Friday, July 21, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA





LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Penguin Books
1985, 1988
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Ms. Hen decided to read this again after she read THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera because the character in that book reminded her of the character in this one. If you read Ms. Hen’s post about that, she decided that Florentino Ariza was less unsavory than Tomas in the Czech novel. Ms. Hen remembered Florentino Ariza as a romantic soul, and she was reminded again why she loved this book so much the first time.

Ms. Hen recalled that the last time she read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA was eleven years ago. She was a younger hen back then, and not that experienced and wise in the ways of literature. She has since received two degrees in this subject, and she has read countless books since the last time she read this, and thought about them deeply. She was startled reading this in the beginning, because she didn’t remember admiring Fermina’s husband Dr. Urbino that much the first time. During this reading, she found him more sympathetic at the beginning of the novel, but towards the end, she felt more compassion for Florentino.

Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza meet when they are young and have a romantic correspondence. He first sees her at her father’s house when he is delivering a telegram, and he becomes entranced. They write to each other for years, until Florentino follows Fermina in the market, she turns to him, and she tells him that nothing can be between them. From Ms. Hen’s first reading, she does not recall the moment when that happened in the book. She always remembered the couple not getting together, and then she marries the doctor because her father wishes it, and they go their separate ways.

Ms. Hen thinks it’s funny how memory can trick us. She remembered the story one way, but it unfolded in a different way.

When Fermina rejects Florentino, he becomes a womanizer. Not right away, but he does eventually. He travels up the river, and a woman bursts into his cabin on the boat and she seduces him. He doesn’t know who she is, but he thinks it’s one traveling with a group of women who have a child in a birdcage. Multiple birdcages spurt up in this novel in different places; many birds and animals appear, and Ms. Hen enjoyed this.

What she enjoyed most was the mammoth amount of hens, roosters and chickens that appear in this novel, mostly roosters. She took the time to count: she calculated there are twenty-nine times one is mentioned in the book! There are numerous beautiful quotes about chickens, and every time Ms. Hen read one, her feathers ruffled. One of her favorites is, “In Valledupar, she realized why the roosters chase the hens.” Another one she enjoyed is when a widow is talking to Florentino about how old people smell, “‘Now we stink like a henhouse.’"

Ms. Hen remembered when she reread ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, she discovered the book was full of chickens as well. She might have to read Marquez’s books eventually to find all the chickens that live in his worlds.


Ms. Hen thinks that this is one of the perfect love stories of all time. It shows that a person can love someone his whole life, and wait (in a way) for her forever. Florentino was true in his heart to Fermina Daza, and he one of the most romantic characters that Ms. Hen has read. Ms. Hen loved reading this book again; she consumed it hungrily, it was more than she had remembered, and she was grateful she went back.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BLUE FOX







THE BLUE FOX
Sjon
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2004, 2008
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

As many of Ms. Hen’s fans know, she went through a spell of reading Icelandic novels right before her trip to Iceland in April. She thought she might have been finished reading those books, but how could she finish? She stumbled across this small gem, and decided to save it for the midst of summer when the weather is sweltering, since it takes place during an Icelandic winter.

At first Ms. Hen didn’t know what she was reading: she didn’t know if it was poetry or short prose. The pages in the first section are spaced like flash fiction. The novel starts with a priest hunting a blue fox in the winter in the wilderness. The fox teases the priest and gives him a hearty chase.

It is also the story of the priest’s life before the fox hunt and the world that surrounds him, including his neighbors and a Down Syndrome girl the people find on an abandoned ship.

A section of the book had the priest and the blue fox arguing about electricity. Ms. Hen had never considered that electricity would be something to argue about, but in Iceland in 1883, when the book takes place, she understands why that would occur. She believes it might have been controversial the way stem cell treatments are now, or enhanced minds will be very soon. Ms. Hen has read a lot about brain implants and the thought terrifies her. She does not want the Internet in her head, but she thinks that this development is most likely inevitable. She fears a world where nobody will take the time to read a novel or look at the blue sky, but it’s already happening, since a lot of people are glued to their phones incessantly. But she does not wish to digress and preach about her opinions on technology.

This novel is brief and it reads like poetry. Ms. Hen dashed through it in two days. She doesn’t usually read a book with so much speed, but this one lent itself to be read that way.

There is one mention of a chicken in THE BLUE FOX, “Wiping the food off her hands, she embraced the young man’s head as he wept in the chicken hatch, comforting him with the following words: ‘Furru ahm-ahm, furru ahm-ahm.’” The disabled woman who was taken into the household tries to help the young man who is crying, but she does not know the language, and she does not know any words. They are in the chicken hatch because they sleep there, since they are outcasts.


Ms. Hen loved this book; it is wispy and air-like. The author is a lyricist as well, and has written songs for Bjork. Ms. Hen thought that she finished it too soon, and it didn’t make her as cold in the middle of the summer as she might have wanted. But her air conditioner works now, so she is not fainting away, dreaming of snow in Iceland.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING















THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING
By Milan Kundera
Harper & Row
1984
Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

Ms. Hen happened to buy this at a used bookstore a while back since she had heard it is considered one of the great books. She had no idea what it was about when she started reading, but soon she was engrossed in the story of tortured love.

The title of this novel has to do with lightness and heaviness. The protagonist, Tomas, believes that everything is light and nothing he does, including having numerous sexual partners, matters. His lover, Tereza, who becomes his wife, believes that everything is heavy, and she cannot bear the weight of the world. He believes she came to him in a “bulrush basket” like Moses, and he cannot turn her away, because that would be cruel.

She comes to visit him in Prague after a brief encounter in the small village where she lives. After he seduces her, she gets very sick, and he believes that he has to take care of her. He refuses to give up his other lovers, however, and even introduced Tereza to the sly Sabina so she can help Tereza find employment.

Around Tomas and Tereza, Prague is in an uproar. The Russians are taking over the city with tanks and guns. Citizens are being shot. Tereza, a photographer, takes pictures of what is happening to prove to the world that this is wrong.

Tereza and Tomas leave and go to Switzerland, but come back eventually because Tereza leaves and Tomas follows her. They have a difficult love; he loves her, but he thinks he needs other women.

He chases what he says is the one-millionth part difference between all women. He is a surgeon, and he believes that intimacy with a woman is similar to cutting open a body with a scalpel; he does it to discover how unique each woman is underneath everything else. He considers tastes in art and music interesting, but he is more interested in finding out the secret difference that dwells beneath.

Even though Ms. Hen knows this is one of the great novels, she found the character of Tomas to be unsavory. She doesn’t know anyone like him, nor would she wish to. She found his philandering unpleasant, and she was reminded of another novel she had read years ago, one of her favorites, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, in which a man, Florentino, and a woman, Fermina, are in love, but she is forced to marry a doctor because of his money and status.

In that novel, when Florentino’s heart is broken, he sleeps with every woman he can find. Ms. Hen did not find Florentino as creepy in that novel as she did Tomas in this one. In LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, the character stayed true to his heart. Tomas never stays true to his heart, and that is what disgusts Ms. Hen about him, and it prevented her from loving this novel too much.

There are some chickens in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, but not too many. What Ms. Hen did learn was the original German meaning of the word “kitsch.” It is “an aesthetic ideal of categorical agreement with being in a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist.” This can mean actual shit or figurative shit. The word has become used in all Western languages and has changed its meaning. Ms. Hen does not deny shit; she knows it exists; her world is full of it. People who deny shit have rose-colored glasses, and Ms. Hen cannot tolerate that. The world may be full of shit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things too; Ms. Hen is not a complete pessimist. But she does not ascribe to kitsch.

Even though Ms. Hen did not love this book completely, she found it illuminating and educational. The world does have unpleasant people in it, like Tomas, and that cannot be denied, but that doesn’t mean that some things can be beautiful.