“Quo Vadis” by Henryk Sienkiewicz

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

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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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“Us Against You” by Fredrik Backman

Us Against You (Beartown, #2)(Author: Fredrik Backman) + (Year: 2018) + (Goodreads)

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Review:

While I liked Beartown, I didn’t have the feeling it needed a continuation. And Us Against You proved my prediction.

This was not a bad book, but had it not existed, I still would have accepted Beartown as a complete story.

That being said, my biggest problem with the book was that I read it too soon after Beartown, and I think they were meant to be read as they were written – with a certain amount of time between each book. The reason I’m saying this is that in Us Against You the author kept retelling moments from Beartown, which were very fresh for me, so I was bored with the constant repetitions. I might have accepted it if some story from the previous book was mentioned once or twice, but certain events were retold time and time and time again. For example, the moment when Amat goes against the team in the snow at the end of Beartown was mentioned fifteen times and every single time it was narrated as if it was for the first time. If all of these repetitions were removed from the book, it would have been about 150 pages shorter.

I liked the new additions to the team, though. Without giving away any spoilers, I thought the new kid on the team was an interesting addition and had a very unfortunate ending.

In general, I like Backman’s writing, because it’s very bittersweet, but if I have to be honest, I can’t stand any author in large quantities in a short period of time, so I think I will take a break before I read anything of his again.

“Bir Siyah Saçlı Kadının Gezi Notları” by Buket Uzuner

Bir Siyah Saçlı Kadının Gezi Notları (Author: Buket Uzuner) + (Year: 1989) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Turkey)


Review:

* 3.5 stars *

This is one of the books we read excerpts from in translation class while I was studying Turkology. The chapter that we read immediately caught my attention and I spent a really long time looking for the book itself, until finally a friend of mine (to whom I am very thankful) went on a trip to Turkey and bought it for me.

The book (the title is translated as The Travel Notes of a Brunette in Wikipedia) was just as entertaining as I hoped. It was rather short so it didn’t allow for an actual story to develop, but each small episode was interesting on its own.

Having the dream to travel as much as possible, I was a big fan of the idea that this is not only a travelogue, but also has the personal twist of the author’s origin, as well as the period she was traveling in, which is 70’s and 80’s from what I managed to gather.

It was fun to see her viewpoint of the time period, as well as to learn small facts about her experiences which are certainly very different than what an American, for example, would have to say about the same countries and events.

What I didn’t like as much was the writing style overall. Uzuner would often repeat herself, especially when it comes to descriptions, most notably how she describes all darker skinned people as hearty Mediterraneans, and all fair-skinned Westerners as lacking warmth. That might be her view in general, however, her own story proves her wrong as she has many nice and warm Western friends. Also, since the stories were taken from different times in her life, we couldn’t even properly follow her own life’s story, the friends and boyfriends and all that, which kind of seemed part of the essence of the book, as they kept turning up from time to time, like her Norwegian boyfriend. It made the novel feel a bit choppy and out of context.

Despite all that, I really liked the short stories, the bits of travel information and the interesting point of view. As I saw that she has other travel books, I think I will be looking for them now.

“Underground” by Antanas Sileika

Underground: A Novel

(Author: Antanas Sileika) + (Year: 2011) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Lithuania)


Review:

I found this book quite interesting and informative. My knowledge about the Baltic countries is rather limited, so I was eager to read a book from the region and Underground was the right thing for me.

The reason why it interested me as much as it did is because it gave a historical view of the country, as is the purpose of my Reading around the world challenge, and it told a rather engaging story at the same time.

From the point of view of the main narrative, I wasn’t sure where things were going, but I wanted to find out and that kept me turning the pages. The part of the story I found kind of scary was that the struggles of the main characters, the Lithuanian partisans, against the Soviet oppression, were set in the late 40’s and yearly 50’s, which meant for me, the reader, that they were likely to be unsuccessful and to disappear under the veil of communism. Despite that, I wanted to read on and see whether there was going to be any salvation for the characters.

What makes me realize that a book has touched upon an interesting topic is when I catch myself reading up on it on the internet once the book is over. Therefore, I would say Underground managed to interest me in the story of the Lithuanian partisans.

It was also intriguing to be able to once again compare someone else’s version of communism to the one that existed in my country. In this case it made me appreciate the positive sides of Bulgaria’s geographical location, and think about the differences in the values of the people. While the partisans in Underground were fighting for national freedom, the Bulgarian partisans (one of the longest standing partisan movements behind the Iron curtain), were small landowners who didn’t want their land to be taken by the communist government. Food for thought, huh?

From the character point of view, I would say that the people in the books were to some extent colliding ways of life and ideas, rather than personal points of view. By this I mean that their main goals in life more or less defined their place in the book and the purpose they had to play in the scheme of the author’s philosophy. I found it harder to connect to them because of this, but I nevertheless appreciate that they were the tool of the author’s beliefs.

“Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd(Author: Thomas Hardy) + (Year: 1874) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I borrowed this book from a friend who is a great admirer of Victorian literature. As we shared a liking for similar books from the period, I assumed that I will also like Far From the Madding Crowd.

Unlike the books from the Victorian era that I do like, however, Far From the Madding Crowd sorely lacked in the field of characters. Generally, for me, at least, in this particular time period, books rely most of all on their characters. The stories are rather similar, with poor and rich falling in and out of love with each other and fighting against their judgmental society for their love, gullible girls getting tricked by wicked men, stubborn, beautiful women refusing to obey to the rules that their family and society enforce on them, young, brave heroes fighting for the love of fair maidens, etc. etc. So, in short, it’s all about love and romance and the tragedy of forbidden or unrequited love.

Right! Therefore, what would differentiate a good book from a bad one? Why, the characters, of course. Everyone has rooted for Lizzie and Mr. Darcy or felt conflicted about Cathy and Heathcliff. And then there were Bathsheba, Gabriel, Mr. Boldwood and Sgt. Troy. Count those again if you want.

To say that I disliked Bathsheba would be a great understatement. I felt that she was quite probably the most overrated female character in Victorian literature ever. She was described as unbelievably beautiful, but also very smart, stubborn, brave and strong. Out of those last four adjectives, only stubborn would apply to her, and I would use it in a negative, rather than positive way (as it is in the book). Bathsheba has next to no reason to do almost anything she does. Every single time she does something and the author offers us a glimpse into her thought-process, she just sits around wondering how to make people like her more, deciding not to be a bitch and then being one anyway. And I would also remark that her mood swings, which Hardy thinks are a way to show us her personality, are really not that. She is extremely inconsistent, selfish and at times, for the lack of a more gentle way to put it, plain dumb. There are about 20 moments that I can think of on the top of my mind in which she makes the most stupid decisions and Hardy somehow makes it seem to the reader and all of the other characters like her decision is actually reasonable. For example: Bathsheba rejects every man who proposes to her and is a normal guy, because… uh, one of them is poor, and the other one is rich, and something something… And then comes along a handsome jerk that everyone tells her to stay away from and boom, she’s ready. In all honesty, it is a thing which happens in real life, however usually the bad guy is really not that open about his promiscuity or his wickedness. Then she decides to break up with him, makes a rash decision to go in the middle of the night to another city altogether, as she is in a hurry to break things off, and comes back married to him. It might seem like there would be a reason for that marriage which would later be revealed, right? Well, there is – because she is a silly little girl and he tells her he already likes other women, so she decides that that is not a reason to dump him, but rather, one to marry him.

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Many make it seem like Bathsheba is a victim in everything that follows in the book, but I would strongly disagree. Her choices put her in a horrible situation and there’s literally no one else to blame, because in this particular case the actions of everyone around her which cause her pain could have been prevented by her.

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Both Sgt. Troy and Mr. Boldwood were terrible people, as well. Troy was vile and greedy and Boldwood was quite possibly a rapist-to-be. In one particular scene at the end of the book I personally felt suffocated by the forcefulness of his desire for Bathsheba.

Gabriel Oak was the one character that I did felt sympathy for, as he was the only person in the entire book who actually possessed common sense. His loyalty, however, was greatly misplaced in the hands of Bathsheba and for that I felt a tad annoyed as well.

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