March was a huge month for books at the Treehouse. I read quite some novels, and it would have been more, had part of the month not been devoted to my midterm exams and essay writing. Most of the reading I did for this month was exceptionally good. Some of the books are well known classics, that had been high on my to-read list before, others are new to me authors whom I am very happy to have discovered. I especially enjoyed discovering more African literature and I can see myself reading a lot more of that in the future.
Things Fall Apart is one of Africa’s highly acclaimed novels, and it did exceptionally well internationally. I consider myself a book lover. Books are a huge part of my life, and they always have been. However, I had never before heard of Things Fall Apart. Now I’m sure that part of that is my fault, but I think it also says something about the focus on Western Culture in Western society. It also draws attention to how, in an academic context, interest in these non- western and different ethnicities in literature is really something that has started only recently to change for the positive. Me and my fellow students take it for granted that these works are valued just as high as works from western canonical writers, something I’m glad, but also grateful for. However, it is gems like these that make you realise that it is only a very recent development, and it’s good to keep such things in mind when planning your reading.
Things Fall Apart offers the reader a lot. It concerns big themes like the British Empire, colonialism, traditional African tribal life and Christianity, but it works on a smaller scale as well. The inner struggles of Okonkwo, the protagonist, are described so vividly and alive. His troubled relationship with his father and everything that ensues from that are transcultural themes, but through Achebe’s detailed description of African tribal life and the African setting, and the troubles that arrive when colonialism enters the scene, it becomes an intricately African novel. Okonkwo is a hard to like as a protagonist, but he is not hard to understand. Though Okonkwo’s attitude towards women is troubled, to say the least. It is sort of compensated for by some of the stronger female characters in the novel.
I breezed through this novel and I thoroughly recommend it.
The Boer people are also featured in the novel. They are descendants of Dutch settlers, who left the Cape to escape British Rule when they took over South Africa. Through Ra-Thaga and Mhudi, Plaatje manages to tell the complicated history of the different African tribes and their contact, tribal wars, the arrival of the Boers and colonization by the English. This novel left me wanting to take an in-depth look into South Africa’s history, and the more I read about it, the more I valued reading this novel. This book meant a lot for African literature and paved the way for many great works to be published. I was really saddened when I was told the publisher is not going to produce these books any more, so it will go out of print. Lets hope he changes his mind!
In the Skin of a Lion is written by Sri Lankan-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. He wrote The English Patient, a story which most of you are probably familiar with. It’s a postmodern novel, and this comes through in the fragmented structure of the novel. Ondaatje doesn’t offer just one perspective, he offers multiple. At times it can be trying to piece the fragments together. Personally I like these post-modern techniques, but if you are not a fan it can be hard to get sucked into the story because of this. The language in the novel is poetic and dreamlike at times, but at the same time the scenes can be rough and gritty. The depiction of the immigrants and the working class that build Toronto is vivid. The depiction of the immigrants is vibrant and couldn’t feel more real to me. The description of their hopes, dreams but also their strength, struggles and sad heartbroken stories is one of the best features of this novel.
Now, do I recommend this novel? Well, by reading through my description of the novel I’d say yes. However, I do realise this is not for everyone. If you like clear cut story lines, you won’t find them here and you probably are better of picking another novel. If you thoroughly dislike post-modern features, step away. But if you have a soft spot for clever poetic language, fragmentation and stories about outsiders than this could be something for you.
This novel might go down in my top reads from 2015. I don’t read a lot of war literature, I have read some World War I poetry at university, but that is about it. As far as war literature is concerned this has to be top notch. It has sold millions and millions of copies over the years, and rightly so.
All Quiet on the Western Front, or Im Westen nichts Neues is one of the most famous war stories so plot wise, there is not much to say.
Remarque’s descriptions of life at the front, the trenches and comradeship between Paul and his platoon is so well written and so real. Things in this novel are not all bad, but when it is it really hits home. To me this was not just a sad novel; there are light , funny, angry, sad and heartbreaking moments. But everything is written so beautifully. Most of all this novel is so very realistic written. It is not a moralistic play about good and bad guys, it’s mostly a novel about a guy who has to cope with something that basically just happened to him. The theme is almost transcultural, even though Paul is a German soldier, the things that happened to him were universal for all countries involved. I think that is part of the reason it did so well.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has been on my reading list for a while. As a student of English Literature I was aware of James Joyce’s mythical and complicated reputation, and indeed what he meant for modernist and Irish literature is mind blowing. Most people are slightly scared to touch any of his works because of this reputation. Luckily this is his first novel, and things are not as crazy as they are going to get in his later works. Yes, his prose is still complex and his use of free indirect speech is experimental, but by god, was it worth it! The novel is an autobiographical fiction, meaning it is still fiction, but Joyce heavily drew on his own experience for the story. Many of the things Stephen does are similar to Joyce; they went to the same schools and their families show many similarities.
His depiction of growing up in Ireland, a country on the brink of revolution, tensions between Catholics and nationalists, and Stephen’s own awakening as an artist are brilliant. It helps if you know a bit about the Irish history, you don’t need to , but I think it adds a lot to the novel. It tells the story of a young Stephen, starting as a toddler, growing up to a young man, and this influences the narration greatly. The first chapters are narrated as if it is written by a toddler, and the following chapters grow up with the narrator. Joyce has done this exceptionally well, and the first chapter might be my favourite because of this. Not the easiest read, but definitely worth reading.