Review of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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A pawnbroker of bad temper, who disregards the poor and the lower class possesses a great sum of money, most of which she doesn’t need, yet the sum would be of extreme help to a greater mass of people, perhaps able to save up to one hundred lives in poverty. The pawnbroker is a woman who doesn’t really have a family to mourn for her. Would it be ethical to kill her to beget prosperity and living for a greater number? Questions Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. Few dozens of pages in we find out that indeed, he chose to do it, and the rest of the novel is devoted to the psychological and the ethical consequences to his actions. He questions whether rational arguments are enough to exhume the nature of moral values. Could relativism, or utilitarianism for that matter, account for all of our moral actions? What are going to be the controversial results of that? 

With the questions above, Dostoyevsky is demonstrating how frequently man uses reason to justify evil (because what is of greater good than a well-formulated argument?) and that logical thinking might not always be of use when we consider ethical dilemmas. He intertwines this with a precise psychological depiction of Raskolnikov, and as many claim, a transformation of mentality and attitude to life that is evident through every part of the book (not a major spoiler). Also, the critique of social utopianism is present too, and it doesn’t differ much from the critique presented in Notes from the Underground, which isn’t surprising considering the two-year gap between those two works. Some prophetic significance is also applied to the nature of dreams, but there are ranging interpretations about their part in this novel. 

For readers searching for a readable book with an interesting story, Crime and Punishment might be the best choice, if also the reader is starting Dostoyevsky; the suspense is there in many cases and the twists do not appear randomly at the end of the story, rather we are gifted with surprises throughout it. But, having read The Brothers Karamazov prior to this, I ought to admit that the more mature and considerate ‘version’ of the author is present with his Karamazov Brothers. A couple of the scenes in this book, which are almost major, do not have that stamp of realism on them which I initially expected and, rarely, it feels as if the novel was written in response to Raskolnikov’s behaviour – did Dostoyevsky lose control over his character? One stylistic inclination of his that I like is the fastidious emphasis on the faces of each of the characters, it gives them a status of existing agents.

Review of The Book of Books by Melvyn Bragg

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The Book of Books, even though being a presentation of the ‘radical’ impact of the King James Bible on literature, society, political views and more, is a tale in itself, developing on the tremendous risks taken by individuals whose inspiration for these moral ventures has been grounded in this extraordinary book: The King James Bible. 

Before reading this, it is worth to point out that the book isn’t focusing on the contents of the Bible, but they do play a major part, and it is with different persons that it decides to hold its focus on, for example, William Wilberforce or John Milton. We are shown the greatness behind their actions that wouldn’t probably have been done, if not for the moral teachings of the Bible. Of course, the author balances the argument, for he isn’t keen to negate the almost duplicitous nature of interpretation that has both established the Bible as the greatest place for moral guidance, while also one of the worst. Fans of history will definitely appreciate Bragg’s inspection of many individuals (of whom you probably haven’t heard of, despite the monumental layers of beneficiary work they bequeathed to us) who influenced the making of the English version of the Bible. 

Mild criticism can be directed at the occasional repetition of facts that occurs throughout the book, breaking the connection between the chapters, as (rarely) I felt that they could as well be read individually, without the chronological order. The inclusion of criticism of Richard Dawkins appeared to be haggling the order of chapters, as the prior chapter was about the Enlightenment. I think that it should’ve been the last chapter. Also, I think that there should’ve been a chapter on the influence of the King James Bible so far in the 21st century. 

If you are searching for a readable historical book, and are interested in the Bible, then the Book of Books is a suitable place to start. 

A Confession and Other Religious Writings by Leo Tolstoy

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Each part of this review is going to deal with the separate essays contained in this collection. 

Tolstoy’s Confession is a brief, rather laconic in biographical matters, summary of his spiritual development; from carouse and debauchery to the attempts of understanding the relationship between man and the infinite (God). We are presented with an illness that perhaps many contemporaries could relate to: the apparent truth that life is meaningless. Through the essay, we are presented with the reasons why rationality isn’t able to solve this atavistic existential dread, because of the intimate connection the desire for meaning has with our emotion and overall thinking. 

The two proceeding essays can be summarised in a single paragraph, for both What is Religion and of what does its essence consist? and Religion and Morality deal with a central issue of modern age Christianity that has been manifesting itself globally over the centuries ever since Jesus’ birth, that being the utter misapprehension of what religion is meant to be and what connection should a believer establish between themselves and the infinite. Paganism is largely emphasised by Tolstoy, as he believed that this is what Christianity of the modern age has become, impinging much criticism against the church and the establishment especially. 

The last essay is called The law of love and the law of violence which focuses on explaining why prodigious establishments as the government and the church fail to fulfil the role that would appropriately comply with true human nature, that is the tenet of universal law. Here we see Tolstoy outline his anarchist convictions and the indispensable role played by meaning and religion along this radical political belief. 

All of the essays give a sufficient explanation of Tolstoy’s beliefs for a curious reader, yet I do not believe that the teachings contained in them should be taken as outdated ramblings, for the arguments made in the second essay on religion do expose the moral impoverishment that Christianity was plunged into after the creation of the church.  

The Christian thought of Tolstoy maintains its revolutionary undertone and incredible determination to defend what he deems to be the antidote for man’s existential suffering. A provocative collection.

Review of Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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”I am a sick man…I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts…”

Notes from Underground is a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it tells the story of a civil servant who has spent his past twenty years in loneliness; the main focus is devoted to the protagonist’s (referred to as the ‘Underground-man’ by some) conscious thinking and psychology. The work is often said to be the first existentialist piece of writing. 

People looking for an entertaining novella will definitely not like this work. The first part of the book, lasting around fifty pages, is about criticism of Chernyshevsky‘s idea of a ‘crystal palace’, which is a utopia that could only be achieved via human rationality. The underground-man disagrees, explaining the conflict this poses to free will and the unbridled state of human nature. Many might regard this part of the novella to be the most important because of what it tells the reader about Dostoyevsky himself. 

The second part is mostly about continuing the actual story, which I did find in some ways amusing. Most of the author’s philosophical arguments have been laid out before, but if we take an existentialist approach to the novel, it is evident that the underground-man struggles to attribute a definitive meaning to his life, indolently debauching himself and (tacitly) trying to establish some form of a relationship. Overall, because of his nihilism, I found the entire work to have a perturbing miasma to it. 

The Underground-man opens before us the stream of his thoughts and the self-destructing aspects of our nature.

Review of Is God happy? Selected essays by Leszek Kołakowski*

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Is God Happy? A title given to a panoply of essays written by Leszek Kołakowski during disparate periods of his life. The essays range from accurate criticisms of Marxist and Socialist thinking to the questions concerning the metaphysical basis of evil. Also, the collection includes playful essays, previously unpublished, like In praise of Unpunctuality or In praise of Snobbery (both being surprisingly well argued, from a philosophical standpoint, essays). 

Almost half of the essays are about Marxism and Socialism, mainly focusing on the vicious shortcomings of both ideologies. Kołakowski’s passionate lambastes are based on his own experience of living under an authoritarian Soviet government in Poland during the Cold War. Where he truly shines is in the proceeding composition of essays, under the title: Religion, God and the problem of Evil. Here, the author reaches a balanced conclusion in relation to the significance of Jesus’ teachings – and representation – for the future of the Western civilisation. The precariousness of the moral and cultural relativism stemming from the Enlightenment is also covered here; precariousness that creates greater anxiety over time about living in a ‘Godless’ age. This problem looms over most of the essays in the last section: Modernity, Truth, The Past and some other Things. First essays demonstrate the author’s finest rascality, while the next essays deal with serious matters, such as the justice system; presence of the natural law; culture and history; and the conundrum of relativism. 

I reckon that the last composition of essays is moving because of its precise diagnosis of the problem that will agonise humanity for the rest of their existence; the problem of definite Truth. Kołakowski wasn’t the first philosopher to discover this issue, he rightly acknowledges the prophecies of Nietzsche, yet he seems to be the first to highlight that the issue will remain with us, for the desire to find and exhume the sarcophagus of Truth is an inextricable characteristic of us – humans. 

Witty yet informative; Kołakowski’s essays display his acute knowledge of the problems rankling the modern minds. 

*The composition and unification of the essays into a single book has been done posthumously by Kołakowski’s wife.

Review of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov isn’t a novel with a sinuous plot as one would expect because of its length; it tells the story of three brothers: Ivan, Dmitri, and Alyosha Karamazov, and their father, Fyodor Karamazov until he is murdered, and thus an investigation over the abhorrent parricide begins. 

Philosophy is the inextricable theme of this work; questions of God and morality are the roots of this work, without them, it wouldn’t be one of the superlative works of literature. Dostoyevsky is anxious about the answer of what type of morality comes without God, where could the characters in his work ground moral principles, and if that’s impossible, would it mean that everything is permissible? The author nods in an assertion. The question of the existence of God ricochets unabatingly at the reader back and forth, starting among the participants of the gathering in the first Book (the name given for large chapters) of the novel; travelling to Ivan Fyodorovich’s poem of the Grand Inquisitor; lastly present with comparable prominence in the conversation between Ivan and the Devil. The God question is always discussed with the character of Ivan present, for he is an atheist, and he torments his brother, Alyosha (who is a silent, slightly pusillanimous, confident character) with the paradox of God’s benevolence, centring on the superfluous nature of the suffering endured by little children who committed nothing wrong in their short lives. The Grand Inquisitor is similar, but its focus is on human freedom in relation to Christianity, nevertheless, it is unfortunately too long to be covered in this review. Noticeably, the character of Ivan is meant to be the critique of Christianity, and organised religion, in this work, challenging both Dostoyevsky – and perhaps the reader – to question to veracity of their religious tenets. 

What might catch the attentive reader’s attention is the novel’s structure, that seems to be neglected because of the philosophical centrality. The Brothers Karamazov is indeed a book that ought to be read twice, if not thrice, for its real greatness to bloom in front of the reader – this strongly relates to the novel’s structure. With a bit of ruminating, I noticed that, for instance, the fourth book is called Lacerations, where we read about psychological and physiological misfortunes afflicting different characters (Alyosha’s finger is severely bitten!). A period of reconciliation follows in the next book, Pro and Contra. Yet, I do not think that it was an accident that the first Book of the second part of the novel was called Lacerations, for in Pro and Contra, there is a form of damage done on faith and God as well, mainly because of Ivan’s examples of redundant misery happening in the world, along the Grand Inquisitor poem. Book six, The Russian Monk, is the last Book of the second part of the novel, and it demonstrates the life of a monk who brings himself into unmitigated asceticism, bearing the pain of malnourishment and abstinence exclusively for God, therefore, it might be concluded that the fourth Book was a summary of the two proceeding Books, which displayed a dichotomous form of suffering.               More could probably be commented about the structure and symbolism once the reader gets accustomed to the work. What was said above was a simple example and an interpretation that wasn’t derived from small, unnoticeable details, but rather from characteristics of the novel’s structure. 

The characters are definitely memorable and disparate; Ivan, an intelligent atheist of adamant nature; Dmitri, a splenetic, sentimental, and rash individual; Alyosha, a benevolent, timid monk. Female characters are not outstanding because they are too familiar. It is not wrong to call a female character hysterical, but Dostoyevsky trademarks every woman in the novel with this exact adjective, minimising reader’s ability to distinguish between, for example, Katya and Grushenka. 

Rarely in history can we pinpoint works of scope and range as broad as that of The Brothers Karamazov. The novel’s investigation of human psychology and our rapacious proclivity to seek an answer to the most perilous of queries regarding our place in the universe and in front of God is astonishing, and cannot be said that the work left no influence, as it became an elevation for the start of existentialism.

A philosophical masterpiece, audacious and provocative with its presentation of teleological doubts.

Review of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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”Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta…”

Lolita is a novel about Humbert Humbert, a paedophile who enters a state of frivolous obsession when he meets Dolores Haze, a twelve-year-old girl, who he nicknames ‘Lolita’. 

Not much can be reviewed about this novel after a singular reading. Normal readers might be initially drawn to the book by the provocative and unconventional motifs that it displays in their full, licentious nakedness, and if that’s the case, around two hundred pages of this book will be found interesting by these readers. In his afterword, Nabokov mentions that the readers became bored afterword and that is understandable, yet for the meticulous readers, this book will be a linguistic maze, inundating with its endless new adjectives and – at times – incomprehensible descriptions of emotions thrown by Humbert everywhere. The book was created for long periods of studying it (it took Nabokov five years to write it) and paying careful attention to detail, but there isn’t a greater moral or purpose pulling the words together; wordplay, references, and detail is what Lolita is about. To find out about this moral pointlessness present in the novel shouldn’t surprise a reader who has some knowledge of post-modernism, which Nabakov seemed to be part of. 

Coming back to the outrageous adjectives filling this book, there are times where I reckon that an adjective didn’t make sense, for instance, calling someone ‘diaphanous’ and I also found gibberish in some of Humbert’s descriptions, for it felt like the author was stuffing sentences with words to effectively create a group of oxymorons, expecting the reader to relish in the spangling pretentiousness of his intricate description. While there is no doubt about Nabokov’s talent, these queer cases I found overwhelming, even though my purpose behind reading Lolita was to gander at his writing style and observe its magic. 

Structurally, Lolita is an exquisite novel and it deserves the title of one of the best novels of the twentieth century and there is much to be praised about it. But I’m dubious about it nonetheless because I think that art should have a purpose; not a sententious purpose but a purpose that will assist the reader in their life. Yes, that’s a form of personal criticism, but it is good to acknowledge that increasingly, pointlessness in art became canon with the ascend of post-modernist thinking and this didn’t necessarily produce respectable works of literature. 

Lolita bewilders its readers with enigmatic expressions of love shared by Humbert and surprises them when they feel a tincture of rue for the criminal. 

Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Dracula tells the story of Count Dracula, a vampire (or the ‘Un-Dead’) trying to travel from Transylvania to England to further spread his influence. His plan is impeded by a group of men and women led by Van Helsing.

The book has an interesting story that is composed of snippets from diaries or journals or telegrams made, mostly, by the characters from the group, which is marking a difference in the gothic genre, as before a structure like this wasn’t experimented with. From my perspective, the effect is that of factuality, making the novel slightly more terrifying – at least for the Victorian audience. Near the last sixty pages, however, the pace becomes laborious with no action taking place until around twenty pages before the end; but here, the novel fails as well, as what the audience would expect to be an extraordinary skirmish between good and evil, turns into a two-page long fight and the ending thereafter. Stoker evidently hurried to finish the story. The first three hundred pages come out as fluent and organised and enjoyable – no dispute here; in various cases, Dracula reflects the traditional aspects of a gothic novel: pathetic fallacy, gruesome imagery, gloomy buildings and locations.

Characters are at times risible with their mawkish outbursts, but I became fond of their exaggerated way of speaking anyway. Van Helsing and Mrs Harker are definitely the most memorable characters for me; Van Helsing with his great concern for everyone and everything and pompous monologues; Mrs Harker with her spirit of fortitude and profound affection for her husband. 

Dracula will not come out as a terrifying/horrific novel to modern readers. But I do think that anyone with the intention of writing horror novels should read it, for it is a classic that presents the odious and psychological sides of the genre. 

A legendary novel that succeeded at grounding the basics traits of the horror and vampire genre.

Review of The Castle by Franz Kafka

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The Castle tells the story of K., a man appointed as a surveyor in a village whose authority resides in an esoteric castle. He struggles to fathom and access the convoluted workings of the castle’s authority. 

K. will probably not come as a likeable character because of his selfishness; in many ways, he resembles Joseph K. from The Trial. The difficulty arises when you question whether his selfishness was necessary for him to progress; attempts to understand the workings of the law governing the place are trammelled by the villagers whose stalwart belief in the incomprehensibility of these workings by an outsider make the task impossible. Contradictions – and paradoxes – exercising the system make the reader wonder if Kafka’s simply didn’t notice these issues, but any suspicions dissolve when K. points out the antinomies. There is also the classic kafkaesque hopelessness attached to what is said by the officials, for there is usually a lengthy strip of information explaining the system, and each time we are provided with more information: any comprehension is evidently impossible. Collectively, the entire affair is surrealistic and able to bring the reader to the state of overwhelming frustration felt by K. while listening to the explanations. 

The Castle is similar to The Trial thematically, because of the translucent bureaucracy acting at its core and the helplessness of being the outsider exasperating the character. Foreknowledge is key to the novel as well; everyone knows about K. And his duty. And his affairs in the village. It makes the situation ironic for K., because, despite his high status, the omniscience of the masses downgrade him as he himself lacks any means of stopping the knowledge from spreading. 

However, I did not find the novel interesting near the end, where I felt that the story was consciously slowed down and the love affairs weren’t believable, but I suspect that its unusual course could be explained with surrealism. 

Comically complicated, The Castle shows the extremes of a surrealistic bureaucratic state. 

Happy New Year

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Hello, everyone. Happy new year to all of you – especially my followers. I ought to leave a note of gratitude to you, because, for the past weeks, the number of likes, and views, has increased exponentially, even though I have been posting short reviews. Thanks!

Anyhow, next year will see a more formal methodology applied on my site; reviews will not appear randomly – they will appear weekly; short to medium length essays based on the reviewed works might appear weekly as well.

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve!

Adieu for now!

Review of The Trial by Franz Kafka

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The Trial tells the story of Joseph K., a chief cashier of a bank, who is convicted and put on a trail over an unspecified crime – the reason is never exposed throughout the novel. 

Often being described as a direct criticism of bureaucracy of the modern age, The Trial is an exceptional novel, even though unfinished. From the beginning to the end, it maintains frustrating tension, for just like Joseph K., we are kept in a perpetual process, craving for the answers to what is normally taken for granted in our world. Nevertheless, Joseph K. isn’t a one-dimensional character, he grows solipsistic in the novel, but this begs the question whether the ‘significance’ of his case, as stated by the ostensible authorities, hasn’t shifted his character to that of malevolence. Also, his change in status is reflected when he is seated; the closer we get to the end, it becomes more frequent for him to seat while the other characters remain standing (a minor fact). 

Thematically, The Trial is pervaded by hopelessness and pointlessness. No characters in the novel present any liveliness that isn’t powered by the influence of the bureaucratic officials; officials whose influence reaches into every segment of Joseph K’s. life whenever he attempts to find solace in something besides his job; love affairs are momentary; colleagues and family see his character from a pair of disdainful lens. The protagonist does consider suicide at the beginning of the novel, however, the thought is immediately dismissed, for he hopes that it would be too hasty of a decision and that at one point – everything would be explained. 

What we are left with at the end is the question if all of us are not undergoing a similar trial in our lives, unknowingly of course. Or the question of the importance of shame: how much should we be concerned about what others think of us. 

Surreal and disquieting. The Trial shows us the struggle one is willing to undertake to withhold a reverential status. 

Review of Solaris by Stanisław Lem

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Solaris tells the story of a psychologist, Kris, who arrives on Solaris Station to assist with analysis of the strange ocean covering most of planet Solaris. Soon after his arrival, he and other crew members are psychologically tormented by semi-human ‘apparitions’.

Eerie and tense – best words to describe the atmosphere throughout the book. The eerie sense originates from the conversations Kris has with everyone else on the station; receiving only laconic responses from others, he is psychologically tormented from the very beginning, by the sheer lack of knowledge. Trust builds up between the characters as the novel progresses but never does Kris get adequate responses from Snaut and Sartorius; the schism between them reinforces the idea of them having no other option but to trust each other on the planet’s desolate land. If you read the novel, you will know that this becomes impossible after the encounter with the ‘apparitions’ (my label – not present in the book). 

The writing style in the book alters, depending on what is described/happening. Descriptions of the planet itself and the glamorous natural events occurring all over it are highly technical. Indeed, one reason why Lem’s books are difficult to translate is due to word formation (making up words), which was present in this work. Conversations and affairs between characters are written in an accessible style. Commonly, contents of Solaris-based books are written about, and that is contained in the vat of technicality as well. 

Perhaps the book already sounds enticing, but there are grander elements of it. Solaris is a science-fiction classic because it is infested with philosophical questions: mind-body problem, what makes a person a person? Could we communicate with extraterrestrial life? Does the subconscious influence our lives? When can you distinguish thinking from natural behaviour? Do we know whether we exist? What is God? Can God be imperfect? For romance fans, a big part of the book is devoted to Kris’ relationship with his girlfriend. And with a bit of thinking, it is inevitable to also notice spots of existentialism. 

For the 21st century audience, the questions above might not be revolutionary, but this novel was written in 1961, hence I do reckon that it was an excellent work of science-fiction at the time. Overall, Solaris is the type of book which can be re-read with tantamount interest, and so it wouldn’t take long for the reader to find yet another existential, psychological, futuristic riddle left by Lem.  

Solaris contains the essence of science-fiction writing and made the necessary steps for the genre’s development.

Review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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This review is regarding the first three books of the series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenHollow City;  Library of Souls

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (also a name of the first novel)is a YA (Young adult) fiction series of books which tell the story of Jacob Portman, an American teenager who after witnessing his grandfather’s death, tries to pry open the mysteries and stories that surrounded the man’s life. Strange letters, peculiar photographies, and the esoteric character of ‘Miss Peregrine’ guide Jacob in the search of the answers.

 A common criticism of the series is the similarity it shares with X-men, but one ought to remember that by taking this perspective, any form of literature – or a movie for that matter – including a group of individuals with dazzling abilities could be regarded as a copy of X-men, which isn’t the right perspective. Nevertheless, the series is, unfortunately, scarce of originality in various aspects. Characters do differ externally; Enoch is a boy capable of bringing back the dead back to life, temporarily, whereas Horace is a young, dandy boy who has prophetic dreams. They don’t differ a lot internally; Enoch is cynical, provocative, and enjoys suffering, whereas, Horace is known for his cowardice. It would be unfair not to mention that the author has a cast of around fifteen characters to deal with, making it impossible to have a completely original group, but I don’t think that the size was the problem, as if we examine the character of Emma Bloom, we see a different result. Emma isn’t one dimensional, the level of maturity she reflects is astounding (especially in the third book) and sometimes, she is a more interesting character than the protagonist, Jacob. Additionally, Emma’s decisive speech stands out among the prosaic monologues and responses of the rest of the characters. All of the villains, besides Hollowgasts, do not give a formidable impression, worse of all, the idea of the protagonist making a deal with the villain for ostensible ‘safety’ got extremely repetitive and nauseating to read through, for the response of the protagonist is obvious. Hollowgasts deserve to be excluded because they made the story interesting – and intense – but, unfortunately, the third book corroded their lurid countenance. The paramount problem with the series is new characters, as whenever the group encounters someone new, there is a high chance that at first, there will be a moment of tension and untrustworthiness, and, unfortunately, the former culminates into nothing, because the new character will probably be a peculiar who would immediately want to pamper the group. Nothing is achieved and rather makes the reader feel that the prior conflict was a waste of time. 

The aforementioned problems are generally applicable to Hollow City and Library of Souls. We are left to speculate why in comparison to the first book, the others are bland and directionless. I wouldn’t call the series a ‘dreadful read’ because this wasn’t the case for me and the reason might’ve been the desire to know what’s going to happen next; Ransom Riggs definitely chained me with suspension many times. 

The ailment agonising the series is not individual to this novel, but global in the world of YA fiction. I would label the ailment: The incontinence of continuation. YA writers (an exact issue is stalking modern writers of romance, crime, and fantasy, and other genres. My generalisation isn’t meant to put the YA genre under light) are unable to stop at one novel, which by itself could have held the status of reverence and interest for the years to come, and they continue writing next books. 

An interesting series that answers the question of what maturity means.

Review of Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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Heart of Darkness is a novella about a seaman, Marlow, recounting the experience of his search of Mr. Kurtz, an infamous ivory trader. The story takes place in Congo.

At the time of its publication, the novella wasn’t received well (in comparison to author’s other works) and even Conrad regarded it as one of his less spectacular novels. Critics didn’t like the concept of the ‘inexpressible’ saturating Marlow’s experience.

First pages of Heart of Darkness establish the enigmatic and ambiguous tone that is common in the story thereafter. The character of Mr. Kurtz – him being the nexus of Marlow’s story – is from the beginning an individual of whom we are given limited information about; occasionally in the story, there are conversations about him, but we are only provided with snippets of information. The consequence is something interesting – and relatable – because regardless of the tenebrous and formidable impression that Marlow has of the man, Kurtz is still a ‘word’. Yet, Marlow insists that he has great reverence towards the man and it itching to meet him. With that in mind, we might speculate that Conrad was demonstrating the psychological effects of language. Of course, it would be surprising not to write about this book without alluding to its criticism of imperialism; but it ought to be remembered that there is no direct mention of the term. Marlow allows us to be the spectator of his recollection, thus his encounter with the malnourished native people is a poleaxing experience, and the impression intensifies as he meets individuals who see the native people as nothing more than physical objects (maybe they are on the same pedestal as animals).

Today, we might regard Heart of Darkness as a work that ought to be only analysed in an English class, for there aren’t many relevant teachings; however, if one thinks about the moral implications of it, I reckon it would become rather pellucid that Conrad was pointing out the delusion of moral progress created by science.

Inconsistencies in the moral doctrines of the Wes

Review of The Cold War: A World History by Odd Arne Westad

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The Cold War has been a pivotal segment of the 20th-century development; its aftermath has established the political, and economical, foundations of countries like South Korea, Vietnam, China, and many more. During its lifetime, the conflict also created a video-game like schism around the world, giving people two possible options to choose from Communism or Capitalism.

In his book, Odd Arne Westad presents the Cold War from almost a perfectly objective standpoint, pointing out the atrocities committed by both of the Superpowers (US and USSR), which enacts fairness in the government of discussion on this topic. We frequently hear about the famine caused by Stalin in Russia in the 1930s or the tragic failure of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, both events leaving millions of people dead from starvation or emancipated to the point of no return; seldom do we hear about the gargantuan bombing of Pyongyang, which destroyed virtually every building in that city; seldom do we hear about how the US ‘indirectly’ supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (a Cambodian Communist party whose leader, Pol Pot, committed a genocide in the country between 1975-1979, which killed around 2 million people) to appeal to the Chinese. By forming this equilibrium, the book can finally vaporise any convictions of the US being the ‘good’ or the ‘moral’ side in the Cold War.

To anyone who wants to learn about every significant event in the Cold War, across the entire world, this book is quintessential, providing the reader not only with a succinct revision of the repercussions of each event – politically, economically, and at  times culturally – but also with statistics, which might be immensely useful for any students learning about the Cold War. And a small personal note: this isn’t a mundane book and in comparison to what I read in the past (Gaddis), I personally preferred this as my source of revision and relaxation.

Concise and straightforward, Odd Arne Westad’s book is an impressive summary of the Cold War; it preserves an academic style throughout while being readable to anyone.  

Review of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

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The Myth of Sisyphus was published in 1942, shortly after Camus’ other work, The Stranger. It is an essay based on the question of whether life has a meaning; notoriously, the book starts with this line, ‘’There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide’’. Thereafter, Camus proclaims life’s meaninglessness and introduces us to the concept of the absurd; a paradoxical concept each one of us encounters at some point in our lives. The entire essay revolves around this vital issue and how by becoming an ‘absurd-man’ one can be capable of surmounting it. In the days he published his work, Camus was commonly labelled as an ‘existentialist’ (probably because of his friendship with Sartre), but this wasn’t the case. His philosophy of the absurd compels the individual to accept the meaninglessness of life (here comes the misconception of construing existentialism as a modified version of nihilism), instead of encouraging the individual to embroider their life with their own meaning, like an existentialist would.

While reading the essay, it is extremely easy to spot its continental nature; florid language and the profusion of metaphors are generators which at times, bring this essay to life. Hence, before approaching this book, one should acclimatise themselves to this style of writing, as for a casual reader who hasn’t read any continental works before, The Myth Of Sisyphus will come out as unfathomable and mundane. Personally, I have read a few continental works before (including Sartre’s Nausea) and found this to be a difficult read regardless.

In comparison to The Stranger, the main difference lies within the style of writing, because the books imply the same idea: that life is absurd; in The Stranger, the character faces a realization of this at the very end, whereas in The Myth of Sisyphus, the problem is pointed out immediately by the author. However, for any avid reader who wants to start reading Camus and perhaps learn about his philosophical outlook, The Stranger is the best place to embark on this uneasy venture.

 

 

A short work competent of remoulding one’s life perspective forever

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Review of The Outsider by Albert Camus

The Outsider is a piece of philosophical literature published by a French philosopher, Albert Camus, in 1942. It’s a story about a bizarre man, Meursault, whose mother died; however, the man doesn’t remember the exact date of this tragic event, he famously proclaims at the beginning of the novel: ‘My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know’

This particular quote encompasses phenomenally the apathetic tone that is sustained by the character throughout the entire novel; his disinterest; his way of seeing everything as ‘normal’ and his ineptitude to ennoble anything with real importance – because do those things matter after all? Clearly, Camus is secretly hurling the burden of existentialist perception at our backs and allowing us to realise the effect by repeatedly have the protagonist point out the pointless and neutral nature of everything.

Continuing with the plot, Meursault spends his time casually: meeting new people, going swimming, and dating with his former colleague. All done straight after his mother’s death. Nevertheless, one time the world goes against his apparent callousness when he shoots an Arab listlessly, perhaps to know how it feels to shoot with a gun, thereby he is put on a trial and a debate over an execution proceeds…

As a piece of existential work, I think that The Outsider is an integral piece of work, for it demonstrates Camus’ view on the absurdity of the universe and existence (especially at the end), which is a challenge as it is difficult to abbreviate such a viewpoint within a rudimentary (by ‘rudimentary’ I mean that despite the simplicity of the events the character went through, the writer still managed to convey his ideas effectively) plot. In a general viewpoint on The Outsider, I admire it as well, because of the contrast established by Meursault as a protagonist; we wouldn’t normally expect a book to be based on a psyche of a callous and disinterested man, would we? Hence, in the world of literature, this book does indeed, sparkle as an outsider.

In terms of its length, however, I didn’t like the shortness of the book; Camus missed the chance of presenting other philosophical perspectives via other, complex characters, that could perhaps counteract the philosophy of the absurd. I think that if Camus did implement other, complex viewpoints, the work would reach a larger audience. Christianity was played by several characters, but I think that it bequeathed the audience with a shallow image of this religion.

As expected, Meursault did make me think about the point behind my everyday actions and the awards and conclusions I’m – at times mindlessly – pursuing. On the positive note, the book in overall made me interested in existentialist books, thus why immediately after finishing this, I’ve started reading Sartre’s (a French existentialist philosopher who shared a friendship with Camus) Nausea. Of course, later on, I shall read another classic by Camus: The Plague.

To give a short, one-lined recommendation of this book:

A manifestation of a complex philosophy, seemingly concealed by a simple plot. Remarkable