Book Review: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

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“Two eyes were fixed on Margarita’s face. The right one with a golden spark at its bottom, drilling anyone to the bottom of his soul, and the left one empty and black, like the narrow eye of a needle, like the entrance to the bottomless well of all darkness and shadow.”

The Master and Margarita tells the tale of the devil, Woland, as he comes to Moscow with his cohorts and wreaks havoc. It’s told in the style of a fairytale with a lot of dark humor and political satire. There are three stories that intertwine, one is the literary uppercrust of Moscow that Woland & co. take particular pleasure in tormenting, the second is the tale of Pontius Pilate set in the time of Christ, and the third is the story of the Master and Margarita. This book, simply put, is the most brilliant thing I’ve read all year. Bulgakov makes a mockery of the literary society that suppresses truth in favor of conforming to the Stalin government, his portrayal of Moscow society is over the top but the exaggeration not only adds to the humor, but is actually quite revealing and thought provoking.

I read the Peavar/Volkhonsky translation and while I thoroughly enjoyed it (and I love this gorgeous cover), the edition I have unfortunately doesn’t have any notes or an introduction. I would have liked reading some context to the political times Bulgakov wrote in before diving into the novel. It turns out that the manuscript of The Master and Margarita was heavily revised by Bulgakov but he was unable to revise the second part before he died. I think this is a book that I could re-read over and over again. I want to read it again relatively soon but I’d like to give the famous Burgin/O’Connor translation a try. The Peavar/Volkhonsky translation, while grammatically and technically accurate, is reportedly not as lyrical and poetic as the text could be. I definitely felt that in my reading.


Book Review: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

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“I created various personalities within myself. I create them constantly. Every dream, as soon as it is dreamed, is immediately embodied by another person who dreams it instead of me.

In order to create, I destroyed myself; I have externalized so much of my inner life that even inside I now exist only externally. I am the living stage across which various actors pass acting out different plays.”

In The Book of Disquiet Fernando Pessoa writes as Bernardo Soares, one of his many heteronyms. Bernardo Soares expresses his thoughts on life, love, art, insomnia…It reads like a journal or a long essay but Soares’ thoughts are incredible and piercing.

I really enjoyed reading this but it was also difficult. There are things that Soares writes I feel like could have come out of my own head, especially his thoughts on solitude and loneliness. Reading his words made me feel like I was understood in a way that I’ve been searching for my whole life. It’s amazing that someone who was born nearly a hundred years before me could feel the way that I feel and had thoughts so similar to mine. But that’s the beauty and power of literature, it transcends distance and time to connect people. Through all of the advances in society and technology, humanity is still essentially the same. Of course, I don’t agree with everything that Soares thinks and writes. There are some things that I just flat out disagree with but having a differing viewpoint rounds out my understanding of Soares. Just like with my friends. I can be friends with people who don’t have the same taste in literature as me, or differing political viewpoints, or different religious viewpoints…I connect with Soares on some things and I don’t on others, it makes his thoughts even more interesting to read.

You know the ‘if you could invite anyone to dinner, even dead people, who would you invite’ question? I would love to have Fernando Pessoa at my dinner table. He has such a fascinating and a truly brilliant mind. I’ve bought a book of his poetry and I can’t wait to read it.

Book Review: Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

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“I have invented the thing we are traveling in, which I call Professor Steg’s Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier.”

“I call it a balloon,” I said.

“Professor Steg’s Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier is the original name,” he said.

This is an illustrated book for children and a really funny and wacky at that. I love how Neil completely turns around the ‘kid-goes-on-an-adventure-and-adults-don’t-believe-him’ trope and has the Dad be the one with the crazy adventure story that his skeptical kids don’t believe. It’s great and it shows that imagination doesn’t die in youth.

It’s a fun to read story and something hilarious to read to your kids, if you have any, or to younger siblings. Or, in my case, just to myself. Neil Gaiman’s wit and imagination can never be denied.

Book Review: Lullabies by Lang Leav

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Lullabies is Lang Leav’s second collection of poetry. The first is called Love & Misadventure, which I discovered a few months ago and immediately fell in love with. I became an instant fan of Lang Leav and when I found out Lullabies was coming out I didn’t hesitate to preorder it.

Lang Leav is one of those writers who have a gift for knowing my soul. She writes of love and heartbreak in a way that expresses exactly what I feel and think about it. Especially when I’ve experienced it so recently. Lullabies is a thicker volume than Love & Misadventure, packed with more poems, to my delight. There’s a disclaimer in the beginning that the poems can be read in any order but there is a story if you read it from beginning to end. I read it from beginning to end, of course, because that’s my way. I do appreciate the flow of the poems when read this way but I feel like Love & Misadventure was a little more cohesive in the way it presented each section of poems. That said, when I look at each individual poem I feel like Lang Leav really outdid herself. There’s not really much I can say, the poems speak for themselves so I’ll just post a few of my favorites.

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If you’ve ever been in love and brokenhearted, I can guarantee you’ll be able to relate to these poems. Lang Leav truly has a way with words, she speaks straight from the heart and her words continually pierce mine as I read these poems.

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

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“It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them one people.

She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be.”

Frankie Landau-Banks, “Bunny Rabbit” to her family, is someone who everyone thinks of as a nice, sweet, pretty girl, if they think of her at all. Frankie attends a prestigious boarding school and finds out that her new boyfriend is a member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all male secret society. Frankie is tired of being the person that no one sees as anything but a fragile little girl. She’s tired of being underestimated. She comes up with schemes and pranks to subvert her school’s old fashioned values and traditions. She makes the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds do her bidding. And all without anyone even suspecting that it’s her.

I kind of want to be Frankie Landau-Banks. But then I don’t. It’s more like I wish I had some of the traits that she has: her guts to stand up for herself and what she believes in, her strategic and analytic way of thinking. I could do without her single minded obsessiveness, her need to manipulate people, and the constant power play she engages in with almost everyone around her. I don’t think Frankie is a likable character, but I do think that she is a great one. And she has the potential to become a powerful person who will advocate and possibly instigate social change.

“So, I was a monster, she thought. At least I wasn’t someone’s little sister, someone’s girlfriend, some sophomore, some girl – someone whose opinions don’t matter.”

This is one of my favorite quotes, as well as the one I opened the review with. Frankie is aware of her not so good behavior and traits and she makes no apologies for it. I haven’t seen a lot of female protagonists like Frankie in YA Literature. She has no bow and arrow and doesn’t get trained to physically fight bad guys. There isn’t even any bad guys. What Frankie does is funny and a great form of rebellion and social activism, but her motives and methods are in a moral and criminal gray area. Frankie wants power, she wants dominance. Even if no one else knows that it’s her pulling the pranks, she likes having the mental upper hand over her boyfriend, her friends, and the school administration. It gives her a thrill that’s probably not normal, but Frankie is 15 and still has a lot of maturing to do.

I didn’t really believe in the Frankie/Matthew relationship. Frankie thinks that she loves him and maybe in her own still limited 15 year old way she does. I don’t think it’s real, sustainable romantic love though. Frankie loved Matthew’s friends and social status as much as she loved him, she even thinks that to herself. She loves that he welcomes her into his world and opens doors that would otherwise be closed to her. She manipulates Matthew and relishes the thought of having the power over him. She simultaneously loves and hates the way that Matthew sees her as a non-threatening, fragile girl. She claims to want to have equal ground with him but really, Frankie wants to be above Matthew. She wants to know all his secrets and to be completely in his world without revealing her own secrets and opening up her own world. The biggest reason that Frankie does what she does is because she can’t stand to be excluded from her boyfriend’s cool secret club. Frankie is petty, juvenile, and not emotionally or mentally mature enough for a real relationship. Frankie is 15, plain and simple. I think it’s great to see a character who thinks and acts her age, as most people do.

But I see Frankie’s potential. She will grow up to be a lawyer or politician, I’m sure of it. She’s ambitious, intelligent, focused, and has the advantages of being an upper middle class, good looking, white woman with a really good education. She’s completely aware of how the cards are stacked in her favor and has no qualms about taking advantage of it in order to serve her agenda. A perfect politician-in-the-making. I can see why this book was a National Book Award Finalist and Printz Honoree. It’s important that young girls and boys read stories with realistic and flawed heroines like Frankie.

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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“Her heart of compressed ash, which had resisted the most telling of blows of daily reality without strain, fell apart with the first waves of nostalgia. The need to feel sad was becoming a vice as the years eroded her. She became human in her solitude.”

One of the, if not the, founding pillars of modern Magical Realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall of the fictional city of Macondo and its founding family: the Buendias.

I used to have a habit of writing the day I bought a book on the back of the last page. It’s a habit that I’ve lost in the last couple of years and I’m sorry for it because it’s nice to look back and remember when I bought a book. When did I buy Solitude? June 2, 2007. 7 years ago. This is actually one of the books that made the move with me from the Philippines to California. That means this has been on my to-be-read pile for 7 years. I finally got around to it. I actually feel like one of the characters since it often took them years to perform any kind of action or instigate some kind of change. But I do believe that books have their time in a person’s life and I’m glad that I read this now rather than when I was younger and might not have been able to appreciate it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is often praised as a masterpiece and I can see why. Marquez seamlessly weaves together fantasy and reality, creating believable characters in an extraordinary and unbelievable world. The story follows the Buendia lineage, from the birth of it to its demise. i won’t pretend that it’s not a difficult read. The prose is a bit heavy, the characters difficult to tell apart sometimes (especially when they all have the same name!), and thematically it’s a lot to take in. There were times when I had to stop and ask myself just what I was reading. But still, despite it all, it wasn’t difficult for me to submerge myself in the world and town that Marquez created. My one regret is that I can’t read Spanish because I have a feeling that the English translation might not be giving the full experience of the beauty in Marquez’s language. I don’t often feel this way when reading translations, but I had the nagging feeling that being able to read this in Spanish would be glorious.

I like the theme of solitude that follows each and every member of the Buendia family. It really emphasizes the tragedy of their lives and deaths. To live and die in a town and a house that started out as beautiful and prosperous and to watch it all rot and fall to pieces around you…The cycle of life and death that no one can escape from. Marquez truly has the gift of storytelling magic and I can’t wait to read his other works.

Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

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“Ed, the thing with your heart’s desire is that your heart doesn’t even know what it desires until it turns up. Like a tie at a tag sale, some perfect thing in a crate of nothing, you were just there, uninvited, and now suddenly the party was over and you were all I wanted, the best gift.”

Why We Broke Up is told from the perspective of Min Green as she returns a box of memories to her ex-boyfriend Ed Slaterton. Its told in the second perspective as the entire book is meant to be a letter that Min has written to Ed to go along with the box.

This book was a recent birthday gift from my best friend because…well, let’s just say it fits my circumstances. I’m not a 16 year old ‘arty’ girl who really loves movies but I identified with Min really well. Perhaps a little too well as there were parts of this that was difficult to read. But I really liked it nonetheless. I think this book did a really good job of deconstructing a relationship and expressing the pain of a break up. Of course, it is completely one sided and we never get Ed’s perspective on things but that’s probably for the best. It takes two to be in a relationship and two to break up a relationship but structure of this being completely Min’s POV after the break up just works really well for the story. It’s pretty obvious from the start that this isn’t a mutual or amicable break up and Min is really expressing all of her pain, anger, and general heartbrokenness by recounting their relationship from the very start. So the ending wasn’t a big shock nor was it supposed to be. It’s funny how in hindsight the clues are there all along.

I kind of found the heavy references to made up movies and the long summaries of their plot lines a little tiresome. And there were passages that were long run-on sentences. Sometimes it worked really well and other times I just kind of got lost. I can understand it though. This is a letter that Min is writing to her ex so there are times where she just gets really emotional and her thought process goes on and on. Who hasn’t written (a hopefully unsent) letter to an ex like this? Or even just a journal entry. I really liked the artwork that went with it and how we could see each item in the box.

I think this is a good book to read if you’re broken hearted, though a bit painful. Handler had a way of going into my brain and writing down some things that is difficult for me to express. But I think it’s also good to read if you’re far away from a break up and just want to reminisce on the good and bad experiences of a first love.