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M. Torun (London, UK)

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The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
Edition: Paperback

24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases...", 24 July 2007
This review is from: The Catcher in the Rye (Paperback)
This is a book that will disappoint you if you read it for its fame and controversy. You will be disappointed because you will find that there is only a loose plot (in fact the whole story takes place in about two days), and very little actually happens within it. Catcher in the Rye is not so much a story as a character portrayal - a snapshot in the life of Holden Caulfield as he gets expelled from school.

However, if you appreciate the book for what it is, then you'll find it is very likable. Contrary to some of the other reviewers I do not think that it is depressing or full of rage, or even cynical. It just describes a frame of mind that we've all had a couple of days in our lives. Holden is critical but no better than the people he criticises; angry but unwilling to do harm; seemingly hateful but appreciative of the people he dislikes.

Mostly he is just a child coming to terms with being an adolescent - and it is hard not to sympathise with him and his story.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 19, 2009 1:35 PM BST

The Virgin Suicides
The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Edition: Paperback

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them...", 10 July 2007
This review is from: The Virgin Suicides (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written book about a five sisters who commit suicide. It has a unique style in that there is no real protagonist. Instead there are two groups of characters. The first are the Lisbon girls, whose far-away lives and deaths drive the book. Then are the teenage boys who admire and idolise them. Although the book is written from their point of view, the reader has insight into these boys only through their feelings and actions towards the girls.

This unfathomable nature of the characters is purposeful because the book is about the impossibility of understanding adolescence, both of others' and your own. The main characters struggle to understand the Lisbon girls as if revealing the truth about them would explain something in their own lives. The final act of suicide, which tears the girls out of their reach completely, is the most mysterious of all, and leaves them obsessed.

As the boys ponder about the suicides (years later when they are grown men), collect weird items that the girls left behind and speak to everyone who has interacted with them, you begin to put together a hazy and hopelessly incomplete image of the girls' lives. In the end, no one can explain the motivations behind the their actions, and the reader, like every character in the book, is left wondering.

I would recommend reading the book and watching the film - both equally enchanting.

To Kill A Mockingbird
To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 5.03

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars " never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them", 4 July 2007
To Kill a Mockingbird is one those books that manages to encompass many different themes and weave them successfully into a story, which is probably why it's so widely acclaimed. On the surface this could be seen as just a story about racism, but in reality the racism plotline takes up only a part of the book, and overall it's really a story about growing up, and understanding people and society.

Since the book is written through the eyes of young Scout Finch, even weighty topics such as rape and murder are dealt with a degree of light heartedness and humour. The irrational behaviours of adults are challenged by a child's unclouded judgement in a thought-provoking manner.

Simple yet touching - a wonderful read.

Brave New World
Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
Edition: Paperback

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When the individual feels, the community reels", 4 July 2007
This review is from: Brave New World (Paperback)
I read this book shortly after reading 1984 - having heard them being compared - and it definitely provided a good contrast. While Orwell's vision is dark, gloomy, filled with hate and despair, Huxley's world could almost be seen as a Utopian fantasy.

There is an overwhelming sense of comfort and "happiness" within society that is brought about through two important things: recreational drugs and psychological conditioning. Death, relationships, class differences and work do not provide worry. This is in fact what makes Huxley's work so brilliant: it portrays a Dystopia that operates so perfectly that it is disquieting rather than frightening. Because society does indeed work for the good of everyone in a hedonistic sense, the logic behind the system can only be challenged by pure human instinct, as voiced by the central character in the book: "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

However, although the book brings up excellent questions regarding totalitarianism, and freedom of thought, it is somewhat lacking in story. The characters are very hard to empathise with and although the book starts with a central character, Bernard Marx, the focus shifts then to John ("the Savage"), leaving you with a sense that the novel is written for description rather than story-telling. The reader is able to get a very good mental grasp on the problems within society, but since the story isn't gripping, you finish the book feeling very detached from the characters and the world they live in.

Istanbul: Memories of a City
Istanbul: Memories of a City
by Orhan Pamuk
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original insight into Istanbul, 3 July 2007
Having spent much time in Istanbul and being a fan of the city, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book initially. However, I found the author's insight into the city intriguing and enticing. His poetic style of writing, as he parallels the story of his family's misfortunes to the misfortunes of Istanbul, brings the reader to delight in the melancholic beauty of this city.

Whilst his understanding of Istanbul is sometimes too reliant on his own experiences for the reader to fully appreciate, his style of writing nevertheless allows you to enjoy this as a great alternative guide to the city.

1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four (Penguin Modern Classics)
1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four (Penguin Modern Classics)
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-- forever.", 3 July 2007
It seems unnecessary to reiterate that how much of classic this book really is. I had it recommended it to me by various people before I decided to read it. I had initially started but never finished it at age thirteen, but when I restarted and finished it a few years later I was amazed that a book could live up to so much hype.

The reason I was so moved by 1984 can be attributed to the many layers on which the story works. First and foremost, the book is a warning regarding the dangers of totalitarianism and of the power-crazy minority who seek to reshape reality in the eyes of the majority, or in Orwell's words, of "oligarchical collectivism". It resonates most closely with socialism - and parallels can be drawn between Orwell's dystopian vision and Stalinist Russia, for example. But in 2007 when Marxism seems all but defeated and 1984 has long past, the book retains its relevance. Today, with increasing digital surveillance, we are no further from the world of Big Brother than we were in 1984.

However, if this book were simply a political message portrayed as a story, it would not be so enjoyable and neither so powerful. What truly enhances the readers experience and persuades the audience of the impregnability of the Party is the personal journey of the characters. The central character, Winston, represents the audience in many ways. You will find that the questions that form in your head as you read, and the methods of defeating Big Brother that you envisage will be voiced by him throughout the book. He is intelligent enough to see reality as it is and recognise the difference between truth and manipulation.

As I read through the book, I empathised so much with this central character that I began to really see it, not as a political novel, but as the personal story of Winston. It became the personal battle of "the last man" as he was being crushed and defeated by the Party. As a result, the ending became more prominent. On a personal level, it showed the psychological destruction of a human being and conveyed his feeling of complete despair. On a greater level, it made Orwell's political message much more powerful.

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