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Rowena's Reviews

My true loves: Wilkie Collins, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anais Nin, George Eliot, James Joyce, James Baldwin, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, bell hooks, Chinua Achebe, Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare... I'm falling for : Italo Calvino, Toni Morrison, Frantz Fanon, Wole Soyinka, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Albert Camus, Margaret Atwood, Somerset Maugham, Junot Diaz, A.S. Byatt... And the lists continue to grow! I will read almost anything, as long as it's well-written. I always love to expand my reading horizons.

Currently reading

Edward W. Said
Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Finnegans Wake (Trade Paperback)
James Joyce

We Need New Names

We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo

This is a book that really grew on me. It starts off following a group of children in Zimbabwe: Darling, Stina, Chipo, Bastard and Godknows, seemingly innocent children living in a not so innocent environment. As a child, Darling and friends lived in shanty towns in Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s paramilitary police bulldozed down their homes. They spent their days stealing guavas,getting into mischief and daydreaming about the typical things African kids do- about eating good food and ultimately becoming rich overseas, in places such as Dubai and the USA.

This story is a sort of coming of age story of Darling. What complicates Darling’s coming of age story is her moving to Detroit, Michigan to live with her aunt.As is typical among Africans (and also non-Africans, of course), an escape to the West may not be what it seems. Added to that,the struggles and sacrifices they've had to make:

“We hid our real names, gave false ones when asked. We built mountains between us and them, we dug rivers, we planted thorns- we had paid so much to be in America and we did not want to lose it all.”

How is life like for an African immigrant in the USA or elsewhere in the West? Bulawayo shows that it’s definitely not a bed of roses. There are so many stressors, including listening to misconceptions about one’s land and cultures and having to quickly adapt to a new culture.Adding to the stress is the fact that there are so many illegal immigrants in the States who feel stressed by the threat of deportation looming over them.

I really liked the book's cross-cultural comparisons of Africa and the USA. The linguistic aspects were the most interesting to me:

“Because we were not in our country, we could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised, When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men.”

Reading some of the reviews, I’ve noticed that some people felt disconnected from the second half of the story, the part where Darling is in the States. I have to be contrary and say that that was the strongest part to me; it resonated with me the most. Perhaps it is because I have Zimbabwean relatives and I know many African immigrants who have experienced hardships after moving to the States and elsewhere. I know a lot of immigrants who experience depression, mental health issues and alcoholism due to their immigration. I know so many of their stories and I feel that Bulawayo captured them very well.

Kickboxing Geishas

Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation - Veronica Chambers

"The thing about Japan is that it's a developed country and a developing country all in the same breath. It's such a contradiction." - Veronica Chambers, Kickboxing Geishas

My selection of this book is proof that I am often drawn to a book because of its innovative title. I was definitely intrigued by the subject matter finding myself more interested in feminism, and also because I work at a Japanese company and know quite a bit about Japanese culture due to my Japanese co-workers. Given what I've heard from the Japanese women (and men) I've talked to about the high levels of chikan (groping) and flashers at Japanese high schools it was hard for me to believe that Japan is experiencing a feminist revolution, kickboxing gender roles.

This book is very informative about Japan and the strides that Japanese women have been making. Some of the topics covered:

- Enjo kosai - aka "compensated dating," a euphemism for prostitution
- Unique aspects of Japanese culture- for example, capsule hotels!
-Linguistic problems- single women are called parasite singles, single women over 25 are called stale Christmas cake, those over 30 are called make inu (losing dogs).
-The kawaii culture exemplified by Hello Kitty
-Japanese women in the corporate world
-The domestic impact of Japanese women travelling to foreign countries.
-Love, dating and marriage in Japan

I also learned that like politicians from anywhere else, Japanese politicians often talk rubbish. Case in point, the following comment from a Japanese Diet politician in the 1980s: "In Japan, the men cannot rape the women because they do not have the energy."

Initially, I found the writer's voice a bit distracting. It's written in an ethnographic style and the writer is too present, in my opinion. It's understandable that the background of an ethnographer is important to know as our perspective is based on this. However, her interjections did get a bit tedious and I wish she had kept more of a distance in her writing.

Despite this, I found the book interesting. It is definitely not meant to be academic and I think that people who already know a lot about Japan, they might find the book to be rudimentary.

Selling Illusions

Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada - Neil Bissoondath

“And few silences are as loaded in this country as the one encasing the cult that has grown up around our policy of multiculturalism.” - Neil Bissooondath, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada

Well, this was a very controversial book, one I’m sure not everyone will like but it speaks a lot of truth, in my opinion. I came across the author while researching a paper on pluralism in Canada during my undergrad. Canada has a policy on multiculturalism, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1971, (see http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/multicul...) but according to the author, the policy, despite being one of Canada’s selling points , does next to nothing for real social cohesion in the country.

Bissoondath is definitely an ideal person to write this book; a Trinidadian-born Canadian of Indian heritage living in Quebec. The autobiographical element of the book resonated with me. The introduction to Canada’s race relations is important because it’s something that’s not talked about (see Chinese head tax, the Komagata Maru Incident, Native Canadian history, etc.). Despite this, I actually do not see the modern-day racism that Bissoondath talks about so vehemently.

I did like that Bissoondath challenged my thinking in several ways. His views on cultural appropriation and affirmative actions were enlightening. I also like that he felt he had to critique the multiculturalism policy. As he said, “No policy can be written in stone; no policy is immune to evolution.”

It's too late to say I hope that nobody calls Bissoondath anti-Canadian, as it has already been done numerous times. I find that quite unfortunate as he is simply challenging people to think critically. Yes, we are proud of our mosaic society in Canada but it doesn’t mean we can’t criticize the government using that to further their own ends. (See BC Premier Christy Clark's ethnic votes scandal http://www.news1130.com/2013/02/28/ch...)

Great book for anyone interested in diversity issues.

The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 3

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 - Anaïs Nin, Gunther Stuhlmann

“Night. The stars and the moon impassive, undisturbed, eternal. A little of their impassivity flows into me. They are consoling. They reduce the intensity and acuteness of human sorrow.” - The Journals of Anais Nin, Volume Three

I love reading diaries in general and Nin’s are probably my favourite. I love the things she values in life; meaningful relationships, art, literature, music, culture. And not to mention she is the most feeling writer; her rich inner life comes across very well in her writing.

Nin has moved back to the USA following the break of World War 2. Having to leave Louveciennes, a place that she loves, where she writes and knows people is not easy for Nin. She experiences culture shock in the States and finds it difficult to integrate. Her European-style writing isn’t well-received in the States; it’s considered too surreal and flaky. As a result, she finds it difficult to publish and ends up printing her own books with a printing press.

I think this may be my favourite volume of Nin’s journals yet. During the first two volumes, Nin seemed to me a sort of ethereal being; a superwoman even. In this volume she was a bit different, a bit more “real.” Perhaps it’s to do with her homesickness, the outbreak of war, and also age, which often comes with realization after all. In this case, it’s the realization that she’s everyone’s “mother”; people take and take from her (and I have to say she’s a bit of an enabler too), very few give back. It was so sad to see so many of her “friends” sucking her dry, Henry Miller included. Feeling under-appreciated and overwhelmed, Nin suffers from fatigue and illness:

“I fell into a trap because of my compassion. At what point does self-injury begin?”

I always find it fascinating to see the famous people Nin met and what she thought of them. In this volume she met Dali and Tennessee Williams among others.

Her exhortation of the artist in society is something I appreciate. A reminder that we all need art in our lives.

“To say that the artist is not serving humanity is monstrous. He has been the eyes, the ears, the voice of humanity. He was also the transcendentalist who X-rayed our true states of being.”

As always, beautiful and engaging writing. I read this diary in record time, considering how busy I am.


Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

One of the best books I've read in 2013. "Americanah" is a book of great impact and importance. This is the one book by an African writer that has spoken to me more than any other.

This is a book about Africa and the African diasporic experience in the USA and England, a backdrop for the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, teenagers attending a Nigerian university who have to leave the country because of the university strikes in Nigeria. Ifemelu moves to the States, where she attends an American university and starts a blog dealing with race issues in America, while Obinze moves to England and ends up becoming an illegal immigrant.

The book examines the intricacies of race, especially in the USA, as well as the issue of immigration. It talks about the difference between being black in Africa and being black in the States. Adichie is seamless as she goes from country to country, from American to Nigerian, to Francophone African and English. She is a brilliant writer who gifts us with an entertaining story and introduces us to very real characters.

I found some of the themes discussed in this book similar to those discussed in NoViolet Bulawayo's "We Need New Names." This book helps show that immigrants have it tough; psychological changes, changes to identity, the need to reinvent themselves so that they can “fit in” and be accepted, and so on. Their issues often go unspoken.

Adichie is very aware at the subtleties between cultures and she highlights them well. There were some things that she touched on that I’d thought about but never really put in words. For example, people’s pity when they realize you’re African, and their need to talk about their charitable donations to the continent:

"Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy."

Adichie isn't shy about bringing up controversial issues, those that others keep silent about. For example, she explores the politics of natural hair among kinky hair:

"I have natural kinky hair. Worn in cornrows, Afros, braids. No, it's not political. No, I am not an artist or poet or singer. Not an earth mother either. I just don't want relaxers in my hair...By the way, can we ban Afro wigs at Halloween? Afro is not costume, for God's sake."

One thing I also loved was the fact that Adichie talked about Africans deciding to return to Africa after having lived abroad. She has Ifemelu saying, "And yet there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, a bleakness, a borderlessness. It brought with it amorphous longings, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she had lived."

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, not all Africans in the diaspora are fleeing from Africa; many have questioned what they are doing abroad in the first place and want to move back home. A lot of people do not realize that Africa is growing and developing and that people might actually be happy to live there. Seeing the online communication links between younger people from different African countries makes me feel hopeful that my generation will do great things in the continent.

I love fiction in general but fiction with a message is even more appealing to me. This is a story with such important social commentary. All through the book I had moments in which I said "It's about time someone addressed that!"

Highly recommended.

Spunk: The Selected Stories - Zora Neale Hurston I think this collection of eight short stories is a great introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. I loved the passion in these stories, the rich dialogue between the characters, and Hurston’s humour. In one story she writes a story (‘Isis’) about a little girl, who I suspect to be Hurston herself, overcome with pity by the hopelessness she sees on her grandmother’s person and decides to shave off her whiskers!

I’ve read Zora’s autobiography ‘Dust Tracks on a Road’ so I recognized the locale of her upbringing in some of these stories. Also, knowing that Hurston was interested in the spiritual world and mythology meant I wasn’t surprised by some of the themes she explored (biblical themes and the supernatural, in particular). Additionally, her respect for different dialects is clear by the fact that she wrote the stories using the southern African-American vernacular. In particular, this quote from ‘Dust Tracks on a Road’ exemplifies her feelings about language: “It seemed to me that the human beings I met reacted pretty much the same to the same stimuli. Different idioms,yes. Circumstances and conditions having power to influence, yes. Inherent difference, no.”

A very enjoyable read.
1984 - George Orwell “Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.” - George Orwell, 1984

It’s been over 5 years since I last read 1984 and I still find the storyline as horrific as ever. It's terrifying to think of a world in which your own children are spies for the government and can turn you in, where cameras are watching you 24/7, where one could be accused of committing a "facecrime" or having an "ownlife", a world in which we live nervously worrying about whether the sensitive machinery that is watching you will pick up an increase in heartbeat that may incriminate us.

When I first read this book I imagined a similar dystopic world taking place in a Communist country or perhaps in a dictatorship like the one so many of my relatives were raised in. Now I realize it could just as well take place in a so-called democracy under several guises, and that’s the scary part. My mind did wander quite a bit while I was reading this book, thinking of the eerie possibilities, trying to find parallels between what I was reading and what I was observing in society. We are witnessing so much propaganda which may not be as obvious as some of the hilarious pro-Stalin and pro-Mao posters that I’ve seen online and in history books, but it’s there in an often subtler form.

I think one of the scariest parts for me was seeing how language can be used to manipulate and control:

“All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.’ Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink.’

Language is definitely becoming more simplified and some of the words that are making it into the dictionary are just laughable.

I kept thinking about the following Virginia Woolf quote while reading this book:

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” - Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Freedom of mind is something I take for granted. We all want to believe we’re untouched by all this propaganda but are we really? Yes, this is definitely a cautionary tale. I wonder how many are listening.
A Season In The Congo: A Play - Aimé Césaire “Hear ye! Hear ye! The buffalo is wounded. He can’t do anything at all because he’s been shot. That’s why the buffalo has grown furious. Who is the buffalo? The buffalo, it’s the government of the Belgians and the Flemish.” - A Season in the Congo, Aimé Césaire

Aimé Césaire is a writer from Martinique, yet he managed to write a play that truly captured the spirit of Congo during the time of Congolese independence from Belgium.

I’ve always been interested in Lumumba since I heard about his tragic story while I was in high school. The dastardly role that Belgium played in his assassination is something that still frustrates me when I think of it. Basically, Lumumba was assassinated because he did not support the Belgian-supported secession of Katanga (which, surprise surprise, is an area rich in diamonds and other natural resources).

I’ve read Cesaire’s poetry which I would describe as being very visceral, sarcastic and explosive. Sarcasm and satire, as well as some poetic turns, are very much prevalent throughout the three acts of this play.

This play covers the events leading up to Congolese independence right up until Lumumba’s assassination. Mobutu Sese Seko,who later became the first of four (?) dictators in Congo, betrayed his friend in a military coup. Lumumba was very idealistic and passionate about Africa. It’s sad that he died so young (35 years old); I can’t help but think that maybe Congo (and Africa) would have been a different (better) place had it not been for his assassination.

In the play, Lumumba points out the hypocrisy of the politicians in Brussels deciding the fate of an African country, and also laments the woes of colonialism and tribalism.

Lumumba - “I, my lord, I think of the forgotten. We are those who were dispossessed, struck, mutilated- those who were addressed as inferiors, whose faces were spat upon. Cookboys, chamberboys, laundryboys, we were a people of boys, a people of “Yes, Bwana”, and whoever doubted that man could be not man had only to look at us.”

In Swahili, the word “uhuru” means freedom, complete freedom, and that’s what Africa expected after independence. Unfortunately, it looks as though in most cases the locals weren’t completely in charge; rather, the former colonial masters were actually running things and giving Africans a semblance of independence. My parents were born in pre-independence Africa and were too young at the time of independence to remember much about what went on but I’ve often been curious about the transition.

Great play, and one I’d really love to see performed.

Side note: Dag Hammarskjold, the former UN Secretary-General who played a role in the Congo Crisis died a mysterious death in the 1960s, and this article came out a few days ago:
Dag Hammarskjold death: UN ‘should reopen inquiry’

The Waves - Virginia Woolf “No, but I wish to go under; to visit the profound depths; once in a while to exercise my prerogative not always to act, but to explore; to hear vague, ancestral sounds of boughs creaking, of mammoths, to indulge impossible desires to embrace the whole world with the arms of understanding, impossible to those who act.” - Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Virginia Woolf never ceases to amaze me. If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I would actually enjoy books written in the stream-of-consciousness style, I would probably have laughed. I was definitely not a fan of this writing style and initially felt that it was one of the most difficult writing styles to follow; it actually infuriated me at times. However, I am now a convert and I see the beauty of that style. And Virginia Woolf is probably the most adept and poetic writer of this sort of writing.

There’s no easy way for me to summarize this book. It follows the lives of a group of friends; Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, Louis and Percival, from childhood through adulthood. We hear, in turn, the internal monologues of each of these characters and they help piece the story together, as well as inform us of the characters' personalities.

Out of all the characters, I liked Bernard the most. I found him to be truly perceptive and sensitive to things around him, his relationship with others, and his own feelings. He sees the importance of language and is obsessed with words:

“Words and words and words, how they gallop- how they lash their long manes and tails, but for some fault in me I cannot give myself to their backs; I cannot fly with them.”

Woolf’s writing is truly brilliant, lyrical and poetic. It is also very sad, especially the philosophical musings written when the group members are older, the musings of people who are grappling with different desires in life and who are wondering whether they are happy with their lives, especially when they encounter death.

I liked the descriptions of nature, waves in particular. They were many such references throughout the book, it was almost as if the whole story was saturated with water, giving it a bleak atmosphere:

“But wait- I sat all night waiting- an impulse again runs through us; we rise, we toss back a mane of white spray; we pound on the shore; we are not to be confined.”

I must admit, I wasn’t always 100% sure who was speaking but somehow I never lost track of the story. I’m sure that with a second reading, things will become clearer and I’ll be able to get more out of it.
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern 4.5 stars

I think I read The Night Circus at the perfect time; it was a welcome break from all the heavy stuff I've been reading recently. Just a nice, entertaining story I could enjoy without having to think too much.

Morgenstein really sucked me into her world of magic and mystery. The story definitely had an interesting premise: two magicians, Prospero and Mr. A.H. organize a dark contest in which Marco and Celia are pawns and don't fully know what's going on. However, love complicates matters.

What I liked most of all were Morgenstein's vivid descriptions. I think her writing is very evocative; I really felt as though I was there, in Victorian London and elsewhere visiting a travelling circus that is only open at night:

“In this tent, suspended high above you, there are people. Acrobats, trapeze artists, aerialists. Illuminated by dozens of round glowing lamps hanging from the top of the tent like planets or stars.”

The book has an ethereal feel about it. Everybody has a secret.

“Secrets have power and that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good as well as yours.”

The criticisms I’ve come across for this book have mainly been about character development and the lack of plot. For me, I felt that the characters fit in with the airiness of the story. As far as plot goes, I did feel that the first half of the book was a lot stronger than the second half but I still enjoyed it overall.
Collected Poems - Chinua Achebe I found a copy of Achebe’s collected poems at the library quite by chance. It’s a thin book with less than 90 pages. The book was split into five sections: Prologue, Poems About War, Poems Not About War , Gods, Men and Others, and Epilogue. I enjoyed these simple poems that dealt with various topics, including war,love, African life and mythology.

In 1966, Achebe says:


our thoughtful days

sat at dire controls

and played indolently.”

The section entitled Poems About War discussed the Biafran War. “Christmas in Biafra” was especially poignant:

“This sunken-eyed moment wobbling

Down the rocky steepness on broken

Bones slowly fearfully to hideous

Concourse of gathering sorrows in the valley

Will yet become in another year a lost

Christmas irretrievable in the heights.”

I also liked Pine Tree in Spring, which was dedicated to Leon Damas:

“Pine tree

flag bearer

of green memory

across the breach of a desolate hour

Loyal tree

that stood guard

alone in austere emeraldry

over Nature’s recumbent standard

Pine tree

lost now in the shade

of traitors decked out flamboyantly

marching back unabashed to the colors they betrayed

Fine tree

erect and trustworthy

what school can teach me

your silent, stubborn fidelity?”

All in all, a nice poetry collection that made me wish Achebe had written more.
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism - Natasha Walter I have been watching this hypersexual culture getting fiercer and stronger, and co-opting the language of choice and liberation.” - Natasha Walter, Living Dolls

After the Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke VMA performance some time ago I read a comment by a friend that asked the question: “Why is it that the man is always fully clothed while the woman is always half-naked?” Great question and an example of the double standards that are so rife in our society. This book does a terrific job in addressing sexism in society; feminism was supposed to empower women but unfortunately a lot of women have a false sense of empowerment. Women still feel the need to conform to the image that society has prescribed for them, an image which is more and more defined by the sex industry.

The book challenges how we think, especially about the sex industry becoming so mainstream. Walter dissects arguments and shows us how problematic the sex industry is. Very problematic, even for women not involved in it : “The highly sexualized culture around us is tolerated and even celebrated because it rests on the illusion of equality.”

Walter's tone is not judgmental at all. Her candid interviews with various women working in the sex industry, as well as the very disturbing opinions several British teenagers have shared with her about sexuality help cement her argument that there is really a problem here. Women are not empowered at all, violence, rape and the pressure to be perfect are things women still have to deal with.Women still experience sexual bullying, even women in positions of power and women don't have income equality with men.

The book also addresses myths about women such as the opinion held by many that women aren't good at math. Is it biologically determined or is it a result of socialization?

My feelings after reading this book: disgust at the fact that we have let this hypersexualized culture become so prevalent, yet relative optimism due to the fact that there is a lot of dialogue and more awareness these days.

This is a must-read for everyone.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture - Peggy Orenstein "We simply gave girls what they wanted." – Andy Mooney (Former Chairman of Disney Consumer Products)

This was a very insightful and interesting read, it was a very disturbing one as well. This book came about due to the fact that Orenstein gave birth to a baby girl and, as a result, a lot of things were on her mind about how she was going to raise a well-rounded girl, one who wasn’t obsessed with the (terrifying) princess culture and had a healthy self-esteem.

I don’t have any children but I do have a 3 year old niece and younger female cousins. Looking for toys to buy them has always been a chore. First of all, I have to be sensitive about finding dolls that resemble them (self-esteem reasons) secondly I have to find dolls that aren’t hypersexualized- it’s harder than it sounds.

Some interesting questions raised in the book are:

- Why do girls feel the need to be pretty all the time?

- Do sex-specific toys serve to heighten the differences between boys and girls, what are the repercussions of this?

- Why are young girls and adult women wearing the same clothes (fashion-wise)?

- “Women. Beauty. Power. Body. The ideas and images remain so muddled, so contradictory; how to disentangle them for our girls?”

I was disturbed by several things in this book. Firstly, the baby beauty pageants turned my stomach. Secondly, the selection of hypersexualized dolls that are out there is just frightening. Thirdly, cyberbullying.

The main message I got from this book: kids have a LOT to deal with in this day and age, girls in particular. This is a very stressful time to be a kid.

I feel that everyone with young daughters should read this one.

Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life - Giorgio Agamben, Daniel Heller-Roazen Read a few recommended chapters for my directed studies course. It was a tough read! I will rate the book once I finish reading the rest of it.
The Guermantes Way (In Search of Lost Time #3) - Marcel Proust, Mark Treharne, Christopher Prendergast
“It is not possible to describe human life without bathing it in the sleep into which it plunges and which, night after night, encircles it like the sea around a promontory.” - Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way

Having recently read Anais Nin’s thoughts in [b:The Novel of the Future|248644|The Novel of the Future|Anaïs Nin|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349228041s/248644.jpg|1033477], a book in which she lauded Proust and similar authors for being sensitive to the subconscious and incorporating elements of philosophy and psychology in their writing, I was very eager to start reading this volume. Nin also mentioned that Proust had a way of making characters unforgettable, and the servant Francoise is a prime example of the sort of character one can never forget once one has encountered her:

"Francoise, her footman and the butler heard the bell ring, not as a summons with no thought of answering it, but rather as the first sounds of instruments tuning up for the next part of a concert, when it is clear that there are only a few more minutes of the interval left to go."

I have to admit that I had been slightly worried about liking this book because I hadn't enjoyed "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower" as much as I had "Swann’s Way"; I was concerned that my enjoyment of the remaining volumes would decrease. I needn’t have worried though; The Guermantes Way is a work of art.

In the first section, Proust has moved from Combray to Paris due to his ailing grandmother. Our protagonist is still as sensitive as ever and is in love with the married Mme Oriane de Guermantes. He turns out to be quite the obsessed, creepy stalker but at least his infatuation of her inspires some poetic passages:

“…She threw him a glance from her lovely eyes, cut from a diamond that intelligence and friendliness seemed to turn liquid at such moments, whereas when they were still, reduced to their purely material beauty, to their merely mineral brilliance, if the least thing caused them to move, even slightly, they set the depths of the orchestra stalls ablaze with the horizontal splendour of their inhuman fire.”

French society is completely satirized in this account. We are introduced to the shallow aristocratic society of salons and bluestockings. And there is scandal and slander galore.

The section where Proust’s grandmother passes away is poignant and heartbreaking. It reminds me of how one is often philosophical when confronted with death:

“We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.”

I think I'll read book #4 earlier than planned.