I have a soft spot for flea markets because everyone loves a good bargain and browsing through crummy and musty pre-loved items for a precious find is always such a thrill.
The most recent item I thrifted is a book titled “The Mandarins” by French author Simone de Beauvoir which turned out to a pleasant surprise because firstly, I have never read anything nor heard of the author and secondly, I had no clue whatsoever about the book. All I wanted to was to read something that is out my comfort zone and this was it.
Set during post-World War Two, this book focused on the French leftist intellectuals attempting to negotiate their political roles as their country struggled to recover in a world dominated by Soviet and U.S. powers looming in the background. These uncertainties also bleed into the personal lives of the intellectuals, many of whom were members of the French Resistance that fought against the Nazi Germany. Continue reading →
When I finally completed Salman Rushdie’s bestselling novel “Midnight’s Children,” I was truly, truly relieved that I persevered till the very last page for it truly is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that left me marveled and humbled by his ability to blur the lines between magic and history.
Set in the postcolonial era, this novel is as much the autobiography of protagonist Saleem Sinai as well as the story of India. Saleem, who was born at the stroke of midnight on India’s independence, inexplicably shared his life’s triumphs and disasters with the fate of his nation. This coincidence also endowed him magical powers in his large cucumber nose to sniff out danger when others were unable to and telepathic powers to connect with other children like him who were born in the early hours of independence, a group which he called “midnight’s children.’
“It is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.”
Moving away from lavish parties, exuberant lifestyles and Wall Street, “Farewell to Arms” is an anti-war book published in 1929 by World War One veteran Ernest Hemingway.
Set in Italy during the war, the book details the military experiences of Frederic Henry, an American who volunteered with the Italian ambulance services, and his romantic relationship with nurse Catherine Barkley. Wartime love stories have time and time again tugged at the heartstrings of readers, particularly at moments of separation when Henry was forced to leave for the war front leaving Catherine behind.
Yet “Farewell to Arms” elevates this love story to the next level by drawing upon Hemmingway’s personal experiences to express the brutality of war in a subtle but brilliant manner. As the Italian army retreated in disarray, the actual frenzy could be seen through the demoralization of the solders’ spirits, inside their crumbling minds, emotions and lives.
“I had hoped for something.” “Defeat?” “No. Something more.” “There isn’t anything more. Except victory. It may be worse.” “I hoped for a long time for victory.” “Me too.” “Now I don’t know.” “It has to be one or the other.” “I don’t believe in victory any more.” “I don’t. But I don’t believe in defeat. Though it may be better.” “What do you believe in?” “In sleep,” I said.”
“Slaughterhouse-five” is another great American classic ticked off my list *dance in jubilation* and an absolute stunner centered around the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, Germany. As an anti-war novel, the biggest surprise I had was that the story is incredibly subtle when it comes to expressing the horrors of the destruction, opting for absurdism and black humor to drive across its message. This reminds me of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” where a man was transformed into a cockroach-like monstrous insect, for both books similarly have these insane and unbelievable story plots.
In Slaughterhouse-five, Kurt Vonnegut wonderfully ditched conventional chronological narration to manipulate time through slicing the life events of the main character Billy Pilgrim into pieces, shuffling them around and showcasing the final pieces as a brand new cubist painting. One of the wacky story lines, which no doubt is my favorite part from the book, was when Pilgrim met an alien race called Tralfamadorians who abducted him and whisked him off to their planet:
“Welcome abroad, Mr. Pilgrim,” said the loudspeaker. “Any questions?”
Billy licked his lips, though for a while, inquired at last: “Why me?”
“That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen some bugs trapped in amber?”
“Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
“Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”