Animal Farm by George Orwell: A Book Review

animalfarm

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 Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

assistantTIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner ,The Fixer , because this book is so compelling.

Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit upon the common concept in TV dramas and movies of a boy or man adopted by a good family, then they (family) will be attached to him because he makes a difference in their life, and all the lovey-dovey rage is that there is a daughter will fall for him. In the end, the hero will be cast off when they find out his skeleton in the closet. I am not sure if this concept was very common in the 1950’s. Familiar with this kind of story, I as good as lost my interest in the book as though I compelled myself to finish reading it, as though I could guess what was going to happen then.

Nevertheless, if my surmise were right, I would say that Malamud’s idea is ingenious. He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. I was predisposed to hold my breath, to turn the next page, feeling for the characters’ different personality, perfectly suitable for Malamud’s real motives. Appeared to be slapdash and intended to make it not as artful as other novelists’ writing skills, I still enjoyed reading it like a devil.

The novel deals with the abject situations of the Jewish immigrants who ventured to settle down in America from Tsarist Russia. The story centers around the three main characters: Morris Bober, a grocer, who dreads his failing small grocery store. He is an epitome of a good Jew. I look up to his honesty and magnanimity despite the fact that he has been cheated by his clerk many times; Frank Alpine, a young Italian-American hobo trying to get on his right feet by becoming a clerk in Morris Bober’s grocery. His sexual obsession with the grocer’s daughter gives me an impression that he is such a nuisance of someone’s progress. He even appears to be a tomfool. So I tend to distrust him whether he is sincere or not. Nevertheless, his interest in education and literature tickled my fancy. So I buried myself more in this book, keen on what his life will be in the denouement. Helen Bober, the grocer’s daughter is an epitome of a spinster-to-be – the daughter who chooses to give up on her dreams to study, to help her parents out, a woman who restrains herself from loving the clerk who turns out to be intact.

I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Uh-oh, I tend to be a bigot when Helen Bober says, “Dog , uncircumcised!” I tend to be beside the point when Helen Bober’s parents object to her relationship with Frank , for “Jews are just for Jews”, and “They suffer for the law of Jews”. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised.

To be more specific, I think Bernard Malamud should have turned the title from The Assistant into The Clerk. ^____^

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

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather: A Book Review

To get into the spirit of the Holy Week, I decided to pick this book I bought from a retired librarian last year. It is almost old, brittle, smeared with dust, but too legible to catch my interest and imagination.

I enjoyed reading this book despite the fact that I could be subject to heresy, agnosticism, nihilism, cynicism, or bigotry. It could be highly recommended for pious people. (I am not sure of atheists, for they might cast aspersions on it as “rotund’.)I liked the way Willa Cather depicted the real epitome of a missionary, passionate about his duty by helping uncivilized people back to their faith, restoring the Catholicism in a backward place, full of distorted beliefs and corruption. It was like as though I read a biographical novel narrates the life of a man who worked hard to accomplish his mission, faced with a lot of hindrances, humiliation, and endurance; as though a priest concentrated on his goals until he had made them through. So I finished it as gloriously as he died “of having lived’- not disgruntled but left hanging with some niggling doubt all along: Is Father Latour, the main character, credible? Does he appear to be hypocritical? On the other hand, Willa Cather portrayed the antithesis of such prelates who are given to greed, gluttony, avarice, and corruption- the fact that they exist in the Catholic Church. In the Philippines, they are the avatar of “Padre Damaso”.

After reading this, I was chastened more by the fact that leading religious life turns out to be a matter of “intestinal and cerebral fortitude”. Life could be tough when one is given big responsibilities. He needs to live simply and abstemiously. He needs to deprive himself of the luxurious trappings, particularly denying his human nature- the “concupiscence”. This kind of life reminded me of the nun, seminarian, and priest students I have taught. I am paying more homage to them. ^^

However, beyond a shadow of doubt, I could not blot out the idea of how the TIME ended it up as one of the best of all time since 1923. Probably this book is “rare and special’. Eureka! ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys : A Book Review

wide

One of the most important elements of an impressive book  is its emotional and tonal atmosphere. There is such physically internal connection between a reader and characters , and eventually the reader gets attached to them, primarily to the  protagonist  because of the impact the atmosphere blends into the background. Such elements work depending on how writers powerfully put them into sentences.

The emotional and tonal atmosphere conveyed in books  imply poverty and injustice , the good example of this is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry; survival in a savage world, Lord of the Flies by William Golding; bereavement, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens; the desire to free oneself from discrimination and prejudice attributed to slavery and social classification, The Invisible Man  by Ralph Ellison and Native Son by Richard Wright ;   feeling of emptiness , The Loss of Inheritance by Kiran  Desai; and loneliness  of which Wide Sargasso Sea  by Jean Rhys is  reek- half akin to  the other novels  I have read ,  which punched my heart , but on a scale of 1 to 10 , it is simply the best among them so far . In fact, I cried twice from the middle to the ending part.

The novel has three parts narrated by the two main characters.

Part One

 Antoinette, the protagonist of the story, describes her childhood experience, about her origin, her mother, her stepfather, all the people who influenced her upbringing. At first,  I still had no any ideas of what the concept of the story is, but the deeper I dug the sentences, the clearer I understood  the story .

You’re blind when you want to be blind, ‘she said ferociously, ‘and you’re deaf when you want to be deaf. The old hypocrite, ‘she kept saying.

“White cockroaches! White cockroaches!”

 The story   touches upon the black and the white.

Part Two

 It was a beautiful place –wild, untouched , above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing , secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I’d find myself thinking, “ What I see is nothing- I want what it hides-that is not nothing.’

This part is half narrated by Antoinette’s unnamed husband   and  the other part by herself.

I already liked this part because I could feel now the ambivalent elements existing in between the two characters.  Her unnamed husband narrates the honeymoon period ; and at the same time , the nature of  Antoinette ‘s life history. On the other hand, Antoinette appears to be strange telling something bad about her unnamed husband. So, I tend to be confused   about who between them  tells the truth .

In the deeper part,  I felt the tears welling up in my eyes when  Antoinette tells about her loneliness, notably in this  part:

“ I was never sad in the morning, “ she said, “ …

“ But you said you were always happy. “

“ No, I said I was always happy  in the morning, not always in the afternoon and never sunset, for after sunset  the house was haunted, some places are…..”

Part Three

‘ Don’t laugh like that, Bertha.’

‘ My name is not Bertha; why do you call me , Bertha?’

‘ Because it is a name I am particularly  fond of. I think of you as Bertha?’

Part of the conversation between Antoinette and her unnamed husband  that gave  me  an idea of why this novel is said to be the prequel to Emily Bronte’s  Jane Eyre.  So,  I found in this part the answer to the question that I nibbled at all along whether Antoinette is insane or not . In fact, there was like  a series of flashbacks as its ending  describes  what Bertha does as  Jane Eyre  is  curious  about the  mysterious sounds she hears from the attic which  turns out to be Bertha’s- a scene that is not mentioned in Jane Eyre. Awesome! So if you want to read it, read Jane Eyre first.

Like other writers ‘source of inspiration , Jean Rhys was  inspired by Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre on account of her unhappy marriage.

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: A Book Review

evelynI learned this novel from one of Thomas Merton’s biographies. Then, I became curious why this novel had an impact upon his religious and spiritual journey.

Since Evelyn Waugh is said to have converted to Catholicism, I got confused about his real intention why he wrote such novel. There are some parts of the dialogues which appear to be inconsistent. Did he intend to channel his religious devotion in order to convert readers to Catholicism? Did he intend to differentiate between “believers” and “nonbelievers”? (Sighs!)

If an avowed atheist or agnostic like me reads it, without bias, there are some parts of the dialogues she /he will take an exception to:

(a) Sebastian Flyte’s and Charles Ryder’s characters. In the novel, Charles Ryder, the openly agnostic protagonist, is emotionally empty despite being financially comfortable, unsure of what he wants to do in his life. Did E. Waugh intend to symbolize him that life is “hollow” without religion? How sure E. Waugh of that (all) agnostics and atheists in general have these kinds of feelings? On the other hand, Sebastian Flyte is an alcoholic who gets astray since he ignores his deeply religious mother’s advice that he, if I’m not mistaken, enter an institution to rehabilitate himself. Eventually, he will abscond somewhere in Africa and become an object of charity under the auspices of a monastery. But he will still struggle for his alcoholism. What did E. Waugh intend to drive at?

(b) The ambiguous ending. Its ending is a little “lack of substance in plot”. In other words, it is not convincing for me that Charles Ryder converted himself in the end on account of Lord Marchmain’s concession to his (Lord Marchmain) daughter, Lady Cordelia’s suggestion that he he ask forgiveness for all the sins he has committed through the blessing and prayer of a priest. In fact, Charles Ryder insisted that Lord Marchmain could die or live to the other life, if there is one, without the blessing and prayer of a priest. Charles Ryder has more logical reasons, doesn’t he? Would E. Waugh reason that it could be the “Divine Grace”? Hmmm…it is another atomic collision between Religion and Science.

(c)The frustrating attitude of the religious characters. There is a scene that one of the characters made for the confession room, but was ignored. Another one is the Marchioness of Marchmain and her son, Bridey ‘s prejudice against Sebastian’s alcoholism as well as Lady Julia’s love affair with Charles Ryder; let alone Rex Mortamm’s insincere conversion. These plots are befuddling me. Should E. Waugh have characterized them positively? If she had done it, the story could be of use? Well, they must be the archetypes of religious upbringing. E. Waugh may have wanted to disclose the holier-than-thou in church.

Whatever Waugh‘s real intentions were, well, kudos to him! This novel is the product of his religious devotion- its content is creative, deep, and meaningful. I guess the panelists who included it in the list of the TIME’s 100 Best Novels of All Time could have been subjective.

I could be as subjective as the said panelists may have been, it is nevertheless compelling because of the intimate relationship between Sebastian and Charles Ryder. I wish E. Waugh meant to picture that homosexuality was repugnant at that time. Or I wish he were not that since their said relationship has been unsure and debatable among the readers whether both had a secret love affair. In my opinion, they had. ^^

To be enlightened, I read Evelyn Waugh’s biography in Wikipedia, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I am more intrigued by his religious viewpoints. I hope to read his other works.

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

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!