Category Archives: Books & Reading

Reading Ovid: Metamorphoses – Book One

Metamorphoses
Ovid
Translated by David Raeburn

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0140447897
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Book TwoBook ThreeBook FourBook FiveBook SixBook Seven Book EightBook Nine Book Ten –  Book Eleven Book TwelveBook ThirteenBook Fourteen – Book Fifteen

Conventions:  I refer to the characters in Metamophoses as Roman Ovid has.  Links, for the most part, go to Wikipedia which refers to the characters as Greeks.  For my purposes, Wikipedia provides a good overview about Greco-Roman mythology.

In 779 lines, the equivalent of 44 pages, Ovid has a lot to say.  Stories galore populate these lines.  A lot of “aha!” moments for me as the origins of the laurel tree or the pipes of pan, are revealed.

I’m doing my best not to recap because good ones can be found all over the internet, like this one.

Ambitious Ovid implores the gods to inspire him to

“spin a thread from the world’s beginning
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem.”
(line 3).

From the Creation story in which chaos is turned into order, I love this description about the stars:

“Nature had hardly been settled within its separate compartments
when stars, which had long been hidden inside the welter of Chaos,
began to explode with light all over the vault of the heavens”
(lines 68 – 70)

The banquet of  Lycaon, who tested Jove‘s omniscience by serving a roasted human.  Gross and disgusting.  Just …. eww.  But Jove knew what was what and Lycoan’s punishment was transformation into a wolf, a lycan.

“The house was in uproar;  passions blazed as they called for the blood
of the reckless traitor; as, when that band of disloyal malcontents
raged to extinguish the name of Rome by murdering Caesar.”
(lines 99 -102).

In case his contemporary audience doesn’t understand the severity of what Lycaon has done, Ovid tells them by comparing him to those who killed Julius Caesar.  I can picture knives plunging in high dudgeon.

As Jove is threatening to kill everything with a terrible flood, the gods wail about no one being left to serve them, and deliver delicious tidbits.  Can’t have that.

“But still a murmur went round:  Who will bring to our altars the offerings
of incense?  Is earth to be left to the mercies of ravaging wild beasts?”
(lines 247 – 248)

The Flood story echoes the story in Genesis.  Everyone and everything dies, except Deucalion and Pyrrha.  As the waters recede Deucalion wails,

” … Here is the world with its glorious lands, from east to west; and here are we,
an inglorious crowd of two.”  (lines 343 -345).

I love that phrase, “an inglorious crowd of two.”  It illustrates just how alone and scared they must be.  Everything they have known is gone and it is just the two of them alone, facing unknowable challenges.

Themis tells Deucalion and Pyrrha to cover their heads, untie their robes, and toss stones over their backs toward the sea, in order to repopulate the world.

“And so our race is a hard one, we work by the sweat of our brow,
and bear the unmistakable marks of our stony origin, …”  (lines 414 – 415)

I will say one thing for Ovid, he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the ugly side of the gods.  The story of Io, for instance.

Jove, not well known for his faithfulness to his wife, Hera, is off raping Io.  Not wanting to get caught, he turns he rinto a “snow-white heifer.”  Hera is charmed and asks for the cow as a gift.

What was he to do?  Notice Ovid’s use of the word conscience, as though gods would allow a little thing like a conscience get in the way.

To surrender his love
would be cruelly painful, but not to give her would look suspicious.
Conscience would argue for her surrender, his love was against it.
Love indeed would have won the battle; but if he refused
the paltry gift of a cow to the wife …
it would have appeared that the creature was not exactly a heifer.
(lines 617 – 621)

One of my favorite stories is that of Argus, servant to Hera, a giant with one hundred eyes who is set to watch over Io, just to make sure Jove doesn’t get up to any more hanky-panky with her.  Argus is killed by Pan, who chased Syrinx until she turned into marsh willows to get away from him.  Pan uses his pipes to lure Argus, and all his eyes to go to sleep, at which point Pan beheads Argus.

Book One ends with the beginning of the story of Phaethon, who decides to prove the Sun god is his father.  Even if you don’t know the story, you just know chaos is about to ensue.

 

 

Book Review: My Friend the Fanatic

My Friend the Fanatic
Sadanand Dhume

Full disclosure: This was an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) given to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ program. In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review.

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart TwoPart Three

“Mosque is not a good word. It is like mosquito. It is taken from the Mexican language. You know we do not like mosquito. This is deeply propaganda …”
Herry Nurdi to Sadanand Dhume (p. 136)

It’s all too easy to point and laugh while dismissing the ignorance of people.  But we should take care because this sort of ignorance from religious extremists (not just Muslim) is what fuels the fires of intolerance.

Sadanand Dhume’s My Friend the Fanatic, is filled with examples of stubborn ignorance and hypocritical thinking.  It is also filled with examples of how this fuels the move against equal and civil rights in favor of sharia law.  So far, this could be the story of any nation struggling with identity politics.

But Dhume’s book is set in Indonesia and reflects what he encounters in his travels under the auspices of Herry Nurdi, editor of a Islamic fundamentalist magazine and fan of Osama bin Laden.

The extreme differences between secular life and religious ideology are most striking in the first section focusing on events in Java.  A pop star who has popularized a dance move called drilling (something akin to twerking), a Muslim televangelist, and what passes for literati are in stark contrast with those who live in abject poverty living in shacks with dirt floors begging to support their family.

It took over one hundred pages for My Friend the Fanatic to become cohesive.  Not only were the familiar stories of poverty, ignorance and zealotry told but so were the struggle for identity as a nation.  Although Dhume begins with the 2002 bombings in Bali, the story begins earlier in Indonesia’s history, with Indonesia winning independence from the Dutch in 1949.

Simplistically put, Indonesia’s problems can be seen as the growing pains of a young nation searching for identity.  What is it to be Indonesian?  I found My Friend the Fanatic to be an interesting look into these issues from the point of view of an atheist journalist from India seeking answers from Islamic fundamentalists fighting against secular values.

Dhume writes of the stark contrasts in Indonesia and the conflicts in politics and ideology.  His work has made me curious about Indonesia and its history.

 

100 Pages a Day: My Friend the Fanatic Part Three

My Friend the Fanatic
Sadanand Dhume

Full disclosure: This was an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) given to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ program. In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review.

Part OnePart Two
Pages 197 – 271

I don’t know how to argue with people who cannot question themselves, who don’t say the words, “I was wrong.”  It’s like playing football with someone who says, “Only I can score goals.”  There’s no basis for conversation.  (p. 210)

Dhume says this to a Muslim woman on a ferry who insists sharia law is good for everyone because she says so.

It’s easy to pick on people who have little to no education, live in abject poverty and whose survival often depends on help from groups whose politics and ideologies don’t match ours.  But what then to make of those who have had access to education but are still moored to an extreme ideology like sharia law?

In the case of Indonesia, as I suspect in other countries struggling for identity, those with an education weren’t educated to western standards.  They may claim a degree in industrial engineering, most likely from a Muslim school funded by Saudi petrodollars.

In these final pages, Dhume visits Ambon, one of the largest cities in eastern Indonesia.  Here, the violence has been rampant.  Indonesian against remnants of Dutch and Portuguese colonialism, Muslims against Christians and secularists.  Girls in modest uniform skirts killed for being immodest, women against women because the Jilbāb is not also hijab.

Again, poverty is rife.  The second best hotel in Ambon, which Dhume and Nurdi stay in is perhaps the worst place they have stayed in during this journey.  A bucket stands outside the hotel room door to catch the water dripping from above.  Nurdi shows their guide from Ambon packages containing letterhead envelopes and stationery.  The guide is very impressed because such things are considered a luxury in Ambon.

Related in these pages is more of the same grim story.  Poverty, politics, a search for personal and national identity.  Are they laid-back, anything goes Indonesian or secular and democratic?  Or are they some version of strict Muslim which takes a dim view of anyone not adhering to their strictures?

Nurdi, and those Dhume interviews, continue to show their lack of education and critical thinking and the shrill anti-Western ideology their version of Islam preaches.  Everything is a CIA plot, or a Jewish plot, and/or a combination of both.

This is not an easy question to answer, which is the right way?  Each faction believes they know and try to force that on others.  The rich get richer and are lax in morals.  The poor turn to those who will help, regardless of ideology.  The price of that help is learning, accepting, and spreading those ideas.

In his prologue, Dhume returns to Jakarta two years later.  He catches up with many of the people from earlier in the book.  Then he brings up an important point for discussion: what does moderation look like?  Is a moderate Muslim one who accepted the same ideas about human rights as the Korean Christian or a Buddhist from Singapore?  Or was a Muslim moderate who was “simply” against flying airplanes into buildings?  (p 267)

My Friend the Fanatic cannot answer the question of how Indonesia has become the biggest Muslim country in the world in just one generation.  At best it shows us that the issue is complex, as in many other countries.  Indonesia’s unique history plays an integral part in trying to find answers.  Westerners with centuries of independence and invading colonialist histories may just now beginning to understand what the consequences are for countries whose independence can be counted in decades, not centuries.

It’s too easy to spout something about political “growing pains,” which is true to some extent.  But it’s also naive to overlook that as one of the factors which has made Indonesia such a violent incubator for Muslim extremists.

Dhume asks the same questions experts are asking?  How did this come about and how do we stop the intolerance?

100 Pages a Day: My Friend the Fanatic Part Two

My Friend the Fanatic
Sadanand Dhume

Full disclosure: This was an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) given to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ program. In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review.

Part OnePart Three
Pages 107 – 196

“Mosque is not a good word.  It is like mosquito.  It is taken from the Mexican language.  You know we do not like mosquito.  This is deeply propaganda …”
Herry Nurdi to Sadanand Dhume (p. 136)

Herry Nurdi has a lot of “secret information,” he uses to bolster his claims; political, economic and ideological.

Things are starting to feel more coherent to me now.  As I read, the struggles of Indonesia becomes eerily familiar.  Indonesia’s story could be any non-Western country’s story.  The search for identity as demonstrated by the many competing influences of historical tradition, politics, religion, etc.

In this story, as in so many others, the lack of educations and knowledge really is the heart of the problem.  At least to me.  Poverty, abject poverty, and the need to belong to some group which can offer comfort in any small way, even if that way is a better life in the next, keeps people going.

If the group offering you comfort derides Western values and education, you will accept that as reality.  It’s a skewed reality to outsiders, maybe even other Indonesians, but it’s the one which gives you comfort and helps you survive another day.

My Friend the Fanatic is filled with ridiculous quotes like the one above.  In the second hundred pages, Dhume and Nurdi have left Java and are traveling through Sulawesi, Borneo, Riau, and The Moluccas.  I’m reading about a country still trying to throw off the influence of Dutch imperialism and find a way to truly develop an independent style of politics and culture which can encompass everyone.

The dictatorship of Suharto and Sukharno have also left their marks.  Into this vacuum, militant groups have stepped in.  The Muslim extremists are just one set of groups.

 

100 Pages a Day: My Friend the Fanatic, Part One

My Friend the Fanatic
Sadanand Dhume

Full disclosure:  This was an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) given to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ program.  In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review.

Part TwoPart Three

Pages 1 – 106

In asking for this book, my hope was that I would gain more insight into Islamic extremism.  I don’t know much about Indonesia, so thought this would be one way to learn more about both.

Let me just say that while I plan on finishing the book, it is difficult to connect to.  Each chapter reads like a vignette about the people the author meets in the places he goes.  The one thread through these vignettes is Herry Nurdi, managing editor of the Islamist publication Sabili, who makes many of the introductions for Sadanand Dhume.

These 100 pages contain a prologue about Dhume’s experience in Bali when the bombings of 2002 occurred.  An Indonesian Islamic extremist group was held responsible.

Chapter One is about the travels around Java meeting and talking with people about Islam, nationalism, Suharto, Sukarno, and culture.  It is a whirlwind tour of VIP clubs featuring pop stars who write graphic poems about sex, drag performers, an Islamic televangelist, and Herry Nurdi.  Just to name a few.

There’s so little context going from one part to the next that I feel lost a lot, and find myself asking “Now who is this guy?”  It’s my hope that some of this will start to come together later in the book.  There’s a lot of information to sift through.

Book Review: Adam + Evelyn by Ingo Schulze

Adam + Evelyn
Ingo Schulze

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Another in the Canongate series, featuring global writers retelling myths.

Imagine what it would be like to leave a place where all your needs were met for a place in which you now have  freedom of movement but must scrabble to meet your needs?

Adam had everything he wanted:  a home, a thriving tailor business, food, a car that ran, women …

One day Evelyn quits her job waiting tables and comes home to find Adam having sex with one of his clients in the the bathtub.  Enough already, Evelyn decides, and leaves to take the vacation to Hungary she and Adam had planned together without him.

Adam cannot understand what has gotten into Evelyn.  He packs his car, including pet turtle, and heads off to follow her and friends, Simone and Michael, into Hungary.  Throughout most of the book, he simply does not comprehend why Evelyn is so angry with him.

There is bickering galore as Evelyn tries to tell Adam why she’s mad, why she’s sleeping with Michael, and why she’s decided not to go back to East Germany, but wants to head into the West to make her own way.

Set against the history of politics in Eastern Europe (there’s a chronology included) and the fall of borders and, eventually, the Berlin Wall, Adam + Evelyn is Ingo Schulze‘s (German) version of what happens to Adam & Eve after God expels them from Eden and they must make their own way in the world.

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part Three

Adam + Evelyn
Ingo Schulze

Part One Part Two

Pages 199 – 284
Adam & Evelyn keep arguing, about nothing. It’s practically boring now. They’ve made it to the West, just as their car dies for good.

In their hotel room, Adam finds a copy of the bible and begins to read the creation story of Adam & Eve in Genesis.

The next morning, at breakfast, the mechanic returns to tell them he’ll buy the car from them.  There’s just no fixing it.

Taking the money, they phone Adam’s aunt and uncle asking for a place to stay while he and Evelyn get settled in West Germany and begin again.

There’s an interrogation of sorts in an embassy so they can get their papers sorted and their continued living in the West will be approved.  Adam continues to carry the bible he took from the hotel in Bavaria.

More bickering.  Adam thinks getting to the West is going to be disastrous.  Evelyn looks at it as a positive thing, at least she’ll get to go to university now.  There’s a reunion with Katja, who introduces them to her boyfriend, Markel.

Evelyn learns she is pregnant.  Adam wants to know who the father is, him or Michael.  While staying with Adam’s family, he starts to look for clients but discovers that women buy ready-made off the rack and don’t want a custom tailor.  He grouses.  Evelyn keeps trying to cheer him up, to no avail.

The wall between East and West Germany comes down.  Those from the East are skeptical that this will change anything.  Adam returns to his home in the East and finds it trashed.  Appliances have been stolen, the photos of Adam’s models in his creations have been torn apart.  Even his bicycle has been stolen.  He returns with the box of photographs.  Evelyn, thinking he can use them as a portfolio, tapes them back together and, with Katja, puts them in albums.

Soon, Adam has a part-time job with a shop doing alterations.  Evelyn has been accepted to university.  Katja and Marek help them get into a room in the same house Katja and Marek live in.

The book ends with Adam standing in the backyard of his new home standing over a fire and burning his photographs, giving a short laugh over each photo.  Evelyn watches from the kitchen, while the neighbors watch in alarm.  Evelyn, at last, feels content.

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part One

Adam + Evelyn
Ingo Schulze

Part TwoPart Three

Another in the Canongate Myth series, featuring global writers retelling myths.

Part One:  Pages 1-99

Adam is a tailor who likes his female clients a bit too much.  Evelyn walks in on him one day, pants at his ankles, with another woman.  This is too much.

They had planned a trip to Hungary, so Evelyn leaves without Adam.  She goes with her friend Simone, and her cousin from West Germany, Michael.

And Adam?  Adam decides to stalk Evelyn across East Germany into Hungary.  At first, he keeps pace with them, but loses them in Prague in the Czech Republic.

Thinking he knows where Evelyn is going, Adam proceeds to drive, stopping at road stops to take care of necessities.  At one, a woman named Katja asks for a ride to, basically, anywhere.  Adam agrees, and they continue on his way.

When they reach the final destination of Lake Balaton in western Hungary, Evelyn’s friend Simone finds them and gives directions to the place where the rest are staying.

This is set in 1989 just before the Berlin Wall fell.  There are border checks, with tension between the characters about how to get across each border without being pulled over for further searches.  Katja has no papers and Adam sneaks her over the border in the trunk of his car.

I’m enjoying the way Schulze tells this story.  It has good pacing and is filled with interesting tidbits alluding to the way life must have been for the young citizens of Eastern Europe when things were changing, but not obviously so.

Book Review: The Hurricane Party

The Hurricane Party
Klas Ostergren

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart Two Part Three

Overall, the best part of The Hurricane Party, was the retelling of the Lokasenna, the banquet of the Norse gods featuring the trickster god, Loki, killing and insulting others. You know, causing trouble as trickster gods do.

This part was interesting and read smoothly, even when tangents were taken to explain the background story of Loki and some other character.

It was the foundation laying that was stilted and somewhat mundane.  It’s necessary to meet Hanck and learn his story, and for the scenery to be explained as classist, grey and toxic (literally) for the ordinary worker.

We learn many details about Hanck but it truly felt as though Ostergren had taken bullet points about Hanck’s life and then tried to flesh them out with some details.  Most of these details make little sense in the context of the story and add nothing to the plot of Hanck finding, losing, and learning about love.

That the innkeeper’s red-haired daughter was a virgin and her hair was perfect in the calibration of some obsolete gauge still has me wondering.

I often remind myself that I must meet the author where he is, not where I want him to be.  This could have been a more interesting story about a man living in 1984 like times who learns about love through the death of his son.  Ostergren’s way of telling this story wasn’t how I wanted it to read.  This is another case of author and reader being on different pages.

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part Three

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part OnePart Two

Pages 199 – 214

Bora finishes telling Hanck the tale of Toby’s death.  There’s a lot of history and side stories to explain the inner workings of The Clan and their feuds, especially Loki’s part in all of it.

The next morning, Hanck departs for home, hoping to come to terms with how Toby died.

Hanck has been told that Loki frequents a bar called The Colonial Club, so Hanck goes there in the hopes of confronting Loki.  An older whore joins Hanck at his table and lures him into talking about his sorrows.

She writes a note for Hanck to use to skip the line of supplicants at the Old Man’s residence, and get direct and immediate access.  Hanck, understandably, is hesitant about using this letter.  Who is this woman to have connections with the highest level of The Clan?

Dubious though he is, Hanck decides to give it a try.  To his surprise, he is ushered into the Old Man’s, Odin’s, presence.  After reading the letter, he reveals to Hanck that the whore at The Colonial Club was Loki himself.  Furthermore, Odin reveals that he knows what happened to Toby, both the time he was delivered to the hospital and the time he died while serving at the banquet.

Hanck tells Odin he wants to see his son, so Odin makes a deal.  Having enjoyed Hanck’s reports from the time when he was an insurance adjuster, Odin wants Hanck to write the same type of report about love.  Not the drivel that poets and storytellers write, but a sharp report in which love can be codified.  Hanck is dubious about his ability to do this task, but agrees if only he is allowed to see his son one more time.

Can you turn love into something sensible, rational and even logical?  If you can, then you would also be capable of forgiving.” (p. 280)

Hanck is then taken to the City of the Dead where he has one last conversation with Toby, in which it is revealed that he has met his mother and knows his father lied to him about her.  Then, Hanck visits the display of Loki’s torment, tied up under a  snake whose  venom will kill him should any touch him.  Loki’s wife sits next to him, holding a bowl above his head, catching the venom as it drips down.  Eventually, the bowl gets full and she must step outside to empty it.  Then Loki’s torture can be seen by all.

When he arrives home, Hanck sits at his typewriter and thinks that Odin has handed him an impossible task.  How can love be codified?

Then an invitation to the meeting of the Affect Commission to participate in a forum about love and how to codify it.  Hanck sits uncomfortably warm in the turtleneck he bought Toby years ago and listens to experts speak about love and its fluidity.

At the interval he leaves because he’s realized that these experts have it all wrong.  “Love is unfathomable!” (p. 311)  He returns home and sits at his typewriter and finds he knows how to write about love, by writing about his love for Toby and their life together.