Man in the Dark by Paul Auster: A Book Review

3136288It is weird that when I see Paul Auster’s works included on the list of best novels of all time according to a magazine site, I have the compelling hunch that they are nifty reads.Also, when I see his images on Google, his physical aura of literary skills , his deep stare at the camera tends to pierce me as if everything stops moving just like the two of us in a motionless world. It is as though staring back at him renders me powerless, frozen in awe. Thereby, I start having been borne upon the idea that whenever I spot his books heaped on a mountain of books, there is a feeling that the author is a sacred cow to whom every book vulture should pay homage. And me? I am wildly and outrageously glad to jump at them as if I should kowtow to them even if all book vultures milling around the place cringe at my losing sense of decorum. What do they know? They may be in the dark that the books I long to gorge myself on are freshly nutritious. How do I know? They may not know that I have wolfed on one of his works- Timbuktu. ( The title has nothing to do with the title of my blog.) The book gave me the appetite that Auster is a gifted writer. There is something in his style that left a good aftertaste in my mouth then. So, no need to wonder why perhaps I am one of those book vultures who bear that desire to scavenger on his other works.

In his Timbuktu, the first thing I noticed was his light sentence structure- very well-written and prosy. At the same time, the concept of the story is philosophically interesting. I apologize for the spoiler. Timbuktu is a dog who has deeply intimate relationship with a hard-pressed, terminally-ill writer. At the end , I assure that you will find it heart- breaking . Alas, I never got the chance to write my review of it ; at that time , I still was not active on Goodreads and was ignorant of blogging. You may find the story common, for you have seen it in movies or TV dramas, but you will be amazed at what I call ‘ Auster’s simply brilliant work’. If you have not started reading his other works yet, I believe that Timbuktu is the springboard for discovering his talent. Go for it!

Now I have given a try at his Man in the Dark. I was a little astonished to find out that his writing style in this novel bears complete resemblance to his Timbuktu. I do not have the foggiest idea if his other works do likewise. Here I felt the lightness of his sentence structures, how he must choose the right words, phrases, or sentence structures ditto. So I enjoyed reading the novel without cease, without putting it aside if there were odds and ends I had to futz around first. When I was done with them, I would throw myself into it forgetting the world I was in. No wonder I did finish it all at once given the fact that it only consists of 180 pages.

Concept of the story:
August Brill is a seventy-two-year-old widower. He recovers from a car accident at his daughter’s house in Vermont. To kill time, he watches films which he criticizes since he is a retired book critic. He does it with his granddaughter who has the same interest. When he cannot sleep, he lies in bed in the dark staring into the ceiling and trying to tell himself stories. At the same time, in doing so, he cannot remember his wife and the heinous murder of his granddaughter’s boyfriend, Titus.

I may be familiar with the setting that there is “a minor story in the story”, but for me, I do not look at that perspective; rather, I find the essence of the story mind-boggling. For instance, what is the relevance to the dystopian settings that the World Trade did not fall apart, that the U.S did not fight with Iran, instead the 2000 election results caused secession, that the state after state pulled away from the union and a bloody civil war broke out? I mused over this essence, on the way to work by bus, during my 10-minute break in school, or even during my processing inside a john. That is why it took me a few days to review it. Unfortunately, I was at my wits’ ends. Sorry, folks, I even have my hands full. Maybe you could help me squeeze it out of me. You may claim it not to be a brain surgery at all. ^^ Anyway, I may come to that literary epiphany sometime in the future. For this reason, therefore, Auster injected this enigmatic idea into this story that only he could expound what those ideas in question mean all about. Indeed, he is remarkable. I wish I had attended his launching this book ( Man in the Dark ) if I were American. In a pig’s eye!

Given that I found “the minor story” somewhat bothering, I could not divert my emotional attention from the main character’s role which may be the crucial part of the story. In that part, I immersed myself , feeling my tears welling up in the cups of my eyes, reminding me of two people whom I deeply love: my mother who already departed the world and my father, a widower too, whom I have been cold with. Likewise, in the end, it is all about life, life, life as famous writer Ethan Hawthorne’s sister Rose Hawthorne put it, “ As the weird world rolls on.”

Now I have devoured two of Auster’s books although I am still assimilating their substance thoroughly. When I visit the heap of books in the mountain, I will not hesitate to scrounge on his other works, notably The Book of Illusions and The New York Trilogy. I can’t wait for them! ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I  really liked it.)

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My own paperback copy  published by Picador ^^

Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska: A Book Review

6a00e5535ff83b88330148c8234d63970cEven up to this day, in the Philippines, fathers are still considered as the head of the family. No matter what happens, he is the one who decides against anything concerning familial problems. It is neither the mother nor the eldest child. It is just him none other than anyone else in the family. There are some cases that a father figure tends to be authoritarian and dictatorial. No matter what you opine of is not acceptable for him. Your opinions and suggestions will just go in the ear and out the other. He imposes draconian rules whether you like them or not. So all you have to do is shut your mouth and live with intestinal fortitude. Otherwise, he will hurl abuse at you, or if you are a son, he will make a man of you by punching you in the chest or stomach. The classic one? He will redden your ass with his flagellant belt. If you happen to be a girl, he will turn your face black and blue with his iron palm. Do I sound  exaggerated? Take it for granted if you are in the same boat. I guess you understand what I am talking about. If you remonstrate with me, well, luckily, you never have this kind of father. Neither do I.

As a social science student, I have learned that the common reasons why a man is  perceived to be the head of the house are based on distorted culture molded by ancient teachings particularly such as of Confucianism and Christianity. Men are superior to women. Men are biologically stronger than women. So with these patterns of learned ideas, we learn that we, I mean you , should pay homage to us men. Bravo! Thanks to those misleading bodies of teachings! We are always put on the pedestal. Consequently, we peoples in the world tend to be incorrigible. No wonder there is no world peace. (charot!)

The good thing is we are creatures of human expression. We can express our disappointment in human ignorance through literature. And this is what Anzia Yezierska must have intended; she wrote Bread Giver that deals with the clash between the Old World and the New World. The consequence? A masterpiece everyone deep-seated should read.

Anzia Yezierska was a Jew immigrant in New York in the 1900’s. She may have been one of those immigrants, along with her family, escaped the pogrom in Russia and was stopped at  Ellis island from entering the US  when the American President was still in the air whether it should adopt the immigrants or not. (I just read this information from Nicholson Baker’s book Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.)One thing I am cocksure about Yezierska: As an immigrant, she went through the pressures of American dream in New York where she and her family ventured in to survive. In her novel, Bread Givers, although it was said to have been drawn deep inspiration from her immigrant experience, she wrote a story dealing with what kind of culture she may have grown up with- her father’s patriarchal authority, struggles with feminine independence, and grinding poverty. So this novel will make you tear your hair and your toes curl.

The only thing you might notice in the book is Yezierska’s writing styles. The sequence of the stories is not similar to other surreal books you love to bury yourself in. Every scene is so fast that you will end up in a hanging position as if you want to read more at full length. Probably, you are used to much description.  Nonetheless, for me, it is not that a big deal.

Yezierska’s setting begins with endless scenes crawling with miseries which are so annoying, frustrating, soporific, and heart-breaking that I carp at her intention. So, amidst of reading it, I predict that the ending of the story could be like a-happily-ever-after denouement. However, as the story goes deeper, the more foolishly miserable the story becomes until I come to the point that it might be a disappointing story after all. In the end, the story turns out to be more interesting because of the main character‘s determination to surpass all the struggles. On the other hand, I did not like the way Yezierska wrote the sequence of the events: fast and slapdash.

The hallmark of this book is its quotable and witty dialogues. You can be serious about the philosophical dialogues among the characters, but you will end up finding them funny. However, be ready for the character of Mr. Reb Smilonsky. You might go mad at him  that you might feel like  engaging him in a debate over  religion and life. As a Jew, he is always preaching to his children( Masha, Bessie, Fania, and Sarah, the narrator)  the teachings of the Old Torah especially the statement that , “ Women can’t go to heaven without men.” Or “ Only through a man can a woman an existence.” In other words, he teaches the traditional Jewish culture that men are superior to women. So there are times that I put  this book down for a moment gnashing my teeth as though I can no longer stand listening to a character, a byword for hypocrisy, megalomania, and grandeur delusion.

Another highlight of the book is the grammar structures of the sentences. Anzia Yezierska’s English must be old –fashioned since she was a Jew. I cringe at the sentences, but they convey substantial tones and emotions. I am predisposed to anger, annoyance, and empathy, so I am no bothered at them at all. Every scene  tends to carry  me away.

Most importantly, I really liked the book -despite that it may not be among the crème de la crème of critically acclaimed novels  – because  it is scattered with different themes: hypocrisy, wrong culture, feminism, Americanism, human Independence, and determination.

Bread Givers is not the only one I have read dealing with immigrant life in America. My heart broke when I first read The Jungle  by Upton Sinclair. I was also astounded at The Assistant by Bernard Malamud  which the TIME magazine included in its list for 100 Best Novels of All Time since 1924.Last year. I ranked My Ántonia by Willa Cather first in my top ten favorite books in 2015. For non-fiction, I read Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory which narrates his education life in the US as a gringo and the other one, ‘Tis by Frank McCourt  on his  life adventure  in America. For local books, I read Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart: A Personal History  and Bulosan: An Introduction With Selections .All  of these  books bear the same concept: American dream. No wonder reading just the likes of them have a significance impact   upon readers like me.

Next time , I will read The Big Sleep  by Raymond Chandler. Hooray!

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it.)

 

Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang ( Si Janus Silang # 2 ) by Edgar Calabia Samar: A Book Review

janus-silang-book-2Edgar Calabia Samar won the 34th Philippine National Book Awards  in 2015 for his book one , Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon , which I  lavished  with 5 stars, the highest rating on Goodreads.  If he is given another chance to be nominated for this year, I am pretty sure that he will gain the back-to-back victory. (Ang taray! ) If I had  a reputed name in the Philippine literature, I would  beat the drum for him. Or if I were one of the judges, I would campaign or lobby my fellow judges above-board for him to win. Just it is magically and terrifically beautiful! Mr. Samar is incredible!  Believe you me!

I did not expect this book two to be better than the book one. It is deeper, stuffier, and more creative- the abnormally mitosis product of his wild imagination. Besides, he galvanized all the neurons inside my body; I have found in this one how skilled in writing such a story Mr. Samar is. Marvelous! First, he mixes his story with the contemporary issues which every young adult  can relate to like the super typhoon Yolanda that killed thousands of people. Timely and relevant.That is why   he mentions on the first pages of his book that some situations were based on real life. Second, as usual, his trademark for using some characters based on Philippine folklores and myths. So if you are one of those students bored with studying Philippine literature, you might brush up on it again. Cool! Even I did take a fancy for it; I have learned  the lessons I had never learned by heart in school.

On the other hand, since it is now my book two, I have pretty noticed  Mr. Samar’s style of settings and conflicts and resolution. The pace of the story goes from the part that there is a mixture of suspense, thrill and awe to the heart-breaking part where the characters, which he must have predicted that his audience will be attached to, should sacrifice to die .The impact? It happened to me! I was totally devastated and annoyed at the author; then, I peevishly muttered under  my breath why he always intends to do so. Likewise, although I can guess some inconspicuous   inconsistencies, he may have intended to make the supporting character of Mang Joey, the leading  bagani, appear to be  foolishl. A bagani who is expected to be omnipotent turns out to be a pipsqueak. Well, as a rule, this kind of character is banal in novels. Thus, I cannot blot out of my mind the idea that Mr. Samar may have come to the point that he ran out of ideas ,unknowing how to get off the hook.  Just I am analyzing ,and I am now paralyzed as what the cliché goes!

The good thing is that the story is a very complicated case. Dude, how did Mr. Samar connect all the scenarios from the book one with the book two? The book one, on the one hand, is the revelation that there are mythical Philippine creatures beyond our imagination-creatures I had never heard of unless you know a lot of Philippine literature. So some words are so “nakakadugo ng ilong”. The book two, on the other hand, is like opening a Pandora’s box where the other covey of mythical creatures clambers out until they are on the loose. The upshot of it is that you had better find a safe hideout protected with sanyang. Gee, otherwise, it is going to be like a walking-dead scene. Besides, it is a challenge for a writer to create anothe scenarios which should be relevant to the book one. In this case, Mr. Samar is indeed creative and genius. Ikaw na!

One of the things I had not been able to do as a voracious reader is reading a book series just the like of Harry Potter by J.K Rowling and Lord of the Ring by J. L Tolkien … During that time, I still was not active on Goodreads. Besides, if I like to read them , although I appear to be a late reader, I still cannot afford them; they can still percolate my purses. Yay! Nevertheless, there is one thing I will for sure follow up with: Si Janus Silang, a very Filipino fiction created by our very own writer Edgar Calabia Samar.

Good luck, Mr. Samar. I am now your avid  fan, so I am planning to read your other works.

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

Crossing the Water: Eighteen Months on an Island Working with Troubled Boys–A Teacher’s Memoir by Daniel Robb: A Book Review

1457748I have been teaching Koreans for seven years. There are times that I also teach non-native speakers from Asia and Africa. I have not taught my fellow Filipinos yet although I dream of it.

There is a big difference between teaching other foreign students and teaching my countrymen: It is a matter of cultural differences. When it comes to Korean educational system, Korean students, especially in these days, have academic competition. Their parents work their butts off to make sure that their parents can afford to send them through expensive academies and schools. In fact, it is a quite common thing to do that they are supported in school overseas. In other words, what all students are supposed to do is to focus on their studies while their parents are away, busy with their jobs. Consequently, based on my observation, students tend to experience psychological and physiological effects. Physiologically, they are always tired and sleepy during class because they always stay up very late , busy  pulling an all-nighter. Also, some of them tend to have short attention span. Meaning to say, they can easily lose patience under slow circumstances. I have learned that students, or I guess my student then and  I coined it ourselves , “ Bali-bali syndrome”, an expression in Korean  which  means, “ Hurry up!”Psychologically, without offense, some I have taught have delinquent behavior. Some were rude to me. Some discriminated against me. Some played tricks on me. Some tended to get uppity because Korea is richer than my country. So, within seven years, I always have had a hard time teaching my students. Nevertheless, I have known it all along that it has been a big challenge for me until I have learned that the best way to build a harmonious student-teacher relationship is to adapt their culture. I found that this kind of approach somehow works.

Daniel Robb, the author of the book, is an English teacher too. He wrote in his memoir about his teaching life on an island which is Pekinese where juvenile delinquents are sent to be rectified. He, along with the other staff on the island, lived with many kinds of handfuls whose lives have been complicated. He taught them academics, particularly English which is his forte, carpentry, and other household chores. The big challenge for Mr. Robb was how to catch his students’ interest, for they were predisposed to anti-social behaviors.  How would you teach students who keep on cussing you? A student who is always making a fool of you? An arson student who can risk your life while you are asleep? A student who likes to get in high? A student who likes to play hit-and-run? A sexually  preoccupied student? Or even a psycho student? Fortunately, Mr. Robb somehow managed to handle them. He tried to be tough and empathic at the same time. However, there were times that  he could no longer put up with them alike. But the longer he stayed on the island, the more he had heuristic insights into his life. There ,on the island,  he learned to understand the students’ abject misery. Like them, Mr. Robb also grew without a father figure.

Given the book is powerful and deeply moving , I really liked it  because I can relate to his pedagogical dilemma. Also, there are some parts in which he tells about some literary and historical pieces such as on Marxism and Mao Zedong. Furthermore, it is perfectly well-written giving the indication that Mr. Robb is a gifted writer. However, I just had a hard time reading some dialogues with various English accents  since his students came from different regions of the U.S.

In the end, Mr. Robb and I , maybe even you when you read it , are in the same opinion that there are juvenile delinquents because of the familial problems which come into existence at home. After all, parents should be responsible for their kids.  They should love their kids because love is a powerful element created in the universe.

Although Mr. Robb quit teaching on the island, he still represents all  teachers who have the same passion for teaching regardless of money or environment elsewhere.

For  the same theme, I suggest that you read Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man. This memoir deals with Mr. McCourt’s teaching difficulties  in a vocational and melting-pot school.

 

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

My Top Ten Favorite Books in 2015

2015 was the year when I took an active part in Goodreads. I set my reading goal as many as 200 books; however, I failed to do so due to my hectic job schedules. In the end, I decided to read as many as 160.

I enjoyed many books last year. At the same time, I discovered new genres and met new authors I had turned back on before. I enjoyed reading some  Sam Harris’s books  which sharpened my critical analysis. Finally, I read some books I had not been able to read on account of their exorbitant prices. Then, somehow, I was able to keep up with a few  best-sellers.

For local books, I buried myself in some Danton Remoto’s and  Carlos Bulosan’s books. In fact, it was a revelation to me that Isagani Cruz turns out to be a critically acclaimed writer in the Philippines. So, I will read his other works. ^_^

Among the books, here are my top ten favorites that had significant  impact on me:

martian

  1. The Martian by Andy Weir.  I love a Sci-Fi dealing with astronomy and NASA.

dahl9. Boys Tales Children by Roald Dahl. I am fond of reading books about someone’s memoir or semi-autobiography, especially if the theme is more on education

This one by Roald Dahl is said to be his childhood experiences. I liked the book because it deals with the rotten educational system Dahl experienced when he was young.

invisible man8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I had put it aside for a few months before I found out why it is included on TIMES’ best novels of all time since 1923. When you read it, it will make you go mad at the Whites  the time  they discriminated against Blacks. Besides, I liked the fact that there is a psychological tactics behind it.

albert7. The Stranger by Albert Camus. A deep book which can lead to different perspectives. In my case, I cried over it because I saw myself in the main character. Besides, I like the philosophy bespoken in the story which might shatter the “in-the-know” readers .

secret6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  It is one of my most favorite children books. I like and miss gardening, so I am riveted on how the secret garden centers around the story.

malala5. I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. This is an inspiring story which provoked my desire to stand up to injustice.

4.Atheism : The Case Against God by George H. Smith. If you are a militant atheist like Richard Dawkins, read it. This is a perfect guide how you can debate well with an apologist 

3. Si Janus Silang #1 and 2 by Edgar Calabia Samar. This is definitely one of the reasons why I love to read Philippine literature more. A book series I will follow up with as what happened to those Harry Potter and Twilight fans. Hooray, I can’t wait for its book 3 in September! ^_^

2.God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I have read this twice;one time in 2014 , my second time last year. I really love this book because I look up to Richard Dawkins, along with Sam Harris  and Christopher Hitchens , some of whose  books were also on my read-list last year. He is a very candid and audacious atheist who has never been dauntless in expressing his opinions and thoughts.

This book can change someone’s perspectives on religion- a perfect manifesto to break distorted religions anyone may not be aware of .

This year, I will  include it on my to-read list  again.

antonia

1.My Antonia by Willa Cather . I will never forget this book. I will even recommend it to anyone. In fact, this is the novel why I decided to watch its musty movie adaptation which main roles were played by young  Patrick Nick Harris as Jimmy Burden  and by Elina Löwensohn as Antonia Shimerda.

The book is so beautifully and purely written that I did not even hold it down until I got dismayed at the climax. Besides,this reminds  us  of the grim lesson that life is a matter of moral consequence.

This year, I took the challenge to read as many as 150 books. Originally, I wanted to make it to 200 books again. However, I am worried that my teaching job might be the big impediment to this goal. Jeez, Good luck to me!

Happy Reading, buddies!