Tag Archives: tragedy

Into the Wild

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into the wild

“I now walk into the wild” are the last words that Chris McCandless sent his friend Wayne Westerberg before trekking into the Alaskan wilderness. It’s hard not to be touched in some way by McCandless’s story. Yes he was impetuous, naive, and heedless of the dangers he was facing, but he was also an idealist searching for some kind of meaning in life. Like many people before him, John Muir most notably, he was searching for an answer in nature. Being young myself, I can identify a lot with McCandless. Death seems so remote you don’t even consider it. There’s no way anything bad could ever happen to you. You’re young and have everything ahead of you.

I’m sure in some ways this was McCandless’s thought pattern as well. He was so convinced of his own intellect and knew that he could make it. He had never failed at anything he had tried before and had always been praised for his intelligence and unwavering beliefs. He was a self made outcast. He shed society’s layers as best as he could only to realize that “happiness is best when shared.” I’m a firm believer that it’s the people around us that help us lead a full and satisfying life. It’s people that push us to grow and change in ways that we might not left to our own devices.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was how thoroughly Krakauer looked into the history of travelers like McCandless. I couldn’t believe that so many people have walked into the wild never to walk out again. There are tales of teens disappearing in the desert, a climber vanishing in the mountains of Alaska, and British soldiers from the 1800’s dying in the arctic. I think in some way everyone is interested in what’s out there. That’s why we travel to other places to discover new things, people, and cultures. Most of us just travel from city to city instead of into the wilds. But we’re all bitten by some kind of wanderlust, an interest in things outside of ourselves.

There are many decisions that McCandless made heedlessly, as many before him had done. Yet, he was not one of the lucky ones. He didn’t survive his trek into the wild. The odds were stacked against him. Yet he made an impact on the world through what he left behind. After reading Krakauer’s novel I feel like I got to personally know McCandless and see a bit into his heart.

Rating: 5/5 Such a compelling, albeit tragic, story.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Never Let Me Go

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ishiguro
All great love stories must end in tragedy. I’m not sure where this thought originated but Shakespeare definitely drove the point home in Romeo and Juliet. “For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Tragedy can make even the most ordinary love stories into epic ones. I think it’s the counterbalance of the idea that love is forever with the idea that life is fleeting. Never Let Me Go is definitely one of these tragic love stories.

The novel begins in the present with Cathy looking back on her life at the boarding school Halisham in England. She presents her memories, from her point of view, on her life and what shaped it. In the present, Cathy is known as a carer, a person who works in hospitals helping donors through their donation periods. But she spends a good portion of the time thinking about Halisham and her friendships with Ruth and Tommy.

The story takes awhile to get going and you do have to slog through a bit of the beginning but it’s worth it. The further you get into the story the more you realize how important the beginning is to set up the events that will unfold. The beginning is almost the ending in a way. It holds the key to the story that you don’t get to unlock until the end. It fills in the missing pieces so that you can see the big picture. And the big picture is terrifying. The author poses so many questions about science and humanity. Whether it’s better to have known something bad all along or only find out in the end. And the negative effects of scientific discovery.

The whole story becomes a lot more foreboding once you realize exactly what’s happening. Especially in contrast to the beautiful love story that begins to form. Again, it takes some time for the love triangle to truly show itself. There’s a lot of backstory to the triangle and the relationships between the three people, Ruth, Tommy, and Cathy. Tommy and Cathy have always had a special kind of relationship where they feel free to talk about whatever is troubling them. Yet, Tommy begins to date Ruth, a beautiful and manipulative person. Ruth represents the basis of Halisham for me. How people have come to form a facade of the real world that the kids take to heart. They then begin to form their own facades and backstories, especially Ruth.

The whole time I was really rooting for Cathy and Tommy. They just seem destined to be together. But Ruth stands in the way for a good portion of the novel. Yet, the caveat is true here. All good love stories must end in tragedy of some kind. And this one does. Perhaps a bit more tragic than most. Every outside force has come against them from birth. The love was doomed from the get go and perhaps that’s why it’s so touching. The greatest loves often involve the greatest sacrifices.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Suddenly, Last Summer

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Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer is a play of predators and prey. Each circling the other trying to take stock of their surroundings and how best to play off and use the the other. The opening scene foreshadows perfectly how the rest of the play will unfold. In Sebastian Venable’s garden decorated with “massive tree flowers that suggest organs of a body, torn out, still glistening with undried blood.” Noises of screeching birds and hissing insects emanate form the garden, stirring up feelings of foreboding in the reader. That’s when we’re introduced to Mrs. Violet Venable, Sebastian’s mother. She’s talking to a Dr. Cukrowicz about a Miss Catherine Holly, the woman last seen with Sebastian before his death. Instead of taking his ill mother along on his travels, Sebastian took his cousin by marriage Catherine. While on vacation, Sebastian died mysteriously and Catherine has been spouting a damning story that Violet refuses to believe. She asks the doctor if a lobotomy will erase the story from her mind. He says that before he can decide he must interview Catherine and hear the story she has to tell.

This is when things get even hairier. The play is short but jam-packed with images and illusions. Nothing is quite as it seems and everything has a dual meaning. During Catherine’s story we learn a lot about cousin Sebastian and his mother that Violet would rather not have others know. Sebastian and his mother have a sort of Norma Norman Bates relationship. It’s symbiotic, each feeding off the other for something they need that’s definitely a tainted type of love. Even after his death, Violet wants to claim all of Sebastian and paints an image of him that she desires, no matter how truthful an image that is. She wants to believe he was a world class poet that did everything for his art. She’s created this image of Sebastian as more of a living art form than a mere human being.

Art plays a big part in the play. The art of deception and manipulation. In a way, Sebastian is devoured by his own art. He’s destroyed himself through his own ideas and proclivities. Sebastian uses those around him in whatever way suits him in the moment. He continually wants an entourage of adoring people around him but has a hard time acquiring them. That was what Catherine was for. She was there to acquire the people he wanted. She says in the play that Sebastian considered people to be treats. Some were delicious while other were vile.

I don’t want to spoil the play or the ending. This is a must read. It’s short but powerful. The scenes, just like the movie, will play around and around in your head while you try to piece together all of the images to form one cohesive whole. Just like Catherine is traumatized by the image of Sebastian’s death, I had a hard time putting the play out of my mind.

Rating: 5/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Nicholas and Alexandra: The story of the love that ended an empire

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Nicholas and Alexandra: The story of the love that ended an empire

“If there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no Lenin.” This quote from Kerensky really struck me from the beginning of the book. What an incredible what if in history to add to the list, and there are many in this novel alone. Massie did a fantastic job tracing the origins of the Russian Revolution throughout the book and chronicling the Revolutions devastating effects. Now this books is pretty old, published in 1967, so it doesn’t contain any current news about DNA testing on the remains found during the 1990s and 2000s, but it does thoroughly chronicle the history of the Romanov family from Ivan the Terrible all the way to Nicholas II.

The best part of the book for me was how real and relatable Massie made the royal family. Nicholas II was an unprepared Tsar who was never intended to be Tsar in the first place. The death of his elder brother to tuberculosis and the sudden death of his father forced him to take and uphold a position he had never been prepared for. To compound this, his wife Alexandra, or Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, was an overwhelming force on Nicholas and he often deferred to her when he shouldn’t have. Alix’s faith and belief in Holy Men, and her shy reticent nature, were the first big strike against the autocracy in Russia. But viewed through a different lens, Alexandra becomes a concerned mother willing to do anything to protect her son who was born with hemophilia, a genetic disease passed down from Queen Victoria, Alix’s aunt.

Massie, in my opinion, really drives home the point, almost too much at times, that Alexei’s hemophilia brought Rasputin to the palace which was the deadly blow to the autocracy. It was Alexei’s hemophilia that brought Rasputin to the Alexander Palace and, despite disbelief from the doctors there, whatever he did to help Alexei worked. The author suggests that it was part hypnotism and part confidence that Rasputin had himself that he transferred to the Tsarevich to calm the child enough so that his blood could then begin clotting. And seemingly miraculously, Alexei would then begin to get better after Rasputin’s visit causing Alexandra to believe in everything the Holy Man did and said.

Rasputin himself is such an overwhelming interesting character. He charmed nearly everyone he met and even when his lecherous ways got out of control he was able to slip out of bad situations immediately. Nothing ever really stuck to him until the end. While I was reading, Rasputin actually reminded me a lot of Charles Manson, perhaps the Rasputin of modern times. Both were able to establish followings of well educated and wealthy individuals and got them to do basically whatever they wanted. But more than that, each brought about the end of an era, and the end of innocence in their respective places. Rasputin took so much control of Alexandra that when Nicholas left for the front lines to coordinate the army, he left Alexandra in charge who did whatever Rasputin told her to do. Some of his ideas were actually on point but others were just to show his power over the royal. This is when Rasputin’s enemies began to chant that he be executed so that his power of the autocracy could be removed.

The one thing about Rasputin that really struck me was how crazy accurate some of his predictions were. He prophesied that if one of the royal family killed him the Tsar and all of his immediate family would be murdered within two years, and that’s exactly what happened. Perhaps just an accurate guess or could it have been something more? We’ll never know.

The further I got into the novel the more ominous the tone. We all know what happens at the end to the Romanovs but I was still hoping that somehow history could rewrite itself. The thing that shocked me most was the animosity Europe and America showed to the Romanovs. King George V of England refused to rescue the royal family because he didn’t want to become unpopular in the country, as did France. Even Woodrow Wilson was over the moon when the Tsar abdicated. Perhaps if some of the extended family of the Romanovs could have looked beyond themselves the family would have survived, and perhaps not.

For anyone interested in Russian history and the Romanov family I would definitely recommend this book. It was dense at times but always fascinating. Massie kept me turning the pages late into the night.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment in Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

The House of Romanov

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The House of Romanov

After some technical difficulties with my aged MacBook, I can finally continue Book Battle 2015! I’m so happy to have my trusty computer companion back with me. We’ve written a lot of papers together. So now that I have it let’s get to the next book in the Battle.

Winter Garden inspired me to change my nonfiction book category pick to Nicholas and Alexandra: The story of the love that ended an empire written by Robert K. Massie, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel about Peter the Great. I’ll be honest, I did already start reading the book since I was experiencing technical difficulties over the last week. And I have to say that so far this novel is utterly compelling. History has always held great interest for me. I was that kid that was glued to the History Channel wanting to take everything in. In particular, the Romanov dynasty and Russia have always fascinated me. I suppose it’s because so little is known about the country as a whole. And the fact that it has spans 11 time zones!

Russia has always been a country that’s veiled in mystery. Not much gets out or goes in. We only know what the country has chosen to release. Not to mention the contentious relationship between the US and Russia. Whenever you watch a US made movie or TV show it seems that the bad guy is always Russian, and, when I was younger, I desperately wanted to know why.

It wasn’t until I did a project in high school about Anastasia that I was totally hooked. The whole story of the Romanovs is almost something only an author could cook up. It doesn’t seem real that an entire dynasty could be toppled in just a little over a decade. Not to mention the whole Anastasia/Anna Anderson mystery. Did she escape or not? Science has proven that she hasn’t but the conspiracy theorist and romantic in me wishes that she had.

Stay tuned to hear about the mystic monk, the royal family shrouded in grief, and the vast country on the brink of revolution. Happy reading!