On the Road

The beat generation a movement of young people in the 1950s who rejected conventional society and favored Zen Buddhism, modern jazz, free sexuality, and recreational drugs. The main writers associated with the movement were Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road was published in 1957, and it came to be the epitome of the beat generation. Much of the story of the novel can be taken as autobiographical. Kerouac took events from his life on the road with Neal Cassedy and turned them into the novel. Supposedly written in one sitting, this novel grabs hold of you and doesn't let go. The narrator, Sal Paradise, tells the story of his life on the road with Dean Moriarty, and the story is told in a stream of consciousness method (á la To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf). Dean is reckless, energetic, and a womanizer. Sal is drawn to him because he wants to experience things to write about. On the Road symbolizes the search for fulfillment. It portrays the story of a "fierce personal quest for meaning and belonging." [x] America in the 1950s was a time when WWII had just ended and the Cold War was just getting started. As Americans fought against communism, conformity was welcomed. The beatniks rebelled, and this rejection of the typical life is clear in Kerouac's novel. The excitement they had for the life they lived is evident, such as in this quote from chapter one, as Sal comments on Dean and his friends dancing, "the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn..." On a side note, the movie adaptation of this novel is coming out soon (watch the trailer here), and it hasn't received good reviews, with critics saying it was not the movie they had hoped it would be. If you haven't read On the Road yet, I suggest you do! It was a lovely way to start off my 2012 Summer Reading. Rating:★★★★★


Summer Reading

As summer 2012 begins, I wanted to share 20 books I plan on reading this summer
(which I will update with links to reviews as I read).
  1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the defining novel of the Beat Generation of the 1950sPOST
  2. The Magician King by Lev Grossman, the sequel to The Magicians (post here), about Quentin and Julia's adventures in Fillory, POST
  3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, hallmark novel in American literature, a tale of adventure, POST
  4. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, "story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles - and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined." I couldn't get through it, eek!
  5. Hero by Perry Moore, about Thom Creed, a boy with super powers who has a rocky relationship with his father, POST
  6. The Submission by Amy Waldman, jury choses a memorial for the 9/11 attack only to find out the architect they chose is Muslim (fiction), POST
  7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinback, another landmark American novel about a family of Okies during the Great Depression, POST
  8. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown, when NSA's code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls in Susan Fletcher, who discovers something big, POST
  9. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway, hailed as one of "the best war novels of all time", it tells the story of an American during the Spanish Civil War, POST
  10. The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurty, a coming of age story in a small town, POST
  11. The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. by Jacques Strauss, a novel about 11yr old white boy, Jack, living in Johannesburg during apartheidPOST
  12. Primary Colors by Anonymous, a "look behind the scenes" in American politics, POST
  13. The Chosen by Chaim Potok, the story of two fathers and two sons "and the pressures on all of them to pursue the religion they share in the way that is best suited to each", POST
  14. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, about a boy born at the stroke of midnight as India got her independence, and how his health is bound to that of his country, POST
  15. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, about a young musician determined to play his cello at the site of a mortar attack, his story interweaving the lives of four strangers, POST
  16. The Last Life by Claire Messud, a novel about the history of a French American family, narrated by a young woman with a "ruthless regard for truth", POST
  17. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, the story of a man who turned himself invisible and becomes crazy. A hallmark science fiction novella. 
  18. Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky, a book written during the Holocaust only to be discovered 64 years after the author was killed at Auschwitz
  19. Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward, an inside look at Obama's presidency
  20. Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan, a mystery about a man hoping to escape his past
If you have any suggestions, please, feel free to comment!
Happy summer! 


Cry, The Beloved Country

Cry, The Beloved Country is a fantastic novel by Alan Paton. Evoking biblical language, this three part novel tells the story of South Africa before apartheid. The protagonist is Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu reverend from what was the Natal province of eastern South Africa. The story begins when Kumalo receives a letter from a fellow reverend in Johannesburg telling him that his sister is ill. From there, the plot delves into Kumalo's experiences in Johannesburg and highlights three main themes; the bonds between father and son (Kumalo searches for his son, Absalom who has not responded to his father's letters in quite some time), racial inequality and injustice in South Africa, and the influence of Christianity on South Africans. The title is in one of my favorite quotes from the book;
This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country... Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.
What I found was really interesting about this novel was that it was written before the policy of apartheid was implemented. Actively fighting for equality wasn't the major focus of the story, so the natives fight against the British is more subtly discussed. The novel became a tad too religious at times for my liking, but I nonetheless thought it was extremely well-written. Many scenes are written so similar to the Old Testament and other ancient books that you half-expect them to be quotes. All-in-all, it wasn't a very long read so I highly recommend picking it up if you have the time. Rating: ★★★★


Reading Lolita in Tehran

A memoir framed through western classics, Azar Nafisi's story of her defying the Islamic Republic of Iran to teach this literature in her country, where anything remotely western is looked down upon, is a gripping and insightful read. The memoir is divided into four sections, Lolita, Gatsby, James, and Austen - each focusing on their titular book or author.
As Nafisi writes in the beginning of part one, about Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov, "Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine us the way we sometimes didn't dare to imagine ourselves...reading Lolita in Tehran...against all odds." Having read Lolita earlier this year, it was really interesting for me to see Lolita through the eyes of these Iranian women. Nafasi, after quitting her job at the university, decides to hold classes once a week in her home for students who truly want to learn. Part two, Gatsby, about The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald, was my favorite section. It takes place 11 years before Lolita (part one). Before reading part two, I decided to read The Great Gatsby so I had a better understanding of what was happening. And I fell in love with the story. Fitzgerald, a writer from the the Lost Generation (a period in American history following World War I), tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a wealthy man hopelessly in love with Daisy (the movie looks fantastic). In Nafisi's class at University, the Islamic fundamentalists denounce the book as a sign of Western decadence and extravagance, claiming it condones adultery. In an exercise, Nafisi decides to put the book on trial, with Mr. Nyazi (leader of the fundamentalists in her class) representing the prosecution and Nafisi representing Gatsby. I won't ruin what happens, but suffice to say, it is truly one of my favorite scenes in the novel. Part three,  James, about Henry James, takes place right after Gatsby (chronologically). The Iran-Iraq war is underway, and Nafisi is expelled from the University of Tehran. Part three served to give the reader a greater sense of Nafisi's backstory and the political/religious climate in Iran. Part four, Austen, about Jane Austen, occurs after Lolita. Pride and Prejudice is the main focus of the section. I had not read Pride and Prejudice, so I decided before reading part four I would read it. I thought it was amazing - I was completely swept up in Elizabeth Bennet's and Mr. Darcy's relationship. In Nafisi's book club, they discuss marriage, men, and sex in Iranian society. Overall, this was a really interesting way to look at Iran - through western literature. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice as companions to Reading Lolita in Tehran. Each of the four parts could be read as their own story; together, they make a masterpiece. Rating: ★★★★★