My first attempt at reading James Joyce when I was nineteen years old failed painfully. Feeling very grown up, I bought a copy of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man only to read the first thirty pages and give up. I read somewhere that one of the most unread books in the world is Ulysses. It seems that most people have the intention of reading it, but never actually finish the book. Despite the discouraging statistics, I am committed to reading Ulysses someday. Sure, it won’t be as speedy as reading Chick Lit!
Hoping to get used to Joyce’s style with a book less demanding and more accessible, I read Dubliners recently. Dubliners, written in 1914, consists of fifteen short stories portraying everyday episodes with various characters and their lives in the city of Dublin. The stories circle around common human emotions and dilemmas and remind us that no matter which period we live in and what the settings are, we human beings face similar problems and choices. What seems to me to be consistently present throughout the fifteen stories is the mood of melancholy and desperation. Joyce’s characters have significant flaws, and they fall into common human pitfalls. I cannot say I like or dislike the characters, but I surely feel empathy with them and am compelled not to judge.
One of my favorites is the story with the title A Little Cloud, where the main character Little Chandler meets an old friend Gallaher, whom he had last seen eight years ago. He has high thoughts of his old friend, who has become a successful writer in London. We can sense that Gallaher stands for the things Little Chandler yearns for. Little Chandler dreams of being a successful poet or a writer, but feels trapped in a dull life with a job as a clerk and a family, living in a city he finds uninspiring. Even his name is not artistic enough for a poet! In Joyce’s own words He felt acutely the contrast between his own life and his friend’s. Little Chandler went to meet his friend Gallaher with the hope to be inspired, but all he got was feeling smaller than before. Little Chandler becomes a little cloud over Dublin. When he went home and his eyes met the hatred in his wife’s eyes, he started crying with remorse. Crying, because he has not been able to realize his dreams and he never will be. The story ends with Little Chandler’s awakening to this sad truth about his life.
There is no moral in the stories in Dubliners, but a poetic realism characteristic of Joyce. I also loved reading Counterparts and A Painful Case which also evolve around the theme of entrapment in deadly routine and monotony.
I really enjoyed my first descent into the world of James Joyce. Perhaps Ulysses will be on my nightstand next. I have never been to Dublin and am more curious than ever to go on that trip!
I was watching the Nobel Prize ceremony last night. It is not so much the achievements that make me watch it, but more hearing the speeches made by the laureates. It gives me hope and makes me feel confident in humanity to hear the world’s most clever people say very wise things about making the world a better place.
This year’s prize in literature was given to Kazuo Ishiguro. So far, I read one book by him called Never Let me Go and I cannot pass without saying a few things about it. Friendship is a central theme of the book, which is also one of my favorite themes. I have never read a novel as this one, where human emotion and science fiction go so well hand in hand. At first sight, the story is about a group of students at an English boarding school Hailsham. The mood is very bleak, as the fate of the students and from the very beginning you sense something not quite right. Then you start to understand what a “donor” is. The writer portrays the characters and their relationships with such human depth that the implausibility of the events becomes irrelevant.
The last book I read is The Read-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is the first Turkish writer to receive a Nobel Prize in literature. So far, I have read four of his works: The Black Book, Istanbul: Memoirs of a City, Snow and his latest work The Red-Haired Woman. He captures the Turkish spirit with his unique writing style, which is very intricate, sophisticated and mysterious like an oriental rug, handwoven with an abundance of delicate words and sentences that come together to create an overwhelming and beautiful whole.
I found The Red-Haired Woman distinctly different in style than The Black Book and Istanbul. The language is much less intricate and the symbolism more straightforward. In the typical Pamukian manner, there is a smorgasbord of different universal themes to choose from. Inspired by the Greek tragedy Oedipus and the Iranian legend Shahname by Firdevsi, the main themes of the novel are: Are we predestined to our fate or do we create it ourselves? Father-son relationships, mother-son relationships, is it possible to escape one’s past? Pursuit of happiness, faith, hope…..
My favorite part of the novel is where the protagonist Cem becomes an apprentice of Master Mahmut Usta and spends his summer holiday digging wells in the imaginary town of Öngören. I absolutely love the simple but powerful symbolism of well-digging, where the pursuit of water becomes the pursuit of our dreams and happiness. Mahmut Usta’s faith is amazing. Pamuk’s depictions of the well-digging and his portrayal of Cem, Ali and Mahmut Usta are masterly. Personally, I found themes of pursuit of happiness and hope more interesting and original than the Oedipus comparison, which I think seem a little forced.
For me the strength of the novel is also its weakness. The richness of themes and the cleverness with which they are interwoven in the story has become a pitfall, where the reader is left to figure out what the story is really about.
The last chapter that is narrated by the red-haired woman herself is a brilliant piece of prose. It brings perspective and clarity to the multiple events and themes introduced to the reader.
If you have never read Pamuk before and are curious, this novel would be a good start. Though, if you really want to get under the skin of Pamuk, you must read his masterpieces The Black Book and Istanbul, which are both translated into several languages.