“The Trial” by Franz Kafka

The Trial(Author: Franz Kafka) + (Year: 1925) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Czech Republic)


Review:

For me “classic” literature goes in one of two ways: I either find a certain book absolutely amazing; or I dislike it profoundly. Unfortunately, The Trial was the latter.

I believe the popularity of this book is based on the symbolism, rather than the writing itself. While I do admit the general notion of the book is one I fully support – that of the pointless and even vile system of the Law, – I could not be bothered caring about the book itself.

What the book represents:

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One of the things that everyone would agree is absolutely terrible is bureaucracy. We all hate it. It’s not only tiresome and ridiculous, but it is also like a machine that actually does damage, rather than just lose time. The law, the courts, the lawyers, the bureaucrats, they are a giant, horrifying monster which never shows mercy and destroys life after life. The Trial is a story which shows this very plainly. The main character, Josef K., is swallowed by the monster called the Law and put to a trial for a crime which is never explained to him.

Every person he meets tries to convince him that he has to give in to the Court, accept the crime as his own, and embark on a journey in which he has to prove not that he is not guilty, but that his guilt is yet to be proven – the purpose of that being that he will continue living free until the court’s final decision, which can take decades. Josef K., realizing that this can hardly be called freedom, decides to fight this flawed system and insist that he is not guilty. Under the heavy wheels of the court, his trial ends tragically, as has the heavy trial of bureaucracy and the machine of communism. The sensational part of this is that The Trial, Kafka’s almost prophetic novel, was written without his ever coming face to face with the communism, which would only appear almost a decade after he wrote his book.

How the book actually was:

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Boring. That’s how it was. The general feel of the book was very dreary and uncomfortable, up to a point I would get frustrated every time I had to start reading (that being early every morning, on the tram commute to work). I kind of expected I would like Kafka’s writing, but this book did not do it for me.

The personality of Josef K., a selfish, pretentious prick, was very infuriating, as were his internal struggles which never really made anything of consequence. By that I mean that the character would always make a decision which would take page after page of explanation, and the moment he met another person, that entire, endlessly too long list of future actions would be completely wiped out and he would start a new plan of action against the Court.

I fully realize that there is a reason for the actions of the Court to be unpleasant to read, but the dread for me went beyond the intentional one. I just couldn’t take any more of the characters, each and every one completely smitten with their own selves, the bragging, the nagging, the way everyone was sure everyone else was a moron and they, themselves, a god.

The dialogues were equally as suffocating and I couldn’t wait for every dialogue to just end. The words of each character just rang hollow and fake and the emotions expressed didn’t really manage to affect me in any way.

I am still planning on reading The Metamorphosis, but definitely not any time soon.

“Kuyruklu Yıldız Altında Bir İzdivaç” by Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar

Kuyruklu Yıldız Altında Bir Evlenme(Author: Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar) + (Year: 1912) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Turkey)


Review:

The title of this book translates as “a marriage under a comet”, the comet in question being the Halley comet. The story follows the lives of several people, who are preparing for the coming of the Halley comet, some of them terrified of the end of the world, and some, taken by the fire of love.

I was rather curious about the book, as it is considered one of the classics of Turkish literature, with the author being one of the people who are still studied in school and university. I can imagine how this book was progressive and unexpected for its time, however, in our age, it seems very grotesquely simplistic in terms of interpersonal relations. The relationship between the main characters develops in a very absurd, intentionally or not so, way, with the main character falling in love with the girl by the end of her first letter to him.

For the life of me, I could not do anything but strongly dislike Irfan Galip, who was the epitome of a daft male who thinks himself intelligent and progressive, while at the same time acting like he is so much better than everyone else, women most of all. His dismissive attitude toward the woman’s desires to be treated as an equally intelligent individual frustrated me so much. Even today I have received that attitude from men and I couldn’t help but hate seeing it in this book, too: “I believe that women are just as smart as men, but please shut up when I speak and leave the men to fix this.” It’s the same thing that I’ve seen with people in highly religious countries who say “I’m atheist, but it would be highly immoral for my sister to be a waitress because it goes against the foundations of society.” IT DOES? Or does it, perhaps, go against the religious beliefs that are so deeply ingrained in you that you don’t even realize that you are abiding by them?

One thing I did approve of however, was the depiction of the woman who, despite everything, was trying to be emancipated and well-read. At the time this book was written, the place of the woman in the Ottoman empire was not in the university or the library, so I can only imagine how shocking it was that the author challenged that position of the woman in his world.

“The Door” by Magda Szabo

The Door

(Author: Magda Szabo) + (Year: 1987) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Hungary)


Review:

While on a trip to Budapest, I decided that to help my “Around the World” book challenge, I should buy a book written by a local author in each country that I visit. The Door was one of two books that I got there (the other one being Satantango). I had really high hopes for The Door because of the slightly mystical and fairy-tale-like description.

It was not meant to be.

The Door is a dreary book. The premise was good, but the same can’t be said about the author. Magda Szabo, to me, was not all that she is claimed to be. It seemed like she tried to make the narrator her own self, except that she went heavy on the bragging, which was very annoying. Her character is so very sophisticated, educated, smart, talented. Well… Emerence, the housekeeper, sometimes tells her that’she’s stupid and childish… But Emerence doesn’t mean it, she loves her. Right?

However, nothing is more annoying than the main character of Emerence. Emerence is as bipolar as they come. Szabo would have you believe that she is a saint, that she is a genius, misunderstood, clever, with impeccable taste, etc, etc, etc. However, Emerence is so self-contradictory that the author’s descriptions fall very short. For example, Emerence is supposedly a reserved woman of few words, who likes to do her work, but doesn’t like to show affection. Two pages later: everyone in town loves Emerence who is everyone’s confidante. People come to visit her day and night and sit on her porch for hours to talk to her, get advice or help, gossip. However, Emerence is also always working and she is never actually home. She sleeps on the loveseat for a couple of hours and then goes back to work. She’s so busy that even the people who pay her to do the housekeeping sometimes don’t see her for days on end.

So… how does that work exactly?

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In general, the book was highly repetitive, the same episodes went on and on and on and on again, until the reader was perfectly able to construct the steps on their own. Also, considering how many times the author revealed small details of the ending, at some point it was so obvious that the actual ending felt dragged out for no reason. Like the narrator’s endless visits to the hospital. I will not reveal spoilers, but for 50 pages the exact same thing was happening and the only difference between every few pages were the narrator’s ominous musings and attempts at being philosophical.

There might be many great Hungarian books, but I would not say that this is one of them.

“New Boy” by Tracy Chevalier

(Author: Tracy Chevalier) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)


Review:

This is the description that I read and therefore decided to read the book: Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, a diplomat’s son, Osei Kokote, knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.”

Add to that the fact that New Boy is a retelling of Othello, and you have a pretty curious premise for a book. Right?

In reality, the initial idea of the author was not necessarily bad. Some of the points that she made were also pretty valid and interesting. Ones such as racism, politics and hormone-based relationships.

However, the fatal flaw of the book was the fact that it takes place in a single day in the sixth grade. The story of Othello has no place among such young children, and neither do the author’s musings on politics, race and sex. I was a child not that long ago and I do remember what my interests were in the sixth grade. I can assure you that it was not kissing boys, thinking about “going all the way”; or about radicalism, the void between being a child and being a teenager and how to abuse my teachers.

“(…) [they] had only kissed when they played spin the bottle during recess – and then only twice, as it was shut down by teachers once they found out what was going on. But her response to O was not experimental. This is what I have been waiting for, she thought. This.

Really? You’ve been waiting for meeting a boy in the morning in the playground and becoming his girlfriend by lunch? How long has the waiting been going on for? The entire 12 years of your life, or what?

It’s in no way realistic that such young children would be experiencing any part of this book, which renders the book itself not as good as it could have been. The reason for that is that it takes a toll on the reader to try to accept the book as a union between its content and the figures that are enacting it. Yes, Chevalier has a good point about, say, racism in schools in America, especially so in the 70’s. But would the situation really look like that in a group of such young kids? Would they make up sly and elaborate plans to destroy each other? More so, would this story really have the time to develop in the span of a single day? Or would O and Dee’s relationship really happen the way it did? Would it happen at all? Because even the most outgoing of kids at that age from my school in the 2000’s were not really kissing, dating and discussing sex, unless it was rumors about which of the much older kids from the school are doing it.

Therefore, New Boy was just so implausible to me that I couldn’t enjoy it without groaning and rolling my eyes at scenes that were so out of place and unrealistic.

“Halo: The Fall of Reach” by Eric S. Nylund

(Author: Eric S. Nylund) + (Year: 2001) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** 1.5 stars ***

Well… at least I tried.

I have a friend who is a big Halo: The Fall of Reach fan and in his attempt to get me interested in the story, he convinced me to give it a shot.

I really, really tried to like the story, the book, the writing… I couldn’t.

Halo: The Fall of Reach to me was poorly written and rather dreary, shallow and messy. Many events came to be in the book, but the story moved so little in terms of world-building. Yes, of course there were big events, but most of them were battles between the Covenant vs Deus ex machina. And my curiosity about the essence of this world was hardly nourished.

For starters, the core of the story were the war and the creation of the Spartans because of the war. But those two ideas were developed in such a strange way that I couldn’t really make myself take the story seriously. The Spartans were described in very contrasting ways, which could make sense if developed properly (the people who support the idea of the Spartans’ creation – the Spartans themselves – the horrors of their creation – the people who would like to see them fall), however the majority of these contrasts were written in a very off-hand manner, so it just seemed like that was “writing for the purpose of filling pages” in between epic battles.

And don’t even get me started with the battles. There was so much… I would say, “military jargon”? Just commands, terms, words that may make sense to gamers, but not to a casual reader… More so, however, the battles were lead solely relying on miracles, a.k.a deus ex machina. Half of the battles scenes between generic ships and ship crews went on like this:

“- We have to fight!
– Sir, they are turning around!
– Oh no, we will die!
– At least we are going to die in honor!
– There’s nothing more to do! We will die!
– UNLESS! Turn the ship, yeah, hit them Covenant bitches, uh uh, how do you like me now?!
– Oh sir, you saved us! How did you come up with this brilliant plan?
– Nah, it wasn’t anything special.”

In general I just couldn’t get engaged in the story. Not my cup of tea at all, I admit, but I still thought it might surprise me. It didn’t.