#35: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Katarina)

By now, it’s been made very clear that I love the works of John Steinbeck. East of Eden (1952) is no exception. The book tells the tale of two families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, who both come to live in the Salinas Valley, California. The Hamilton’s are said to be based on the real family of Samuel Hamilton, Steinbeck’s grandfather. The writer himself also appears briefly in the story, which makes it feel even more like the truth ( at least to some extent). Samuel Hamilton struggles to make a living on an infertile piece of land and he is known to be an inventor with a good heart. Adam Trask on the other hand, grew up in a military home on the east coast and came to the Valley a rich man. He is head over heals in love with his beautiful wife Cathy, but she is full of secrets and runs away from him after giving birth to twin sons.

The book offers an intricate weave of colorful characters and some fo them you would love to have as your best friends, while others appear to be the devil’s offspring. The book is also closely related to the Bible and the story from Genesis about Cain and Abel. Salinas Valley also plays a vital part in the book and is so well described by Steinbeck that it feels like I have visited the place in person.

In the short, the book is beautifully written and I truly recommend it. If Steinbeck is still a writer for you to discover, I envy you, and if he is already someone you love, I understand you fully. If you on the other hand don’t like his books, well, that is fine too, but maybe you should give him another try?

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Filed under 31-40, Fiction, Katarina

#34: The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton (Katarina)

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) is one of few books I wish I hadn’t read. Not because it was bad, it was sometimes quite interesting and especially in the beginning, but because of how it ended. I think it is (SPOILER ALERT) cheap to end a book with “it was all just a dream”. The insanity in some parts of the book should have clued me in on this ending, but I hoped the outcome would be quite different.

So what is the book about? A man called Syme is recruited to an anti-anarchist group within Scotland Yard to take down a group led by a man known as Sunday. Syme takes on the role as Thursday as he infiltrates the group. One by one, the other members of the group (except for Sunday) turns out to also be part of the same group as Syme. They have all been recruited by the same mysterious man who interviewed them in a pitch black room, so neither one of them knows what he looks like. To me, at least, it was evident that this man had to be Sunday. Why else be so secretive? The hunt for Sunday takes the police officers on a wild journey through Europe that, as I said earlier, becomes more and more insane. And then ends with it all being a dream.

I’m certain there is some greatness in this book and that there is a lot to discuss, but to me, it is all over-shadowed by the fact that it ends with the awakening from a dream. Maybe it was something new back in the day, but now it feels like an easy way out, just like killing the main character is. If it doesn’t add to the  greater good of the story, it can easily be seen as a way for the author to get out of the corner they have painted themselves into.

But maybe I take back what I said first. I don’t regret reading the book, because it had its charm. However, I wish it had ended differently.

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#33: The Pearl by John Steinbeck (Katarina)

My love for John Steinbeck deepens further after reading The Pearl (1947). Based on a Mexican folk tale, we meet a young couple who live in hut with their infant son. The man, Kino, is a pearl diver, and very poor. When the story opens, the young family lives a very content life, but that is all about to change. One morning, the baby Coyotito is stung by a scorpion and needs medical treatment. However, the doctor doesn’t want to help a poor man since there’s nothing in it for him. It’s the beginning of desperate times.

Shortly thereafter, Kino finds an enormous pearl that is nicknamed “the Pearl of the World”, and no one has ever seen anything like it. Kino first believes that his luck has turned in his favor, but only the first night, people try to steal it from him. The next day, he is further disappointed when the corrupt pearl buyers try to play him and rob him of what the pearl is really worth by saying it has no value.

Instead, Kino decides to take the pearl the long way to the capital to sell it, but his wife Juana sees the evil it has brought and sneaks out at night to throw it back in the ocean. But Kino figures it out, attacks her and then gets attacked himself. Eventually they begin the dangerous journey and are chased by trackers.

The story, although quite short, shows how greed can lead to the downfall of man. Steinbeck paints a beautifully painful story with an end that leaves you heartbroken. It also offers a lot to discuss and even now, weeks after i finished it, I still hate the people who let their own greed cause so much pain in a young family who really didn’t care about money but that which is important – the people you hold near and dear.


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#17. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (Catharina)

This book falls under the genre of animal fiction, as human thoughts and feelings are given to the lead character of the book (the lead character is a dog named Buck). It was very popular when it was published and was made into a movie the first time as early as 1908 (five years after the book was published, several movie and even series adaptations have followed). Part of its charm is probably the mix of fable, allegory and parable. This is a quick read for an adult reader, but it doesn’t mean that they should not read it; if nothing else it covers a portion of American history.

In this story we get to follow Buck, a St Bernard-Collie mix. The book is written to reflect the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush; dogs to pull the sledges were in great demand. Buck is stolen from his home and sold to a dog trader, who savagely beats obedience into the dogs. His stay here changes how Buck thinks about humans and also to a point how he looks at other dogs. Especially when he arrives in Yukon and gets experience in how the experienced sledge dogs act. Buck is put to work in a sledge team, and start having problems with the lead dog straight away. After a while he managed to kill the lead dog and takes over being the lead dog in the team. The team gets sold off to some people that are not evry experienced and unable to fathom that the dogs are run down, they work them anyway and Buck is almost beaten to death for refusing to pull at one point. He gets saved by a man that happens to be present and for the first time in a long while Buck gets to experience how it is to have a loving owner. At this point the story goes into displaying “American pastoralism”, where the character returns to nature so to speak. Buck starts running around in the wild, befriends a Timber wolf, but still returns to his owner on regular intervals. After returning to camp after a short trip away he finds that Indians, have killed his new human and he returns to the wild fully and run with the wolves.

I believe that this book gives an insight into how the life of sledge dogs was at that time, attempted from the dog’s perspective. Worth a read at least once in your lifetime, it won’t take very long for an adult reader anyway and I believe that for younger readers it would be very popular.

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Filed under 11-20, Adventure Fiction, Catharina, Children's Literature

#16. Persuasion by Jane Austen (Catharina)

Another Jane Austen novel, in fact it is her last. Her brother is thought to have decided on the title of this novel, which was named after her death, and that she referred to it as “The Elliott’s”.

We get to follow the character Anne Elliott here; her father and sister are rather self-involved people and had together with Anne’s friend Lady Russell eight years earlier persuaded Anne to break off an engagement to a young naval officer on the ground that he was beneath her. At age 27 Anne is still unmarried and the family fortune has dwindled. The family estate is leased out, as it turns out to the sister and brother-in-law of Anne’s former fiancée. The poor naval officer have now turned into a fairly rich Captain, he proclaims that he wants to marry, just not Anne, as he is till angry with her for breaking off the engagement.

The book deals with the social pressures of the time, and different types of persuasions by family members on young women to act as they saw fit. I do believe that seeing Jane Austen’s novels as “just love stories,” mean that you have missed the whole point. Rather they give a glimpse into how it was to be a young woman of those times and the different social pressures that you had to conform to.

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#15. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Catharina)

This story follows a young man, who very obviously has psychological issues. He murders a person and the rest of the story centers around him trying to keep reality from fiction and attempting to circumvent the police. The book is quite dark to read, the thought patterns expressed by the main character are very thorough and intricate and I believe explains how the mind of a psychologically very ill person could be working. The main character knows that he has murdered, he knows that it is wrong to murder, but he is exploring whether it is not better that he lives even though a few dies for the good of society? Is it not better that a few important people live even if it is at the expense at others? To note is that the older woman that gets murdered, and in the end the additional people that get killed have in reality done nothing bad to the character. The justification is that he needs money and the old woman have it. In addition he also wants to explore that some people just have it in them to commit these things, and in some twisted piece of logic even have the right to perform them. I find it hard to grasp how the author has managed to explain so well how the mind of the main character works, and how it starts to unravel. I am happy he just put it down on paper, but considering the extra work that goes into a book and the length of time it normally takes to write it; Fyodor Dostoyevsky spent a long time closely following this very difficult mind.

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Filed under 11-20, Catharina, Philosophical Fiction

#14. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

I have to say that I had not heard a lot about this book before. But it is so worth a read! The main reason I decided to read it was its mention in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with the impression from Northanger Abbey that it is very “wicked”. I wanted to see what was seen as a wicked book or storyline in those times. The Mysteries of Udolpho follows the story of a young woman called Emily. Sadly her parents die and she is left in the hands of her aunt, a woman who appears to hold no affection for Emily. Emily is in love with a young gentleman and the aunt agrees to them getting married as he appears to have great connections. But hastily a dubious gentleman called Montoni marries the aunt to get access to her money. He breaks of Emily’s engagement and whisks both her and the aunt away to Venice, where his plan is to force Emily to marry one of his rich friends. In the last minute it is discovered that the friend is actually very poor, and Emily and her aunt is moved to a gloomy castle up in the mountains called Udolpho. The castle is surrounded by mysteries, secret passages and locked doors. Montoni is treating his wife very badly, and tries to get her to sign over all off her estates to him so that they will not go to Emily. In the end the aunt dies, and Emily manages to escape back to France wher she is finally reunited with her lover.

It is quite an old book and I think this female author has done a great job describing the characters in it. It also showcases how woman of higher class in those times were reliant on their male relatives. Their life and their happiness were in the hands of other people and if these people did not have their best at heart there was not very much they could do. At the same time, it also a love story but more than that it is filled with mysteries and ghost stories! Even though the book is fairly long (it was originally published in four parts), I would thoroughly recommend this; I have to say I actually enjoyed it more than Jane Austen’s books (although I’m not sure that a comparison is fair as they are in effect quite different types of books). One of the things that really struck me is the regular occurrence of fainting, at any sudden noises or the thought of a ghost appearing the characters would faint. This happened even if they were just fainting due to a fleeting shadow. I believe this is very typical of the era when the book was written and stands in stark contrast to how modern woman are expected to react under similar circumstances!

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Filed under 11-20, Catharina, Romance Novel