Posted in book review

Spirit Away: ‘The Sentence’ by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is about the power of words, spoken or written, awakening the spirits of the author, storyteller, characters, and readers, all adrift and luminous as the boundary between the real and the ideal collapses. It’s a polyphonic work of trauma narrative, cultural studies, social commentary, and philosophical memoir interwoven in multiple strands of a joint account.

The story evolves around Tookie, a doubting bibliophile who thinks books have everything you should know except what actually matters. Books are no more than a portal to mental escapade, a world of make-believe in the likeness of truth or reflected in the highest ether of reason and sentiment, which makes no defining impact on her checkered life as if it were her sentence from the judges of this world and the beyond. So much so that when Tookie finds that the newly deceased soul of a regular customer haunts the bookstore, she works at, she laments her fate of chaos that seems ever to stalk her small wish to live a quiet everyday life. Is it her sentence to live In perceptual existential malaise? And yet, Tookie ends up living daily life with a loving husband and daughter in a house of their own with a steady job as a bookstore attendant. Isn’t it what is considered an everyday life? So why can’t Tookie let the ghost alone when ghosts refuse to depart for the other until they finish their businesses in the world as part of their spiritual sentence?

I decided to read this book after reading a review from the NYT Book Review a couple of months ago because of Tookie for being exceptional wanting to be ordinary. I felt for her, which was valid until the middle of the book. But as Tookie became settled with her husband in their own house burgeoning as a knowledgeable employee at a local bookstore, she began to lose her fabulous, unique luster. Indeed, I was all high fives for her happiness that I felt deserving, but the further I progressed to pages, the more my heart parted with Tookie’s existential frustration, except the touching moments of love between her and her husband. Also, unlike the book’s general introduction as a ghost story, It is not a supernatural book that will fulfill your cravings for an intelligent horror story. Instead, it is an extended short story featuring a ghost as a fire-starter of narratives connected by bibliophilia. The author believes bibliotherapy is a recipe for the existential malady to quiet the anxious mind. There is no more enchanting than a book, electronic or bound. The lifeless words become alive as the reader awakens the book’s spirit by entering the world of make-believe through the labyrinth of stories leading to the secret garden of truths that the author has fruited.



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‘The Amiable Fleas’, by John Steinbeck – review

John Steinbeck was all man. He was a writer of muscles. I meant the powers of strong individuality that disagreed with grandstanding with the political in-vogue trends of his time with his writing as literature for an ideology of grand cultural context, not for the mind’s pleasurable satisfaction. In a word, Steinbeck appears to be in touch with the real world, with the characters realistic and stories palatable, not confined in the seclusion of a leisurely abstract world of the elite. The Amiable Fleas conveys all of the charms described above of Steinbeck as an attractive raconteur at his best: humorous, heartfelt, and honest in his tough cowboy appearance in a strange city filled with quaint aromas of the old civilization.

The Amiable Fleas is Steinbeck’s testimonial narrative of the truth found in life’s ordinariness; the meaning of life realized in the joy of small pleasure against provisional needs of instant fame and worldly prestige. It’s an innate folly of human nature trying to reason against the significance of Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom as if they are remotely associated with Intellect. As Steinbeck held against criticism about avoiding the political and social issues of his time, he tried to reason his own reason for writing about such simple truth of life.

The Amiable Fleas is the res ipsa loquiter of the value of small things that Steinbeck treasures, for it is what keeps the troublesome, pugnacious, bickering human tribe tamable and bearable with humor, which is a handmaid to hope and resilience. The amiable fleas represent the idyllic but oddly likable bunch of professionally intellectual people whose existence is a canvas of abstract painting that lacks a touch of realism. The poet, the architect, and the painter occupy their self-designated seats in the eponymous restaurants in Paris, doing nothing but contemplating about their artistic works in the selfishness of intellectual stasis. The excellent chef of the restaurant M. Amite embodies an artist whose ambition is the stir that his honest mind raises. The desire for fame is the infirmity of his admirably good, hearty nature. The star of the Michelin Guide is the apple of the discord, a symbol of outside influence that incites M. Amite’s ambition, not from his love of cooking to please his feline friend named Apollo. M. Amite is the image of an artist swayed by the great things of the world, even if it would cause him a loss of joyful dailiness.

Originally published in the historically renowned French newspaper Le Figaro on July 31, 1954, as the tenth weekly installment of “One American in Paris,” The Amiable Fleas was published in English for the first time July-November 2019 issue of Strand Magazine. The background of this charming and heartwarming short story was that Steinbeck wanted to be himself, not how the French media imagined him to be or wanted to create their version of him from the counterproductive interviews with the American writer. And so he wrote a series of short stories that only he could tell with his quintessentially American way of storytelling. Yet the result is beyond the territorial boundaries and cultural enclaves, for the narrative reaches the hearts of not only the hard-to-please sophisticated Parisian readers but also the universal readers of all ages. Steinbeck is undeniably American to the core. Yet his love of realism that gives a new viewpoint upon dailiness of life enables readers of the world to get a fresh, bright hold upon our problems. Given that perspective, everything is something, and everyone is someone.

Posted in Poetry

The legend of the Catskill Mountains

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courtesy of google

Where the earth meets the sky on the mountain, 

An old mountain spirit opens and closes the doors

Of Day and Night every day at the proper hours

And works the wonders of nature in the divine design.

 

The vault of heaven, the dome of Sky God’s palace

She frescoes with celestial ephemerals every night

With new moons hung and old moons cut into stars

Sprinkled across the nightly firmament golden bright.

 

The garden of the earth, the parterre of Earth Goddess

She waters with rains spun out of soft summer clouds

Woven by early morning’s gossamer cobwebs and dews

Flake after flake, like those of fluffy white cotton balls.

 

The wise mountain spirit, the wonderful divine artist

Adorns the heaven’s frescoes every night with cheer;

The wise mountain spirit, the wondrous fairy gardener

Cherishes nature’s garden every day with delight. 

 

P.S. This poem is based upon my reading of Washington Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’ in which the fictional historian character named Mr. Knickerbocker relates to the native American legend of an old squaw spirit living on the Catskill Mountains in New York. I envision her as a fantastic fairy version of Michelangelo frescoing the vault of the Sistine Chapel and as a fabulous gardener tending the earthly garden with tenderness and quiet assiduity. What a fascinating vision of a magical magnitude it is!

Posted in book review

‘Plain Girl’, by Arthur Miller – review

Plain GirlPlain Girl by Arthur Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first came across this book while looking for my next read on the train, I was immediately hooked on by the simple no-nonsense title of Plain Girl and incredulously surprised by the famous name of Arthur Miller, a celebrity playwright who had once married Marylin Monroe in his prime. Such an incongruous admixture of the images sprang in my mind like phantasms from a presumed association between the Dolorous and the Gorgeous, the Lonely and the Lovely, the Unlucky and the Lucky, all compactness in this beautifully elliptical and deeply heartfelt story about a plain girl whose jewel of beauty was wrapped in a dull, grey, crude titular epithet.

Janice Sessions, an intelligent young Jewish woman living in New York City, seems to share the sentiments of the introverts whose quiet modes of behaviors and shyness often make them unnoticed, if not obscure, among vociferous, glamorous crowds. Think Maupassant, who at the hour of his death confides in his close friend, “I coveted everything and enjoyed nothing.” And Charlotte Bronte, who always thinks she is deprived of beauty and fortune, which prevents her from a delight of love as a prerogative of beautiful fortunate women. And then the Monster created by Dr. Frankenstein whose deformity puts him in a cruel shackle of absolute loneliness with an outcry of “I see inside but dare not to go inside!” They are the concerted echoes of estrangement – whether voluntarily or involuntarily imagined or devised – from lonely souls roaming around, wandering about in a search of happiness in life that can culminate in the union of loves, both Eros and Psyche, the spiritualization of sensuality in totality. This Janice is in want of, this is the source of her existential distress, noogenic frustration that keeps her away from anything miraculous and wonderful every happening to her.

In fact, I wonder if Miller writes this story of a plain girl on the thematics of existential frustration in which his protagonist is made to believe what she really isn’t, whereas her extraordinariness of resilient spirit against endless disappointment and distress renders her all the more distinguished from her peers whose ordinary femininity looks banal and trifle without stories to tell. Such emotional distress may arise from an existential vacuum caused by a collective value, such as in this story the disillusioned tenets of political and social ideologies ultimately culminating in World War II and the aftermath thereof. And Miller so elegantly and dexterously accounts for a woman’s solitary quest for the meaning of life, a sense of purpose in life as a woman of true value against epochal tides of world crisis. The apex of Miller’s literary finesse manifests in every sentence delicately nuanced sentiment wrapped in his elliptical expressions and laconic use of plain words, defying every streak of intricately baroque literature that does not communicate straightforwardly to the hearts of readers.

This book is not to discuss woman’s liberation or to lecture about the superiority of spiritual beauty over physical beauty that so many of you would quickly respond with stock answers. Janice’s doubt about her value of being loved and her preoccupied consciousness to her appearance makes her all the more palpable and realistic to those of you who find a kindred spirit in her and feel that you are not alone in loneliness and that what you think you are may not be the truth. Janice doesn’t need the glamour spell to transform herself into beauty because Janice is not a plain girl, nor has been, and will never be. The same goes for you.

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‘West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder’, by Laura Ingalls Wilder – review

West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Looks can be deceiving, for sure. It can yield an ill-judged misapprehension of the true person and therefore, form a certain prejudice about the person. A person’s appearance is a false shadow for the substance, but our faculty of mind based on a sensory perception with the works of imagination often falls into fallacy. That said, this charming little book comprised of lovely missives to her beloved husband Almanzo back home in Mansfield, Missouri comes surprisingly pleasant twist of the image of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the creator of Little House on the Prairie, whom I always considered to be stoic and imperturbable, a kind of austere and puritanical mid-west matriarch, who turns out to be one sweetheart with the untainted sensibility of feminity.

In these letters written to her batter half she called ‘Manly Dear’ during her travel to San Francisco and her stay there too in 1915 following an invitation from her only child Rose, you will read the words of her heart and soul enveloped in tenderness, colored in vivaciousness, and sealed with love, all the marks upon pages in the felicity of vivid descriptions wonderfully mixed with the perspicacity of reflective introspection, so jolly that reading them makes you feel like reading love letters from a smitten maiden to her smashing beau.

It’s one of the reads that require no practical analysis of the psyche of the author or of the social, political climates to make revisionist commentaries. It’s a pure mental delight of peeping into the inner world of the author that puts a smile on your face. Also, it’s a great read to while away your time at one sitting. On a personal note, if you have read Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, the magisterial biography of Ingalls, this book is a lovely accompaniment to feel this great American writer of all generations closer to you as none other than her true person, talking about her journey to you as a great story-teller.

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