Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Turn the Page... Tuesday

My entry for this month's Turn the Page... Tuesday (brought to us by our good friend, Adrienne over at Some of a Kind - Thank you, Adrienne!) should be pretty short and sweet.  Not because I haven't been reading, but because you already know the two books I read in September - I mentioned them in last month's post.

First, I finished The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (pronounced deh-zoot).  From the Author's website, a summary of 'Jacob' is as follows:
The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the “high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island” that is the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancĂ©e back in Holland.
But Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city’s powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken. The consequences will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, “Who ain’t a gambler in the glorious Orient, with his very life?”

I found the story to be quite interesting.  Life at the end of the 1700's was full of so much struggle and change; placing the story in this location showed, yet another perspective of this.  As always with historical fiction, I am fascinated and disheartened by all the politics of the world.  So many games people played.

The characters were extremely vivid.  There were the obvious "bad guys", but each one (good and bad) were quite realistic.  Mitchell did an excellent job with the language, as well... For example, the dock workers spoke in their "lower" language", there was the interplay of language between the interpreters, and (of course), the political language between the parties.

I must admit, early on in the book I was a little overwhelmed by the details of the story.  Mitchell obviously took painstaking effort to describe the trading world between Japan & the Dutch... my book club felt the same way.  The strange thing is, at the end of the story, there's a lot of "glossing" over the details - like he lost steam and just wanted to finish the book.  (I honestly didn't mind that, but it seemed quite a contradiction from the beginning).

Speaking of book club - one thing that came up in the discussion that I didn't catch while reading was the use of poetry, namely Haiku.  I have never been up on poetry... I'm just not geared that way, I guess... but I can respect it.  When Jackie & Jen mentioned the Haiku's scattered throughout the book I was blown away.  THIS is why I love book club, I learn things from others that I would have never gotten from the book alone.

The group gave the book an average rating of 3.5 (out of 5, 5 being best).  I would say if you're interested in historical fiction about life in a very politically controlled area of the world in the late 1700's/early 1800's, this book is something you'd like to read.


Second, I completed Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley.
This book has been on my shelf since I got married and it was on my hubby's shelf since high school.  I have always wanted to read it.
I got my chance this month because I am leading the discussion for Book Club on October 19th!  YEP, the group chose it as a selection!

I flew through this story.  It's a short book, only 209 pages, and it moves pretty fast.  If you've only known about Frankenstein from the movies or TV, then you DON'T know the story. at. all.

I knew a bit of what the story was about (btw, Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster); I knew it was a sad story, that the monster wasn't really a "monster", but that was about it.

That said, there is still SO much to talk about... and my post is already REALLY long. 
Let me try to sum up the millions of thoughts in my head about this book (and it's author).
- Mary Shelley had a roller-coaster of a life up until the writing of Frankenstein (at age 19) - she grew up without her mother (her father was not very involved with her either), she eloped with a married man (Percy Shelley) at age 16, her first child died, her 1/2 sister committed suicide, and Percy's wife drowned.
- The story of Frankenstein is marketed as a Horror story... but I see it as a tragedy.
- The question of "Just because you CAN do something, does it mean that you SHOULD?" comes to mind.  This, knowing that scientific research has lead to remarkable discoveries... Mary seems to be posing the question of "Are there discoveries that shouldn't be made?"
- The creature... could he have lived a good life if Frankenstein had reacted differently to him as a being?
- I can't help but be drawn to the thought of bullying - such a prominent topic these days - I'm not exactly sure why.  I think it's because I sympathize so greatly with The Creature.  His words throughout the story are gentle and compassionate.  He is intelligent and simply yearns for companionship and love.  He becomes "a monster" because he is shunned by his creator and the world of humans, banished to live in the snowy mountain caves... alone.  Maybe it's the isolation and misery he feels that strikes the bullying chord in me.

I highly, highly recommend Frankenstein.  It's a heart-wrenching story, but one that makes you think.  It's wonderfully written by a unique woman who got the idea after spending many days hanging out with Percy Shelley & Lord Byron... being taunted into writing a "ghost story".

So much for short and sweet this month... sheesh.
Hope you read some good stuff recently, if you haven't go get Frankenstein... NOW!  ;)


Adrienne said...

Ok - I am sooo recommending Frankenstein to my book club! If we don't read I am going to :-)

The other book sounds interesting but I dont think my brain can handle too much info at this time a he he

Paula said...

My husband and I both read Frankenstein a few years ago and like you, was surprised at the depth of the story and the issue's that Mary Shelley touched on. Such a good story. I just may have to dig it out and re-read it soon...

Sara said...

After your last book post, I got the Kindle app on my phone and got Frankenstein free from Amazon (lots of free classics--it's great!). I had been reading it a few minutes here and there, until last night. I stayed up reading just through the letters. I am SO intrigued and I can't wait to begin chapter one! Thanks for the recommendation!

P.S. If you want to read Peter Mayle--I'd definitely suggest starting with A Year in Provence vs. A Good Year--enjoy!