Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink


     This is the kind of book you have to read as neutrally as possible.  It is told like the memoir (I really want to know if it's a thinly disguised memoir; I've done some digging and Schlink's life bears some similarities to that of his protagonist) of a fictional German man, Michael Berg, who grows up during World War II and who, at the age of 15, has an affair with a thirty-year-old woman named Hanna. Hanna is manipulative, tender, distant, playful, and guarded.  One day she disappears, and years later, when Michael is a law student, he discovers that she is on trial for hideous crimes.
     There is so much guilt in The Reader - Michael's guilt over his small betrayals of Hanna, the guilt of Germans who tolerated the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors' guilt for having survived when others did not, etc.  Most central and mysterious of all is Hanna's guilt - does she repent?  Should she repent? Can she ever be absolved?  And was her relationship with Michael another crime, or did he hurt her more?
     My reaction to their affair, which would be considered statutory rape in the modern US, contrasted with my reaction to HH's affair with Dolores Haze in Lolita.  Because Michael enthusiastically consents to the affair, and also, I guess, because Hanna is female (I know, that's a terrible reason), I sympathize with Hanna far more than I did with HH.  However, Hanna manipulates Michael.  One time, she hits him.  Their relationship is secretive, imbalanced, and unhealthy.  Furthermore, Michael never totally gets over Hanna.  Add to that the crimes for which she is on trial, and I should hate her. But Michael's sympathetic portrayal of Hanna and her great, strange, poignant secret insecurity make hating her hard.
     I guess The Reader wasn't written to point blame in one direction.  It was written to present readers with a moral puzzle, and I, like many readers before me, am deliciously stumped.

     - Carly

Sunday, May 15, 2016

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

Me + gingham + book
     Sex and solitude.  This book primarily occupies itself with these topics.  Not that I mind, of course - both are interesting, and Marquez does it so well.
     Solitude chronicles several generations of a family, the Buendias, living through political unrest, wars, and technological advancements in an unnamed South American country.  Each family member's life and character is precisely and tenderly captured.  This careful character-building impressed me because there are so many family members.  But attention is paid to practically every aunt, relation-by-marriage, adopted daughter, illegitimate son, concubine, and parent.  I loved all of them.  Additionally, I love the book's magical realism style.  It gives the story new and enchanting depth - for example, yellow butterflies cling to one character, and another is pursued by the cloc-cloc-cloc sound of her parents' bones.
     Returning to the topics I mentioned earlier, the story seems to deal particularly with the ways in which sex and solitude intersect.  Unrequited love, taboo love, illusory love, faded love, and hollow lust all appear on Solitude's pages (often between two members of the Buendia family).
     I loved this book for its fearless exploration of taboo subjects.  We fear isolation and desire, we are ashamed of these feelings, but great writers know that shameful, forbidden topics are the ones that deserve to be discussed.

     - Carly