Book 2: Seeing (Blindness #2) – José Saramago

Saramago, José - SeeingMy first, of what I hope to be numerous, library book of 2014! I trekked through the sub-freezing weather last week after finishing Blindness to grab this from the library. And although not as stark or disturbing as the first book, Seeing left me in just as much confusion and distress. Saramago is clearly a master at speculative fiction and created a second work in what I could only hope would have been a trilogy, but unfortunately Saramago died in 2010.

This novel takes place four years after the events in Blindness and this is fascinating because the first mention of the “white plague” by the omniscient narrator is on page 77 and the first mention by a character isn’t until page 157 (almost exactly half way through the novel). I actually had to stop around page 30 to read the premise of this novel again to make sure I hadn’t imagined this was a sequel.

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Book 1: Blindness (Blindess #1) – José Saramago

Saramago, José - BlindnessMy friend Dominic recommended this book ages ago and I’m so glad he did! After thoroughly enjoying The Velvet Rage I knew his reference would be worth it and I’d put it off long enough so bumped it up on my list.

First response to this book: what a way to start 2014!  I can’t wait to hear what It definitely makes me wonder if this will remain one of the top books of 2014. I read 1Q84 in January of 2013 and it was one of my top five books. Finishing this book inspired me to immediately go out (and brave the sub-freezing temperatures) to pick up Seeing, the sequel.

The book starts out pretty slow, and considering the lack of action and movement throughout the world, moves surprisingly rapid after that. The basic premise is similar to any plague-type novel starts with patient zero (we assume) and slowly expand out, the difference is rather than a traditional plague people go blind for no reason and with no physical manifestations other than blindness. If you want a longer description of the novel check out this 1998 NYTimes summary.

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Book 82: War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy, Leo - War and PeaceAnd with this book I completed ALL of my reading challenges this year! I will do a wrap up post (year, challenge and month) on either the 31st or 1st, but for the record this was the 11th book of the Back to the Classics Challenge, the 6th book (but 8th counted – two were double) for the Tea and Books Reading Challenge and the 25th Mount TBR book!

But what is MOST shocking is how much I enjoyed this novel. There were portions I hated that I think were decisions of the translator and there were definitely parts that were beyond boring (the war parts, obviously), but overall I actually am glad I read this book and the investment of just over three weeks was definitely worth it. I’m not going to lie and say that I was excited about this novel and I won’t even say that it was easy, but I was a bit confused after reading this in the forward:

“The first readers of War and Peace were certainly surprised, but often also bewildered and even dismayed by the book. They found it hard to identify the main characters, to discover anything like a plot, to see any connection between episodes, to understand the sudden leaps from fiction to history, from narration to philosophizing. There seemed to be no focus, no artistic unity to the work, no real beginning, and no resolution. It was as if the sheer mass of detail overwhelmed any design Tolstoy might have tried to impose on it.” (loc. 140)

I didn’t think that the novel was that confusing. I can definitely see where the characters names are confusing! The introduction discusses the multitude of ways a character’s name can be modified and that did cause me to stop a few times but if I kept reading the context clues almost immediately told me who Tolstoy referred to.

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Book 52: Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

Hugo, Victor - Les MiserablesIf Les Misérables is one thing, it is too damn long. I’m sure there are people who will disagree with me and I partially disagree with myself, but 1,729 pages is just outrageous. My advice to you if you want to read this novel, unless you are seriously interested or enthralled by French history, is to read an abridged version.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is amazingly, heartrendingly beautiful, but there was a lot of history that, yes, adds to the story, but is a long hard slough to get through. I’m talking upwards of 900 pages is just history and setting and had very little consequence on the story other than to set the scene. By time I got to volume five of the book it was a struggle to get through. I mean there were fascinating facts like how much sewer there is below Paris, but I did not need to know who put it there and who mapped and cleaned it!

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Book 44: Persepolis 2 – Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi, Marjane - Persepolis 2If possible, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return was better than Satrapi’s first graphic novel Persepolis: A Story of Childhood. Don’t get me wrong, they were both great and the first one’s wit and humor (from the perspective of a 10-year-old) was better placed and timed, but this novel just dealt with adult issues an early 20s individual faces and thus I identified more  with it.

I sill say, however, that this book provided less history and explanation about the revolution and continuing Islamization of Iran than the first and focused more on the challenges Marjane and other young women faced as women under the new rule from the stricter veiling and gender segregation to the lack of freedom of mobility and education for women and mandatory military service for young men.

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