Saturday, August 29, 2009

Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum's Diary Entry:

“I listen very intently, with my whole being, and try to fathom the meaning of things. I am always very tense and attentive; I keep looking for something but don't know what. What I am looking for, of course, is my own truth, but I still have no idea what it will look like. I go blindly after a certain objective; I can feel there is an objective, but where and how I do not know. My method of studying is strange as well. I make extracts from books almost instinctively. I sometimes hang on to a single sentence, a single word – I feel that I must preserve it for the future, that it will prove useful later on. I am working towards something, part of some greater framework, but it is all still open and yet it is going somewhere, striving towards a synthesis. Sitting at this desk, I sometimes feel like an adventurer, and at the end of the day I sometimes feel like a patient farmer who has once again ploughed an infinitely small piece of the great field of the spirit.”

                            Etty: The Letters and Diary of Etty Hillesum, 1941 – 1943

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fail Blog Wins

Fail Blog for some laughs today:

Wow is he searching for me? Let's meet up..

Give the dirt a chance..

Serial offenders. they did the bank job, the quickie-mart, the bodega, the...

exreme alright


all from failblog 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book Review: Shantaram


Over vacation I read Shantaram. After 900+ pages, I have to get a word in edgewise.

To be honest I am surprised I finished this book. The premise was interesting: a real-life account of a prison-escapee, who smuggles himself into India, starts a free clinic in the slums, and gets involved in the ruthless Bombay mafia. The reviews from bookstores were stellar, so I got to reading.

Looking back, I am astonished at the rave reviews. I almost quit after the first chapter. The dialogue was too much. Can characters really be taken seriously speaking like quippy bandits in Gunsmoke?
There is no art without forgiveness, fanaticism is the opposite of love, sometimes we love with nothing more than hope.
If not cheesy, it’s overly vague and hollow. The main perpetrator was his love interest, Carla, who I have to say annoyed me more than any literary character in memory. Kudos to the author for eliciting such strong emotions. Unfortunately he was trying to paint her as a strong, but wounded beauty, who was as dangerous as she was enigmatic. I struggled. I did. But aside from Carla’s quips, some of the other characters really came to life; among them: a mischievous, good-hearted taxi driver from the slums, the colorful playboys from the local drinking-hole, and the cold mechanical mafia brothers.

I powered through the last half, if for no other reason than vicarious criminality. Roberts describes a world that most of us will never see intimately: the chaos of war, the ins and outs of fraudulent passport manufacturing, the mafia code of brotherhood which cares very little for life and operates on the sacrifices its members survive and how ready they are to fight. After a while, the fight scenes started to run together and were overly graphic.

Maybe I am out of touch with popular opinion or maybe the masses just don’t know a good book anymore. There was a story, but the poor-focus (perhaps editing) did not make the purported themes - betrayal, loyalty, suffering - that effective.

Though the author has no shame, by the end I had actually begun to feel guilty for not liking his immense tank of work. It seemed clear from the verbose and repetitive passages that, though it was scattered, he was pouring his heart out. Or seemed to be. This hardened criminal was actually a big Klondike bar. I wanted to protect his soft emotional state from criticism after such lengthy confession. But decent writing becomes mediocre when an author sings his own praise. The self-aggrandizing plot didn’t help my sympathy. Every character loved him. He easily learned every language and won hearts with his unexpected insider-knowledge. He was trained to take on any challenge. He was brave and yet sensitive. A writer. A fighter. A lover. An intellectual. A doctor. An every man, not afraid to eat and sleep with the slum-dwellers. I know every novel likes a hero. But you can't be your own hero in a book like this.

A smart novel does not have to spell out in gory detail what it wants to convey. And I think this novel’s downfall comes from Roberts spelling it out again and again and again - that He-is-the-Shit.

Author Gregory David Roberts says the story is fiction, but based on events and people from his own life. We, the readers, are left to wonder where the line has been drawn. Roberts did escape prison in Australia in the 80s. He has been living in Bombay; he was involved in the Bombay mafia. He is a criminal and somehow wants to be (and is being) lauded for it. He is making a ton of money off of this book and Johnny Depp is signed to play Roberts in a movie adaptation.

If you are looking for this kind of success, try some armed robbery and heroin to get your foot in the door. Just kidding, go your own way Roberts and get it done.

(..and thanks for teaching me how to hold a switchblade.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Plants Aren't As Pleasant As They Seem, Mema Sally

Don't do it, little guy! There's so much to live for!

I just heard about these plants that can actually eat a rodent. They are called Pitcher Plants and from what I understand are shaped like a toilet and are filled with one part water that contains all of the mosquitos and larvae and things and then the second part sticky goo. So little creatures go to get the insect buffet and then become dinner when they fall in.