“Quo Vadis” by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Quo Vadis(Author: Henryk Sienkiewicz) + (Year: 1894) + (Goodreads)

pink-starpink-starpink-star


Review:

Technically, the rating I would give Quo Vadis is 3.5, but I feel like 4 full stars would be misleading.

I’ve been living in Poland for a year now, and Quo Vadis is certainly the most famous piece of literature that came out of this country. Despite being written in 1894, this book is as much in line with the Polish mindset, as it was 124 years ago. That is to say, Quo Vadis, in its essence is a praise to Christianity in its most basic and purest form.

Sienkiewicz is undoubtedly a great writer. The style of Quo Vadis is very sophisticated without being overly philosophical and complicated. Both the writing and the ideas of the book are easily accessible to any reader, and yet, the writing is very beautiful and poetical.

On the other hand, I see that this book would appeal to a certain type of crowd and it might not be as enthralling for others. I started reading it without knowing anything about the theme, and therefore, I did not have the opportunity to feel prejudiced or doubtful. Now, as I mentioned, Quo Vadis is a book which leans heavily on religion. It glorifies and idealizes Christianity to a point it might become burdensome to a reader who is not as engaged with religion. And the issue here is not that the book lies, or preaches fake morale, on the contrary, it spreads the original version of the New Testament Christianity – love to all, forgiveness for all, good deeds and compassion. It would be a lie if I said that Sienkiewicz urges people to do anything else, because he really does underline the importance of the goodness in people.

However, a critical mind can’t help but take not only the contents of the book, but also the reality of religion in consideration. Yes, in terms of this book, the author does not say anything of the bad things which have emerged from Christianity, and yes, maybe the world would be a better place if Christians actually followed the true pillars of their religion. But this experiment has been going on for 2000 years, and just as the followers of the Greek and Roman gods, who are greatly demonized in Quo Vadis, have done bad deeds, so have Christians. In fact, no other religion has ever been deadlier.

Therefore, I would just accept the sermons in the book without mentioning them, if the book itself was written at a time no one knew where this religion would ultimately lead. Unfortunately, Quo Vadis was written in the 19th century, and Sienkiewicz knew very well that just as Nero was torturing Christians in his book, so did Christians torture, maim and kill countless people in the times of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch hunts, even up to our times, and not to even mention issues such as molestation, abortion, and so on. And I know that it might be unjust to bring this up in terms of this particular book, but this is the context of the philosophy of the book, and no matter how much I wished it was possible to take everything out of context, because it would be so much clear, that is not the situation, and when we form an opinion about something, we need to look into the background, as well.

That set aside, I would say that Quo Vadis, as a narrative and story, was very engaging and even enticing, because one could anticipate historical events which were made part of the book. Most of all, I enjoyed the final scene of St Peter, as the historical event was beautifully interwoven within the book and as a glimpse both at the future of Nero, but also at the future of Italy and the Vatican much, much later. Actually it was St Peter that was my favourite character in the book overall. He stood aside the romantic events of Vinicius and Lygia’s lives and was the symbol of the purest form of faith that one can have. As I mentioned above, if Christians did believe, as he did, wholeheartedly and with absolute devotion, the world but be amazing, wouldn’t it?

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“Kiralik Konak” by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu

Kiralık Konak(Author: Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu) + (Year: 1922) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Turkey)


Review:

I received Kiralik Konak (The Rented Mansion) from a friend, and I knew nothing about it prior to reading it. I was vaguely aware of the theme, as I studied this period of Turkish literature in university, but nothing beyond that.

Ultimately, my opinion is that, while not being amazing, this book is pretty good. The low rating might confuse you, but I did not give it because I thought the book was badly written, but because I didn’t like the characters as people.

In terms of writing, I found the narration very nice, flowing, well put, without too much description, but still having just enough  for me to be able to describe the book as poetic.

The characters were very vivid. And that was their issue, for me. They were small, petty, greedy, ugly people. All of them were too focused on one particular thing in their lives. Each of them was unwilling to see another point of view. All of them were unpleasant. Seniha most of all. She was just despicable. She would describe herself as kind and gentle, but from the entire book it was obvious that, even though other people found her nice to look at and therefore at least admired her, she was not a good person at all. And it was infuriating to read her musings about how she is a victim because her dad didn’t send her to Europe to whore around and waste money, or how her innocence was taken away, while she was in fact knowingly active in seducing men, especially for their money.

So I would say that as much as this book is a narrative about the clash of virtues, moral, and different eras, it’s also about obsession, as every character was obsessed with what they thought was the best thing in the world. From Naim efendi, who couldn’t imagine not living in his house (it’s just a house?!?), through Hakki Celis, who really wanted to be more than other people by dedicating himself to things he thought were higher than everything other people did, to all of the money-obsessed social climbers like Seniha and Faik.

The most interesting thing, however, was main topic of Kiralik Konak: the clash between Ottoman values and the new, modern, free way of thinking. The way that the older generations would not be able to understand not only the behaviour of the younger people, but everything, all the way to their speech. And most of all, how this occurrence, which has been happening everywhere throughout history, developed in Turkey, and told in original, and not re-imagined a hundred years later. And even more so, this was interesting because values continue to change and a new era has started in modern Turkey. And this modern era is not really much more than a jump to the values of a hundred or two hundred years ago. On that, I shall not pass judgement here.

“The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Wolfgang von Goethe

The Sorrows of Young Werther

(Author: Wolfgang von Goethe) + (Year: 1774) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Don’t ask about the cover, I don’t know…

I should start with the fact that Faust is one of my all-time favourite books. I think that it is just a literary masterpiece. The Sorrows of Young Werther, however…

I was saving this book, because having loved Faust, I obviously expected this to be something that I would adore. I waited until I had free time and then… I was hoping for it to just end. Both Goodreads reviews and even the book’s back cover totally spoiled the story, but to be honest, it was to be expected.

The language of Goethe is unquestionably beautiful. It had been a while since I read an old and so masterfully written book. 18th and 19th century literature just has this gravitas to itself. It usually paints the world beautifully, in detail and color. Goethe is a marvelous example of that. I could almost imagine the landscapes and taste the milk and bread and feel the characters’ presence.

This is where it ends, however.

Both the topic of the book and the characters felt foreign to me at the moment of reading. Had I read it in a moment of a broken heart, it might have resonated with me, simply because he has not made a breakthrough in explaining emotion, but just listed his own feelings. Therefore, I think it would be safer to assume that just because one understands the state of mind of the character or the atmosphere of the book, that should not be grounds to consider the book great. Stating mundane things in a beautiful language does not make them extraordinary, everyone can just explain their obsessions.

And speaking of, this is not a novel about love. It IS totally and completely about obsession. Because Werther is no Romeo and Lotte is no Juliet. And although he states many times that there is something below the surface in her behavior, I firmly believe that Lotte did not give a damn about him and she was just flattering herself that somebody likes her.

I also believe that Werther was completely delusional and annoyingly so. I have, indeed, met people who read so much more in their chosen ones’ behavior than there is. It is another rather obvious fact of life. In cases of unrequited love, they still attribute a lot of their own feelings to the object of their affections. There is none, as everyone else can see that. This is how I see Lotte’s treatment of Werther.

And more so, I found it quite annoying to read his romantic, overly-idealistic view of her. “Oh, she is cutting bread! I am in love!!!” Of course, it is different to judge romantic notions in that time period and in modern literature, but that does not mean that Werther was not sugar-coating the situation and Lotte, as a person.

Whereas, I, as the reader, found her to be very disagreeable, careless and even cruel. While Werther was obsessed to the point of becoming a stalker, kissing letters, guns, flowers and so on, she was just a childish coquette, who really did not care about anything but indulging her desire to be adored and worshiped.

Not to mention that the book gives the entirely wrong lesson about how to react in case of unrequited love.

In many of the other reviews I saw a poem by Thackeray about this book. It is VERY spoilery, so I suggest you only read it after you have read the book. It is hilarious.

I recommend this book to: the lovesick, the Emo teenagers and the overly dramatic.

“Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis

 

(Author: Nikos Kazantzakis) + (Year: 1946) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Greece)


Review:

3.5 stars. I will explain why shortly.

A friend of mine read Zorba the Greek last year and was so impressed and excited by it that I decided to put it on my to-read list until I have time for it. The book was supposed to be my last one for 2015, but I couldn’t finish it. Because teachers in Turkey have absolutely no respect for holidays and I had an exam on December 31. That’s why.

It’s easy to see why Zorba the Greek became a classic book. It’s full of philosophy and existential questions with possible answers for them. The overall atmosphere at points is too pretentious, as is the narrator, who spends so much time drowning in his constant drama and so completely detached from the world that he needs another man to teach him how to live.

However, I did like a big part of Zorba’s understanding of life. Namely:

“What’s happening today, this minute, that’s what I care about.  I say:  ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’  ‘I’m sleeping.’  ‘Well, sleep well.’  ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’  ‘I’m working.’  ‘Well, work well.’  ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’  ‘I’m kissing a woman.’  ‘Well, kiss her well, Zorba!  And forget all the rest while you’re doing it; there’s nothing else on earth, only you and her!  Get on with it!'”

This sounds like a great way to live. Instead of always being chased by bitter memories and poisonous worry, one could just focus on the now, live the moment, appreciate it as it is, do whatever one is doing in the best way possible and then move on to the next thing.

I generally liked that Zorba just tries to live. Without too much of anything and with equal passion for everything.

But, on the other hand, he is definitely not a role model. He is wise at 65 but he also tells the narrator a lot about his past, about the murders and rapes he committed, about the evilness he had in him.

And what I hated about this book is his attitude toward women. I think that every woman who ever said she liked this book unconditionally should be ashamed of herself. Because according to Zorba, women are weak, worthless, interchangeable creatures. Why mourn the death of one when there are so many of them? Why not sleep with all of them, why not rape them? Or even more so, his “fantastic” statement that if you grab a woman by the breasts she is yours and she would absolutely sleep with you? I felt so disgusted by the parts of the book where he talks about women that I completely separated them from everything else that is going on. Otherwise I would have to give this book a steady -1 star. I was shaken by the murder in the church yard which nobody, including the narrator, but Zorbas, tried to stop. Same goes with the horrible joke the narrator played on the old prostitute.

Which brings me to the narrator himself. By far the worst character in the book, despite Zorba’s disgusting misogyny. The narrator is a spineless, selfish and pretentious prude. He only cares about himself and how to rid himself of the aches of his soul, which, for some reason, he thinks are more profound than whatever everyone else thinks and feels. The fact that he didn’t even lift a hand for the widow, in itself, speaks volumes.

I know that my review seems a bit controversial and that it seems like I completely disliked the book. But in truth, enough has been said about its good sides, I want to point out that there are bad ones which definitely should not be dismissed.

 

“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London

The Call of the Wild

(Author: Jack London) + (Year: 1903) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I read this book as a sort of a buddy-read and to be honest, that was the only reason I decided to read it at all. I’m going to be fair and admit that I knew I wasn’t going to like it. I’ve never been a fan of books or movies about animals. I don’t seem to be able to feel any emotional connection with them. I guess that applies to all things non-human.

I could not really make myself care for this kidnapped dog. I found the world it lived in completely revolting – the humans were vicious, simple, uneducated. But there were also other things which I didn’t appreciate: Buck, himself, was not my type of hero, the scenery was bleak, the plot was… lacking? I couldn’t feel the soul of The Call of the Wild. Maybe I’ve seen to many struggling people in this world to root for one single animal.

Where Martin Eden was an amazing book, The Call of the Wild did not manage to capture me as a reader. Considering how many people worship this book, maybe the fault is in me. But… c’est la vie.