Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Four, Day Two
This is the fourth week, day two of the book summaries for Around the World in 120 Days for The Invisible Mentor’s Virtual Literary World Tour. Yesterday, we stopped our Tour in Russia with Anton Chekhov’s The Shooting Party. Three of six the books for day two of this week I didn’t enjoy, and it was difficult to read Diary of a Young Girl because I knew how the story ended. A few years ago I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and I didn’t enjoy it even if it’s often on the lists of must-read books. I was offended by the way Blacks are portrayed in the book. I thought that I would give Conrad another try, and when I saw The Secret Agent on sale for $5, I purchased it without taking the time to read the back cover. I do that a lot and sometimes I am lucky and other times not so much.
Likewise, I read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Likeness of Being and the book didn’t grab me, so I decided to read Slowness, and I didn’t like that either – a friend gave me about five books by Milan Kundera. I have included the books because these two authors are highly acclaimed. I accept that I do not have to like a book even if it’s a bestseller and on must-read book lists. As I am writing this blog post, I realize that the reason I didn’t like Kundera’s books is because I do not like his writing style.
Around the World in 120 Days, Week Four, Day Two
- The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, Joseph Conrad, Poland, United Kingdom
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel, Milan Kundera, Czech Republic, France
- Slowness: A Novel, Milan Kundera, Czech Republic
- The Trial, Franz Kafka, Austria
- Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse, Germany
- The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank, Germany, Holland
Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Four, Day Two
The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad
The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad was published in 1907 and is set in London in 1886. Mr. Adolf Verloc leads a dual life, one as a secret agent, and another as a boring man who owns a shop in the Soho region of London. His wife Winnie, her brother Stevie, and her mother live with him. Stevie is developmentally challenged, and Winnie is always asking her husband to spend with him – she mothers her brother. The long and short of the story is that Verloc’s superiors ask him to destroy Greenwich. Verloc gives Stevie the bomb to carry without telling him what he is carry. The bomb not only destroys the target, but kills his brother-in-law in the process. In the book, Verloc feels no remorse for what he has done – exploiting his brother-in-law – even when he is speaking to Winnie. Winnie kills him and ends up committing suicide. It’s a very tragic story, and not worth spending too much time on.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel by Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel by Milan Kundera, published in 1984, is a story about four characters, Tomas, a surgeon; Tereza, a photographer; Sabina, an artist, and Franz, a university professor. Tereza who is in an impossible situation at home dreams of escaping her vulgar mother, and the first opportunity she gets she leaves. She and Tomas marry for the wrong reason. Tomas has always been a womanizer, and he doesn’t change his ways even when they get married, which takes a toll on her. He has also had a longstanding relationship with Sabina. Franz also has an affair with Sabina.
Kundera takes us on a journey as he unfolds the lives of his characters. Most of the story takes place in Prague in the late 1960s and 1970s, and we get a glimpse of what life is like during the Communist period, from the Prague Spring to the Soviet Union’s 1968 military occupation.
Slowness: A Novel by Milan Kundera
It took me a while to get into Slowness by Milan Kundera. I read the Unbearable Lightness of Being and although it is very well written, I didn’t enjoy it. I thought I’d give Milan Kundera another shot since a friend passed on several of his books. I’m didn’t enjoy the second book any more than I did the first. For me, the reason for the first Virtual Literary World Project is a way for me to heal, to deal with the sudden death of my mother. I have to give myself permission that it’s okay not to enjoy every book that I read. I can enjoy the journey, even if I do not find all the books enjoyable.
What does enjoyable mean anyway? It means different things to different people, so it is in the eyes of the beholder. Even though the Virtual Literary World Tour is about my journey reading books by authors from around the world, it’s not really about me; it’s for me and for others.
Slowness by Milan Kundera is very philosophical, and it is fact mixed in with fiction. I figured that out when I discovered that Vera who is mentioned at the opening of the book is Kundera’s wife, and I guess that is the mark of an experienced writer who is able to combine the real with the unreal seamlessly. Even though I didn’t enjoy the story, or like the way that Kundera writes, I thought Slowness was a very inventive piece of work, the way that the author combines fact with fiction, and past with present, and the parallel story lines that are taking place. In Slowness, Kundera is reading a novella entitled ”Point de Lendemain” by Vivant Denon and that story is unfolding. A conference is also taking place, and the reader is taken into different historical ages.
I liked the quote, “The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” There is a place for slowness in our crazy, over-scheduled world.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
I struggle with books by Franz Kafka because they sometimes feel unfinished to me. A big lesson for me in The Trial by Franz Kafka is that apathy can lead to demise. Franz Kafka wrote The Trial in 1914 and 1915, at the start of World War I, but he dies before the book is published in 1925. Josef K, the main character, a young bank official is arrested and is never told what he is charged for, and the reader is never told either. He is told to appear in court, but the instructions and direction he is given are vague. Although the authorities are inaccessible, Josef K doesn’t take the charges as seriously as he should. For a year, the case drags on, and he is finally killed in the most horrific way, never knowing what he did that deserved death. The story is a very disturbing one because people’s rights are violated, even today.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse was published in 1922. Siddhartha, son of the Brahman was a source of joy to many, but wasn’t a source of joy for himself – he had restless thoughts flowing through him. He had a thirst for knowledge, and was expected to grow up to become a wise man and priest. His best friend, Govinda, admired him, and “wanted to follow him as his friend, his companion, his servant, his spear-carrier, his shadow.” He and his friend would practice their meditation under the banyan tree.
Siddhartha wants a lot more from his life, he has many questions, and he suspects that his elders have already passed on most of their knowledge to him already. After the meditation, Siddhartha sits there in quiet contemplation, and decides that the following day he will become a Samana, much to his friend’s consternation.
Siddhartha and Govinda leave the only home to join the ascetics, the Samanas. He starts to empty himself “empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied head, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal.”
Three years after living and walking with the Samanas, Siddhartha still has not found bliss. He still has many unanswered questions. One day he hears a rumor about Gotama, the Buddha, a wise man, very knowledgeable, whose words and breath has the power to heal any pestilence. The Buddha had attained the highest level of enlightenment and reached nirvana. Govinda wants to hear the teachings of the Buddha and convinces Siddhartha to leave with him. Although Siddhartha is a bit disillusioned with teachings he agrees to go. The two young men get the opportunity to listen to the teachings, and speak to the Buddha. Govinda asks to be accepted into the group. He expects Siddhartha to do the same, but they have different paths. Govinda scolds his friend, but Siddharta reiterates that all their lives, Govinda has been following his footsteps, and it’s time to follow his own path.
As Siddhartha leaves he is thinking that the Buddha has deprived him of his childhood friend Govinda, but has given Siddhartha himself. He leaves his old self behind in the grove and realizes that he is no longer, but a man.
Siddhartha recognizes for the first time that he has been fleeing from himself, and he tries to learn and follow different teachings, and he experiences an epiphany and awakening. Siddhartha is on a hero’s journey to find himself. He suffers a crisis of identity and feels thoroughly alone – he is no longer a Brahman or an ascetic. He works through the crisis, which is a part of his awakening and he proceeds quickly.
The veil has been removed from Siddhartha’s eyes, he sees and is aware of everything, and he is experiencing his self. This is an interesting story about someone who is on a physical and spiritual quest. In life, it’s important for us to go on quests, but we must know what we are seeking so we do not lose sight of what’s important, or lose ourselves along the way. Siddhartha loses himself for several years, but fortunately, he was able to return to the values that once guided him.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was another difficult book to read. Anne is very outgoing and a typical teenager, but her life changes radically when her family has to go into hiding because the Nazi’s are targeting Jews. Can you imagine, for two years, you cannot go outside or even open your windows during the daytime? In her diary, at first, Anne is very hopeful and believes that one day they’ll once again be able to live like normal people do. While reading, The Diary of a Young Girl, I feel as if Anne is sitting across the table talking to me, but I know that her optimism is in vain because I know how the story ends, and that’s one of the reasons that the book is so difficult to read. The family is going through a very difficult time, and except for the father, you know that things will not improve for them.
Interview With Austrian Consulate
Avil Beckford: What are five books by Austrian authors that are must-reads for others? And they do not have to be by contemporary Austrian writers, it can be a mixture.
- The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil
- Radetzkymarch, Joseph Roth
- The Wall, Marlene Haushofer
- Three Paths to the Lake, Ingeborg Bachmann
- Old Masters, Thomas Bernhard
Avil Beckford: Who is an up-and-coming Austrian musician that you want the world to know about, and do you have a short video of the person?
Musikgruppe Attwenger, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJf3YwT5bb8
Avil Beckford: What are 10 things that the world doesn’t know about Austria?
- Biodynamic farming originated in 1923 in Carinthia, Austria
- Red Bull is an Austrian-owned company
- Vienna is the only capital city with a significant wine country
- Austria is bordered by 7 countries
- Beethoven wasn’t Austrian
- Austrian lakes have drink water quality
- Vienna has been voted most livable city four time in a row by the Mercer Lifestyle Study
- The James Bond movie (Quantum of Solace) was filmed in Bregenz in 2008
- Oscar-winning actor Christopher Waltz is Austrian
- A quarter of Austria’s populations lives in Vienna
- Over 60% of Austria’s electricity is supplied by renewable sources
And here are some more fun facts
Avil Beckford: If visiting Austria, what are some off the beaten path places that people must visit?
- The wine country on the eastern part of Austria (Lower Austria, Burgenland, Styria, Vienna)
- The Lake District outside of Salzburg
Avil Beckford: What’s the national dish of Austria and what is the recipe?
Here are a few options: http://www.austria.info/us/home?searchText=recipe
Book List for Week Four: Around the World in 120 Days
- Two Pints, Roddy Doyle, Ireland
- The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seirstad, Norway
- Hunger: A Novel, Knut Hamsun, Norway
- Out Stealing Horses: A Novel, Per Petterson, Norway
- The Laughing Policeman (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard), Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Sweden
- The Shooting Party (Penguin Classics), Anton Chekhov, Russia
- The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, Joseph Conrad
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel, Milan Kundera
- Slowness: A Novel, Milan Kundera
- The Trial, Franz Kafka
- Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
- The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
- The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
- The Secret
- A Good African Story: How a small company built a global coffee brand, Andrew Rugasira
- The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
- Biko – Cry Freedom, Donald Woods
- The Man Without Qualities (The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails), (The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2: Into the Millennium), Robert Musil
- The Radetzky March , Joseph Roth
- The Wall, Marlene Haushofer
- Three Paths to the Lake (Portico Paperback Series), Ingeborg Bachmann
- Old Masters, Thomas Bernhard
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