Saturday, April 30, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

In a nutshell
It may seem like a love story, but it’s actually not (covers can be deceiving!), which is why I decided to read it. This story, set around the depression era, is about Jacob who almost graduates from an Ivy League school with a degree in veterinary sciences. Upon finding out his parents’ death and his dad’s debts, he wandered off from home and jumped onto a train, only to find out later that it was a circus train. When the owner of circus, Uncle Al, found out he has a degree in veterinary science, he was hired to be the animal doctor and was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. He ended up spending most of his life there until he had his own family.

What I liked
The story flowed very well, moving from one scene to another very beautifully. What added to its quality for me also is the author’s ability to give the story a very strong sense of place. I could feel like I was in every part of the story – from moving in the train car with Jacob to looking desperately for Queenie, Walter’s dog. I could almost hear the sounds of the circus – the crowd and the music, even the smell of the food!

I actually preferred reading about the 90 or 93 year old Jacob. I thought Gruen did a marvellous job on him. She maintained young Jacob’s stubbornness and determination which resulted in him being crude and cantankerous when old, and at the same time adding the reality of being old, “Age is a terrible thief. Just when you're getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse."

The descriptions and inner dialogues were so real that I fear old-age, especially when I read this, “When you are five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm--you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it."

I was quite fond of Kinko, Jacob's reluctant roommate. On appearance, he seemed like a rather grumpy and unfriendly person. But deep down, he was kind, caring and gentle. You could tell by the way he treats his dog, Queenie. Initially, Jacob's relationship with him was rocky, but they developed a strong friendship later when Jacob managed to cure Queenie's problem. He later allowed Jacob to call him Walter, his real name.

I couldn’t help myself falling for these 3 characters - the cheeky Bobo the monkey (a small role); super talented Rosie the elephant and ever loyal Queenie (Kinko’s Jack Russell)! They all added humour to this story. I was expecting Rosie to come in much earlier in the story, but it appeared only much later. Nevertheless, this 2500 pounds beauty never ceased to make me fall for her over and over again.

The title. Now, this is a tricky one. It bugged me quite a bit. It was brought up somewhere in the beginning of the book, but was never really ‘explained’ what it actually meant. All we were told is that we don’t carry water for elephants, because elephants drink a hell lot. So I think, metaphorically, it could mean to carry a huge burden. So in this story, it would mean the secret Jacob has been keeping with him for many years, which I won’t reveal here.

What I didn't quite like
The cover. The cover. The cover. I didn’t like this movie tie-in version. First, because I’m not a fan of Robert Pattinson. Second, this story is not a love story. So a lovey-dovey concept shouldn’t be used on the cover. I much prefer this one on the left.

Didn’t’ quite like Marlena’s character development; thought there’s nothing much to her, rather…urm…hollow (?) except always feeling lost and helpless. Felt like she chose Jacob not because she loved him, but because she had nobody else she could rely on, and the person who really cared for her besides August, was Jacob.

And the ending didn’t really make sense. It felt ‘forced’. Maybe the author wanted to keep it ‘fairytale-like’? It was just a ‘nice’ ending to ‘complete’ the story.

Besides that, it’s a very pleasant read. I enjoyed the experience reading about the train circus life during the depression era. Oh, one warning though, you might have to bear with the animal abuse descriptions. Brutal and graphic.

My verdict? 3.5/5
Didn’t hate it, didn’t really love it either. What made this a page turner for me was the tempo of the plot that was nicely set. You know what would happen next, but you don’t know when. That kinda kept the suspense rolling.

Although I enjoyed the book, I have a feeling I'd prefer the movie :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Uncensored version of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' published!!

Over 120 years after it was condemned as 'vulgar' and 'unclean', an uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is published by Harvard University Press.

Revised after it was condemned in the British press over 130 years ago as "vulgar", "unclean", "poisonous" and "discreditable", an uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has finally been published.

Seems that Frankel, associate professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University said "the time is ripe for the publication of Wilde's novel in its uncensored form … It is the version of the novel that Wilde, I believe, would want us to be reading in the 21st century … I'm bringing it out of the closet a little more."

To read the whole article, click here.

If not, you can read some of the interesting parts here ;)

These were some of the editing done to make the book "acceptable to the most fastidious taste". Wilde's editor, JM Stoddart, removed references to Gray's female lovers as his "mistresses". For examplethe question; "Is Sybil Vane your mistress ?" was altered to "What are your relations with Sibyl Vane ?"

Other examples that were edited/censored were:
"It is quite true I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman," Hallward tells Dorian, in one passage was changed to "From the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me".

Here, Hallward describes the feelings which had driven his portrait of Gray. "There was love in every line, and in every touch there was passion."

Another restored line describes Gray walking the street at night; "A man with curious eyes had suddenly peered into his face, and then dogged him with stealthy footsteps, passing and repassing him many times."

Gray also reflects on Hallward's feelings for him. "There was something infinitely tragic in a romance that was at once so passionate and sterile."


What do you think? Do you think it's a good decision made by the publisher? Will it make a difference to you?

I have yet to read the book haha comment. But I thought it'd be something interesting for me to put up on my blog for keep sake :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meet & Greet Shamini, Author of Inspector Singh Investigates Series!

Why, oh why on a weekday...? *sob* Anyway,...if you're nearby, remember to meet up with Shamini Flint!

Shamini writes children’s books with cultural and environmental themes including Jungle Blues and Turtle takes a Trip as well as the ‘Sasha’ series of children’s books. She also writes crime fiction, the first two books are Inspector Singh Investigates - A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder and Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul published by Little, Brown, UK in 2009. The third title in the series published in 2010 is Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy to be followed by Singh's adventures in Cambodia and India.

Check out her website here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Author of Three Cups of Tea, fabricated his memoir?

Read this on, and started googling. These are what I found:
1) The author's charity organization has taken credit for schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan that don't exist.
2) The porters who accompanied him say he was never lost, and went back to the village a year after his first trip.
3) Mortenson also claims to have been kidnapped by the Taliban, but all the men in a photo from the supposed kidnapping are not actually Taliban, and say they never harmed Mortenson.
4) One of the men, according to CBS, is the director of an influential think tank whose scholarly essays have been published in the U.S.

Mortenson's side of the story: 'I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students.'

Mortenson said the account of his experiences in Korphe 'was a compressed version of events' that took place in 1993 and that local people's different concept of time could explain the misunderstanding.

Mortenson insisted that he was held against his will in Waziristan in 1996, though shifting tribal loyalties may explain the conflicting version of events.

He also maintained that the fraud allegations were fabricated by a disgruntled former manager, and that some of the money raised by CAI had been used to build an endowment rather than channeled directly into school construction.

'I hope these allegations and attacks, the people doing these things, know this could be devastating for tens of thousands of girls, for the sake of Nielsen ratings and Emmys,' Mortenson said. (Got this here)

Watch a very interesting video by 60 minutes here and an even more interesting one, (where the author was caught off guard) here.

Who's telling the truth? Does the truth matter if his story has inspired many to contribute to the society?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Title/Author: Norwegian Wood/Haruki Murakami (Translated by Jay Rubin)
Publisher: Vintage Books USA
Pages: 400
ISBN 13: 9780099554561

Expect no flying elephants, man-eating cats, or any of those surrealist eccentricities that you’d normally find in a Murakami novel. Norwegian Wood is a rather straight forward, coming of age novel of nostalgia. What stayed though is its quiet, still and melancholy tone (which I love). I don’t know why but I always find it hard to summarise and/or review Murakami’s novels. This would be my very first attempt. So here goes.

In a nutshell
Norwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe and his love affair with beautiful, damsel-in-distress Naoko, whom he’s known since school, and who used to go out with his best friend Kizuki, until he committed suicide. Their relationship deepens when they spent more time with each other after Kizuki’s death, and it somehow affected Naoko who realises she has psychological problems that need to be addressed. So she left for the sanatorium. This is when Toru becomes close to Midori, a vivacious girl, who gradually develops feelings for him which were reciprocated. Then enters Reiko, Naoko’s partner at the sanatorium, into this already-complicated love triangle, who also grows fond of Toru.

What I liked (so much) about it
Set in the 60’s, this story is just like any other romance novels or any typical Japanese/Korean love series – boy loves girl, girl loves boy but finds it hard to commit, another girl loves the boy but the boy couldn’t let go of his first true love; the whole works. But what makes Norwegian Wood stand out is its depth and intensity of its main characters and conversations – the way he/his translator uses words to describe the internal conflicts and complexities is just so brilliant.

Let me give an example. This is a conversation between Midori and Toru.
“Hey, what is it with you? Why are you so spaced out? You still haven't answered me.”

“I probably still haven't completely adapted to the world,” I said after giving it some thought. “I don't know, I feel like this isn't the real world. The people, the scene: they just don't seem real to me.”

Midori rested an elbow on the bar and looked at me. “There was something like that in a Jim Morrison song, I'm pretty sure.”

“People are strange when you're a stranger.”

Amazing isn’t it, that he could describe such feelings with such exactness? It’s those thoughts that usually swim in our head but never really know how to put it into words, and here we have Murakami, magically uses it to tell the story! I don’t know how he does it! Does he write in his sleep, letting his subconscious mind rule the writing and thinking??

And his characters, as usual, are intriguing. Toru is the epitome of a walking paradox I must say. He’s seen as a loner, but feels utterly uneasy when he couldn’t be with or get in touch with Naoko, Midori and Reiko. He wrote so much to them that ‘it was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of his crumbling life.’ He’s reserved yet very casual with sex (Oh by the way, sex is described very explicitly here), kind yet harsh in dealing with his emotions and himself, taking everything too seriously, maybe he's a little too self-indulgent. If I were to describe him in a sentence, I’d say Toru is a dead who’s living among the living,...maybe because he wants to stay 17 forever, because as he said it, ‘Only the dead stay seventeen forever’. (Kizuki died when he was seventeen.)

I guess it’s this mystery, this ‘vagueness’ of Toru’s character that attracts women to him. Or maybe he just has that special connection with people, because even Kizuki and Nagasawa are very fond of him.

He has that effect on me too. Not that I liked his character, but I was ‘drawn’ to him. I feel like I can connect with him in so many levels, but at times he seems so locked up in his own world; so unwilling to open up. Unlike Naoro, who wants to let herself go but just couldn’t; Toru lets himself stay in his ‘shell’ and seems to be comfortable with it. I could empathise with Midori – her frustration of trying to get him out of his ‘shell’, and at the same time loving him for who he is. It’s really not that easy to love someone, don’t you think? After all, love is quite a funny thing. It’s incomprehensible.

Midori is my favourite character – strong, confident, not afraid of being different, humorous (in her own way), spontaneous and outspoken. She even asks the most unexpected questions like, ‘I wonder what ants do on rainy days?’ And she’s so full of love! She gives her dad the care and attention he needed when he was bed-ridden.

I don’t know how Murakami (or his translator) does it, but each time I read a Murakami novel, I’m left ‘wow-ed’. When I put the book aside, I just want to dream about it and let the post-reading feeling linger till I’m ready to move on…

So what’s the ending? I won't tell. You gotta read it to find out. Google it if you want, but you won’t be able to find a definite answer.

Some of my favourite quotes
[...] even if we hadn't met that day, my life might not have been any different. We had met that day because we were supposed to meet. If we hadn't met then and there, we would have just met somewhere else sometime. - Toru Watanabe

"If you think about it, an unfair society is a society that makes it possible for you to exploit your abilities to the limit." - Nagasawa

"What makes us most normal," said Reiko, "is knowing that we're not normal."

"By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning."

And there are so many conversations which I truly love, but too long to put it up here...You just gotta read this and you'd know what I mean :)

My verdict? Love love love! (no pun intended) Highly recommended.

If you wanna watch the movie, it's here (separated into several parts)

PLEEEEASE read the book first before you watch the film, or else you'd be so turned off by the film you won't wanna read the book! Don't say I didn't warn you! :)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blogspot Error?

Hmmmm not sure what's wrong with blogspot, cuz I can't seem to make my content break into proper paragraphs even after setting it in 'edit html'. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT BLOGGER.COM!


Related Posts with Thumbnails