Tag Archives: book review

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

23 Jul

Cloud Atlas

Photo thanks to condalmo.wordpress.com

‘Ahhh.’

That’s the precise feeling I had as I hungrily gobbled up the last words of this masterpiece. Even after turning the last page, closing the book and rubbing the back cover in that clichéed but perfect way, I was unable to let go. In fact, for the next couple days, I kept it with me, thinking about the characters, pondering the detail and the storylines and at times flipping back through the book to read through the delicious mind traps and perfectly woven plot.

Even before I was halfway through, it had instantly become one of my favourite books. It’s that good. The amount of precision and detail involved is astounding, but all the while that finely tuned machinery of the novel is masked by the easy breezy, enchanting style of the author’s prose. I was willingly swept up in the storylines, hanging on to every word and re-reading pages just for the fun of it. It was less a novel than an experience for me, full of wonder and excitement and, surprisingly, powerful political commentary. It’s a thinking book.

It’s hard to describe this book without taking away from its perfection, which lies in the way the stories unfold to the reader. This much can be told without spoiling it: six characters, spread out across centuries, in different parts of the world entirely. Each character has a powerful story, connected in subtle and fascinating ways to the other characters, those connections revealed slowly and carefully throughout the book. The author effortlessly (well, I’m sure it required much effort, but it doesn’t seem that way to us) inhabits each of the characters’ souls and personalities, writing in a variety of styles to reveal the different facets of their personality. The styles include an interview, a journal, a movie script, a first-hand account..each perfectly suited to the characters themselves.

As the book (or maybe the reader!) races back through the stories, revisiting them and tying up loose ends, you’re struck again and again by the connecting details, the characters’ links and the magnitude of detail involved here. It’s incredible.

The book made me feel alive, in a way I can’t really explain. It made me happy, it entertained me at the most primitive level of my being: it told me stories. It told me rich, detailed, fascinating and compelling stories, beautifully crafted stories, stories that might once have been real and could become real in the distant future. And although it’s intellectual, it’s not an impossibility to read. The stories aren’t pretentious, they’re real.

It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004, and won several other awards including the British Books Awards for Literary Fiction. It’s David Mitchell’s third book, and I’m itching to get my hands on his others. His newest book is called The Thousand Autumn’s of Jacob de Zoet, published this year. If you want more spoilers on Cloud Atlas, read them here.

This book made me happy to have read it. It tricked me and messed with my head and made me think. How wonderful! All in all, a wonderfully entertaining and intellectual read. I can’t wait to read something else by this marvelous author.

Cheers!

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

12 Jun

Eat, Pray, Love

Photo thanks to detrie

I just finished this wonderful memoir last night. I have always been a travel junkie, and this book was definitely not helpful in quenching that thirst. I am consumed with a desire to GO GO GO. I need to get up and discover! I want my own saga, my own journey, my own experience. I want freedom and pure, unadulterated joy, and I want to relinquish the hold that the so-called ‘real world’ of cynics and joy-repressors have on me. I urge you to read this marvellous article on one of my favourite websites: The Art of Non-Conformity. This is a particularly useful article for people who really resent the world constantly telling them

a) there’s only one way to do things; b) grow up; c) face reality.

Please read it, then come back and read this. I’ll wait patiently.

Ah, you returned! Did you like the article? I know, so did I. I believe it’s important to cultivate more of that spirit into people’s lives. We currently live in so much fear of doing things differently, and it leads to great unhappiness for some people.

I feel that so many times, negative people like to try and hold others back because they’re too scared to live outside the box themselves. That’s what I loved most about Eat, Pray, Love: she pushed back against that group of naysayers. She abandoned her so-called ‘perfect life’: a great career, a great apartment, an ‘ideal’ husband because guess what? She just wasn’t happy. She had followed the ‘normal’ path and it led her straight into a terrible depression, a messy divorce, and a love affair that crippled her emotionally.

Throughout her life, she had been passionately in love with travelling and men, never with herself. Battling depression, anxiety and discontent, she had never learned what it means to be your own friend, how to keep yourself strong, or how to be happy on your own.  At 32, she leaves her husband and perfectly-put-together life for something more.

She decides to do the suburban unthinkable. She decides to travel. For a year.

A year! Oh mon dieu! NO! say the suburban naysayers. She says: I need this, and I am taking it. I say: dudes, it’s a year. It’s not going to disrupt your entire life, you probably have enough money for it, and you won’t be able to do it later. LIVE A LITTLE.

She splits the year in three: eating, praying, loving. Eating in Rome. Praying at an Ashram in India. Loving in Bali, Indonesia. Each part of her journey is special in its own way.

Photo thanks to mccun934

In Italy, she learns how to relax and feel pleasure. And no, not that kind of pleasure. Just the pleasure of eating beautiful food, learning a language, making new friends, rebuilding her strength and confidence, releasing the horrors of her depression and rejuvenating. She spends her months there nourishing her mind and body. She gains back all the weight she’d lost during her depression, she breaks off (for good) the love affair that had been draining her, she spends her days not looking at churches or art, but reading, conversing and eating. She lets go of the pressures of her life and simply does exactly what she wants. Which ends up being: learning Italian and eating. She learns from new Italian friends that in Italy, pleasure isn’t something you have to earn, like it is in America/Canada. It’s simply something you deserve, and should have whenever possible. I love this idea of living the way you want, not the way that is dictated to you.

Photo thanks to Meanest Indian

She leaves Italy replenished physically and mentally. Good thing, too, because her next leg is not quite as luxurious. She travels to an Ashram (yoga center) in India. Not yoga as in simply exercise, she explains, yoga as in the lifestyle. Every day they wake at 3AM, mediate for an hour, sing a chant which has 182 verses, spend the day doing some sort of work to give back to the community (in her case, scrubbing the temple floor) and various other activities. It is not easy. She explains in detail about her spirituality, using the word ‘God’ to refer simply to the presence of an ‘all-inclusive and unspeakable entity’. She does not look down on any religions, and believes that any paths that a human can take religion-wise will always lead to the same greater power. She makes a few especially wonderful friends, including a very wonderful voice of reason in the form of Richard from Texas. She experiences great success in mediation practices, learning how to channel such great energy and peace. And most importantly she begins to have a wonderful sense of inner peace and finally relinquishes the pain of her divorce. She becomes more spiritual and harmonious and strong.

Photo thanks to riza

When she finally arrives in Bali, she is rested and at peace. She’d visited two years previous and met a wise old medicine man. She returned for the last leg of her journey: to achieve balance and harmony. She quickly does so: splitting her days between visiting the medicine man, spending time with a divorced Balinese mother, making new friends and actually allowing herself to cultivate a strong romance. Along the way, she tells us much about Balinese culture, which is wonderful and rich. It’s a great conclusion to the story, she finally allows her heart to re-open, while preserving her strength and sense of self.

To me, this book is a love song written to the various cultures of the world. It celebrates individuality, community, the unique, the traditional and the innovative. It says: go out there and carve your own path! Be open to the wisdom of others! Learn as much as you can! Experience different cultures, experience different people, experience yourself. Be exactly who you want to be, especially if it terrifies you.

For me, this was an incredibly interesting and detailed book with a very simple message: live. Just live.

Read this book!