The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

lotteryAn annual lottery takes place in a town of 300 people. They initially gather cheerfully though hesitant excitement and nervousness is apparent as the event progresses more notably on parents strangely fearing for their children. The locals believe that to ensure healthy crops for the good of everyone, the lottery must be held though rumor has it that the other towns had ceased doing it.

This is a work wonderfully crafted by Shirley Jackson. The ending was foreshadowed very early but that didn’t spoil the story until the truth was totally revealed.

Readers has a lot to take from this short story and the atrocity of blind conformity is undeniable. It’s one example of a story that we can consider timeless in that it can be re-invented time and time again, from one generation to another.

Truly a captivating and thought-provoking read.

Quotable Quotes:

“There’s always been a lottery.”

“It’s not the way it used to be… people ain’t the way they used to be.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

 

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Castle book coverThis is a first-person tale told in Mary Katherine’s (Merricat) perspective as she lives with her sister, Constance Blackwood and their Uncle Julian in their huge, old family house in a nameless village. Everyone else in their family died of arsenic poisoning some years earlier. The three of them live a normal life although hated and feared by their neighbors until their cousin Charles came.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Shirley Jackson’s final work. She has alluring writing style that you wouldn’t want to put down the book until you finish it.

Isolation and death are recurring themes in the story. Add to that paranoid thinking as shown by Merricat several times which makes it more intriguing for me while reading. Such a thrill what she is going to do next.

This is an easy read and you can finish it in a day. It leaves you with several interpretations while trying to make sense of it all.

Quotable Quotes:

“A pretty sight, a lady with a book.”

“I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had.”

“I always thought about rot when I came toward the row of stores; I thought about burning black painful rot that ate away from inside, hurting dreadfully. I wished it on the village.”

“Fate intervened. Some of us, that day, she led inexorably through the gates of death. Some of us, innocent and unsuspecting, took, unwillingly, that one last step to oblivion. Some of us took very little sugar.”

“All our land was enriched with my treasures buried in it, thickly inhabited just below the surface with my marbles and my teeth and my colored stones, all perhaps turned to jewels by now, held together under the ground in a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

 

 

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

ivan ilyich coverThe Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that begins at the end — the death of Ivan Ilyich. We are then carried back to the years of his youth and other life experiences until he gained the position of a judge in a city. Unfortunately, he fell and hurt his side one day while furnishing his house. He didn’t think of the fall as a big deal and so went on with life, as usual. Little did he know that this incident will cause a big impact in his life.

I find Ivan Ilyich’s character boring but Leo Tolstoy has a way of making the reader feel what the character is feeling. He lets us feel Ilyich’s frustrations as a man nearing his death at the age of forty-five. We feel his anger, fear and irritation as well as his annoyance towards his family who don’t see his death as imminent.

This is a novella that contains so much. It’s a story that leaves you thinking and questioning about the life you are living. Is it right to just live according to the rules? Is having a full-time job giving your life its true meaning? Is keeping up with the society’s expectations enough to say we are living a good life? It’s mostly the same things that Ivan Ilyich asked himself as he looked back in his life while on his death bed and when he came across honest answers to his questions, he found peace and accepted his death.

Quotable Quotes:

“Always the same. Now a spark of hope flashes up, then a sea of despair rages, and always pain; always pain, always despair, and always the same. When alone he had a dreadful and distressing desire to call someone, but he knew beforehand that with others present it would be still worse.”

“Death is finished, he said to himself. It is no more!”

“It can’t be that life is so senseless and horrible. But if it really has been so horrible and senseless, why must I die and die in agony? There is something wrong!”

“There was no deceiving himself: something terrible, new, and more important than anything before in his life, was taking place within him of which he alone was aware.”

“It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez book coverMemories of My Melancholy Whores is a novella about an old man who has seen much but enjoyed very little specially in human connections and has isolated himself from people as he grows old. He had lived two lives in parallel: first as a journalist and second, as a regular client in brothels. By the age of 50, he had slept with 514 women, all paid one way or the other.

On the eve of the unnamed narrator’s ninetieth birthday, he wanted to treat himself with a wild night of love with an adolescent virgin.

I somehow pity the old man living such a long but loveless life, though, some spark of hope of true love awakes when he saw and watched the teenage virgin sleeping the night it was arranged by the brothel owner for him.

I read this book twice in two days. I didn’t quite like it the first time and felt like I was missing something so I read it again the morning after. It’s a very short read that I finished both times in one sitting. Of course, I appreciated it more the second time as much more meaning emerged.

This is a very short read about watching an adolescent virgin sleeping, nothing so particular to expect but nothing to bore you neither and some parts of the story will creep some of you out but there’s much more in the story that will make you continue reading. Add to that the wonderful writing style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wonderful and easy to read.

Quotable Quotes:

“No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.”

“Age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel.”

“Just as real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they happened.”

“Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love.”

“There’s no greater misfortune than dying alone.”

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

 

Cain by José Saramago

CainIt is a delight to read a novel from José Saramago once again where he gets to argue with God one last time as this happens to be his last written work where he hires Cain to call out on God’s sins and mistakes.

The novel centers on the imagined life of Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son, who slayed his brother Abel, thus committing humanity’s first murder. The book jumps from one Biblical story to another known as “different presents.”

I enjoyed how Saramago ludicrously connected the stories and how entertaining the dialogues were between Cain and all the other characters. I know many religious folks would find this sacrilegious, blasphemous or challenging for at the core of this book is a sense of outrage to the God in the Hebrew Bible, but I guess, one’s satisfaction in reading this novel depends on how they approach it. A bit of an open mind is required to get through.

As to the author’s writing style, first time readers might find it annoying and confusing as Saramago is fond of mashing together the dialogues in his works and only uses commas to separate one speaker from another. It might take others some time getting used to his style of writing but that shouldn’t stop readers from reading and enjoying his books. Rereading the passages a second or third time will help make sense of it.

The last page was stunning, specially the final line, “The story, though, is over, there will be nothing more to tell.” A very fitting end for a brilliant writer. He did went out with a great one.

Cain is a laugh out loud funny little read but at the same time makes us chew on several profound moral questions about the nature of God and events in the Old Testament.

Quotable Quotes:

“The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him.”

“I don’t know the details, and the savor of any story is always in the details.”

“Doubt is the privilege of those who have lived a long time.”

“God should be as clear and transparent as a pane of glass and not go wasting his energies on creating an atmosphere of constant terror and fear.”

“It’s odd how lightly people speak about the future, as if they held it in their hand, as if it was in their power to push it further off or bring it nearer in accordance with the needs and expediencies of the moment.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

220px-Killing_Commendatore_by_Haruki_Murakami_-_CoverI started to read this book in February and was really enjoying it but had to put it on hold after reading more than half of the 681 pages when I realized I actually still don’t have any idea what’s it about or what’s it all for (or am I missing something?). A week ago (thanks to the long holiday!), I realized this is Murakami. It may (or it may not) be the entire point of the story. Where is it heading? It doesn’t matter.

Killing Commendatore follows the life and experiences of the unnamed narrator, a portrait painter from Tokyo. He and his wife separated and he ended up living in a house on top of a mountain which belongs to Tomohiko Amada, a famous artist. It was after discovering the painting, Killing Commendatore, in the attic that a series of mysterious circumstances started happening.

This again proved what a great narrator Murakami is but I’m slightly unsatisfied with the ending, though. I wished he could have given us a little bit more in order to connect the mysteries somehow. And a little bit more of Menshiki perhaps? But then again, it’s Haruki Murakami. He always leaves the reader wondering about unanswered questions or an idea or this time a metaphor. All in all, it’s a good read but not one I’d recommend as an introduction to Murakami.

Quotable Quotes:

“That sometimes in life we can’t grasp the boundary between reality and unreality. That boundary always seems to be shifting. As if the border between countries shifts from one day to the next depending on their mood. We need to pay close attention to that movement otherwise we won’t know which side we’re on.”

“Our lives really do seem strange and mysterious when you look back on them. Filled with unbelievably bizarre coincidences and unpredictable, zigzagging developments. While they are unfolding, it’s hard to see anything weird about them, no matter how closely you pay attention to your surroundings. In the midst of the everyday, these things may strike you as simply ordinary things, a matter of course. They might not be logical, but time has to pass before you can see if something is logical.”

“I had taken a nap, but my head was muddled. It felt like a ball of yarn had been crammed into the back of a narrow desk drawer, and now the drawer wouldn’t close properly.”

“A face is like reading a palm. More than the features you’re born with, a face is gradually formed over the passage of time, through all the experiences a person goes through, and no two faces are alike.”

“From far off, that slice of ocean was nothing more than a dull lump of lead. Why people insisted on having an ocean view was beyond me. I much preferred gazing at the surrounding mountains. The mountains on the opposite side of the valley were in constant flux, transforming with the seasons and the weather, and I never grew tired of these changes.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

yoko ogawa

Good things come in small packages and The Housekeeper and the Professor is a perfect example. A wonderful short novel with a great deal of depth. It is a beautiful and touching story about a brilliant Mathematics professor, an unnamed housekeeper (the  narrator) and her son whom the professor called Root for having a flat head like the square root sign.

Yoko Ogawa’s writing style is refreshing. She carefully choose the words to explain several mathematical concepts in an easy story-telling format but to a great effect. It will make anyone enjoy reading even if Math isn’t your thing. And while Math plays a large part in the story, baseball did, too. Root and the professor shared a passion for baseball for different reasons.

Much is unsaid in this little gem of a story, leaving the readers to ponder after reading and personally in a beautifully satisfying way. The relationship between the professor, the housekeeper and Root is so realistic and touching.

With wonderful writing and themes on finding mathematical and personal connections between unlikely people, don’t let the Maths put you off reading this book.

Quotable Quotes:

“A problem isn’t finished just because you’ve found the right answer.”

“The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. He had a special feeling for what he called the “correct miscalculation,” for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers.”

“The truly correct proof is one that strikes a harmonious balance between strength and flexibility. There are plenty of proofs that are technically correct but are messy and inelegant or counterintuitive. But it’s not something you can put into words — explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why the stars are beautiful.”

“Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail someone else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley.”

“The room was filled with a kind of stillness. Not simply an absence of noise, but an accumulation of layers of silence.”

Rating: 5/5 stars