Monthly Archives: April 2017

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Response #1

Okay first off, just to clarify, this book is NOT 50 Shades of Gray- they’re two COMPLETELY different things. Sorry, just had to get that out of the way before I got on to business because I’ve gotten so many strange looks when I’ve said that title. Anyways…

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction in which takes place during WWII, and follows a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl named Lina Vilkas. Living under Stalin’s rule, Lina is arrested  late at night along with her mother Elena and her brother Jonas without her beloved father Kostas, a professor at a college.  Forced upon a train, they embark on a journey heading towards Siberia where they are forced face the the terrors of human cruelty. Working on a beet farm along with a group of other people, Lina struggles to survive.

So far, I am thoroughly enjoying this novel as it grasped my attention from the beginning. There are, however, some drawbacks that I noticed. As I am not fully immersed in Lithuanian history, it made it hard for me to understand what exactly was going on during the time. This caused me to have to look and read the author’s note in the back where there is a small blurb that talks about the time period. After reading it, the book became more understandable and readable as I could fully put myself in Lina’s shoes. If even just a few sentences about the history was implemented somehow, it would make the fluidity of the book significantly better.

The book also follows many characters which sometimes makes the story hard to follow. Sometimes I am unsure which character is which, but I definitely think that strategically, Ruta Sepetys did a great job so the reader doesn’t feel terribly lost and confused by associating characters not by names, but by characteristics. For instance there is a man that is referred to as the “bald man,” and another character called “the man who turns his watch.” I think that this unique way of identifying the characters is not only helpful to the reader, but also very realistic from Lina’s standpoint, as I too would be unable to identify everyone especially in such a large group.

The plot of the novel keeps me interested and reading. In the beginning parts of the novel, a large chunk is dedicated towards Lina’s time on the train. Heck, the entire first third of the novel is dedicated towards this setting. Sometimes, however, it can get a little tedious while reading the novel as it painfully goes through many small events and details. For instance, many of the details follow the struggles that Lina must go through while on the train. The details about the horrid stench of rotting bodies, feces, and urine add so much to the entire experience of the story. Even every little detail is explained about how Lina is feeling. How cramped and helpless she feels. The way Sepetys formulates the novel is truly phenomenal. While the details can get slightly monotonous and drawn out, I think really adds to the feel and emotion to the story. It gives time for character/ character relationship development, attachment from reader to characters, and a realistic feel to the novel. The length of the first section may seem like a long time, but it really made me, as the reader, at the end of the section feel more close to the characters, but also feeling like I was right along besides them.  The effective writing style of Sepetys brings this novel to life.

From a good storyline, to a unique way of naming characters, to a good connection between the novel and the reader, this novel so far has been a great read and I look forward to what is to come ahead.


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A History Of Israel Volume II by Howard M. Sachar

This book is not what I would necessarily call a “page turner”. It is in fact quite difficult to interpret and track, as dozens of characters are flashed in and out, some only appearing for a sentence or two. I was expecting it be like this, but it was even more dense than I could have imagined. I didn’t choose this as a fun book I could pick up and read without care. I picked this novel off it’s dusty shelf because I was interested in the topic and figured a bit of history and reality could help inspire some greater thinking on current political issues. Many Israeli terms are explained thoroughly but others are left in the dark, prompting me to research further on the internet. For every few pages I read, I would have to look up or define at least two or three subjects. It was a slow process to keep track of the plot but with the help of the internet and my natural intuition I have managed.

Sachar collected and researched pages upon pages of historical data, documents on foreign policy, and war strategy to create this masterpiece of a book. He manages to distinguish each event and political figure as their own, displaying certain time periods in a new tone. It’s easy to get lost in Sachar’s writing when he starts energizing a new story or plot twist. As boring as this book may sound, it is actually very well done so far. No details are spared and all characters are memorable.

I would not recommend this to anyone who wants a light easy read, because this is compressed with lines and lines of pure historical data and description. However I do recommend that everyone read a non-fiction book. You may just find that all the crazy things that authors write about in their fiction books are actually based off real events. Sometimes the best stories are the ones that actually happened. Many of the scenes from new action films now seem very similar to scenes from the book. It’s easy to find comparisons to modern day life which is one reason why I found it so invigorating.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (part 1)

Life in Iran under Taliban rule was especially restrictive and oppressive of intellectual women. As laws became more and more extreme, education became gender segregated and often women were stopped from seeking higher education, or any education at all. In addition to this, the sale of western literature was banned as it was deemed impure by the government. In this setting it became nearly impossible for young female students to learn without somehow offending the law. However, the courageous students of this novel rebel against their oppression by secretly meeting in a sort of book club format. Here, they discuss banned books as well as their personal lives amid the changing world around them. The title references the famous book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, which is the central book that the audience sees discussed by the group.

Each student, of whom there are seven, are each completely different characters. My personal favorite of  them is Azin, who clashes with her conservative Muslim peers in the group, Mahshid and Manna. The narrator, the ex-professor and group leader, remains completely unbiased through their quarrels though, which sort of aggravated me. While Azin could certainly be described as “saucy,” she is also honest and her thoughts are not restricted by her desire to please religious cohorts.  Though their community is becoming dangerous and taking away individual freedoms, the group still deals with universal conflicts. I really enjoyed in this book the point that Nafisi makes about how the audience can relate to many of the characters’ struggles though they live very different lives.

Another parallel I saw between the group and my own life was how similar they are to my English class. As I said before each character has her own backstory. Some are shy, while others are outgoing and some are more confident while others are quiet. A few characters I could even match to exact counterparts in my class. But just in general, these students reminded me of those I knew because of their shared dedication and love of books.

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

This fascinating novel begins when Jing-Mei Woo joins the Joy Luck Club to replace her late mother Suyuan. The Joy Luck Club was founded by Suyuan when she was a young woman living in China, but she formed a new one when she moved to the U.S. with her church friends: Lindo Jong, An-Mei Hsu, and Ying Ying St. Clair. The book illustrates the relationships between the mothers of the club and their daughters through mini sections from the perspective of each person.

Structurally, this book is composed in a very different way. There are four books within the novel and four sections in those, each narrated by a different character. Instead of the same narrator throughout the book, each section is told in the eyes of a mother or daughter, except for Suyuan (who has recently passed away). This way of telling the story is very helpful for character development. For example, according to Jing-Mei talking about Lindo Jong, “Auntie Lin looks exasperated, as though I were a simple child” (Tan 22). But in a section devoted to Lindo’s story, she looks at herself in a different way, “I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me” (Tan 53). This not only shows the harsh and slightly discouraging side of Lindo, but also her internal strength.

Sexism is a prominent theme in this book. There is an instance of arranged marriage involving Lindo, and she is matched up to marry when she was only two years old. Lindo soon learns her role as an obedient wife: to cook, clean, and produce grandchildren for her mother-in-law. Lindo struggles to keep her mother-in-law happy while her husband sits around all day and orders her around. Mother Ying Ying St. Clair witnesses the mystical Moon Lady speak, “‘For a woman is yin…the darkness within, where untempered passions lie. And man is yang, bright truth lighting our minds'” (Tan 82). This shows how women were treated as untrustworthy and unpredictable and men as the leaders of society.

Once again discussing Lindo Jong’s arranged marriage, the symbol of the red candle also shows what marriage means for a woman. The day after the wedding ceremony, a red candle with a wick at either end is lit, and if it burns throughout the night without going out and only ashes remain by morning, the marriage will thrive. However, if the candle goes out, it is seen as inauspicious and a sign of future back luck. The red candle is a ticking time clock until a woman is no longer free, until she is property of her husband and his family, a mere object. The candle flame is the chains that bind a woman to her promise that she made to her husband, to always be loyal and obedient. As long as it burns, the bride is trapped and doomed to a life of oppression.

So far I enjoy the book very much. I think it would be a good read for future freshman classes because it is relatively easy without difficult vocabulary. There are some sensitive subjects involved, but it works for the theme of identity. It also goes hand in hand with the history unit we are learning now, because it talks about the Japanese invading China and its effects on the people and Confucian beliefs. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses.

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Open Heart by Elie Wiesel

The first half of Open Heart gives a shockingly honest look into the regrets and joys of Wiesel’s life. His autobiographical take upon the events that lead him to this point in his life provides a clear look into his every emotion and thought. Using the event of his open heart surgery, Elie recalls during each chapter a different “love” of his life. Each love following under the metaphor open heart surgery plays.

The message conveyed, about love, love lost, and appreciating love could not be as powerfully conveyed without the setting of a hospital. A setting many Americans know a little too well. The fear felt before a loved one goes in for surgery, the worry during the operation. Questions asked: Will this be last time we talked? Will my loved one survive? Will everything go smoothly, without complications? For the patient: Will I ever get to see my family again? Did I tell them how important they were to me enough times? Will I ever wake up? The familiarity of this situation draws a connection to the reader, the book not only becomes Wiesel’s story, but the reader’s story too.

The stories of Wiesel’s past provide numerous snippets of love. His son, the day he was born, his first 11-year-old crush on a nurse that cared for him, his father, lost to concentration camps during the holocaust, his wife, a rock and inspiration in his life. Each story, a deeper nugget of love.

The first half of Wiesel’s novel “Open Heart” has provided an inspiring and realteable take on memories of loved ones, despite painful stories that went along with some of them.

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The book The Color Purple Walker is fascinating. So far it has been an eye opening book that has proven to be a must read for all ages. The Color Purple touched on the life of a woman named Celie, and her hardships as she struggles with her sexuality, relations, and coming to terms with who she is.Now, let me first tell you that this book does not hold back. It starts, being hard to read and very disturbingly. I had heard that this book was meant for mature readers and after reading the first couple pages I can see why the warning was present.

One thing the reader has to get used to, and something I enjoyed a lot about the book was how it’s language demonstrated voice and character development. Nettie starts off the book almost illiterate, due to the fact she is so young and she dies not yet have the resources to write better. As time progresses her writing improves, a signal of her character development, and she develops her own style of writing. This writing may be hard for some to understand at first, but once understood is absolutely captivating. Another I also like is how she calls her husband Mr.__. This perfectly demonstrates the disconnect she has with her husband and shows how deep gender roles were at this time. The way women were treated in this book makes the book seem like it was set in times of slavery, as Mr. ___ shows little to no compassion for his wife and takes advantage of her shyness. Celie’s father is also awful to her, sexually abusing her and beating her at from a young age, again, showing no compassion for his daughter.

So far I am interested and have enjoyed the book.

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Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

For my second book this semester, I decided to read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I have really wanted to read this book for a long time, because I saw and loved the movie ever since I was young. This book lived up to every one of my standards. This story takes place in the 1990’s,  where one of the world’s major breakthroughs is in genetic engineering. Throughout the world, hundreds of private genetic engineering companies have been established for one purpose; making a profit. As Hammond states when he is speaking with Dr. Wu, “And, you remember, our original intent was to use the newly emerging technology of genetic engineering to make money. A lot of money” (222). One of these companies, InGen, started a project to try and recreate dinosaurs. They succeed, and attempt to make an amusement park that displays the dinosaurs, but then they realize that there are several malfunctions within the park and the dinosaurs cannot be contained.

My favorite character in this book so far is Ian Malcolm. He is a world renowned mathematician and theorist, but is more of a celebrity for his many breakthroughs and speculations. One of the reasons he is my favorite character is because of his personality. He is smart, witty, and humorous, something that few characters in stories possess. He also does not anyone else’s opinions sway his own, even when it may differ from the rest of the world. As Ian Malcolm says to Dr. Sattler, “I believe my life has value, and I don’t want to waste it thinking about clothing. I don’t want to think about what I will wear in the morning. Truly, can you imagine anything more boring than fashion? Professional sports, perhaps. Grown men swatting little balls, while the rest of the world pays money to applaud. But, on the whole, I find fashion even more tedious than sports” (80). Ian Malcolm plays a major role in this book for the reason that he does not approve of the idea of Dr. Hammond’s amusement park. Everyone else believes that it is a groundbreaking discovery, and something that will change the world and bring huge profits to themselves. Yet, Malcolm believes that dinosaurs became extinct for a reason, and they should stay that way. Everyone believes that he is insane, but he persists, always using good logic to back up his arguments, and eventually they see that he is correct. I think that it is important for people to always persist in their own beliefs, and not get swayed easily by others. I also think that being able to use logic and reasoning is a useful skill. Someone like this that I know is my Dad. Whenever he is in a discussion or argument with someone, it is almost impossible to win, because he will keep coming back at you with arguments that make sense or that might destroy his opponent’s. He will not get swayed to another position on an issue either, unless he hears something appealing that makes sense.

Right now, I love this book. It combines my two favorite subjects, science and literature, and creates an entertaining story that keeps me hooked for hours on end.

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