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 not one 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

 

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

the old man and the seaThe Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and was the last major work of Ernest Hemingway. It’s a brutally simple story about an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago who is alone in life and his only friend is Manolin, a boy who used to fish with him before but because of a series of bad luck including not catching anything for 84 days, was soon told by his parents to go with other fishermen instead.

On the 85th day though, Santiago sailed further out than the other fishermen and was able to hook a giant marlin who happened to pull him farther away in the sea. What happened next? Where did the fish pull him to? Was he able to bring it home? Did he really hook the fish or was it the fish that hooked him? Was he able to change his luck?

This might not sound much of a plot for most people but I think it’s a good read. I found it an engaging story about an old man and his relationship with nature, an old man with nothing left to lose, an old man that has faith in himself, an old man who never backs away from his goal whatever it takes.

The ending was quite sad but moving. I felt really sad for Santiago but he was not at all sad for himself. Though he was totally drained in the end, he was still very optimistic  while talking with Manolin which reflects what he said earlier in the book, “A man can be destroyed but never defeated.”

Quotable Quotes:

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

“Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”

“Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?”

Rating : 4/5 stars

A Reread: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

imagesCrushing. Yes, crushing. It’s the only word I can think of after I first read this while on vacation in 2015. And unable to decide what book to read next, I decided to reread this since it’s a very short book and you can read it in one sitting.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two migrant workers in California in the 1930s, George and Lennie, who work in different ranches in order to save money and buy themselves land. George is street smart while Lennie is a big, strong guy with a child’s mind. They both dream of owning a land since George is also tired of always being on the run (because of stupid things Lennie get into) while looking for work at the same time. Things seem to be going their way until Lennie pets the hair of the landlord’s daughter-in-law and eventually, accidentally killed her.

In a little over a hundred pages, Steinbeck was able to tackle on themes like friendship, loneliness, power, hopes, and dreams. The prose is very straight-forward and easy to read. Good enough to make you smile and cry. All the characters felt so real.

The end? Still crushing. Absolutely heartbreaking but what was offered is totally solid. I loved this the way I loved it the first time I’ve read it. A powerful short story.

Quotable Quotes:

As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

“Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.”

“Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head.”

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

A Reread: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

downloadBook #25.

By large, endings are sad, aren’t they? Or bittersweet perhaps? It could give us tremendous relief, too, as is the case in The Sense of an Ending.

This little treasure of a book is the story of the unremarkable life of Anthony Webster as he recollects and confronts the past after receiving a solicitor’s letter, the reappearance of an ex-girlfriend and reading a few pages of his old friend’s diary. This is best read in one sitting preferably with a few shots of whisky. 🙂

It has two finely controlled parts: 1) sheer nostalgia and 2) the coming together of memories from years ago as it unfolds different interpretations to clarify the truth. It’s mainly about the unreliability of memory and dealing with the past, remembering events and our understanding of time, with a touch of history, death and loss.

Little by little, the book reveals the secrets hidden in buried memories as Tony tries to remember and face up to the actions of his younger self and live through the mystery of the last forty years. Tony is a very engaging narrator. He definitely kept me reading regardless of him being reliable or not. Though this is already my second reading, I am still perplexed by the ending and just like Tony, “I just don’t get it,” really. I still had to go back to a few pages and reread over and over looking for clues I must have missed to give me a better understanding of the ending and answers to the many hows and whys it left me.

This is a very simple story on the surface but with delicate undertones written in a very interesting way. It is short, deep, thought-provoking, luminous, readable and very re-readable book. No wonder it was awarded the Man Booker Prize. I believe it’s never too late to learn. It’s never too late to learn and understand ourselves and other people. You might not be someone you thought you were yesterday. What we believe about other people then may possibly be different, too. How these things can change overtime as we try to understand people/things based on our memory of them and the history that goes with it is truly something to reflect upon and could very well give us a sense of an ending.

Quotable Quotes:

“Songs do occasionally tell the truth.”

“Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“The less time there remains in your life, the less you want to waste it.”

“Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.”

“…what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

downloadBook #3.

This is a beautifully written novella about a man’s love for his wife, his son and his grandson. He is slowly losing his memory while loving the things he’s losing. A very short read that will make you sit back and appreciate life more.

Fredrik Backman had me in tears while reading this and he’s definitely one of my favorite authors now even though I’ve only read A Man Called Ove and this.

I absolutely recommend this to everyone because it’s a gem that will truly touch your heart. It will take very little of your time but a time well spent.

Quotable Quotes :

“That’s one good thing about forgetting things. You forget the things that hurt, too.”

“You never became ordinary to me, my love. You were electric shocks and fire.”

“I didn’t care why you said yes. Just that you stayed.”

“Humans are a strange breed in the way our fear of getting old seems to be even greater than our fear of dying.”

“You were never easy, darling difficult sulky you, never diplomatic. You might even have been easy to dislike at times. But no one, absolutely no one, would dare tell me you were hard to love.”

Rating : 5/5 stars