Review - The Left Hand of Darkness

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The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Pages: 300+

Publisher's Description:

'On the planet Winter, there is no gender. The Gethenians can become male or female during each mating, and this is something humans find incomprehensible. The Ekumen of Known Worlds has sent an ethnologist to study the Gethenians of their forbidding, ice-bound world. At first he finds his subjects difficult and off-putting, with their elaborate social systems and alien minds. But in the course oa long journey across the ice, he reaches an understanding with one of the Gethenians -- it might even be a kind of love..'

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed reading this book. The world and story Le Guin creates is so creative and original, and the subtle details make the characters believeable...If you've ever been in bone-chilling weather, the description of the weather and Genly Ai's (principal character and ethnologist) reactions, on the planet Winter will ring true.

Genly Ai meets a variety of Gethenians during his stay on Winter, many of which are high-ranking officials/diplomats who will heavily influence his task of recruiting the nation of Kardhide to what I took to be a inter-cosmo/galaxy union of planets who all seek the trade, knowledge and innovation of all other members...sort of like the EU, but with planets. However, there is one problem: the nation of Karhide is at odds with the neighboring country of Orgoreyn. This produces a lot of tension around Gethenian elite and produces an equal amount of uncertainty for the ethnologist; making his task all the more difficult.

When I first started reading the book, and learned the Gethenian race was ambisexual, dual-gendered, androgenous until a cycle of kemmer, I was unsure of where the story was going...but as the story continued I quickly discovered that differences between aliens/races of men only matter on the surface. In fact, besides being nicknamed, 'the pervert', Genly Ai is treated with utmost respect for the majority of the novel...until an unfortunate turn of events.What mattered in the end, was friendship, loyalty and honesty.

Nothing negative to say about this novel...My favorite part is easily the impossible trip Genly Ai has to make near the end. It is here when true friendship is discovered and with a bit of luck, life manuevers out of the deathly cold grip of Winter.

 The Left Hand of Darkness

Five stars


Bookstore Fail

There is something very wrong with this picture...Can you tell me what it is?

If this is what's filling the kid's education section of a bookstore, then we should all be very worried.


Review - Ficciones (Part One)

Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Pages: 150+

Publisher's Description:

'The seventeen pieces in Ficciones demonstrate the whirlwind of Borges's genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his skepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal's abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. To enter the worlds of Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything in between'.

My Thoughts:

The following review will only address Part One of Ficciones, "The Garden of Forking Paths". The second part of the collection of short stories, "Artifices", will have its own review.

I personally found "The Garden of Forking Paths" to be a collection of hits and misses -- mostly misses.

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius - Miss.
The Approach to Al-Mu'Tasim - Hit.
Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote - Miss.
The Circular Ruins - Hit.
The Babylon Lottery - Miss.
An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain - Miss.
The Library of Babel - Miss.
The Garden of Forking Paths - Miss.

All the stories I didn't care for had the same problem; overly hermetic construction (obscure details/references and/or seemingly irrelevant details/references) The last three stories I listed had potential to be enjoyable, but at a certain point they all take a turn and I lose interest or become somewhat lost...Because this was such a common occurrence, I decided that confusion may have been a desired effect. That is to say that I think Borges liked playing around with puzzles, labyrinths and logic to challenge the reader. From another angle, I also think that Borges didn't intend for these short stories (these puzzles) to be easily undone...the hidden meanings are perhaps meant to be protected. 

I really liked the variety Borges presents to the reader; some are detective-type stories or book reviews/commentaries and the others are total fantasy. The two short stories I did enjoy were "The Approach to Al-Mu-Tasim" and 'The Circular Ruins". The former is a review of an imaginary work by Mir Bahadur Ali, which details the story of a freethinking student of Islamic background who has killed a Hindu at a riot, and his subsequent journey to pure, spiritual clarity. Although the speaker makes it a point to compare the first and second editions of the imaginary work, I found myself not really caring too much about this part of the narrative and wishing this book were real. The latter is a short story about a sage or sorcerer, who at circular ruins creates a human being from his dreams... Both stories play with the idea of what is real and what is imagined, another concept which Borges seems to favor incorporating into his writing. 

3 out of 5 stars


Review - Little Bee

Currently Reading
Little Bee
Author: Chris Cleave
Pages: 250+

The publisher's description:

"This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again -- the story starts there..."

My thoughts:
This book was given to me by a friend who told me they "just couldn't get into it", but I thought I'd give it a shot, since I really liked the cover. Then, when I read the publisher's description, I too wasn't exactly sold on the story. Women have to make difficult decisions all the time...Nonetheless, I was still willing to give it a chance.

The narrative alternates chapter by chapter between two characters, Little Bee and Sarah O'Rourke. Considering the circumstances by which the two meet, and the dilemmas they each face throughout the book, I found myself sympathizing much more with Little Bee. I think this is because I felt like most of Sarah's pain was self-inflicted. After all, adultery, lies and naivete will only get you so far... I also think her husband, Andrew, was a character worth more explication. At the same time, I realize that his role had to be somewhat minor, in order for the plot to unfold the way it does. The reader will discover a great deal about Andrew from Sarah's flashbacks and recollected memories, but that's it. And then there is Lawrence, who I felt was completely unnecessary; his role could have been downgraded and Andrew's upgraded. However, I really enjoyed Little Bee's narrative. It is much more interesting than Sarah's and she has some memorable quotes...I felt like the author intended on making a statement about immigration and zenophobia in his country, but  to me it was tinged by Sarah's drama.

Overall, it's a pretty easy and short read and I appreciated the balance of dialogue and description... but I will say the open ending left something to be desired. I was thinking maybe the death of a certain 'superhero' or even the death of a protagonist would seem appropriate, but that's just my opinion. It's definitely a book to take along on a short trip, or during a wait in an airport.

Little Bee

Three stars.


Review - My Name is Red

My Name is Red
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Pages: 400+

The publisher's description:
'The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed. And when one of the the chosen miniaturists disappears, the only clue to the mystery lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey into the intersection of art, religion, love, sex and power.'
My thoughts:

Let me begin by saying this book is very well written. I really appreciate Pamuk's writing style and unique manner of organizing the narrative. The title of each chapter will introduce the reader to the speaker, who will subsequently narrate the story from their point of view. The narrative isn't solely provided by just one or two main characters, it's told by a ranging cast of other persons, animals and even inanimate objects. Pamuk smoothly integrates the folkloric and religious elements of Turkish culture and storytelling into the novel, and the reader will find that within the main narrative are short sequences of myths. Another thing I like is that Pamuk invites the reader to participate; in the sense that the reader knows things some characters do not. In many instances, the characters are aware of the reader's presence and they acknowledge that the reader is forming their own judgment about what transpires in the story.

The reader will accompany one protagonist, Black, as he unravels the mystery of the disappeared miniaturist. Black's primary motivation to complete this task is to win over his uncle, a prominent figure in the art community, so he can rekindle his love for his cousin, Shekure. For me, Black's character is very one dimensional. Also, a significant portion of the book revolves around the relationship between Black and Shekure, and I found both characters to be rather annoying, especially Shekure. I'd like to I think that Pamuk included her illogical actions and irrational modes of thinking to make a point about the role of women in Turkish society, but that may be a stretch...I really didn't like her. On the other hand, I did like Esther and Master Osman. They seemed the most real and added depth to the cast of characters. From the dialogue, the reader will encounter many philosophical discussions about style, semi-sarcastic, xenophobic attitudes and criticisms of western culture, and generally indifferent attitudes to what many consider to be perverted or grotesque.

I thought I would never put down a book, which opens with a chapter titled I am a corpse, but I put My Name is Red down quite a few times. I standby the fact that it is superbly written, but after the first chapter, it slowed down significantly and my interest didn't return until about chapter 12...maybe I was just too eager to solve the mystery because the tempo picks up eventually, but then it slows down again until right before the very end. It's not a terrible read, but it didn't meet expectations.

My Name is Red

3 out of 5 stars