Book Review: The Sorrow of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness and misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.” 

16640Read: 26th, February, 2018

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 5 seconds. Contains 819 words.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

DescriptionThis is Goethe’s first novel, published in 1774. Written in diary form, it tells the tale of an unhappy, passionate young man hopelessly in love with Charlotte, the wife of a friend – a man who he alternately admires and detests. Goethe upset the conventional literature of his day by having his hero propose suicide as a method by which anyone might end an intolerable misery. ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ became an important part of the ‘Sturm und Drang movement, and greatly influenced later ‘Romanticism’. The work is semi-autobiographical – in 1772, two years before the novel was published, Goethe had passed through a similar tempestuous period, when he lost his heart to Charlotte Buff, who was at that time engaged to his friend Johann Christian Kestner.

Goethe’s epistolary novel which was published in 1774, The Sorrow of Young Werther, is his critique of Romanticism. It is a semi-autobiographical work, which was written by Goethe at the age of 24. In 1772, Goethe went through somewhat similar experience as that of Werther, and once he got hold of himself, he wrote this book as a study, Kind of, to his criticism on Romanticism. Strictly speaking, Goethe was a Pre-Romantic but he seems to be influenced by romantic outlook, but it is also true that he talks beyond the confinement of Romanticism.

After experiencing the pain of not being able to be with the woman he loved and realizing that he can never have her, Goethe actually stopped being a romantic, he realized that romantic love is attractive but it creates sever problems too and it leads to terrible disappointments in life. In this book, he brings out the downfall of being a romantic, the dark side of Romanticism and what romantic love can do to a person, and he shows this with continuous degradation of Werther and his ultimate suicide.

“I am amazed to see how deliberately I have entangled myself step by step. To have seen my position so clearly, and yet to have acted so like a child!” 

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogBefore we dive into knowing our Romantic hero, let’s first talk about Romanticism. I’m actually very fascinated by Romantic Era not because I’m a romantic but because this movement had a certain charm, I haven’t read many works from that era, but the music and the beauty it captures is mesmerizing. The set of ideas romantics believed in, their emphasis on emotions and individualism still exist in today’s world, we are all more or less romantics. Glorification of nature in resistance to modernization and bringing art to all the people not just aristocrats was a really good movement. After reading a little about Romanticism and Industrial revolution, I found that Industrialization and mechanization were both in favor for romantics and against their ideas. Against because of the exploitation of nature and a mechanical life but in favor because it also helped these artists in experimenting with their art. You may ask how so? If we talk about music for an example, during this time musicians could actually experiment more with their music, improvisation was done on musical instruments to bring out more sounds and all this was possible and easily done because of the technology and machinery available in the industries, which made it easier to make these instruments and make them for a large number of people in less time. Also with industrialization and increase in jobs, common people now could afford to enjoy art which was mostly dominated and enjoyed by aristocrats. How cool is that now? Very. Why did I talk about the music of all things? I believe that music was the most defining aspect of this movement. So, I like the nature aspect of it, I like the music.

Now coming to what I don’t like about Romanticism, Romantic hero, not my favorite type of character and the irrationality.

Traits of a Romantic hero:

  • Rejects established norms and conventions.
  • Rejected by Society.
  • Has himself as the center of his own existence.
  • Feels empty.
  • Talks about himself.
  • Feels lonely in crowded places.
  • And is incapable of understanding where he belongs.
  • For him, the purpose of life is romantic love.

This book does a wonderful job in capturing the beauty of nature, to show it as a pure and spiritual source of renewal, I also came to know that nature and traveling are actually most important motifs of German Romanticism. Goethe bring forward the sorrowfulness and the misery romantic love can bring in someone’s life, I’m not sure if he also trying to gain some kind of sympathy for the character here, if yes, then I’m not giving any.

I said I don’t like Romantic heroes because I can’t bring myself around the idea that there is no purpose in life without romantic love, that life is sorrowful and that life is absolutely miserable without it. I read and I watch about these characters walking around the city exploring its beauty, living their life with full madness and complete irrationality, I read about this character wandering in the city with no particular job to go to, strolling around listening to people and observing streets. I can digest something like that for 20 minutes or 4 hours while watching a short movie or reading a book, but living life like that, oh dear lord. I personally find all this very dangerous and killing yourself for passion is something I wouldn’t like to celebrate or idealize, but certainly, romantic heroes do or at least this one does. There is some kind of immaturity around this way of living.

I think what we need is a balance in life between the irrationality of Romanticism and coldness of Modernity. Enjoy the nature, celebrate your individualism and also consider the pragmatic way of life.


Book Review: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

“Stop it before it grows! Look out, for Freedom of the Press is the core of everything: well-being, social progress, democracy, pluralism, diversity of opinions. And whoever attacks The Paper attacks us all.”

69880Read: 8th March 2018

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes 27 Seconds. Contains 1890 words.

My Rating: 4 Stars

DescriptionIn an era in which journalists will stop at nothing to break a story, Henrich Böll’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum has taken on heightened relevance.

A young woman’s association with a hunted man makes her the target of a journalist determined to grab headlines by portraying her as an evil woman. As the attacks on her escalate and she becomes the victim of anonymous threats, Katharina sees only one way out of her nightmare.

Turning the mystery genre on its head, the novel begins with the confession of a crime, drawing the reader into a web of sensationalism, character assassination, and the unavoidable eruption of violence.

Note: I don’t know much about East Germany and West Germany, though in the past few days after reading and watching few fictional works, I did research few things and I have marked few things that I would read in the future about totalitarian society and cold war(I’m sure, I have studied about it in history class in 9th standard, yes I’m very sure), and all that goes along with these topics. But that will take some time. So, whatever I say here is what I learned by reading the articles available on the internet and watching movies. So, if I’m wrong somewhere in saying something then please consider it as a very innocent mistake on my part, though I don’t think there would be anything of that sort.

To begin with, I would say, I really didn’t enjoy the writing, for me, it was dry or at least something was odd about it or maybe it was just new for me. I never read anything written in this format, so quite possibly that is the reason. But that doesn’t mean, I didn’t enjoy the story, I really did.

Recently I watched a German movie called, The Lives of Others, it is based in 1984 East Germany, which was ruled by GDR(German Democratic Republic). I must say, it was a really interesting movie and I loved watching it, consider it one of my favorites. But let me tell you why I’m talking about it. In East Germany ruled by GDR, things were quite tight, there were no elections(or at least of no use) and no free speech. Artists worked and executed projects and lived in their own space and underground locations. And the ones who went against them were not treated really well. GDR applied wide censorship during their existence from 1949 to 1990. All the publications were governmentally controlled and potential publications would have to pass through multiple stages of censorship. Artists lost their inspiration because they were controlled, those who were thought to be going against the government were watched. Privacy of the citizens was exploited. Government surveillance affected people’s jobs, personal freedom, and basic aspects of their lives. The East German secret police had a file on almost everyone and it was said that a large portion of the population was an informant at one time or another. East Germans lived in fear under Stasi surveillance, it was the most hated and feared institution under East German Communist Government. There actually was a terribly claustrophobic atmosphere behind that wall, things were repressive and quite boring, only one thing, the life of the people was secured. This movie showed how important love, life, and freedom are. Though all of these basic aspects were controlled during that time. Now you must be thinking why I’m talking about all this anyway.

Well, during that time things were different on the other side of the wall and that was West Germany ruled by Federal Republic of Germany(FRG). Well, unlike East Germany, West Germany was really westernized and in many ways similar to the USA. And life was not as tough as it was in East Germany. Things were colorful on the side of West while grey on the side of East.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, is based in 1974 West Germany(now you see where I’m going? no?…okay read on). I discussed that movie because that movie and this book are based on two contrasting situations, while both of them really deals with same problems. That is why I read this book, because it intrigued me, already the idea of life in East Germany was fermenting at the back of my mind and then I came across this book and I read about it and instantly I wanted to read it.

Now you may wonder why I only talked about, freedom of speech and nothing else. Well, I don’t know anything else, this is something I came across and I read it and I viewed it. So, it is only acceptable for me to talk about things I know. I’m not saying anything against East Germany, I literally typed, good things about East Germany and this popped up 8 Things that were better in East Germany. Neither did I live there nor was I born.

But you should also notice that freedom of speech is not the only thing I talked about, I also talked about life, love, and freedom. Only that one side of the wall was much stricter and the other more liberal. However; we can’t say it turned out any better(hold your horses, I understand it was better) at least in the case of Katharina Blum. However; things weren’t really as golden as they may seem and they are still not and it can be said for most of the parts of the world. The problems are not intricate to one country or one place but they prevail nearly everywhere.

Now, let me talk about the book.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is not only a powerful story but also shows how people with power can really disturb and abuse a person.

The other question it raises is on freedom of the press and when this freedom can be too much. The book deals with political and social paradoxes that affects a person on a very personal level, by abusing them emotionally and depriving them of human dignity.

The writer also talks about how at that time journalists and police, had a lot of power in their hands, police was not afraid to turn violent and journalists were ruthless when it came to digging up information on someone and to come up with stories. And this was very well portrayed in the book.

Katherina is shown as a woman of strong convictions who really values her rights and makes her own decision for her life and also her sexuality. However; we can also see that men don’t really like her convictions and threaten her on every chance they get, there were few instances where they tried to dehumanize her or hurt her with the use of language and twisted words, whether on paper or in person.

When Katherina was questioned by Beizmenne for the first time, where he wanted to find out her relationship with the criminal, he started with asking her a controversial question.

Beizmenne allegedly asked the maddeningly composed Katharina as she leaned against her counter: “Well, did he fuck you?”

And only afterward he looked around for pieces of evidence that would give away some clues.

Similarly, when Tötges(the journalist who ruined her life with his irresponsible journalism) came to meet her near the end of the book, he entered her house and said:

‘Why do you look at me like that, Blumikins, as if you’re scared out of your wits? How about us having a bang for a start?’

Oh, he did get a bang, just not the one he wanted.

This story also plays out how violence develops and to what extent it can lead and how it can ruin the life of the person and people who are associated with that person. The story had this atmosphere of persistent underlying anxiety and the writer created that very well, or at least I felt anxious while reading it.

One thing that was very apparent in the story is that the media really didn’t care if she was innocent or not but only that she was now a story for them. How many times we come across stories that were really developed to destroy a person, for some people it’s business, it brings in more views. They use their rights to exploit the image of a person, they twist the language and sensationalize the whole thing. It happens even today, and what is more disappointing is people like that kind of news, humans are miserable creatures that way, we tend to find some kind of pleasure when we see the downfall of others and society never cease a chance to destroy a person.

“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When the man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute.” — Joseph Campbell

In the story, we see how people who preached about sociopolitical ethics and values started going after Katharina and also after people who were associated with her. I think the above quote really helps in understanding a very intricate point about individuals and society. I think society can make or break a man, but what I find funny is how when a child is born, he is conditioned with how things really work in the society and he is taught about right and wrong and what does it mean to be human. After spending so much time in the society one can at least expect people’s faith in them, and there is no question in saying that faith has the power to heal a person when he is broken, but during this time when the person needs that society to be on his/her side, society turns its back.

In our world, we have forgotten the true meaning of faith in it’s most fundamental form. We put our faith on institutions, rules, and ethics(which to be true have been made many times and destroyed many times) instead of ourselves. Now consider everyone in the society doing the same thing. We let the world dictate us(each one of us in some way or the other) of what is wrong and right without giving a thought about the agendas behind the organization or groups or individual who is informing us. People in masses turn against each other, in worst case turn against an individual, and together they label, judge and discriminate.

In the case of Katherina Blum, media made the false accusations against her, and they led people into believing that she was a communist, and twisted the comments made by her friends and family in a way that everything sounded against her. They provoked the society in a way that everyone turned against her, they acted irrationally, called her names, and made indecent remarks on her. She received threat letters and anonymous call, some for sex and others for threatening her. Everyone tried to tarnish her dignity and honor.

Freedom of Speech and Press is really important and I’m glad we have it, but freedom comes with a responsibility which I think everyone should take, and when an organization or a group has a social standing where they have a great impact on people, or have the power to influence people, then I think it’s really important that they take responsibility of everything they are letting out is true and not just some made up story and that they should not abuse the power they have by making intrusion into human privacy and by abusing an individual emotionally.

“Because we are human, in everything we do we have a choice. And that choice is to reduce ourselves to an animal in the jungle, or to elevate ourselves to the Creator that gave us life.” (I read it somewhere, I don’t know where.)

As for the book, in the end they did bring out the beast in her and there we witness the unavoidable eruption of violence. And that is one way we turn innocents into criminals, turn against them, destroy them and bring out the beast in them.

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.