Nov 22

AndersonMarchen

Andersens Märchen, by HC Andersen ★★★

Continuing my relatively passive exposure to the German language, I read a German translation of Andersen’s Fairytales. This was supposedly a fairly complete version of Andersen’s works, and so was rather long. Though this edition was translated about 100 years ago, it contains a number of archaic words for which the book occasionally provided translations. There were many fairy tales that were familiar to me, like the Ugly Duckling, and the Little Mermaid. The little mermaid story has only a passing resemblance to the Walt Disney version of the story. Many of the stories were a touch wearisome, being somewhat unimaginative. Andersen loved to put a brain and animus into common plants and objects, and would lead you through the adventures of their existence. So you follow the events that occur with a tin soldier, some plants like a fir tree, and various other objects. The book was wonderful reading, considering that it was not too complex of language for learning German.

Next on my German reading list is the 1001 nights or Arabian Nights. Already, it reads a little smoother than Andersens Märchen, even though most of the stories I’m not at all familiar with.

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Jan 20

CuttingForStoneCutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese ★★★

This book is about two identical twin boys, Marion and Sheva, growing up at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, whose mother died at the time of birth and father disappeared at the time of birth. Verghese weaves a complex maze of incidences which lead to the ultimate fate of each of the two boys. The setting is quite historical, in that it speaks of the epoch of Haile Selassie and subsequent revolution, which influenced events of the two boys. Eventually, the father is identified as a world famous liver surgeon in Boston. The book is written in either third person form, transforming into first person form of Marion as time goes on.

Reading the first third of the book had me quite excited as to having discovered an excellent novel. It went downhill from there. Verghese elaborates on some coming-of-age scenes with the boys, and other sexual escapades which seemed to dominate the author’s thinking. Too many incidences occur which are beyond the realm of reason. The father, Thomas Stone, writes in Africa the leading textbook of tropical medicine, only to become the world’s authority on partial liver transplantation. Right. Shiva skips medical school, and becomes the world authority on urovaginal fistulae. Marion becomes the head trauma surgeon at a New England hospital. Marion’s youthful girlfriend leads a hijacking of an airliner, only to find herself wandering aimlessly in the US. The original realism which decorated the first half of the book is lost completely in the second half. It was as though Verghese had become bored with writing and had to create imaginative ways to end the book.

This is a book that is perhaps slightly autobiographical, in that the author was born in Ethopia, with Indian connections and finally moved to the US in order to become a doctor. Thus, much of what he describes about the life and land of Ethiopia in the first portion of the book was wonderful.  His description of third world hospitals is quite accurate and brought back many memories. His idea of god is one giant Hindu Ethiopian Mary-oriented Catholic Muslim god who works in a random fashion, and extracts punishment or delivers favor in a quid pro quo mixed with arbitrary manner. This book is best read by reading the first ⅓ to ½, and then skipping to the last several chapters to find out what happened to everybody.

 

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Jun 17

The Idiot

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The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. WP as his favorite Dostoevsky work. The story revolves around a sickly, epileptic prince named Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin, but is often simply referred to as “the idiot”. An idiot he is not, but a kindly, reserved fellow. The story has him returning from Switzerland for recovery of his health, when he comes into encounters with multiple females. Ultimately, he becomes romantically engaged with several, though not be actively seeking them out, but rather by becoming an inheritor of a large sum of money. The story has a fascinating ending which I won’t reveal. Like most Dostoevsky novels, you won’t easily predict the ending until you get there. Worthy of reading, I should soon be reviewing the Russian “made for television” version of the book.

 

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Mar 25

The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★

This book was written soon after Dostoevsky finished a three year term in a Siberian prison for his alleged revolutionary activities. The story is written from the viewpoint of a nobleman for whom you are never told his crime, and owes the state 10 years of hard labor. Much of the book is oriented around the first few weeks in the prison, the description of the prison hospital, the celebration of Christmas, and various prisoner stories describing events in prison or the crime that bought their prison sentence. It is a dark read, though with jocular moments, and a prelude to the even darker writings of prison life by Alexander Solzhenitsin. The book does end well, with a brief description of the release of the story-teller from prison, though that was preceded by the tale of an attempted escape. Dostoevsky excels in his ability to do  character descriptions.

Again, this Mobile Reference version is filled with multiple typographical errors from the scanning of the originals. Usually, one may figure out the proper intended word, but sometimes it was not possible. I would discourage anybody from purchasing this set. It might be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

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Mar 18

The Gambler

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The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★
This is one of Dostoevsky’s shorter novels, and follows a young student from Russia tutoring children of a Russian General while living in a small gambling town in Germany. The student inadvertently gets the gambling bug when asked to make bets at the local casino by a lady friend of his. This leads to a disasterous episode in the students’ life, characterized by moments of extreme wealth and extreme poverty leading to a short episode in prison. The extreme wealth dissipates quickly through either inability to control the irresistable gambling urge, or by squandering the wealth rapidly on friends and careless living. Perhaps Dostoevsky was writing this partially autobiographically, since he also had a period of compulsive gambling, which he managed to kick. The book generally has a dark, somber tone to it, though a middle section where rich grandmamma comes to visit and suddenly gets caught in the gambling craze offers a comic interlude.
I read this book on Kindle. I have seen the opera The Gambler (Der Spieler) by Prokofiev in the distant past, and so will have to dig the disc out of the memory vaults and watch it again. The book can easily be read in several nights, and doesn’t have periods of lengthy dialogue or monologue that are typical of the longer Dostoevsky novels. This edition of the works of Dostoevsky is VERY poorly edited, with numerous spelling mistakes. They obviously quick scanned a text, and offered no proof-reading. You get what you pay for. The edition itself should be only 1 star.

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