Steinbeck, John "East of Eden"


Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

I have watched the movie ages ago and always wanted to read the book. I'm glad I did. Steinbeck is a wonderful author, his writing is almost poetry, his thoughts philosophical and, yet, his stories are so alive. You have the feeling you're there with the characters, you laugh and cry with them.

Steinbeck talks about problems as old as mankind, he retells the story of Cain and Abel, only here they are called Caleb and Aaron (the father is still Adam, though), and they live in his native California.

An excellent report about growing up, growing in different directions, about good and evil, young and old, a very moving story, so many lives that you fear and hope with.

In the meantime, we have discussed this book in our international book club. We had a great discussion, everyone seemed to be getting something out of it, even if we disliked the characters.

Some of our comments:

"I loved written style. Breathtaking, descriptive power, opening page. I usually go fast over descriptive things of nature but not this time. I really like his writing, like the many details. Just looking at the first chapter, you can picture yourself there, smell the smell, feel the wind, the characters are very structured. Even though I don't like sad books, I find this fascinating. He is a good writer, carries you along.
He tried to document what it was like in the Salinas Valley at the time. It reads like a Western.
Why haven't I read this before?
Biblical Story: A rabbinical-like exegesis of free will. It stopped the characters from developing.
I got wary about his insistence of the biblical story, I'm not dumb, got tired of him repeating it all the time
I didn't like the good and evil, the black and white.
Did he make the biblical references on purpose?
I thought this was a retelling of the bible, so the characters had to act the way they acted.
Characters: The author constrains his characters that they have to act in a certain way.
Hated Adam. He got off too easily.
Cal the anyone who could back out because he struggled with himself.
I hated most of the characters, the ones I liked had some backbone.
Heavy, pigeon-holed characters, Steinbeck put them in a box.
Loved the relationship between Lee and Samuel.
Kate is based on his ex-wife who wouldn't let him see his two sons. Maybe that's why she was so negative.
Loved Lee, stories repeated themselves.
Abra was interesting, I always asked "why did you pick the loser brother, why did you wait?"
I was repelled by the characters you keep turning the pages. Samuel was too good to be true (the Hamiltons were modeled after Steinbeck's family), his kids were the only ones who did have a real chance to develop as they liked."

I can highly recommend this book.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2012.

From the back cover:

"Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families - the Trasks and the Hamiltons - whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence."

I also really enjoyed "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men"

John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception".

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

Mann, Thomas "Death in Venice"

(German: Der Tod in Venedig) - 1912


Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read


I have read two of Thomas Mann's major works, "Buddenbrooks" and "The Magic Mountain", and they were just fantastic. This is a smaller story, a novella. You cannot compare it to the larger novels but you can certainly find Thomas Mann in the story.

This book is about a dream and the hope of its fulfillment. It is a story of defeat but also of love. It is as actual as it was a hundred years ago when it was written. Maybe one of the most actual books written on the subject of homosexuality.

Thomas Mann manages to describe the obsession of an elderly man to a young boy without either of them ever talking to the other. But the author finds the right words. An excellent (but not an easy) read.

From the back cover:

"Celebrated novella of a middle-aged German writer's tormented passion for a Polish youth met on holiday in Venice, and its tragic consequences. Powerful evocation of the mysterious forces of death and disintegration in the midst of existence, and the isolation of the artist in 20th-century life. This edition provides an excellent new translation and extensive commentary on many facets of the story.

Published on the eve of World War I, a decade after Buddenbrooks had established Thomas Mann as a literary celebrity, Death in Venice tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment that instead leads to his erotic doom.

In the decaying city, besieged by an unnamed epidemic, he becomes obsessed with an exquisite Polish boy, Tadzio. 'It is the story of the voluptuousness of doom,' Mann wrote. 'But the problem I had especially in mind was that of the artist's dignity.'"

Thomas Mann received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929 "principally for his great novel, 'Buddenbrooks', which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature".

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

Buck, Pearl S. "The Mother"


Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read


I have been reading Pearl S. Buck novels ever since I was a teenager, so about 40 years now. But there are still so many of her books I haven't read.

I came across this little gem in a used bookshop.

As it happens so often in her books, the author does not reveal the names of the children as this seems to have been quite normal in China. But in this case, there isn't even another name involved. The only one we come across, "the mother" is sometimes called Mrs. Lee.

However, the names don't matter. We get to know a poor peasant woman and her family, her thoughts and her feelings, her hardships, how she leads her life, how she is forced to look after her family, how all her life is just work and responsibility.

I have seldom read a book that goes so deep into the heart of the protagonist. We get to know the traditions in a little village in China, the way girls are married off into another family.

If you want to learn about pre-revolutionary rural China, this is the right book. If you want to read more books by Pearl S. Buck, check all my posts about her here. I suggest you start with "The Good Earth".

From the back cover:

"Within this novel Ms. Buck paints the portrait of a poor woman living in a remote village whose joys are few and hardships are many. As the ancient traditions, which she bases her philosophies upon, begin to collide with the new ideals of the communist era, this peasant woman must find a balance between them and deal with the consequences."

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces" and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Good Earth" in 1932.

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

Pamuk, Orhan "The New Life"

(Turkish: Yeni Hyat) - 1994

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

I've said it before, I'll say it again, Orhan Pamuk is one of my favourite authors. He never fails to surprise.

In this novel, the protagonist reads a book. Sounds familiar?

Now, even reading a brilliant book doesn't mean it will change your entire life. But in this case, it does. Osman is a student in Istanbul. He gives up his studies, leaves his family and friend behind and goes on a long journey through Turkey with no destiny or motive.

It's not just the story itself that's so fascinating, it's the way the author tells it. He has a special way of describing people and situations, the story unfolds in quite a unique way, it's full of symmetry. His puns and allusions to life in Turkey are so Interesting. He is one of their most important authors.

I am looking forward to his next novels.

From the back cover:

"'I read a book one day, and my whole life was changed.'

So begins The New Life, Orhan Pamuk's fabulous road novel about a young student who yearns for the life promised by a dangerously magical book. He falls in love, abandons his studies, turns his back on home and family, and embarks on restless bus trips through the provinces, in pursuit of an elusive vision. This is a wondrous odyssey, laying bare the rage of an arid heartland. In coffee houses with black-and-white TV sets, on buses where passengers ride watching B-movies on flickering screens, in wrecks along the highway, in paranoid fictions with spies as punctual as watches, the magic of Pamuk's creation comes alive."

Orhan Pamuk "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

Orhan Pamuk received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2005.

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

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© Read the NobelsMaira Gall