The Boys in the Striped Pyjamas by John Doyne: A Book Review

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“A speck that became a blob that became a figure that became a boy.”

I had expected that its ending is tragic enough to blink my tears away. I could not even bring myself to turn the next last pages. I would not have cared if I had violated   one of my rules that I should finish a book no matter how disappointing or revolting it turns out to be. Just I could not withstand seeing what is going to happen next and my heart crying over another ending with which I would be overwhelmed, but I did not want to give in. This was it. Why should I back off? Face whatever the next story is.

Its catchy title written  in  striped -pyjamas   book cover is  enchanting  enough for a reader like me to pick it out from among  the other PDFs saved in my phone document. As you know, I am a poor reader. I avail of the free PDFs available on the internet. Somewhow, I enjoyed reading the book because the prose is light, the scenes are engaging despite that they are the keys to the predictable segue, the main character Bruno is the embodiment of my childhood curiosity, and the story is very unique, something I  have never read from the other  fictions. However, although I may not be a full-fledged writer, I may consider myself climbing on the bandwagon of the armchair writers that it is poor-written, one of the shortcomings that may have let down their high standards.

For me, this is just a light book; it is imbued with ponderous prose. It does not have any hefty words your brains have to weigh in on or cerebrally hemorrhagic sentence structures you have to turn over in your mind (as what a grammar Nazi does.) You can concentrate on it no matter how simple the syntax is except for shrinking from the simplicity and shiftlessness of some sentences John Doyne may not have cared about embellishing them more.

Also, you might find yourself deeply engaged in it because Bruno is such a pig-headed wren. His character is the lubricant of the story. His being a pain in the ass soothes the story to become more calmly enthralling. However, there were times that I would trip over some parts only   experienced and critically acclaimed writers have to know what I am trying to drive at.  Don’t get me wrong. I belong to the armchair writers.

In addition, you would not just be a reader but a soothsayer. You could almost   play in your mind the foretaste of the unexpected. I was wondering if it was John Doyne, not his readers, was (not) born yesterday.  In the first place, I had inferred that Bruno will die at the end because his buttoned-up and power monger father will not educate him about the concentration camp Bruno will mistake for a farm. Oh, poor Bruno. His father’s ignorance of a child’s psyche will accidentally put him to death. Lo and behold, I have read such a tragic ending from the other books. (Thinking) … (Walking back and forth)… (Thinking)… Eureka! I’m Not Scared by Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti must be one of them. So, it’s another meme of the same idea. Could you help me cite some more?

In effect, the concept of the story brushing off all the shortcomings that did not meet the high standards of the armchair writers is supposed to be impressive. I bought some Doyne’s “literary gimmicks” First, Bruno’s “stupid or idiotic “innocence. I admit to cringing at it because I knew that Bruno was not that stupid enough not to understand everything in the story given that he is two years younger than his sister. A reader   ignorant of child psychology may ask this,” Is there such a cognitive condition?”  Second, the deep friendship between the two boys developed at a barbed boundary. It is something new for me. Third, to make the commonly accidental tragedy memorable, the scene is both Bruno and Shmuel are stuck in a line toward the gas chamber. Finally, unbeknownst to Bruno’s family, he will die in the gas chamber and his loss will remain a mystery. So, after reading the book, I sat speechlessly, imagining the chamber   fading away, and I could no longer hear the cries muffled by the gas poured in. Heart-breaking! Indeed, it is a story readers might never forget.

Writers have drops of ideas plopping in their heads, but the big challenge for them is how to creatively put them together with beautiful prose.  By the same token, they have to psychologize the possible reactions of their readers because nowadays readers are smart. They are now being educated by full access to a plethora of information on the internet.  For this reason, John Doyne should have needed more elbow grease to polish the story.  It could  most likely  get more than two stars. Gee! Indeed, I am an armchair writer.

I have just found its movie adaptation on YouTube. I wonder if it is the other way around. 🙂

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It’s ok.)

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Lila (Gilead #3) by Marilynne Robinson : A Book Review

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When I found it  by chance at a Book Sale branch , I muttered, “ Finally, I got you. I have been looking for you.” , holding it as though I did not  let any book scavengers  there to swoon over it, for they could have been in the same boat with me. When I went home, I wrapped it with plastic cover as how I usually take care of my books with gloves, especially it is a hard bound in pristine condition- very clean and unused; I love hard bounds!  I   tend to   read them with more enthusiasm. In fact, it may appear idiosyncratic  for you , but I would  bundle it  with a paper bag to make sure that it  would  not  be stained with any dirt  inside my bag wherever I brought it with me to school.

Gee, that’s how I was motivated to read Lila, along with Gilead and Homecoming upon reading Home ( 4 stars ). I was impressed by Home in which I discovered  Robinson’s   unique writing styles- unconventional , quietly boring but lyrically spell-binding   and   cathartically  smoothing.

However, I confess that I regret having read it. Take my advice. Why?

Both  the characters Rev. James Ames and Rev. Boughton  are already mentioned in the first and second books:  Rev Ames in Gilead and Rev. Boughton in Home.  In Lila, Rev. Ames’s and Bro. Boughton’s  life stories , especially their deep relationship and life stories left behind in the aforementioned books are interrelated. It is much better that you have some  ideas  of the two books so you can understand the story more deeply.

Therefore, I confess that I had a hard time appreciating it.

Probably, I am not inured to the sentences cleverly unconventional. They seem to be unintelligible to me. I just let the words float in the chambers of my mind, or  I did not let myself blend into the background of the story. I just read and read .

Maybe, compared to Home which I felt   the heart-oozing effects , I should have had  to  absorb  grossly in the book although I could feel the hidden emotions. Maybe, this one, Robinson’s Gilead # 3  did not pass my taste. I wonder about her Gilead which I should have read first.

Still, the book is remarkably paralleled to any other contemporary writers. I liked her way of unconventional writing styles. She does not care whatever writing standards she should conform to as long as she writes all the  out-of-this-world ideas running inside of her mind. She just writes and writes and writes. That’s it!

Still, the plot of the story is as labyrinthine as her unconventional writing style that I was challenged to hang in there just to  get at the  real  concept of the story, as though  it is hidden by  grass and shrubs growing rampant in an uncharted territory somewhere in an openly wide place of a jungle which only few could reach.

Its theme   has little resemblance to  the  other Black-American novels ‘ that someone older marries someone younger.  In some Black-American novels I have read such as in the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and even in some novels of Toni Morison, one of my most favorite contemporary writers, usually older black men are into relationship with younger  ones. However, they   illustrate their   black masculine   and patriarchal superiority to   black women, not far different from what white men did in the past, but in this novel, the man is a preacher, the antithesis of  the said patriarchal superiority.  With this idea, I had predicted that the preacher,Rev. Ames ,would change the other parts of the story, but I swallowed my words.  For instance, take a double look at the conversation   below between   Rev.  Ames and his young wife , Lila,  that shivered in  my spinal cord:

“I guess there’s something   the matter with me, old man. I can’t love you as much as I love you. I can’t feel as happy as I am.”

“ I know, “ he said. “ I don’t think    it’s anything to worry about. I don’t worry about it, really.”

“ I got so much life behind me.”

“ I know.”

“ I miss it sometimes.”

He nodded. :” We aren’t so different. There   are things I miss .”

She said, “ I might have to go back to it sometime. The part I could go back to , what with the child.”

“ Yes, “ he said.” I’ve given that some thought .  I know you’ll do the best you can. The best that  can be done. I’ll be leaving you on your own. We’ve both always known that. I can’t tell you how deeply I regret it.“

This conversation brainwashed   my moralistic view, of society ,  all along that age has nothing to do with an intimate relationship. Probably, an old man can marry a younger   girl, beyond the questions of biological and mental aspects.

As a rule, books have latent meanings, so do not just read it literally. Rev. James Ames has a big role in molding Lila’s existentialism and   spirituality as does Lila in his life. That’s why I liked it. However,  the only challenge as I put it above is how to get the gist of it since Robinson’s prose is like grass and shrubs growing rampant in an uncharted territory. Indeed, Marillynne Robinson is now considered as one America’s most  significant writers. ^^

Since- I apologize to  spoiling it- Reverend dies at the end of the story, I wonder what Robinson has in the store. Probably, Lila’s son is the next story?  But as of now I’ve been obsessed about her Gilead. I  should read it first.  By then, I will have  been groomed to read her next book. ^^

Rating : 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: A Book Review

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“They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.”

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

I had just finished reading All  Quiet On The  Western  Front by Erich Maria Remarque ( 4 stars ) when I decided to dig it out although my mind was almost riddled with bullets of war stories , but this collection of stories by Tim O’Brien has awoken me more to the real miseries experienced by soldiers in the battle. Unlike E. M. Remarque’s- neat, moving, and straightforward without any padding pettifoggery, Tim O’Brien’s is steeped in war experiences –deeper, more pathetic, miserable, and  detailed. On the other hand, the thing they have in common with is that both of them made writing as the instrument of releasing their pent-up feelings the war brought about.

Tim O’Brien’s stories – not to mention about his fellow soldiers in the war- stuck in my throat. I could not express how sorry I am for how burdensome the things they had to carry. Also, I could not help imagining the brutal, “man-made” miseries befell him, along with his fellow soldiers. I was very, very sorry for them. In fact, reading his stories seems like listening to a soldier undergoing a cathartic therapy, smoothly narrating his traumatic experiences.

I liked Tim O’Brien’s craft of writing. The only problem with it is that some stories are redundant. They have been mentioned in the other stories.

If I were a soldier, aside from the things indispensable in the war, a bookworm like me would not mind adding to my load the following items such as: my very thick and hefty Longman Dictionary; my favorite books; my own toothpaste and toothbrush; and my mosquito net. Gee, my life getting drafted into army would turn to hell.

As far as I remember, I read from BOOKRIOT that it is one of the books young adults must read in their twenties. Yes, we must.

Once again, my sympathy goes out to all soldiers around the world. I am NO TO WAR .

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

the-fixerPOGROM is the word which can give readers an idea of what this book is all about. This means a planned killing of large numbers of people, especially Jews, usually done for reasons of race or religion. In other words, it is synonymous with MASSACRE. The book, therefore, deals with anti-Semitism during Tsarist Russia beyond my knowledge of World History.

This book breaks my heart and makes me feel for the protagonist, Yakov Bok, a Jewish fixer by trade, who dreamed to make something of himself by moving to Kiev after he was ratted out on by his wife Raisl. He was accused of murdering a Christian boy during Passover. He was jailed without official charges and maltreated like an animal, as though I wanted to help him by telling the prejudiced people that he is downright innocent of the crime. In addition, reading right smack dab in the middle of the book makes me abandon myself to the antagonists: Their cruelty, ignorance, and irrationality make me abhor them,particularly the History of Anti-Semiticism. So I am like holding hopes against hopes for Yakov; then, I am kicked in the stomach when his hopes are dashed many times,and when he is almost mentally and physically tortured. Nevertheless, I am impressed by his survival instinct and dogged-determination not to confess to the crime he did not do in spite of repeated torture and degradation.Gee,this book turns out to be a page-turner; I cannot put it down, excited and apprehensive about what may become of the protagonist at the end. Had I not been busy these past few days, I could have finished it for one night.

I would say that this book is deserving of winning the Pulitzer-Prize and National Book Awards despite the fact that Bernard Malamud was said to have plagiarized the book from Beili’ s memoir, The Story of My Sufferings from which he drew inspiration. It is steeped in Spinoza’s philosophy, existentialism, politics, and religion. At the end of the story, Yakov realized that a man is a political animal after all even if he had considered himself apolitical and a freethinker. Essentially, it deals with discrimination against Jews as well as their abject misery under pogrom period as what Bernard Malamud may have intended to tell the world since he was an American-Jewish writer. In fact, this book reminds me of notable novels written on passionate purpose by famous writers to make a big difference- Richard Wright’s Native Son  and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe on Slavery;A Passage to India  by E. M. Forrester and Noli Me Tangere  by our very own Jose Rizal on Independence Movement and so on. So Bernard Malamud’s is on Anti-Semitism .These kinds of books, regardless of writing skills , that I find remarkable and that should be heralded as good and great books are deserving of 5 stars. So I wonder why this book is not included on the list of 1001 BEST NOVELS OF All TIME EVERYONE MUST READ by The Guardian.

Deeply impressed with Bernard Malamud , I can’t help reading his another notable book, The Assistant, hailed by TIME as one of the 100 best novels of all time since 1924. ^^

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan: A Book Review

america_prevIn the midst of reading or right after you  ( Filipinos) have read it, you may conclude that Carlos Bulosan ‘s personal accounts of his childhood experiences as well as his abject misery in America appear to be OVER EXAGERRATED , or far from the reality. I thought so, for I was not aware of the real situations among OFW’s. But you may come to the deeper realization that Carlos Bulosan must have had personal reasons: This book could serve as an eye-opener not only to the Filipino immigrants but also to the others elsewhere as well.

It almost pulled at my heartstrings. Poor Allos! If his autobiographies as well as his other works had been published while he was going through the grinding poverty, teeth-gnashing cruelty and stoical discrimination in America, I might have said, “ I didn’t know.” I wish the government of the Philippines had said it herself, or so did America. However, they turned their backs on or deaf to the reality, for I guess they must have been busy preparing for the WWII.

Carlos Bulosan bears a little resemblance to Richard Wright, one of my favorite authors. Like R. Wright, Carlos Bulosan also dreamed of freedom from the unjust socio-political system. H e also dreamed of being educated by reading omnivorously since his parents bent on sending him to school. He also went through difficulties in surviving the fittest. However, unlike R. Wright who had a chance to be known among the literati, Carlos Bulosan never did. Poor Carlos! If it had not been the poverty, he could have been educated as well as gained a name in the Philippine literature. He could have become a doctor as what he wanted to be when he was still young. He would not have held onto the edge of a knife by leaving the Philippines for the “American dream.” Alas, he ended up as poor and TB-stricken.

Honestly, after having read it, I became more nationalistic and chauvinistic; I love my native land more. When I got into the deeper part of the story, I can’t deny the fact that I was furious at Americans, felt like putting the blame on them why my countrymen as well as other Asians suffered a lot, not even before but until now. Well, I can’t blame them, for they may be the avatars and archetypes of stereotypes. Their history fashioned their hegemonic attitude. After all, I thought – since I am not much well-read about the world history- that Black Americans were not the only center of cruelty and discrimination. There are such things elsewhere after all.

I remembered two things while I was reading it:

(a) My childhood. I also lived in a province. I knew how it is like to live in a remote rural place. I have experienced what Carlos Bulosan did: toiling land with a carabao, selling vegetables and fish, walking to a far distance, bar exchange, and so on.
(b) My parents. My parents both lived in their own provinces; their attitudes are provincial. Although they are not educated, they use their common sense to live with dignity, to sacrifice for our sakes. ^^

I think this book should be highly recommended not only to OFW’s, but also to students.This book should never be forgotten, for it reflects in the dark society in the past.

Rating : 5/ 5 stars