Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams is a science fiction and comedy novel about Arthur Dent, a Englishman who survives after the destruction of Earth. The story begins when Earth is destroyed. Arthur is rescued by an alien named Ford Prefect, and the pair begin hitchhiking through the galaxy on a Vogon spacecraft. Ford is a researcher for the revised edition of a reference book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is stored on a device similar to a palm pilot. Then their adventures begin as they travel through the galaxy.

It’s a unique story that is imaginative and very humorous. It’s also a very quick read. I wish I had read the book earlier while I was in high school and my friends were hyping it up, so I would have been able to joke about mice, Deep Thought, and 42 along with them.

Purchase and read books by Douglas Adams:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

All I Wanted Was Company by John Hopkins

All I Wanted Was Company by John Hopkins

All I Wanted Was Company
(1999) is a short novel by John Hopkins. In the story, the protagonist Norman searches for companionship and peace of mind.

The novel begins when Norman leaves America for a trip to Tangier, Morocco with his older girlfriend Alice. They settle in, buying a house there. Norman is plagued by asthma, and fails to notice that Alice is ill as well. Alice eventually leaves Morocco and returns to New York City, while Norman recovers and waits for her return. Then, Norman hears that Alice’s illness is severe, and he travels to America, but he is too late to see her.

Feeling lost, Norman returns to his home in Tangier. He befriends Harry, an Englishman, and then finds love again with Miss Toledano, an older woman from Morocco. When she leaves him, and Harry dies, Norman decides to leave for the desert.

Though the plot is sparse, John Hopkins’s storytelling makes you feel in some ways as though a friend is talking to you and telling you a story while showing you pictures. Still, you are left feeling incomplete, without a full understanding of why the characters are the way they are.

Purchase and read books by John Hopkins:

All I Wanted Was Company by John Hopkins The Tangier Diaries, 1962-1979 by John Hopkins The South American Diaries by John Hopkins The White Nile Diaries by John Hopkins

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

María, A South American Romance by Jorge Isaacs

María, A South American Romance by Jorge Isaacs

María, A South American Romance was written by Jorge Isaacs, a Colombian writer, journalist, and politician. Published in 1867, this famous Latin American novel is part of the Romantic literary movement.

The story María was recommended to me, and it took me a full month to track down an English translation from the original Spanish. Luckily, through an interlibrary loan, I checked out a translation of Jorge Isaacs's story by Rollo Ogden, which was published in New York by Harper & Brothers in 1890. I was excited to be able to read the novel.

The story is told by a man named Efraín, who is reminiscing about his youth. Efraín describes his return home from college. He is in love with María, a girl raised by his family. Efraín wants to declare his love to María, but his parents forbid him from doing so until he completes his medical education in Europe.

Meanwhile, María is suffering from a rare form of epilepsy that killed her mother. Efraín's parents and María's doctors feel that a declaration from Efraín would result in a severe attack and have dangerous consequences for María's health. This belief plays into his parents' reasoning.

In the meantime, Efraín and María’s flirtation continues and their misunderstandings grow. Social factors and their obedience to their elders prevent them from speaking honestly to one another about their feelings. As Efraín and María suffer in silence, their elders respect them more. Efraín and María are young, but they take pride in their honesty and highly value their promises. The two have clear motivations, but must act in a specific societal order. The description of their romance felt so different from the present day in which people are free to act on their whims.

My favorite part was when an immature Efraín threw away flowers he intended to give María because she had not arranged flowers for him in his room. This misunderstanding affected them both greatly because their small acts of affection were so important to them. After this misunderstanding, they had to truly speak to one another to resolve their ill feelings and insecurities. I thought Efraín was very sweet when he and María were shyly flirting. I liked how they both thought that their romance was a secret, while it was clear that the whole family knew what was going on.

As I read the novel, I sensed that it would end tragically. Efraín was reminiscing about a short period of time. His voice sounded old and melancholic, as if that period was the time of his greatest joy. It felt like Efraín had gone over that stretch of time so often that he remembered every detail. He could describe María's dresses and her scarf and the food they ate. I felt that if Efraín and María had been happy together for 30 years, then he might not have placed such weight on those small details.

The novel does end tragically. It was not a shock to me that María died, but I felt sad that she and Efraín did not have a final meeting. I wondered how old Efrain was when he was telling his story and whether he ever found happiness in life. Overall, the novel is a very sweet and romantic story that captures young love, tragedy, and family dynamics. It is a shame that this book is not currently available as in English.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin (1957) is a funny and heartbreaking book by Vladimir Nabokov. It is the story of Timofey Pnin, a Russian professor at Waindell College. Unknowingly, Pnin is mocked for not mastering English and for his social fumbles. The reader empathizes with Pnin and cheers him on as he finds his place on campus and in life.

Once you reach the end of the story, you can never read it again in quite the same light. Was the story accurate or a manipulation? What are the narrator's motivations? This turn of events makes you want to read the story again for clues and for the truth.

External Links:
"Exiles in a small world" by David Lodge, The Guardian (Saturday May 8, 2004)
A Resolved Discord (Pnin) by Gennady Barabtarlo

Purchase and read books by Vladimir Nabokov:

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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Friday, December 17, 2004

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Marley's Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost. Colour illustration from 'A Christmas Carol in prose. Being a Ghost-story of Christmas', by Charles Dickens, With illustrations by John Leech. Public Domain

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens is a classic Christmas story and a classic ghost story combined. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and is set on Christmas Eve in London, England. Scrooge is a grumpy, old miser who doesn’t like Christmas. His nephew Fred invites him to celebrate Christmas dinner with his family, but Scrooge turns him down. Later, Scrooge refuses to donate to help the poor and shuns a boy singing a Christmas carol. Scrooge doesn’t even want to give his hardworking clerk, Bob Cratchit, the day off for Christmas.

That night, Scrooge receives a visit from the ghost of Jacob Marley, his old business partner who died seven years prior. Marley is doomed to wander the Earth without rest or peace. He has a chain around his waist and must drag along “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” Marley’s ghost warns Scrooge that he has a chance of escaping this same fate and that he will be haunted by three spirits in the coming hours. Marley’s warning comes true, and Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

Although I was well familiar with the overall story of A Christmas Carol, having seen so many versions of it on television, I had never read the book before. I enjoyed the descriptions of the ghosts, especially the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge's fear was so natural as the ghosts forced him to revisit his old memories, to view current happenings, and to see what could happen in the future. I read the story with excitement and apprehension although I already knew the ending, and it was a fun book to read.

In seeing Scrooge’s past along with him, the reader and Scrooge can see the accumulation of choices he made that resulted in his "Bah Humbug!" persona. Dickens crafted Scrooge as a multi-dimensional character. Scrooge’s experiences with the ghosts make him change his ways to be a kinder, better man. The story is such a nice example of the goodness that the spirit (or rather Spirits) of Christmas can inspire.

Purchase and read books by Charles Dickens:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Great Expectations by Charles Dickens David Copperfield by Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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Tuesday, December 7, 2004

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

House Made of Dawn (1968) by N. Scott Momaday tells the story of Abel, a young American Indian. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. The story begins in 1945 when Abel returns home after fighting in World War II. He arrives at a reservation in Walatowa, New Mexico to stay with his grandfather, Francisco.

During his time there, Abel has an affair with a woman named Angela after chopping wood for her. During a ceremony on the feast of Santiago, an albino smears Abel with a rooster’s blood. Later, Abel drinks with the elders, and then he murders the albino. Abel is sent to prison.

Seven years later, Abel is released from prison and put under the watch of the Indian Relocation program in Los Angeles. This section of the story is told from Abel’s point of view. Abel becomes friends with Ben Benally, an American Indian who has adapted to relocation. During his time in Los Angeles, Abel has a romantic relationship with a social worker named Milly. This section ends when Abel is beaten up and left for dead on the beach by unknown attackers.

In the next section, Ben describes Abel’s problems drinking and how he lost his job. This narrative is the easiest part to read. Ben often makes guesses about Abel’s motivations or gives clues that explain Abel’s behaviors. This section of the novel also fills in the gaps in Abel's narrative. Ben and Abel make a pact to meet again on the land and to sing the ceremonial song "House Made of Dawn." After a fight with Ben, Abel leaves. He returns three days later, badly beaten. After a short time, Abel leaves Los Angeles to return to Walatowa where his grandfather is near death. When Francisco dies, Abel prepares his body and runs the "race of the dead."

House Made of Dawn has a complicated, non-linear narrative structure. The present, past, myths, and storytelling blend together in the tale. The story juxtaposes the purity of the land with industrialization, and it contrasts Abel’s silence with the verboseness of white men in Los Angeles. In certain sections, the narrative has a sense of verbal sparseness. Momaday conveys Abel’s profound lack of place in this unique and important story.

Purchase and read books by N. Scott Momaday:

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday The Way to Rainy Mountain

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