Going Solo (Roald Dahl’s Autobiography #2) by Roald Dahl: A Book Review

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“I was already beginning to realize that the only way to conduct oneself in a situation where bombs rained down and bullets whizzed past, was to accept the dangers and all the consequences as calmly as possible. Fretting and sweating about it all was not going to help.”

I liken Roald Dahl to ‘Lola Basyang “  (literally  Grandmother Basyang) in Philippine literature, a legendary grandma who has become a symbol for someone who has many short stories to tell, and the nom de plume of  Severino Reyes, the “Father of Tagalog Plays”.

His books are interesting and engrossing to read, so I never get sick and tired of them. They even make me feel like going back to my childhood when I was totally absorbed in children stories. Of course, he can also bear a striking resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen, best remembered for his fairy tales. However, a childish-adult-like reader like me can still prefer stories which can no longer sound superannuated, old-fashioned, or ancient. I am now in a modern era when literature is no longer what you see is what you believe.

Going Solo is another one I felt that how I was listening to a story teller or, formally speaking, a raconteur. I enjoyed most of the stories, notably his African adventures, despite that I could not relate to what a war freak is blabbering about.

Going Solo is said to be the sequel to Dahl’s autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood. The latter one is far funnier but more heat-breaking than the former one, something a reader should be sympathetic to. The former one is more on his adventurous and breath-gasping blow-by-blow account. It tells his perilous adventures in Africa where he survived the wild animals especially leopards and mambas. The account is new to me since I have read a great deal of wild African life. However, some of his stories seem to be hyperbolic and exaggerated. His anecdotes seem to be fictitious. I don’t know if Dahl intended to twist his real stories to not lose his readers’ interest. Probably, it could be a half-fiction and half-autobiography the same with his Boy: Tales of Childhood.

When I was drawn into his flying and war experience, at that moment, I lost my interest because most of the words are technical which I did not want to grasp any longer.  Perhaps, I was not interested in stories related to military service. Had I not read it deeply, I would have put it aside aligned with the other unread books. Nevertheless, Dahl has the talent to turn stories others may find irrelevant, inappropriate into interesting ones. His telegraphs to his mother, meeting with a beautiful nurse, and encounter with the Germans and bandits caught my attention. I told you so, he is a raconteur, indeed.

Finally, what I liked most of the parts of the book is the ending. I felt how a soldier misses his family so badly. In other words, I was not left clinging. I was very satisfied with it. It may be simple but this is one of the best endings I really finished in awe. Sooooo, I want another Dahl’s books!!!!

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

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 ^^

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. )

Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker: A Book Review

humansmokeSome critics consider this book now as a classic. It is indeed. First, if you were not a History professor nor do you have enough knowledge of the beginnings of World War II; then, it is the key to your curiosity. The author Nicholson Baker himself, gleaned all the government transcripts, news articles, memoirs, and journals from various personalities to create such a masterpiece compendium. Unlike reading the blow-by-blow accounts of the world history from our school textbooks, this book will get you to the deeper soul . You can understand the real persona of the main creators of the unforgettable and heinous war. Second, it is a question for a new civilized man like you whether war is the best solution to attaining the world peace or not. If you are a pacifist, you may give your side to Mohandas Gandhi, or you may take back your cause. If you are pro-war under any circumstances, you may be obdurate or change your viewpoints, for you might feel the deep emotions conveyed in the diaries written by the victims of the Holocaust. It is like you are under the deep blue sea.

I liked this book because I was always excited to turn every page as though I was eager to know what was going to happen next, what the exact details before Japan surrendered to the USA, since I have the ideas of how Japan buckled under the atomic bomb, as though I was overcome with the horrible conditions of the Jews as the butt of prejudice. But I was disappointed when the exact details about how the war ended were not narrated as though I wanted to kick and scream because of my excitement at how Roosevelt and Churchill had came up with the idea of dropping the atomic bomb, at what course of action Japan took after the war. Nicholson Baker may have intended it. But if I were him, to satisfy the readers, I would have written the details. He must have collected the articles. It would be like as though I had enjoyed reading the beginning and end of the story. Then, I would love to recommend it to my friends, nephews or nieces if they want to understand more the beginning and the end of World War II. Or I would have rated this 4 stars.

This book, on the other hand, has taken the brunt of negative reviews. For some reviewers, it is a “strangely childish book”, “self-important or self-righteous”, “fraud” , blah blah blah. But in my humble opinion, Baker may have intended to write such style – since most of his works focus on stream of consciousness – to lead the readers to the debate about PACIFISM. He may have intended to leave the readers patch up all the grains so that they can conclude their own opinions. He may have known that readers would consider this as “ pablum”. Whatever it is, I would say that this is a good read although the ending is lamentable since the title emphasizes the beginnings of Word War II and the END of Civilization.

I have had some insights into this book. Churchill turned out to be more aggressive than Roosevelt. He could almost be in parallel with Hitler. Hitler, on the other hand, was an ambiguous man. You might have the impression that he was a hypocrite. I think he was.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars