Monday, April 26, 2010

Dostoyevsky, Satrapi, Hemingway

Islands in the Stream - Ernest Hemingway

I love Hemingway - his short, terse prose, masterful storytelling, tragically flawed characters, and the locations of his stories I find fascinating. The book, published posthumously, is broken up into 3 stories that follows Thomas Hudson through different stages of his life on Cuba. The first of the three short stories was by far my favorite. It's classic Hemingway in every sense. A strong protagonist but noticeably flawed - although the two aren't disconnected. It is his flaws that make him a strong character. I think I liked this first short story the best because the presence of Hudson's sons and the noticeable transfer of qualities--good and bad--from Hudson to his four sons. The section ends tragically leaving me with a feeling reminiscent of A Farewell to Arms, my favorite book--Hemingway or otherwise.

I felt like I liked each section less and less as I progressed throughout the book, but the book concluded with a sad, but satisfied ending--one that I felt was consistent with the character. I think that these are Hemingway's greatest strengths - character development and consistency. Maybe that's why readers (me, at least) connect so well with his characters and get invested in their personalities. Hemingway's writing lives in the thoughts of his characters and the reader is able to follow the protagonist's thought process and rationale. I would recommend (several) other Hemingway books before this one and actually I think this actually works better after reading other Hemingway writings and more familiar with his process and other characters.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This graphic novel follows the progression of a young girl growing up in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. I wasn't familiar with this book until a professor at Patterson recommended and I had never read a graphic novel before. I was, and still am, I admit, quite ignorant about the history of Iran and I think it is probably one of the most misunderstood countries and that people are quick to make judgments without properly understanding its rich history and culture and the Persian pride that accompanies it.

Anyways, back to the book. I think that the comic drawings included in the book bring a lighter mood and sense of humor to an otherwise scary, repressive historical time. The book recounts Satrapi's childhood growing up in post-Shah Iran and a secular family adjusting to the harsh social restrictions placed on the Iranian people. The book chronicles social, religious, and political changes and happenings in Iran during the Revolution. It is a brief, but effective introduction in capturing the mood of an important historical event.

There is a sequel to Persepolis, which I haven't read, although I did see the highly acclaimed movie 2007 movie that follows the story Persepolis and Persepolis 2: The Story of Return. Although the movie follows closely to the book, story and graphically, I didn't really care for it. I thought the book and its comics were much more effective. Definitely check this one out... you can read it in an afternoon.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Any Dostoyevsky is a tough read, but rewarding when you complete. This is the third book of his that I've read (Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov being the first two) and this is my least favorite of the three. The first 50-100 of most Dostoyevsky books are a dense but necessary character development and I always have trouble keeping the Russian character names straight, as nicknames are often used.

The story follows Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin as he returns from living in Switzerland where he was being treated for epilepsy and his love and relationship towards two women, Nastasya Filipovna and Aglaya. I'll let you read the book or the synopsis of the story somewhere else, mostly because I don't feel like I adequately remember or followed it accurately enough.

I found it a dense, tough book to get through and struggled with it for a couple weeks. The last two hundred pages read much faster that the previous several hundred. I don't think this is a must read, by any means. I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment/satisfaction when I finished, but I think it was mostly pride that I'd survived the 700+ pages. I'm not sure that I had a complete resolution to the story that I was hoping, but again, I didn't follow the plot as well as I would've liked. Read Dostoyevsky - just maybe not this one.

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