Showing posts with label Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literature. Show all posts

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  41,217 Ratings  ·  22,209 Reviews
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood download or read it online for free
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.

Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?

“You’re clear, Mr. Duke.” Grins from both of them. What could Felix possibly be suspected of smuggling, a harmless old thespian like him? It’s the words that should concern you, he thinks at them. That’s the real danger. Words don’t show up on scanners.”

“Miranda nods, because she knows that to be true: noble people don't do things for the money, they simply have money, and that's what allows they to be noble. They don't really have to think about it much; they sprout benevolent acts the way trees sprout leaves.”


The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play. I’ve read it dozens of times and seen various versions of it over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen it live yet. One day I’ll see it live at the globe. There’s so much to take from this play, and Atwood’s interpretation completely blew my mind. The way she took one of the lines made me consider this in a completely new light!

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”

Caliban, the seed of the Hag, could be Prospero’s son? How interesting, I’ve never even considered this before! There’s a very convincing, though of course inconclusive, argument made by one of the characters in here to suggest this.

But I digress. This is far from the main point. This book is about a man called Felix, and he was the artistic director of a major theatre house until his assistant betrayed him and orchestrated a coup leaving Felix stranded in isolation. Sound familiar? Felix is our Prospero and he wants some revenge. So many years after he is disgraced he gets his opportunity. He stages his own version of The Tempest, using prison inmates that he teaches, to get back at those that wronged him. It is marvellously clever. He takes on the role of Prospero in the play, and he also becomes him in his real life.

What does this tell us about the story? Shakespeare wrote some truly brilliant narratives, and they really are timeless. Here one has been used in a modern setting to tell us a story that has happened and will happen again. I hesitate to generalise, but one thing I’ve learnt from reading a fair bit of Shakespeare is that his characters are real. They could be real. They are easily to identify with and the stories they have are easily seen in later works and in people’s actual lives. The point is Shakespeare was a very perceptive man, across his body of work he captured much of the human condition.

So Atwood has recreated The Tempest here and it’s beautiful. She has crafted all the themes of the Tempest into the form of this man’s life. And, ironically, he knows he is living The Tempest. He starts to actually become like Prospero. He becomes unhinged and can only taste that singular bitter pill known as revenge; it is literally all that animates him and it almost drives him too far into the depths of obsessive despair, though he has the power to come back. We all do. Very much in the tradition of the play, Felix comes back to himself. This really is a great piece of writing.

I struggled with my rating for this. This is an exceptional book, but I don’t consider it in the same esteem as other books I’ve rated five stars. It was a difficult call, so I gave it five stars but really consider it a 4.75.
After Felix, artistic director, of the Makeshiweg Festival, gets weaseled out of his job by Tony, his under-cutting 'right-hand-man' ...he moves off grid
into a hillside dwelling - an old rustic small shack with cobwebs, a smelly outhouse, surrounded by weeds. He tidied up the inside space --but
"despite his pathetic attempts at domesticity, he slept restlessly and woke often".

Both Felix's wife and child are deceased. He lived with grief, yet when Felix was the artistic director of the very reputable theatre company, which slime ball Tony is now, it was Felix's memory of his 3 year old daughter, Miranda, who had recently died of meningitis, that gave him purpose in directing
"The Tempest". ---which he never got to finish - being rushed out quickly. Felix has disappeared quite successfully. The sorrow of the loss of his daughter is intensifying. He'd tries to stay busy...goes to the library, buys something at the hardware store just to hear the sound of an ordinary human voice.
Felix begins to wonder what's happening to him.
"Had he begun to shamble? Was he regarded as a harmless local eccentric? Was he subject of tittle-tattle, or did anyone notice him at all? Did he even care?"
"The silence began to get to him. Not silence exactly. The bird songs, the chirping chirping of the crickets, the wind in the trees. The flies, buzzing so contrapuntally in his outhouse. Melodious. Soothing."

So, what did Felix want? What did he care about? What was his purpose now?
After spending reprehensible amounts of time sitting in the shade in an old chair he got from a garage sale staring into space....
He's clear he needs a focus and purpose. Eventually he concluded there were two things left for him to do - "two projects that could still hold satisfaction".
"First, he needed to get his, 'TEMPEST' back. He had to stage it, somehow, somewhere. His reasons were beyond theatrical; they had nothing to do with his reputation, his career – –none of that. Quite simply, his Miranda must be released from her glass coffin; she must be given a life".
"Second, he wanted revenge. He longed for it. He daydreamed about it. Tony and Sal must suffer. His present woeful situation was their doing, or a lot of it was. They treated him shabbily".

He realizes that as Felix Phillips - he's a washed up 'has-been' ....but as Mr. Duke, he might have a chance.
It's been 12 years since he worked for Makeshiweg. His new stage takes place inside a
prison:."The Fletcher County Correctional Institute in Ontario".
A low profile job- engaging with people -getting back in the real world: BRILLIANT!
Nothing better to help mend grief and grievances than to bring Shakespeare to prisoners! WHAT's NOT TO LOVE? The job came his way through a teacher in the
Literacy Through Literature program.

The woman who hired Felix was worried - worried that the prisoners would not be able to handle Shakespeare, given that many of them could barely read. Felix's argument was that Shakespeare's actors were journeyman, and bricklayers, and that they never read whole plays themselves. They memorize their lines.
"I believe in hands-on", said Felix as authoritatively as he could".
"Hands-on what?" said Estelle, truly alarmed now. "you have to respect your personal space, you're not allowed to..."
"We'll be performing", said Felix.
"That's what I mean. We'll enacting the plays". They'll do assignments and write essays
and all that". I'll mark those. I suppose that's what's required".
"Estelle smiled. "you're very idealistic" she said "Essays?" I really..."
"Pieces of prose," said Felix. "About which ever play we're doing."
"You really think so?" said Estelle
"You could get them to do that?"
"Give me three weeks", said Felix".

Once inside the prison -- this story is TERRIFIC!!! Flex and the inmates enact modernized versions of Shakespeare, including 'The Tempest". At times hilarious--often charming....and NO PROFANITY ...NO SWEARING!!! ( well, these prisoners are criminals, so it's not a perfect science). They loose points if they use swear words not used in the script. The can't swear at any time if they are in discussion about the characters or themes of the play either - or points Off!!
"Back to the drawing board", SnakeEye adds.
"Suck it up, dickhead". says Anne-Marie, or you can make your own fuckin' goddesses plus no cookies".
Chuckles. "Swearing! Swearing! Points off"! says Leggs"

This book becomes a play within a play--Felix is out for revenge staging a play....
just as 'The Tempest', is about a man ( Propero), staging a play for revenge.
As I was expecting...but was still found inspiring, Felix has a positive effect on the prisoners.

Moving Along:
....Slime Ball Tony is now a politician in Canada and he and other VIPs
will be coming to see a video taped show of 'Mr. Duke's inmate project with intentions of doing away with the "Literacy Through Literature" program".
Estelle knows Mr. Duke is Felix Phillips....( she has kept Felix's secret for years and even added support of him with her own camouflage). As far as everyone else -to
Distinguished visitors-- Dr. Duke is just a broken down old geezer of a failed teacher.
Tony is going to have a rude awakening.
Let the revenge begin......or Felix might say he is simply "balancing the scales".

Wonderful - fun - funny - touching ( teary-eye at the very end) --Really touching!

A contemporary retelling of “The Tempest”, Atwood’s novel is part of Hogarth Shakespeare Series that celebrates the Bard’s 400th anniversary and, in my humble opinion, it more than succeeds in preserving his timeless, thought-provoking genius.
Instead of narrowing down the complexities of the original play, Atwood embraces them all, adding further layers of ambiguity that open up multiple levels of understanding of the plot and subplots, creating a play within a play in a Russian doll narrative structure.

Like in Shakespeare’s play, the shifting forces between forms of freedom and imprisonment are at the core of the story. Accordingly, Atwood sets the action in the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, an actual prison in Canada where a motley array of criminals play the parts of the famous characters directed by Felix Phillips, our Prospero and former acclaimed theatre director. Betrayed by his financial manager Tony, Felix has to wait for twelve years before he is ready to scheme a revenge that will harbor hilarious situations and heart-breaking moments seducing all kind of audiences, from the most skeptical to the less demanding reader.

Irreverently humorous, eclectic, and subtly mordant about the roles of institutions and politicians on prison policies and social reintegration, Atwood is at her best weaving wit, depth and teasing in this adaptation. The Bard’s fierce literacy blends naturally with the slang, modern language used by the inmates with a touch of impish glee that is most sparkling when Felix persuades the actors to use only curse words that are present in the original text in exchange for smuggled cigarettes. Improbable expressions like “Scurvy awesome”, “Way to red plague go” or “What the pied ninny is this” ensue, making all the convicts not only endearing but also irresistibly funny. An inventive tribute to the Bard that I bet he would have approved of.

In spite of the fast-paced, almost casual style of Atwood’s storytelling and the light-hearted teasing between the somewhat clichéd cast of characters nothing is only one way in “Hag-Seed”. Everything comes in layers of double and triple meaning. Felix is both victim and oppressor, masterful playwright and prisoner of his own text; the actors are potentially dangerous criminals but also dissenters in a corrupt, unfair system. The play itself, like the island or the prison, goes back and forth between illusion and truth, vengeance and forgiveness, confinement and liberating force, like a shifting reflection on a mirror that splits up the light rays into a prismatic rainbow.

The last chapters of the novel are climatic, but they also invite the reader to careful meditation. Atwood seems to be asking whether we can ever get free from the inner prisons we build for ourselves. Grief for his lost baby daughter shackles Felix for twelve years, but her Ariel-like spirit whispers to him amidst the vast oceans of time and possibility, making the implausible more real than reality itself. She seems to say that if you can suspend disbelief and allow the sprites and the goblins eavesdrop into your secret hopes and fears, the poison might slowly turn into sweet wine. But until when?
What ultimately differentiates the villain from the hero is the courage to let go of those you retain at your side, to gather enough stamina to set them free, to send them back to the elements, to the magic of timeless limbo; and bid them a well-meant farewell from our lonely shores, and keep on walking at a steady pace towards the place we belong.
This is the second of this series of Shakespeare rewrites that I have read and it was so good! It shows how a really good, quality writer like Margaret Atwood can successfully turn her hand to anything.
Of course her writing is always beautiful, whatever the topic, but in this book she was amazing in her originality. By the time her main character, Mr Duke, had written his version of The Tempest I was longing to be able to go and see it performed. Her interpretation and ideas were just brilliant.
It is a long time since I have read or seen The Tempest performed so some of Atwood's nuances and parallels maybe passed me by, but I noticed enough to make it a totally entertaining and enjoyable read.
This book was fan-freaking-tastic. I adored it.

I have such immense respect for Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is right up there with other dystopian classics like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 in its scope of influence. But that’s the only book of hers that I’ve read all the way through, and that particular book was assigned for a class. I liked it, but it was homework, which always skews my enjoyment level a bit. There are other books by Atwood that I’ve picked up, but I could never get into them. But Hag-Seed was so small. Surely I could get through that one, right?

To prepare for reading it, I assigned myself some homework; reread The Tempest, the Shakespearean play that Hag-Seed retells. And reading it definitely felt like homework. But I’m so glad that I read it, because there was a richness to Hag-Seed that I would have missed without the play fresh in my mind. Do you have to read The Tempest to enjoy Hag-Seed? Nope! There’s a short summary of the play in the back of Atwood’s book, for anyone who isn’t familiar.

So, what did I think of Hag-Seed? I adored it. Five-star reviews are usually reserved for my favorites, books that I will read again and again, but I can’t find enough fault with this book to bump it down to four stars. I was hesitant about it when I picked it up and figured that, if I did enjoy the book, it would be in the same way that I enjoy a classic or a popular novel. That I would (hopefully) like it and feel that I had checked something off of a to-do list. But I should have had more faith in Atwood. Hag-Seed was fabulous! The Tempest is a play-within-a-play, and Hag-Seed added another layer of “within-a-play” to that. Felix was pitiable in the opening chapters of the book, but he wasn’t likable. At all. His growth throughout the story was wonderful to follow. Hag-Seed was deep, and moving, and funny. And that's all I'll say, so as not to spoil it for anyone. I was immensely entertained, and I highly recommend it!
This is a retelling of a Shakespearean play I've never read, and it's by Margaret Atwood whom I believe to be one of the finest story tellers. I had a feeling I was going to love this, and I did.
"The Tempest" is retold through Felix who takes on the job of teaching prisoners how to read Shakespeare and how to play him. Felix has a secret wish for revenge, though, which serves as his main motivation for doing this exact play with the prisoners.
It was interesting to see how Atwood mixes two completely different worlds: a prison and Shakespeare. However, Shakespeare was after all for everyone - the poor and the noble visited his Globe theatre because Shakespeare appealed to everyone.
What Atwood does beautifully is that she tells the story of The Tempest through Felix' and the prisoners' lives. Felix has experienced loss and wishes for revenge; in other words, his life has been through quite a tempest.
In the end, Atwood wraps up everything through adressing the questions that the original play leaves unanswered. This was one of the weaker parts, in my eyes, because I wanted to read more about the characters and not their predictions for possible answers. The reenactment of the play was also somewhat to the silly side, but overall I was impressed with how Atwood takes on this retelling and makes it absorbing and intriguing. I'm a fan!
“The island is a theatre. Prospero is a director. He’s putting on a play, within which there’s another play. If his magic holds and his play is successful, he’ll get his heart’s desire. But if he fails…”

This is a marvelous re-telling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It is a tale of prisons within prisons, of prisoners who do not realize they’re imprisoned, of vengeance and revenge. The most beautiful part of this book is that it is prisoners who are putting on the play. Their thoughts on the characters, plot and imagined future outcomes are all explored. Margaret Atwood’s retelling, in effect, goes deeper than the original. I, as the reader, was left amazed at how well all the intricacies of plot worked out to mirror the original work in such a way that it actually took the plot further, creating a doubling effect: a play within a play (maybe within another play). It feels genius as you read it, and further intensifies the prisons within prisons theme.

This is fourth installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which excellent writers are tackling retellings of Shakespeare’s literature. “The Tempest” is the last written work of William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611. I plan to re-read “The Tempest” and rewrite this review (or at least rethink it). I am that inspired by this novel.

There were a couple fairly major departures from the novel. The largest being that, Miranda, Felix’s daughter in Atwood’s version has died at the age of 3, however Felix imagines he still sees her and she is there with him until the end of the novel when he is able to release her. I actually think this brings an additional element of fantasy to the novel, a hint of madness to the sorcerer. She actually becomes entwined into the role of the fairy as enacted in the prison. It also allows for another level of imprisonment.

This version does not take place on an island, but Felix (Prospero) banishes himself to a remote area living in a shack with landlords that maybe never were. It is all very mysterious. He lives in seclusion for twelve years prior to taking the job at the prison where through a literacy program he and the inmates re-enact Shakespeare plays. It is here at the correctional facility that “The Tempest” is re-enacted in more ways than one with the outcome that Felix desires, the overthrowing of Antonio who had taken away his theater directorship.

The work that Felix does at the correctional facility feels magical. The relationship he develops with the inmates and the enthusiasm and interest they show for working on the plays seems incredible. As quoted from Felix within the novel, “Maybe the island really is magic. Maybe it’s a kind of mirror: each one sees in it a reflection of his inner self. Maybe it brings out who you really are. Maybe it’s a place where you’re supposed to learn something. But what is each one of these people supposed to learn? And do they learn it?” This seems to be exactly what is happening within Felix’s theater in the prison.

This is a novel full of modern day wit, whimsy, vigor. Margaret Atwood infuses rap, dance, old world swearing, and much self discovery into the prisoner’s re-enactment. It is super fun to read, yet has its dark melancholic side in true Atwood form, and can be dissected in so many ways. The prisoners each have their own interpretations of the characters and their expected outcomes, which is true of all great literature. I highly recommend this to Shakespeare fans or just fans of great literature! This is Atwood at her best!

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  6,116 Ratings  ·  1,052 Reviews
From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, “a master storyteller” (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars.

Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.

Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.


My friend Wyndy recommended this book to me, and in her own review said that she didn't write well enough to do justice to this book. The truth is that no one does. It contains worlds, but at it's heart is the story of 3 people coming together to make a family. It is told through the eyes and in the words of Thomas McNulty, and his language carries you away like a river. I give you some of his words:

"We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world."

" Man, we was so clean and nice, I wished I could have met myself. "

"A man's memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can't do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards. I ain't got no argument with it, just saying it is so."

" There's old sorrow in your blood like second nature and new sorrow that maddens the halls of sense. Causes an uproar there. "

"Killing hurts the heart and soils the soul."

"In my exaltation I forget I ain't got a bean of money but it don't concern me and I know I can rely on the kindness of folk along the way. The ones that don't try to rob me will feed me. That's how it is in America. I never felt such joy of heart as in those days traipsing southward. "

I could give you many more because honestly, every sentence in this novel sparkles with beauty at the same time it grabs you by the throat. An unbelievable tale of the building of America, and how, in the end, love really is the only thing that matters.
Sometimes you know you ain't a clever man. But likewise sometimes the fog of usual thoughts clears off in a sudden breeze of sense and you see things clear a moment like a clearing country. We blunder through and call it wisdom but it ain't. They say we be Christians and suchlike but we ain't. They say we are creatures raised by God above the animals but any man that has lived knows that's damned lies.

Days Without End is extremely well-written historical fiction that overall left me admiring the prose and language far more than enjoying the somewhat improbable circumstances and unfolding events of the novel. This was my first time reading Sebastian Barry, and his talent to turn a phrase and paint with words vivid descriptions all in the voice of a singular character is incredible. I felt a bit removed though from the proceedings: even though I believed the emotions and ideas described, I myself was not invested in the outcome, mainly because the ending felt inevitable and a bit predictable (if not also sentimental and satisfying). But I thoroughly loved the writing: the descriptions, dialogue, and reflections on war and brutality and suffering and friendship were so grounded in reality and yet elevated to almost poetry in terms of the beauty. I'd probably give this 3.5 stars, but rounded up to 4 for its overall literary excellence, even if I wasn't emotionally connected or drawn into the characters and events to the same extent as I was hooked on the craft.

I may continue to flesh out this review as I let this full story digest with me, but for now, I would recommend this to readers of literary and historical fiction with interest in the American West and Civil War, who embrace a somewhat slow tale in which the writing holds more attention than the events.
Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” was a bit reminiscent to me of the strange travels in “News of the World” with writing that reminded me of my grandfather’s reading to me of Walt Whitman. Not that I haven’t read Whitman on my own, but I only hear it anymore in my grandfather’s voice.

There’s a lovely, if somber, touch to the writing, with prose that sings the song of every man.

“We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.”

This story is narrated by a young Thomas McNulty, a youth who fled Ireland during the time of the Great Famine, came to America, and after many years surviving as a dancer in a saloon along with his then new-found friend John Cole, they volunteered and joined the Army when he was seventeen, or thereabouts, in Missouri.

”If you had all your limbs they took you. If you were a one-eyed boy they might take you too even so. The only pay worse than the worst pay in America was army pay.”

“ Yes, the army took me, I’m proud to say. Thank God John Cole was my first friend in America and so in the army too and the last friend for that matter. He was with me nearly all through this exceeding surprising Yankee sort of life which was good going in every way. No more than a boy like me but even at sixteen years old he looked like a man right enough. I first saw him when he was fourteen or so, very different. That’s what the saloon owner said too.”

They go off, at first, to fight the Indian Wars against the Sioux and the Yurok, and then later, the Civil War. Between those two wars, they bring an eight year-old Sioux girl to live with them. A girl that Mrs. Neale, the Major’s wife, had been teaching, she had learned English and her letters and numbers, along with some cooking skills. Still, Mrs. Neale only agrees to allow this after Thomas assures her that they only want this girl for a servant and not for “their own solace,” and he promises to protect her as his own child. They call her Winona, and from thereon she is known as John Cole’s daughter in a legal sense, but in reality they view her as nothing less than their daughter.

” I guess it’s long ago now. Seems to sit right up in front of my eyes just now though.”

Time. The passage of time is one of the details of life he often reflects on.

”Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on forever, all rested and stopped in that moment. Hard to say what I mean by that. You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life.”

Nature is another object of his reflections. Life in the war and after, the endless nights of sleeping in cold so bitter and deep it could take your life. Days and nights so hot you could barely breathe. The land. The sky viewed as if it were a painting.

”Now in these different districts, the sun came up that bit earlier, more eagerly, more like the baker putting fire into his bread oven, in the small hours, so the women in the town would have bread bright early. Lord, that sun rose regular and sere, he didn’t care who saw him, naked and round and white. Then the rains came walking over the land, as exciting the new grasses, thundering down, hammering like fearsome little bullets, making the shards and dusts of the earth dance a violent jig. Making the grass seeds drunk with ambition. Then the sun pouring in after the rain, and the wide endless prairie steaming, a vast and endless vista of white steam rising, and the flocks of birds wheeling and turning, a million birds to one cloud, we’d a needed a blunderbuss to harvest them, small black fleet wondrous birds.”

Life, what comprises a life at the end of it, the things we recall when stripped down to the days when our breaths can be counted.

”A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.”

War is brutal, gloomy, dark and disturbing, and yet this book couldn’t be more poetic, more powerful, more remarkable, more captivating, more of a pleasure to read, or just plain lovelier.
This is the first book I have read that is new enough to qualify for this year's Booker prize, and it sets the bar pretty high. This is a wild picaresque fantasy set in nineteenth century America, and is very different to any of Barry's previous novels, all of which are much closer to modern Ireland. This time the narrator Thomas, another member of the Sligo McNulty family, is a poor Irish boy who has lost his family to the potato famine and has found his way across the Atlantic.

Thomas meets John Cole, a slightly older American born drifter when they are sheltering from rain under a hedge. It soon becomes clear that this is more than just a simple friendship. Their first job is dressing up as girls to act as hired dancers in a mid-Western town. When this work reaches its natural end because John is too big, they enlist in the army and are involved in various skirmishes with the local Indians (it seems wrong to use the term native Americans in this 19th century context). After one of these, Thomas and John find themselves adopting a girl who was the niece of the local chief, and they leave the army to start a new life as entertainers in Grand Rapids, a mining town, but are soon persuaded to rejoin the Army when the civil war breaks out. The remainder of the book follows their escapades after the war.

As in his earlier book A Long Long Way, Barry describes war in chaotic and unsentimental detail, but the farcical elements of this story are never far from the surface. McNulty's voice is a wonderful hybrid, probably too literate to be plausible, but that seems a necessary artifice and makes the story much more readable. The plot stretches credulity at times, but has some lovely twists, and this makes for a very satisfying read. This might just be Barry's best book yet, and is certainly the most audacious.
     "Things just go on. Lot of life is just like that. I look back over fifty years of life and I wonder where the years went. I guess they went like that, without me noticing much. A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards. I ain’t got no argument with it, just saying it is so."

What an absolutely beautiful story. And believe me, I never thought I'd find myself saying that about a Civil War-era novel. I'm not particularly one for war stories in general. If I read one I'm much more interested in looking at how civilian life is affected by war and the ways in which people cope with that disruption of everyday life, so I usually stay away from battlefront narratives.

But this book is so much more than a war story.

First and foremost, it's about a man named Thomas McNulty who's emigrated from Ireland and made his way to the U.S. during the American Indian wars, especially ones on the Great Plains. Then it moves into the Civil War-era where he finds himself once again at war fighting for the Union. Along the way he's accompanied by John Cole, his best friend and secret lover. (The blurb doesn't really highlight their romance, but it's very clear in the story, though not really a main plot—just a fact.) Later on they take in a young Native American girl who becomes like their daughter. The three of them go through many adventures over the span of many years.

Things I loved about this book:

-The writing style: It took a bit of getting used to because it's written in a very conversational style, often with improper grammar. But wow. Barry is a master at this style. After a while I barely noticed it, and instead felt like Thomas was speaking directly to me.

-The characters: Though I do wish we had gotten to see a bit more of John, overall all the characters were extremely realistic, even the side characters in the army that we only saw for bits and pieces of the story. I was completely invested in their lives, and it was really this that kept me reading when the plot wasn't as exciting.

-The length: This isn't a long book, and I feel like Barry could've made it twice as long, filled it with even more events over the years, and probably could've gotten away with it. But it's brevity serves the story well. It was amazing what he could do to emotionally stir up the reader in such a short span of time.

Though you can see I thought this book was phenomenal, I am positive there will be people who read this and go..."huh?" It's not for every reader. But it was perfect for me. And again, I'm thankful that books like this were put on the Man Booker longlist because I might otherwise never gotten around to reading it.
Days Without End is an impressively constructed first person narrative. Barry does a nice job of utilizing language one would expect to hear in 19th century America. I was struck by the author's ability to develop characters through the eyes of our narrator, Thomas McNulty. This method obviously differs from third person narratives that allow characters to be constructed through multiple points of view, but Barry's method lent this novel an air of authenticity.

This novel also packs a lot of punch in a mere 259 pages. A lot of ground is covered- literally and figuratively- as our lead characters fight in the Indian Wars and Civil War. I can't decide if the novel's brevity is a positive or if it would be better served with another couple hundred pages. As is, a lot of events occur almost too quickly. Three years of Civil War experiences are covered in less than one hundred pages. I suppose the fact that I wanted the novel to be longer attests to my high opinion of the writing.

Very worthy of being long-listed for the Man Booker.

"What crazy war is this? What world we making? We don't know. I guess whatever world it is is ending."
It’s a bittersweet feeling to finish a book that’s had me in such a hold for these last few days. I am delighted to have read it but I’m already missing that world and the people in it… most particularly Thomas McNulty. As wonderful a narrator as I’ve come across in months.

I’ve read a great deal of books in differing styles, and somehow it still surprises me when I come across something so inimitable as this. What gives this book it’s individuality, in my opinion, is Thomas’s voice. He’s such an amalgam of resilience, determination, gentleness and courage. Above all, he’s honest with himself about his true nature, a man ahead of his time.

In this story you’ll find violence and cruelty, apropos to the time period and setting, but you’ll also find family, love, and loyalty in abundance. I guess I can’t describe it any better than that, except to say that I frequently ran the gamut of emotions within just a couple of chapters. The rest is for you to discover; this book truly speaks for itself.
'Days Without End' by Sebastian Barry

5 stars/ 10 out of 10

I have read several of Sebastian Barry's earlier books (my favourite of which is 'The Secret Scripture'), so I was very interested in reading this latest novel of his.

This novel is a first person narrative told by Thomas McNulty, who came over to the USA from Ireland as a child, during the Famines. It tells of his life as a soldier in both the Indian Wars and the Civil War, and after.

The period covered by the novel is a period in North American history of which I only have a sketchy knowledge. One of the things that I like about Barry's writing, is that I feel confident that he is historically accurate. So I don't feel the need to question these aspects of the narrative.

It was a slow read, but in a good way. The story was very detailed, and the back and forward stories of the main characters were revealed as the story developed. There were many moments of surprise for me along the way.

The language was so beautiful, that I wanted to savour it. The only slight niggle I had occasionally was, as to whether the narrator, Thomas McNulty, would, in reality, have talked in such poetic language. I'm guessing that Barry's answer to this would be that there is poetry in all of us. Whilst I am reading his work, he convinces me of this. Barry's great skill as a writer is to show to the reader, the nuances and subtleties that there are in all of humanity.

I thought this was an excellent novel, and is one that I look forward to re-reading at some stage.
Has an Irishman written the Great American Novel? The question is not theoretical; Sebastian Barry’s latest novel is the fourth time he has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The novel is his seventh, but it is Barry’s long experience writing for the theatre—thirteen plays already—that lends excitement to this work. After the years of excellent effort, suddenly Thomas Thomasina McNulty springs full-grown from Barry’s well-tilled field. The extraordinary success of this gem of a novel set in 1850’s America is all about preparedness and inspiration.

The novel is not long but is fluent and unstrained; it makes big statements about human existence, war, love, about what we want, and what we get. It is remarkable how squarely Barry lands in the middle of the American debate so clamorous around us now, about race, diversity, sexuality, what we fight for and who fights for us—questions we’ve never satisfactorily answered, and so they are back again.

Barry gives us humor in a horribly violent world, surprising and delighting us with his deadpan delivery. His diverse cast of characters are reliant on one another, all viewed through the eyes of an Irishman who’d suffered such terrible deprivations as a child that man’s cruelty never surprised him. What did surprise him was that we could find a way to love, to happiness, despite our sorrows.

In the early pages Thomas McNulty meets John Cole under a hedge in a rainstorm. John Cole is a few years older, but both the orphaned young boys is a wild thing, having ‘growed' in the school of hard knocks. Uncanny judges of character, they almost instantly decide they stand a better chance together in the rough-and-tumble than alone and set off on a series of adventures. The pace of the novel is swift. When I go back to find a memorable passage, I am shocked at how quickly events unfolded, and how quickly I am deeply involved.

The language is one of the novel's wonders. Barry doesn’t try to hide his brogue, but uses it: a stranger in a strange land. That distance and perspective allows Thomas to make comment upon what is commonly observed

    "Everything bad gets shot in America, says John Cole, and everything good too."


    "I know I can rely on the kindness of folk along the way. The ones that don’t try to rob me will feed me. That how it is in America."

The novel constantly surprises: when the boys answer the ad hung awry on a saloon door in a broken-down Kansas town, “Clean Boys Wanted,” we prepare for the worst. Within pages we are jolly and laughing, then agonized and pained, then back again, our emotions rocketing despite the tamped-down telling. Our initial sense of extreme danger never really leaves us, but serves to prepare us for the Indian wars, those pitiful, personal slaughters, and the Civil War, which comes soon enough.

The most remarkable bits of this novel, the sense of a shared humanity within a wide diversity, seemed so natural and obvious and wonderful we wanted to crawl under that umbrella and shelter there. These fierce fighting men fought for each other rather than for an ideal. Their early lives were so precarious they’d formed alliances across race, religion, national origin when they were treated fair. “Don’t tell me a Irish is an example of civilised humanity…you‘re talking to two when you talk to one Irishman.”

And then there is the notion of time, if it is perceived at all by youth: “Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending…” By the end of the novel, the characters do indeed perceive time: “I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life. And it is not like that now.” We have been changed, too, because we also perceive time, and sorrow and pain and those things that constitute joy. We have lived his life, and ours, too.

Barry gets so much right about the America he describes: the sun coming up earlier and earlier as one travels east, the desert-but-not-desert plains land, the generosity and occasional cooperation between the Indian tribes and the army come to dispatch them, the crazy deep thoughtless racism. But what made me catch my breath with wonder was the naturalness of the union between Thomasina McNulty and John Cole and the fierceness of the love these two army men had for an orphaned, laughing, high-spirited, bright star of an Indian girl they called Winona.

Barry understands absolutely that our diversity makes us stronger, better men. Leave the pinched and hateful exclusion of differentness to sectarian tribes, fighting for the old days. We know what the old days were like. We can do better. I haven’t read all the Man Booker longlist yet, but most, and this is at the top of my list. It is a treasure.

I had access to the Viking Penguin hardcopy of this novel--I'm still surprised at how small it is, given the expansive nature of the story--but I also had the audio from Hoopla. I needed both: the pace of the novel is swift, and may cause us to read faster than we ought. Barry writes poetically, which by rights should slow us down. The Blackstone Audio production, though read quickly by Aidan Kelly, allows us to catch things we will have missed in print and vice versa. At several stages in this novel, crises impel us forward. As we rush to see what happens, we may miss the beauty. Don't miss the beauty. Books like these are so very rare.
"Things that give you heart are rare enough, better note them in your head when you find them and not forget."

DAYS WITHOUT END is the latest entry from Sebastian Barry in his loose, multi-generational McNulty family series, and it's his best one yet. With this one, he takes us to a completely different time and place: the American West, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War. It's a surprising and wholly original take on men in wartime.

There is harrowing violence and suffering: battlefields, massacres, a POW camp, famine in Ireland (and hellishness on ships escaping from it). But there's no sentimentality, and few false notes in Barry's descriptions. His characters are honest and true, and full of real-life contradictions. Good people do some very bad things. In his depiction of war, we see heroism and cowardice, stupidity and wisdom, terror and exhilaration, brutality and compassion. Mostly these soldiers just get on with it: "Nothing too tricky about dying for your country. It's the easiest item on the menu."

Barry's novel has received some attention for its depiction of homosexuality and cross-dressing among American soldiers. (I hope that's not a spoiler; it's revealed very early in the book.) But for all the fuss about that, the book is really about so much more. It's about love and compassion in the toughest of circumstances. Yes, there's romantic love . . . but also parental love, platonic love, and the unique bonds that men in combat share with each other. And it's also a fresh and important take on the Irish experience in America.

As powerful as Barry's story is, his economy is even more striking. He seems to have packed a whole world into this slender novel.

The story is tough and tender in equal measure. It's also witty and funny. I'm not sure I've read anything quite like it. It's a truly unique and unsettling work of fiction. Barry's prose is clean and lovely, and the first-person narration is pitch-perfect. He has captured the voice of Thomas McNulty just so.

"Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on forever, all rested and stopped in that moment. . . . You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life. . . . I am wondering what words we said so carelessly that night, what vigorous nonsense we spoke, what drunken shouts we shouted, what stupid joy there was in that, and how John Cole was only young then and as handsome as any person that has ever lived. Young, and there would never be a change for that. The heart rising, and the soul singing."

This extraordinary novel gave me heart, and I won't forget it.

Here's a glass raised to Sebastian Barry and his McNulty family. I hope there are many more of their stories to come.
I love, love this book! Days Without End is one of the finest books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. (I’ve luckily been able to say this twice this year!)

Winner of the Costa Book Award, this historical fiction is about two young Irish men leaving the great famine behind to come to America. Thomas McNulty, in the first narrative, takes us through American history with his best friend and partner, John Cole, by joining the Army to make a living. A violently written novel, the author, Sebastian Barry, vividly portrays the US Indian wars and the Civil War. His two main characters are the finest of mankind. Two people you would love to count as friends. Fighting men as brave as they come, but also fiercely loyal and kind-hearted.

What a joy to listen to the Irish brogue of Aidan Kelly. I am thankful to have decided on the audiobook. The writing had me looking through the eyes of McNulty like I was there throughout their hardships and adventures.

Unbeknownst to me, Sebastian Barry is an Irish poet, playwright, and novelist. Days Without End shows his poetic influence. Just beautifully written. I will most certainly be reading more of his books.

Highly recommend.
5 out of 5 stars.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  92,554 Ratings  ·  11,013 Reviews
Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur download or read it online for free
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur is a writer and artist based in Toronto, Canada. With a focus in poetry, she released her first book of prose and poems in November 2014. Throughout her poetry, photography, illustrations, and creative direction she engages with themes of femininity, love, loss, trauma, and healing. When she is not writing or creating art, she is travelling internationally to perform her spoken word poetry, as well as hosting writing workshops.



milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose.

It’s difficult trying to review this because every poem is extremely personal, tender and exquisite in its own way.

So I decided to feature some of my favorite ones:

“you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow”

“i struggle so deeply
to understand
how someone can
pour their entire soul
blood and energy
into someone
without wanting
anything in

- i will have to wait till i’m a mother”

“when my mother says i deserve better
i snap to your defense out of habit
he still loves me i shout
she looks at me with defeated eyes
the way a parent looks at their child
when they know this is the type of pain
even they can’t fix
and says
it means nothing to me if he loves you
if he can’t do a single wretched thing about it”

“he only whispers i love you
as he slips his hands
down the waistband
of your pants

this is where you must
understand the difference
between want and need
you may want that boy
but you certainly
don’t need him”

“i am a museum full of art
but you had your eyes shut”

“people go
but how
they left
always stays”

“what i miss most is how you loved me. but what i didn’t know was how you loved me had so much to do with the person i was. it was a reflection of everything i gave to you. coming back to me. how did i not see that. how. did i sit here soaking in the idea that no one else would love me that way. when it was i that taught you. when it was i that showed you how to fill. the way i needed to be filled. how cruel i was to myself. giving you credit for my warmth simply because you had felt it. thinking it was you who gave me strength. wit. beauty. simply because you recognized it. as if i was already not these things before i met you. as if i did not remain all these once you left.”

“loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself”“you tell me
i am not like most girls
and learn to kiss me with your eyes closed
something about the phrase—something about
how i have to be unlike the women
i call sisters in order to be wanted
makes me want to spit your tongue out
like i am supposed to be proud you picked me
as if i should be relieved you think
i am better than them”

“other women’s bodies
are not our battlegrounds”

“you were a dragon long before
he came around and said
you could fly

you will remain a dragon
long after he’s left”

“you look at me and cry
everything hurts

i hold you and whisper
but everything can heal”

“how you love yourself is
how you teach others
to love you”

“what terrifies me most is how we
foam at the mouth with envy
when others succeed
but sigh in relief
when they are failing

our struggle to
celebrate each other is
what’s proven most difficult
in being human”

(Most of my favorite quotes were from the healing section, and it was pretty though trying to narrow it down to my preferred quotes.)
Breathtaking - Brutal - Beautiful

Rupi Kaur's poetry is unlike traditional poetry. For one thing - this small book feels like a graphic poetry novel.
Many of the pages had a familiar 'looking-style' which short poems have....but with the delicate, simple, drawings, I forgot I was reading poetry. The drawings tell a story --we feel the emotions from the them before we even read the words. In essence,
capturing bruises women have experienced.

The book is divided into four sections: hurting, loving, breaking, healing.
This book honors women.....addressing chaos with, loss, trauma, abuse, healing, and femininity.

It's real. It's raw. It's relatable.

I say again.... 'beautiful'

"If you were born with
the weakness to fall
you were born with
the strength to rise".

  makes you grateful for your love of reading because it makes you understand how powerful words can be. It fills you with peace, acceptance and joy. You know that moment when you read something and you think. 
I needed years and a lot of pain to come to the same conclusion, if only I would have read this book earlier, it tells everything with such clarity”. I will recommend it to anyone who’s sad, depressed, down, heartbroken or lost. Basically the message is accept your flaws, move on, life is flux, don’t let anyone make you feel unworthy. Be a shark. A nice, feminine, gentle shark. But a shark.
You are every hope I’ve ever had in human form.
Love knows life has been hard enough already
You said, if it is meant to be, fate will bring us back together. [...] It’s us you fool. We’re the only ones that can bring us together.[...] Isn’t it such a tragic thing. When you can see it so clearly but the other person doesn’t.
Don’t mistake salt for sugar if he wants to be with you he will it’s that simple
You’d rather have the darkest parts of him than have nothing
You whisper I love you What you mean is I don’t want you to leave
Like I am supposed to be proud you picked me
But I swear you will get through the hurt will pass as it always does
Nothing even matters except love and human connection
You have to stop searching for why at some point you have to leave it alone
If you are not enough for yourself you will never be enough for someone else
terrifies me most is how we foam at the mouth with envy when others succeed but sigh in relief when they are failing

I’ve heard THE PRINCESS SAVE HERSELF IN THIS ONE and FORTY RULES OF LOVE are similar to milk and honey.
To be simply put, this isn't a book meant to be loved or raved about. It is just meant to be read.

I feel as if the people giving it three stars or so went in expecting it to ravish them, thrill them but it was not meant for that. Why on earth would you seek something so much more from a book that was written so truthfully, with feelings so raw that the hurt and the bitterness and the sorrows behind the words will never dull?

This was her story. She isn't asking for you to judge if it's "exciting" enough because it's not a fiction meant to be critiqued. Life isn't always "okay and then what?" Sometimes you can get stuck before you even try to move on.

if you were born with
the weakness to fall
you were born with
the strength to rise

I am so moved by this. These were words she had woven out for herself and now we are allowed to read them and take them to our hearts, too.

you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow

Honestly, I am a young woman, a college student, surrounded by women who dumb themselves down and go out of their way to impress boys-because they think that'll give them happiness, in the end, and it may, but it will be what they think happiness is rather than what it actually is. But I've never felt more alive than when I was happy with myself, even if it was a small thing. And this poetry encourages self love beyond anything. It normalizes it. You can't get anywhere in life if you're holding yourself back.

The doodles were so wonderful! Sincerely, they made me want to rip out the pages and put them up on my walls so I can look at them and remind myself of what is and what isn't and how I should grow, too.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  215,586 Ratings  ·  10,007 Reviews
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe download or read online for free
Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
 THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.


“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart. It throbbed in the air, in the sunshine, and even in the trees, and filled the village with excitement.” - Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

This is a book of many contrasts; colonialism and traditional culture, animism and Christianity, the masculine and the feminine, and the ignorant and the aware (although who is who depends on who’s speaking).

Okonkwo is one of the most intriguing characters in African fiction. He epitomizes so much I dislike; he’s abusive, misogynist, has very little patience or tolerance for the weak, and is perhaps he’s even over-ambitious. Despite all his faults, it’s impossible not to pity him a little because, after all, the life he knows, the life of his ancestors, is being taken from him quite cruelly by the British settlers.

This book really takes the reader into the Igbo culture. Achebe shows the traditional culture very well, a culture which is rife with superstition but rich in context. I loved the inclusion of the African proverbs and folk tales, and the details of the Igbo clan system. Achebe also shows how tightknit precolonial African culture was and how, despite not having the so-called civilized institutions, things went pretty smoothly because of the community spirit and also the societal rules. The importance of ancestors in society is a part of this:

“The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them.”

Achebe managed to inject some humour into such bleak subject matter, although I think this feat is quite common among African writers:

”You grew your ears for decoration, not for hearing.”

What I found difficult to come to terms with, as an African Christian myself, is the horrific way Christianity was introduced to the African continent. However, despite the lack of respect the colonialists showed to the people, it’s hard to deny that there were some aspects of African tradition that were outdated and people had the option of leaving such tradition behind, especially if it was harmful. For example, in this book the outcasts and the parents of twin babies (who had to kill their babies to prevent evil from entering the village) obviously found it easier to abandon tradition.

I think this book was the first one that made me realize the terrible impact of colonialism. I’ve always been curious about how Chinese women with bound feet must have felt after that fashion was seen as barbaric and unfashionable, and in the same vein I’ve also wondered about how those in African cultures who had lots of power and were accorded lots of respect might have felt when new values undermined everything they had worked towards.

This book reminds me a lot of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between” which focuses on similar subject matter, albeit on the other side of the continent (Kenya). I would highly recommend both of them.
I read this many years ago as a teenager, before it was as well known as it is today, and then I read it again in college. Readers often expect imperialism to be dealt with in black and white. 
Either the author desires to see native ways preserved and consequently views any imperial attempts as immoral and threatening, or he's a Kipling-style "white man's burden" devotee who believes non-European cultures ought to be improved by supervision from their European "superiors." Yet Things Fall Apart is a novel that complicates both of those simplistic views. In it, a desire to preserve the native way of life coexists with an urge to admit improvements to it. A tension inevitably arises from the juxtaposition of these two goals. In Things Fall Apart, this tension courses through every page, and it is part of what makes the book so fascinating.

Achebe seems to despise the tendency to simplify complex human life. The events that occur in Things Fall Apart signify the destruction of an entire way of life, an obliteration of the ties that bind a people together. Yet it is not that Achebe unconditionally embraces the culture of the Ibo people. He makes the reader feel for Okonkwo's father, whose failure by Ibo standards is the source of Okonkwo's severity, and for his son, Nwoye, who does not fit into the strictly ordered masculine warrior society.

I appreciated, especially, Achebe's nuanced portrayl of both the positive and negative aspects of missionary activity. When the missionaries come to Nigeria, the church provides a haven for the discontent: for the woman who can not bear to leave her twins to die, for the outcasts who are shunned by the community, and for Nwoye, who can only fit into Ibo society by denying himself. I was moved by Achebe's depiction of how Christianity provides a place for the outcast: the hymn they sing about brothers "who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted [Nwoye's] young soul--the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul."

Yet by providing an outlet for the discontent, the church begins to unravel the ties that bind the Ibo people together. Although the church gives dignity to the outcast and the misunderstood, the second missionary who comes fails to restrain his converts from injuring the dignity of other Ibos. Achebe makes us sympathize with Nwoye's dissatisfaction and acknowledges that Ibo culture was imperfect, but through Okonkwo he also shows us what was lost when the Ibos failed to preserve their culture from the onslaught of the Europeans. What was lost, Achebe has said elsewhere, was DIGNITY, "and it is this that they must now regain. The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect. The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing in human terms what happened to them." Achebe succeeds brilliantly. He painfully and tragically depicts the tragedy that can result when the only way of life a man has ever known begins to crumble.
Achebe’s protagonist isn’t a very nice man. In reality he is an asshole. 
I don’t like him. I don’t think anyone really does. He is ruthless and unsympathetic to his fellow man. He grew up in a warrior’s culture; the only way to be successful was to be completely uncompromising and remorseless. His father was weak and worthless, according to him, so he approached life with an unshakable will to conquer it with his overbearing masculinity.

”When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavy in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man as judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his farther.”

I love the sarcasm in this quote. Achebe is clearly suggesting that this is not true for the white man. For all their supposed superiority, they cannot get this simple thing right. The African tribe here has a better system of promotion based on merit. The warrior Okonkwo has a chance to prove himself regardless of what occurs in the more “civilised” part of the world. And here is the crux of the novel. Achebe gives the black man a voice; he gives him culture and civilisation. These men are not represented in an unjust way. He is directly responding to the ignorant trend in Victorian literature that represented the colonised as unintelligible and voiceless: they were shown to be savage. Achebe gives us the reality.
This quote says it all:

“If you don't like my story, write your own”.

And that’s exactly what he did himself. He holds no judgement. His protagonist is completely flawed. Okonkwo is without mercy; he has earnt his fame and respect, so when an untitled youngster speaks out he is immediately roused to anger. This is his hamartia, his tragic flaw, he must overcome this and treat his fellow tribesmen with a degree of dignity. But, he is a slow learner. And who can blame him? For all his brutality and misogyny, this is till his culture. This is all he has ever known, whether it’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. Granted, not all the men are as extreme as him. He uses his position to extract violence more than most. His wives are often the focal point for his rage, much to their misfortune. He sounds like a bad man; he’s certainly not a nice man, but that’s not the point. Achebe’s meaning, and the power of this story is revealed at the end.

I found this very unusual, but it was also very effective. The point of this novel is to show how uncompromising the white man is. That’s an obvious point, though what I mean to say is that its full effect is revealed at the end. The Nigerian culture, the way of life for the tribe folk in this novel, is forced to change because if it doesn’t it will be destroyed in its entirety. The protagonist represents this; he has to deal with the crisis. He had a choice: he could either accept the white man’s way, and be changed forever, or he could stick to his own customs and, ultimately, fall.
Language is the key:

“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”

Africa does not possess a silent culture. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was wrong. African language is formal, developed and intelligent. Here in Nigeria is the conduit for the Igbo culture. It is rich in oral tradition. Achebe recognises that to accept a new language is to shun the original culture. Achebe shows that Igbo tradition is dependent on storytelling and language, to accept English would destroy the Igbo traditions. It would alienate the Africans form their culture; thus, resistance, however futile, is the natural and just response. Okonkwo’s reactions are deeply symbolic of a culture that is about to collapse.

I think what Achebe is trying to portray here is the quietness of the African voice. It had no say. It doesn’t matter if the colonisers were kind or brutal; it doesn’t matter what the Nigerian culture was like in terms of ethics. What matters is that it was taken away or shaped into something else entirely. This was not progress but assimilation. All culture has its flaws, that’s true for any society, but the white one, for all its self-aggrandisement, was nothing but imposing. And for Achebe this is the ruination of the voice he was trying to channel.

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
My son and I had a long talk about this novel the other day, after he finished reading it for an English class.

Over the course of the study unit, we had been talking about Chinua Achebe's fabulous juxtaposition of different layers of society, both within Okonkwo's tribe, and within the colonialist community. We had been reflecting on aspects of the tribe that we found hard to understand, being foreign and against certain human rights we take for granted, most notably parts of the strict hierarchy and the role of women. And we had been angry together at the inhumane arrogance and violence of the Europeans, who were only in charge based on their technological development level, not on cultural superiority. We had thought about the roles of men and women, and of individuals in their relation to their families and social environment. We had touched on the hypocrisy of religious missions.

I had dwelt on the title and its beautiful context, the poem by Yeats, more relevant now than ever:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

We had compared Okonkwo to the skilled falcon, and the ruthless Europeans to falconers killing and destroying without reason. And "The best lack all conviction..." - a sad truth in an era of a radicalised political climate.

We agreed that the novel was excellent, timeless and universally important.

And then came the last paragraph...

If a novel can make a 14-year-old genuinely upset, angry, and frustrated to the point of wanting to slap a fictional character, then the author has managed to convey a message, I'd say. He got me engaged as well, and I could feel my nausea towards the Commissioner re-emerge instantly when reading his arrogant final thoughts, after the tragic showdown:

"The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."

The discussion between my son and myself focused on how the commissioner managed to marginalise a whole life, which we had breathlessly followed in the preceding pages, to a mere paragraph in a text of his own vain invention, with zero relation to the true circumstances. My son claimed it was one of the best endings he had ever read - for the sudden change of perspective that disrupted the story and made it stand out in sharp contrast.

Then we continued talking.

Best endings? Which ones could possibly compete?

First one up was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Its last sentence also puts individual suffering into a wider perspective, in this case a time frame:

“The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one. Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three were for leap years.”

Neither my son nor I will ever get over that counting of three extra days for leap years...

Second up was All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the death of the narrator is reported in a last paragraph that indicates that the main character's life is of so little importance that newspapers wrote there was "Nothing New on the Western Front". His so-called heroic death drowned in the meaningless mass dying, his suffering was completely without purpose in the bigger machinations of politics on national level. And yet, he had been so incredibly alive and opinionated and experienced, just the day before...

Then the last one we could think of (mirroring our shared reading experience), was the horrible case of a last sentence showing the victim's complete identification with the tyrant, the falcon loving the falconer, Orwell's closing line in 1984:

"He loved Big Brother."

The brutality of the comparison made my son say:

"At least Okonkwo made his final choice on his own."

As sad as it is, we felt grateful for that. But what a brave new world, that has such people in it!

Must-read. Must-talk-about!  

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  16,183 Ratings  ·  2,253 Reviews
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue download or read it online for free
Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

Named one of BuzzFeed’s “Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer”

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.


America was passing her by. New York City was passing her by. Bridges and billboards bearing smiling people were passing her by. Skyscrapers and brownstones were rushing by. Fast. Too fast. Forever.

4 stars. Ah, this book was a pleasant surprise. I picked Behold the Dreamers for my September Book of the Month read, mostly because none of the others appealed to me. I hadn't any previous plans to read it but, as it happens, it turned out to be an enjoyable read. Full of sadness, hope and - of course - dreamers.

It's quite an understated book for the most part. Quiet and character-driven. Set just after the economic crisis of 2007/2008, we see the American Dream from two different perspectives - that of Jende Jonga and his family, Cameroonian immigrants desperately trying to obtain a green card and stay in America, and that of the Edwards family, wealthy upper-class New Yorkers who show the cracks in this idea of paradise held by immigrants.

The theme is an old one - the fragility of the American Dream - and yet this Cameroonian family breathe new life into it. The author herself is a Cameroonian immigrant living in the United States, and so is able to weave the Jonga family with firsthand insight and honesty; the result being characters that come to life on the page and make you remember them.

There's an undercurrent of sadness to the whole book. Jende is such a wide-eyed, hopeful dreamer who longs to bring his wife and son to a place he considers a land of opportunity. At a time when animosity towards immigrants has been fostered by the likes of Donald Trump, this book really strikes a chord. The Jonga family are distinctly West-African in their ideals and cultural practices, and yet their desire to give their son the best life possible is a heartbreakingly universal one.

All of the characters are treated with such love and care by the author. Members of both the Jonga and Edwards families are multi-layered and sensitively portrayed. Cultural differences and issues of privilege are explored - for example, the Edwards' oldest son is anti-establishment and longs to abandon law school and head to India, whereas Jende believes the opportunity to become a lawyer is one of the greatest things he could give his son.

It's a painfully realistic book, as all good books about the "American Dream" tend to be. Sometimes I wanted a bit more from it - a lot of the story and themes of race/culture are revealed through conversations and the plot itself is very... simple. Though perhaps that is a strength too.

This novel resonates with contemporary social and political issues dominating in the US, Europe and Australia, where there is a growing and visceral tide of hatred and rage against immigrants. 
Imbolo Mbue has written an illuminating book on the immigrant experience amidst the hollowness of the American dream set in New York. The story is told from the perspectives of Jende Jongo, and his wife, Nemi, who are from Cameroon dreaming of a better future in their new home. They have a son, Liomi, for whom they have high hopes. The stage is set for an exploration of their precarious lives buffeted by economic and social forces beyond their control as the 2008 financial collapse is described in terms of its human cost.

Jende is working as a cabbie when he lands the dream job of chauffeur to Lehman's executive, Clark Edward, who demands Jende keeps his secrets and give him his absolute loyalty. The two men become close and Clark's wife, Cindy, gives his wife, Nemi, a job as a housekeeper. Cindy confides her thoughts and secrets to Nemi who is hard working and hoping to become a pharmacist. We are given an in depth insight into the laborious and costly process of trying to acquire a green card. The spectacular collapse of Lehman has enormous repercussions on the Edward family. Clark loses his job and the strain on his marriage results in its collapse. Jende and Nemi find themselves with divided loyalties and caught up in the slipstream of these events, and there is a simultaneous similarity as their future comes under threat. We observe the contrasts between a family of privilege and a family with little and the power dynamic in the relationship between the two. We see the yearnings for home, Cameroon, whilst trying to fit into a new home, the eternal immigrant heart caught between two worlds.

The novel perhaps underscores the naivete of the dreams of the immigrant given the harsh reality of the world. Mbue touches on the issues of race, culture, violence, pain, and the impact of male decisionmaking on women. The writing is beautiful at times although the characters and plot feel a little uneven on occasion. However, this takes nothing away from a novel that is a timely and pertinent story that carries an authentic picture of an immigrant experience. The characters of Jende and Nemi are complex and captured my interest easily. I loved the portrayal of their home country and their connections with it. A wonderful and insightful book that I recommend highly.

Sometimes, a novel arrives at just the right moment.

Here we are in a crater of xenophobia. One of our presidential candidates is foaming at the mouth about “extreme vetting” for immigrants. But then along comes “Behold the Dreamers,” a debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse. While another author might have played that imperative title sarcastically, for Imbolo Mbue, “Behold the Dreamers” is a kind of angelic annunciation of hope, which ultimately makes her story even more poignant.

After a childhood of extreme poverty, Mbue came to this country in 1998 — recent enough to retain the optimism of an immigrant but long enough to understand our national schizophrenia about foreigners. Her novel is about a family from Cameroon living in Harlem on the eve of striking disruption. The United States is about to elect its first black president and descend into the Great Recession. But Jende Jonga, the hero of this tale, has his mind set on only one thing: becoming a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a hotshot Lehman Brothers executive. Jende and his wife, Neni, have been preparing for the interview for days. They’ve spent hours googling “the one question they ask at every job interview.” With the help of a volunteer at the library, they’ve written up a résumé that describes Jende as “a man of grand accomplishments”: farmer, street cleaner. . . .

3.5 I went back and forth, trying to decide whether or not I liked any of these characters, except form the young children of course who were victims of circumstances they could not control. 
Was pretty sure I liked Jende for most of the book until he did something I abhorred. Nein too does something, out of desperation, but I did not much like her for it. The Edwards, Cindy and Clark were pretty much representative of the privileged culture, or at least how they are usually portrayed. I did eventually sympathize with them all for various reasons and in the end that didn't matter to me so much as the story.

If it shows nothing else it definitely showed the disconnect between immigrants, the privileged and even those who were born here. So a worthy and timely read, especially here in the USA where one of our presidential nominees is running on a platform of fear, hatred and bigotry. This book shows how tenuous the hold on their lives are for some. Lawyer fees, trying to get papers to stay in this country, work toward a better for themselves and their families. The author set this just before the collapse of our economy in 2008 and in fact Clark Edward works for Lehman Brothers as an executive, as he loses his job, his marriage disintegrates as does the future of Jende's family. Jobs are now scarce, college educated people willing to take the jobs the immigrants once occupied. So many lost their houses and their livelihoods.

I enjoyed reading about the difference in their lives between New York, living in Harlem and Cameroon, where they are from. The ending surprised me somewhat, well I didn't expect the direction it took. But, for this family it made sense. This novel is not perfect and like most probably doesn't reflect all but it does give the reader an inside view of one such immigrant family. A well told and thought out story, this the author's first.

4.5 Stars

Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, “Behold the Dreamers” takes a look at the immigrant dream of life in the United States, with promises of bigger, better than wherever you came from. Undoubtedly, there can be truth to that, but what happens to that dream when it seems elusive, out of reach or comes undone?

I was hooked right from the start by the story of Jende Jongo, formerly of Limbe, Cameroon, finding a dream job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, in the year 2007. He’s been driving a cab in NYC, but better pay and a better car to drive are not the only thing that makes this job such a break, by driving a Lehman Brothers executive Jende feels he has achieved a point of pride in his work.

There’s humor in Mbue’s writing about the everyday life in America, the thought process of the shopping experience in America, coming from an environment where negotiating prices is the norm. There are also the astonishments of the new immigrants experience with the availability of so much in one place, and the availability of the “finer” places to shop for clothing. There’s also a heavy dose of the reality how many difficulties may be encountered by those who come looking for a better life in America.

As Dorothy comes to realize, “there’s no place like home” when she’s in Oz, but then back at Auntie Em’s she dreams of life in Oz … A heart divided. Jende’ heart is at odds between the things he has come to love about this new life, the things he misses about life in Limbe, his family there. Neni can’t bear to think of leaving everything they’ve worked for.

Charming, truly compelling story, “Behold the Dreamers” is a wonderful debut novel about where we sometimes choose to call home.

It genuinely surprises me that so many of my friends here seem to have been rather lukewarm on this book, because Behold the Dreamers was a thoroughly engrossing, powerful, emotional experience for me.

This is the story of a family who has emigrated from Cameroon. Jende and Neni Jonga, along with their young son, come to New York in 2007 in search of the American Dream. She enrolls in college, with the expectation that she can eventually become a pharmacist; he secures a job as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. This position gives him a unique view of the Edwards family, themselves a very fractured take on the American Dream. Lehman brothers is teetering on the brink, and the stress is weighing heavily not just on Clark but also on his wife Cindy and their two sons: would-be hippie twentysomething Vince and wide-eyed nine-year-old Mighty. Jende is privy to much of that stress and he has to try to keep it from reaching into his own family, whose status in this country is far from certain.

Imbolo Mbue tells her story from the perspectives of both Jende and Neni, though it’s not a strictly “alternating POV” kind of book. Mbue captures these two voices brilliantly, illustrating the hope and the fear, the idealism and the naiveté that comes with being an immigrant in America at the outset of the Great Recession. I was so completely invested in these two that my heart was in my throat for much of the book. The Edwards family sometimes feel like a bit of a clichéd portrayal of upper class white privilege, but it still seems clear that Mbue holds a lot of empathy for them

Though it’s set in the last decade, this book holds quite a bit of pertinence in 2016. Immigration remains a huge topic in the US right now, and there’s huge swathes of xenophobia all over our country. Knowing how hard it is to start a new life in America, it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine why someone might want to—especially people of color. Mbue offers a reminder that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, highlighting the sacrifices and the impossible, often desperate, decisions that immigrants are faced with. Mbue really forced me to walk around in the shoes of her characters and think about what it must be like to be in their position. It was a really intense experience for me; I got to the last fifty pages and I couldn’t stop sobbing. So maybe I’m alone here, but I absolutely adored this book.