The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie – Review

I sometimes buy books just for their beautiful covers or intriguing titles. And – then – it may happen that I don’t particularly enjoy them when I first try to read them. I abandon them for years, after having read just few pages, which disappointed me and then I tend to forget them.
But, after so many years spent as a voracious reader, I know, now, that that particular book just needs to wait for me to be ready for it. And that has been the case for The Satanic Verses, by the indian writer Salman Rushdie. It spent years on a shelf and – when I eventually decided to read it again, in a last attempt to finish it, I discovered how beautiful it was.
This novel is an actual masterpiece. One of the most beautiful books I have ever read. And it really made me think that pleasure requires efforts from us… in literature at least (and also in life, I dare to say).

Elements to believe in its greatness were there even before reading it. Because I knew this was the novel that put in danger Rushdie’s life and caused the death of one of its translators. All of this because Khomeini issued a fatwa, in which he sentenced to death the author, for that foul cleric thought the novel was blasphem to Islam.

So, a part of me was sure that, even if during my first attempts I didn’t enjoy the first pages of this voluminous book, I would have ended up liking it, or – at the very least – finding it interesting. And I’m glad my instinct wasn’t wrong: The Satanic Verses is a stunning reading experience!

The novel deals with a plurality of themes, such as religion, the sense of belonging to a community, immigration and integration, love, self-acceptance, forgiveness, the father-son relationship, the contrast between modernity and tradition, dream and reality, Good and Evil. They are universal and they are often found in all of the great novels of our history. And they are tackled by Rushdie with irony, intelligence and courage: for instance, where he includes the character of the prophet Mohammed and then he intertwine it with the story of the main characters, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha (two indian actors who fell from the sky, after a plane crash, that had them turned into divine beings).

The mechanism that is used to mix these two narrative planes is the dream. Gibreel is the angel of revelation, in the book. And this device allows the author to doubt and make us doubt about its truthfulness. In fact, the Mohammed of Gibreel’s dream has the characteristics of those who just invent what can be helpful to them, in order to take advantage of people and situation, to become powerful. It’s interesting the way Rushdie uses the dream dimension to destroy koranic dogmas, legends and myths, its imaginery and doctrine. So, I can see why The Satanic Verses was such a controversial book, which put in danger the lives of so many people.

But thinking that this pages are an attack to Islam would be a mistake. We’re in front of a universal lesson, as we can see in the story of the prophetess Aysha. The message is that the rational world – as a system – cannot believe in miracles and religions. They may be for the individuals, but they should never leave the private dimension and mess with the public.

All of this, for what concerns the religious theme, that is represented by the character named Gibreel.

The other themes are related to the other protagonist: Saladin Chamcha: the most earth-bound of the two.
And maybe that’s the reason why he gets turned into a demon (while Gibreel turns into an angel). Chamcha’s storyline is about the immigrants’ aspiration to a serene life in the new country they live in. So, in a different way, we’re still speaking about the “dream”. This character represents our fights against ourselves and the whole world, to obtain peace, serenity and success, to feel and be accepted by the society and even by ourselves. But the difficulties the author has put on his the path make this character a tool to explore some dark feelings that can fill our minds, when we don’t get what we want, when life makes us suffer. So, while Gibreel is related to love, Saladin Chamcha is related to hatred.

But here comes the teaching! Rushdie shows us the harsh truth: we can overcome hardships and hatred… if we face them, by facing and accepting who we are.

These two characters, the angel and the demon, are an example of how volatile and mutually contaminating the categories of Good and Evil are.

The Satanic Verses is a dense book and a harbinger of both philosophical-theological and social reflections. In this regard, the pages in which Chamcha, hospitalized in a demonic-caprine form at the hospital, finds himself together with other mutant beings, who will turn out to be simply other immigrants, are magnificent. These chimeras are an effective representation of how society is still far from seeing individuals coming from a distant elsewhere as its own.

So, in the end, The Satanic Verses is an important work that cannot be easily summarized and that simply needs to be read. It will make you watch at life and society in a deeper way, it will make you try to find answers and solutions to the great issues of life… And that is the biggest compliment I can think of for a novel. This book is like life: not easy, but worth experiencing.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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1984 – George Orwell – Review

Risultati immagini per 1984 orwell

After having been witness of the catastrophe that totalitarian regimes brought to people and peace, with their violence, wars, rhethoric and discrimination that reduced Europe to rubbles, George Orwell published – in 1949 – what became his most famous novel, 1984. The author, inspired by this experience and also by other previous authors, who dealt with dystopian issues, such as Zamyatin (We), Burdekin (Swastika Night) or Huxley (Brave New World), wrote one of the most important dystopic novels of our times and he surely imposed himself as an example for the next generation of writers.

In 1984, Orwell creates an even more oppressing regime, so to warn us all about the dangers of a winning totalitarism, which he imagines to be capable to extend its influence in aspects of life that weren’t even affected by real totalitarism. In the world of the book, the government wants to control mankind not just in the public and private sphere, but also at an instinct level and in the deep core of people’s inwardness, totally manipulating their humanity and individuality.

The Big Brother is a political nightmare. George Orwell let us see what is and what does a government, when there are no limits to its intruding power. A dispotical government becomes a sort of cruel God: an omnipresent judge, committed to the law of injustice; a mystifier that wants everybody to think its lies are real.

It’s in this illiberal universe of terror that the characters’ story takes place. And it’s a story that tells us the simplest narrative cliché (an impossible love), but inserted in the most disturbing scenario. And it’s a real warning for us all, because, maybe what we read in this pages is what might have happened to our world, if Stalin or Hitler took it over. Orwell dreaded a darker darkness and he asks us not to let totalitarism ever be born again, because we don’t know if we’ll always be able to heal the world from its poison.

And that is why the novel ends with no happy ending or hopes. And I understand that, though, after reading pages so intense, I have to say that I would have liked a more optimistic choice for the ending.
Because, as told by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarism, each new birth is an act of revolution, which adds something (someone) new in the system; and we can always have hope in that. But that is just my two “philosophical” pence… but it’s a disagreement that is just a matter of personal taste and it doesn’t change the stunning depiction of totalitarism that Orwell gave us with his novel.

We’re in the presence of a marvellous book that has been justly named a masterpiece.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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The Republic – Plato – Review

Plato is a giant of ancient philosophy and he’s one of the few, whose ideas really shaped our world. So, it’s with humility that I’m writing this review of The Republic.

First of all, I have to say that I’m really glad he understood the importance of writing down his thoughts. I can see why Socrates refused to do it, but I think that his student had the best opinion about the issue.

I’ll be frank, and I admit that I don’t agree with lots of his ideas and lots of rules that he wanted to apply in his ideal city.

Plato’s republic risked to be authoritarian and maybe totalitarian. He talks about censorship of arts, dividing people in useful and useless and he also seems to like some debateable spartan customs. However, these are things that need to be contexualized. They weren’t as obnoxious at that time as they would be at our times. So, I just choose to let those things stay in the past, and focus on his good ideas. And they are present, indeed, in the book!

Because Plato also teaches us about wonderful things, such as the importance of education and music, the equality of men and women (which was a very progressive idea at that time), and last but not least, he demostrated that the unjust are doomed to regret their behaviour, ‘cause it only pays to be good in the world. These are fine thoughts, that really deserved to become the foundations on which our culture is built.

The Republic contains his whole system of ideas and it’s – unexpectedly – an easy reading, that everyone should know.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi – Review

Ghana must go - Taiye SelasiGhana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi, is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in recent years. It’s her debut as author of novels – and it is great!

This novel depicts sides of the contemporary world that we are not still used to think about. In particular, the book focuses on the life of a troubled african family, living (mostly, but not totally) in the USA and on the difficulties that the  developing african societies are facing, during this globalized era. And I would say that there is no other place with such contraddictions and challenges. It’s the perfect context for new stories. There’s so much to tell about the young african societies.

Selasi avoids stereotypes and focuses on black-Africa’s facing of the globalization. We already know how this phenomenon affects everyone in the west; so I think it is of pivotal interest a peek into this other scenario. Here, we can read about the vicissitudes of a nigerian-ghanaian family, who chose the United States to try to realize the “american dream“. That’s the starting point of the novel.

Then, the book will narrate us a dreadful and painful story that will lead the characters to overcome great woes, in order to reach a needed catharsis.

It’s a strong and terrific novel and it is told by a skilled author, who is really able to analize the full spectrum of human feelings. The reader will find pages where the evil of human nature and the horrible acts it can do are clearly and sharply shown; but Taiye Selasi also shows us that she can wisely measure things out, ‘cause there’s no lack of lighter situations.

So, unite a contrasting family history (perhaps partially autobiographic), three states (USA, Nigeria and Ghana) and our globalized cultural and social context to the pen of a talented young novelist and everything you will obtain is this book, which I really advise you to read!

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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Theologico-Political Treatise – Baruch Spinoza – Review

Theologico-Political Treatise - Baruch SpinozaThe Theologico-Political Treatise is an essay that was written by Baruch Spinoza, a dutch philosopher of portuguese sephardi origin. In this book, the author tried to analyse the Bible from a determinist point of view, in order to demonstrate that nothing supernatural happens, neither  miracles nor prophecies. The theory on which this treatise is based is that everything – in the holy scriptures – can be explained with rationality. However, the philosopher do not negate the divinity, nor the revelation. In his opinion, God is (in) the natural and rational order of the universe. So, to convince the reader, Spinoza used philology to meticolously analyze several stories and events, which are told in the bible.

This work is all meant to reach one purpose, i.e. to show the reader how – once people is freed from superstition and false beliefs – the Bible only gives one (moral) teaching: to be compassionate, merciful and loving towards the neighbour… All things that – in the author’s opinon – lead to the conclusion that the best possible state is the one which is organized to allow freedom of expression and opinion/thought to its citizens: democracy.

Even though this book is easy to read, thanks to its style, it is not easy to understand, in particular during the exegetical part. Nevertheless, it is absolutely interesting if you’re patient.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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Poems – Sappho – Review

Sappho PoemsIt’s sad that only few remnants of Sappho‘s poetic work survived and were handed down to us.

However, if I had to judge all of her production by the beauty of the few complete poems that are at our disposal today, I could only say that it’s evident we lost one of the most important and precious literary work of the ancient times. Because Sappho‘s poetry is marvellous and warm like the Sun she so much cared for. Indeed, her poems have that genuine warmth which we experience through our lives, when we are in love.

So, if she’s able to transmit that much with just a bunch of verses that survived through the centuries, I can’t imagine how bigger this poetess would have seemed us, if we had access to the entirety of her work.

 

The moon and the Pleiades have set,
it is midnight,
and the time is passing,
but I sleep alone.

Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες, μέσαι δέ
νύκτες, πάρα δ’ ἔρχετ’ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω

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– Giuseppe Circiello –

The Iliad – Homer – Review

The Iliad - HomerAfter reading The Iliad, by Homer, you look at the following western literature from another perspective; and words like “timeless classic” or “milestone” acquire a new meaning, a new depth.

It’s impossible not to realize that Homer already wrote (and invented) everything, before the others wrote anything else. I mean, you can find – in The Iliad – the seeds of the future poetry, theatre, comics and novels.

Plus, this work tackles universal themes like friendship, love, honor, war, piety, destiny, religion and the relation between humankind and the divine. And Homer’s verses are also enriched by highly poetical images, like the meadow starting to blossom, as Zeus and Hera start making love. In my opinion, one of literature’s best images.

So, I don’t need to flood people with words. This is a famous masterpiece. I can only say that if you like books, poems and epic, then you must read the work from which everything else (literature itself) originated. The Iliad is very pleasant. It is 2800 old, and it still look like a youngster! I advise you to read it, just because I cannot order you to! And then you better read The Odyssey and The Aeneid too (it’s an inseparable trio, you know).

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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The Odyssey by Homer – Review and thoughts about migrants

Homer - OdysseyThe Odyssey, supposedly written by Homer, is one of the greatest epic poems in human history. It has been handed down to us by our ancestors – and creators of the western culture – the Greeks.

Now, I won’t deepen the homeric question, here, ‘cause I want to direct people’s attention towards another topic. But, before starting, I need to write down a very summarized opinion about that, because it always intrigued me and I have to admit that, while reading, it was impossible not to compare The Iliad with The Odyssey, asking myself how similar they seemed to me.

Given that I am basing my opinion on a translation, I’ll tell you this: I had the feeling the two works were written by different authors: the first work being more spontaneous and less organic; and the second more complex and elegant. However, that’s just for speculation’s sake… I don’t think it’s important who wrote what! They’re both excellent (but I wanted to give my two pence)! Let’s move on!

It’s been a pleasant reading (and how could it not be?)! The story and its style are not difficult to deal with and it all seems a sort of epic fairytale, that tackles very deep themes: journey, war, intelligence, solidarity, hospitality and many others.

Here, I’ve chosen to speak about these two: solidarity and hospitality, because they are at the center of the political talk, nowadays. So, with The Odyssey, Homer can help us remember that the mediterrean tradition is about welcome, acceptance, solidarity and hospitality.

It’s pivotal to remind ourselves that for the ancient civilizations – which were poorer and less accultured than us – kindness for guests, foreigners, castaways and beggars was a sacred factor. It was considered outrageous not to help them! So, that’s a very present theme; and it moves me to see how the Greek and other sea people, used to think that it was an undoubted duty to rescue those who were in need.

And the reason why Odysseus was ruthless with the Proci was also this one: they were unkind to Penelope‘s poor guests. So they were not only punished for how they behaved towards the queen and Telemachus; it was not just about that! The suitors were also killed because they were inhospitable; and that broke a sacred tradition that old mediterrean people knew well.

Today, we can see how the sea is becoming a mass-grave, swallowing thousands of people, who run away from wars and poverty and climate change. Western goverments and politicians think they can repel these people, and they use – or, better, misuse – a rhetoric that is all about preserving traditions and our identity. But they’re hypocrites, who don’t know their own history. They should read Homer! Everyone should! Our roots are about helping people who are in danger. Do not let anyone convince us of the contrary.

So, in the end, reading classics can help us rediscover the route for our most humane  and moral side; and The Odyssey is one of the most precious examples of this.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk – Review

Risultati immagini per fight club chuck palahniuk mondadoriFight Club is the second Chuck Palahniuk’s novel that I read. For me, the first encounter with this author was Choke. And I have to admit that I liked that book more than this one we’re going to talking about!

I won’t say that Fight Club is a bad novel, though. The problem is, in my opinion, that the author’s genial idea was not developed at its best. Of course, not its best, according to my taste. I can clearly see, here, the smartness of this work and it probably deserves the fame it gained, but – personally – it’s not been a reading that satisfied me. I just don’t like the way it is written. It sometimes seems too artsy to me.

Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk (1962)

Nevertheless there are some parts which are undoubtedly beautiful and will always make quotes lovers happy.

In the end, I don’t like it and I don’t dislike it. Maybe I’m not satisfied because I think it could have been so much more than it is.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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The Ironmaster – Georges Ohnet – Review

The Ironmaster - George OhnetI read this novel, The Owner of the Ironworks, because the fact that I never knew about its existence made me pretty curious. But I have to admit that I didn’t like it. Georges Ohnet made possible something unthinkable: even though he lived during a historical period full of meaningful events (the end of 1800), he was able to publish a book which has no depth at all. I dare to say that soap-operas are more interesting than this work and that we can all be witness of how Ohnet’s writing was untouched by the context he lived in.

George Ohnet
George Ohnet (1848 – 1918)

Plus, plot and characters are flat. And – with these feeble means – the author tries – at least – to emphasize the contrast between the rising bourgeoisie and the declining aristocracy. But it all seems too simple and obvious and the reader can imagine everything before it’s described. The only merit of this novel is that it’s an easy reading.

I don’t think the oblivion that swallowed The Owner of the Ironworks is undeserved. The judgement of time has been right. Avoid it!

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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