Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review of Ubik by Philip K. Dick

When a bomb explodes on Luna and kills Glen Runciter, head of an anti-psi prudence organization, the world begins reversing in time and his team of anti-telepaths dying off one after another, shriveling up and decaying into dregs. The new leader, Joe Chip, must keep Runciter in half-life, the mind continuing to work while the body suspended and decaying, find the cause even as he began to decay. Through his half-dead boss, Joe realizes only Ubik, a mysterious spray, could save his life, but an evil force seeks to prevent him from getting hold of the cure.

Image by Meul

Ubik, Philip K. Dick’s futuristic tale of telepaths and precogs, takes the reader into a surrealistic world of time reversal and pseudo-science. Like other successful sci-fi writers, he creates a compelling world where the readers are willing to suspend their beliefs and experience coin-slotted doors and refrigerators with attitudes. Joe Clip isn’t likeable but the twists in plot lead the reader guessing on the causes of the changes and what Ubik is. A fun sci-fi read.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Isaac Asimov's Foundation: The Future of Humanity

In Foundation, Isaac Asimov created a compelling world where the psychohistorian Hari Seldon foresees the empire crumbling under its weight and seeks to direct the future by gathering a group of mathematicians and scientists and creating the Foundation in the planet Terminus, at the end of the galaxy. He predicts the Foundation would usher forth the second empire and prevail against the warlords in the outer region of the empire. So begins the political machinations of Foundation leaders like Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow, who would use religion and then commerce to control more powerful enemies around Terminus and whose strategies and tactics are worthy of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. In Foundation, Asimov shows knowledge not only of science but also of human nature, creating characters who scheme to undercut their opponents and achieve their goals. A great science fiction read.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

David Mitchell's Cloud Altas

In Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell tells the six interrelated stories, each with a distinct voice and style, using a symmetric structure: 1-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-3-2-1.

The Pacific Journal Adam Ewing, as the title implies, is a journal of the protagonist’s adventure in the Pacific. Reading the story is like reading one of Joseph Conrad’s stories, with the European colonists dominating over the natives. Dr. Goose, Rev. Horrox and the first mate Boerhaave, epitomes of greed and callousness and the sense of entitlement, could be villains from The Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim.

The Pacific Journal Adam Ewing

Letters from Zedelghem is an epistolary about Robert Frobisher’s coming of age, and he could be one of Stendhal or Flaubert’s protagonists, charming his way through life until he meets his match.

Letters from Zedelghem

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery is a mystery written in multiple third-person POV and it is a John Grisham style thriller about a reporter stumbling into documents that reveal a nuclear plant’s safety issues. The company’s executives would do anything to conceal the problems. The hunger for energy drives the greed and ruthlessness of these executives. The Pelican Brief comes to mind.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish written in a first-person POV is a humorous account of the title character’s adventure in a retirement home, a twist on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Only through such an ordeal could this callous and cynical publisher learn to appreciate life.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish

The Orison of Somni-451 is a sci-fi about a fabricant server’s rise to self-awareness. The interview between the Archivist and Somni-451 reveals the sickness of the consumer-oriented society and the encroachment of technocracy. Reminiscent of A Brave New World and Oryx and Crake.

The Orison of Somni-451

Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After is a first-person POV dystopian tale of survival in Hawaii. Humanity comes full circle from savagery to civilization back to savagery, as if, after Nea So Copros, society could only descend into barbarism. Again Oryx and Crake comes to mind.

Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After

The six tales would just be interesting stories, if written by six writers, but David Mitchell manages to cross genres—from mystery to sci-fi and from historical fiction to literary fiction—and integrate the stories through common human predicaments into a teleological vision.

Cloud Atlas, in addition to being great storytelling, is a postmodern study of text. In Sloosha’s Crossin’, an aged Zachry tells a yarn, where truth mixes with fiction, to a group of children. His son finds an orison which when warmed would create a hologram of Sonmi-451 telling her story, which is The Orison of Sonmi-451. And in Orison, Sonmi-451 watches a movie about a twenty-first century publisher called Timothy Cavendish. That movie is The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish. In Ghastly Ordeal, Timothy Cavendish receives from an author, the manuscript of Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery. In Half-Lives, Luisa Rey comes across Sixsmith’s letters: Letters from Zedelghem. And finally, in Letters, Robert Frobisher finds Adam Ewing’s journals in the famous composer’s house. And so, we go from yarn to stored data, to cinema, to novel, to letters, to journal—a journey through various communication media. In the spirit of Italo Calvino and other postmodern writers, Mitchell creates several levels of texts, and thus various levels of fiction. Since the aged Zachry is an unreliable narrator, we would question his yarn’s truth, as his son was doing so. The orison as stored data recounts an earlier historical period and might be true. Or is it, given the story of Orison is a setup to manipulate Sonmi-451? The movie The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is fiction within fiction but since it is based on the life of the title character, the story may be true within Somni-451’s world. Half-Lives, Letters, and Pacific Journal are various levels of fiction within the novel Cloud Atlas.

Cloud Atlas is a modern masterpiece where the aesthetic form matches the intriguing stories. And the reader will continue to reflect on the human condition long after she has finished the book.

I saw the movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry around the same time I read the novel and I prefer latter over the former. The movie, which changed various stories’ endings, destroyed the beauty of the novel. I recommend reading the book rather then seeing the movie.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives

Through a dozen viewpoints, Roberto Bolano recounts the lives of two visceral surrealist poets—Arthuro Belano and Ulises Lima. From Mexico City to Paris to Barcelona, the poets live their chaotic lives and seek to initiate a new movement in Latin American poetry. They encounter Octavio Paz and other prominent poets, but most of the time they live as outcasts of the literary community. Through their adventures and exploits, we can glimpse into Roberto Bolano’s life and his struggle to usher a new direction in poetry. The Savage Detectives is a literary tour-de-force that lets us glimpse into the Latin American literary community.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five Book Review

    In 1968, after recovering from an almost fatal accident and after his wife had died, Billy Pilgrim went to New York City and disclosed on an all-night radio program about having been kidnapped to the planet Tralfamadore. So he says.

In 1967 on his daughter’s wedding night, a flying saucer kidnapped him and took him to the planet Tralfamadore. He was displayed in a zoo and mated with a movie star Montana Wildhack. So it goes.

Billy Pilgrim was born in 1922 in Ilium, New York. He graduated from Ilium High School and attended the Ilium School of Optometry. So it goes.

In 1944, he went to South Carolina for maneuvers. He was an assistant chaplain, “powerless to harm his enemies or help his friends” Later that year, he went to Luxembourg to replace a deceased assistant chaplain just in time for a German attack. He survived but was behind the German lines. He met Roland Weary and they were captured by the Germans and sent to the extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war. So it goes.

In early 1968, Billy and other optometrists chartered a plane to go from Ilium to Montreal for a convention and the plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, Vermont. Only Billy and the copilot survived. So it goes.

His wife, having heard about the crash, drove to Vermont but had an accident on the way to the hospital. She was able to reach the hospital but died shortly after she arrived. So it goes.

He came back from the war in 1945 and returned to the Ilium School of Optometry. In his senior year, he was engaged to the daughter of the founder and owner of the school and suffered a nervous breakdown. So it goes.

In May 1945, the Germans shipped him and about a hundred American prisoners of war to Dresden as laborers and they lived in Slaughterhouse Five, where butchers used to slaughter cattle. About a month later American warplanes bombed the city and turned the streets into “the surface of the moon.” So it goes.

Through the time-shifts, Kurt Vonnegut simulates Billy Pilgrim’s experience and his delirium and the reader begins to understand a soul changed by war. Humorous, satirical, sad, and powerful. Slaughterhouse Five is a tale of the men brutalizing men and of an individual helpless against the current of history. The narrator describes Billy’s reactions toward his experiences rather than his feelings toward them. In the end, though Billy becomes a rich and successful optometrist in Ilium, he could only “get unstuck in time” through the Tralfamadoreans kidnapping him. So it goes.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Clockwork Orange: A Vision of the Future

On a nochy, Your Humble Narrator Alex, a malchick not poogly of Bog or millicents and govoreeting in nadsat speak, peets chai in Korova Milkbar and then like goolys around the streets with his droogs to crast deng and cars. The banda removes platties including neezhnies from a ded and horrorshow shalagas his rot. They like drat another shaika’s nadsats and shives them with ozhs until horrorshow krovvy drip drip drip.

But when Alex tolchocks a baboochka with kots and koshkas and she snuffs it, he is loveted and sent to the Staja. To oodakeet jail earlier, he agrees to the Reclamation Treatment. And he viddys sinny of nadsats tolchocking deds and baboochkas and Nazis oobivating Yahoodys and all that cal until he would bolnoy at thinking of tolchocking another veck. He even wants to sick when he slooshys Ludwig Von’s Symphony No 9 and Wolfgang Amadeus’s Symphony No 41.

At one level, A Clockwork Orange is about the horror of teenage violence but at another, the dystopian novel is about the terror of a government trying to reengineer socially acceptable individuals. Anthony Burgess in the last chapter seems to imply that when teenagers grow up, the energy that drove them toward violence would propel them to construct society.  Whether the reader believes such a thesis, the novel would give food for thought.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Prague Cemetery: Umberto Eco's Postmodern Narrative

Simonini is a forger who helps the secret services of Piedmont, France, Prussia and Russia implicate the Carbonari, the Republicans, the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and the Jews and his allegiance is only to the paycheck. He travels with Garibaldi as the general defeats the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and unifies Italy. He helps the French and Prussian spy on each other before the Franco-Prussian War. He forges the document that implicated Dreyfus in the famous affair. But his masterpiece is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, detailing the Jewish leaders’ plot in a Prague cemetery to take over the world by amassing wealth and destroying “Christian” principles.

He travels with Garibaldi as the general defeats the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and unifies Italy.

He forges the document that implicated Dreyfus in the famous affair.

Umberto Eco interleaves European history with Simonini’s exploits and integrates the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and the Jews in multiple conspiracies against each other. Political maneuverings that Machiavelli would applaud. But it is in manipulating the text into a multi-level narrative that Eco shows his genius.

But his masterpiece is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Umberto Eco interleaves European history with Simonini’s exploits.

At the first level are Simonini’s forged documents, including the letter Dreyfus wanted to send to the Germans and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which the protagonist knows to be fake and which we the readers believe to be so. At the second level are Simonini’s journal entries—including the fake Dalla Piccola’s writings—which our protagonist believes to be true (the diary describing how he had forged them) and which we the readers know is fiction (Eco’s novel) but aren’t sure whether our hero accurately recorded his exploits. At the third level are the Narrator’s comments throughout the novel to complement the diary and fill in the missing events, as a record of Simonini’s exploits. We the readers don’t know who the Narrator is and can only trust his/her account.  But in the section “Useless Learned Explanations” the Narrator outlines the novel and reveals that all the characters beside Simonini are real people. And he/she even provides notes that reveal Hitler read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. At first, we the readers might believe these to be the author’s notes, but then we realize the Narrator is commenting on these events (Simonini’s narrative) as a historian and the comments are part of the novel.

Political maneuverings that Machiavelli would applaud.

A truly postmodern narrative, in the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones, where each layer of narrative comments on a lower one until the reader questions the boundary between fact and fiction.

A truly postmodern narrative.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman : Analyzing the American Dream

In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller examines the American Dream through conflicts in the Loman family. Willy Loman epitomizes the disillusioned, having great dreams but suffering a dead end job and an ordinary life, and so transferring his dreams to his elder son Biff. Biff is the realist who accepts his limitations and despite trying to satisfy his father, only wants to be a farmhand. On the other hand, Happy the dreamer after his father, lusts for success and is willing to achieve it through less than ethical means.

Morosco Theatre

In America, we are taught to believe in our greatness, to reach for the stars, but Miller examines the question: What if we don't have the abilities to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Should we be Biff, accepting our limitations and being content with "ordinariness?" Or should we be Happy, reaching for he sky by hook or by crook? For some, Biff may be a disgrace to the America Dream, for others, the model. Still, for others, the only way to live is be Happy.

The issues that Miller looks at are as relevant today as it was in his time. Though some believe there are less opportunities today than four or five decades ago, the American Dream is alive and well. Both individual dreams and the collective Dream drive the U.S. forward, and when entrepreneurs prod through obstacles, companies like Google and Facebook result. Bit it is difficult to know when we have reached our breaking point, when we have dreamed the wrong dream. How may Willy Lomans are there for every Elon Musk?

But perhaps the problem with Willy is not that he dreamed, but that he became contented with his job and not plotted his path and worked toward his goal. And that he tries to transfer his dream/burden to Biff.

The power of Miller's play is that it raises some deep and timeless issues about American society: the social norm, the accepted values, the vision of success, etc. In this sense, Death of a Salesman is a classic.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Review of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

Handmaids are the vehicles of reproduction in the Republic of Gilead, where radiation from sabotaged nuclear power plants had reduced the birthrate and mutated three in four fetuses. The Angles root out threats to the theocracy—nuns, scientists, scholars, etc—by hanging them on the wall of Harvard Yard and displaying the hooded figures to the public. The bastion of freethinking has turned into an exhibit of tyranny. Instead of using Newspeak as in Orwell’s 1984, the leaders here deny the people education. But the idea is the same: without the ability to think and analyze and critique, the masses would only react to threats and occasionally rewards. Pavlovian conditioning.

Margaret Atwood (Photo by Vanwaffle)

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel in the tradition of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. The means of control may be different, but the goal is the same. A subservient mass that would accept the social norm and cultural values, whether they be good or bad, without questioning their validity and without recognizing their assumptions and biases.

Margaret Atwood wrote the novel in the shadow of the religious fanaticism in Iran and Afghanistan, but she dedicated it to Mary Webster, an ancestor on her mother’s side who was tried for being a witch in Puritan Massachusetts, but survived the hanging. She understood that such a nightmare could happen anywhere in any century.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera

Florentino Ariza falls in love with Fermina Daza and against the wish of her father, they are engaged. But at a whim, she calls off the marriage and later marries Juvenal Urbino, a distinguished doctor in the city. For fifty-three years, while Florentino rises through the ranks to become the President of the Caribbean Riverboat Company and takes on more lovers than he could count, he waits to possess Fermina, hoping Dr. Urbino would die before him or her. When the doctors dies, he arrives at her house at the age of seventy-eight and proclaims his love for her. And he wins her over and takes her on a voyage that he doesn’t intend to return.

Love in the Time of Cholera is a tale of carnal love in the early twentieth century Columbia. In a time of epidemics and revolutions, when life was as fleeting as the wind, passion seems more certain than tomorrow. Only Swann’s obsession with Odette—In Search of Lost Time—could match Florentino’s with Fermina. But as much as the premise of the novel is intriguing, I enjoy Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s prose much more than the plot or the characters. His writing creates a dream-like world where the sights, sounds and smells become mesmerizing. A world far away brought back through the magic of words into the reader’s imagination.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Brando Skyhorse's The Madonnas of Echo Park

The Madonnas of Echo Park tells the stories of Mexicans who struggle through their daily lives in Echo Park, a section of Los Angeles. The book starts with "We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours," and ends with "This is the land that we dream of, the land that belongs to us again." A summary of the characters' attitudes toward the land they love and struggle to claim as their home.

Echo Park (Photo by User2004 at Wikimedia Common)

For a migrant worker, "I have no heartbreaking story of the journey here; the heartbreaking journey is here, in this small couple of square miles of land called Echo Park." And for the bus driver, "America is there for the taking if you aren't lazy and have no qualms about the kind if work you do." Succinct descriptions of their lives in the United States. They are among those who know that life is tough but also that America is the land of opportunities.

At the same time, Skyhorse shows his witticism when he said, through another character that "Catholicism gives everyone something to feel ashamed about." And the lady of the house spoke broken English to the maid, believing the latter doesn't understand a word. When in fact the maid understands the mistress and was learning English through her daughter. These bits of humor modulate the gravity of the subject matter.

Through the book, Mr. Skyhorse gives voice to the voiceless and shapes to the invisible. And he fills the writing with insights into the dynamics between these invisible people and the country that they seek to claim as home.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Possibility of an Island: Michel Houellebecq's The Brave New World

Book Review of The Possibility of an Island

The species have reached immortality. Through cloning and the propagation of historical memories. But the time of the humans is over. It is the age of the neo-humans, clones without joy and grief, without neurosis, without community, without sexual desires. Only a lifetime of reviewing and of analyzing the life of the human from which their DNA came. A lifetime of isolation, except for a pet. A lifetime of pseudo-touch through electronic communications. A lifetime of reflection and contemplation.

When the grief, the denial, the struggle to remain virile and attractive dominated the aging man or woman, the life of the neo-human seemed heavenly.  And no wonder the creator of these neo-humans chose to eliminate the neurosis associated with aging.

Neo-humans live without joy; and they die without grief. They don’t need food, only minerals and water. A superior race more suitable for survival. Living in a post-apocalyptic world. What does it mean when a few decided to leave their isolation, to end their immortality, to trek across the dried ocean surface, in search of a legendary community?

Would you choose to be human or neo-human?

The Possibility of an Island is a sad, sad depiction of the possibility, or impossibility, of humanity. Without youth and sexual virility, what is man or woman? When our mind and body decline, what do we make of life? Is a lifetime of tranquility more preferable to the fluctuations between joy and grief? What kind of Omega Point are we moving toward?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Call It Sleep: The Immigrant Experience

In Call It Sleep, David Schearl, the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, straddles between his Yiddish background and the American culture. The dialogues in the novel—Yiddish written in prose and English in dialect—highlight the clash and synthesis of the two worlds. It is the essential immigrant experience, to straddle between two cultures, to struggle with identity, and ultimately to reconcile and integrate the two into a new creation.

Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been a microcosm of the “melting pot” where Jews, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Puerto Ricans and Russians mingle and yet retain their unique identities. Often, second and third generations move to more affluent neighborhoods, but this place remains “ground zero” for the dynamics of cultural synthesis. Henry Roth in Call It Sleep gives a glimpse of that cultural dynamics for the Jewish community. An essential novel for the immigrant experience.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Brief History of Time Review

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking presents contemporary cosmology to the lay readers, describing the concepts of quantum mechanics and general relativity without the equations for probability waves or differential geometry. Even the student of physics may find the account interesting, and grasps the theories intuitively rather than mathematically.

Space-Time Fabric

The Big Bang Theory and the inflationary universe form the basis for exploring the frontiers of cosmology. And the search for a quantum theory of general relativity becomes the cosmologists’ goal to understand black holes, which will give insight into the nanoseconds during the Big Bang. Perhaps in understanding that period of time, physicists may unify the forces of nature and formulate The Theory of Everything.

Black Hole

Though we can find these cosmological concepts and theories in books and journals, Hawking presents them without all the mathematical hocus-pocus, so common men and women will understand the ideas behind the equations. Sure, there are some scientific jargons but they don’t overwhelm. And though the ideas have evolved since the book was published, the concepts provide the basis for understanding the challenges confronting cosmologists. I recommend the book for those who want a basic understanding of cosmology minus the differential equations and singularity points.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Albert Camus's The Rebel

In The Rebel, Albert Camus, the master of existentialism, analyzed the spirit of rebellion from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution. The Jacobans, rebelled against King and God and by making their principles divine, introduced the Reign of Terror.
Nihilism went further and eliminated absolute principles and its rise during the second half of the nineteenth century created terrorists who renounced virtue and principles and who rebelled against reality and history by destroying them. From the killing of gods to the killing of kings, rebellions had ushered in the terrors of Hitler and then of Stalin. The Soviets, in the name of the classless society in the future, a new heaven and a new earth where the lamb and the lion coexist, justified violence to guide the path of civilization, to force the end of history, the Marxist utopia.

Camus stated that absolute freedom leads to injustice and absolute justice stifles freedom and demonstrated it with examples from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution. And he believed that only through moderation, by limiting freedom with justice and vice versa, could a possible solution emerge.

Events in the past several decades have shown that his statement remains relevant in our time. From Timothy McVeigh to Anders Behring Breivik, we have seen terrorists kill in the name of their freedom, their absolute freedom, and of justice, their notion of absolute justice.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory: The Decay of Humanity

After dabbling in biology in The Elementary Particles and business development in Platform, Houellebecq turns to art in The Map and the Territory. Jed Martin was an artist who as a boy began drawing flowers in his small notebooks with color pencils.

Then, he turned to photographing manufactured objects such as such as handguns, diaries, and printer cartridges. But it was only when he began to photograph Michelin maps of France that he become rich and famous.

Houellebecq in tracing the rise of Jed Martin to wealth and fame also portrays his path toward the reclusive life. He lost his lover Olga. He lost his friend, the writer Michel Houellebecq. And he finally lost his father. In the end, he lived in a fenced estate and only drove to Carrefour to shop on Tuesdays.

Houellebecq delved into art not as a spiritual journey but as a vision of humanity in decline and decay. As in The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Island, he envisioned the disappearance of the human species and the emergence of a new breed in a new world. A prophet for the twenty-first century.

Michel Houellebecq (Photo by Mariusz Kubik)

Although the murder and dismemberment of the writer Houellebecq is gruesome, the most poignant scene is at the end of the book when Jed Martin dying filmed the photographs of Olga, Houellebecq, his father and other past acquaintances. He put them on a canvas in front of his home and recorded them as they faded, wrinkled and decomposed into pieces through rain and sun. As Houellebecq put it, “That feeling of desolation, too, that takes hold of us as the portraits of the human beings who had accompanied Jed martin through his earthly life fall apart under the impact of bad weather, then decompose and disappear, seeming in the last videos to make themselves the symbols of the generalized annihilation of the human species.” The final testimony of decay, not only of Jed’s life but also of humanity.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Review of Blindness: Saramago's Literary Novel in Study of Humanity

In Saramago's literary novel,“white blindness” strikes a man while he was driving. After he has gone to a clinic to check on his condition and the doctor couldn't find the problem, the disease spreads to the doctor and his patients. To contain the blindness, the government rounds up these victims in a mental asylum where the strong would oppress the weak.

The eye doctor’s wife, who keeps her eyesight after everyone have gone blind, leads a group of six people, including her husband, on a journey in the wasteland of the blind that reeked of excrement and decomposing corpses, to search for food.

To what depth would men and women descend to fill their bellies, to satiate that hunger which would smother all traces of humanity?

Blindness is a surrealist novel of the human condition, the struggle to survive that would release the cruelty and selfishness suppressed by law and punishment as well as the courage and perseverance in the face of suffering. It is the stench throughout the novel that would linger in the reader’s mind.

Albert Camus has The Plague; William Golding The Lord of the Flies; Cormac McCarthy The Road; and so Jose Saramago Blindness.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Invisible Man Book Review

Like the underground man in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, Ralph Ellison’s invisible man lives underground, but he is invisible only because others refuse to see him for who he is. They manipulate him as a tool toward their goals.

Harlem Riot of 1964

When he was fighting in the battle royale, he was only entertaining the white men. When he studied at the college, Dr. Bledsoe showcased him to the trustee as a model of the school’s success. In turn, the trustee funded the school to heel his wounded heart. When he went to New York, the communists used him to solicit members and ultimately sacrificed him through the Harlem riot to promote their agenda. Even Mary, who cared for him like a mother, didn’t see him for who he is.

But such invisibility is not only that of an African-American, but of all Americans, and perhaps of all human. To exist but not be seen. To reflect light but be transparent. An object of others’ agendas rather than an individual.

Only when he realized his invisibility did possibilities emerge, did he become free. Only then did he found himself. The person he is, rather then the person whom others wanted him to be. And in the end, he decided to emerge from his hibernation. What are the possibilities? Or perhaps more disillusionment?