Pincher Martin by William Golding: A Book Review

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I included British writer William Golding in my favorite –writer list on Goodreads , along with one of America’s best novelists Toni Morrison andE. L. Doctorow , Dutch writer Ian McEwan, famous American educator Frank McCourt, one of America’s best essayists Richard Rodriguez ,one of the best Black American revolutionary writers Richard Wright, atheists Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens , and Filipino children writer Genaro Gojo Cruz.

His classic novel Lord of the Flies demonized me to ostentatiously display him up there. I don’t know how I ended up considering him as one of them. I just remember that the novel ‘s main characters broke my heart. I won’t forget Ralph, the boy who led the group but was outplayed and outwitted by the domineering Jack along with his adherents; Piggy, Ralph’s loyalist, the hero of the story who died of his principle for pacifism and unity; and Simon, the boy who was mistaken for a monster and eventually killed by Jack’s group. But I came to understand that I did not make a mistake after discovering that there is a deeper way of how to understand it in the context of politics. Thus, there is a reason why William Golding deserves to be celebrated as one of the best writers in the world of literature, and Pincher Martin is another testimony to this claim.

Pincher Martin bears little resemblance to his immortal and classic Lord of the Flies. Both novels bear on how to survive being a castaway on a far-off island. The only differences are that the former one focuses on one character while the latter one is on a group of children, young students in effect. Besides, the deeper lowdown on the former one on the one hand is on existentialism, individualism, objectivism- steeped in philosophical and psychological questions. The latter one, on the other hand, is on politics aptly portrayed by young characters.

Pincher Martin is a just a taciturn novel for me since it involves one character, apart from the other ones flashed back in the character’s memory. Reading it is like being a castaway, silent, putting yourself in his shoes, musing over the possible approaches to surviving the island. At first, I would feel the trauma and confusion about ending up in that uncivilized place until I woke up to the grim reality. However, as time passed by, I would come to the end of my wits that everything imaginable would fail, so all I would have to do is to beat my head against a stone and realize that the best way to survive is to use my intelligence, education , and training. At the same time, using the three necessary traits to survive, I would suffer from philosophical crisis in that I would doubt my existence on this planet. By the same token, out of physical and mental pains, I would be subject to psychological conditions like mirage or any forms of delusions.

Pincher Martin is another revelation for me that William Golding was such a skilled writer. In this novel, he showed the real quality of a gifted writer that writing a novel not only focuses on the characters’ papers they embody but also on the other perspectives. In this novel, Golding tried to paint another portray of being a castaway. He perfectly described what a castaway could be, being alone on an island. It is not just about how to survive but also how to help oneself get over the possible philosophical realizations one must face since no one is an island. However, Golding’s intention is not as conspicuous as his Lord of the Flies which I thought that I was just reading an adventure. The novel turns out to be deeper than its story. In other words, Pincher Martin, to put it bluntly, is like a brochure handed out by a flight attendant which will give you tips on what the possible things you might experience and do when you are a sole survivor. To make the brochure worth reading, it is inserted with beautiful quotes.

Admittedly, I had a hard time reading it despite that it is said to be lightly written. I guess what the book reviewers are referring to is its narration centering around Pinch Martin’s surviving scenes. But in terms of philosophical realizations, they are not at all. I am sorry. I am not that really smart. I am just a smart ass. Enough said, Joey!

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: A Book Review

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I was imagining if I were one of those people imprisoned in Auschwitz, what would have I done? Would have I been able to survive the suffering I could have endured, especially the nerve-racking  fear of the gas chamber? I think I wouldn’t have because I would have been chosen to be ushered into the right path;they would have found me  physically and politically useless, inferior , or undesirable (unless they would have taken into consideration my passion for epistemology) : I am a wee bit skinny-boned and hard-hearing. The SS, a unit of Nazis in charge of the mass extermination, would have given me a distaste look and hit in my flat abdomen. Ugh, what a miserable life species I would have been! But lo and behold, Victor Frankl said that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. So, my death would not have been nothing; it would   have been meaningful. Not that I know of.

Victor Frankl , a Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist, recounted the heart-twitching memories he had experienced in Auschwitz. Therein lied the indelibly abject miseries he went through with other inmates under the SS, of how he suffered a lot in the camp   with a meager of food and water, of how he brought himself to sleep with other inmates in one bed that was inhabited by mites aplenty, soaked with pee and dung, in a shirt that was almost tattered and rugged. And the throat-slashing one was the uncertainty, having no idea of when an inmate could be locked up and immolated in the gas chamber… Indeed, a person like me living in this generation   does not have the atom of   imagination of how Frankl’ s  life was a total hell.

From the beginning to the end of his historical accounts, the leitmotif that bore down on me is the gas chamber.( As a matter of fact, I dreamed about it before  after reading Anne Frank’s Diary , of how she ended up in that place.) Whenever Frankl described the story and explained the idiosyncratic behavioral patterns of his inmates, I could not  take off my mind the  chamber which  every inmate at that time  feared most. I didn’t mind the imaginary descriptions  and illustrations  of how those inmates were starved to death, malnourished and thirsty for clean water, pica for nonnutritious food, living with gangrenes as long as the chamber would not be mentioned. Like Frankl’s fellow inmates, I also tended to be paranoid about it imagining how  people found inferior died inside that big room. What a hair-raising and heartbreaking   scene it could have been!

Aside from  his experiences in a concentration camp , Frankl also included in this book  his discussion about   logotherapy in a nutshell and the case for a tragic optimism.

When Frankl was in the different concentration camps, he observed not only himself but also his inmates how they would react to such a hellhole. Most of them became hopeless, apathetic, bitter, disillusioned. Some were suicidal.  Eventually, using his background in medicine, he came up with   logotherapy to help some of them survive. In this therapy, a patient is helped to find the meaning of his/ her life as the primary motivational force. It focuses on the future, on the meanings a patient wants to fulfill in the future.

Before I just had the idea that life is a question of existentialism, but logotherapy  dawned upon me that  we can discover this meaning in life   in three different ways: (1)by creating a work or doing a deed; (2)by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward un avoidable suffering.( p.133)

What caught my interest was the real meaning of existentialism which I took to when I studied psychology. I was enlightened  when  Frankl  clearly discussed that the term “ existential” may be used in three ways to refer to : (1) existence itself; (2) the meaning of existence;  and (3)the striving to find the concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning. ( p.123)

The last part discusses the real meaning of a “ tragic optimism”. In brief it means  that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “ tragic triad,”  such as pain , guilt, and death.

The  most important thing that I have learned , proved in effect, is that LOVE indeed  is the most powerful emotional element in the universe. This is the last resort a man in dire can turn to , aside from God he/she believes in ( but I don’t ) , in order to survive.

Since it is a memoir focusing on the concept of logotherapy, the book is not as ambitious as other famous ones. I wonder if it could be a hit should it have been written  like a novel.

For the third time, I have failed to catch my dream: to study in graduate school. I missed it due to some personal reasons. I have been so depressed that I  might never be interested in it anymore.To protect my ego from this soul-devastating frustration, I thought that I might just spend my life reading the books I have been storing for a  long time or writing  short stories I have  always wanted to  do . However, I still can’t get over this ambitious fiasco. Sometimes, I blame myself for not being a risk taker. Nevertheless, this book has reminded me of my favorite philosophy that life is a matter of choice; I am responsible for the life I want to choose.

” He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche-

Rating: 3/ 5 ( I liked it.)

 

Deep Blue Night by Choe In -Ho : A Book Review

IMG_20130104_111035“Los Angeles is a fictitious place; it does not exist in this world.”

-In-ho Choe, Deep Blue Night-

This line caught my imagination, reminding me  of Carlos Bulosan’s poem, “I Want the Wide American Earth,”  in which he expressed his  Marxist  desires that the world be  like American, that all  countries had no abject poverty, that all were socially and economically equal . He had the perception that America had this prosperous life since   it was the  richest country in the world during  his generation, so the American Dream  came into existence.

Lost Angeles is  a melting pot  in the  US where you can meet  different races of the world. If you plan to migrate  to America, there is the best place you should choose for a greener  pasture. You are for sure secure from some problems because  you can turn to your “ kababayan”  ( countryman ) for help ( if you have this  bayanihan ( cooperative endeavor )  and damayan  ( mutual sympathy ) culture, typical of Filipinos overseas )  just like what happened to the story  of this book.

Jun-ho and Hyeong are both Koreans who ventured  to the US  to escape their  shady pasts.  Jun-Ho  was  a tourist  who  had the opportunity to travel to the US  to take his mind off the bitter experiences he had left behind  in Korea. He used to be a popular and successful  musician but  past his prime eventually due to taking  marijuana.  However, he ended up flat broke   for he had squandered all his money. To make ends meet, he tried to do the same job  in some States in the US  but backslid to his bad shadows . In the end, he became an exile from one  State to another. To survive, he needed to get to Los Angeles by   stolen car, believing that someone  or something there could help him back to Korea. Accidentally, on his way, he met Hyeong who has little description in the story.

It is now my second book of The Portable Library of Korean Literature translation. Comparatively, its prose and tone are heavier and more   emotionally indifferent than of the A Dwarf Launches a Ball by Cho Se-hui. The latter one, on the other hand, is lighter and more gently heartbreaking. In addition, the narration of the story is somehow misleading. You could have the idea that the  narrator is Hyeong,  but  there seems to be another unknown narrator, telling the other part of the story.

In a simpler perspective, you might take it literally that   the story has something to do with what an exiled tourist experiences in a country that is alienated to him. I could buy that way though. However, I want to put it on the fact that I liked the way Cho In-Ho used the persona of   Jun-ho  in the story ; he  embodies people who,  like him , are  unable to move up on to the next step of their life where they got in a conundrum- people ,who have been torn , unknowing where and how they should turn over a new leaf  with the fact that they have been bothered by a pang of conscience for the things they have committed, but in the end, with their heuristic moments, would realize that they have been taken possession of their  “ seven deadly sins”,  innocence, or ignorance.  The story, in the other words,  is an epitome of  the existential point of view that “ Life is a matter of moral choice.”

All the rage in the story is the car they rode on a journey  . For me it represents the vehicle of their life. No matter what happens , you can pull up along the road and chill out, then keep on driving. Moreover, in order to add fuel to the energy, you should make a fortune regardless of how much it could be. Otherwise, you would remain stagnant unless you choose it to be that way.

 In fact, reading it reminded me of the drop-out students in our village or somewhere   else where I usually meet around. I have this imaginary judgment that they must be prejudiced as shiftless or the dregs of humanity. But, Mac, do not judge such people. Like what I have put above: “ They  do not know HOW  and WHERE to begin.” Just like what happened to Jun-ho in the story.

I really liked the story because I can relate to it. Like both the main characters above, there are times that  I am in the  bad habit  of running away from my  bitter experience or from whatever a fait accompli I leave behind  that  I regret I should not have done . Rather, I  leave it unresolved ,  trying to keep up appearances until  I come to a standstill. Nevertheless, upon reading it, I have learned more that  the life I may be choosing is not optimal at all. (sighs!)

As far as I learned, the story is the author’s autobiography. In other words, this must be the product of his feelings he  must have had suppressed for a long time. As a result, it is a beautifully written masterpiece. ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really 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.)

A Confession by Leo Tolstoy: A Book Review

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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.