Sunday, July 27, 2014

Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison

Title: Travel Light
Author: Naomi Mitchison
Orignal Publication Date: 1952
Publisher: --
Pages: 157
Genre/s: Fantasy, Children's Literature

Travel light my child, as the Wanderer travels light, and his love will be with you."(57)

Travel Light

Travel Light tells the story of Halla, a girl born to a King, who will also take the very same gift that was given, for he casts her out into the wilds before any words could be spoken. She is nursed by bears and raised by dragons. But the time of dragons has come to past and magic is waning, our dear Halla is destined to make a choice. Who will she be? Halla Bearsbairn? Halla Heroesbane? or Halla Godsgift?

But this is not what Travel Light is simply all about.

“Perhaps she did not die,” said Halla, “perhaps her nurse turned into a bear and carried her away into the forest. Perhaps she was brought up by bears and dragons. Perhaps it was better for her in the end than being a king’s child.”

“That was never the story,” said Modolf.

“Forget the story,” said Halla.

And indeed it was never the story, just as Travel Light is not a simple children's book. It is about 'traveling light' in a muddled and muddied world, defining your own destiny and in the process finding yourself.

Indeed the story moves with Halla's narrative. The episodic story moves between and beyond conventions and structures of the literary landscape. It seemingly starts out as a didactic fable with Halla’s bearish infancy. In this episode Mitchison grounded the work to Nordic Mythos with the occasional appearances of Valkyries and passing mentions of other Nordic legends. But this didactic fable violently veers off to a dragonish fire-proof adolescence, and with it, the very nature of the narrative. Aside from an amusing discussion of dragons’ distinctive hoarding nature, Mitchison delves into human nature and philosophy and moves from Scandinavian landscape of Paganism to the heart of Constantinople and of Christianity. It is important to note that the Nordic Mythos facet of the tale is never lost as the Valkyrie seems to keep appearing intermittently. As the tale which did not provide a clear span and flow of time (for it would seem that a hundred, thousand years even, have come to past) comes to a close, Halla is seen as a mythic figure herself and the nature of the narrative ends where it starts, Nordic mythology.

As one can see, so much is in work here. Mitchison talks about human nature, beliefs systems and religion, but never, as I felt, did she shove it up to me. I felt that she kept true to the one thing she wanted to impart, ‘Travel Light’ and do so by being good to all. It has no form and defies the traditional linear progressions but I still enjoyed its exceptional and unprecedented transition from a fable-like story to a socio-political examination of human belief and dynamics, again in a sense, by ‘travelling light’, by simplifying matters and driving at its core.

I highly recommend this book, and do so while weeping that it suffers in relative obscurity considering how good it is. Perhaps because it was publish in the era of Tolkien and Lewis? The shadows they have cast have inadvertently and yet effectively laid down a shroud of obscurity over works like this, which is interesting in light of Mitchison’s relation to Tolkien. She was a dear friend to Tolkien, was among the first to read the unpublished The Lord of the Rings, and when the said book suffered from poor reception compared to the then anticipated sale, Mitchison was asked to do blurbs for its marketing promotions.

Naomi Mitchison

Mitchison must have been an exciting and principled individual too! She traveled the world engaging in social activism mostly fighting for Indigenous Communities, to which end, she was adopted as adviser and mother of the Bakgatla Tribe in Botswana. She died in 1999 at the age of 101, if anything; Mitchison herself indeed, ‘traveled light’.

Travel light!

The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck

Title: The Life of the Bee
Author: Maurice Maeterlinck
Original Publication Date: 1901
Publisher: --
Pages: 176
Genre/s: Non-Fiction

Will we all die if bees disappear?

An infograph on the contribution of Bees*

Thankfully, the scientifically accurate answer is NO.  That no however carries serious implications. Bees pollinate more than a third of human food and produce, which in an extinction scenario necessarily affects food security, that aside from the fact that you will struggle to exist in a world without honey.


The Life of the Bee is an entomological work by Nobel Laureate Maurice Maeterlinck first published in 1901. It has two versions, The Life of the Bee and The Children's Life of the Bee, the chief differences of which certain parts thought to be too violent and 'scandalous' for children were removed from the latter, like the killing of the male bee population.

To say that this is purely an entomological work would be a clear disjunction from its contents, for it is an examination of human relations as much as it is an entomological work on bees. Maeterlinck  systematically inserts his observations of human society and juxtaposes it to that of the bees, an aspect which I found sometimes to be a nuisance. I found myself looking for the next entomological part and moving on and skipping from the philosophizing. Blame it on the bees, they seem to be a lot more interesting.

The book has illustrations like this throughout.

As this was published in 1901, there are some notable gaps in knowledge which seemed interesting for providing snippets of what have been, to this inopportune lack of knowledge Maeterlink writes, "It is sad, but let our reason be content to add, so it must be."(55).

The prose is eloquently constructed, but can be considered an inappropriately overblown writing when used in an entomological work.

Like his words on their sting:

"..there is a sort of dreadful dryness, as though a flame of desert has scorched the wounded limb; and one asks  oneself whether these daughters of the sun may not have distilled a dazzling poison from their father's rays in order to defend the treasure they have gathered during his shining hours."(7)

On the description of the hive:

"And if the outlook at first appear rather gloomy, there still are signs of hope wherever the eye may turn. One might almost fancy oneself in one of the castles they tell of in fairy stories, where there are millions of tiny phials along the walls containing the souls of men about to be born. for here too, are lives that have not yet come to life." (56)

The Hive

Both quotations are also reflective of operative philosophies Maeterlinck has when writing. Again his identity as part of the symbolist movement left its mark, first, when he wrote on the 'spirit of the hive' as an abstract force by which bees are governed on certain aspects like their swarming, and second, when he engaged on his habit of anthropomorphizing elements of nature to social constructs, in this case, his Father Sun.

This is considered a classic piece in bee literature and I did end up learning a lot.
*Courtesy BBC Nature

I have reviewed another work by Maurice Maeterlinck:
The Inner Beauty (4 Stars)

This book forms part of my remarkably extensive reading list on Nobel Prize for Literature Laureates

You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense by Charles Bukowski

Title: You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense
Author: Charles Bukowski
Original Publication Date: September 1, 1986
Publisher: Black Sparrow Press
Pages: 320
Genre/s: Poetry

Charles Bukowski

While the Beat Generation was making its headway in literature with the likes of On the Road and Howl, Bukowski was, in most instances, dead drunk. In the post-World War II lit movement where the Beat Generation found its threshold, Bukowski was in engaged in what was to be a ten-year alcohol induced stupor predicated on his failure to  initially break in the literary world. He actually wrote in a time after the Beat Generation, and this perhaps have brought contentions of whether he is actually a Beatnik himself. If the Beat Generation talks about bohemian hedonism advancing a firm denial of conformity through experimentation with drugs, repudiation of social constructs of gender and sexuality, negation of societal materialism, and most importantly, the depiction of human condition and emotion in its truest and most explicit state, then, this collection pretty much speaks for itself and saying that he really is part of the generation is not an unfounded conclusion.

In this collection, one will see that Bukowski is an honest man, a brutally honest man, whether that honesty is anchored on his drunkenness is something I have yet to read on. The topics are varied, from protitutes, antagonistic views on other writers, drinking, horse racing, hurling invectives, daily life observations, his cats, loneliness, and did I mention drinking?

beasts bounding through time

Van Gogh writing his brother for paints
Hemingway testing his shotgun
Celine going broke as a doctor of medicine
the impossibility of being human
Villon expelled from Paris for being a thief
Faulkner drunk in the gutters of his town
the impossibility of being human
Burroughs killing his wife with a gun
Mailer stabbing his
the impossibility of being human
Maupassant going mad in a rowboat
Dostoevsky lined up against a wall to be shot
Crane off the back of a boat into the propeller
the impossibility
Sylvia with her head in the oven like a baked potato
Harry Crosby leaping into that Black Sun
Lorca murdered in the road by the Spanish troops
the impossibility
Artaud sitting on a madhouse bench
Chatterton drinking rat poison
Shakespeare a plagiarist
Beethoven with a horn stuck into his head against deafness
the impossibility the impossibility
Nietzsche gone totally mad
the impossibility of being human
all too human
this breathing
in and out
out and in
these punks
these cowards
these champions
these mad dogs of glory
moving this little bit of light toward

As the title would suggest, loneliness abound the poems, but underneath it, just beyond the listless landscape that define most of our lives, lives a triumphant man who seem to have come into terms with loneliness itself not by finding meaning in others but by remaining firm and steadfast, unyielding, choosing to live in loneliness itself.

how is your heart?

...what  matters most is
how well you
walk through the

Indeed Bukowski, indeed!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Title: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers
Author:  Tom Rachman
Original Publication Date: 2014
Publisher: Sceptre Books
Pages: 374
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
―Gabriel García Márquez

And indeed life has been this constant making and remaking of who we are, it is, the uncompromising search of meaning and truth. We all go out in the world, frantically searching for something, something we may feel only in vague stirrings, and sometimes, in our definite inevitable folly, something we don't know of. Whether we seek something that exist or something we have subconsciously created out of a desperate need to define ourselves has never been the question, for the search itself has always been the answer, hasn't it? And we never really come out of it do we? Then in some seemingly random manner which has always been forthcoming, we stand in retrospection, an inquisitive outside observer of our very own lives.


[book:The Rise & Fall of Great Powers|19104786] tells us of Tooly Zylberberg’s cathartic odyssey, a journey that spanned decades and crossed continents, a journey that did not only defy time and space, but masterfully that too of the traditional linear narrative form. The story is sequentially divided into three periods – 1988, 1999, and 2011 – corresponding to pivotal moments in Tooly’s life, moments that would define, and haunt her. Hand in hand with Tooly’s sojourns is the milieu of the decade including the technological advancements, political demographics and prevailing family dynamics.

To employ words in this case would, however definitely lead to failure, for the reader must be left to his/her own devices. One must know Tooly in a personal manner and not some insufficient words fraught with verbosity. So go, and read!

“Consistency in character is a form of tragedy.”(330)

Arguably some of the best characters live in this exquisitely written piece. I won’t mind loosing valuable time over a cup of coffee with any of the personas Rachman has brought to life. Their philosophies, their choices from life decisions to their dictions had me enamored. These exceptionally captivating characters left me in a daze, for their story is not of the everyday kind and yet I found myself in a corner sufficiently drunk in empathy. Rachman created universal and unusually personal characters that have necessarily, at the same time, relegated readers as outside observers and yet made them part of the narrative itself, for sublimely, one will come to realize that Tooly’s search is existent in every reader's life.

I enjoyed the candid humor;

“You don’t like sweet-and-sour, do you?”
“No,” he confirmed. “I want food that can make up its mind.”(57)

the crisp philosophically-charged conversations;

“I hate trivial beings.”
“I hate them also. But be careful; it is trivial beings that run the world.”(254)

and most of all, the universal (well it should be) love for books.

“People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past-the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one's intellect, whether the work itself had been loved or despised or had induced a snooze on page forty.”

The prose is unique, lyrical and beautiful and conclusively ties this story in impeccability. The tone is always warm and tender.

Those who find difficulty in novels written in a nontraditional form may easily find this book’s delivery as fragmented and disjointed. My prayers go to you for such stifling preference or inopportune incapacity. The structure itself reflects Tooly’s ordeal, and in many instances, ours. We are battered with inconsistencies and unending questions, white lies and lies that have become truths, truths that have been lost in obscurity. But as Tooly unravels the cryptic nature of her life, we are reminded that people whom we call family are not defined by pieces of paper or definitive blood relations, they are those who stay, long after we have left.

My copy was provided by Random House Publishing via Netgalley.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Title: The Girl with All the Gifts
Author: M.R. Carey (Mike Carey)
Original Publication Date: June 6, 2014
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 460
Genre/s: Science-Fiction, Post-ApocalypseZombies

The Girl with All the Gifts is the book with all the treats.

The Girl with All the Gifts is Pandora's Box

Deciding what to have for supper was a subtle battle of attrition. The fact that Pasta won is a victory I could have lived with. Working within the defined limits of cooking, I prepared everything that was needed, left the Pasta boiling, and waited. Everything was going smoothly, almost asking, begging, that something go wrong, just as it does every time I walk into this alien dimension called kitchen. I should have stuck there, waited for the pasta to be firm, except that I went ahead and read this, and that's when everything started to go pleasantly wrong. The only conscious act I seem to remember aside from reading is flipping through the introduction. Before I knew it, I was 1/3s done, with it, an indefinable black mass. Alas, I have burned the victor beyond recognition, and necessarily induced a palatal fit of sadness. No worries. This is, after all, the book with all the treats, if anything, it will get me through the night. And it did, for if night is defined by nothing else but a natural state of rest during which our eyes are closed and one becomes unconscious, it was then a very foreign concept in that limited instance. I went to bed, but not to sleep. I stirred and turned a page, I changed positions and turned another. And then again, as if sucked by this ineluctable book-induced vacuum where time is but a word and urgency a concept, I turned the final page. I just finished reading The Girl with All the Gifts and it brutally severed me from my reading reverie. It was 4 A.M. I have not prepared my arguments for today's moot court practice which will surely lead to a mediocre if not a laughable performance, I did not slip out of my clothes which left me aching on undesirable regions, my eyes were unsuitably watery, my eyelids were falling as if tied down with concrete barriers, I was so lightheaded as if I myself was walking on air. I did not sleep at all. No worries. After all, I just read The Girl with All the Gifts. And it has made all the difference.

And yes, it's that GOOD.

disclaimer: possible science-fiction bias in play

caveat: proper review forthcoming, perhaps after a good dinner and some sufficient sleep.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Inner Beauty by Maurice Maeterlinck

Title: The Inner Beauty
Author:  Maurice Maeterlinck
Original Publication Date: 1910
Pages: 39
Genre/s: Classics, Philosophy

Nothing in the whole world is so athirst for beauty as the soul, nor is there anything to which beauty clings so readily. (5)

This has been a particularly hard piece to read, and by a necessary consequence, to write a review of. Maurice Maeterlicnk is, before anything else, a Nobel laureate (1911) who earned the coveted award for his plays which form a substantial part of the Symbolism Movement. Adherents believed that absolute truths could only be described indirectly, which necessitates a style of writing punctuated by metaphorical and suggestive prose. This is now our caveat by which we seek to assuage any difficulty in tackling this work.

The work is divided in three parts, Inner Beauty, Invisible Goodness, and Silence. This is a spiritual and ruminative work in all its aspects.

"Beauty is the only language of our soul: none other is known to it."(10)

Beauty is of course acts that we could generally and objectively categorize as good in man. Maeterlinck states that every man, even the unhappiest and the most destitute have at the depths of their being, this beauty that he speaks of. This necessarily lays down the premise that men by nature are good, or, in Maeterlinck's words, are naturally beautiful beings, who need only to acquire the habit of dipping into that nature, into that soul, and the greatest act by which we enliven this beauty is by loving.

Is it not in love that are found the purest elements of beauty that we can offer to the soul?(19)

To him, to love means losing every bit of 'ugliness' in our souls. It is the state by which we come closest to God. But to be good, to be able to love with real ardent affection, we must first go through suffering, a harrowing by which we are molded to become better and end up in tune with our soul, our inner beauty. "Grief is love's first food, and every love that has not been fed on a little pure suffering must die like the babe that one had tried to nourish on the nourishment of a man." (20)

And there would always remain between us truth which had not spoken, which we had not even thought of speaking... and only in silence could we perceive it.

And he counsels the reader to search for this intermittent pockets of silences in life which holds the 'real' secrets and calls them 'secret silences'.

One has to forgive my limited and modest uptake of Maeterlinck's philosophy as contained in this work. Admittedly, this is only one way to look and deconstruct this highly suggestive and metaphorical work. It bears mentioning that nowhere was beauty explicitly defined within the work except from derivable contextual references, and even then it was questionable and equivocal. The work, however clearly references  to spirituality and to God, to a human soul, but not religion. The chapter on Invisible Goodness clearly refers back to the Soul and its nature of goodness and nobility. The silence he refers to is also curious as he does not clarify as to whether he refers to spiritual silences or a physical world of a noiseless condition. Indeed he says that:

There is no silence more docile than the silence of love, and indeed it is the only one that we may claim for ourselves alone. The other great silences, those of death, grief or destiny, do not belong to us. They come towards their own hour, following in the track of events, and those whom they do not meet need not reproach themselves. But we can all go forth and meet the silence of love.

But then again he writes,

If I tell someone that I love him - as I may have told a hundred others - my words will convey nothing to him, but the silence that will ensue will make it clear.

This book forms part of my remarkably extensive reading list on Nobel Prize for Literature Laureates

This review, along with my other reviews, has been cross-posted at imbookedindefinitely

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

Title: South of the Border, West of the Sun
Author: Haruki Murakami
Original Publication Date: 1992
Pages: 190
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism, Contemporary Fiction

In denying a foothold to any portentous propensity of being needlessly repetitive, but more so in the interest of brevity, I opted to start forthcoming reviews, of which there seem to be many as this Murakami fever I have uncannily contracted has sternly refused abatement, with the Murakami Bingo! Murakami may have a definitive 'murakami' style but it still operates within a framework with formulaic themes and recurring plot devices.


So here we go!
Mysterious Woman? Operative truth!
Unexpected Phone Call? Check!
Old Jazz Record? Check!
Urban Ennui? Check!
Running? Check!
Weird Sex? Check!

So the Murakami in [South of the Border, West of the Sun is more of the Murakami of Norwegian Wood than his surrealist magical-realism books like Kafka on the Shore and Dance Dance Dance. It is however the usual Murakami of losing and longing, of searching and failing. This piece puts us in Hajime's shoes from his childhood to his middle years. To put it bluntly, this is a story of mid-life crises and marital infidelities. Murakami has written a real universal character that we occasionally find ourselves communing with in more ways than we personally acknowledge. We all go out in the world, frantically searching for something, something we only feel in vague stirrings, and sometimes, in our definite inevitable folly, something we don't know of. Whether we seek something that exist or something we have subconsciously created out of a desperate need to define ourselves has never been the question, for the search itself has always been the answer, hasn't it? That is why, strangely enough, even though I have yet to attain numerically sound midlife crises, get married and have children, I found myself sympathizing if not empathizing with Hajime.

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” (Ernest Hemingway)

The good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was,  all belonged to me, all became mine. Thank you, Murakami, for yet another wonderful sojourn!

I have reviewed other books by Haruki Murakami
Dance Dance Dance (3 Stars)
Kafka on the Shore (4 Stars)
Norwegian Wood (2 Stars)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle(2 Stars)

This review, along with my other reviews, has been cross-posted at imbookedindefinitely