Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

I've always heard of A Tale of Two Cities, and many know the famous line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...". So I finally decided to read it, and was very gratified to learn that I liked it. For someone who, on first reading, did not enjoy Oliver Twist (though I do now), it was a nice surprise to like it at first sight. Here is my review.

Dr. Manette, a doctor who has been a prisoner in the Bastille for eighteen years, is finally released. Broken and fragile from his long captivity, he is taken in by a wine shop keeper, Jacques Defarge, and his wife, who live in France. His banker from England, Jarvis Lorry, comes to meet Dr. Manette, telling him his daughter Lucie is still living. They are reunited and begin a new life together in England.
Charles Darnay, a self-exiled French aristocrat, is on trial for being a spy against England. He is acquitted with the help of a barrister, Sydney Carton, a man who resembles him very closely. Dr. Manette and Lucie are present at the trial, and they make the acquaintance of Mr. Darnay and Mr. Carton, who are both attracted to Lucie’s beauty and sweetness.
While this is going on, the French people, sick of oppression, prepare for revolution, led by the Defarges. As the years pass and the time for revolution is nigh, the Manettes and their friends are swept up into the cruelty and the bloodshed of the French Revolution.  

Dickens is absolutely an amazing writer. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of his books and I love how he connects all the characters so expertly, not to mention his brilliant descriptions and little ironic comments.
The characterization in this book is lovely. You feel that you can get to know the characters personally. Dr. Manette’s dependence upon Lucie, Mr. Lorry’s helpfulness, the shiftless yet tortured Sydney Carton, the cold vengefulness of Mrs. Defarge—all are so real and motivated. E.M. Forster, a British novelist and essayist, says this about his characters:
“Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures, people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter, and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow.” (Aspects of the Novel)
Yes, while Lucie may be always good and sweet, and Sydney always afflicted, and Charles Darnay always noble, they are not, to my mind anyway, boring. And there are some surprising aspects of characters as well, such as Jerry Cruncher, a porter for the bank, who is a grave robber by night.
Also, the twists of the story are very intriguing, like who Madame Defarge turns out to be, an explanation for her hatred of aristocrats. Or what happens to Sydney at the end (I won’t spoil it, but I saw it coming and I loved it and hated it at the same time!). It is such a long, long book, but I felt that every page was interesting. Since I have never studied the French Revolution, I don’t know how accurate the history is, but I did feel it gave me a picture of the futility and the instability of the times. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don’t recall any language in it, but I’m sure that there is a little swearing, as there sometimes is in Dickens. Obviously there is bloodshed in it as well. 
If you like Dickens, old and long novels, the French Revolution, or books in general, you’ll like this book!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: The Brothers Karamasov

I've always liked reading classics. There is something nice about reading something that so many people have related to. I remember reading Crime and Punishment when I was in high school and enjoying it. I had heard that The Brothers Karamazov was even better. So when I started Tim Challies' 2017 reading challenge, I decided to pick this book as one of them. My review is below.

Our story is set in Russia, and the spotlight falls upon a man name Fyodor Karamazov. A promiscuous, greedy, and self-indulgent man, he is married twice, one son resulting from his first marriage and two from the second. He ignores his sons, who are brought up by his servant and various relatives. His eldest son Dmitri is just as depraved as his father, spending his money lavishly in trivial pursuits. He borrows money from his father, much of which was Dmitri’s mother’s money and his inheritance. His second son Ivan is educated and works hard, becoming a clever writer and an atheist, while his youngest son Alyosha is a novice at a local monastery. There is an argument between Dmitri and his father about Dmitri’s inheritance, the son holding out that there is still money in his father’s possession that rightfully belongs to him. At the same time, both of them are in love with the same woman, a local woman who has a dubious reputation. Dmitri publicly declares that he is going to kill his father. When Fyodor is found dead and Dmitri was seen running from the crime scene, everyone assumes that Dmitri has killed him. But what really happened?

In some ways, I agree with the claim that this is one of the world’s best novels. It was a very emotional book. The characters were very life-like. None of them were without flaws, and it was easy to relate with them. Dmitri, though his words were penitent, refused to truly repent of his lifestyle. The influence of the father upon the sons, the pride and grudge-holding, madness and greed and lust, all were shown by the characters in this book, and I think everyone could see something of themselves in it. There were also good qualities in some of the characters. The elder Father Zosima was a good influence upon the community and upon Alyosha. He emphasized the importance of loving your neighbor. Also a sweet theme in the book was the loyalty of a son who lived in the village to his father, especially contrasted with the other father-son relationships in this book.

 As I read this book, I found myself wishing that humans had never fallen from a sinless state. I related with the struggles of Dmitri trying to wrench himself from the sinful path. Did he realize that salvation does not come from man? In some ways I could see that his brother Alyosha was resting peacefully in the salvation of God: doing good in the village with the love of Christ. He took to heart the words of his mentor to love his neighbor. It was easy to slip into a pessimistic outlook while reading this book, because of the evil shown in it. But we must remember that though mankind did fall into sin, as all the people in this book can attest, there is a promise of grace from God that is our strength in keeping upon the right path.

While I'm sure I didn't get the full meaning and purpose of the book in this one reading, I did enjoy reading this. There are adult themes, so I don't recommend this for someone younger than maybe fifteen (though I don't think I'd be interested in it if I was younger than fifteen). Have you read this book? What did you think of it?