Balzac’s Paris is no more different from today’s big cities like Los Angeles or New York City. It populates with the good, the bad, and the ugly, but mostly filling the in-betweens by the middling’s – the not-so-wretchedly poor yet decidedly needy with pride and prejudice –. The story about Father Goriot (no, he’s not a priest.) is about the people around him living inside and outside the Maison Vauquer. It is a boarding house in which the characters bring their stories to pay their dues of existence. The reader sees it as a microscopic view of the contemporary Parisian society where the poor, even in post-revolution, remains at the bottom of society—only the cold, indifferent climb up to the upper echelon.
The residents of the widow Madame Vauquer are neither defiantly evil nor angelically good but realistically neutral. The house symbolizes the society of the somebodies who long for social mobility for respect and recognition. Balzac’s passionate narrative endures no sight of injustice and proudly averts the eye from inhumanity, making even egotism and selfishness move to a pity dipped in pathos.
Balzac is a superb writer with detailed descriptions of the state of mind in the art of realism in a classical frame that makes scenes of everyday life a sight of history, banality of ordinary life a profundity of human life. Indeed, any of his famous fellow writers could have done it, but none of them can do it as blatantly well as Balzac does. For he knows how to make a villain sympathetic with an insightful eye looking into the depth of his wounded soul.
The Signal-Man (Original 1866 Edition): Annotated by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Charles Dickens wrote this short story of a lonely signalman in 1866 based upon the Clayton tunnel crash in 1861. The setting of the story was a station by this tunnel with a dismal and eerie atmosphere around it, which dovetailed with the ambiance of the story itself. But while I was reading the story and thereupon, I was unsure of who’s the ghost here: the narrator or the signalman? First of all, the image of the narrator calling the signalman’s attention to him from above seems to me uncanny enough to conjure up the calling of a spectre wandering about the haunted tunnel. Or it might be that the signalman, the station, and the train per se were all in fact illusions, bewitched elements of the tunnel crash victims eternally haunting the place, not knowing their demise. Or in terms of modern psychoanalytical perspective, either the narrator or the signalman saw his own representations of the reality in his own mind, the hallucinations, which were different from and invisible to the others. And that is what I found this story at once hauntingly rueful and lingering with the images.
Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ted Kerasote’s book on his freethinking dog Merle is filled with his extensive knowledge on the wildlife and humorous episodes with his canine buddy Merle, who reminds me of Snoopy in his independent character and individual personality. I am enthralled by the way he and Merle communicated to each other, which I find scintillating. The author has a unique way with a dog as if he were his real buddy and/or partner in performing any daily tasks together. Such human-canine bond seems primordial and endemic in an environment where the world of the wildlife is paraded within arm’s reach. In sum, reading this book will enlighten you on how a human-canine relationship can evolve with lots of smiles and tears.