Friday, July 31, 2015

Treasure Island

Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island is an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "buccaneers and buried gold". First published as a book on 14 November 1883 by Cassell & Co., it was originally serialized in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881 and 1882 under the title Treasure Island or, the mutiny of the Hispaniola with Stevenson adopting the pseudonym Captain George North.

Traditionally considered a coming-of-age story, Treasure Island is a tale noted for its atmosphere, characters and action, and also as a wry commentary on the ambiguity of morality – as seen in Long John Silver – unusual for children's literature. It is one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels. The influence of Treasure Island on popular perceptions of pirates is enormous, including such elements as treasure maps marked with an "X", schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen bearing parrots on their shoulders.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Enchantress of Florence

The Enchantress of Florence
by Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It is the story of two cities at the height of their powers–the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sons, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolò Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way, about the true brutality of power. Profoundly moving and completely absorbing, The Enchantress of Florence is a dazzling book full of wonders by one of the world’s most important living writers.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Lower River

The Lower River
by Paul Theroux

With his new novel, Paul Theroux returns to the Africa of Dark Star Safari and his early novels; but The Lower River, the story of an American who goes back to Africa where he was once happy, is in many ways even more remarkable.

Ellis Hock is a man so out of luck that even his family name is a mistake. His Italian grandfather, who set up a tailor's shop in a small town in Massachusetts, once tried to make his name more suitably American by changing it from Falcone to Hawk. But he was misunderstood, and the family had to live with Hock for ever after. The Lower River is all about being misunderstood: madly, wildly and very nearly fatally.

The sad yet bitterly funny opening chapters are a beautifully taut portrait of a man at the end of his tether. After a lifetime on duty behind the counter of Hock's Menswear – which, like its owner, is out of tune with the times – Ellis Hock's life is one day ruined. His wife discovers a cache of love-letters on his phone and decides he is a wild philanderer, when he is really just a serial emailer. Hock's private life has been not erotic but merely electronic, and exists only in the affectionate text messages he has exchanged with kindly wives of his customers over the years.

When his wife divorces him and his daughter claims her share of his money and turns her back on him, Ellis Hock flees Boston for the only place in his life where he once knew who he was: the obscure village of Malabo, in the far south of Malawi.

Malabo, as he remembers it, in what was then Nyasaland before independence, was a desolate place: malarial, appallingly hot, poor, proud, dangerous, superstitious, and infested with snakes. Fresh out of college with a biology degree, Hock went there as a young Peace Corps teacher. He helped to build a school, learnt the Sena language and fell in love with Gala, a local woman.

Like most of Hock's dreams, it did not end well. Gala was engaged to a villager and to lose her virginity would mean that her fiancĂ© would disown her. Yet in Malabo, Hock had been in his element. He doubled his volunteer stint from two years to four, and was renowned in the village as the man who was not afraid of snakes. His reluctant return to the States – because his father was dying – has haunted him ever since.

Theroux's account of a young man's first enchanted experience of Africa, with its evident autobiographical underpinnings, rings exactly right. It is a masterly, moving portrait of how Africa ensnares and enchants and plays merry hell with sentimentalities.

Hock, who remembers so lovingly the country of Nyasaland, is utterly unprepared for what he finds there 40 years on. What he wants is to go back to "a simpler, older world", where he was called, with respect and affection, "the mzungu at Malabo". What he gets is the new Malawi, where a disenchanted official at the American consulate tells him that "everyone wants a ticket out". And where, when he arrives in Malabo, he finds the school, the store and the spirit of the villagers wrecked beyond repair.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


by James Joyce

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories by James Joyce, first published in 1914. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century.

The stories were written when Irish nationalism was at its peak, and a search for a national identity and purpose was raging; at a crossroads of history and culture, Ireland was jolted by various converging ideas and influences. They centre on Joyce's idea of an epiphany: a moment where a character experiences a life-changing self-understanding or illumination. Many of the characters in Dubliners later appear in minor roles in Joyce's novel Ulysses. The initial stories in the collection are narrated by child protagonists, and as the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people. This is in line with Joyce's tripartite division of the collection into childhood, adolescence and maturity.

The stories

  1. "The Sisters" – After the priest Father Flynn dies, a young boy who was close to him and his family deal with his death superficially.
  2. "An Encounter" – Two schoolboys playing truant encounter an elderly man.
  3. "Araby" – A boy falls in love with the sister of his friend, but fails in his quest to buy her a worthy gift from the Araby bazaar.
  4. "Eveline" – A young woman weighs her decision to flee Ireland with a sailor.
  5. "After the Race" – College student Jimmy Doyle tries to fit in with his wealthy friends.
  6. "Two Gallants" – Two con men, Lenehan and Corley, find a maid who is willing to steal from her employer.
  7. "The Boarding House" – Mrs Mooney successfully manoeuvres her daughter Polly into an upwardly mobile marriage with her lodger Mr Doran.
  8. "A Little Cloud" – Little Chandler's dinner with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher casts fresh light on his own failed literary dreams. The story also reflects on Chandler's mood upon realising that his baby son has replaced him as the centre of his wife's affections.
  9. "Counterparts" – Farrington, a lumbering alcoholic scrivener, takes out his frustration in pubs and on his son Tom.
  10. "Clay" – The old maid Maria, a laundress, celebrates Halloween with her former foster child Joe Donnelly and his family.
  11. "A Painful Case" – Mr Duffy rebuffs Mrs Sinico, then, four years later, realises that he has condemned her to loneliness and death.
  12. "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" – Minor politicians fail to live up to the memory of Charles Stewart Parnell.
  13. "A Mother" – Mrs Kearney tries to win a place of pride for her daughter, Kathleen, in the Irish cultural movement, by starring her in a series of concerts, but ultimately fails.
  14. "Grace" – After Mr Kernan injures himself falling down the stairs in a bar, his friends try to reform him through Catholicism.
  15. "The Dead" – Gabriel Conroy attends a party, and later, as he speaks with his wife, has an epiphany about the nature of life and death. At 15–16,000 words this story has also been classified as a novella. The Dead was adapted into a film by John Huston, written for the screen by his son Tony and starring his daughter Anjelica as Mrs. Conroy.