Welcome Back: My return, The Iliad, French Novels, and more!

19 March 2016

Hello everyone!

Welcome Back to Pages!

It's been almost a year since I last wrote a post and it's kind of shocking. I didn't notice how much time has passed since then and it's kind of tragic for a book-lover like myself to have not read for so long. Thank you all for not unfollowing me (I still have over 500 readers!) I hope I don't disappoint this time around!

As it's only fair, I'll attempt to explain my absence. As a Chemistry major taking a full load of science classes, along with advanced mathematics and other courses, it's been difficult to make time to read. Because of my mild depression, that sometimes swings into full blow like now, I found it easier to just watch films or movies instead of applying myself to read. It's true that when one is depressed, she finds it hard to enjoy the things she once loved. I was never much of a film buff growing up, it was always about the books. Yet somehow, I've turned a full 180 and I've realised it's time to go back to my roots. That's not to say I can't watch films, but when I open up Netflix, I'll think twice about clicking on a film instead of turning to the bookcase behind me. I spent last summer taking Ethics and Calculus and along with family obligations, it all became a bit tedious.
 Part of the reason I haven't been reading as deeply is because I'm finding it hard to find good books. Or at least, books I want to read. This past year, I've felt as if I've read every good book there is and there just aren't any available to me to enjoy. Of course, this is an utterly wrong claim and to ease me back from my hopelessness, I've turned to a text I definitely will enjoy: The Iliad.

The Iliad Quest

 Among the books I plan on reading, I'll be on an ongoing quest to find the perfect translation of the Iliad. I've always been deeply fascinated by ancient Greek literature, art, philosophy, and politics. I grew up on picture books detailing Greek myths and, in a long process, fell in love with The Iliad. I'm not so much a fan of the Odyssey because it lacks the "big picture" context of the Trojan War and focuses on an egotistical King who stupidly sacrifices his entire crew for no good reason. I digress.

Now, what do I mean by "perfect translation"? I mean what I perceive to be perfection. Every translation offers something different, whether one is searching for a text that's true to the original Greek test or that's easy to read. Perhaps even a text that combines the lyrical quality of the original Greek with a more modern narrative. I've gotten mixed advice everywhere I search so I plan on reading as many versions of the Iliad as I can and hopefully journalling key differences, favourite quotes, and, obviously, reviews! My first review will be over a very new translation by Caroline Alexander.
 I understand that I'd get too overwhelmed reading so much of the same story so I don't plan on rushing this quest of mine. I'll read and review several more books in between. Which brings me towards French novels!

French Novels

Those of you who have followed for a while will remember when I love the French existential writers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Yet the whole of French literature is hardly encompassed in these works. So I've decided to at least attempt to read some classic French literature as well as some more of the "intellectual" literature that I so often hear French characters talking about in films (For example, "Adolphe"by Benjamin Constant, mentioned in the film "What's in a Name?"). Or I'll just read a book that interests me. Here are a few on my list:

  • Blindness by Jose
  • The Character of Rain by Amelie Nothomb 
  • Bel Ami by  Guy de Maupassant
  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I'll continue to add to the list. They'll be under my "To Be Read" page.
I'd like to admire the humble printing of French novels, even to this day amongst the pieces of art displayed on English/English translated covers. They consist of a beige or white background, the title and author of the book in a simple font, and maybe a garnish of an outline. Take a look of this book that I want to read but, unfortunately, I can't because it hasn't been translated yet. It's such a shame how much we're missing out on in the literary world because of great books that go by untranslated. In an Anglophilic, or at the very least, Anglocentric, world that we live in, we often ignore the rest of what the world writes. It's a stereotype Europeans have of Americans that hold an ounce of truth: Americans don't really care for the rest of the world. Naturally, I'm not like that and I know many of you are not, but this lack of enthusiasm for foreign literature reveals much.

Anyway. Take a look at this covers:
It's a bit bold going for that thick red, compared to other covers. I think, if I ever get published, I'd want my book to look like this. Covers force a view of the text that is entirely based on the artist's perspectives, or at least that of the publisher. Plain covers give nothing away--the only information you can gain for what's inside is the title. This is how it should be because I judge books by their covers. It's a bad habit but it's hard to stop! If every book had these covers, readers could fairly read and judge a book by the written word.

That's my little spiel. I hope you all have been doing well! Leave comments, I'd love to get back in touch. 


review: rebel queen

17 April 2015

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: publisher/MichelleMoran
review written: 4.4.15
originally published: March 3 2015
edition read: Touchstone (Simon and Schuster)

title: Rebel Queen
author: Michelle Moran

Rebel Queen opens up with an eighty-five year old woman being pressured by a young English journalist to recount the story of her past, and that of Queen Lakshmi of Jhansi, or the Rani of Jhansi. With scepticism, the woman begins her story, which starts with her as a young girl, Sita Bhosale of the village of Barwa Sagar. Confined in purdah, a practice in which a girl is not allowed to leave her house until she is married, Sita is educated by her father, a former soldier that once fought with the British (The East India Company) against Burma. Her unusual education, which includes Shakespeare and archery, allows her to save her family from poverty when she enlists to join the Rani of Jhansi's all-female personal guard, where she would be taken care of while earning a salary. However, when the British decide to take India, Queen Lakshmi refuses to back down without a fight. The fate of Sita, her family, and the Queen all rests with the politics of Jhansi and the ambitions of the British.

The release of Rebel Queen caught me by surprise. I'd not been keeping up with the book world with recent publications or upcoming releases. So when I was offered a copy to review, I almost cried. Not many historical fiction writers dare to touch India, and I can understand why. European history and Western culture are closely linked. Writing about the French Revolution or the American Civil War isn't that hard--but writing about a small region of the diverse and complex landscape of historical India is. Michelle Moran is fearless in her conquest of regions across the world--her books on Ancient Egypt were luxurious and Cleopatra's Daughter set in Rome and Egypt was deeply fascinating. If anyone could do it, it would be Michelle Moran. I love how Moran writes about famous historical figures from the viewpoint of a close friend or relative and not from the historical figure. It allows the freedom to explore a new character, while also tying closely to a famous person and the historical backdrop.

The novel takes place in a region of India called Jhansi. As I mentioned earlier, India is incredibly diverse and complex. Each individual state of India has its own language, customs, and way of life. When I heard about the book, I thought "Well, I'm Indian, so I'm going to have a lot of background info going in." I was wrong. While certain aspects were already known to me, like dresses and objects, and the italicised words indicated the phonetic pronunciation of a word from another language, everything else was new to me. My half-familiarity with some of the content made me laugh a bit. For instance, the description of churidars. I call it "kurta" or "salwar kameez" and occasionally "churidar." My parents use it all interchangeably. Here it is from page 43:

""Yes. And these churidars," he said, holding up a pair of green pants. I had never worn pants before. They were tight at the ankles and waist, but loose and airy in the legs for quick movement"
 The paint are typically called "pyjamas" which I know may sound weird, but it was weird for me to read "pants" It's clear to me that Moran did her research well! I couldn't find many cultural inaccuracies, if any at all, which is absolutely wonderful for readers who may not know much about India.

I enjoyed the first half of the book, which explored Sita's early childhood and her welcoming into the Royal Palace. Each character was introduced deliberately, and I could almost visualise the story unfolding before my eyes. Sita's character was refreshing: honest, strong, caring, and intelligent, she represents an ideal and a role-model for many young readers. If Rebel Queen is lacking in anything, it's certainly not great characters. However, I feel as if towards the end, the story rushed and got lost amidst historical events and a rapid change in way of life. Whereas earlier in the book where the story jumps over weeks or months did not seem to affect the pace of the story, it affected the second half of the story. This could just be because things changed very quickly in the historical scheme, but for the most part, it's a well-paced story.

Painstaking attention to detail with ekphrasis describing the exact outfit a character wears for long paragraphs can get boring for any reader. However, Moran's restraint in detailing architecture or market scenes makes for just the right amount of description for the reader to picture a scene without the dreadfully long paragraphs. The writing was easy to read, with the right combination of dialogue scene-setting, and transition.

I feel that something was missing from the book. I finished it, with this slew of analytical compliments as I detailed above, but something wasn't quite right. I didn't get emotionally involved into the story, or many of the characters. If something bad happened to one of them, I wouldn't feel a sense of loss, rather a "oh well" If anything could be changed, it would be better characterization. 

Overall, I think Rebel Queen is a fresh historical-fiction read that anyone would enjoy reading!

review: the song of achilles

25 February 2015

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: independent bookseller
pages: 378
review written: 25.2.2015
originally published: September 2011
edition read: Ecco

title: The Song of Achilles
author: Madeline Miller

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. (summary and image from goodreads)
Note: I'll try to give away as little as possible, but remember that this story is ancient so I'm not as careful about spoilers :)

It's been years since I've sat down in one sitting and finished an entire book. I've read The Aeneid and the Iliad and the Odyssey, but one story always fascinated me more than the others: Achilles and Patroclus. I've just finished this book, two minutes ago, and I am so filled with love for the story Ms Miller has written. Whereas The Iliad by Homer detailed the events and the names, Miller gives the story of war a more human taste.
She makes the wise decision of choosing to tell the story through Patroclus, a mortal, rather than through Achilles the demigod. I found Patroclus' narrative fresh and true to Homer's narrative of The Iliad. The writing is descriptive when it needs to be, but simple everywhere else. Simple in the best meaning of that word. The book is not laden with heavy words, rather with precise and sharp ones. Writing is best when one uses few words to achieve the best meaning as opposed to using lavish ones to reach that same meaning. Each word was chosen skilfully. This style made it easy for me to continue reading, and to keep a reader interested is a talent I admire as a reader myself. I've been in a terrible reading slump, but this book has revived me. With heavier literature, I'll pause to soak in the words, leave the book alone for a few days, and go back to it in the same routine. The amazing quality of this work allowed me to read it all in one go.
What I loved most was the romance between Achilles and Patroclus. When I read The Epic of Gilgamesh, I noted the homoerotic sub-context between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, while my teacher insisted it was just comradery. This denial of the possibility of homosexuality in ancient times in the literature world is only a little surprising. When the Western World rediscovered Ancient Greece and Rome, with excavataions and translated texts, they ignored and even tried to hide the evident suggestions of homosexuality in literature. However, the original words of Homer suggested such a relationship and the question will remain whether Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. In The Song of Achilles, the romance was not like any other I've ever read. Their relationship is strong, so much so that spoken words were not as needed as they are today. I remembered watching Troy, starring Brad Pitt. The relationship was between two cousins, close friends and nothing more. I remembered watching Alexander, where the relationship between Alexander and Hephastion was a lovers one. They both grieved the loss of their partner: Achilles to Patroclus, and Alexander to Hephastion. Both grieved in incredibly similar ways. In The Iliad, Achilles laments Patroclus' death like Andromache grieves for Hector. I strongly believe that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. Therefore, I was incredibly thrilled to see it written out in The Song of Achilles. I'm absolutely in love with this very real and honest relationship that Miller has created. If you're a sucker for love stories, this is one to go with. A friend of mine, who's a homosexual, commented on the lack of LGBT representation in literature where the characters are NOT their sexuality. For instance, the "gay best friend" character, or the main character who's story is all about "coming out". I thought back to The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, A Separate Peace (by John Knowles) as the only examples I could think in which sexuality was not the central idea. I'm happy to add The Song of Achilles to that list. Gay people are not their sexuality, although by me labelling them as "gay" it seems like I'm ironically disproving my point. I digress.
I'm incredibly happy to have purchased this book so that I can keep it on my shelf along with my favourites. I'd recommend it to anyone! I can't find my image file for 6 umbrellas, so I'll stick these five umbrellas to attest to my love of this book.

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