March in Review

I read quite a few books in March. As a result, I am behind in my posts. I will also post about the last few chapters of Candide some time this week.

Books read in March:

Candide by Voltaire –   🙂 🙂

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Sacred Violence by Jill N. Claster – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Beowulf – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf [for the Classics Spin] – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


Books I plan to read in  April:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

La Fortune des Rougons (The Fortune of the Rougons) by Emile Zola (maybe)

Review of La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland)

What was it about?

The Franks under Charlemagne (King Charles) have conquered all of Spain except Saragosse. Saragosse is still under Saracen rule. The Saracen King Marsile, realizing that Charlemagne’ army is so much more powerful than his own, decides to defeat the Franks through deception. Marsile informs Charlemagne that he would like to get baptized. He claims that he is interested in becoming Christian and will give all of Spain to the Franks. After consulting his knights, Charlemagne decides to accept Marsile’s offer. Charles’ nephew, Roland, is a brave and loyal warrior. But, he is also prideful. His pride has resulted in many wars between the Christians and the Muslims. Roland nominates his godfather Ganelon to convey Charlemagne’s response to Marsile. Ganelon accepts the baton and the glove from Charlemagne, but he comes up with a plan to kill Roland. He betrays the Franks by allying with Marsile. He tells Marsile that if Roland is killed, the Franks will no longer fight the Saracens because Charlemagne is powerless without his nephew. Marsile sends word to Charlemagne that he will follow Charles to Aix where he will become Christian. Charles leaves behind Roland, the twelve pairs, and thousands of other knights to protect his Spanish territories. Without warning, Charlemagne’s rearguard is attacked by the Saracens.

What did I think about it?

How can one claim to know anything about the Crusades without having read The Song of Roland? True, it is fictional. But, the story was written in the 12th century, during the First Crusade. It served as war propaganda. If only for that reason, La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) should be read for its historical relevance. Roland is the ideal knight. He is willing to die for his God and his king.

The Song of Roland rewards a reader who understands and can identify Christian imagery. Charlemagne is a very wise and saintly figure. This 200 year old man with a long white beard is definitely an impressive character. Roland, Ganelon, ad Olivier are not one-dimensional. This is difficult to accomplish in a poem but the author succeeded in creating complex characters. However, the battles drag on for 50-100 pages each. Although I know that the repetitions in the poem serve to underline tension in the story, these repetitions (especially in the battle scenes) can be irritating at times. Because of the extremely boring final battle scene , I give the book 4 stars. But this rating should not dissuade you from reading this epic poem. Anyone interested in Medieval Europe should read The Song of Roland. It is comparable in fame to Homer’s Odyssey.

Candide Read-Along Week III

Summary of Chapters 17-24

Candide and Cacambo head for Cayenne but stop at Eldorado along the way. In Eldorado, children play with rubies and gold in the streets. Candide tries to return the jewels to a teacher there, but he merely throws them back on the ground. Afterward, Candide and Cacambo have a lavish and complementary meal at a cabaret. Eldorado is also different from other lands because the horse-drawn carriages are replaced by sheep-drawn carriages.

The two men next meet a 172 year old man who answers their questions about religion in Eldorado. The citizens are very spiritual but are their own priests. There are no temples or clerics in Eldorado. The king is very kind to Candide and his friend; he offers to help them cross a large mountain range to return home. To accomplish this, they are given a sheep-drawn machine that can go up mountains. Candide makes sure to pack his cart with jewels.

In Surinam, Candide and Cacambo encounter an African slave who lost his left leg and right hand as a punishment for trying to escape from his slave master. He works on a sugar cane plantation and is obviously treated worse than the animals in the area. The man tells them about the hypocrisy of the priests on Sunday. They preach that all people are the children of Adam but

“vous m’avouerez qu’on ne peut pas en user avec ses parents d’une manière plus horrible.”

[you must admit that one cannot treat one’s parents any more horribly.]

After hearing the slave’s story, Candide cries for the first time in the novel.

Candide decides to go to Venice since it is widely known for being a city that is friendly to foreigners. But, after giving some jewels to Cacambo to ransom Cunégonde from the governor of Buenos-Ayres, Candide loses the rest of his new-found wealth in trying to convince the African slave’s master, Vanderdendur, to accompany him to Venice. Candide is not able to legally bring the thief to justice.

Candide then befriends a man named Martin. Martin is a Manichean and a pessimist. He believes that this is the worst of all possible worlds. He lacks hope. He and Candide leave for Bordeaux. The thief that robbed Candide of all his Eldorodan jewels is killed when his ship is sunk by an enemy ship. Martin points out that all the other people in the ship drowned too, and they had done nothing wrong. Still, Candide holds fast to Pangloss’ philosophy. There are times when he questions it but in the end, he is convinced that this must be the best of all possible worlds. Clearly, he is still too naive.

Candide goes to a play and speaks and gambles with some intellectuals. There, he also meets someone who offers to take him to Normandy (Basse-Normandie).

He also witnesses the execution of an admiral. This admiral was executed because he did not kept his men too far from the enemy. From time to time, admirals are killed to rouse the anger and determination of the soldiers.

Candide finally meets Paquette, the maid who gave syphilis to Pangloss. She is a prostitute. Like the other characters in the story, she has gone through many hardships. But despite all these adventures, Candide has still not lost hope in finding Cunégonde.

 Discussion Questions

1. What do you all think about Martin?

Martin is certainly more rational than Candide; however, I do not think the world is fully evil. He fails to see the good in others. At least Candide has hope.

2. Does a utopia like Eldorado sound appealing to you?

While Eldorado is definitely more appealing than any of the other places Candide has visited, I would hesitate to live there. If the king isn’t hiding anything, it may be pleasant to live in Eldorado. But, all attempts at creating a Utopian society has always ended up being a cult. There is a lot of suffering in the world, but I do not think humans have the power to end all such suffering.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind living to 172!!


Review of Fathers and Sons

97801414413371Here is what Goodreads has to say about Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev:  “Bazarov—a gifted, impatient, and caustic young man—has journeyed from school to the home of his friend Arkady Kirsanov. But soon Bazarov’s outspoken rejection of authority and social conventions touches off quarrels, misunderstandings, and romantic entanglements that will utterly transform the Kirsanov household and reflect the changes taking place all across nineteenth-century Russia.”

I bought this book for a dollar at the local used bookstore, and this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is a fantastic character study. Bazarov’s nihilism is perceived at once as a threat to the Russian traditions of the older generation and as a curiosity to Bazarov’s own generation. But, this novel is not really a study of nihilism. We never know whether the author agrees or disagrees with this philosophy. True, nihilism is discussed by nearly every character in the book, but the novel’s central theme is Bazarov’s influence on others. This young doctor cannot be ignored.

For most of the story, I did not like Bazarov. He is selfish and views humans as nothing more than a conglomeration of organs. He rejects sentiments, art, and love. In short, he does not give credence to anything that cannot be empirically proven. But Bazarov has some enviable characteristics. Because he rejects everything, he also rejects systems of oppression such as the Russian system of master and serf. Instead of keeping his distance from Nicholas Petrovich Kirsanov’s peasant mistress Fenichka, he frequently and freely offers health services to her son Mitya.

What makes Fathers and Sons so unique is that none of the characters in the book are purely lovable or purely despicable. There is a good and a bad side to every character. Even those who reject Bazarov’s philosophy are not fully in the right. Although the novel is only a little less than 200 pages, you really come to know and understand each and every character. The story is less about the message and more about the journey. Arcady’s individual growth stems from the tension that exists between Bazarov and the older generation and Bazarov and his love, Anna Sergeyevna. Even Bazarov has to wrestle with the demands of his own philosophy.

If you like character studies, you will really enjoy Fathers and Sons.

Review of Sacred Violence

From Wikipedia. The Eastern Mediterranean after the Third Crusade (c. 1200)

From Wikipedia. The Eastern Mediterranean after the Third Crusade (c. 1200)

Early this month, I went on another of my book hunts at the university library. I found a history book on the Crusades, and after making sure that the Amazon reviews were mostly positive, I checked out Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East 1095-1396 by Jill N. Claster, professor emerita at New York University. Sacred Violence (2009) mostly covers the six crusades but ends with a discussion of other European wars that are frequently considered crusades by Medieval scholars. After reading Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe last month, I naturally became interested in the crusades. In particular, I wanted to know more about King Richard I of England (also known as Richard Coeur de Lion, or Richard the Lionhearted).

About King Richard I

Here is a summary of what Sacred Violence has to say about the life and legacy of King Richard I:

Richard I was crowned king of England in September 1189, during the Third Crusades. After the death of his father, Henry II, the newly crowned King Richard left England and set off for the Holy Land with the French King Philip II Augustus. Financing all the crusades was a costly undertaking. Henry II and Philip II had imposed crusade taxes on all their people, save knights and the clergy. After building a navy and touring Europe, King Richard finally left for the East. Along the way, the English king got into a shipwreck and had his supplies stolen by the Cypriots. So, Richard conquered Cyprus. Acquiring Cyprus helped the crusaders send supplies easily to the Holy Land. Richard and Philip then sailed to Acre and besieged it. The Ayyubid Emperor Saladin agreed to give Acre to the two European kings under certain conditions which Philip and Richard accepted. But, when Saladin did not fulfill his end of the deal, Richard hanged 2700 Turks.

Richard next set off for Jerusalem. He wanted to take it but because his supplies were limited, he did not. Richard I and Saladin signed a treaty whereby Christians could travel and live in Jerusalem for almost 3.5 years.  All coastal cities were given to the Franks, but Ascalon was under Muslim rule. Without Ascalon, the Christian capital was now at Acre. The Third Crusades came to an end.

Richard returned home in October 1192, but was captured and made prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. Once he was released, Richard fought against Philip II . He was shot by an arrow and died on April 6, 1199. Richard the Lionhearted became a legendary figure in England. A statue was erected in his honor in the nineteenth century. Although Richard killed thousands of Turks, he has gone down in history as a man of great courage and determination.

What did I think about it?

Sacred Violence is a very balanced account of the crusades. It is well-written and beautiful. The many photos of Medieval artwork enhance the text. Dr. Claster refers to and quotes a few important medieval chroniclers, including Fulcher of Chartres and William of Tyre. Claster shows how crusading ideology changed over time from a purely religious endeavor to one that was more politically motivated. It is interesting to note that, after the end of the sixth crusade, many Templars were burned at the stake for their sins. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a great preacher of the crusades. He formed the Templars, influenced papal decrees, and inspired Church councils. I plan to read his book, In Praise of the New Knighthood in April or May. Reading Sacred Violence is at once enjoyable and disturbing. Written for undergraduates, it is not pedantic. It is a fantastic contribution to medieval and crusade scholarship.

Favorite Quote

[Taken from Volume III of Sir Steven Runciman’s History of the Crusades]: “The triumphs of the crusades were triumphs of faith. But faith without wisdom is a dangerous thing…There was so much courage and so little honor, so much devotion and so little understanding.”

Candide Read-Along Week II

Summary of Chapters 9-16

This week’s reading began with Candide killing both Don Issachar and the Inquisitor. The old lady, Candide, and Cunégonde then escape to Cadix. Along the way, the old lady recounts the great misfortunes that befell her. She was born Pope Urban X’s daughter but prior to being the servant of Don Issachar, she experienced untold atrocities. She watched her family be cut into pieces and lost a butt cheek to cannibalism. The old lady challenges Candide and Cunégonde to tell her story to all the sailors on the ship. Candide and Cunégonde confirm that people everywhere think that they are the most miserable people in the world.

The ship they are on arrives at the port of Buenos Ayres. There, they meet the governor Don Fernando d’Ibaraa, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampourdos, y Souza. Candide loves Cunégonde and asks him to marry them. Suddenly, a Franciscan recognizes Candide as the man who killed the Spanish Inquisitor, so Candide is forced to escape once again, except this time with his valet Cacambo. Cunégonde stays behind and becomes the governor’s mistress. As they are escaping, Cacambo asks Candide to fight a war for the Jesuits in Paraguay.

In Paraguay, Candide is the only one who is permitted to speak to the head Jesuit because he is German and the Spanish Cacambo is not. During the meeting, Candide learns that the Jesuit is Cunégonde’s brother who had heretofore been mistaken for dead. At first, the Jesuit and Candide are happy to see each other again. But, once Candide tells him that he will be marrying Cunégonde, the Jesuit becomes infuriated and tries to kill him. Candide strikes back and kills Cunégonde’s brother. Candide and Cacambo escape yet again. To cover up the murder, Candide puts on the Paraguayan Jesuits clothing.

Finally, they find themselves in the land of les Oreillons(The Mumps). The first people Candide encounters on this land are two women whose rear-ends are being bitten by monkeys. Candide kills the monkeys thinking that the animals are threatening the women. However, the women are upset and angry because the monkeys are their lovers. They notify the other people in their village of Candide and Cacambo’s presence. The two men are tied up and are about to be cannibalized for being Jesuit when Cacambo informs them that Candide is not Jesuit. The Oreillons release the men and welcome them into their tribe.

What did I think about it?

The reading from this week is not different than the reading for last week except that in chapters 9-16 Candide kills people for the first time. The naïve Candide is now the murderer of three people – Don Issachar, the Spanish Inquisitor, and Cunégonde’s brother. Voltaire definitely must have enjoyed writing Candide. He also seems to have an obsession with rear-ends.

In this reading, he continued to criticize Leibniz’s philosophy and the Roman Catholic Church.

A word about the way the Catholic priesthood is presented in Candide: None of the priests in the story are respectable men. But I wonder, is Voltaire really successful in convincing his readers that the Church is corrupt? After all, every scene in Candide is extremely exaggerated and all characters are mere caricatures. Therefore, Voltaire only succeeds in criticizing the fictional priests in his work. While I do not doubt that there was corruption in the Church of the 18th century, I don’t know how representative Voltaire’s fictional priests are of the Catholic priesthood of his time. Voltaire has created characters that we all hate but I think that creating such characters actually hurts his argument. Of course, the priests in Candide are corrupt. They are disgusting. We can all agree on that. But none of Voltaire’s characters are believable.

 What do you all think?

Liebster Award

I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by bookarino from Dawn of Books. I feel honored to be nominated for this award. There are some rules associated with it:

The Rules:

  1. Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Display the award somewhere on your blog.
  3. List 11 facts about yourself.
  4. Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger that nominated you.
  5. Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
  6. Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000 followers. (You may nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you cannot renominate the blog that nominated you.)
  7. Go to their blog and inform them that they’ve been nominated.

11 Facts About Me:

  1. I am a Biology and French double major. Starting Fall 2014, I will be studying for my Masters in Entomology (Insect Toxicology) with the goal of teaching high school biology.
  2. I am bilingual. I love reading French literature and can read works in both modern and middle French.
  3. I was a competitive figure skater for most of my life.
  4. My favorite authors are Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I believe that children’s books are not lower forms of literature than adult books. In fact, I believe that writing for children is more challenging and therefore more impressive than writing for adults.
  5. My favorite singers are Kate Bush and William Sheller. I also enjoy listening to classic and hard rock.
  6. In addition to reading literary classics, I study medieval French and English religious texts as a hobby. In particular, I am trying to understand the role religious orders played in the shaping of late Medieval Europe.
  7. I play in a hand bells choir.
  8. I have always wanted to be a children’s author (see above as to why).
  9. I am Catholic.
  10. I hate large crowds but love one-on-one conversations.
  11. My dream is to see moose in the wild. This is why I would like to visit Alaska or Yellowstone National Park.

11 Questions From bookarino:

1. What are you reading right now?

 I am currently reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, and have almost finished reading Sacred Violence by Jill Claster (a historical book about the Crusades).

2. How do you choose the books that you read?Based on recommendation/review/cover/etc?

I do tend to choose a book based on its cover. Sometimes this can land me into trouble. I do also read book reviews especially when deciding on a book that has been published in the last 10-20 years. I love primary sources, so when reading a history book, I make sure to read some of the primary sources listed in the bibliography.

3. How would you describe yourself as a reader?

I am definitely an eclectic reader, but I do not generally like romance novels and am vehemently opposed to erotic fiction.

4. What is the book that you recommend to people most often?

I recommend Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry the most often. However, I recently read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, and I loved it so much that I have been recommending this book a lot too.

5. Do you have any genres that you hate/dislike?

I do not like Jane Austen’s works because I find romance fiction boring. I hate erotic fiction.

6. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 5 books would you need to survive?

To survive, I would need The Bible, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, The Little Prince, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Robinson Crusoe (I am stranded on an island after all. What is life without a bit of humor?)

7. What was the last translated book that you read?

I am currently reading Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev in English. It was translated from Russian.

8. Do you have a specific place where you read?

I read on my bed or at the nearest coffee shop.

9. What would you be doing if you weren’t reading?

I would be listening to music (see above for my musical tastes).

10. Which book (books) has influenced you the most?

The Bible and Catholic religious writings have definitely influenced me the most. But I have also been influenced by the pseudonymous works and upbuilding discourses of Søren Kierkegaard. I am particularly thinking of Works of Love, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, The Sickness Unto Death, and Fear and Trembling. I like thinking about my own existence but I don’t call myself an existentialist lest people think I ascribe to Jean Paul’s philosophy.

11. Do you sometimes fake that you’ve read a book that you actually haven’t?

I used to do that when I was a child. I don’t anymore.

11 Questions to Nominees:

  1. What are your favorite and least favorite literary genres?
  2. What are you currently reading?
  3. What month-long classics book challenges would you be interested in doing this year?
  4. What do you do when you are not reading?
  5. If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 books would you need?
  6. What sort of music do you listen to?
  7. City or country, beach or mountains?
  8. Name 5 people (dead or alive) you would like to have a round table discussion with?
  9. What is your favorite book that has been published in the past 10-20 years?
  10. If you could learn another language what language would you choose to learn?
  11. You are on vacation in a different country, what do you make sure to fit into your itinerary?