Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Audible version, read by Helena Bonham Carter

I visited Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam back in 2011, the first time I came to Europe, and had been meaning to read the book since. I finally did, thanks to audio book. I listened to the 70th anniversary edition above, read by Helena Bonham Carter, and it was perfect. I really liked her reading.

As a side note, I recently just got into a series of audio books through audible. I tried listening to audio books in the past but but couldn’t get into it. This time I found a way that works for me, which is listening while reading the actual paper book. Might sound a bit odd for a lot of you, but for me I feel like I miss too much with just listening, and listening the words being spoken while reading makes the reading more interesting and lively. I don’t this for every book, but it worked great for this book. And because this book is a series of diary entries that are not too dense, I wasn’t too strict about the listening and reading combo, and sometimes just continued listening while walking.

Anyway it was a long winded way for me to say that this audio book was the perfect way to “read” it. Though I loved many aspects of the book, it is after all a diary of a young girl (Anne Frank was 13-15 years old at the time of writing), and I can see how reading diary entries of a young girl could be… tiresome? I myself wrote diary when I was her age, in a style that is not unlike her. In fact the diary reminded me so much of my own, that at times I was embarrassed for both of us, especially on subjects like boys, and all the assertions to be independent from our parents. Funny how a lot of young girls are alike, no matter where you are and which culture you are born into.

Obviously the similarities ended there, as Anne Frank’s circumstances were so extraordinary. The diary spans more than two years living in hiding, in such close confined space, with the same eight people. I can’t imagine it. On top of that she was at the age in which you begin to yearn exploring the world outside your home, to be independent away from your immediate family. Instead you are forced to be living 24/7 under the adults. How frustrating it must’ve been, and it shows in her diary.

The paperback that I read was given by a friend many years ago (above picture). Reading while listening gave me an extra insight into the different versions of the diary. According to the introduction of the audio book, there are sort of 3 different versions of the book. To simplify, my paperback is an edited version of the diary, while the audio book contains extra content.

You might already know that Anne Frank, her mother, and sister, and in fact everyone living in the secret annex did not survive, except for Anne’s father. The father found the diary after the war ended, and published it eventually as a book. In the first version he did edit out some parts that have anything to do with sex talks, and those that criticize or speak harshly about Anne’s mother in particular. The translations of the two editions are also slightly different, and I think the new translation is superior – more reason to choose the 70th anniversary edition.

Though some parts of the diary might be a bit boring than others, I’m thinking it’s impossible to read this book on its own merits, outside the context it is written in. It is an extraordinary testimony of a time and place, and of the life of a young girl living in it. There are millions of Jews suffered and died in that period, but there’s only one diary that survives and lives. Surely that speaks volume. Anne was articulate, witty, and thoughtful. She spoke of the future. I dreaded every chapter, the closer I came to the end, because I knew what awaits. Knowing the ending, I was slightly surprised how incredibly sad I was at the end. The diary ended abruptly, and the afterword gave a brief closure to the fate of everyone in the secret annex. I could hardly sleep the first night, and I thought about Anne for days afterwards. The thing that hit me the most is that they all died alone, away from each other, in stark contrast from living together in such close quarter for a long period of time. Dying alone seems the worst. It’s too sad, I have no word for it.

On a somewhat brighter note, Anne achieved what she wanted:

“I want to get on; I can’t imagine that I would have to lead the same sort of life as Mummy and Mrs Van Daan and all the women who do their work and are then forgotten. I must have something besides a husband and children, something that I can devote myself to! I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.”

And so does she go on living after her death. She’s been immortalized through her diary and people from all over the world reading her writing. If only she knew..

Mee’s rating: 5/5

 

 

The Hunting Gun – Yasushi Inoue

First published in Japan, 1949

This is the first book I finished after a couple of months of reading slump. And it was just the right book. It’s short and compelling, and the Pushkin edition is just beautiful to hold and read.

It’s not a perfect book, and for me the ending peters out a little. But there are a lot of things to like. I find the story framing fascinating in particular. The story starts from a poet, who is sent letter by a reader of the poem recently sent to a magazine. The reader thinks the poem is based on him, as he remembers a time and place, where he carried a specific type of hunting gun – all elements of which were featured in the poem. Together with his letter, the reader attaches three letters from three women in his life. Through these letters the story is told.

I don’t generally like novels written in letter format, as they often feel contrived. But the book is short enough for me not to mind. It just felt like story told from three point of views.

The Hunting Gun is Yasushi Inoue’s debut novel. He later won the Akutagawa prize for his second novel, also published by Pushkin: The Bullfight. The three perspectives in The Hunting Gun reminded me of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s possibly most famous short story: In a Bamboo Grove (which Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon is based on). I read and mentioned this not long ago, and would highly recommend the short story, in which a single event is told from multiple character perspectives. It seems very apt for Inoue to win the prize, though it’s for his second book.

I read the book with my Japanese Lit GR group. We agreed that the prose was such a delight to read, that we could gloss over the possible lack of depth in characters and unique story line. But really for a debut book that barely reaches 100 pages I think it’s accomplished a lot.
It’s my first time to read Inoue, and I’d be interested to read more of his works in the future when I get the chance.

Mee’s rating: 4.5/5

Inoue Yasushi

1984 – George Orwell

1984

I might be one of the last people on earth that had not read 1984. I ony read Animal Farm a few years back. Absolutely loved it. Since then I’ve been reading a few of his essays here and there. I’m a huge fan of Orwell. I know he’s not a terribly literary type of writer, and some people may disagree with his style of writing with a political purpose, but I’m inclined more to his side rather than the other extreme of “art for art’s sake”.

In his essay Why I Write (1946) – which I read a while back, but it really made an impression on me even though it’s only a few pages long – he mentions 4 great motives for writing prose for any author. The last point is political purpose – “using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

From the get go I roughly knew what 1984 was about. A dystopian novel was my impression. And it is. But it is bolder and even more political than what I imagined – almost like a political essay dressed in a novel. The scary thing is, it’s still as relevant today than it was when it’s first published in 1949. North Korea definitely came to mind. In fact, just the weekend after I finished the book, I met someone from Angola who told many stories about how she and her family went through the communist regime – which lasts to this day. A lot of what she described was very similar with what is described in 1984.

From pop culture point of view, I’m glad to have read the origin of things like Big Brother, Room 101, and doublespeak. It’s amazing how the book has penetrated many aspects of society and culture, and not just Western society, as I remember an occasion when an author from a communist regime at a literary event told the story of how 1984 was the book that everyone was smuggling between revolutionaries. It’s like a secret code. A shorthand for the worst society humanity could possibly become. But it’s not a mere distant possibility, not just a cautionary tale. Some elements are too familiar. They make you realise how easy it is for humanity to slip into this kind of regime – and in fact it does exist in some parts of the world, at different times perhaps, but it never totally goes away. We are still part of the 1984 world! The book is important in many ways, and there is still no other book like it.

Another quote to close this, again from Why I Write, at the very end: “I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” 

I feel like he allows me to have a political purpose in my own writing. Thank you Orwell.

Mee’s Rating: 5/5

Chess – Stefan Zweig

Chess - ZweigChess

Chess or Chess Story is a novella by Stefan Zweig, a German-speaking Austrian author. It’s been published by a few of my favorite publishers, as pictured above, i.e. NYRB Classics, Pushkin Press, though I read the more humble edition published by Penguin:

Chess

The book is tiny. With 80 pages long, I wondered how it managed to be published on its own, and not with a collection of some sort. It’s borderline long short-story.

Stefan Zweig was someone that I’d been meaning to read for a while. He’s the kind of author that I may have missed had I not read blogs — so loved he is by the book blogging community. Though The Grand Budapest Hotel has probably helped to raise his profile more. I already have a few of his books ready, but as we’re nearing the end of 2016, with still quite a few book commitments at hand, I decided to choose his shortest book: Chess.

And what a compelling read it was. What story telling! The book is set in a large passenger steamer going from New York to Buenos Aires. Words go around that there’s a world chess champion on board. Thus the scene is set quickly. The setting is laid, the gun is out on the table.

We’re then told the fascinating background story of this champion, who you may think at this point is the main character of the story. But hold on, he’s not. There’s more to come.

I absolutely enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more of Stefan Zweig’s work. Should I read Beware of Pity next, or The Post-Office Girl? I also have The Society of Crossed Keys – a compilation of Zweig’s writings by Wes Anderson.

Mee’s rating: 5/5 – a satisfying read from a new-to-me author

Stefan-Zweig-001
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) — Zweig studied in Austria, France, and Germany before settling in Salzburg in 1913. In 1934, driven into exile by the Nazis, he emigrated to England and then, in 1940, to Brazil by way of New York. Finding only growing loneliness and disillusionment in their new surroundings, he and his second wife committed suicide. (Yes, the good one always committed suicide.)

Chess is my first entry for Austria for my Reading the World project, and German Literature Month V (my first time participating!). The book is also included in 1001 books you must read before you die list.

The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

lottery

I read The Lottery short story a few years ago and found it to be one of the most memorable short story I’ve ever read. If you have not, go read it NOW. You only get the greatest impact however if you go in without knowing anything about it, as I did. So if you’ve been spoilt, it probably wouldn’t be as impressive. Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of reviews that give the story away in a line or two =/

The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of 25 short stories, the only collection of stories to appear during her lifetime. It’s divided into 4 parts with an epilogue. The Lottery story is placed almost at the end.

For me it’s nearly impossible to formulate story-by-story thoughts of a collection of 25 stories. I could do it for 10 but anything more than 10 is tough. The stories have jumbled up a bit in my mind, and it’s hard to remember specific stories. But I honestly enjoyed reading this collection. I found the stories to be very readable. Some are more impressive than others, but overall they’re all of high quality.

The introduction by A. M. Homes is a really nice piece, and the back cover summarizes the stories as “equally unusual” (to The Lottery). “Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range — encompassing the hilarious and the horrible, the unsettling and the ominous — as well as her power as a storyteller.” I don’t think I can say it better.

A few stories are clearly set in New York, which is a nice coincidence again for me, as I mentioned before that I kept bumping into books set in New York after I went to New York for some reason. She also reminded me a bit of Muriel Spark — both female authors writing a good dose of weirdness and all things sinister. Love. I look forward to reading her novels in the future.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

Initially I meant to read this book for Shirley Jackson’s week in July, organized by Reading the End, Things Mean a Lot, and Stuck in a Book. But as it often happens I only got to it in October, and so it’s also a perfect reading for the R.I.P. X! If I could fit it into another event I would :)

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Shirley-Jackson-Reading-Week

How sad is it that October is ending? I grew to love October and its spookiness and falling, yellowing leaves. The days are getting shorter, darker, and colder, but they’re not yet too cold, and not yet too short. I must say I would pick October over the holiday season anytime =/

 

 

Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller (Play)

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

I read this play script right before I watched the stage play in London at The Noël Coward Theatre. It’s only about 100 pages long and quick to read like dialogue always is compared to prose.

It was probably the first time that I attempted to read the script before watching the play – and it was great to know every single thing that happened on stage. (Because normally I do miss stuff said on the stage.) So I might do it again in the future. I love stage plays, have loved it since high school. And now that I’m in London it is the perfect place to go see them. I try to go at least a couple of times a year.

The story is very bleak, as you can tell from the title. It’s about the death of a salesman in every single aspects, literally and metaphorically. It is about the decaying of dreams and finally realizing that you haven’t made it, and not even your sons have made it. But it wasn’t just about watching a train wreck of a man and his family. I’m generally not one to like any kind of misery books and the likes, but the play goes deeper. The dynamics and the relationships of the characters are quite complex and handled tactfully.

As a side note, before I went to New York I seemed to not able to recall any books set in New York, but after I came back I keep bumping into them. This play is set in outer New York and Boston.

Mee’s rating: 4/5Some people may not like this play because it’s so crushingly sad, but I can see why it’s become one of the classics – it has the whole package of drama, complex characters, purposeful dialogues, and believable turns of events.

Death of a Salesman, London 2015
Poster of the limited run of the classic play in London 2015

The Invention of Morel – Adolfo Bioy Casares

the invention of morel

This is one of those rare occasions in which I manage to read something for a bookish blogging community event AND write about it. Said event is Spanish Lit Month 2015, organized by Richard and Stu. The timing is just perfect, as I’d been meaning to read this book. Also long story short, I have 2 copies of it (more pressure!). So when it was mentioned as a group read in their blogs I knew I had to read it then.

The Invention of Morel went to my to-read list right after I finished reading Fictions by Borges (which I loved). And this NYRB Classics version includes prologue by Borges. Apparently Adolfo Bioy and Borges have worked together a few times and Borges has only sung high praises for his friend.

The book is very short in just 103 pages, so even for a slow reader like me it felt like a pretty quick read. It is set on a fictional island, to which a man self-exiled himself. There are a museum and a chapel on top of a hill in the middle of the island – that are empty at first, but not long after he starts seeing people there. Most important among the people is this woman called Faustine, often seen staring into the sea, who the man falls in love with. Who are these people and what are they doing on the island? (I will say no more.)

I have not read a lot of South American literature, but from the few that I read, I seem to find a common theme of obsession with a female figure. In The Invention of Morel, our main character is obsessed with the image of Faustine. (It is said that the book is inspired by Bioy Casares’s own fascination with the movie star Louise Brooks. In fact the woman on the cover looks very similar with Louise Brooks.) It reminded me a bit of Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whore. In both books the men are obsessed about the image of their women, not the women themselves because they never really get to know them, but the image that they build.

I like that the book comes with a few illustrations, for example:

invention of morel illustration
Map of the island

Mee’s rating: 4/5 – I quite enjoyed reading the book. There are definitely similarities in style with Borges’s work. The unusual storyline means it might make a good movie (a movie has been made in the 70s called Morel’s Invention). Wouldn’t mind watching the movie sometime.

 

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