Friday, July 31, 2015

Spanish Lit Month, 2015: Cuban Writer Daina Chaviano



This is an exciting event co-hosted every year by Richard @ Caravana de Recuerdos and Stu @ Winstonsdad's Blog. This year, not only will books by Spanish-speaking authors be featured, but books by Catalan-speaking authors, as well. 

This event has just been extended to include the month of August, as well as July, which I'm very happy about! 

 *************

The book I will be reviewing is by Cuban writer Daina Chaviano, and is titled La Isla de los Amores Infinitos (The Island of Eternal Love). 

I first came across the original Spanish version of this novel at the 2008 Miami International Book Fair, where Chaviano was presenting the book for the first time. I attended this event, bought the book, and waited patiently in line for Chaviano to sign it for me. This novel, published by Grijalbo in Spain in 2006, was later reissued in an English translation by Riverhead Books, in 2008, with the title mentioned above.  I read the Spanish version in 2008, and have recently begun to read the English version, which is captivating me all over again!



Daina Chaviano

Born in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Chaviano has resided in the U.S. since 1991, but began her writing career on the island. Her work encompasses the genres of science fiction, fantasy, mainstream, and historical fiction, according to Wikipedia. I would say that The Island of Eternal Love should be categorized as belonging to the magic realism genre. It has elements of the supernatural and Gothic, as well as incorporating Celtic, Chinese, and African mythologies. 

She won her first award for the science fiction collection, Los Mundos Que Amo (The Worlds I Love) while still a college student in Cuba. This was the David National Prize for Best SF Book, in 1979. In 1989, she won "La Edad de Oro" (The Golden Age) National Prize for Children's and Young People's Literature, for Pais de Dragones (Country of Dragons). In 1998, she won the prestigious Azorin Prize in Spain, for her novel El Hombre, La Hembra, y El Hambre (The Man, The Female, and The Hunger), and in 2006, she won the Gold Medal in the Florida Book Awards, for Best Spanish Language Book (USA), for La Isla de los Amores Infinitos. She has won many other awards, as well.

Although I have only read La Isla de los Amores Infinitos (which I'm now reading in the English translation), I find that Chaviano's work really resonates with me. Like her, I am very much attracted to mythology, fantasy, and science fiction. I love magic realism, as well. In fact, I enjoy the type of literature that takes me out of this mundane, boring, reality, with its endlessly repetitious routines, and transports me to magical worlds, or to undreamed-of universes. 

Chaviano's writing style is also very appealing to me, with its poetic cadences and flowing rhythms. In the novel mentioned above, she effortlessly swept me along, fully immersing me in her imaginary world, which was part real, and part fantasy, and incorporated the deceptive takeover of Cuba by a brutal communist regime.

Another thing I love about Chaviano's work is that it shows influences by writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin and J.R.R. Tolkien, whom she greatly admires. In fact, she has always been interested in Anglo-Saxon mythology and legends, such as the Arthurian tales, just as I have.

Daina Chaviano "....is considered one of the most important female fantasy and science fiction writers in the Spanish language, along with Angelica Gorodischer (Argentina) and Elia Barcelo (Spain) forming the so-called 'feminine trinity of science fiction in America.' " (Wikipedia) 

Here are some of Chaviano's works, published in Cuba, the U.S., and abroad. They can all be found on Goodreads, as well as on her Amazon author page, listed below.


According to the Goodreads synopsis,  this is about a woman who has been contacted by interplanetary beings ever since she was a young girl. She had previously forgotten these contacts, and then suddenly remembers them. These beings showed her a panorama of Earth history -- from ancient Mayan ruins to the very beginnings of civilization, "......revealing hidden mysteries and sharing wonderful experiences. Strange things happen to many people: they see moving objects when no one is present, or hear voices when they are alone. Nevertheless, there is almost always the fear of not being understood or of being ridiculed that prevents them from sharing these experiences with others." (Goodreads)

This is a novel told from three different points of view. The really fascinating thing is that a race of winged beings with three eyes is part of the tale. The title of this very intriguing book is Fabulas de una Abuela Extraterrestre (Fables of an Extraterrestrial Grand-
mother), and it is a mix of fantasy and science fiction. This book won the Goliardos Fantasy International Award in Mexico in 2003. I happen to own it, so I really need to read it pretty soon, as I'd like to experience more of Chaviano's work. Perhaps I'll read and review this one, too, for Spanish Lit Month!

This book tells the story of how humans lived at the beginning of time, which was when there were no borders between  countries, when "....life was governed by the principles of fantasy, beauty, and love." (Goodreads) Humans and dragons co-existed peacefully with each other. Music flowed over the whole land, and life was good. In modern times, hardly anyone can see dragons except for a few chosen people, as most of humanity is steeped in materialistic goals. Both civilizations are contrasted in the book.

This is the second book in a series of four about the esoteric side of Havana. The protagonist, Gaia, is given instructions by her lover to meet a very mysterious woman who takes her to a mansion in which everything changes continuously. Gaia goes through several surrealistic experiences that will help her to find herself. There's an entire supernatural world inside this mansion, a world of gods in human form, and Gaia will never be the same again.


This totally enthralling novel, the fourth in the series on esoteric Havana, tells the story of a young woman, Cecilia, who feels displaced in the city of Miami, having left her native Cuba because of the Castro dictatorship. Through a series of interconnected stories, Cecilia learns about her own heritage, amidst several supernatural and mythological events, all of them related to the three ethnic groups that make up the Cuban people: the Chinese, the Spanish, and the African. 

Daina Chaviano is currently working on her next novel. She also received the Malinalli National Prize for the Promotion of the Arts in Mexico, in 2014. She was given the  prize for her contribution to the enrichment of literature in Spanish, as well as for her contribution to world literature, since her books have also been translated into nearly 30 languages.



Online Links









 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Spanish Lit Month, 2015



This is an exciting event co-hosted every year by Richard @ Caravana de Recuerdos and Stu @ Winstonsdad's Blog. This year, not only will books by Spanish-speaking authors be featured, but books by Catalan-speaking authors, as well. 

The event is taking place during the month of July (I'm late posting about it, but then, I found out about this very recently), and every participant will be reading these novels, either in the original language, or in translation. I'm very excited to be participating for the first time this year!

The book I will be reading (which I've already started) and reviewing is La Isla de los Amores Infinitos (The Island of Eternal Love), by Cuban author Daina Chaviano. Although I do speak Spanish, I will be reading the English translation, in order to facilitate the Goodreads posting about the book.

Here's more information about this novel, which I am enjoying tremendously so far.



The Island of Eternal Love
Daina Chaviano
Hardcover, 336 pages
Riverhead Books, First Edition
June 12, 2008
Contemporary Fiction, Cuban Literature,
Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction,
Magic Realism, Romance


Book Synopsis
 
A magical new novel "of loss and love across more than a century of Cuba's past."(Chicago Sun-Times)

In an effort to escape her solitude in Miami, Cecilia seeks refuge in a bar where she meets Amalia, a mysterious old woman whose fascinating tale keeps Cecilia returning night after night. Her powerful story of long-vanished epochs weaves the saga of three families from far-flung pieces of the world. A suicide in China unleashes a chain of family reactions; a strange curse pursues certain women in a Spanish town; and a young woman is seized from her home on the African coast and transported to an unfamiliar world. These characters' lives will become entwined over time, from Cuba under Spanish colonial rule to the present day. Ardent, predestined loves from the past will gain renewed strength in Cecilia, who is also obsessed by the mystery of a phantom house that appears and disappears throughout the city of Miami, and whose secret she is attempting to discover.


 Note
The Goodreads link shows an ebook, which is actually incorrect. The cover shown does not exist in an ebook edition. It's actually the hardcover. I know, because I own this novel.



 Below is the cover of the original Spanish-language edition, published by Grijalbo in 2006, which I also happen to own. I intend to read it on my own after I finish the English-language edition.





Links for Spanish Lit Month, 2015



I would encourage anyone interested in Spanish-language and/or Catalan-language literature to join in, as there's still time to do so! Happy Reading!!







 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Books I Want to Re-Read (Part I)


When one has been a reader for several years, there are inevitably some books that become beloved treasures -- because of the characters, plot, and writing. In this post, I'd like to mention some of my favorites that I would like to revisit. 

So here's a list of great books that I definitely want to dive into again, for the pure pleasure of doing so!

To find out more about these, just click on the titles at the end of this post, and you will be able to access the information at each book's Goodreads page, in a separate tab. Hope you all enjoy!



I read this great SF novel in my early twenties, and it has definitely left a lasting impression on me! The story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human boy born and raised on Mars, who then comes to Earth to teach people how to 'grok' each other, is an immensely appealing one! I should make some time for this one soon! 



I really don't remember much about the plot of this novel, except that one of the characters, Joe Christmas, did make an unforgettable impression on me. I felt so sorry for the poor guy, especially after the horrible things that happened to him. This novel is considered one of the most important ones written by Faulkner, as well as one of the most important of the 20th century. As far as I can remember, it was a rather depressing read, but I'd still like to experience it again, just for the writing and characterizations.

This is another novel I read in my early twenties, when I was reading more adult books, as well as  serious literature. It's a fascinating combination of things: travelogue, lessons on motorcycle maintenance, plus various and sundry Zen-based philosophical ruminations made by the narrator, Phaedrus, as he travels across the country (US) with his young son, and a married couple. I don't remember much about the philosophical aspect of this autobiographical novel, but I do remember that the author discussed the concept of Quality throughout the book. I am very eager to go back and reacquaint myself with this intellectual masterpiece!


I remember reading this novel in high school, as it was an assignment for my Literature class. Even though the topic is a very depressing one, I loved it, and would definitely like to revisit it. At the time, I thought it very unfair that Hester Prynne was singled out for punishment. This novel is therefore a strong indictment of the religious hypocrisy of the society of the time. Hawthorne is a master  at creating memorable characters, and his writing style superb. 

The haunting story of this literary masterpiece has stayed with me for years, and I am really yearning to read it again! Atticus Finch is an admirable man, someone who calmly and firmly holds on to his principles. His daughter, nicknamed "Scout", is the friend I wish I had had as I was growing up. This novel is a combination social justice manifesto, coming-of-age story, and magical tale of human relationships, all rolled into one. I'd love to get to it again before I plunge into Lee's prequel, Go Set A Watchman!

This is such a luminous, beautiful novel, dealing with the struggle of every artist -- how to remain true to one's art, in the midst of social or even religious opposition. Asher Lev is an enormously gifted young Jewish man, and his vocation is opposed by his Orthodox parents. This is a tale of great emotional drama and profound philosophical truths, as well as of the truths to be found in great art. 

Here's the stunning Alan Lee edition of The Lord of the Rings, slipcased in three volumes. Yes, I do own this treasure! And I want to re-read these wonderful books, immersing myself once more in the magical adventures of Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring! I want to cross the portals of these books into the mystical, wonderful land of Middle-Earth once more. Perhaps this time, I'll be able to stay there forever!


The only book I've ever read by Joseph Conrad is this one, and I don't remember much of the plot, except for the fact that I recognized it as a masterpiece when I first read it, several years ago. I do remember that it's a love story full of psychological insights, and the writing was just luscious! I would like to immerse myself in this novel again, especially since there appear to be some mental and emotional issues involved. Axel Heyst, the male protagonist, is trying to remain detached from people, while the young English girl he loves tries to break the spell of his solitude. They live on an island, too, which is another reason I want to re-read this novel! And I want this particular edition, as I don't know what happened to the one I used to own....

I saw the movie adaptation of this great novel on Netflix some time back, and it was not as satisfying as the book. Hollywood doesn't always get things right, and, in this case, they totally changed the character of Marcellus, the main protagonist. This novel is a richly-imagined tale of the last day in the life of Jesus, and how it affects a worldly, wealthy, young Roman. Fictional characters are interspersed with Biblical ones, and there's a very vividly described psychological/emotional conflict, as well. The author, Lloyd C. Douglas, was a Christian minister, and this novel is an absolute masterpiece!

I can't believe I was able to read this very moving novel, since it involves book-burning.....but read it I did, and was carried away with Bradbury's lyrical, elegant prose style, as well as the vividly-drawn characters and very realistic dystopian world. This novel is a must-read for everyone who loves and treasures books. It's about what books represent and contain -- the very best of the human mind and spirit. It's about the sacredness of these living objects. It's about how books must be allowed to effect their transformative magic unimpeded by petty political objectives. It's about so many more profound things, and a re-read is just around the corner for me!

To me, this is the greatest novel ever written by Charles Dickens. The characters are masterfully drawn, as well as unforgettable. Charles Darnay, Sidney Carton, and Lucy Manette are helpsess  pawns in one of the bloodiest periods of French -- and world -- history. Their story is poignant, tragic, and vivid, one that I would like to revisit in spite of its strong emotions, because Dickens has made me empathize with these fictional people who embody the highest spiritual qualities!

According to the synopsis for one of the editions featured on the bookworm website Goodreads, this is one of the greatest novels ever written. I fully agree! Although it's about a murderer who ends up meeting a prostitute later on in the book, it's also so much more..... This is a psychological tour-de-force, a compassionate look at the brilliant mind of a young man who, in committing this horrible crime, must pay for it with endless recriminations and guilt, aided by a young woman with an equally troubled past. I truly believe this is Dostoevsky at his very best!





Goodreads Pages

Robert Heinlein

William Faulkner

The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Harper Lee

Chaim Potok

J.R.R. Tolkien

Joseph Conrad

Lloyd C. Douglas

Ray Bradbury

A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens

Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky

  


Have you read any of these books?
If so, what did you think 
of it/them?
If not, would you like to 
read any of them?
Why or why not?




Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen


Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Trade Paperback, 325 pages
Wordsworth Editions
May 5, 1995
Classics, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance
Source: Purchased from The Book Depository

Book Synopsis:   Few readers have failed to be charmed by the witty and independent spirit of Elizabeth Bennet. Her early determination to dislike Mr Darcy - who is quite the most handsome and eligible bachelor in the whole of English literature - is a misjudgement only matched in folly by Darcy's arrogant pride. Their first impressions give way to truer feelings in a comedy profoundly concerned with happiness and how it might be achieved.



https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/746967.Pride_and_Prejudice


My Review

This novel is a standard part of every high school English Literature course, and that's when I first read it -- when I was a high school student.  Actually, I never quite finished it; at the time, I thought it was boring.  I now think my reaction was due to the fact that I had finished Jane Eyre shortly before I started Pride and Prejudice, and was comparing the two novels.  However, after a second, recent reading, I was feeling pretty much the same way I did when I read it the first time.  So I prepared to write a negative review, with much trepidation, since this novel is a beloved classic.  I wrote an entire, mostly negative review, but was not satisfied with it.   In fact, I had the gnawing doubt that I was somehow missing something.

I decided to go back and read the novel one more time. For some reason, this second re-reading experience was, surprisingly, a very refreshing one.  What seemed to me dull and tedious the first time, now sparkled with wit and ironic humor.   Austen is a very sharp observer of the foibles of human nature, and this is very apparent in the dialogues between the various characters.  Somehow, it didn't strike me that way during my first re-reading. 

I think the difference this time around was that I totally relegated Jane Eyre to the background, and read Pride and Prejudice on its own terms.  They are two very different novels, after all, with different aims, and written years apart from each other. 

Chapter One of Pride and Prejudice opens with one of the most well-known, and humorous, sentences in literary history: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  The rest of the chapter introduces the reader to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who reside at the Longbourn estate.  They are members of what is known as the landed gentry.  All of Austen's novels revolve around the lives of this British social class.

Mrs. Bennet is the epitome of the shallow, silly type of woman who thrives on gossip, and whose opinion of people, especially men, hinges on how rich they are.  Her life-long ambition is to see all of her five daughters married off to wealthy men, which will then raise her status in the society of the time. 
Mr. Bennet, meanwhile, has resigned himself to being married to such a frivolous woman, expressing his discontent through subtly sarcastic comments that his empty-minded wife always fails to understand.  My impression of his character is that he would prefer to be left alone as much as possible, spending most of his time in his library.  He is therefore not a very active husband or parent, preferring to observe from the sidelines, make some sharp, witty, comment, and go back to his books.

This opening chapter is indeed quite humorous, and the dialogues between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet display Austen's sharp wit in all its glory.

As we meet the rest of the family, we see more contrasts, especially between Jane and Elizabeth, the two oldest Bennet daughters.  Whereas Elizabeth shares her father's mordant wit and keen intelligence, Jane, although no less intelligent, is more predisposed to compassion and giving people the benefit of the doubt. 

The other three Bennet girls are more sketchily drawn, except for Lydia, who is shown to be as shallow as her mother, although it seems that she does have a well of passion that Austen obviously frowned upon, characterizing it as 'vulgar'.  Mary is a bookworm, so not much is said about her, while Kitty pretty much follows wherever Lydia will lead. 

As for the two main love interests, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, they are contrasted, as well.  Darcy is initially seen, through Elizabeth's eyes, as a rather proud and 'disagreeable' man, while she considers Bingley sweet-tempered and more 'amiable'.  Elizabeth greatly dislikes Darcy, who actually snubs her at a dance given at Netherfield, the beautiful mansion being rented by Bingley, where he resides with his two sisters, one of whom is married.  Darcy is also staying with them.  Jane and Bingley are immediately attracted to each other, and they are the secondary couple in the novel.

Since I remembered next to nothing about the plot, from my first incomplete reading of the novel, I was prepared to plunge in and be rewarded with a great romantic story, along with wit and humor.  Again, as I have said above, I found it dull and very disappointing during my second reading.  I was thus very pleasantly surprised by the change in my feelings the third time around!  Not that I would say this novel is my favorite classic (that honor belongs to Jane Eyre, of course!), but I certainly appreciated it more during my most recent re-reading.

Austen's main goal in this novel is to poke fun at the complicated social manners of the landed gentry of the time, and she succeeds admirably.  I would have wanted more descriptions of the countryside, towns, and houses, but realize that this would probably have interfered with her focus on dialogue.  Her intention is to display all the nuances of the society of the time, with all its silly, manipulative conventions, all its ridiculous posturing.  Therefore, although this is a light-hearted story, it is seriously and meticulously written, based as it is on keen observation.

Austen most especially shines in her funny portrayal of the clergyman, Mr. Collins, who, even at the age of twenty-five, displays all the pomposity and obsequiousness of churchmen twice his age.  He delights in long speeches that are full of hyperbole and adulation, and are excessively polite.  His specialty is to tell practically everyone he meets about his patron (or patroness, as she would have been called at the time) -- Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  To hear him describe her, she is the very epitome of kindness, good judgment, and benevolence.  The reality is very far from the truth, as becomes apparent in one of the novel's most dramatic scenes -- the spirited argument between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth Bennet.  Elizabeth stands up to her, refusing to be intimidated.  I really enjoyed this part of the novel immensely!

There are other memorable characters, such as the Gardiners (Mr. Gardiner is Mrs. Bennet's brother), who show themselves to be very loving and supportive to their nieces.  They obviously adore them, and are adored in return. 

As for Mr. Bingley's sisters, I don't like them at all.  Caroline, the unmarried sister, doesn't like Elizabeth, and her behavior clearly demonstrates this. There's a reason for this, but I don't want to spoil things for anyone who has not read the book. The other sister, Mrs. Hurst, goes along with Caroline, for the most part, just as Kitty does with Lydia.

George Wickham is at first presented as a very charming, well-mannered young man who joins the militia, and seems interested in Elizabeth, nearly as much as Darcy is. Later on, it becomes apparent that things are not always what they seem....

The reason I found this novel boring during my first and second readings is that Austen didn't write much of a plot.  The action is subtle, hinging on social interactions.  I wanted excitement, passion, wild romance.  None of that is to be found here.  This novel presents the machinations of the society of the time, the very cool, civilized interchange of people who know very well that their reputations in society are linked to their skillful ability to navigate the sometimes rough waters of social interactions.  Wit and sarcasm, as well as crystal-clear intellectual acuity, abound.

In spite of the fact that my temperament thrives on reading romance novels abundant in passion and high drama, I was, during the third reading, able to appreciate Austen's cooler approach to romantic fiction.  Her goals, after all, are satire and humor. Besides, it seems that hers was indeed a rather cool temperament.

She definitely disapproved of Lydia's actions in the latter part of the novel, apparently not understanding the lengths that people in love are willing to go to.  After all, she never married herself, and  is known to have received only one proposal of marriage during her life.  She did, however, caution her niece, Fanny Knight, not to marry someone unless she really loved him. 

In short, while definitely not my favorite classic, I have been able to enjoy Pride and Prejudice as a brilliant satire on the social customs of the time.  While the relationships of Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, are by no means handled quite to my satisfaction, I can truly say that this novel gives the reader an enjoyable reading experience.  However, I wouldn't recommend reading it  to a teenager; it can best be enjoyed at a later time, when life has provided plenty of examples of the types of games played by people in different settings, such as the office, parties, and, of course, at the beginning and during the course of romantic relationships. 






Jane Austen







Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë


Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë
Hardcover, 656 pages
Everyman's Library (Reprint Edition)
February 8, 2011 (first published 1847)
Classics, Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance
Source: Purchased From Amazon

Book Synopsis: Jane Eyre, a penniless orphan, is engaged as governess at Thornfield Hall by the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Her integrity and independence are tested to the limit as their love for each other grows, and the secrets of Mr. Rochester's past are revealed.

Charlotte Bront
ë’s novel about the passionate love between Jane Eyre, a young girl alone in the world, and the rich, brilliant, domineering Rochester has, ever since its publication in 1847, enthralled every kind of reader, from the most critical and cultivated to the youngest and most unabashedly romantic. It lives as one of the great triumphs of storytelling and as a moving affirmation of the prerogatives of the heart in the face of disappointment and misfortune.

Jane Eyre has enjoyed huge popularity since first publication, and its success owes much to its exceptional emotional power.



https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/168016.Jane_Eyre



My Review


When I first read this great novel, I was about 17, and it was part of a high school English Literature assignment. The story of Jane, a poor orphan at the mercy of her cruel aunt and cousins -- especially John Reed -- immediately captivated me. I got totally immersed in the novel, and I couldn't stop thinking about it even after I had finished it.

Little Jane Eyre eventually became an accomplished teacher, securing a position as governess to the protege of a very wealthy man -- Edward Fairfax Rochester. As the events unfolded, I felt myself being swept up in them, right along with Jane. When she first met Mr. Rochester, and subsequent pages revealed more about him, I fell in love with him just as hard as Jane eventually did.

Their love story is a beautiful one, especially because they are so  perfectly matched, in spite of their disparate social stations. Rochester is a man of potent masculine energy, although that energy can be overly dominating at times. Jane, however, is not intimidated by this, as she has quite a strong will of her own. The two of them are also intellectually sharp, and equally passionate. This is quite evident at two points in the novel: in Jane's vehemently emotional declaration to Rochester in the orchard of Thornfield Hall, and in Rochester's pained request that Jane not leave him, precisely as she is about to.

My adolescent mind and heart thrilled to all this emotion, all this romantic passion laced with mystery and desperate longing... Everything about the story totally mesmerized me. This was my first Gothic novel, and I was inevitably pulled in by the air of secrecy and gloom pervading Thornfield Hall.... As the mystery deepened, I felt my attraction to Mr. Rochester grow; I perceived he carried a terrible burden of some type, and, like Jane, I wished to alleviate his emotional pain.

Having read this novel for the second time, I have a more comprehensive view of it. I now see, more clearly than ever, just how much this novel centers around Jane herself. Most of it is about her growth as a person, her coming into her own, mature power. It's also about her great love for Mr. Rochester, however. In fact, there's a fascinating tension between the two themes of Jane finding her true self, and the pull of a love so wonderful, so all-encompassing, that it almost reaches religious fervor. 

Ironically, it is Rochester himself who is actually the catalyst for Jane's inner awakening. He is the one who unintentionally propels her into a quest for her true self. And what is this true self? It is her own Christian conscience, coupled with a sense of her own value as an independent person. 

In rejecting Rochester's unconventional proposal, Jane is not only being true to her ideals, but to herself as an autonomous being. The two things go together. As a Christian, she cannot possibly betray her firm moral standards; as a feminist, which she undoubtedly is, she cannot possibly betray her own independence and autonomy in becoming 'a kept woman'.

This is definitely a very complex novel, and thus, should be re-read many times, for each new reading leads to new revelations. This time around, I was surprised to find Rochester to be a much darker character than I had thought him to be during my first reading. I still loved him, but now I saw, more clearly, that his love for Jane was not a totally pure one. In fact, it struck me as bordering on obsession, and yet, it was not altogether selfish, either. After all, he never meant to hurt her; he merely wanted to give her everything her heart desired, to treat her as he felt she deserved to be treated -- as "a peeress of the realm". In the process, he also hoped she would redeem him from his previously depraved life.

Jane was quite right to resist him, not only because of his objectification of her, but also because each person has to find him/herself through an inner quest, and such a quest necessarily involves a higher power. One cannot expect to be 'saved' by another person. For Brontë, only the Christian God can do that. Jane herself repeatedly tells Mr. Rochester to turn to God for solace and comfort.

In spite of my new perspective on Rochester, I was just as caught up in all this as I was during my first reading. I wanted them to end up together just as badly, in spite of seeing the underlying deception, the horrible secret of Thornfield Hall. This is due to the author's great literary skill in crafting these immortal characters. They leap off the page, entering our imaginations with the forcefulness of real people.

The secondary characters are vividly drawn, as well, from the despotically cruel Mrs. Reed and her spoiled, equally cruel children, to the hypocritically self-righteous Mr. Brocklehurst, the gentle, saintly Helen Burns, the sprightly French girl, Adele, the cold, detached, stern St. John Rivers, and his sweet sisters, Diana and Mary. Then there are Bessie, the servant who most sympathized with little Jane, Mrs. Fairfax, the very sweet Miss Temple, and the enigmatic Grace Poole. All are equally memorable in the reader's mind, and all contribute richly to the plot.

There's symbolism everywhere, as well, from the curtains and drapes at Gateshead Hall, with their hints of sanctuary and even entombment, to the old chestnut tree, which presages the lovers' separation, to Jane's eerily predictive nightmares... The Romantic movement was obviously a huge influence on the author, as even the weather in the novel, as well as the vegetation -- or lack thereof -- are bearers of hidden meanings and portents.

The novel has been criticized for certain coincidental events in the plot, but I would say that, in its overall structure, Jane Eyre is very well conceived and carried out. It is masterfully written, in prose that soars and sweeps through field and moor, enchanting the reader with its sonorous cadences. Having said that, I know I need to listen to one of the several audio versions, for this is a novel meant to be read aloud. I would especially like to listen to Mr. Rochester's initial conversations with Jane; they show the reader his rapier wit and keen intelligence, as well as his magnetic personality. Jane's responses, too, tell us much about her personality, as she skillfully spars with him, giving no quarter.

Along with its predominant theme of the pull of love vs. the search for one's true self is the equally important theme of class prejudice. I was delighted to see that Rochester did not approve of this particular vice; he never for a moment considered Jane as being 'beneath' his station, something which a lesser man might have. In contrast to those of his immediate social circle, he had nothing but admiration for Jane. He plainly saw the very sharp contrast between Jane and Blanche Ingram, the solid integrity of the one, and the social superficiality of the other. That Blanche belonged to 'the upper class' meant nothing to him; he rightly saw Jane as much superior.

These gripping, fundamental themes give this novel its enduring power and stature in the minds of its readers, thus making the reading of it a totally unforgettable experience! Thus, we have many, many editions of it in the English language alone, as well as many more in other languages. 

In spite of the bittersweet ending -- in my opinion, Brontë was a bit overzealous in achieving Rochester's eventual redemption -- I am happy that, after the storm had passed, she resolved everything to my romantic heart's content! Jane Eyre has always been and will always be my favorite classic of all time, and I know there will be more re-readings for me in the future!
 
    

    


Sunday, July 5, 2015

A New Start....



Back in January, 2012, I came to a very important decision, one that I did not take lightly. I was going to start a nonfiction blog. I had already been blogging for some time, at another blog titled A Night's Dream of Books

I had started out reviewing mostly YA Fiction, with a heavy emphasis on paranormal romance and urban fantasy. However, those are not the only genres I enjoy reading and reviewing. I also love literary fiction, Christian fiction, science fiction, and yes, nonfiction, as well. In fact, I sometimes crave one or the other of these, while at other times, I crave Young Adult Fiction. 

I originally decided to focus on nonfiction in this blog, and made a brave start, only to give up when the other blog claimed most of my time and attention. I then stopped blogging here, and returned to 'my first love', so to speak, with the intention of making it an eclectic blog.

Alas, I have since discovered that eclectic blogs don't really get that much attention, or many comments, precisely because of their eclecticism..... Besides, it's a fact of 'blogging life': the blogosphere is dominated by YA Fiction blogs. There are however, several excellent literary fiction blogs, such as that of my blogger friend, Brian, who writes very interesting, in-depth literary fiction and nonfiction reviews, over at Babbling Books. There are others, such as Jacqui, whose blog, JacquiWine's Journal, also features great literary fiction reviews.

I really want to read and review these other genres as much as I want to read and review YA paranormal romance and urban  fantasy. I also want to communicate and have blogging relationships with the literary fiction/nonfiction folks as much as I do with the YA PNR/UF folks!

I now realize that I can't have all of these genres on one blog, and expect to receive visits and/or comments from all of these different folks. Readers of YA fiction will not be interested in  books such as Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, or The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Nor will readers of literary fiction and nonfiction, not to mention science fiction, be interested in books such as City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, or Angelfire, by Courtney Allison Moulton.

So I have activated this blog again, in hopes of reaching those readers of the other genres I enjoy reading and reviewing. This time, I will definitely keep them separate. Experience is a hard, unforgiving teacher, and I have certainly learned my lesson!

I look forward to enjoying my other beloved genres here, at MindSpirit Book Journeys, where I hope to bring all of you non-YA readers great, thought-provoking reviews of those genres that I, too, love, right along with you!

I'm so happy to be back, so I can share all this intellectual and spiritual fare with you!