Monthly Archives: October 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 1st Quarter pgs. 1-133

            So far, I have been greatly enjoying All the Light We Cannot See.  It combines an exceptional profoundness with a dramatic plot and dynamic characters, all elements which contribute to the book’s overall merit.  I cannot predict what will transpire next.  Most importantly, though, the book constantly forces me to think, ponder, and wonder.  The book promises to be one of my favorites.

One of the novel’s aspects which particularly stands out to me is the symbolism of the radio.  The radio seems to be a manifestation or a connection to the wider world, bringing new ideas and knowledge into Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s life.  However, once Hitler rises to power, the radio is like a trap, confining the German people to one mindset and one sadistic philosophy.  When Werner destroys his and Jutta’a handmade radio (which can receive signals from beyond Germany), he is actually cutting off his connection with the non-Nazi world and, in a way, with his own individuality.  During this scene, I personally was furious with Werner; he is pushing away his sister, Frau Elena, his morals, and everything he has ever known for the sake of his own ambition and the shining possibilities he perceives before him.  Maybe for him, the radio seems like an escape from the dark prison of the mines, but he is merely escaping to a higher-class prison which will chain his mind as well as his body.  Thus, the radio is like a channel for freedom and entrapment, ushering both purity and malice along its electromagnetic waves.  Perhaps the radio waves are a form of the “light we cannot see”, both literally and figuratively; they are invisible signals as well as ideas, thoughts, and beauty to which not everyone has access.

Doerr also utilizes detailed, evocative imagery in his novel, somehow conveying not only the scene but also the mood accompanying the setting.  For example, when Marie-Laure is attempting to lead the way home from the museum based on her knowledge of the neighborhood, Doerr narrates, “A trio of airborne ducks threads toward them, flapping their wings in synchrony, making for the Seine, and as the birds rush overhead, she imagines she can feel the light settling over their wings, striking each individual feather” (Doerr 41).  Not only can one picture the swift ducks and the little girl in one’s mind, but also one receives a sense of the freedom Marie-Laure feels as a result of being able to conquer her blindness.

Finally, I found the constant transition between characters’ perspectives and time periods quite intriguing.  One can perceive how Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives will connect and intertwine – indeed, how all of the characters’ fates will eventually be tied up together.  For certain, none of the characters’ lives will ever return to normal, though that wish is constantly expressed by the protagonists.  Indeed, when Doerr uses the phrase “Silent Germans row up the Seine in synchrony…they have beasts with them on chains…Slavering.  Ravenous.  They surge into the museum, scatter into the departments.  The windows go black with blood” (Doerr 66), it is impossible to imagine that any lives will ever return to the calm “Bonjour, bonjour” which marks Marie-Laure’s sense of normalcy.  I am particularly concerned about Marie-Laure’s father, who does not seem to be present during the bombing.  He seems almost too perfect of a father-loving, loyal, clever (I love the puzzle boxes he constructs), so some disaster must befall him.  The misfortune is perhaps foreshadowed by the Sea of Flames and its ominous curse, or perhaps the infamous jewel is only a metaphor for the enormous tragedy of World War II.  Either way, I have a sense of impending doom.

Thus far, ATLWCS (even the acronym is long!) is amazingly compelling.  I can hardly wait to read the rest, but I will try to restrain myself from revealing anything too early.  Have fun reading everybody!

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Go Set A Watchman — Harper Lee

First Quarter of the Book: (pages 1 – 70)

Go Set A Watchman (GSAW), generally accepted to be an early draft of Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, is too analogous and yet too dissimilar to To Kill A Mockingbird.

The novel starts off with Jean Louise Finch, now 26, traveling back to Maycomb country from her home of New York.  Immediately, one is struck with the contrast of the quality of writing — while To Kill A Mockingbird was almost enjoyable to read, the sentences in Go Set A Watchman are rather utilitarian: “For another thing, flying home meant her father rising at three in the morning, driving a hundred miles to meet her in Mobile, and doing a full day’s work afterwards: he was seventy-two now and this was no longer fair” (3).  Disappointingly, most sentences in the novel follow this paradigm.

The story follows Jean Louise, grown yet no more mature, and her interactions with her elderly father, her boyfriend, (with whom her relationship is quite confusing), and Aunt Alexandra.  Jem is dead.  While it is interesting to contemplate what happens after the events of TKAM, this perspective is undeniably less intriguing, perhaps because there is no main conflict in the first quarter.  The only entertaining parts of the book have been: the skirmishes between Jean Louise and Alexandra such as, “‘Aunty,’ she said cordially, ‘ why don’t you go pee in your hat?'” (38); and the flashbacks to Scout’s youth, of which I hope there will be more.

The only good thing, other than the heated dialogue and the single flashback, is that the characters are well developed and realistic as of page 70:  Scout’s transition into Jean Louise is believable; Alexandra is still just as obnoxious as ever.  Indeed, the passage describing Alexandra hardly changes from GSAW to TKAM: “To all parties present and participating in the life of the county, however, Alexandra was the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was a disapprover; she was an incurable gossip. When Alexandra went to finishing school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning; she was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn” (28).  This differs from the description in TKAM by only one phrase; everything else is word for word.  This overlap has occurred several times throughout the first seventy pages, and, frankly, I do not approve.

Last of all, the words in my edition of Go Set A Watchman are far too large, and the line spacing is equally frustrating.

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher 10/10

Posted on September 8, 2015 by phoebewalsh11

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, is a collection of stories recorded on cassette tapes. They detail thirteen specific events experienced by a young high school girl, which led to the decision to take her own life. The accumulation of overwhelming experiences throughout the tapes is narrated by the high school girl, whose name is Hannah Baker. However, the reader hears the recordings through the eyes of a boy who has received the tapes himself. The tapes take the boy on a journey throughout the town, and with each stop he uncovers more detail about the secrets of the young girl’s last days. With each new character mentioned and new place stopped throughout the thirteen stories, Asher develops a deeply intriguing path following the thoughts and people of Hannah Baker’s life.

Jay Asher wrote this particular novel in an irregular format. There are no chapters; instead the book is divided into thirteen sections, each one speaking explicitly about one of the stories of Hannah’s life. Throughout the book, these thirteen stories are told from two points of view. Each tape is written exactly how anyone listening directly to the tapes would hear from Hannah’s voice. Yet also, almost everything she says is commented on by the main narrator who is the boy listening to the tapes. Asher writes using the tools of foreshadowing and flashbacks consistently throughout Thirteen Reasons Why, adding extra suspense to the plot line.

The concept of suicide within itself is hard to conceive. The ceremonial way in which this novel was written would only be understood by those with a certain maturity and appreciation for the topic of death. Therefore, I recommend Asher’s novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, to those who attain this development, readers within the general age group of teenage to adulthood.

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