#72: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Katarina)

If you have not read Heart of Darkness (1899), then maybe you have seen the movie Apocalypse Now. The successful movie about the Vietnam war is actually based on Joseph Conrad’s novella. While the movie deals with a criticized war, Heart of Darkness shines a light on the Europeans’ way of dealing with “savages” in Congo.

Conrad used something called a frame story to set up his story. The story opens up on the Thames where the narrator, Marlow, begins telling a story about the ivory trader Kurtz. It is through Marlow’s perspective we get to experience his journey to find Kurtz in the depths of Africa.

The book addresses issues like colonialism and racism as it approaches the heavy subject of darkness within humanity. As it turns out, there is little difference between those who claim to be civilized and those who are seen as “savages”.

Over the years, I have read a lot of post-colonial literature, and then as well as with this novella, I become upset how the people in colonies were treated by Europeans who thought of themselves as better. Were they aware of the pain they caused or were they so indoctrinated with the belief that they were doing the “savages” a favor?

I sometimes I wish I had a time-machine or that I was friends with Doctor Who. Then, I would bring some important person with me back from the height of colonialism and show him what the world looks like today, 2015, partly because of how they behaved. Would that make a difference? Maybe not, but I hope that books like these, which shines light on the wrongness of the whole thing, lives on so that we are reminded of how we as Europeans created deep wounds elsewhere in the world.

Racism is still a major problem in the world and the question is how to finally get beyond it. In a way, Conrad shows the root of the problem. And that is as good a place as any to start.


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Filed under 71-80, Fiction, Katarina, Uncategorized

# 83. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (Catharina)

I thought this book was fantastic. Such a lovely mix between reality and magic! Which believe it or not actually is its own genre called Magic Realism. This is a multi generational story following one family. I thought it was quite nice to be able to follow one family for such a long time, you get to follow children being born, raising their own family and subsequently passing away.

The book follows the belief that you cannot escape your future, or you past? There are a lot of references to dreams and characters appear to be highly influenced by what they dream. A lot of disasters also strike the family, and they appear unable to escape them. I feel like some of the characters are better than others with dealing with these disasters. Maybe that is just my own view though about how a proper life looks like? In reality we all how a lot pre-conceived ideas of how we think life should be lived and get concerned and frown upon people that live it out of the norm. It takes time and patience to learn that there are different ways of living a good life and that you are not allowed to judge other people’s life choices. In the end of the day we are all in charge of our own life. Regardless of what dreams we have and what we decided to do about them.

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Filed under 81-90, Catharina, Magic Realism

# 82. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Catharina)

This book is the origin of the phrase “catch-22”, that is an unsolvable logic puzzle. The story follows an airman during the second world war and his and his friend’s attempts at avoiding flying on air strikes. The catch-22 refers to the double bind of you being able to avoid flying if you were deemed mentally unfit, but the only way to be deemed to be mentally unfit was to tell the doctor that you wanted to be excused and the mere act of asking proved that you were mentally sane. This is due to it being totally rational to not want to risk your life in an air strike, the act of asking to be taken off duty thereby proves that you are sane.

This is a funny book, I enjoyed it immensely. Heller uses paradoxes on a regular basis and these illogical sentences pervades the book. In addition, things are strung together over time, as in something several chapters later might end a previous string of thoughts. It often does this humorously though; I especially remember the referral to the dead man. He would come up on several occasions through the book and it takes quite a while until he is fully sorted out. The start of the premise is that there is a new soldier arriving, who goes to the tent and then dies before he has time to register. In the eyes of the officials he thereby doesn’t exist so how can he be dead in a tent?

Another conversation that is related and often referred to, is set humorously but I think it signifies the reality of warfare where the main character has a conversation where he is convinced that “they” are out to get him. The other soldier says that he is being silly at which point the main character asks why they are shooting at him then?

Catch-22 is a mix between humour and reality, the way it is written is in reality great if you realise that it is what is being done (the book might seem unstructured, but in reality it is highly structured and follows the style of free association). This is especially apparent if you pay attention to the bridging between chapters, you will realise that the ending of one chapters is tightly linked with the start of the next, irrespective of what happens in the chapter.

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Filed under 81-90, Catharina, Satire

# 81. Iliad by Homer (Catharina)

An epic poem in dactylic hexameter? I would say it is The Epic Poem. I would lie if I said that I didn’t struggle with this one. There was a lot of people mentioned, who were then killed straight away making difficult for me to follow it. I guess because it is not actually a story, but a relation of events and these people were deemed important, they were big names at the time and it was important that their deeds were noted down in a permanent record.


This is a mixture of battles, plagues, people being taken captive, half-gods and actual gods getting involved and getting slighted. It is a fairly quick and I feel hard to follow story. It is one of those that you probably have to read quite a few times to be able to follow properly. I am happy I read it though, and I am not certain I will get around to read it again. Maybe I’ll get a period where I get really into Greek Mythology and will feel like it needs reading again?

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Filed under 81-90, Catharina, Historical Novel

# 80. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (Catharina)

German soldier during world war one, but instead of romanticising war and covering epic battles it follows what I imagine life was really like for a soldier on the front line. From days on end in muddy trenches with not enough food, to battles where small amounts of land are gained, only to be lost again a few days later. The emotional response to having to kill an enemy soldier and watching them die in agony over several hours. The book also covers one of the major issues which a lot of soldiers suffered from coming back from the front: trying to fit back into normal life.

This is a harrowing and emotional read, but well worth the effort. Most of us have had relatives that have served in this or the second world war (some of them in both), they might not be with us anymore but it does not mean that at least getting a small grasp of how their service shaped them for the rest of their life isn’t worth anything. In fact, I believe it is worth a lot.

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Filed under 71-80, Catharina, Historical Novel

#79. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Catharina)

I like these kind of futuristic stories where the author explores what they think could be an alternative future in comparison to what people generally want or perceive that we are heading towards. Saying that I believe that this book is not as well worked through as some of the other futuristic stories I’ve read (1984 for example). It could have done with a bit more work put into it; it was in reality a fairly short book to read.

The general premise of the book is that everyone is bioengineered in test tubes, is drug addicts and follows all of the rules and specific society norms. Such as sleeping with everyone without any emotion involved and not thinking a thought out of line. I guess the made up drug addiction that everyone suffers from is to ensure that nobody thinks on their own or follow any natural instincts. I guess the interesting thing to contemplate is how realistic a future this is? We are already able to create life in a test tube but we can’t bring it to life in that said test tube, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. I am not very comfortable with the thought of this happening though, of bioengineering the people you need for specific roles. A lot of them seemed to be deprived of their own will. To be honest I think it would be the end of mankind; one of the reasons I believe why we have been so successful is that we are not the same. Ingenuity and the ability to think out different and new solutions are driven by our ability to be different and not conform. A stagnant society is one that will inevitable start going backwards.

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Filed under 71-80, Adventure Fiction, Catharina, dystopian

#78. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio (Catharina)

The Decameron is a collection of short stories. It is framed in a way of seven young ladies and three men telling a story each for 10 nights over a period of two weeks, in a secluded garden where they are trying to escape the black death. Eight of the days have topics assigned: power of fortune; power of human will; love tales that end badly; love tales that end well; cleverness saving the speaker; tricks of women on men; tricks that people play on each other and examples of virtue.

This is a big book! It takes a while to get through and the fact that it is not just one story but several have both its virtues and its issues.  The main issue is that there is not a main story that you get sucked into and want to know how it ends, the main virtue is that it does not matter if you put the book down for a while after one of the short stories, in fact it might even work better.

The majority of the stories appear to favor and encourage great wit and philosophical skills and look down on stupidity and dullness. I have to admit that the sheer number of stories involving nuns, monks or priests doing the naughty shocked me a bit. It stuck in my mind the most; I guess they showed great wit though managing to escape the prying eyes of society or their fellow nuns and monks in their endeavors. With that said, if you decide to read it to your child I would vet the stories first.

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Filed under 71-80, Catharina, Fiction