Bookworms: Monthly Readings, May 2016

Book reviews

Books I read in May: 
Gillian Flynn “Gone Girl” ;
Strugatsky “The Doomed City” ;
Strugatsky “Hard to Be a God” ;
Astrid Lindgren “Pippi Longstocking”.

Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Country – United States
Year – 2012
Language – English
Genre – Thriller
Listened on Audible [in English]

Gone Girl  book review

I don’t mean to offend any readers who enjoyed Gone Girl, but I am surely not a fan. It was the first time when I was simultaneously engrossed and so entirely repulsed by the book. I was relieved when I finished it.

What did exactly turn me off?

There is not a single appealing character in a book - every one is repugnant in his/her own way and you start questioning the nature of the author’s attitude toward humans in general.

The book reads like a meticulously, scrupulously written essay, perfectly edited, diligently packed with all the must haves of a skilled writer to the point it feels robotic. Yes, it is clever. Yes, it suits the characters. Yes, it serves the purpose and yes, it makes the book even more repulsive.

And then the ending. Ok, it is a thriller and I get it. But shouldn’t there be a glimpse of good or some scarce virtue or a trace of righteousness? I felt not just disappointed, but actually angry with myself for such a poor book choice and angry with the book for making me feel angry ☺

The good news I am a firm believer no book is a complete waste of time. Gone Girl has benefited my vocabulary and as a non-native English speaker I am profusely thankful.

Finally, I appreciated the ugly overt repulsive truth about human nature, even though I personally prefer it well hidden.  And I liked this phrase:
“Her features just take a moment to make sense.”

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Doomed City

Country – Russia
Year – 1975
Language – Russian (will be first published in English in July 2016, available to pre-order on Amazon)
Genre – Novel, Science Fiction
Read in Russian

The Doomed City book review

To begin with – I am a huge fan of Strugatsky brothers. They were incredibly talented masters of the written word and science fiction genre, great intellectuals and judging by their books – amazing people, humanitarians with unique sense of the human nature, compassionate about the fate of the human race.  I feel really sad they are not as much acclaimed in the world and the States as they are in Russia and former Soviet Union countries. If you are somewhat into science fiction – do yourself a favor and grab any Strugatsky’s novel. You are in for a treat!

The Doomed City – volunteers from Earth from different places and times are gathered in some mysterious world where “the Mentors” run a sociological experiment. All participants of different nationalities and native languages understand each other as if they all spoke the same language.  They don’t know the goals of the experiment and blindly follow the changing conditions trusting their Mentors. They live in an egalitarian society where every half a year they randomly change jobs  - yesterday’s janitor becomes a secret service agent, editor-in-chief and vise a versa. Later social revolt and disorders replace the system of the experiment with dictatorship by former participants.

The novel is deeply philosophical, digging into the abyss in search for meaning of the human existence, intriguing and entertaining at the same time, alluring the reader with witty irony, partly endearing partly obnoxious characters and a zest for justice. 

(quotes are my amateurish translation)

“You are all idiots here and only the clever ones are in real danger”
“When there is no real enemy – they fabricate one. And as the world history proves, the most dangerous enemy is the imaginary enemy.”
“Whether I exist or not, whether I fight or lay on the couch – it makes no difference. Nothing can be changed or improved. One can only live a good or not so good life. Everything unfolds by itself and I have nothing to do with it. So here is my understanding and there’s nothing else to understand. Better tell me what do I do with this understanding? Should I swallow it now or pickle for later?”

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Hard to Be a God

Country – Russia
Year – 1964
Language – Russian (the most recent and possibly best English translation is available on Amazon, along with 2013 film)
Genre – Novel, Science Fiction
Read in Russian

Hard to Be a God book review

As I said in the previous review – I love Strugatsky brothers’ books and strongly recommend all of them. Hard to Be a God, however, is among my absolute favorites.

Arkanar is a state on an alien planet populated by human like beings whose society’s development is equivalent to the Middle Ages on Earth. Earth historians/scientists live undercover in Arkanar trying to assist the development of science and civilization and prevent the most horrible course of events, however without interfering in the natural progress of history. The main character, Anton, walks a long painful journey from a distant observer to an emotionally involved participant, who realizes their intervention is doomed in the face of cruel reality. This is the authors’ manifestation of how almighty God might be powerless to change the humans’ fate and can only leave them alone to find their way to enlightenment. The book is an absolute must read.

…imagine that you could advise God… What, in your opinion, should God do so that you would say: Now the world is good and kind? 
…here is one possibility. Make it so that all people love work and knowledge the most, so that work and knowledge became the only purpose in their lives! 
Yes, we were planning to do this, too, thought Rumata. Mass hypnoinduction, positive remoralization. Hypnoradiators on the three equatorial satellites... 
"I could do that," he said. "But is it worth it to deprive the human race of its history? Is it worth it to substitute this humanity by another one? Would it not be the same thing as erasing this humanity from the face of the Earth and creating a new one in its place?" 
Budah considered this silently. Rumata waited. Outside the window, the carriages were squeaking gloomily. Budah said quietly: 
Then, o Lord, erase us from the face of this Earth and create again, more perfect. Or better still, let us be and choose our own way. 
"My heart is full of pity," said Rumata slowly. "I cannot do that."

Astrid Lindgren Pippi Longstocking

Country – Sweden
Year – 1945
Language – Swedish
Genre – Children's Series
Listened to an audio [in Russian]

Pippi Longstocking book review

I adore children’s books – I think they are healing and philosophical. If I had to choose only one literature genre I could read, I would choose children’s books.

Astrid Lindgren’s hilarious series about redheaded, witty and kind-hearted girl Pippi Longstocking would amuse and educate both children and adults. Pippi is also the strongest girl in the world who lives by herself with a monkey and a horse. Pippi and her friends’ adventures are fun, engrossing and deal with real world problems from a point of view of a sincere, kind, brave and inventive little girl.

"I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that" 
“You must remember that well brought up ladies pick their noses when they’re all by themselves." 
“Is it a good place to swim? Excellent place! Sharks swim here all the time and they love it!”

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