Tanith Lee's All the Birds of Hell

In the fifteenth year of “Industrial Winter,” Henrique Tchaikov arrives as curator in a countryside dacha. In one of the towers, a pair of lovers has taken sleeping pills and committed suicide nine years ago and tourists would come to see their frozen remains. After the military removes the bodies, another couple commits suicide in the same bed and Henrique finds their bodies in the bed the next morning. Then he finishes his tour as curator and returns to the city to resume his life in the endless freezer.

All the Bird's of Hell is a dreamy and chilling tale of people defying fate and nature and seeking their dreams even through death. The haunting atmosphere of an everlasting winter and Henrique's quiet resignation contrasts with the couple's determination to define their own ends.

Tanith Lee

Ayn Rand's Anthem

Anthem is a parable more than a novel and its purpose is to praise individualism. Equality 7-2521 is the new Prometheus, bring "fire" to humanity that is under the bondage of collectivism and anti-intellectualism. Though the plot is formulaic and at times the pages read like propaganda, the last two chapters are poetic and indeed an anthem to individualism, and perhaps to elitism. After reading ten chapters of "we," "us," and "they," it is refreshing to see the word "I." As Prometheus has discovered fire, so Equality 7-2521 "I" and he, like his predecessor, will bring it to mankind.


When I was reading Anthem, I kept thinking of Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We. In both books, "we" and collectivism and the totalitarian state dominate the story and the alphanumeric names stand out. But whereas Yevgeny Zamyatin analyzed the evils of Scientific Taylorism, Rand praised individualism as mankind's salvation.

Ayn Rand

Given Rand's experiences with Leninism and Stalinism, we can understand her enmity toward collectivism and anti-intellectualism. For her, only an individual's thoughts, talents and all the qualities of excellence that rise above the mass's mediocrity can defeat the evils that seek to destroy civilization. And so, Equality 7-2521 surpasses his brothers and sisters and will lead them out of bondage.

Whether we agree with Rand's philosophy or not, Anthem gives us a taste of the ideas she would expand upon in later novels.

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf details the intricate and ambivalent relationships among members of the Ramsay family and their friends. During the gathering, when the son James wants to go to the lighthouse, Mr. Ramsay asserts himself by declaring that the weather wouldn't allow the trip the next day. Yet, when he seeks Mrs. Ramsay to comfort him, he shows his insecurity. And Mrs. Ramsay wants to make everything right and everyone happy. Lily Briscoe struggles to paint Mrs. Ramsay's portrait while Charles Tansley, Mr. Ramsay's admirer, undermines her confidence with his chauvinist remarks about women incapable of writing and painting. During dinner, when the poet Augustus Carmichael wants a second helping of soup, Mr. Ramsay was rude to him. When Mrs. Ramsay leaves the guests and reflects on the events of the day, we can sense the sadness amid the laughter and hubbub of the party.

The section "Time Passes" gives us a sense of loss. Not only because W.W.I. comes and goes, taking along with in millions of lives. Not only because Mrs. Ramsay and the son Andrew and the daughter Pru passed away. But also because the passage of time has washed away the past: the laughter of the party, the joy of the engagement between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, the promise to go to the lighthouse, and Lily Briscoe's struggle with self-confidence. Those moments relegated to the survivors' memories, waiting to drop into oblivion.

Hoy Lighthouse, Orkney Islands (by Richard Harvey)

In the section "The Lighthouse," Mr. Ramsay his son James and his daughter Cam go to the lighthouse, and Lily finishes her painting. Promises and goals fulfilled. Yet, Mr. Ramsay remains insecure and seeks comfort from Lily but fails to receive any. He also asserts himself but forcing his son and daughter to go to the lighthouse, though eventually they come to respect him. Again the ambivalence between these characters. And Virginia Woolf is a master at these subtle emotions. To read her work is to experience the passing of time, and loss and sadness mixing with life and joy.

Virginia Woolf

Ernest Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

Ernest Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS is not only a war novel but also a story of life, love, lost and ultimately death. Robert Jordan lives to fight with the republican guerrillas and he dies fighting alongside them. He lived a life that meant more to him than living in American suburbia with his wife and two children and a dog, working a nine-to-five job. That wouldn't be Robert Jordan, or Ernest Hemingway.

Sierra Guadarrama

Hemingway's minimalist writing reflects the pristine snow trails and pine forests, which reflect loneliness and death but also love and hope. Like a full moon reflected in a still lake. A poetry of war and camaraderie, where the violence of the writing would only temper the tragedy of lost. To experience these feelings is to experience the beauty of Hemingway's writing. For a war novel, there aren't many battle scenes. But we get to feel Robert Jordan's subdued emotions against the violence of war. The power of his love for Maria is that it couldn't be consummated. In the end, he chooses the only path consistent with his other choices: to fight to the end and risk capture and torture rather than have his comrades shoot him.

Ernest Hemingway

Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude portrays seven generations of the Buendía family and mimics the history of Columbia. A family saga as tortuous as Colombia's political journey. The magical realism of Márquez animates the brutal and shocking events and cements in the reader's mind a family determined to leave its footprint in history. The determination of José Arcadio Buendía and his wife Úrsula Iguarán, the passion of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, the ruthlessness of Arcadio contribute to the tragedy and comedy of the Buendía family, which reflects not only Colombia, but also of humanity. To read One Hundred Years of Solitude is to experience humanity's grandeur and disgrace.

Gabriel García Márquez

What a fun novel to read. To enjoy the magic of Gabriel García Márquez's writing and to savor the peaks and valleys of humankind. Who needs realism when we have writers like Márquez?