Alright, so far I read two out of three utopian stories in this book – The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella and New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and to be honest they sounded absolutely terrifying to me.
Both of these ideal states are way worse (and more sexist btw) than anything Huxley, Zamjatin or Orwell ever wrote or imagined.
Thomas Morus, I have some high hopes. Here we go.
Since October was my month for dystopian fiction, I hereby declare November as the month for early utopian writings!
Une si longue lettre (or So long a Letter) is a book hard to describe. It is basically a long letter written by the female protagonist (with a long name I cannot remember) to her best friend (who also has a long and complicated name I would have to look up).
The letter is about the mortification after her husband left her after 25 years of marriage with 12 (omg yes, 12!) children, because he married a girl who is a classmate of one of his own daughters. Polygamy was actually (and still might be, I don’t know, the book was first published in 1980) a common problem in the overall Muslim society in Senegal, because according to Muslim law a man can have four wives at the same time – and the only one who seems to bother is his (first) wife.
The letter is an expression of her struggles, her loneliness and also her feeling of being completely lost and at the same time a way of coping with everything, because she addresses it to a friend who understands her (due to a similar fate). It is a very honest account, not shying away to confront the reader with the very ugly truth concerning the ruthless treatment and unequal social status of women, yet at the same time without complaining about it. In that way, Une si longue lettre is very touching and emotional.
It is also a book about the disparity of traditional and modern life for a Muslim woman. While many women strive to be independent and try to raise their children in a more open and more tolerant way, society as a whole is still stuck in old traditions and in a very outdated lifestyle which is imposed upon those women again and again.
Reading Une si longue lettre absolutely amazed me. It was wonderful to read about a courageous woman who is above everything true to herself and I cannot think of any other book which is as severe, yet at the same time so human and brims over with so much love on every page.
Apparently, this is the most influential modern African novel and basically the 101 for African literature, but despite that, I have never heard of it before (and I have only heard about it now since I am currently attending a lecture on African literature).
Chinua Achebe writes about the beginning of British colonialism in Nigeria among the Igbo from a somewhat neutral position. There are three parts of the book which I liked in varying degrees. The first part describes the "traditional" life and the customs of an Igbo society in the fictional village of Umuofia, following the protagonist Okonkwo. This is the part I liked the least. It is very patriarchal and Okonkwo is occupied with one thing only – to "be a man", which means going Heathcliff on everybody (btw, I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights for apparent reasons).
The second part is slowly introducing the white, christian missionaries and describes the first contact of Okonkwo and his community with the "white man" and in the third part colonialism is established and well, things fall apart. I am aware of how terrible and selfish this sounds, but those were the really interesting parts of Achebes book.
I especially liked the realism and the impartiality of the narration, meaning that this is no black and white story. While the British were naturally depicted as being arrogant and bossy, at the same time some of them were shown as rather kind and having good intentions. The same goes for Okonkwo and his kinsmen – while being strong and confident, Achebe shows them as also naive and somewhat uncivilised.
In the end, Things Fall Apart is hard to get into at the beginning, but it develops into an enthralling description of the destruction caused by western civilisation in Africa.
Part 2 of 3.
This is a terrible and super stereotypical thing to say, but since the white missionaries appeared, things are starting to get interesting.
That was part 1 of 3.
Hmm, a very patriarchal society and the protagonist Okonkwo reminds me very much of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately.
I am still confusing a lot of people due to their similar names, but I cannot say whether I like it or not.
Nine pages in and I am already confusing the names and the protagonists – I mean, Okonkwo, Unoka, Okoye – who?
David Wong is back for the third adventure in the John dies at the End series. Since I unexpectedly really loved the original #1 John dies at the End, I have kept reading all of Wong’s follow up books. But here’s the thing. None of the books have actually reached, let alone excelled his first novel. And I am sad to say that his books are continually getting a bit worse. :(
I mean, What the Hell did I just read was without doubt entertaining, but what I loved about John dies at the End #1 were the unexpected twists and turns ever few pages which were completely absent here. I also missed all those funny WTF moments and Molly. I missed Molly. A lot. She was the best.
I am afraid, dear Mr. Wong has the same problem as any writer whose first novel got super popular really fast. Any surprising success puts a lot of pressure on a person, because although the possibility of going up from that point is there, going down is much more likely.
This is unfortunately the weakest one of the John dies at the End novels, even the rubber asses and dildo battles didn’t help.
1984 is probably THE book when it comes to dystopian fiction, it is a canonical or if you like „classic“ novel, but now I wonder if it really deserves this status.
My dystopian October readings included Evgenij Zamjatins We, which was actually the blueprint for 1984 (believe it or not, but since Orwell knew Russian very well, he was quite familiar with Zamjatins writing), so I was quite eager to read both novels and now I just don’t understand how Orwell didn’t come up with something better.
I was honestly bored throughout most of the time and this has nothing to do with a lack of action in a traditional sense or the average plot, but first and foremost with the characters (1), the structure (2) and the length (3).
1. Good characters make good texts in my opinion. To really engage while reading, I have to feel something for at least one of the characters. This can be a liking for someone, love, dislike or even hate – but in 1984 I did not really like nor dislike anyone – I am simply completely indifferent to all of them. Where is the charisma, the uniqueness, the personality? One might argue that in the 1984-kind of future these traits are not allowed to exist, therefore no one possesses them, but then I say that this is what makes us human. I understand, that the average citizen of Oceania doesn’t have any personality, but what about Winston and Julia? I cannot remember ever having a protagonist who was such a flat, non-developing character.
2. If the characters are bad, sometimes the writing style or the structure of a novel can help to counterbalance the deficit. But not in this case. One cannot even see the plot for all the repetitions. So many unnecessary repetitions. The past is constantly altered and people killed by the Party have never even existed. Point made. It is a good point. But point understood the first time. There is no need to come back to this in every other chapter.
Also, Orwell obviously went through a great deal inventing Newspeak. Then why isn’t Newspeak incorporated more? I mean, seriously, compared to Burgess’s Nadsat, which is quite unintelligible at first, Newspeak is not hard to grasp.
3. The sheer length of 1984! This ties in with point 2 about the repetitions – You could cut out so much and it wouldn’t affect the story at all. When I was probably half through I started thinking, that maybe 1984 would work really well as a short story. And I don’t say this in regard to the shortened attention span of us modern people, but because our social, cultural and literary Erwartungshorizont has been pushed forward so much since 1949 that a modern reader is no longer challenged by this.
All in all, I had high expectations for 1984 and maybe that was the problem.
In theory, 1984 should be super up to date in terms of surveillance and controll, but I cannot help the feeling, that it is so outdated.
I really want to like it, but Orwell is making this hard.
It must have been more than ten years since I first read A Clockwork Orange and I still remember what a struggle I had with this one! Thanks to all the nadsat expressions I didn’t pony cul as our little droog Alex would say. I have to admit that now, after having learned Russian (at least to a certain degree) this was a walk in the park, although at the same time some of the magic of the unusual and futuristic language definitely got lost.
Also, reading A Clockwork Orange at the age of fifteen or sixteen (being practically the same age as the protagonist) and now at the age of 27 makes a huge difference. I had planned on re-reading this one for three years now, but I never found the time – also, because I remembered it being much longer than it actually is and I was afraid that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Because unfortunately this happens a lot to books I really loved when I was younger – but not this time!
A Clockwork Orange is one of the few books that really stuck with me since the moment I first read it and now I can rest assured, that it will keep doing that in the future. Bolshy great yarblockos to our droogie Burgess!
I am buckled up and at this point I am mostly determined to find out, what this creepy concrete snowman with one missing arm is all about.