I have just few words to describe this book: it’s useless. I’m sorry when I have to say such things, because I don’t like attacking writers’ works, but I also have to say that it’s rare – to me – despising something I read. I really wonder why The Diary of a Sentimental Killer, by Luis Sepùlveda, is considered one of the great classics of 1900s (in Italy this book is part of a series of books, named “The Great Classics of 1900s”). It doesn’t deserve it. And I think this author wrote more interesting and beautiful novels, like The Story of A Seagull and The Cat Who Taught Her To Fly.
I do believe that there’s more weight in absence of gravity than among this novel’s pages (pages which wasted so many trees – unfortunately). I won’t even waste time writing something about the trivial and predictable plot. I only say that I don’t believe this short novel is due to any kind of artistic need. Well, I won’t accuse Sepùlveda of having written this story just to gain some money, but I have to be frank: these pages are full of flatness. I really hope you’ll never try the unlucky experience of reading The diary of a sentimental killer. You’d only lose time. There are better things (even by this author).
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera, is a book I only appreciated, during its ending. So, I have to say, I didn’t like it, apart from those last pages, where the author makes his characters find some serenity in a calm routine, which – let’s be frank – can be somewhat reassuring for a human being. But the pages I refer to are just the last fifty ones. The other one hundred and fifty are – it’s appropriate to say it – unbearable. And I do not have good words for them.
While I was reading this supposed masterpiece, I found myself saying “how boring!” several times. I mean, you may have all the philosophical intents you want, but if you write a novel, then you have to try to create a satisfying reading experience. Each line was a protract agony in the world of boredom.
It’s true that Kundera starts his work telling us about the Nietzsche’s “eternal return”, but I’m afraid he took it too seriously! The Unbearable Lightness of Being always repeats the same mechanisms to such a degree that I can’t endure it. I understood the main male character always looks for new sexual relationships, but it’s not the case to so redundant. You told us, Milan! We got it! The storytelling will benefit, if you cut some repetitions.
It seems one of those books, who are written to seduce the reader with some kind of alternative charm – maybe those who like to mix philosophic thoughts with sexual intercourses. But in the end, personally, I think there is just little substance here. I can’t explain to myself why a lot of people likes it. Anyway, Latins used to say De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est, You Can’t Discuss About Tastes… (or Distastes?).
I only found interesting the context in which the novel is set: Czechoslovakia, during the years before and after The Prague Spring. You have a good example, while reading, of what control, suspect and censorship really mean. Apart from this, though, this novel isn’t worth its fame.
This novel by Jacques Roumain is based on two fundamental beliefs: the importance of education and reasoning, as means to improve people’s life condition; and the human need for persisting and never surrending. Reason and Action are the pillars of this book – Masters of the Dew.
The story Roumain tells us is set in Haiti, at the beginning of the 20th century. It deals with a serious and protract drought that the villagers of Fonds-Rouge have to face. But, to be honest, they don’t face that adversity at all! With their faith in Christ or in the Loa (vodoun deities), they stay still, hoping for better times, while bickering for family feuds, consuming themselves day after day. And it’s crystal-clear – at the start – that ignorance and animosity only risk to lead towards death and extinction.
It’ll be Manuel, the son of two inhabitants of Fonds-Rouge, the one positive figure who’ll bring change in that community. He comes back from Cuba, where he worked hard in sugar cane plantations, and where he learnt the ideas of communism. There, he took part in strikes and acquired notions and political ideas which he’ll try to put into practice, in order to help his fellow countrymen.
Manuel, the educated and rational man, knows his village won’t be helped by any God. So, he starts to look for a water source, and he finds it, and then convinces people to work together and overcome rivalries, to bring water to everyone. But that’s not the end, which I won’t reveal, anyway. I just say that, unfortunately, there is always someone who wants power and richness and tries to ruin the deeds of the good ones. Will that someone have success? Read the book to know!
Jacques Roumain – who was also one of the founders of the haitian communist party – has written a good story, full of love for his people. He studied in Europe and it is wonderful that he used, in such a good way, what he learned, during his youth. Studing wasn’t futile to him; it never is. And in this case a higher degree of knowledge has helped him to improve the condition and the awareness of the haitian people.
The intention of this book is to spread a certain way of thinking, to educate Haitians and make them unite for the good of their homeland. I have to say that even if the author is politically committed, his writing is never radical or biased – and taking action and helping each other are not communist ideas, they are just rational common sense.
As for the title, why is the book’s name “Masters of the dew”? That’s because, when people goes to work, they go early in morning, when dew wets the grass. The masters of the dew are the hard workers, who know their work is important to keep their land fertile and fruitful. They know the sacredness even of the most little drop of dew. Because dew is water, which is life.
Finally, it’s a pleasant reading, melting reader’s heart. It’s good to see how Haiti, which is one of the poorest states in the world, has given birth to some magnificent writers (I think about Jacques Stephen Alexis and his “Les Arbres Musiciens“). But I think it’s just normal that you can find the most beautiful flowers, in the most complex lands.
Goodness is a value. And this is the reason why you can’t precisely describe a positevely beautiful man. That’s because everyone of us has his/her own idea about what is good – and everyone of us practices goodness in his/her own way. This is a truth which I think was clear to Dostoevsky too, after (or while) finishing writing The Idiot. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have said he couldn’t develop his novel (and his character) in the way he imagined. And I agree with him: this time we’re not talking about one of his flawless masterpieces.
However, I’d rank The Idiot as 3rd among his novels; the first two being Crime And Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. This is because Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin‘s character is near to that ideal man with a perfect kind of goodness in his heart. Prince Myshkin’s nature is a useful tool to show the moral imperfection of those who gravitate around him. It also makes clear how dangerous is – for someone who’s totally pure at heart – the fact of living such a passive type of goodness.
Beauty won’t suffice to save the world. Because world’s beauty tragically contains its foulness too. This is the reason that expunges Myshkin from our reality: someone like him will unavoidably (and sadly) be crushed, inasmuch as no one saves you but yourself, your ego, your own, possibly strong, will.
So, in short, the defect I find in this novel is the conduct of the main character, which is too unrealistic and utopian. He seems to me a first version of Alyosha Karamazov, whose goodness I like the most. Alyosha’s more active, more aware of himself, more usefully kind, without being as fragile as Myshkin.
But just like for any other Dostoevsky’s book, the reading will be a pleasure. You’ll find several people, stories and topics: such as religion (it’s amazing the page which attacks the hypocrisy of the Church), nihilism, the meaning of life as related to time and many other things to think over.
In the end, despite its imperfection, I suggest The Idiot, because it is pleasant and makes you think. Maybe it isn’t based on unquestionable premises, but – in my opinion – that’s not a requirement to be considered a good novel.
Stanisław Lemwas one of the most important polish writers of the 20th century. And Solaris is one of his most remarkable and representative works. It is a science fiction novel – written in 1961 – and it deals with something which is pivotal for every philosopher: the boundaries of human knowledge. And, if we think about it, it’s clear how only the science fiction genre can easily put a human being in front of paradoxes and questions which are hard to solve. So, here is Lem’s idea: mankind, who still doesn’t deeply know itself, pushes itself into investigating realities which are bigger than itself. And that’s a dangerous need that we have, because we risk to be overwhelmed by things we can’t comprehend. That’s the core: even if we do not know if we have the means to face what we don’t know (and also what we do not imagine), we still persist on seeking and venturing in the depths of the unknown, while hoping to find not just a new type of life, but new also new types of relations. And here Lem gives us a warning: humankind takes for granted too many things, when – in reality – we see too little of what’s around (and in) us.
However, the need to establish a connection with what’s elusive and mysterious is written in our DNA, in our story. This necessity made possible the start of three different investigations: physical, metaphysical and psychic. Up until now, each theory and each practice – that originate from this everlasting search – have used human means and paradigms. But that might be insufficient; so, through the pages of Solaris, Stanisław Lem asks the fatal question to his readers: “What if Man is not the centre of universe? We may become victims of our narcissistic and immodest thirst for knowledge”. Obviously, we mustn’t stop, but we must stay careful.
These are the reasons that make Solaris, the living planet, an unfathomable enigma for all the scientists, who live in the space station, orbiting the planet. They tried many times to communicate with the celestial body, but they only obtained frustration and failure. The planet, which is a gelatinous ocean, considered alive, acts without directly interacting with humans. Or, better said, without making its intentions clear. It seems it does experiments on scientists and their psyche too; but that’s just an hypothesis, ‘cause it could also be possible that its actions have no meaning at all. It’ll remain a mystery, where characters only play the role of spectators or victims. Communicating and understanding – which are so important for rational minds – remain a utopian dream. Therefore, the nightmare who’s presented by Lem is a continuous orbiting around each another, in total absence of any meaning.
Solaris is a novel based on an interesting and deep idea. But I can’t use enthusiastic adjectives for the way it was written. It happens too often that Lem talks at length about unimportant details: for instance, even inventing superfluous bibliographies, which are really uncalled for. However, this book remains relevant and interesting and makes the reader reflect on the limits of human intellect.
At last, this book calls to mind Dante’s Ulysses and his unconventional desire for knowledge. He went beyond the Pillars of Hercules “per seguir virtute e canoscenza” (in order to follow virtue and ken); and it costed him his life.
Going towards what you don’t expect can be dangerous. But it’s also a need, because you only grow up if you make new experiences. And knowledge and experience cannot be untied from one another. In the process, just pay attention and read this book!