Skip to main content

Book Review: My Greatest Challenge This Summer, It Seems, Is Deciphering The Dubliners by James Joyce

       
The best way to read during the summer is indoors with the AC waaaay up,
so you can wrap yourself in blankets
          Which means, I suppose, that I'm having a nice, relaxing summer so far.  My only other challenges have consisted of soaking up sunburn and working as an intern at a writing class for little kids.  But reading The Dubliners, a famous collection of short stories set in Dublin, has proved harder than either of those.  To give you an idea of why, allow me to quote a few passages from the book:

          "'Some of these fenians and hillsiders are a bit too clever if you ask me,' said Mr. Henchy" (pg. 125).
          "'But I'm greatly afraid our friend is not nineteen carat.  Damn it, I can understand a fellow being hard up but what I can't understand is a fellow sponging'" (pg. 124).
          "'He takes th'upper hand of me whenever he sees I've a sup taken'" (120).
          "'Sure, amn't I never done at the drunken bowsy ever since he left school?'" (120).
         "'Hasn't the working-man...a better right than those shoneens that are always hat in hand before any fellow with a handle to his name....One man is a plain honest man with no hunker-sliding about him'" (121).
          "'That takes the solitary, unique, and if I may say so call it, recherche biscuit!'" (50).
          "'There's nothing to touch a good slavey,' he affirmed" (52).

          Do you see what I mean???  The book is set in Ireland and was first published in 1914, the year the first World War broke out.  Trying to understand this old-fashioned Irish jargon seems, to me, like trying to read Italian - I can guess at what's going on, from what I know of the similar languages Spanish and English, but not much more.
          And aside from jargon, there are the historical references to Parnell, religious and regional rivalries, and other things that I am just not very familiar with.  (I feel like we Americans are very egotistical in terms of our education system - we devote so little time to studying countries other than our own.  If my high school history classes taught me anything about Ireland, for example, I might have understood this book better!)
          I ended up asking some Irish friends of mine to read one of the most dialogue-heavy stories, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", out loud to me so that I could pepper them with questions whenever I got confused.  I learned that fenians and hillsiders are basically country bumpkins, sponging = freeloading, and a shoneen is a yes-man or a fool.  I also heard all about Parnell, a great Irish king who brought Ireland together and who would have made the country great if he had not been removed from power by petty politics.  It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy evening.
          The most important thing, of course, is that I loved the book, and I loved it even more after I understood what the characters were saying!  Joyce had an amazing talent for translating the voices of people around him into written dialogue, and my appreciation for this gift was not lessened by my ignorance.  In addition, when we were listening to "Ivy Day" being read aloud, everyone in the audience interrupted with their approval each time a new character was described.  "His face, shining with raindrops, had the appearance of damp yellow cheese save where two rosy spots indicated cheekbone" was my favorite one-line description.  I can perfectly imagine the new character's cold sallow face popping out of the dark committee room door.
          One word of advice: If you're clueless like me, I do suggest that you make use of a well-rounded dictionary as you read this book, to be used whenever a word such as spondulic appears.
          - Carly

Popular posts from this blog

Best Reading from my First Semester

Ok, my only excuse for this long-ass hiatus is that I started college, and what with exams, essays, friends, newfound independence, and minor dramas, I nearly forgot I had a blog until this week.
But I'm back now, and here to tell you about the best books and stories I read during my last semester.

Novels
1. Citizen: An American Epic by Claudia Ward - A multi-media masterpiece about modern racism, with a particular focus on microaggressions.
2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward - The story of a young girl coming of age in an impoverished area of Mississippi, on the brink of one of the great natural disasters of the last decade.
3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - A classic allegory of the racial justice movement in America.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison - Possibly my favorite book ever, Beloved is based on the story of Margaret Garner, a woman who escaped slavery with her children and, when recapture seemed inevitable, killed her children to their being returned to slavery.
Shor…

Book Review: The Spanish American Short Story, edited by Seymour Menton

I love the cover of this book.  Look closely - it's a little skeleton man clasping his hands over a cup of black coffee.  I don't know what it means, but it's delightful.      Anyway, I read this collection of short stories in Spanish - El cuento hispanoamericano - for a class I am taking this semester, but it is also available in English.  According to my professor, it's a unique book in that it offers the best representation of Latin American short stories throughout modern history, with details about literary movements and authors as well.  I liked some stories better than others - "The Tree" by Maria Luisa Bombal and "The Ruby" by Ruben Dario were my favorites - but even the ones I disliked, such as "Secret Love" by Manuel Payno, were included because they were representative of a certain movement or regional style that was worth acknowledging.        My only issue with this book is that a story I just mentioned, "The Tree,&…

Book Review: Che by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

I'm back with another graphic novel!  And this one isn't about zombies - it's about Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, better known as Che Guevara.  This beautiful, color-illustrated comic book is a biography of the revolutionary figure, from the famous motorcycle trip he took through Argentina partway through medical school, to his success as an Argentinean communist fighting for Fidel Castro in Cuba, to his capture by government soldiers while aiding rebels in Bolivia, and subsequent execution without trial.
     A good fourteen pages of the novel are spent describing in brief the history of every country in South America.  I admit that I found this section boring at first.  But honestly I benefited from it, first of all because in high school I learned very little about South American history.  World Wars I and II got a lot of attention in my history classes, but the revolutions of Latin American countries did not.  So this book gave me a crash course.  Second of all, t…