The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: A Book Review

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Along with her The Blind Assassin, this is one of the most convoluted and elaborate novels I have ever read. The story is too cloudy to understand that it requires your powers of concentration, especially if you are not analytical enough to grasp its complexity, the style I have proven Atwood bears the hallmark of.

Instead of analyzing it in a broader literary context with intellectual bravado since everyone can turn to Wikipedia, I’d rather review it in a manner of  what I found out in her writing styles: I’m envious of her skilled mastery for turning into beautiful prose her train of thoughts or whatsoever plays  in the figment of her imagination. Furthermore, she is an unfathomable female writer who can be as genius as any writers mostly celebrated in world literature.

This novel from the first pages to the last is strewn with vivid, beautiful, elegant, graceful, sumptuous sentences which I enjoyed reading rather than   gripping its main idea. The sentences are so lyrical that I chanted them again and again. They melt in my tongue like sweet, dark chocolate, or smell good like a garden,  full of a variety of colorful flowers hovered  above by a swarm of butterflies.

Under an unlikely scenario, if there were still such a world that men were superior to women over skills in writing stories or any literacy pieces, and Atwood were into such a literary show-off ,surrounded by supercilious writers looking down on her feminism, I bet my life that Atwood could dominate or catch up with them at any cost of literary bouts. Don’t dare her write one because this her The Handmaid’s Tale has proved me   wrong that there is something Atwood could make her rather genius. Her novels may appear complex, much more if she writes a simpler or more intricate one. In other words, there is nothing to find fault with her more; it’s crystal clear that she is an extraordinary writer. Roll down the red carpet and pay homage to Her Majesty.

Now, I freely  acknowledge that reading another Atwood’s books could be challenging since I have now the clearest idea of her writing style. Sometime in the future, if I have a great deal of time, perhaps when I reach my mid-life , no longer preoccupied with how to embellish my life with youthful experiences, hers would be one of those books I want to read again and again.As American musician and filmmaker, Frank Zappa put it , so many books, so little time to read.There are still thousands of  books in the world I haven’t read yet.

Also, the best course of technique I should use when I happen to read Atwood’s other books  and others books which have little resemblance to her style  would be a matter of full concentration ( regardless of  how poor my reading comprehension skill is .) Then, I will seat myself at a coffee table with a voluminous dictionary and colorful highlighters scattered around , par for the course in my reading repose. Ho-ho!

P.S . It is now being adapted for a TV series  broadcast live on  Hulu.

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

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang: A Book Review

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Reading the book with turon, a famous Filipino delicacy

Thick. Voluminous. Its Flamingo edition has 696 pages. I laid it aside many times. I didn’t know how to finish it , but I wanted to  heap it soon onto the other books read and unread; I was obsessed with the other  new books I had splurged on. When I gave it a shot for the third time; I was so already excited  that  I was close to its real-life –saga ending. Then, I was stuck again, in some  harrowing  parts I had to understand by heart and turn over in my mind . There, I trudged along. I was almost cross-eyed at the figures and  facts I could grasp no more , tearing my hair  until I could  let out a deep breath. ( Heavy sigh) Finally, I was done . My verdict: I SHOULD HAVE READ IT ALL ALONG WHILE I WAS DEEPLY  ENGAGED IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE ON SOCIAL MEDIA DURING OUR NATIONAL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Its vivid details could have been mesmerizingly engaging, heart-breaking, and eye-opening. Besides, I came back to my senses  that communism turns out to be an ineffective form of government after all. Also, out of my ignorance, somehow, I brushed upon some   historical facts about Mao Zedong, the man I have been curious about, or I could have been looking up to because of his numinous image.

One of the big challenges for a writer, particularly an autobiographer, is to write all the blow-by-blow accounts to make the book appear accurate and credible. There are instances that some are laconic with their stories; they only choose the situations which could be appealing to their audience. ( It’s a matter of marketing strategy, I guess.) Who could dare write a book that is so full of dramatic but petty details? Of course, padding the book could be intended to impress its audience. And I don’t think it’s Jung Chang’s intention.   Never mind its mind-boggling  and undermining Chinese names of persons, places, and technical words buzzed if you   don’t have these ears for language . You will still be abandoned to the waves of negative emotions each daughter draws off- pain, endurance, hopelessness, despair, cruelty, savageness, you name it. Whoa, woe to you. Sit tight! Make sure that you have this empty chest.

After all, the book is not just about novelizing Jung Chang’s experiences but a way of letting go of the past. She used this as the instrument for cauterizing all the  feeling and thoughts she had pushed to  the  darkest corners of her mind for a long decade under Mao Zedong’s  said totalitarian government. Also, through this book, she had rectified all the injustice her entire ancestors, particularly her parents and grandma, had suffered for a long time. She had the chance to clear of all the  political mud  slung against her families that went down in Chinese history, which was eventually expurgated after Mao Zedong’s  political failure.  At the same time, she had the chance to reminisce about the good memories which shaped her up as a strong and intelligent woman.  However, as far as I know, the New China has not recognized the essence of her book  yet  out of jingoism. In fact, it was banned when it was published  in 1992.

This book   has been translated into 37 languages. No doubt. Quite apart from its heart-breaking themes, it is worth reading because it opens our mind. It will probably change our view points of the social issues in our contemporary era. You will understand that every country has different culture when it comes to family, society, and politics. So, you might come to realize that all the cultures could be immoral but stuck up in a time warp, especially when   human dignity is   already trodden. Everything is changing as is nature. Nonetheless, after all, I can’t cry bloody murder  if such backward culture existed before ; it even did in our country, elsewhere. (Heavy sighs) Dare I say that we humans are still underdeveloped   even up to this day, or it is just a matter of the philosophy of  relativism? Look what is China now. North Korea. Some Middle East countries. The armpits of  Africa. Even in state-of-the-art European nations. Now the issue is Brexit if you are aware of its referendum.

The book’s theme Cultural Revolution  disabused me of that communism is not politically, socially, and economically feasible at all in a country that needs big social changes wherein all people should be ideally equal.  I have been enlightened as an idealistic citizen  that humans are fallible, that there is no such Utopia in a modern world. Evils have been part of the  natural laws  since the world began. ( heavy sigh)

Ever since I took to history subject, I have never had the clear details on Mao Zedong’s life. I was just tipped off  that he was a cruel president of China , that he killed many babies, that he was revered as god. However, Jung Chang did not describe him much in the book. She was too euphemistic about him as though she still respected him despite all the pains China had suffered. In the end, I was not satisfied.  I am still more  curious about him . Who is Mao Zedong? Fiddlesticks! A red thick biography  about him that  I always see in a  premier book store is now sparking my curiosity. The good thing is Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday wrote a biography about him : Mao: The Unknown Story. Interesting! As a matter of fact, she wrote another biographies about  Empress Dowager Cixi and  Madame Sun Yat- Sen. I hope to luck out and find them!

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s undeniably amazing.)

Animal Farm by George Orwell: A Book Review

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The Seven Commandments:
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill any other animal.
All animals are equal.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

I was always intrigued by this book. It is on the list of the The Guardian’s 1001 Best Novels of All Time, TIME’s 100 Best Novels, The Modern Library’s Voting List. This is even part of my students’ literary studies. I could not even avert my gaze from its literary fame on bookshelves at bookstores. In the end, I tried to borrow it from my co-teacher-although it is my number one rule that I should never, never borrow from anyone’s, over my dead body. The book, after all, may be about Stalin-ism. Besides, it is easy to read, for George Orwell used simple standard form of language. However, if Orwell intended to write a satirical fable -although the preface insisted it is not- I did not feel the connection between the animals involved and the people.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

George Orwell’s intention to express his political viewpoints in writing a story involving animals- anthropomorphism in literature- is an astounding idea. I guess writing was his means of freedom of expression and speech. I guess his time , since he is a British writer , may have been restricted by the atmosphere of imperialism. In the light of writing this, isn’t it amazing to praise that it had a clashing impact upon his ( Orwell) targets? It was like as if I were the target being alluded to or insulted. No doubt this book is well received by readers and considered as a literary classic. Like reading Aesop’s fables or fantasies , his sentences are so light but very dashing though.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

On the other hand, although I enjoyed the story , I cannot deny the fact that I had a hard time connecting the unimaginable with the imaginable- animals living apart from humans, granted that the Animal Farm may be a symbol of dystopiac Stalin era whereas humans are the universal standard of government (democracy ). Well, my reactions could be another puny, minor impact of this book.

“Let’s face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

Politically speaking, I believe there is no such a perfect form of government. But if a form of government just what the like of Communism manifested in the history , this is one of the revolutionary books which could open the eyes of the peoples.

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.)

Stupid is Forevermore by Miriam Defensor Santiago : A Book Review

stupid-is-forevermore-cover_This is the sequel to   our  beloved Senator Miriam  Santiago’s Stupid is Forever ( 3 stars ) as  it was launched on her 70th birthday celebration on June 15. The title is still the same; it was only added with  the word ” MORE”  to imply that the beloved senator   has another sack  of jokes and epigraphs. But the color of the paperback  is now reddish as one of the common colors  of her attires she wears when she attends the senate meetings. As a rule, the contents of the books are more on her jokes  , epigraphs, and speeches which had been earmarked for this sequel. In the end, I find it somehow redundantly entertaining but worth reading in disguise.  Thus, I have been disappointed for the second time except  her short story , The Exorcism of the Ghost, an excerpt from her well-received then The Frabjous Days and other Short Stories.

In effect, if you are such an avid fan of the beloved senator  like me , obsessed with her  on a daily basis, wanting to know everything she does , it  may be in politics or in her personal life as though you are a cyber stalker  , you are undoubtedly  familiar with the contents  from  cover to cover. You have read all her witty jokes and political tirades, speeches ,  and her bio data just by means of internet access. Definitely, you  check  her website . Here you can read all the statements  she makes  in the press since she  became a senator. If you want another blown-by-blown details , you can visit the site of the Philippine Senate. There you can check the senator’s archives .  To pick the newspapers commentators’ brains  , just type  Miriam Santiago  and search it  by clicking News on Google or Yahoo. All the information you want to keep track of  is accessible in the internet. Tataaan! You are now undoubtedly a Miriam freak. ( laughs)

The pattern used in  writing this book is the same as the opinion I teased out of  her Stupid is Forever. First, before  she delivers her speech  on the stump, the senator as a rule will regale you with her witty jokes to break the ice. For sure, you will be knocked out off the aisle. Then, just  all the kidding aside, you will listen to her inspiring and educating speeches although a little steeped in political issues. Finally, she will leave us  some lines of quotes she must have selected herself. Her speeches I have read but still worth reading  have something to do with life.  

A  DATE  WITH DESTINY

Here I cottoned to William Arthur Ward’s quotes:

“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of like is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”

THE PARADIGM FOR HAPPY LIFE

Here I learned her philosophy:

“Life is a consequence of our moral choices.”  

What  sparked my interest is her preface and short story The Exorcism of a Ghost, a selected story in her autobiography The Frabjous Day. I have always wanted to read her autobiography as I was wondering how she is  as good at writing a story as she is witty at her speeches. To my astonishment, our beloved Senator Santiago’s intellectual hubris, indeed,  reflects in the above-mentioned short story. Now I understand. “ “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life here“ ( laughs )

Her preface:

The Moron

See the Happy Moron,

He doesn’t give a damn!

I wish I were a moron –

My God! Perhaps I am!

-Anonymous-

I also opined in my review of her Stupid is Forever that the book is intended for her  hidden political agenda to run for presidential aspirations in 2016. Obviously, this book – in my humble opinion- still completely resembles the former ,  hyping  up her records of  academic excellence  and professional  achievements; at the same time, with some pictures of hers showing her aura of bold and moral character as well as her massive intellect in the legal fields.

The beloved senator has not been in the press for a few months as though she had faded into the night like Batman , nor has she been able to attend the senate sessions ( despite the fact that she has the highest number of bills passed in the higher congress.) In fact, she was not able to attend the  launching of this, her second book; rather , it was launched on the market on her 70th birthday.  She must still be struggling with her stage- 4 lung cancer as she is dog-determined to recover, for she might plan to run in 2016.

Dear our Beloved Senator:

Whatever your plan in 2016 is , we,  your fans, will always  give you our all-out support. But for the sake of your health, we had rather you did not plan to do so; we had rather you took a rest, enjoyed  in your 70’s  by spending time with your family and grandchildren , or sat in a rocking chair crocheting as you once joked before when asked whether you would run or not in 1992. Politics  as you are aware of is  dirty. We may not know your personal intention why you want to become president, but what you have  done for the Philippines is enough to awaken us, your disciples you have intellectually enlightened by means of your political idiosyncrasies  beyond  the hoi polloi ‘s understanding.

To look cool, it is about time you wrote your own literary piece  as what you wanted to do when you were still young. May be when you make one, it could be bound to being  a short list in any  international literary awards as what you flaunted  whenever you got into an international  event. ^^

Get well soon, our beloved Senadora. We, your fans , miss you a whole lot.

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It is ok. )

Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell: A Book Review

orwellI have read some autobiographical essays, just the like of my favorite ones by Richard Rodriguez, considered as one of America’s best essayists. But this one by George Orwell , is, for me, more remarkable in comparison . I was impressed. I liked it : simple but transparent, plainspoken, and persuasively natural. I would say that this is the kind of writing styles I would like to imitate.

George Orwell wrote about his anecdotal experience as a military policeman in Burma ( Myanmar now ) under the British government. He stated his difficult adjustment in a country where the atmosphere was emotionally suppressing because of the atrocious social classification at that time. His mettle was tested when he was expected to shoot an elephant considered by some at that time as a pain in the neck. So he would be in bind whether he had to kill or save the elephant.

Despite that it is considered to be an autobiographical essay, reading it is like  a short story; it is absorbing. I liked the fact the narrator, probably Orwell himself, describes his experiences in simply artistic structures of the sentences ; consequently, I got absorbed in a tell-tale. As a matter of fact, I was carried out by the sequences. When the story ended, I felt like one of the spectators watched him kill the elephant and was relieved. But the truth I could be part of Orwell’s other side of self: leaving the scene in agony.

Behind its anecdotal façade, there is something metaphorical about the essay. It has something to do with Britain’s imperialism and its effect in Burma. In fact, in this essay, Orwell clearly states his displeasure with colonial Britain.

I have not read other Orwell’s novels yet, except The Animal Farm ( 3 stars ). This is my first time to have read one of his essays.

I have learned a lot from Orwell’s writing styles. First, I liked the way he writes. I have tried to imitate other writers’ writing styles, but reading this one gave me the epiphany that I do not need to sound intellectual: I can write a simple essay but naturally moving. Second, writing is an instrument for making a big difference to social issues. Besides, we do not need to wish that we were genius. I believe we can learn how to write skillfully. It is a matter of practice and effort at will.

Rating: 4/  5 stars

Politics and the English Language by George Orwell: A Book Review

politics2Sentence 1 : I had this burning sensation of shame while absorbing myself in this essay.
Sentence 2 : I was ashamed of myself while reading this essay.

Which sentence do you find easier to understand?

This essay is like a simple term paper with objective analyses and conclusions. Or I’d rather say that George Orwell was like a psycho-linguist studying the words we usually use as specimens. First, he presented five passages he picked from articles. Second, he discussed the theories of phraseology. Third, to understand the theories he discusses , he applied them to real situations in modern English. Finally, he drew his own conclusion.

Orwell argued that it is important we write clearly .He believed that the main purpose of writing is to express and share our ideas and thoughts with readers . Also, he pointed out that writing English is worth reading without using metaphors, similes, idioms, or obsolete words which vague the meanings of our sentences. Rather, we can simplify them in the sense that we understand what we really think of a certain thing. He believes, thus, that in doing so can prevent “the slovenliness of our language “as he put it bluntly.

Orwell may have some points. However, affected I am, I want to raise some questions, intentionally to rebut his ideas:

(1) If Orwell believed with the conjunction of other educated grammarians and writers as well that we should not use the words he mentioned in the essay , what are the words coined for? Are we going to throw them into a dust bin? How about the jargons or the technical terms?

(2) The real standard of an award-winning piece is based on the norms drawn by people. What is a universal literature? What is a real classic? How could laymen recognize that a piece is a masterpiece? Everybody has different tastes for literature. For ordinary readers, a simple book is enough. May be for entertainment value. But for readers whose intentions are the same: to develop their intelligence, they elevate literature to a higher level of thinking. That is the art of writing.

(3) Are archaic or obsolete words beyond readers? Probably, it depends on a reader’s intelligence.

(4 ) Why should not we use foreign words? It depends on what kinds of readers a writer targets. Besides, readers are not inside the box; they can explore the world of literature. Literature is flexible in character.

May be I would agree with his points that sometimes we have to consider the meanings of words . Are these words applicable to situations? Probably yes or no. In addition, since language is decadent, there are “times” that we have to adjust to the existing social conditions and changes. Could people still understand them? Probably yes or no.

No doubt. Orwell knew the psychology and mathematics of words. He understood what people think of the words used in society- let alone in politics. So what is this essay all about after all? I would believe that what he really wants to point out in this essay is that connection with readers is the most important elements of writing regardless of what concept you have got. He manifested this belief in his works. Mostly, politics is bad when the language is corrupt as it is the conspicuous undertone of his essays.

If I were George Orwell’s professor, just for fun, I would give it A+, but , in my humble opinion as a reader on GR, I regret to give it 2 stars .