Friday, September 24, 2010

What is the What

Book:  What is the What
Author:  Dave Eggers
Like/Don't Like:  It's tough to like a book like this, but I have to say I did.

Unless you've been living under a rock you have probably heard of all the horrible things that have gone on in Sudan for the last 30 years of civil war.  It's miserable over there and whenever I read about it the whole thing seems too gruesome to be true.  And yet reading this book not only makes it all too real, it also puts a name and a face to it.  It is not a picnic, reading this book.

While technically a novel (it is explained in the beginning why they had to call it one) the book is the real life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a southern Sudanese refuge who is now living in the states.  Around the age of 9 his village was attacked by the Arab run government from the north and he had to flee without knowing the fate of his home or family.  He ended up walking to Ethiopia and eventually Kenya, from one refugee camp to another over 9 years until he was relocated to the US.  He tells of such attrocities that it seems impossible for one human to suffer so much and live, let alone the millions who have such similar stories.

At the beginning of his story he mentions how in the early part of his walk with thousands of other young boys two of them were taken off by lions - just snatched up in the night as they walked single file through the desert.  At that point I didn't think I would be able to read any more because I was sure that worse things were to come.  And they do.  Far worse.  I won't go into it.  But you wouldn't be able to imagine it if you tried.

So it's a rough read, topic-wise.  But the style is effortless.  There is so much suffering and yet there is a good amount of humor.  And it flows beautifully from present day to flashbacks.  Even the present day accounts are hard to read - they start off with Achak being beaten and robbed in his own home (seriously, the kid can't catch a break) - but the pacing of it is manageable.  I'm glad I didn't stop reading.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wuthering Heights

Book: Wuthering Heights

Author: Emily Bronte

Like/Don't Like: Liked. It was inevitable that I would.

So, it's true. I've never read Wuthering Heights. I give you leave to be shocked. Here's the thing, I've started it like seven times and I would normally get to the scenes with Heathcliff and put it down because he got on me nerves. And then I wouldn't pick it back up until about a year later when I'd give it another try, only to stop in the same place for the same reason. It has been my one literary shame that I haven't read this book.

Well, I suddenly found myself in Tunisia. I didn't bring any books for my three month stay because 1.) I didn't have room in my luggage and 2.) I trusted Bronwyn's taste in books. So on the first night I was perusing her library and came across Wurthering Heights and thought, oh why not. These are extraordinary circumstances. Maybe this is what it will take to get me through the book.

And apparently it was because I finished it. Rejoice!

And I really liked it. How could I not. Once I became to terms with hating Heathcliff and not really liking Catherine I was fine. He's just so detestable. But the story was fantastic and the writing was wonderful and, as with all the Bronte books, it made me want to march across the moors, preferably in a swoon.

So here's my biggest concern with it. I've always heard that this was one of the great romantic novels. I hope that I've always just missed the Big R in Romantic because if they're just talking about small r romantic then we have a problem. Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship was twisted and weird. And his passion for her later on was even weirder. And I fear for people who think that's romantic. It made me want to punch him in the face a little.