Here are two books I have read that left a strong impression on my mind. I am going write a series of posts about a few of my favourite books you might find interesting. Please do read and share thoughts/reviews on your favourite ones(from or beyond the list). Several posts will follow with more book reviews.
The Hobbit, there and back again
I had read the first few chapters of this book when I was in school. I bought the complete set of Hobbit and LOTR at a later age. The book is capable of engaging the readers right from the beginning. The unique plan of the hobbit house and Bilbo Baggin’s obsessive compulsive disorder (I am sure he would have been diagnosed with this if we had him checked) were funny and entertaining.
Story and character development
Mr. Tolkien had used simple words to paint a detailed and engaging picture of the landscapes (the forest at the edge of Shire, Rivendell, Misty Mountains, Mirkwood, Lonely Mountain). The author had often implied major flaws in the characters with subtlety, via various actions and dialogues. Examples are Gollum’s greed, Thorin’s pride, and arrogance, Smaug’s vanity. Especially, Bilbo’s initial innocence is shown to be gradually replaced by traces of greed (under the influence of the Ring).
Gandalf’s sudden departure at crucial moments and unpredictable help at times of need, Bilbo’s reluctant leadership, various combat sequences are few of the recurring events in this storyline. The story has an overall positive note, especially with the development of Bilbo’s character. He consistently evolves throughout the book, getting himself out of tricky situations with cunning, courage and thinking on his feet. Additionally, Thorin’s generosity, compassion for his fellow-men and overcoming his characteristic pride by acknowledging Bilbo’s contribution nearing deathbed, is very touching. Interactions of Bilbo with Smaug and Gollum, attack by the orcs/goblins have been dealt with a touch of humor, often to make some critical or scary situations light.
In short, J.R.R. Tolkien has crafted a tale of adventure woven in fantasy. A series of quests enable completion of the greatest quest, the retrieval of treasure rightfully owned by the valiant dwarves. The homely hobbit Bilbo grows out of his comfort zone to evolve into an adventurous soul, an inventive ‘burglar’, suggesting a coming of age theme. The author has introduced a few significant and memorable characters in this book like the Rivendell elves, Saruman the wizard and a hint of Sauron the dark lord and my personal favorite, Gollum, who played a greater role in the later books of LOTR.
I have read this book countless times by now, and it never fails to take me back to my seat by the window sill, where I was first introduced to the wonderful world of Bilbo Baggins.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a modern fiction or rather a work of art by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith.
The author conceived the concept from a line I believe that humans should be plants, by Korean poet Yi Sang. According to reports, she had wanted to write about the plant woman but worked on other novels before starting this one.
The concept and characterization
The author had written the book in three parts. The first part is in the husband’s point of view.
Part 1:The Vegetarian
Yeong-Hye, an ordinary woman with an ordinary routine life, had a dream one day. She is appalled by the violence in her vivid dream and decides to give up meat which draws a fair amount of criticism from the people with whom her husband socialized. The husband, a self-centered and indifferent man, initially tries to change his wife’s mind but fails. He finds her lack of undergarments in public, discomforting but tries to adjust. He never actually tries to understand her issues or feelings. Soon, he loses patience and attempts to force her to submit to his will. An instance of marital rape is included in this book. Failing, he complains to her family.
Han Kang paints a detailed and horrific picture of the dominant male’s abusive nature indulged by the dependent female. This part of the book reflects a typical Asian patriarchal society. Here, the obnoxiously chauvinistic male placated by the selfish matriarch can inflict violence on his daughter to bend her will. The conservative family sees an act of abandoning meat as an act of rebellion.
The siblings are too passive to protest though they are visibly disturbed by the mistreatment.
Soon, the husband is weary of his wife’s eccentricity and does not want to take responsibility of further complications. He asks for a divorce.
Part 2:Mongolian Mark
This part of the book deals with Yeong-Hye’s increasing delusional behavior and her artist brother-in-law’s obsession with her body. Towards the end of the first part, the artist had seen Yeong-Hye naked while helping her during distress. The Mongolian mark or birthmark becomes his fixation and induces strong and strange sexual urges in him. The artist does not show much moral, and the author depicts the video of an orgy in a vivid and explicit manner, with ample dose of bizarre. The description of the sexual situations regarding trees and flowers is at times disturbing but intriguing.
The sister, In-Hye is once again shown as the only one with genuine compassion for the main character though her own marriage fails.
Part 3: Flaming Trees
The protagonist is gradually engulfed in her delusions of becoming a tree. She realizes, giving up all human acts might help her become a tree and be no longer a part of any violence. She is still forced by her parents to become normal but she so believes that she has become an animal. The strong In-hye is shown as a responsible mother, wife, sister and daughter besides being a financially independent entrepreneur. But she admits at the end of the book that I have dreams too, you know. Dreams…and I could let myself dissolve into them, let them take me over…but surely the dream isn’t all ? We have to wake up at some point, don’t we?
When I was reading this book, I was slowly fusing with the main character Yeong-Hye. Her imagination of turning into a tree wasn’t just about manic episodes. The author reflects a deep philosophy of giving up self to avoid harming others. The character is surrounded by non-vegetarians who strongly believe her vegetarianism is a rebellion and against the social norm of womanly conduct. She is physically abused by her chauvinistic father, deserted by her indifferent and selfish husband and lives on her own with the sole support of her sister who suffers from guilt and pity for Yeong-Hye’s life and continues to take care of her. The author is skillful in depicting the moral dilemma of the characters. The vivid and artistic description of Yeong-Hye’s hallucinations sometimes makes you wonder if they are real. A few sequences invoke a strong feeling of helplessness in the reader out of pity for the protagonist. The best part is that the basic essence of the book was not lost in translation.
A word on the translation
Deborah Smith, the British translator, had read a Korean edition of “The Vegetarian” and was transfixed by the unusual story. She attempted to translate it herself but wasn’t fluent enough yet to capture Ms. Han’s vivid, chiseled prose and unique style. A year later, she tried again and sent a short sample translation to a British publisher, who decided to publish the novel based on the first ten pages. Kudos to the author and her translator for giving us such an extraordinary story of an ordinary woman.