Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Reviewing "Marie" by H. Rider Haggard


Pretty early on in reading this Allan Quatermain novel I considered stopping. More than any of the other Quatermain adventures I’ve read, Marie is rife with racism, both in the characters’ dialog and the overall narrative.

This was not simply racism of Europeans against Africans (although there was certainly plenty of that!), but of different ethnicities of the same color. The French hate the English, the Dutch hate the English, the English hate the both of them, and all them hate—or at least mistreat—the Africans. There is even a jab at Jews—even though there aren’t any Jewish main characters to be seen!

Is it right to read a book with racism in it? Or does it seep into one’s thoughts and attitudes? On the other hand, does pretending that racism doesn’t exist leave one open to ignorance? Is it possibly helpful to read a book one doesn’t agree with, to mentally argue with it, and thus sharpen one’s mind and feelings against occurrences of racism in the real world?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reviewing “They Have a Word for It” by Howard Rheingold

Charlemagne said that to “have another language is to possess a second soul.” The more I’ve read about linguistics, taken language classes, or watched foreign films, the more I agree with this sentiment. Language is not everything; some might consider wordless communication (the Japanese have a word for that, “haragei,” which is a noun meaning “Visceral, indirect, largely nonverbal communication”), like art or music or dance, to be a more fundamental form because you don’t need an interpreter to tell you how to feel when hearing a symphony or looking at a painting. (There’s a word for that in Hindi: “rasa” refers to a “mood or sentiment evoked by a work of art.”)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reviewing Agatha Christie's "A Murder is Announced"

I read A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie in tandem with The Rosemary Tree. While thematically and stylistically different, the setting of 1950-something English small towns sometimes made me mix up the two.

In this Miss Marple mystery, several characters are introduced reading the paper in their separate homes, and finding the strangest announcement that a murder is to occur at Letitia Blacklock’s house at 6:30 that night. For some reason a ton of people decide to show up, assuming it’s a joke or theme party of some kind. But since this is Agatha Christie, we readers all know that no matter how frivolous the warning, the murder itself is dead serious.

There’s the motley assortment of personalities one expects when reading a Christie novel, all of which the reader is manipulated to suspect at one point or another. I wish I could take complete credit for figuring out the culprit (because I rarely do guess correctly, for all my elaborate theories before the Big Reveal), but to be honest I know I watched a PBS adaptation of this story years ago, and while the adaptations aren’t always true to the book, this was close enough that I may have stored the solution away in my latent memory.

In all this was one of the more enjoyable Marple mysteries I’ve read thus far, mostly because Miss Marple herself isn’t in too many scenes. While I usually like the novels, I am not a fan of Jane Marple as a character. Perhaps that’s another reason why I mentally blended this mystery with The Rosemary Tree; like Harriet Smith in that book, Miss Marple is almost too perfect to feel like a believable person, even compared to the other caricatures that populate the Christie literary world.