Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – A Longer Rumination

With age, it becomes harder and harder to encounter books that end up being life experiences. My reading predilections pretty much solidified themselves between the ages of seventeen and twenty, when the access to an extensive university library–and amazing used bookstores–exploded my literary horizons. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is one of the recent exceptions, a book that I will forever remember in a haze of sun-kissed melancholy.

The novel begins in the middle of World War II with Charles Ryder, a military officer who has been ordered to commandeer a rundown English estate and turn it into a logistics headquarters. Brideshead Castle carries a more profound meaning for Charles, however, because it was the site of his youthful bliss and heartbreak. The narrative then looks back to his early days as a student in Oxford in the 1920s, where he meets a luminous young man named Sebastian Flyte, whose family owns Brideshead. Continue reading

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

I violently hated this novel in its first 300 or so pages and only came to tolerate (and even mildly like) the story as it wrapped up its final threads. I state this at the very beginning in order to establish that I am emphatically not the target audience for this novel, but it doesn’t mean that John Irving’s brand of fiction will not work for you. My sister is an Irving fan, and she was the one who convinced me to give him a try. However, the novel that she likes (Hotel New Hampshire) apparently has sad stuff in it so I tried this one instead.

A Widow for One Year follows novelist Ruth Cole during three seminal periods of her life, from a summer in 1958 with her mother’s affair and subsequent disappearance that unmoored her as a five-year old, a trip to Amsterdam decades later when she becomes witness to a crime, to her life as a widow and mother years later. Revolving around her is a solar system of characters that often interact with chaotic results. These include Ted Cole, philandering father and successful children’s lit author, Eddie O’Hare, mediocre novelist who lives his entire adult life in love with Ruth’s absent mother Marion, and a well-read Dutch cop who ends up falling in love with Ruth.

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Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

leche linmark

A novel filled with parodic exuberance and tongue-in-cheek humor often runs the risk of archness to the point coldness, becoming too intent at skewering the ridiculous to actually carry a human center. R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche sidesteps this trap by grounding the chaos of his setting with a fallible and searching viewpoint character, a balikbayan named Vince who wins a trip through a Mr. Pogi beauty contest. Through his incredulous but largely game eyes, the readers navigate the crooked sidestreets and gridlocked roads that make up life in 1990s Philippines.

Vince descends into an Aligherian hell from the first scene as he takes in the cacophony of voices, smells, and personalities in a Manila airport. He then interacts with a gaggle of personalities not unlike the Italian nobility that populate Inferno and Purgatorio–from the iconoclastic director Bino Boca to the distressingly effervescent fictional(?!) Kris Aquino. The rugged man who ferries him to the various sights of Manila is even named Dante. Linmark makes these parallelisms overt throughout the novel. But Leche also has much in common with another work of literature to use an epigraph from The Divine Comedy–the eponymous J. Alfred Prufrock from T.S. Eliot’s landmark modernist poem. Continue reading

Book 1, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Well, here is the Mt. Everest of my bogus enterprise, the most daunting of all the doorstopper books I’ve planned to read in 2012. I know that I’ve also endeavored to read Tale of Genji and Don Quixote but there’s somehow a unique weight that comes with undertaking a Russian tome.

I read the first volume of The Brothers Karamazov back in college but I can’t actually remember much about it. I’m quite certain that i have read up to the infamous Grand Inquisitor chapter but I can’t recall much beyond that. Dostoevsky has always been daunting to me; I’ve tried multiple times to get into Crime and Punishment but I always back away from the intensity of it. I’ve built up a certain apprehension towards The Brothers K as well and was quite surprised that this particular iteration, as translated by Ignat Avsey, starts of in a pretty inviting–even jaunty tone.

Four characters are at the heart of The Brothers K. The patriarch is Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his sons are, respectively, Dmitry, Ivan, and Aleksei (fondly called Alyosha by almost everyone). For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply list the pertinent events of Book 1.

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Finishing Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

1st Diary Entry – Midnight’s Children
2nd Diary Entry – Midnight’s Children
3rd Diary Entry – Midnight’s Children

I was not prepared for the way this book ends. There has been too much foreshadowing, I thought, too many narrative obstacles hurled at me by Salman Rushdie, for me to be completely floored by how he would tie up this story. I was so very wrong. The last 100 pages of Midnight’s Children quite literally winded me as the whirl of Saleem Sinai’s world is once against devastated by the tides of history.

At the beginning of Part 3, Saleem suffers from an affliction that takes him from his destroyed life in West Pakistan to East Pakistan (formerly East Bengal, later on Bangladesh) where he and three other young Pakistani soldiers joined the war against the Bengal secessionists. What occurs there is a Heart of Darkness-like ordeal in the swampy jungles, where Saleem and his companions begin to lose not only their sanity, but also the pieces of their civilized selves. To be quite honest, this part became very difficult for me to read through. It is partly due to some stylistic idiosyncrasies that Rushdie chose to include and partly because I didn’t really care enough for the minor character to parse the meanings behind their fever-dreams. I was also not knowledgeable enough about the Bangladesh Liberation War to catch all the allusions he makes.

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End of Part 2 – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

(Credits: The quote is from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The poster is by Brett Thurman on Behance. Click for better image resolution)

1st Diary Entry – Midnight’s Children
2nd Diary Entry – Midnight’s Children

A series of forced overtimes at work has eaten away at my reading time for the past two weeks and frankly, I’m still too busy stewing in my resentment, so this will be a short post. It’s already March but Dostoevsky will have to wait a few more days. : (

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold in Saleem Sinai’s childhood world. While far from idyllic, the Methwold Estate has given him considerable protection. However, his entry into puberty leads to a series of ruptures. Saleem discovers an aspect of his mother’s past that enrages him and his own family manages to inadvertently cut him off from the rest of the Midnight’s Children. These breaks culminate to his family’s ruin in India and their eventual migration to Pakistan.

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300 Pages into Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Photo from Vanity Fair

1st Diary Entry – Midnight’s Children

Despite the inclusion of characters who live in slums and wander the streets to make money, Salman Rushdie is chiefly chronicling the lives of the affluent Indians in Midnight’s Children. This is an important thing to note because while Saleem constantly proclaims that his story is the story of India, he is telling it from his position on top of the country’s socioeconomic pyramid. His own home–a compound that used to belong to an eccentric British man named Methwold–cloisters him and his family from most of the turmoil that occurs in Bombay after India’s independence from British rule. Not that the members of his household are protected from the political and social changes around them; no one is untouched by that.

The circumstances of Saleem’s birth has shades of soap opera-style scandal and mystery but the most important aspect is the time when it occurred. He is born exactly at midnight of August 15, 1947, the day of India’s independence. This ties him closely to the 1000 other newborn babies that entered the world on the same hour but only Saleem earns himself a letter from Jawaharlal Nehru.

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