Book Review: Hell by Henri Barbusse

“I do not recall my own first glance of love, my own first gift of love. Yet it happened. Those divine simplicities are erased from my heart. Good God, then what do I retain that is of value?”

48180Read: 16th October, 2017

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes 40 seconds. Contains 1534 words.

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My Rating: 5 Stars

Description:A young man staying in a Paris boarding house finds a hole in the wall above his bed. Alternately voyeur and seer, he obsessively studies the private moments and secret activities of his neighbors: childbirth, first love, marriage, betrayal, illness and death all present themselves to him through this spy hole. Decades ahead of its time, “Hell” shocked and scandalized the reviewing public when first released in English in 1966. Even so, the New Republic praised “the beauty of the book’s nervous yet fluid rhythms… The book sweeps, away life’s illusions.”

It was a strange little book and it hit me in a good way. Its been a few months now, but I remember how I cherished this book and I would totally love to experience what this character experienced, I’m a sucker for slice of life stories and here in this book there were many. I love watching people, people are fascinating that way. I don’t think I ever get bored while waiting for someone or while standing in the queue or even while traveling, I either read or there are always so many people to watch.

“There is no paradise except that which we create in the great tomb of the churches. There is no hell, no inferno except the frenzy of living.”

Hell, a novel by Henri Barbusse was written in the year of 1908(I’m not sure though, it might be the year of publication), also know as The Inferno, is story of an unnamed narrator who lives in a boarding house and there he finds a hole pierced in the wall which gives him access to look into the adjacent room, and there he gets to see the life of people unfold in front of him without them having any clue. The whole story occupies less than a month of time but makes the narrator, as well as the reader, reflect upon the philosophy of life and most importantly reflect upon their own life. So, this man in this book confronts the realities of life.

“Like everybody else, I am a copy of the truth spelled out in the room, which is, “I am alone and I want what I have not and what I shall never have.” It is by this need that people live, and by this need that people die.”

I’m going to divide this review based on different topics, like love, or rather, lack of it, death and innocence. There are many things in this book that one can talk about; however, I’m going to talk about the ones that moved me and touched me.

I like how James Joyce once wrote that: “For myself, I always write about Dublin because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.”

Similarly, in this book through a small hole on the wall we get to see life, not the grand aspect of it if we consider the whole world, but how it can be contained even in the stories of people we come across in our lives. It is true, in the particular is contained the universal.

In this book, the reader along with the narrator, get to witness, incest, marriage, adultery, birth, lesbianism, lost passion, young love, the first kiss, illness and death and the emotions associated with them.

On Love:

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I feel strange about this, but if I really extract from all that I have read, then I can say that Barbusse played with this theme on very many different levels.

“We deceive ourselves a good deal about love. It is almost never what they say.”

Adultery and lost passion: Here we get to see a husband and wife, and the strangeness that creeps between them.

You think you know a person, you enjoy being with them, and you feel safe in their company and, one day out of nowhere the strangeness creeps in, you look at that familiar face that you loved for months or for years, but somehow now you see a stranger in them and you no more feel safe and somewhere deep down you know that you lost something and that is how it is with everything that transcends time. If I talk about myself then I can say that I hate that strangeness and I find it absurd.

Other person doesn’t have to be your lover, it can be a friend, maybe a best friend, your sibling or even your parents.

“Perhaps she denied herself to him.”

Here we come across lost passion between husband and wife, and their loveless marriage.

“Because he did not know her, because she was different from the one whom he knew. To have what one has not.”

Narrator: “I’m sorry for the men and women who go through life together in the chains of indifference. I am sorry for the poor heart that has what it has for a short a time. I am sorry for the men who have the heart not to love any more.”

The reader also gets to see, the lover of the wife, but even there I don’t find the fulfillment, they might have had a wonderful start, like every other love affair, but like every other love affair, it ends in disappointment.(I may be generalizing a lot here, sorry)

“Do you know what we are?

he murmured. “Everything we say, everything we think, everything we believe, is fictitious. We know nothing. Nothing is sure or solid.”

Old man’s Young Love:

“Everything reminded me of her. I was full of her, and yet she was no more!”

The dying old man talks about the girl he loved when he was young and who he lost to some disease(I forgot which one). I really liked his story, and since I don’t want to spoil it for you, I’ll just say, whatever they both created together had a great value for him because that contained the love they had for each other, only that now when he looks back, he doesn’t feel same about them, those things were no exception, it was only the experience that they both shared with each other that made those things worth it.  Nothing is really exceptional, it is only what you associate it with that makes it exceptional. You have to read the book to see what I’m talking about.

Two young lovers:

In the book, we also come across the innocence of young lovers and their vulnerability to the newness of things and first experiences.

“Once more their lips joined. Their mouths and their eyes were those of Adam and Eve. I recalled the ancestral lesson from which sacred history and human history flow as from a fountain. They wandered in the penetrating light of paradise without knowledge. They were as if they did not exist. When – through triumphant curiosity, though forbidden by God himself – they learned the secret, the sky was darkened. The certainty of a future of sorrow had fallen upon them. Angels pursued them like vultures. They grovelled on the ground from day to day, but they had created love, they had replaced divine riches by the poverty of belonging to each other.”

On Death: I don’t have much to say here, but I can quote all that I liked.

“We do not die. Each human being is alone in the world. It seems absurd, contradictory to say this, yet it is so… All we can say is: I am alone.

And that is why we do not die. Once, bowed in the evening light, the dead man had said, “After my death, life will continue. Every detail in the world will continue to occupy the same place quietly. All the traces of my passing will die little by little, and the void I leave behind will be filled once more.”

        He was mistaken in saying so. He carried all the truth with him. Yet we, saw him die. He was dead for us, but not for himself…

“Every human being is the whole truth.”…. We do not die since we are alone. It is others who die. And this sentence, which comes to my lips tremulously, at once baleful and beaming with light, announces that death is a false god.

         But what of others? Granted that I have the great wisdom to rid myself of the haunting dread of my own death, there remains the death of others and the death of so many feelings and so much sweetness. It is not the conception of truth that will change sorrow. Sorrow, like joy, is absolute.”

And this is how the book ends, “I believe that the only thing which confronts the heart and the reason is the shadow of that which the heart and the reason cry for. I believe that around us there is only one word, the immense word which takes us out of our solitude, NOTHING. I believe that this does not signify our nothingness or our misfortune, but, on the contrary, our realization and our deification, since everything is within us.”

I loved reading this book and I must say this book is so human and one of my favorite books from the year of 2017. To end this, I would just say, “Don’t look around because everything you need is within you.”

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Deep Water

“You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it.” – W.C. Fields

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Indian Ocean, Kanyakumari, 2005

I was a little girl when I traveled to Southern India and that was in the year of 2005, also that was the first time I saw the sea, I was mesmerized by its vastness and stunned by the strange beauty it held, it was strong and wild and at the same time carefree. I was also afraid of it because the place where I was living also suffered from its violent nature in the year of 2004. So, one thing I knew was to stay away from it and enjoy its beauty from a distance. Since then I have learned to follow this rule, “when you see a danger, you stay away.” At least that is what I follow when I see something that can hurt me. But the biggest fear that I have of the sea is that you can never know how far it can come to pull you in.

When I was a kid, I always had this recurring dream, where I’m sitting on a very tall wall which is in the middle of an ocean, I’m afraid of its vastness, afraid of the dark blues of the ocean and the gray sky. There is nowhere to go, and the only thing I could do is jump in it or wait for someone to help me out or maybe find a way to get away from that situation. I always felt very strange about that dream, neither anyone came to my rescue nor did I fall in the ocean and never did I try to get away from it. I still see that dream sometimes but I don’t feel afraid of it anymore I just know how it’s going to end. Now, it’s just a known danger.

I was talking about staying away from the danger but what if you don’t know it’s dangerous. On that very trip, I went to another place near Kanyakumari, a town on Pamban Island called Rameswaram. The sea there was calm and composed and I was very happy that yes I can totally have some fun now. The water was shallow and I could easily stand in it but strangely enough this time the sea engulfed me completely and I must tell you, I don’t even know how to swim, I tried to ask for help but I couldn’t get my hand out of the water and after some time I even stopped trying because I didn’t know how to help myself. However one good thing happened the sea didn’t want me either, it did swallow me but within some time it spat me out.

I think there is no use of fighting the sea, the only thing one can do is follow it and I did just that, I let things happen and after a while I was fine and out of it, safe. I did drink a lot of salt water and I felt nauseated afterward. In the deepness of the sea, when I was drowning, I felt helpless, but since I couldn’t do anything, I resigned. That was the first time I faced death.

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Bay of Bengal, Puri, 2007

I have learned this thing in my life that I can avoid danger when I know it’s dangerous but in other cases I need to test the water and take a plunge and just hope that it will be alright, I can’t avoid everything to keep myself safe, then there is no fun and I will always be afraid of everything. I have been into deep waters but thankfully got out of them at the right time. 

 

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.” – Dave Barry

It’s been years since that incident and I still go to different places just to enjoy the vastness and the beauty of the sea and I respect the water and I know its power and how it can caress your hand when you dip them in it and how in a moment it can pull you in.

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Arabian Sea, Goa, 2014

I always enjoy the night time, sitting at the shore in the silver moonlight, when strong winds are flowing by, water does look monstrous but you get to feel its strength, the sound it makes while hitting the rocks and sound huge waves make when they hit the shore. Good thing is that both bigger waves and smaller waves fade away, some pound and some lap but both of them goes away. Some caress you and some hit you. Some take things with them into the deep water, some toss away things onto the shore. I like how I can drown in the mystery and darkness of the sea at night.

“There are always waves on the water. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, and sometimes they are almost imperceptible. The water’s waves are churned up by the winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up the waves in our minds.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Nothing like when you lie awake at night with open windows, letting the air come in with its salty scent while listening to the sound of wind whispering through the trees. Everything about it is comforting and peaceful at least until you don’t get to face the wrath of the sea. So, much like how life is.

Book Review: Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

“The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void.” 

10571801Read: 11th February 2018

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 35 seconds. Contains 719 words.

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My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Shimamura is tired of the bustling city. He takes the train through the snow to the mountains of the west coast of Japan to meet with a geisha he believes he loves. Beautiful and innocent, Komako is tightly bound by the rules of a rural geisha and lives a life of servitude and seclusion that is alien to Shimamura – their love offers no freedom to either of them.

Snow Country is both delicate and subtle, reflecting in Kawabata’s exact, lyrical writing the unspoken love and the understated passion of the young Japanese couple.

What a day it was to read this book, it started with gray undertone in the sky to a storm accompanied by strong winds and hail. As I’m writing this I can still feel the cold damp air coming in through the window and I wonder what destruction it must have caused to those crop laden fields. Now there is silence all around and I can see only one person walking on the street in the dark of the night and as creepy as it may sound I’m sitting beside the window of my room watching him.

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata is a lyrical prose, and as what I have read in the introduction by Edward G Seidensticker, this book is an attempt to infuse poetic form haiku with a novel.

Kawabata in this book beautiful described the nature and landscape of the Snow Country and I think this is the most descriptive book that I have ever read. The theme of this book and the description of the landscape complements each other very well. As far as the story is concerned I thought it was less of a plot-driven story but the story focused more on expressing human emotions and a slice of life that these characters were leading incorporated with nature, I also believe that setting of Snow Country was an integral part that worked well with the theme of the story and also helped the writer to fuse the poetic form with a novel.

The reason I said that this story focus on “slice of life that these characters were leading” is because we don’t get to know the complete story about these characters, we only get to know a part of their life, the one they are sharing with each other.

To be true when I started reading this book, I was confused, it’s only when the writer started dropping names I figured it out. So, in the beginning, I was confused and a little frustrated but then after a while, things started making sense. So, I guess this book needs patience.

I loved the opening scene, but with time I realized there are so many of them and I just enjoyed it as a whole and I must say that the writer never missed a chance to bring out the beauty of the surrounding.

“In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one on the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted into a sort of symbolic world, not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the centre of the girl’s face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.” 

The book revolves around isolation and loneliness, around decaying love and separation. There were several plot developments throughout the book and so many things were left unanswered. Kawabata didn’t really talk a lot about the background stories of these characters neither do I know what kind of relationship was shared by Yoko, Komako and the music teacher’s son nor do I know anything about Shimamura’s family back in Tokyo and what kind relationship does he have with his wife and children. On one hand, I’m not very clear about Shimamura’s character, I found him cold, unemotional and impotent while, on the other hand, I found the character of Komako very interesting and at times I was worried about her for all the possibilities and impossibilities that lies ahead of her to face.

Even if I let alone the story, this book is still worth reading for all the beauty that is contained in it and the imagery that the writer has created.

Book Review: Demian by Hermann Hesse

“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books; I’m beginning to hear the teachings of my blood pulsing within me.”

16171233Read: 12th October 2017

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes 22 seconds. Contain 875 words.

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My Rating: 5 Stars

Description: Emil Sinclair is a young boy raised in a bourgeois home, amidst what is described as a Scheinwelt, a play on words that means “world of light” as well as “world of illusion”. Emil’s entire existence can be summarized as a struggle between two worlds: the show world of illusion (related to the Hindu concept of maya) and the real world, the world of spiritual truth. In the course of the novel, accompanied and prompted by his mysterious classmate ‘Max Demian’, he detaches from and revolts against the superficial ideals of the world of appearances and eventually awakens into a realization of self.

Back when Demian was first published in 1919 it was written under the pseudonym, Emil Sinclair, who is the narrator of the story.

This book is a coming to age novel, and Hesse in this book talks about the meaning of life and celebrating different parts of life and living life under the opposing forces of godly and devilish elements, their interdependence and the idea that both of these elements are necessary.

The protagonist in this book goes through big transitions, from the world where he is safe and secure, where nothing could go wrong, to the world which is harsh and cruel, where he has to fight and protect himself.

“The things we see,” Pistorius said softly, “are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.”

Emil Sinclair in this book is confused about life and where it is going, he tries to find mentors throughout the book in different people that he meets while growing up. Max Demian, Eva, and Pistorius are some of the people that influence Emil in finding his true self and make him learn to look within to find answers to life questions. These characters help Emil to develop self-realization and make him learn to listen to the deepest desire of his soul and not to what society has to say.

Most importantly this book shows how our identities are shaped by the people we encounter and how some of them help us in spiritual and intellectual growth.

“An enlightened man had but one duty – to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward, no matter where it led.”

In this book, both Demian and Eva can be seen as divine figures. Demian was portrayed as both feminine and masculine figure, he was strong and shows a great care for Emil and ultimately leads Emil to self-realization. I thought of Demian and Eva to be divine because they had all the elements of femininity and masculinity infused together in them, these qualities mark some kind of completion and perfection which I’m not sure how to describe. Both of them are also presented as real characters and sometimes as a figment of Sinclair’s imagination. I really enjoyed the conversations between Demian and Sinclair.

I liked how Abraxas was used as a symbol of both good and evil and to show how good and bad are contained together in this world.

“Our God’s name is Abraxas and he is God and Satan and he contains both the luminous and the dark world.”

Midway through the book Sinclair start seeing himself in Demian and Eva, and we can see that he has attained what he admired in them. And in the end when Demian say that if you call I won’t come, but remember I’m in you. I thought with time he developed something in himself that he was looking up for in Demian and Eva and by the end, their purpose was over and he was left on his own.

It is same in the case of life, people can help you, guide you or show you directions but it’s your final decision that counts and it’s your own intuition that you listen to and need so as to function. Seeking input from others is good but yours is more important because, in the end, you need to make a final decision for yourself.

“Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak… surrender to them. Don’t ask first whether it’s permitted, or would please your teachers or father or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that.” 

The last chapter gave me goosebumps it almost felt apocalyptic and the scene, where the goddess figure engulfed people and stars leaped out of her, was magnificent and epic. I did read about it in the introduction, of that scene having a correspondence with mother Earth giving life and taking the dead back to her womb.

There are so many things in this book that I can talk about but it so vast and contain so many different ideas that I feel overwhelmed to talk about all of them at once.

Demian was recommended to me by one of my Goodreads friends and I loved reading it, the story and it mysticism captivated me until the very end. It was a small book so it didn’t take me long to devour it completely.

 

 

Book Review: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?”

38434Read: 16th June 2017

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 22 seconds. Contains 476 words.

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My Rating: 4 Stars

I can’t understand Bukowski, not even slightly relatable. I find him disgusting and even after that I like reading him, I mean his books. And when I need some push to work my way through then it is his poem that helps me, Roll the dice. “If you are going to try, go all the way.”(I literally have the whole narration saved in my mobile.)

This is Charles Bukowski’s first book, published in 1971. It’s a story of a man named Henry Chinaski “Hank”, Bukowski’s literary alter ego.

To start with, I found this book quite funny, it has funny moments and very crude at times. His writing is not tender and he certainly doesn’t talk much about feelings.

The main character is not very aspirational and keeps losing everything and most of it because of his own faults. He is alcoholic, a womanizer, screw all the time. He is seriously all about booze, women, and sex. I find him dark and depressive though sometimes funny, most of the time disgusting.

I don’t really recommend his books to anyone because what should I even say, Oh! do you want to read a book by someone who speaks dirty, use condescending language to portray female characters, a misogynist, and takes self-deprecation to a new height, or I would say do you want to read a book by someone who’s writing can be ugly, offensive and violent but truthful, who is hostile towards women but that is not it, he is actually hostile toward humankind.

So would you like to read it? It’s good(But if you can’t take offense don’t blame me.)

Now coming to the good part, even though the character is an alcoholic he is not totally doomed, deep down he knows that he can’t just die homeless as an alcoholic, so he does work even though the work sucks, he did survive, poorly but still.

“the first place smelled like work, so I took the second.”

He does love his dog and shows kindness to an alcoholic ex-lover. He is not all bad but he’s not good either, never felt sorry for this guy.

The character hates bureaucracy and he has to deal with it throughout the book while he works at the Post office and he finds it stupid and pointless.

I skipped the part with betting on horses, I can’t read anything related to fishing and betting on horses, I do the same thing with Hemingway, I can’t stand it. They write about it, I don’t read it. I skip it and I just assume that they just talked about betting and then losing and winning money.

I like this book and I gave this 4 stars also because of my personal bias towards this guy. I recommend it because everyone should read some Bukowski in their lifetime. I like his poems and short stories more than his novels, seriously. Poems are really good.

 

Book Review: The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

“We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves.”

18143905Read: 15th June 2017

My Rating: 3 Stars

This book is a collection of short stories and essays and a split between fiction and non-fiction.

I liked some short stories and some essay and I didn’t like most of them.

In general I liked the non-fiction part more than fiction. There were shorts stories that I literally skipped, I couldn’t make myself read them, didn’t hold my interest.

I particularly liked Stability in Motion, where she talked about her grandmother’s car which was passed down to her. That was good to read.

And Against the Grain, where she talked about how her mother was particular about her non-gluten diet, I see all the mother in that one essay, I mean how all the mothers are much the same when it comes to their kids, no I’m not talking about the non-gluten diet thing.

I don’t know what I really feel about this book because I really didn’t find anything special in it. But overall I don’t know what is the point of this book, I am only happy that it was a short book because it would not have kept my interest.

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

“It’s terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, branches into a new world.”

27833670Read: 19th June 2017

Estimate reading time: 2 minutes, 16 seconds. Contains 455 words.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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Synopsis: “Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

The idea of this book was really interesting and the plot was really fast paced, it took me nearly 4.5 hours to finish this book.

I don’t know how to talk about this book without giving spoilers so I’ll leave that part.

I really liked the whole equilibrium of the book when it started and so did I like the evolution of the story, I mean the rising action. The author threw me in a different world that I had no idea about and he did create suspense and I had no idea what was going on. The series of events that were happening during this stage of the story gave me chills and it was exciting until it all came crashing down.

For me the story was a tad bit predictable and the first time when he talked about parallel world, I think at that point, he gave away a little too much because I could see where the story was going and when he did disclose it in the latter part of the story it was not surprising and that was a bummer.

The romantic bits were extremely cheesy at times. I felt that the later part of the book was quite a mess and he dragged it a little bit.

There were some deep and bigger ideas in this book(though we might have just read about most of them) and I think the author could have used them more wisely in character evolution, he did put them out there and only used some of them for evolving the story. So even though I can say that the story was moving and evolving with the turn of every page, the characters not so much.

“Life doesn’t work that way. You live with your choices and learn. You don’t cheat the system.”

Though I still think that it was an exciting thriller and I don’t regret reading it. So the conclusion, I loved the first half of the book very much and second half not so much, but it was interesting and kept all my attention.

“Until everything topples, we have no idea what we actually have, how precariously and perfectly it all hangs together.”