Review: The Master and Margarita

Posted 1 July, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Master and Margarita
By: Mikhail Bulgakov

I’ve been trying to figure out how to go about this review because this is a fairly complex novel. Why? Simply because it’s crazy, it’s insane, there’s a lot going on, at times it’s chaotic and there’s obviously a lot of social commentary underpinning the entire plot. My understanding of Soviet society during the Stalinist period (in which this novel was written) is minimal at best (I’m only studying it in-depth this coming school year) so I can’t really comment on that portion of the novel, but the fact that he was able to do it amidst such an intricate storyline is astounding. There are perhaps, from my understanding, three different plots going on throughout the novel: the first one, which becomes evident a few pages into the novel is the backdrop of Moscow and the Soviet people and their experiences with the devil lurking all over town. All these characters weave in and out that it’s hard to keep track at times but they all are affected somehow by the devil’s presence. The second plot has to do with the story of Pontius Pilate and his role in the death of a rabbi, Yeshua in the novel. This story is closely linked to the final plot that is tied to the title of the novel, the Master and Margarita, and their relationship amidst the chaos initiated by the devil’s presence and their struggle to remain together. I wondered throughout Book Two was whether or not the writer, Bulgakov, had infused some parts of his personality as a writer observing the tyranny of the Stalinist period, into their the poet, Ivan Homeless, or in the Master. The Master would make more sense, burdened by his novel that he believes brought him into his current state, wanting to burn the manuscript and all. Nonetheless, it is an interesting novel so long as you keep up…I was terribly amused by the devil’s tom cat, Behemoth. I will have to revist this novel sometime next year after I gain more understanding of the period to draw whatever criticisms or observations Bulgakov inserted into this novel.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Review: Mansfield Park

Posted 24 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

Mansfield Park
By: Jane Austen

At long last I have gotten around to the last of Jane Austen’s major novels. I was initially quite wary of reading it in part because of how many people said it was not as exciting as her other works and in part because it was just so hefty. But nonetheless I managed to read it…there is no doubt that this was Austen’s most society-conscious novel; from rank to upbringing to marriage relations all came down to society and your place in it. Central to this story is Fanny Price, the daughter of a drunken sailor and a woman who was demoted from her social standing. She is sent to live with her aunt and uncle, the Bertrams, in Mansfield Park, as a sort of investment and as a way to help Mrs. Bertram’s fallen sister. From there, as Fanny grows up, she is faced with all sorts of challenges that would test the character of both herself and her cousins. I know some have said that the character of Fanny is just too good for a human being, but she does perseveres from temptations and follies brought on by the lure of society and so forth. And you can’t help but feel for the character; she doesn’t talk as much as the other characters, particularly in the first half of the story, and you feel like reaching out and fighting back for her whenever someone like Mrs. Norris looks down at her and reminds her constantly of her place in society. She can be quite plain but it’s her humility and modesty that makes her rather quiet and often an observer to whatever’s going on around her. She has a quiet sort of strength, which, despite her constant despair/anxiety, was evident around the later chapters (chapter 30 and onward). I guess in some respects, I ended up relating to her in some ways because I also am quiet in that sense…the novel did end rather abruptly, Austen could have fleshed out the ending into two chapters instead of cramming it all into one. I do love how there were odd sentences here and there that came out as fairly amusing: like Mrs. Bertram telling Fanny she’s give her a puppy the next time Pug has a litter of them or what Mr. Bertram thought of Mrs. Norris at the end of the novel. All in all, it’s not my favourite Jane Austen novel of them all but it is quite interesting…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Review: Northanger Abbey

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

Northanger Abbey
By: Jane Austen

Continuing my Jane Austen craze, I decided to read Northanger Abbey after seeing the 2007 ITV adaptation of the book (definitely worth checking out, it was quite enjoyable). I know the general sentiment is that this book is not up to par with the other Jane Austen books, and considering that this was actually the first book she completed, that was understandable. But I decided to read this before Mansfield Park because it was a surprisingly slender volume. I was surprised to learn was a quick read it was as well; the first part deals primarily with the social situation that Catherine Norland, the main character, is in and the second part deals more with the Gothic parody. I’ve never read Gothic novels, so this was a rather interesting introduction to the genre, but you can’t help but relate to Catherine; I know my imagination has a tendency to run when I read novels. But the plot is straightforward, amusing, interesting…but I don’t think it’s like those typical triangles you see in other Austen books (i.e. Mr. Darcy is attached to Elizabeth but she’s interested in Mr. Wickham or Emma is fascinated by Mr. Churchill and doesn’t realize Mr. Knightley’s affections): here it seems right of the bat that Catherine and Mr. Tilney are interested in one another and that there was no way that Mr. Thorpe would be able to compete for Catherine’s affections. It’s a cute story overall, very lighthearted in comparison to the other Jane Austen books and I don’t think it should be overlooked.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: Emma

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

Emma
By: Jane Austen

I admit, I’ve been in a bit of a Jane Austen craze as of late, watching all the adaptations I could find. And so I finally got around to finishing this book. I admit, it was pretty dense, like reading Pride and Prejudice for the very first time back in high school and at times I needed to refer to sparknotes.com just to make sure I understood what was going on. But it is an amusing read, reading as Emma attempts to match Harriet Smith to a number of men while at the same time figuring that she herself would never settle down and marry. At times it can be tedious, wondering when Emma would ever truly give up matching Harriet up with someone or wondering if Emma would ever get off some of the embarrassing situations she managed to get herself into. My favourite parts of the book definitely has to be whenever Mr. Knightley and Emma would talk (Chapter 48/49 is probably my favourite from the entire book). The issues of marriage and social standing are very prominent in this book, much as in many other Jane Austen books, but you do get a sense of the comedic effect going through the book. It’s not my favourite Austen book, but it was quite amusing nonetheless.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Review: The Russia Hand

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
By: Strobe Talbott

Okay, I normally do not read memoirs or autobiographies unless they are really really interesting (prior to picking this book up, I had a grand total of maybe three books that are considered memoirs/biographies). In fact, I initially did not bother picking up this book despite my interest in Russian history and politics but after reading the reviews for this book and the fact that my bookstore was recommending it, I decided to check it out. Strobe Talbott is a very impressive man; his academic credentials, his experience prior to becoming deputy-Secretary of State…very interesting indeed. And he wrote a very concise and clear memoir about his time as deputy-Secretary of State and his hand in Russian-American diplomacy during the Clinton Administration (perhaps another reason why I didn’t want to pick this book up originally). He does give a very interesting look at not only Clinton’s way of handling foreign leaders and relationships and about Yeltsin’s political tactics but he also showed a very interesting and rather detailed glimpse as to how foreign policy is conducted through these summits and visits. He also gives an interesting take on how American-Russian relations were during this period and how important it was especially since they had entered a “post-Cold War” period. The only issue I had about the book was the narrative in Chapter 15; Mr. Talbott had written the narrative chronologically but in Chapter 15, there was a bit of a fling back to the late Cold War period and then the dealings with the nuclear program problems and failed treaties in the 1990s. It’s a bit jarring since the rest of the book proceeded in a relatively well pace and chronologically. Otherwise, a great read, very fascinating and useful if you’re into Russian history, Russian politics and international relations.

Rating: ★★★★★

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