Tuesday, December 22, 2015

She is...

Well, definitely She is a product of its time. I probably would have thrown the book at the wall if there had been one more mention of the rarity of the gloomy African. Or about how fantastic Ayesha was and how much in love Holly was with her.

To be honest, I will probably not read another Henry Rider Haggard Novel. Not because of the misogyny or the racism, both of which definitely existed, but because this book read very similar to Queen Sheba's Ring and the novelty is lost. Basically Haggard's novels follow the same plot line, a group of people go adventure in Africa, they find some lost civilization or the remains of a dying one, they're amazed by the people and the technology, they fall in love with a female character, they escape after pissing all of the native people off. Now granted in She, the escape was after the death of Ayesha, the female character they fell in love with, who murdered Ustane, the other female character they were in love with. And personally I still feel like Job didn't have to die. I feel like as a writer, Haggard only threw in that premonition to make extra pages and then following through on the most obvious piece of foreshadowing, he killed him. And then to kill him from fright, come on! I might as well add that Haggard is also classist since Job was apparently so lowborn that his feeble brain could not comprehend anything more than fear.

Despite my issues with the book, Haggard is a rather enjoyable writer. He does a very good job painting a picture in only a few words, mostly avoiding purple prose. (There were one or two moments where Holly dove off into the purple prose field.) The action is also relatively well placed and I went through the book quickly, when I wasn't working on my Thesis.

Now part of my complaints come from the fact that She was originally produced as a serial. She is one of Haggard's most popular novels and, as late as 1965, the book has been published in over 44 different languages. She is also a foundational work of fantasy literature, which considering the powers that Ayesha wields is understandable. This may be why I love and hate the book so much because the whole concept of who Ayesha was and the whole civilization of Kor were so fascinating. Really I wanted more of that and instead I got Holly's misogyny.

I guess I leave She with mixed feelings. On the one hand I enjoy Haggard's descriptive writing. Reading his book is like finding a dwarven ruin I haven't explored in Skyrim. As an adventure novel the book works. Although the characters aren't particularly likeable, you can't help but care for them anyway. Except Ayesha, she is a monster and I am still mad at her for what she did to Ustane. But the very fact that I feel that anger at Ayesha proves how good a writer Haggard is. On the other hand the book is definitely a product of its time and all the prejudice that came out of that period of history. (Which as a nineteenth and early twentieth century historian I can say is a lot. A LOT.)

Given the subject matter I can see why my Great Grandfather had this book on his shelf. I imagine he read it as a boy or, if he read it as an adult, with perhaps some of the enjoyment he would have felt as a boy. That said, reading the same books my Great Grandparents read is starting to make clear to me where my own love of Sci-fi and Fantasy comes from. Nine times out of ten I will reach for a fantasy novel over say a mystery. I wonder if my own choice in books comes from a preference passed down through the generations of my family - either genetically or culturally. 

For my next book I think I'm going to look at one that is Non-fiction, or kinda close. That's right! I'm going to read One Hundred Cases for Life After Death.

Till next time, fellow readers.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Henry Rider Haggard's She

Hello all!

I know, I know. Originally I said I would read Ramona by Helen H. Jackson and I did start it but the book was so dry that I decided to put it off till later. So now I am reading Henry Rider Haggard's novel, She. Which is, so far, a more interesting read, especially following Roots.

Let me spend this post giving you a little background on the novel. Originally published in 1887 She is fundamentally a gothic romance with a spice of adventure. The novel followed Haggard's intensely popular King Solomon's Mines. She was published as a serial and is written as if it actually happened. The fantastic story was supposedly written by the guardian of a handsome young man who could trace his ancestry to before the fall of the Pharaohs of Egypt. This style, according to the introduction of the book I'm reading, is similar to the style he employed in King Solomon's Mines. She is one of Haggard's best known, and best read novels and according to some literary experts is supposedly his best work.

Now I have read Henry Rider Haggard before. A few years ago I cracked open Queen Sheba's Ring which I really enjoyed. So going into She I already knew that Haggard is completely racist. I will chuck this up to the period in which he lived, but it is important to note. Since my last novel discussed racism a little, mainly involving the work and its place in modern times, I am kind of going to gloss over the racism in She. I do want to say that, and I've done a little research on this in college, I understand that as a British citizen, Haggard's racism is steeped in colonial concepts. So the racism present is different from what you will find in an American novel of the same time-period. For example, Haggard's characters respect, to a degree, the people of Amhaggar. However, they do turn out to be cannibals, and the party of adventurers are surprised to see any aspects of civilized behavior among them.

But enough about that. As I said earlier, I have read one other book of Haggard's and so I was looking forward to reading She. The last book I read by him took a while, because I dropped off in reading it for about half a year, but generally the book was enjoyable. Haggard is a magnificent author, and his word play is fantastic. I particularly like, in She, his ability to bring humor into what is altogether a rather dark tale. I hope to have She finished in the next few weeks and move on to the next book. Which will NOT be Ramona, yet.

Til next time fellow readers.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The end of the Roots, There May Be Spoilers

Hello everyone!

After an almost year long hiatus, I am here to discuss Roots with you for the fourth and final time. In case you were wondering, I am still writing my thesis. But in an attempt to avoid writing, said Thesis, I managed to consume Roots. Actually a little too fast to please me in the avoiding Thesis department. But this book was so good!

Let me just say that I learned so much from this book, not just about humanity but about so many things. Like did you know that President Polk, actually my favorite president, died just a few weeks after leaving office because he had Cholera? I always thought he just served one term for fun, I didn't know he never had a chance to serve a second! And this is something that I learned with the slaves through the grapevine of information presented in the book.

The last time I wrote a post I was still following Kunta Kinte's path as a slave. By the time I got to his daughter Kizzy and her progeny, I couldn't put the book down. I read over 500 pages in 3 days. Despite the slow beginning, which really can we blame the guy that Haley reportedly plagiarized, the book was excellently written. What Haley accomplishes is a glimpse into the past as it must have been experienced by these slaves. And while he may not be completely historically accurate, he manages to give readers insight into the mind frame of the men and women who lived through slavery.

You may remember from my last post, but then its been a little under a year so you may not, that there was a great deal of controversy involving this book. Many people believe it isn't worth reading because of the controversy over Alex Haley plagiarizing this book. In fact when I told people I wanted to read the book, only one or two people were supportive. Most people questioned my decision to read it, and derided me. Yet, it was a book that my Great Grandfather owned and that he must have read.

After reading it, I got it. I understood why people didn't want to read the book. Personally I think that those people must have read it wrong. Instead of reading Roots as a glimpse into the mindset of the slave experience, these people must have approached it with a sense of white guilt. It's no secret that slaves suffered. How could anyone who is bound, not free, not suffer to some degree. But the degrees of suffering were different or everyone, which is something that Haley pointed out in his book. Kizzy's grandson Tom has a much different experience than his great-grandfather Kunta does. And I realize as I'm writing this now that as a Portuguese-American whose parent's immigrated to this country, my Great Grandfather didn't need to feel a sense of white guilt. He didn't share in the history of that part of the nation because his family came over long after slavery in the 1920s.

So I wonder if instead he shared some of what I felt when I read the book. A sense of wonder that a family was orally able to preserve their lineage in a time when they could have been separated by anything. Certainly my own knowledge of my legacy is extensive, but its not enriched by the stories that Haley must have been told by his own grandmother which enabled him to travel all the way to Africa to find his family's origin.

So at the end of this, I would argue that everyone should really read this book. Roots is worth the read and I promise you, you will laugh and cry with the characters. And at the end you may come away with a shifted world view. Which is, ultimately I think, what Haley desires out of his readers. Not to come away with a sense of guilt but to come away enriched with an understanding of what his family experienced as slaves. And if you're not sure as to his goals, read the last chapter first where he explains how he started on the whole trail that led to the book. You may think twice and find it worth the read too.

Since it is time for something that is not 500 pages or more, the next book I'll be reading will be Ramona.

See you later fellow readers!