended to show the psychology of racism. As a matter of fact, he is one of my most favorite authors although I have not read all his  other works yet. But reading this is enough to impress me.

  1. A Passage to India ( 1924 ),by E. M. Forrester.  ( Rating : 5 / 5 stars ) A novel that paints a portrait of British government authority over Indian sovereignty.passagetoindia
  2. The Power and the Glory ( 1939 ), by Graham Greene.powerandtheglory ( Rating : 5/ 5 stars ) A novel  illustrates how the real image of the Catholic church is dictated by a state.

 

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Harper Lee.tokill ( Rating: 5 / 5 stars ) Aside from the fact that this deals with abject  injustice among the blacks, I find  the main character, Atticus,  an epitome of a rough in the diamond. I will never forget this novel; it awoke my innocent childhood.

There you have it!  I have not read the half of the list yet, so I will  have to keep on reading the rest.

Have the list, too. ^^

Happy Reading!