Posts Tagged ‘Allegories’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

December 30, 2013

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

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The Plague by Albert Camus

November 21, 2013

plagueFirst, there is a dead rat at a doorstep. Then large numbers of rats begin to die in the Algerian harbor town Oran. But initially the citizens of the town do not notice what is going on. When they do, a panic takes over the municipality and authorities slowly respond by ordering the collection and cremation of the rats. And this gives the disease, the bubonic plague, an excellent opportunity to launch a large scale assault on the borough’s human population.
The town gates are locked, no more ships, trains, or cars are allowed to enter Oran, and communications with the outside world are limited to a minimum. Schools and other official buildings are turned into hospitals and quarantine facilities, and a doctor Bernard Rieux – who initially was dismissed by the authorities and most colleagues – gets involved in a Sisyphusian struggle to defeat or at least limit the impact of the disease.
How do humans react when they are exposed to extreme circumstances? What happens to people when they lose their freedom to move and communicate freely, when they cease to be individuals and are transformed into a collective that share one feeling, and that share collective circumstances? There is despair and “the habit of hopelessness,” but also the will to help out, which – according to doctor Rieux – is not a heroic but a logical response to a potentially lethal situation. However, this book is deeply multi-layered, and dialogues, events, and actions tend to have many meanings – that is, if there is any meaning at all.
Albert Camus’ The Plague was published in 1947; two years after the defeat of Nazi Party governed Germany and just a few years after the end of the occupation of France and Camus’ native land, Algeria. And the novel is often read in this context, but over the years the book has proved to be a (perhaps) timeless tale of human responses to threats to human civilization.

In 2013, it is 100 years since the birth of Albert Camus. The Plague was the author’s second novel, it is a literary and philosophical masterpiece, and Oran is a place worth visiting many times in the span of a life.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

October 29, 2013

Isserley cruises the roads of the Scottish Highlands, looking for men. The hitchhikers she initially picks up all view her differently, but her physique stands out: “Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.” But her appearance is nowhere near her natural build. Isserley’s body has been fundamentally altered, partly in order to get men into her car.

And she does not view the men as humans. Isserley and her kind are the humans; these other creatures are known to her as vodsels, and they are to be captured, fattened, and then shipped off.

Isserley is good at was she does, and the unit she works for is quite productive; her employer Vess Incorporated is well pleased. But one day the son of the mighty and exceptionally rich Mr. Vess visits the plant, and this young man, Amlis Vess, has some queer ideas. He believes that vodsel life should be respected and he is awed by the notion that these beings have a language. Isserley, on the other hand, cannot identify with the vodsels as they aren’t capable of anything that defines humans. Her co-workers and men in general get on her nerves, and when she hears what the poor bastards who work in the dreaded Estates back home like to eat, she simply says, “Trash will eat trash.”

Yes, Isserley is a snob, living in self-imposed isolation. And even though she briefly worked in the Estates, she prefers to identify with the Elite that in fact turned her into a serf. She socialized with the well-to-do before “[w]ealthy young men” who had promised to take care of her did not do so.

So, Isserley doesn’t care for young and rich Amlis Vess either, and when she shows him the facility where vodsels are kept, she is not impressed by his idealism. “There’s nothing unusual going on here,” she says, “Just… supply and demand.”

Under the Skin was Dutch-born author Michel Faber’s first novel. It has inspired a movie (which premiered in September, 2013) and the book is an impressive and strange piece of fiction (although not hard to read). It is an immensely rich tale, and while it’s a bloody and gory allegory, it is also a story that jolts the readers awake and helps them find a new love for the air, the rain, the snow, the trees, the sea – earth.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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