Omerta

I did an easy read for Mario Puzo’s Omerta, one of his last novels, in the Mafia series.

Unlike his previous novels, Omerta is much shorter and focuses on a single event, with fewer characters and less extent into psychology.

We are presented with the life of an old Don, Raymond Aprile, who took into care a small child from his old mentor who passed away, Astorre. We see glimpses of Astorre’s childhood, how he was raised in America, but also in Sicily, and learns the ways of the Mafia, and it’s unwritten rule book, the Omerta.

Don Aprile is the owner of a dozen banks, and cleans out his business, and keeps his three children away from his life. He prepares Astorre for what he believes will happen, and actually does: his enemies try to force him to take away his banks for drugs money laundering. He pushes his children to follow successful careers, and helps Astorre to grow his own small business. All until one day, when he is assassinated in front of his children.

Astorre begins a very patient and long term plan, to protect his cousins and to avenge Aprile’s death. He tries through several connections to uncover the plot for the assassination, and discovers on the way that Portella, the strongest drug dealer Don and the FBI are also involved.

We see here the measure of a man, what a profoundly correct man, the FBI agent that is the artisan of catching all Mafia leaders, can do to achieve his goals. We are asked the question of how far the end goal excuses the ways, as we find out that FBI allowed Aprile to be murdered to get more information and to be able to have evidence against Portella.

Then we see a mastermind at work, Astorre, who uses his girlfriend to seduce his uncle’s killers and bring them to his own justice. Then we see his weakness, he won’t allow innocent to be killed for his goals, he unveils Portella’s plans and turns him against the FBI.

In the end we see one determined man, educated in the old Omerta way, that avenges his uncle, protect his beloved, and finds a way to be eventually happy, to move to old Sicily where he felt at home, and find his happiness.

Omerta is clearly written for television, sometimes moving very quickly from subject to subject, without clear depictions, it looks a bit unfinished, and more like a movie script. The story is a bit faded, Mario Puzo tries his best to recreate something similar with his masterpiece The Godfather, but, this novel is only a small reflection of his Mafia series.

In search of a distant voice

I started 2021 with a Japanese author, Taichi Yamada, and his short novel In search of a distant voice.

The novel is a fantastic story of a man, Tsuneo, who is caught in late 20th century Tokyo, Japan, with all its customs, good or bad, and also caught in a bleak history, which circles around him all the time, not allowing him to get past and get a normal life.

Tsuneo is working at the immigration office, catching illegal immigrants in Japan. It all starts one day, when he loses a criminal, by experiencing intense erotic emotions, culminating with an spontaneous orgasm, that makes him feel very vulnerable and ashamed.

Things continue when he starts to hear a woman’s voice, who wants to communicate with him, at first slowly, with a few words, but with time, the bond is stronger.

We see a strong motif, with higher impact in modern Japan, the one of solitude and craziness. Tsuneo is very lonely, has one single friend, and most of his time is dedicated to work. People around him though, want to help him, and even his office’s director fights to find him a suitable girl for marriage.

While preparing his traditional wedding, with a woman he has no feelings for, after just four meetings; he continues to discuss with the distant voice, the distant woman, at first he is reluctant to believe it, gets mad, ignores her, tries to drive her away, but eventually realizes that the only other being in the world that is close to him, or appears to understand him, is this far away entity, woman, voice, or his own imagination.

The distant woman is able to inflict very powerful feelings for Tsuneo, and manages to ruin his wedding ceremony, by making him uncontrollably laugh, then cry, which makes people consider him totally rude and cancel the wedding completely, and his future wife to be hastily sells the rings and starts to find another catch for herself.

Tsuneo gets closer to the woman, and in the end he decides to tell her his life story, as a young student and immigrant to the United States, where is taken in by an older man, who forces and sodomizes him, eventually to be killed in an action that is caused by Tsuneo himself.

He wants to meet the woman, and she plays with him, proposing various meeting places, makes him run around and chase her, but she does not reveal herself. He touches him after she blinds him, but we cannot really know if she is real or again, part of his imagination.

Tsuneo banishes her, and for six months, she hears her no more. His life is in a downward path, he takes treatment, and after six months, she claims to finally meet him. At the meeting point he meets a blind girl, who was payed by a woman to meet him, the first and only real thing that makes the woman believable.

Tsuneo is subject to a fantastic experience, which looks to be a connection beyond time and space, to an entity that appears to give evidence of existence, which completely turns his world upside down.

An interesting novel, about extrasensorial perceptions, In search of distant voice is about loneliness, fulfillment, the place of man in society, the pain of compliance, the eternal search for happiness and accomplishment.

The mists of Avalon

My last read is The mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Let me start off by saying that the book is brilliant. It brings up so many themes, and so many characters, situations, and life as a whole, such that at some points it’s overwhelming.

The mists of Avalon is a retell of the Arthurian Legend, seen through the eyes of the women in that time, more or less legendary. Unlike other Arthurian stories, it does not involve battles and heroism almost at all. It focuses on feelings, religion, politics, and life.

The story starts very early, with Arthur’s mother, in her youth, while she is married with the Duke of Cornwall, Gorlois. We see her, Igraine, and her connections with the Lady of the Lake. We are slowly introduced to the fantasy world that the author created: Avalon, a mystical island, available only to the Priestesses of the Goddess, a very old druidic religion, that has discovered also the use of supernatural: the second sight, a possibility to see the future, not exactly in a very clear way, but in a glimpse of what will probably happen. Igraine is the sister of the current Lady of the Lake, Viviane, who is much older and wise, and has been taught as a priestess of the Goddess ever since her childhood. Their father is Taliesin, a very old man, currently standing in the office of Britain’s Merlin.

We are also introduced with a very young Morgan le Fay, named in this story Morgaine, the daughter of Igraine, who is initially just three years old.

The main story of the book develops initially by the visit from Viviane and Merlin to Igraine, asking her to bear the future great king of Britain. However, they impose her that the father of this child must be Uther Pendragon, currently one of the small kings of Britain, under the rule of Ambrosius, the current high king, old and crumbled, without a current heir.

We can understand that the Avalon, represented mostly by the Lady of the Lake, has a very strong will, that can sacrifice anything to achieve it’s goals. Viviane is very much into politics, and wishes to reunite the country under one single banner that will protect it’s citizens both from Saxon invasion, barbaric invasion, but also protect the followers of the Goddess from the invading Christian belief, brought by the Romans. Avalon understands that this religion cannot be stopped, and wishes to live in harmony, to find a king that will protect all the people, regardless of their religion.

The story unfolds with Igraine going to Londinium, to the council of the high king, where she witnesses his death, and the fight for the throne. She meets Uther Pendragon, who she initially finds despicable, but she soon understands that Uther is the man she was actually ment to be. She was married to an old man at a very young age of 15, and could not find anything pleasant in her marriage, except her child Morgaine. She understands with her small use of second sight, that she and Uther were meant to be, and that they were together in many previous lives, only to reunite again and again, now and in the future.

Uther is named high king, but Gorlois notices the fact that his young wife has eyes for him, and betrayes the king, thing that only brought his doom, as Uther will kill him, and claim Igraine as the high queen for his new throne. From this relationship, Igraine gives birth to young Arthur, a child that will become the future high king, even if it was rumored that Igraine become pregnant with Arthur before her marriage with Uther actually happened.

The first volume of the book ends with Arthur escaping a few murder attempts, probably by his aunt Morgause, sister of Igraine and Viviane, who becomes queen of Orkney and having four sons, who are next in line for the throne. Viviane intervenes, and takes Arthur to be raised far away with foster parents, for his education and protection. She also takes Morgaine to be raised as a priestess of Avalon, leaving Igraine without her both childs, unable to bear another, with her husband Uther, the king, who has a reign full of wars with Saxons, unable to really unite the whole country under his banner.

From this moment on, Morgaine becomes the main character of the book, who, even if in most legends is an evil witch or enchantress, it is revealed to us as an innocent young lady.

We see in this chapter a lot of pain, for the women who are married against their will, their try for disobedience, but only in the end being forced to follow their path, bear children, and follow a higher purpose, even if this means sacrificing themselves.

Years passed, as Arthur and Morgaine grown, Morgaine being now a young lady. She learns to be a priestess, staying only in Avalon, learning how to use the second sight and using herbs and learning to read and write, read the stars, and some kind of old spells that can affect people in different ways.

She meets her cousin, Lancelot, who is son of Viviane, her new foster mother. Lancelot is of an extreme handsomeness, which makes young Morgaine fall in love with him, a feeling that followed her for the rest of her life. Morgaine is ugly, small, brunette, thing that made everyone mock her in her childhood, calling her Morgaine of the little people. She always had an inferiority complex, that made her resent herself. She spends one day with Lancelot, in Avalon, being together and seeing a handsome young man, opening up new desires in her heart, and Lancelot already was already Lovelace, enjoying ladies’ company. Even if her virginity was promised to the Goddess, as arranged by her foster mother, she almost subsides to her desire for Lancelot, but Lancelot manages to hold himself, and does not take advantage of her, leaving her untouched for the desire of the Goddess, in who’s hands is the faith of Morgaine. They get lost in the mists, and find a young Guinevere, who also falls in love with Lancelot at first sight, and he is also charmed by her. Morgaine feels completely empty, dumped, ugly, and starts to hate them both.

The time comes when the festivities of Beltane, the fires of Beltane and the fertility rites take place, according to the old religion of Britain, the old druidic ways. In this time, both women and men drink, get crazy, and spend the night randomly in different beds, only to offer themselves and their body and mind to the Goddess. This ritual has taken place since ancient times, in order to please the Goddess, to bring fertility to both the grain fields, and to women’s wombs.

The time comes when Viviane asks Morgaine to be part of the ritual. She prepares herself, for what she has known that was going to happen ever since her training started. She was to be the Goddess herself, take her body, for the King Stag, a man who would pass this ritual such that it will be raised and his powers increased for his challenges ahead. Basically all this ritual was like a coronation for the King Stag, who actually becomes the king of the old people, the coronation in the old druidic ways. After their night together passes, with passion, being freed through sexual intercounter, they find out the harsh reality, that the King Stag must be the high king of Britain, Arthur himself, who has not met his sister since he was 5 years old, now was the first man in his sister’s life, and the same for her, being the first woman he was ever with, his own sister. Even if we are initially outraged by the incest, and the same happens for Morgaine, we are explained that the ritual is between the Goddess and King Stag, who takes up their both bodies, and offers the fertility to both of them. They both feel ashamed of what happened, especially when they did it again in the morning, before they knew who they were, without the protection of the ritual.

Arthur is given Excalibur, a meteorite sword, together with a magical sheath done by Morgaine, and oaths to protect Britain under the Pendragon banner, to be a rightful king for both Christians and Avalon followers.

Morgaine is outraged, and starts to hate Viviane, realising she is merely a pawn in her purpose, a sacrifice that Viviane will make about all her family, to serve her purpose.

Morgaine goes to Arthur’s coronation, when her aunt Morgause feels something is wrong with her, and realises that Morgaine is pregnant. Even Morgaine wants to deny it, but she understands this is true, that she bears her brother’s child. She wants to find the proper herbs to make an abortion, but on the way she has a vision telling her not to do it. She runs from Avalon, being upset on Viviane, for what she did to her, and the only place she finds is her aunt’s castle, in Orkney, at Morgause, to have her pregnancy and birth.

Arthur was raised as a Christian child, and considers himself Christian, even if he respects the old ways. He raises the Pendragon flag and starts to build an army, with the help of Lancelot, his cavalry captain, and his cousins, Gawaine, the son of Morgause, and his foster brother, Cai, who grew together with him.

Meanwhile, Morgaine gives birth to Gwydion, the incestuous son, with great labor pain, almost bringing her to death, being told by the midwives that she will never bear child again. Morgause convinces her that her son is best to be raised by someone else, and Morgaine leaves him, without seeing him again for many years to come. Morgaine suffers, but knows this is best for Gwydion, to not be found out by anyone at Arthur’s court.

She is back at the king’s court, to witness Arthur’s wedding, with young Guinevere, which he took for wife as the only way to get her father’s horses, the army which he always desired, to be able to beat the Saxons.

Years pass, and we see how slowly Guinevere starts to impose things to Arthur, she controls him, and makes him more and more Christian, as she herself becomes more fanatic, and she starts to hate the Pendragon and Avalon. We can see how the little education , as Guinevere cannot read nor write, turns her into a fanatic. Arthur is too soft , and Guinevere, as she cannot bear a child, losing several pregnancies, blames the witchcraft of Avalon for this, she convinces Arthur to drop the Pendragon banner and fight under the cross only.

Arthur ultimately defeats the Saxons and long reign of peace starts, under the Christian banner, and the old ways begin to be slowly forgotten. Viviane is getting older, losing her second sight, Merlin as well, and Morgaine gets lost in the fairy world for several years.

Morgaine returns and wastes her time at the court, for long time. Gwydion starts growing, and is taken to Avalon by Viviane to be raised as a druid.

Guinevere is torn between her duty to Arthur and her faith to the Christian god, and her love to Lancelot. Arthur loves them both, and stars wondering if he is to blame for her miscarriages. He encourages her to even go to bed with Lancelot, try to to have an heir.

Morgaine takes Kevin , the bard, the next Merlin, as a lover. Kevin is handicapped, mutilated, but is a great singer, and has a strange intelligence.

Viviane comes to Arthur’s court, to ask that Arthur returns Excalibur, as he has broken his oath to protect all the people of Britain, only to be murdered in front of him, by a foster son who accuses her of witchcraft. The fall of Viviane leaves deep marks in Morgaine, and this is the beginning of the end for Avalon, as nobody is left there to become the next Lady of the Lake. Morgaine is too frightened to return to Avalon, which is left behind the mists. Morgaine and Arthur argue after Arthur gives Viviane a Christian burial, unsuited for the Lady of the lake. She also fights with Kevin, who agrees with Arthur. Taliesin also passes away soon enough.

Morgaine makes a court plot to get Lancelot married, with Elaine, Guienevere’s cousin, and manages to do so, thing that only brought hate from both Lancelot and Guinevere. Morgaine cannot forget what happened in their youth, and before Guinevere’s wedding, when Lancelot refused her when she offered herself to him. She does it with the promise of having Elaine’s first daughter as a priestess of Avalon.

Morgaine falls for Accolon, a young son of a king Uriens, an old man. Guinevere has revenge, by asking Arthur to give Morgaine in marriage to Uries. Morgaine is fooled, thinking it’s Accolon, but gets to be married with an old man and taken away.

She starts to live another period of her life without meaning, until she is reunited with Accolon, who was raised as a priest in Avalon, and knows the old ways. From this moment on, Morgaine turns into a darker side. Until now, we were compelled to feel sorry for her. But Morgaine performs rituals with Accolon, fertility and King Stag rites, compelling him to become the next king, until her son Gwydion could be old enough to claim his throne. She even uses her Goddess powers to kill Uriens’ older son who finds out about her.

She tricks Arthur travelling to Cornwall, manages to take Excalibur from him, and gives it to Accolon. Her plans are destroyed, and Arthur kills Accolon and gets back Excalibur, once again winning and keeping his throne.

Morgaine loses a pregnancy, even if she thought she could never have another child, and becomes ill and solitary for long time, her plans being in ruins. She is convinced by Kevin to return Avalon, to find Niniane, another of Taliesin’s daughters as Lady of the Lake. She finally meets her son, Gwydion, an arrogant and smart young man, who fought with the Saxons, nicknamed by them Mordred. Niniane does not want to be the lady of the lake, is not suited for this, and takes Gwydion as lover. Gwydion has a secret plan to approach Arthur and taking his throne..

One of the most painful and most disturbing chapters of the novel is about Nimue, Elaine and Lancelot’s daughter, raised as a priestess in Avalon. Kevin, the Merlin, steals the holy Grail of Avalon, to be used in Christian rituals at Arthur’s court. Morgaine is so blinded by his betrayal that wants him dead, and sacrifices everything. She goes with Raven to the court, Raven being the oldest priestess and one who raised her, which brings Raven’s death, and orders Nimue to go to the court, seduce Kevin, the old mutilated man, bring him to her bed, and then to Avalon to be tortured.

Nimue starts to perform the seduction, to make Kevin fall in love with the beautiful young girl she is, but the spell has double effect, she also has to feel the love for him. She offers herself to him, and takes him to his death, and has no choice but to betray someone, either Morgaine and Avalon, or Kevin. She does her duty, Kevin is killed, and Nimue downs herself in the lake. It’s the most dramatic moment of the novel, when the last Merlin is killed, and the last hope of Avalon suicides.

Morgaine realises she accomplished nothiing, that the old ways will die, together with her, and finds herself an old woman, isolated, with nobody in Avalon, witnesses Lancelot’s crazyness and death, Guinevere’s retirement to monastery, and the death of both Gwydion and Arthur, in their last fight for the throne.

The mists of Avalon is amazing, brings a whole new perspective on the Arthurian legends, and is a clear finger pointed towards Christianity, towards the new ways, and how the death of a religion, of a whole world, brings despair and the feeling of being completely unable to stop the inevitable fall.

We feel sorry, we feel proud, we feel sad, many feelings twisted in this book, which brings the world to a change, and the set of a new era.

The devil upon two sticks

I read a very old and intriguing novel, The devil upon two sticks, by French author Lesage.

Even if this book is written more than 300 years ago, it has a very familiar feeling, outlook, and many of the things presented are still applicable today.

The wrap of the story is the myth of the limp devil, one of the devils in ancient tales which is responsible for lust. Named Asmodee, after the demon Asmodeus, he is freed by a young man, Don Cleophas, and takes his liberator unto a journey of a night and a day around the city of Madrid, observing the life and actions of the people in the city.

In this way, we are actually presented with plenty of short stories, the life of many people in this town, at the time of the writing, in 1707. We can see how the people used to live, what was important for them, how they treated matters of life, death, marriage, inheritance, money, and so on.

Actually the novel is a comprehensive moral fresco of the 18th century. We see certain patterns that are definitive for this era: the morality of women, which is of utmost importance, even widowed or divorced women, have a high standard of apparent morality, for which men get to duels, killing and insults, but the real morality behind them, is almost completely missing: women commit adultery, spend their nights in secret with different men, without any remorse. The only thing that matters is the image outcome in society.

Thus as a picture of a society, we see people wanting to become rich overnight, people wanting to steal, to find a suitable betrothed, and moral and class rules are opposing them at every turn.

One story that was central in the novel is the story of a man trying to fool a young girl into becoming his lover, with promises of marriage, all with a twist involving her brother, her father, in the end with a happy ending, where the treacherous man really is sorry for his actions and offers to marry the girl. I have a feeling that this probably never (or almost never) happened in real life of the 18th century.

Another interesting story is the story of a murderer who falls in love for a widow, only to get caught by pirates, sold as a slave and freed together with his lover, to be with her at the sight of their best friend committing suicide, only to fall off his horse and dying in the end.

The Devil upon two sticks is a funny interesting novel, presenting short stories of people’s lives more than three centuries ago, with aspects that are still very applicable today, and some that have changed and evolved. It is an interesting imagination exercise for people today, to try to understand how people used to think, many years ago.

The Marble Faun

I took some time to read an older novel this time, The Marble Faun, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Interesting novel, presenting a deep psychological subject, but the shape of it is in the 19th century’s fashion, without a strong objective observation, and with strong emotional implications from the author.

We have four characters, each with a different story, each being biased by the author in a specific way. All of them live initially in Rome, the city of arts, around 1850, young, and in love with arts. We see very well the life in the 19th century, what was important for people, and how they spent their time, and how they did interact at that moment in time.

We start with Miriam, an immigrant in Rome, coming from a land far away, she is mysterious, with a somehow dark secret that nobody knows. Even though she is young, she looks to be the most mature character, and also her beauty is highly praised by the subjective comments of the author. Miriam is followed by a strange character, believed to be her art model, but this is really unclear for everyone.

We have Hilda, another immigrant in Rome, who is not catholic, rather protestant, in a world where religion plays a very big role. In here we can see clear observations from Hawthorne against the catholic church, and I can say that personally I was positively impressed, that in the 19th century, an American author has such kind of hidden attacks. The author again subjectively emphasizes that Hilda is an innocent virgin young girl, with no experience of the world, focused on restoration of the work arts of the great masters.

Donatello is the sole survivor of a long line of counts in Italy, the Monte-Beni, and he is again a very young man, with no life experience, and he is the Marble Faun, as his friends all declare that he really looks like a Faun, a mythical character that was present in many art forms like paintings and sculptures from the ancient times.

Kenyon is an American , a sculptor, the only one with a very balanced mind and soul, but is deeply troubled and has a crush on Hilda. He tries to find enlightenment through love and sculpture.

The four friends live in a dream and fantasy world, Donatello, young and fierceful, falls for Miriam, and is willing to do everything for her. Everything falls apart in the moment of the sin, where Donatello pushes over the cliff the man known as Miriam’s model, Miriam’s catharsis, killing him, but only when Miriam’s look pushes him to do it. So they are united in guilt, in sin, thing that breaks them completely, especially Donatello.

Donatello, young, passionate, find the sin of the murder too strong for him, and in contrast with his initial declarations, that he would do anything for Miriam, finds himself in the impossibility to even see her anymore. Full of remorse and guilt, he retires at his castle in Italy’s mountains.

Hilda unwillingly assists the crime scene, and is completely shattered by the view. She denies her friendship with Miriam, and isolates with an unbearable burden on her heart and shoulders.

In the end, we can see that the four friends start to be more mature, and find some kind of balance in their lives. Donatello finds a way to repay for his sins, trying to punish himself for the rest of his life, by confessing his crime. He manages to get back together with Miriam, to be united with her in their sin.

Hilda understands that being a friend does not mean to deny Miriam, but a true friend is there when she’s needed. She finds a relief of her burden by confessing it to a priest.

We are also invited to understand a very important thing, that only trough sin, a man can understand what is the value of life, the value of sin, the value of redemption, and to understand what it means to make mistakes, and to grow.

A classic novel, presenting the idea of the sin, in a specific way, The Marble Faun is an interesting book, with deep implications, which could be rewritten in a more objective and strong way, but by keeping it’s original design and color, it has it’s own value.

Falk

I had time for another Joseph Conrad read, after The rover . This time a short story, named Falk.

Being a short story, we do not have many characters, and the story is focused on one, namely Falk. Everything is depicted through the eyes of another character, a boat captain, who is in the far east, trying to work with commerce, by delivering goods.

In this harbor , he gets friendly with another captain and his family, a German, who is also in the same business. They spend evenings on his boat, drinking, playing, chatting and other things people used to do in the 19th century. The German captain has a very nice and interesting young niece, and our character looks at her with at least curiosity.

We also have Falk, who at start is a very silent and distant man. He is the captain of a tractor boat, the only option that everyone in the harbor has to be hauled out of the harbor, as the sandy and windy entrance is very dangerous for anyone without a strong engine to attempt.

Everything turns bad when our main character is left stranded as Falk skips his turn in being hauled out of the harbor, and instead takes out the German ship.

Our first person story teller begins to investigate what is happening, and his only way out is to convince Falk to haul him out. Eventually he understands that Falk left him out on the bay because he considers him a rival towards the German’s niece, which Falk has a crush on.

Even if he had slight interest in the girl, his business is far more important, and he can’t risk being stranded in the harbor indefinitely. He has to convince Falk that he has no interest in the girl, and more than that, to help him to convince her uncle to allow Falk to get more close to the girl.

We also find out Falk’s greatest secret, the reason why he is so strange and he thinks that he has no hope in life. He was lost at sea for months, on a boat, with a small crew, with no food, no water, which made him do horrible things, including cannibalism, but , he survived. The news of this from Falk’s history was not taken good by the German, who casts him out.

The main character finds somehow a way to convince the German that his sins are not so bad, and they were done just out of pure survival instinct, without any intention, as a sole measure to survive. And overall, it would be a good catch for the niece.

In the end, Falk manages to get close to the girl, who also seems interested in him.

Falk is a short story, which focuses on one character, who has a big secret that is revealed, and we can see how this event affects his life further, and how it unfolds from other people’s perspective.

A maggot

I read the novel A maggot, by John Fowles.

Even if it starts like an old 18th century novel, A maggot slowly slides towards a very risky and keen type of writing, presenting facts from either an agnostic observer, or from newspaper slips, or from judge – trial interview with key witness, people, from the presented events.

As usual , Fowles is very attracted to supernatural and unexplained events, by which he wants to transmit certain messages, and to leave the reader thinking about the meaning and the symbolism behind it.

We have a certain event in time, the strange travels of a group of people, who spend a few days crossing through the western England, with one apparent purpose, but with many hidden ones. We can also see the result, one dead man and many missing.

From a third person perspective we can only see one day and one evening, and we learn from the rest of the trip from testimonies by the involved people, starting from the most insignificant people, up to the final testimony of Rebecca Hockner, the main character, a woman who worked in a brothel, was hired for some unknown purposes , and ends up in ‘enlightenment’, being recruited by a Christian protestant sect, and being impregnated in the whole process. Rebecca is due to give birth to Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers religious sect.

Fowles imagines with such high abundance of details, a kind of supernatural experience that happens to Rebecca during her travel, in which she claims to experience future, past, and heaven in the same time, to meet her God and the image of the God Mother, which completely changes her. Initially being a brothel worker, full of sins, unable to conceive, she believes she was absoluted, turned into a saint, a kind of Virgin Mary, being impregnated by a handicapped servant who performed suicide. She finds every reason to live in poverty and turn to the bible and wait for the second coming of Christ, which is the main reason of belief for her religious sect.

She finds a bunch of nice people, even her equivalent of Joseph, who accepts her as a saint she claims to be, and her unborn bastard child, to take them into his family.

Fowles imagines a modern 18th century conception of Jesus, in a fantasy way, full of details, with plenty of in depth century depictions, in a very interesting novel. He also manages to be very neutral in this book, and does not raise fingers, nor accuse the way of life of religious sects, leaving the author to draw the conclusions related to the fantasy in the mind of the believers.

The hunger games: Mockingjay

I finally completed my read of The hunger games trilogy, with the last volume, titled Mockingjay. Although I quite feel that the series was reaching a stale point, I managed to continue to see what the author can invent for a third book.

The previous two volumes review is here and here.

Ever since the beginning, the darker theme of this book is revealed. I don’t know if for everyone, the author managed to change the book paradigm from a simple teenage good-evil eternal battle to a more psychological and deep novel, but for me it didn’t quite succeed. I can see the attempts, but the success is a bit far.

What I mean by this, is that our hero, Katniss, is no longer eager to do all the ‘good’ deeds against the all-evil capitol and president Snow, and this time she weights in all her actions much better. We can see inner struggle, the fight for freedom, which is merely an illusion, and we can see that every action and act has a consequence, rather than categorizing each based on the good or evil label.

We are presented with District 13, the initial potential savior, which eventually turns more and more into a second version of the Capitol. I have a feeling that District 13 was the capitol initially in the first wars, and the author wants to tell us that history had a reason, and it’s repeating itself.

We see a devastated Katniss, full of anger, pain and remorse. We see much more bleak and death compared to the other books. I feel the other books were a hero novel, this time, Mockingjay is a novel of pain. Pain on all fronts, inflicted, self-inflicted, unavoidable. I would even call it an encyclopedia of pain.

We see pain on Peeta, who is completely rewritten, into something new, from a simple initial character, driven by a kind heart and pure love for Katniss, turned into a confused mind, an ill body, and a relic of a spine complete man.

We see another president, Coin, the president of 13th, who is willing to do anything to keep power and get more power. Including turning into Snow, and doing again the main one thing which brought down the Capitol: the Hunger games, with the children of their enemy as the main protagonists.

The author emphasizes again on the remote control: hurting people we care about to keep us in control. The whole Hunger Games idea, the idea behind hijacking Peeta, torturing the close ones, the loved ones. To urge everyone to comply to their desires.

We see death and despair, and the end is again bleak. The author kills off several characters, including Prim, Katniss’ sister, Finnick, but keeps Peeta, or the new version of himself.

Katniss is no longer the young girl we met. She turns into a relic of pain, but we still have hope in the end, that humanity can thrive, and happiness and joy maybe still exists somewhere.

In the end, the author tries to shift the trilogy paradigm, from teenage hero book to a psychological novel, but, up to you to understand if she managed it or not.

The Mandarins

I managed to read The Mandarins, by Simone de Beauvoir. I have been trying to gather all I could get from her, especially after already reading Memoirs of a dutiful daugther and She came to stay . More impressions are still pending on some older reads.

The Mandarins is definitely the most complete and the most challenging of her works that I tried so far. It is a complete fresque of the French post-war society, including reminiscence of the Resistance, occupation and what had happened during the Second World War.

We have plenty of characters, and situations, and the main themes revolve around love, friendship, politics, and of course, again, the human condition. As always, Beauvoir’s characters try to find a solution, try to cope with what is happening, but the existentialist issue always arises, the moral question, and the consequences of choices.

On the politics side, we have Henri Perron, one main character, who is a writer, somewhat politician , a former Resistance member, who wants to live his life to the fullest, while leaving a mark on everything. He is tied up by his former lover, Paula, whom he cheats at any possible occasion, and he wants to break free, travel the world, and speak freely with his magazine paper. He manages the L’Espoir, a post-war weekly publication, which he desperately tries to keep politics-free, but very difficult to attain.

We have Robert Dubreuilh, an older teacher and writer, who wants to get involved with politics, manages to start his own political party, but he is attacked from all sides by everyone else: communist leftists want him to merge with them, while capitalist rightists want him dissolved. His party has no success, and he realizes the nothingness of the human individual, and the very limited power, or none at all, that a single man can change anything in the world.

Anne Dubreuilh is the character most connected with Simone de Beauvoir herself, and we see the story from her perspective as well. She was a young student, marrying Dubreuilh, raising a very strange child, Nadine, and finding herself trapped in a marriage and in a shadow of a man that cannot make her happy. On the love side of the book, we see an ongoing affair between Anne and a long-distance lover, an American writer, who is just as weird as she is, and the love they find completely shakes off their existence, only to be destroyed by the distance, and by the complete different worlds in which both of them live. The pain and the sorrow of this lost love is one of most strongly depicted emotions in the book.

We also have Nadine, Anne’s daughter, a stranded child, a young woman, willing to break any rules and any kind of moral line, just for the sake of it, a late-age teenager, that is very difficult to live with. She manages to get all interesting men to spend time with her, only by bribing them into her bed. In the end, she tries a trick to get Henri to marry her, by getting pregnant against her will.

On the love side, Paula, Henri’s former lover, is the perfect model of the madwoman that falls in love and sacrifices everything for it. She loses her youth, her life, and gets committed to a mental institute, all because she could not accept that Henri dumped her and did not love her anymore.

We have a plethora of secondary characters: people from the resistance, working at other magazines: Vincent, Lambert, Sezenac, Lauchame, etc. They all model the French intellectuals of the 40’s. We see revenge on collaborators, investigations on Resistance, we see a France post-war, the hunger for the automobiles, the hunger for new clothing, for fun , adventure, music, and other many things, which were forbidden during the long war years.

Even if the existentialism in this novel is not as strong as in other books, The Mandarins presents a whole and complete world, which made me understand many aspects about the involvement of western Europe in post-war years, the beginning of the cold war, and how the economy and the pleasantries of the mid-century 20 evolved.

A very strong read, The Mandarins is the most complete and detailed picture drawn by Simone de Beauvoir through all my reads on her so far.

The rover

I read The rover, by Joseph Conrad.

The rover starts slowly, constructing a very interesting story, with very few characters, but full of emotion; and ends up in a complete thrill, with strong plot twists and lots of action.

The author takes time to build his characters, and allows us to move through the inner thoughts of every single one, in a multi perspective narrative, such that we get a complete inner understanding of their reasoning and feelings. Even in third person, we get into everything his characters were, are, and wish to be.

We have Peyrol, the main character, an old sailor, who wants to live peacefully in his last days, but is not allowed by the strong boiling blood of his French people, who are just coming out of French Revolution and starting the Napoleonic age.

Peyrol was at sea for a long time, and tries to hide the fact that he is not revolutionary, the movement which brought death to everything and everyone who opposed it, the famous French guillotine being the end of the road for so many anti-revolutionary.

Peyrol reaches a camp full of dark stories, Escampobar, where a young woman Arlette lives, a woman who saw the horrors of the revolution in her youth, being possibly mentally disordered by the tragic events which she witnessed. She is the actual heir apparent to the farm, as she is taken into custody by her only relative, aunt Catherine, unmarried and without children, and by Scevola, a dark man, full of revolutionary ideas, who is waiting for Arlette to come of age so he can wed her without appearing unchivalrous.

Everything changes when a young lieutenant, Real, arrives at Escampobar, initially without a big purpose, but things become clear once an English sloop starts watching the whole gulf near Toulon where Escampobar is located.

Being at war with the English, the French are trying to seize power in the area, and are trying to foul the English into abandoning the gulf, for them to move troops freely. Peyrol feels the danger and after capturing an English spy who was sniffing around his little boat, finds out Real’s real mission: to place false communication to Englishmen.

Arlette comes to life when she realizes that Real, whom meanwhile has become her secret crush, the object of her desire, is about to do a secret and dangerous mission in the area. Both of them realize that they have fallen in love with each other, but everything stands in their path.

The only one willing to help them is Peyrol, who uses circumstances to fool Scevola into capture, being locked down by the English spy, and to move his little boat in front the English sloop, such that the secret documents fall into the right hands of the enemy, where they are supposed to.

Peyrol changes his mind and sacrifices himself, also taking Scevola with him and his servant, such that Real and Arlette have a chance to be together.

Joseph Conrad has created a happy ending for us, in which Real and Arlette marry and live a happy life afterwards, only to remember the sacrifice that Peyrol ultimately made for them.

We see a Romeo and Juliet story with a happy ending this time, and we can salute the majestic story telling qualities of Joseph Conrad, who creates great characters for us. A little of the story looks rushed, like the falling in love of Real, sudden and complete, but otherwise, Arlette, Charlotte, her aunt and Peyrol are very well written.

A good novel, and another perspective on the French Revolution, which is highly praised today, but my feeling towards it, considering this perspective, is very much similar to the Russian Revolution.