Wednesday, 9 November 2016

"The Devil's Alternative"

The "Devil's Alternative" by Frederick Forsyth is by contemporary standards a lengthy yarn of 475 pages. Set in a 1970s backdrop, not surprising as it was first published in 1979 this book is set in the Cold War period of international rivalry between the Soviet Union and America. In light of the currently prevailing climate of east-west tensions many of you might find it a particularly worthwhile book. That's why I'm reviewing it now, quite a while later.
It's my intention here to note down my impressions of the book rather than engage in a step by step reconstruction of the plot which you can anyway get from any conventional 'cardboard' review, as I call such write-ups.
There are many themes involved in this book beyond the obvious backdrop of the Cold War and its restrictions. These are nationalism, love, ecological devastation, espionage and above all terrorism. The remarkable thing about Frederick Forsyth is that he highlights that the more things appear to change, the more they remain the same. We realize thereby that only the emblems have changed but not the issues.
Apart from these aspects, Frederick Forsyth's book explores a highly elitist world of world statesman, diplomats who double up as spies and military personnel. In the latter context the book might not be something that many people may lack the ability to relate to unless you aren't part of the privileged or haven't lived in the West. Fortunately, and even at the risk of appearing snobbish I must say I don't suffer from such deficiencies.
Of the various issues involved and the obvious interplay between characters which is intrinsic to any novel the most topical issues explored are terrorism and environmental degradation. We are compelled to recognize that a man's convictions can lead him to do wrong as much as right. That is why Andrew Drake and Miroslav Kaminsky are terrorists even though their original political convictions based on Ukrainian nationalism might find a resonance with many even today. I must say in this regard that many of the insights the author has shown on the Russian-Ukrainian relationship and the force of sub nationalism threatening to blow apart the supra national state structure have proved ominously prophetic and might have indeed influenced many. Thus while we can't necessarily sympathize with the methods of such individuals such as through political assassination and threatening environmental devastation by threatening to blow apart a super tanker, we cannot decry the hold of their beliefs. Indeed such convictions carry a certain appeal to people of all multinational states.
Similarly ecological devastation through oil spills has occurred in the subsequent period. Not fortunately due to terrorism but due to human inefficiency causing accidents. The consequences nevertheless have been devastating nonetheless.
Then of course the much discussed topic of love is also explored here. We find it is but a tool to serve political ends and that both the individuals involved in it operate within the backdrop of a much larger stage and forces which they can't necessarily control.
Other than that some secondary aspects such as the description of some gadgets of Cold War military technology might interest some. Though you could probably get a better of idea of such technology by reading Tom Clancy's books.
It's not just the politics that attracts us to ' The Devil's Alternative' nor the fact that lives are at stake whatever option is chosen but that it makes us realize that Francis Fukuyama's belief that history has ended is a fallacy. In fact the flow of history threatens to engulf us today once again. A defining moment has been reached as it was in 1989. For isn't it said that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it?
Get back with a bang into a seemingly dead past. But the past isn't dead, it's alive and kicking and can't wait to take you a prisoner.

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Friday, 4 November 2016

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Why You Should Read Catcher In The Rye

Catcher In The Rye is a controversial book that has foul language, many instances of underage drinking and smoking, and teenage rebellion. This book has a long history of censorship in schools and libraries across the America. However, for the brave adventurer who can look past these shortcomings of the book, Catcher In The Rye does offer an entertaining adventure of a young boy named Holden Caulfield and his adventures outside of school. There are two key reasons why you should add this book to your collection:
Reason #1: The Author Writes In A Language That The Average Reader Can Understand And Follow Very Well
The best storyteller is the one who can keep the reader engaged throughout the book. The use of modern english and profanity helps to wake up the reader and keep him/her involved in the story. A lot of people would probably fall asleep if they felt like they had to read old school english as much of that language is not a language they feel they can relate to. However, Catcher In The Rye speaks in an attitude that the reader can follow.
For example, Holden often uses swear words whenever he deals with someone he doesn't like such as his roommates Stratletter and Ackley. The reader is engaged fully in the fights and quarrels between Holden and his Pencey Prep roommates. He also demonstrates the same tendencies in his later interactions with other characters in the book. Whenever the reader gets to these interactions, his/her eyes never fall off the page. The storytelling in Catcher In The Rye is the kind that will keep the reader glued to the book.
Reason #2: Most Of Us Can Relate To Holden Caulfield And His Attitude Towards Life
One of the things that keeps a reader engaged in a book is being able to relate to the character. Holden is the kind of person who symbolizes the personality that we once had or wished to have in our teenage years. His tendency to hit people and his standing up to people is probably the kind of personality that we all wish we had at some point. His having adventures in the nightclub with the three older ladies from seattle, at the skating rink with Sally Hayes, and at the zoo with his sister Phoebe are the kind of adventures that many teenagers wish they could have.
Holden's rebellious and often poor attitude towards life speaks to us and reminds of the struggles with life that we probably faced when we were teenagers. Even though this book was written in the 1950's and takes place around that time, we can still understand the notion of rebellion and how we wish we could have our own adventures away from organized society at times.

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Friday, 16 September 2016

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo

"Without a doubt the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is, even today a majestic and sublime edifice. Though it has preserved a noble mien in aging, it is difficult to suppress the feeling of sorrow and indignation at the countless injuries and mutilation which time and man have wrought upon this venerable monument between the time of Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, and that of Philip-Augustus, who laid its last."
This Victor Hugo classic is set in ancient Paris, and it is an ode to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Much as most of the characters in the book have a tragic fate, it is at the cathedral that the author mostly wants us to gaze with "reverent admiration"-an edifice where "everything had its place in that self-created, logical, well-proportioned art. By measuring the toe, we estimate the giant."
There are three main characters in the story. The first is Claude Frollo, a scion of a middle-class Parisian family. As a boy, Frollo was reserved, bright and by nature melancholy. His parents had destined him for priesthood, "and at sixteen was a match for a father of the Church in mystical law." His thirst for knowledge drove him to the study of canon and civil law, liberal arts and medicine. He later thoroughly digested the science of herbs and studied languages. All this learning gained him a reputation so great for one so young.
After his parents had died, fate prematurely bestowed on him the duty of looking after his younger brother Jehan. For someone who spent most of his young life pinioned to books, his devotion to his younger brother was his first human affection. This infant brother 'who had dropped from heaven into his arms,' made a new man of him. He discovered that there was much more to life than the poetry of Homer and the mysteries of science. He discovered the necessity of affection. He threw himself therefore at the care of his brother, showing him all the love he could.
At the age of twenty, Frollo was ordained a priest. It was at this time that he found Quasimodo, a deformed infant and the other major character in the book, abandoned outside the door of the church. When Claude Frollo pulled the sack covering the child, he found himself looking at a monster: "the head pushed down between the shoulders, the spine curved, the breastbone protruding, the legs bowed." The child's ugliness inexplicably heightened the priest's compassion.
Frollo adopted the child, baptized him and raised him as his own. When frightened dogs barked at him, it was between the legs of the Claude Frollo that Quasimodo sought refuge. The priest also taught him to speak, read and write. Quasimodo was, therefore, grateful to the priest. But the relationship between them was no better than that of a master and his dog.
Quasimodo grew up to be the bellringer of Notre Dame. Cut off from society by the double tragedy of deformity and orphanhood, the Cathedral of Notre Dame became his prison and his universe. Like a reptile, he could be seen all day crawling along the arches and corners of the church.
But, what mostly gave him joy, and seemed to arouse his soul the most, was ringing the bells of the Notre Dame. Though their noise turned him deaf, he loved them, talked to them, danced to the frenzy of their sound, and caressed them as one human would another. The third major character is the dancing gypsy, La Esmeralda, with beauty so rare and incomparable.
Victor Hugo eloquently takes us on a tour of ancient Paris. While it is the doomed relationships between these three that he narrates with skill and humor, it is the spectacle of the Cathedral of Notre Dame that his literary torch shines on. Even though the main protagonists lives are replete with events, the reader gets the impression that the author sees nothing remarkable or memorable about them.
the story, the citizens of Paris seemed to be dancing their way across the stage of their doomed lives in a predictable fashion. They have do-nothing kings, happy bourgeois, dungeons and the scaffold for the both the innocent and the guilty, and the merry, noisy, naïve, haggard and filthy masses. Human life is portrayed in the book as a sad spectacle without charm.
But not so with the cathedral, 'it was a vast symphony in stone,' the author writes, 'the colossal work of a man and of a nation, a unified complex ensemble, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, to which it is a sister production.' Its facades, its chiseled arches, its steps, its steeples, its pillars, its statues, its chubby cherubims, its art, its windows are so intricately and elaborately depicted. Their beauty seemingly juxtaposed to the ugliness of human life.
There is a lament in the author's voice about the changes and mutilations that humanity has wrought on this imposing edifice, but no such sentiment is displayed for the wretchedness of the lives of fellow humans. It is as if the appalling and endless carnage of human life is told merely to show, if not accentuate, the beauty of the cathedral. The reader gets the impression that the author had given up on humanity, rejected and rebelled against the fierceness of the world, and hid in his hovel-art.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an excellent historical novel and a grand sojourn of old Paris. Its depiction of place and person is symphonic and skillful. Its narrative, with strong political, social and even religious themes, soars to the end. The book is a classic that deserves to be read and re-read.

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