The Handmaid’s Tale

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


Summary

Offred is a direct product of before and after the establishment of the new Republic of Gilead. Once a free woman who could do as she pleased, Offred wakes up in a world of nightmares where her life has drastically changed in a short span of time. After the leaders of Gilead have decreed all capable women must dedicate their lives to reversing the country’s fallen birthrates, Offred is nothing more than a vessel waiting to be filled. Women who cannot give birth are given other roles and assigned a spot of the totem pole. Those who are old and unruly are sent to the dreaded Colonies.

Offred’s duty as a handmaid is to respect her Commander, serve the Commander’s wife, and deliver the family a baby after a successful ceremony. But Offred can’t help wonder, is all female automony really gone, or is there a resistance flickering in the distance?


Memorable Quotes

“We learned to whisper almost without a sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June,” (4).

“I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander’s Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace,” (12).

“There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me and my shadow, walking away from the two men, who stand at attention, stiffly, by a roadblock, watching our retreating shapes,” (22).

“The chances are one in four, we learned that at the Center. The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up, and meanwhile they creep into your body, camp out in your fatty cells. Who knows, your very flesh may be polluted, dirty as an oily beach, sure death to shore birds and unborn babies. Maybe a vulture would die of eating you. Maybe you light up in the dark, like an old-fashioned watch. Deadwatch. That’s a kind of beetle, it buries carrion,” (112).

“They [men] aren’t a patch on a woman except they’re better at fixing cars and playing football, just what we need for the improvement of the human race, right?” (121).

“How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation,” (146).

“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city,” (191).

“There are more important things. For instance: keep the others safe, if they are safe. Don’t let them suffer too much. If they have to die, let it be fast. You might even provide a Heaven for them. We need You for that. Hell we can make for ourselves,” (195).

“There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There’s something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It’s like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt with. In the paint of the washroom cubicle someone unknown had scratched: Aunt Lydia sucks. It was like a flag waved from a hilltop in rebellion. The mere idea of Aunt Lydia doing such a thing was in itself heartening,” (222).

“I don’t want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin. That is what it comes down to. I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat. Something I lack,” (249).


Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a book that is a page-turner yet difficult to read. Somehow I think this is what Atwood intended, but it still startled me. I figured it would be shocking and a call-to-action, but in some ways I guess didn’t really expect how much the topic matter would affect me. I picked up this book a couple of months ago on Independent Bookstore Day at the Green Apple on Clement Street. I had heard of it and had wanted to buy it for awhile but for whatever reason I held off until that day. Currently The Handmaid’s Tale is surging in popularity due to the release of the new Hulu series (which I have yet to watch, but I’m sure it’s great) and the current political climate.

About 25 pages or so into the book I updated my progress on Goodreads and noted: “I love the way Margaret Atwood keeps me on my toes. At times the atmosphere will feel idyllic. She illustrates soft pastels of the wives’ clothing, neat gardens, and gentle whispers. And then suddenly, she brings the tension back with one unsettling line. It’s a striking balance.” When I think about the beginning in particular, this is something which makes The Handmaid’s Tale feel unique so I’m glad I wrote down my first impressions.

The setting Atwood creates is meant to be disquieting, but parts of it are familiar. In my mind this vague familiarity helps orient the reader while also keeping them off-kilter long enough to know something about this world is very wrong. Offred lives in what appears to be some kind of town but it’s a community (of sorts) nonetheless. She lives in a house, shops for groceries (with a partner for supervision of course), takes baths, and eats meals. There are blooming gardens in the background and cars to be washed on the driveways. But life is not anywhere close to normal. Often Offred will go from being treated as a prized farm animal to a slave and there isn’t too much in between.

Offred’s situation isn’t revealed in the beginning, but there are hints along the way. About halfway through I got a good sense of what was going on but it was also mysterious enough to keep me reading. I appreciated these small unveilings throughout the book because they sustained a web of tension and prompted character development. Most of all, I felt a sense of patience reading each clue which really made me respect Margaret Atwood as an author. When I’m writing I always want to give away the punchline, but Atwood does an amazing job of holding off until she’s ready to reveal her secrets.

The ending wasn’t quite what I pictured, but it was everything I could hope it would be. Even though I finished this book a couple of days ago I still find it hard to think about. Maybe it’s because there’s never a definite conclusion about how to reverse the wrongs. How do we re-orient ourselves after everything has turned upside down?  In a world where women have been stripped of their rights and turned into objects only good for housework and babies, it’s a terrifying future to conceptualize. The power in The Handmaid’s Tale is it extends beyond a grim prediction into a warning. What that warning is may be up to you. For me, this may be a book I need to re-read because it just hits so close to home.

Kafka on the Shore

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami


Summary

On the eve of his fifteenth birthday Kafka Tamura prepares to run away from his home in Nakano, Tokyo. Plagued by the absence of his mother and older sister as well as a cursed prophecy, Kafka dreams of running away in order to escape both his destiny and a form of himself. With every bit of courage he has, Kafka gathers all the money he can manage, packs his things, and jumps aboard a night bus headed for Shikoku.

Meanwhile, Nakata is an elderly man living in Nakano Ward on a meager subsidy from the government. Permanently disabled by a strange accident that occurred during his schooldays around the middle of the second World War, Nakata is unable to communicate clearly with other people. However, he finds solace in looking for family cats that have gone missing from around his neighborhood. What no one knows is Nakata spends most of his days talking (yes, talking) to the these cats in order to discover the whereabouts of the families’ missing pets. But when one day a certain cat goes missing from its beloved family, Nakata finds himself wrapped up in a dark situation that forces him to leave Nakano for good.

Through fleets of destiny too great to be simple coincidence or chance, Kafka and Nakata’s paths wind together to create a brilliant story full of mystery, misplaced time, magic, love, loss, and self-discovery.


Memorable Quotes

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step, There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine,” (page 3).

“All the students dress neatly, have nice straight teeth, and are boring as hell. Naturally, I have zero friends. I’ve built a wall around me, never letting anybody inside and trying not to venture outside myself. Who could like somebody like that?” (page 7).

“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart,” (page 9).

“Some time in the middle of the night a hard rain begins to fall. I wake up every once in a while, part the chintzy curtain at the window and gaze out at the highway rushing by. Raindrops beat against the glass, blurring street lights alongside the road that stretch off into the distance at identical intervals as if they’d been set down to measure the earth,” (page 10).

“‘Gosh, what a long trip,’ she says tiredly. ‘I thought my lower back was going to give out. And my neck’s killing me. You aren’t going to catch me on an all-night bus again. I’m taking the plane now on, even if it’s more expensive. Turbulence, hijackings—I don’t care. Give me a plane any day,'” (page 32).

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out from between their pages—a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers,” (page 39).

“‘Your father sounds like an alien from outer space or something,’ Sakura says. ‘Like he came from some far-off planet, took on human form, kidnapped an earth woman and then had you. Just so he could have more descendants. Your mother found out, got frightened and ran away. Like in some film-noir science-fiction flick.’

I have no idea what to say,” (page 95).

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through, is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit about our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology… But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us for ever, like a touchstone. And for me, what happened in the woods that day is one of those,” (page 104).

“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear,” (page 148).

“‘Speaking of contradictions,’ Oshima suddenly says, ‘when I first met you I felt a kind of contradiction in you. You’re seeking something, but at the same time you’re running away from all you’re worth,'” (page 164).

“The fish struck people, cars and roofs, but not apparently, from such a great height, so no serious injuries resulted. It was more shocking than anything else. A huge number of fish falling like hail from the sky—it was just positively apocalyptic,” (page 181).

“‘Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors  in judgement can be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here,” (page 196).

“I look for the 15-year-old girl in her and find her straight away. She’s hidden, asleep, like a 3-D painting in the forest of her heart. If you look carefully though, you can spot her. My chest starts pounding again, like somebody’s hammering a long nail into the walls surrounding it,” (page 267).

“My second day on the mountain passes leisurely, seamlessly. The only thing that distinguishes one day from the next is the weather. If the weather were the same I couldn’t tell one day from another. Yesterday, today, tomorrow—they’d all blur into one. Like an anchorless ship, time floats aimlessly across the broad sea,” (page 393).

“Even so, as I walk I get the feeling that something, somewhere, is watching me, listening to me, holding its breath, blending into the background, watching my every move. Somewhere far off, something’s listening to all the sounds I make, trying to guess where I’m going and why. I try not to think about it. The more you think about illusions, the more they’ll swell up and take on form. And no longer be an illusion,” (page 413).

“‘It all really happened, so you can’t undo it,’ Crow tells me. ‘She shouldn’t have abandoned you then, and you shouldn’t have been abandoned. But things in the past are like a plate that’s shattered to pieces. You can never put it back as it was, right?’

I nod. ‘You can never put it back as it was.’ He’s hit the nail on the head,” (page 430).


Thoughts

**First note: I’d like to address the quotes I chose to include in my “Memorable Quotes” section. If you read through every quote I included, (which I understand is a lot so no judgement from me if you didn’t) you may end up with the impression that this book is extremely long-winded and too caught up in itself to be enjoyable; maybe even cheesy in a sudo hyper-intellectual way. And while there are brief bits of overwhelming themes present in this specific book, that would be a misplaced impression overall. I want to stress that I chose those specific quotes because they stood out and were some of the most meaningful lines of text to me as a reader. But overall, the book is about five hundred pages so those quotes aren’t exactly representative of the writing style of the entire book. In fact, Kafka on the Shore is incredibly easy to read as it’s engaging and written beautifully.

This is my third Murakami book I’ve read and it certainly won’t be my last. Thinking back on my experience reading Kafka on the Shore I can confidently say its strongest point is the atmosphere it creates. When I think about Murakami’s books in general I mentally correspond them with colors. This may sound a little weird, but in my mind color and atmosphere are very much linked. And to give a better example of what I mean, I thought it would be fun to include some pictures of the places the characters visit in Kafka on the Shore. 

So to start, below I’ve pasted a general map of Japan I found online so you can see the distance between Tokyo and Shikoku.

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Map of Japan (credit: shutterstock)

Next is a picture of some buildings in Nakano Ward where both Kafka and Nakata begin their journeys.

 

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Buildings in Nakano Ward (credit: all photos by koji fujii  / nacasa & partners inc.
images courtesy of takeshi yamagata architects) Link: http://www.designboom.com/architecture/takeshi-yamagata-architects-chojyabashi-building/

The next set of pictures capture the beauty of the Great Seto Bridge leading into Shikoku. When Nakata and Hoshino drive to Shikoku, Nakata describes a breath-taking bridge and I believe this is the one he is referencing.

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View of the Great Seto Bridge (credit: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/greatsetobridge)
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View from the top of the Great Seto Bridge (credit: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/greatsetobridge)

 

Lastly, here is a picture I found of Takamatsu City on Shikoku Island. This is one of the main destinations for both Kafka and Nakata.

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Takamatsu City (credit: http://americanruruoni.weebly.com/kanonji.html )

One thing that delights and frustrates me is the simple fact that I can’t explain to you what this specific book means. I have ideas about certain allusions or themes, but it would take too long to explain and I highly doubt I could. Whenever I try everything just becomes a jumbled mess in my mind. As with After Dark, there are many things left unsaid and circumstances which ripple in the wake of the main plot. This used to bother me, but I think I’m slowly getting used to it. To me, this is the magic of Murakami and Kafka on the Shore. I love Haruki Murakami’s writing, although at times I think he overuses metaphors a little too much. (But hey, he writes them elegantly af so I think I can forgive him.) There is a mystical feeling I get whenever I read something he’s written even if it’s just a scene describing someone hitchhiking.

The characters all have distinct personalities which makes you fall in love with them and cry for them when the time comes. Kafka is interesting, but I think my favorite character is Nakata. In a way, I want to think Murakami meant for his readers to fall in love with Nakata. I love him not just because he talks to cats, (although that in itself is strangely endearing) but because he is able to let go of time and live in the moment in the most simple and heartwarming of ways.

Kafka on the otherhand, is complicated. He’s broken inside, and haunted by a dark prophecy. Although he does manage to somewhat find his way, he becomes even more lost and confused as he begins to work at a library and fall in love with the older woman who runs it. I won’t spoil too much, but the identity of the woman also plays into part of Kafka’s confusion.

I’m not sure what else I can say about Kafka on the Shore without spoiling it. The story seems simple at first; a runaway and an old man whose life turns upside down, but it becomes much more than that. Fish fall from the sky, cats lead humans to new discoveries, people face sexual awakenings, and a young boy runs through a forest that represents the complexities of his inner psyche. All I can say is you’ll have to read this book to discover what I’m talking about.


Extra Resources

http://modernist-magazines.org/?q=node/808 (A cool page I found that basically maps out the locations described in Kafka on the Shore.)

http://www.harukimurakami.com/q_and_a/questions-for-haruki-murakami-about-kafka-on-the-shore (A link to Murakami’s website where he answers some questions about Kafka on the Shore and his writing.)

Modern Romance

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Summary

Although the concept of courtship has been around for decades, for someone struggling to keep up with the times, the ways of modern romance can seem disorienting. With the rise of smartphones and cutting-edge technology, basic tasks are now easier than ever. Everything from ordering takeout to calling a cab simply require just the click of a button. However, how does this new technology influence dating?

Modern Romance attempts to answer the most pressing questions about love in the 21st century. Written by comedian Aziz Ansari with the help of NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance, covers subjects like how dating sites and apps affect singles to how different countries view infidelity.


Memorable Quotes

“As I hit thirty, I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of those nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes. When you hit that point, you realize how fruitless trying to find love by barhopping can be; you have enough data to know that statistically the smartest thing for you to do when you walk into a bar is go to the bathroom, jerk off, and leave,” (page 210).

“I also started losing single friends. One day i stood alone at a barbecue at my house and saw nothing but couples around me. It seemed like I was the only single dude in the mix. Everyone else was splitting their racks of ribs into halves and sharing. Meanwhile, I had to eat a whole rack by myself like some kind of lonely fatso. I felt like it was time for a change,” (page 210).


Thoughts

Okay, just to clarify, I know I don’t have many quotes from this book. Why? Well, it’s not that there weren’t any I didn’t like, it’s more that I was reading so quickly I barely had to time to mark down my favorites. What initially drew me to the book was its title and its author. I assumed it would be hilarious because it was written by a comedian. And as I started to read, I immediately loved the small touches of humor Ansari provided. However, if I am being honest, I did feel a bit mislead.

When I began to read this book in the bookstore, it was immediately presented as a book where Aziz would talk about his own funny dating stories and then explore the world of modern dating. However, what it actually turned out to be is a guide book to mastering modern dating. Of course, if I had read a bit more of the book from the start, I might have realized this sooner.

As I was reading I could definitely pick out Aziz’s humor, but there were also sections that were much more serious because he does try to ground his findings with facts and/or anecdotes. A good portion of the book explores social media’s impact on modern courtship and the ways it benefits or harms relationships. It’s a hard topic to tackle, but Ansari did a wonderful job of making it more manageable.

South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

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Summary

Hajime, currently a thirty-seven-year-old man, has an ideal life. Blessed with a beautiful wife, two young daughters, and no financial concerns, he is happier than most.

However, something is missing; something in Hajime is empty. The only caveat is… He doesn’t know what, why, or how to fill the void inside of him. Through Murakami’s achingly beautiful and alarmingly haunting writing, Hajime takes us back through the most meaningful relationships in his life in the hopes of discovering what he has lost in the process.


Memorable Quotes

“In the world I lived in, it was an accepted idea that only children were spoiled by their parents, weak, and self-centered. This was a given-like the fact that the barometer goes down the higher up you go and the fact that cows give milk. That’s why I hated it whenever someone asked me how many brothers and sisters I had. Just let them hear I didn’t have any and instinctively they thought: An only child, eh? Spoiled, weak, and self-centered, I betcha. That kind of knee-jerk reaction depressed me, and hurt. But what really depressed and hurt me was something else; the fact that everything they thought about me was true. I really was spoiled, weak, and self-centered,” (page 5).

“Second, no one around me-with the exception of Shimamoto, of course- ever listened to Liszt’s piano concertos. The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew-a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another plane of existence,” (page 11).

“‘There are some things in this world that can be done over, and some that can’t. And time passing is one thing that can’t be redone. Come this far, and you can’t go back. Don’t you think so?'” (Shimamoto; page 14).

“‘Now you’re able to think of a few things other than what’s under a girl’s skirt, right?’

‘A few,’ I said. ‘But if that’s got you worried, maybe next time you’d better wear pants!'” (page 146).

“‘You’re here,’ I continued. ‘At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just your shadow. The real you may be someplace else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago. I reach out my hand to see, but you’ve hidden yourself behind a cloud of probablys. Do you think we can go on like this forever?'” (page 170).

“‘ I told you I love you. What’s wrong with thinking about the body of the man you love? Haven’t you thought about my body?'” (page 182).

Probably is a word you may find south of the border. But never, west of the sun,” (page 196).


Thoughts

Funny enough, after telling my dad about the magical world of, After Dark, he purchased Haruki Murakami’s, South of the Border, West of the Sun, for me as a Christmas gift. And wow, I am so glad he chose this book in particular! If I had been choosing for myself, I may have chosen, Kafka on the Shore, or even, A Wild Sheep Chase.  However, after the first few pages (I say this a lot, don’t I?) I was hooked. Reading this book feels like looking through stained glass. The writing is irresistibly  impeccable, re calling the most minute details from the sounds in a crowded bar to a small fold in a woman’s skirt.

The plot of the book is fairly simple. With no science fiction or magical realism at hand, South of the Border, West of the Sun, presents itself as mundane. In fact, most of the book is about facing the mundane and mechanical realities of everyday life. Hajime is an only-child, (something that seems to plague him deeply) and spends most of the book ruminating about his life and closest relationships.

Hajime begins (which is ironic because Hajime also means, “beginning,” in Japanese) the story by describing his relationship with his childhood neighbor and close friend, Shimamoto. Shimamoto is introspective, shy, and also an only-child. Although she never mentions it herself, she is quite self-conscious due to a permanent limp she has in her left leg from polio. At the tender age of twelve, the two form what seems to be the very beginnings of a lifelong love story. However, everything goes awry when Hajime’s family moves.After being separated from his closest friend, Hajime is forced to begin his life anew. But despite the distance, for years after, Hajime constantly recalls on Shimamoto with fondness.

During his high school years, Hajime falls in love with the lovely Izumi. Timid yet curious, Izumi etches a fixed place in Hajime’s mind. Although he spends most of his time lusting after her, Hajime proves time and time again that he deeply cares about Izumi. However, like most things in Hajime’s life, everything about the relationship appears perfect, except there is a piece missing from each encounter they have.

This pattern continues on until Hajime is in his thirties and he happens to meet his wife, Yukiko. Then comes the house, the dream job, his two daughters, the happy life. But the images of what could have been… and what still could be, disrupt everything.

This novel features topic matter which should be mildly depressing to a sensitive reader such as myself. I tend to shy away from sad books due to the fact that when I read, I simply don’t want to be depressed. Sure, I love to think, but I don’t believe all intellectual musings need to be depressing. (This is why I disliked most of the readings I was assigned in high school. Can we please have some comedies once in awhile?) However, something about Murakami’s writing in, South of the Border, West of the Sun, comes off as distant. When Hajime describes events in his life, he seems to hold his feelings at arm’s length. I am not sure if this was intentional, but somehow, any emotion in the book is dulled down to the point where you may feel something, but it may not be as painful as you imagined it would be. And this is neither to criticize the book, nor Murakami’s writing; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

While reading, I felt as if I was in a trance. Time was passing by, yet reading about Hajime’s life is the equivalent of looking at colorful blur of light from a fast-moving car. This makes sense because a major theme in the book is the flow of time. The idea that you can only move forward, is prevalent throughout the entire book and expressed by each character. This theme definitely reminded of, The Great Gatsby, (one high school read I did enjoy) due to certain characters’ obsessions with nostalgia and reliving forgotten moments.

Overall, I truly enjoyed reading this book. I adore Murakami’s writing because it can make any situation feel extraordinary and magical. To me, Murakami’s writing is the equivalent of the Midas Touch; anything he writes turns to gold. The characters, the imagery, the themes, etc. However, another special feature of his writing is that is makes me think more deeply about the world around me. Not in a depressing way, but in a hopeful way. His style is calmly and patiently observant. Murakami writes as if he has seen the world, lived it, observed it, and discovered its secrets. The only thing left to do is for him to leave the clues for everyone else to discover its meanings on his or her own.

 

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Summary

Rachel’s life is the epitome of mundane. Each day her biggest excursion  is commuting to and from work on the London train. But unlike the other passengers , what thrills Rachel the most about her commute is gazing at the stretch of cozy Victorian homes  mingling along the tracks. Her favorite house, number 23,  is home to a beautiful couple who Rachel nicknames, Jess and Jason. During the few minutes the train stops for construction on the tracks, Rachel watches the couple as they relax out on their terrace and live out the promises of domestic bliss.

Jess and Jason represent everything Rachel has lost; her husband, her home, and most importantly, her sanity. However, watching Jess and Jason also gives Rachel solace that happiness still exists in outside of her own shattered world. That is, until she sees something strange happening on Jess and Jason’s terrace the following day.

Without a warning, Rachel finds herself mixed into a world where her own fantasies blend into hard, cold reality. She becomes a witness, but an unreliable one at that. Struggling against a streak of heavy drinking and violence on her record, Rachel desperately attempts to warn the police of everything she believes she has seen from her small window on the train.

Constantly shifting narration between three of the novel’s main female characters, the reader is provided a glimpse into the web of lies we tell ourselves and the tainted realities we live. Each woman uses her own unique, yet eerily similar experience to illustrate the boundaries the human mind. More than anything, The Girl on the Train, begs one main question:

How far we are willing to go in order to grasp at our own corrupt fantasies?


Memorable Quotes

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” (Rachel POV)

“And I’ve just got to let myself feel the pain, because if I don’t, if I keep numbing it, it’ll never really go away.” (Rachel POV)

“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.” (Rachel POV)

“Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.” (Rachel POV)

“It’s ridiculous, when I think about it. How did I find myself here? I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it. Where did I take the wrong turn?”  (Rachel POV)

“Who’s to say that once I run, I’ll find that isn’t enough? Who’s to say I won’t end up feeling exactly the way I do right now-not safe, but stifled? Maybe I’ll want to run again, and again, and eventually I’ll end up back on those old tracks, because there’s nowhere left to go. Maybe. Maybe not. You have to take the risk, don’t you?” (Megan POV)


Thoughts

First of all, I appreciate how engaging this book was right from the very first page. Even though I love reading, (I am an English major after all) sometimes I have a difficult time picking up a book and sticking with it. But with The Girl on the Train, I never encountered this problem. In fact, I began reading it while lounging around SFO at 3 in the morning! Despite being sleep-deprived and anxious for my trip, I was drawn into the crazy world of seemingly innocent train rides and man-made mayhem.

What I loved most about reading this thriller was experiencing the perspectives of the three very different narrators. Each woman is complicated in her own way; facing different, yet eerily similar, demons. Themes throughout the book range from abuse to motherhood, sexual power/politics to mental illness, and everything in-between. It is not a cheery novel for the slight of heart. In fact, it is a novel where the reader must be willing to get his or her hands dirty and, dare I say it, “take a ride on the wild side.”

Rachel is the main character and particularly unique one at that. She acts as both a passive and active force within the progression of the storyline as she transforms from watcher, into actor. When the reader is first introduced to Rachel, she seems somewhat normal. However, as  the reader becomes more and more acquainted with her stream of consciousness, it becomes very clear that Rachel has a conundrum of deep-rooted, complicated issues.

Rachel’s most notable characteristics are her alcoholism and  her fascination with watching people. So basically, Rachel is a voyeur and an alcoholic. Now, the only issue with describing Rachel as a “voyeur,” is that at first many of her watchful habits seem more innocent than the word suggests. In the beginning of the book, Rachel talks about simply watching the couple from the train because she wants their life. In that train of thought, what she is exhibiting is not voyeurism, but sonderism. However, as the story goes on, it is clear Rachel consistently straddles the line between being a voyeur and experiencing true sonder for the first time.

It begs the questions, what happens when we discover the tangled lives of others? Do we belong in their webs, or does each of us too stuck on our own paths to join another? Or we capable of fighting for the greater good, or are we too selfish to care? From cheating to murder and mayhem, The Girl on the Train, tugs at the very strings of humanity.

 

Weekly Update #3: Summer Unlike Any Other

Hello dear reader!

It has come to my attention that I’ve been extremely negligent with posting over the last couple of weeks, and for that I sincerely apologize. However, these last few weeks have been so action-packed that I haven’t even truly had time to collect my thoughts and reflect. Therefore, this post will be a brief personal reflection of the summer of 2016.

This summer has been incredible. In the past I despised summer break. Why, you ask? Well for one it is blazing hot where I live in the summer and I am not a fan of the heat. Secondly, summer can get dull quickly if you’re not doing anything fun or if you don’t get a chance to see friends. But despite my previous qualms with the summer season, in the last couple of years it has been growing on me.

This summer I traveled to new places. I had the opportunity to see some of my favorite bands in concert. I grew closer to new and old friends. I traveled by myself for the first time. I took a few baby steps towards becoming the person I’m supposed to be. And last but certainly not least, I fell in love with someone so beautiful inside and outside that I can’t even believe he exists.

The last couple of months flew by so quickly that even attempting to think about them creates a blur of hazy, colorful memories in my mind. There were ups and downs, but as I think about my time back home, this summer has been one of the best to date. I did my best to resurrect my blog, and I hope that my work (only a few, but detailed posts) inspires me to keep reading and writing during the school year.

Am I terrified for this semester? Hell yes. But I think it will be one for the books. I have amazing people by my side and a city that never stops shining.

 


A few pictures from my travels:

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Americanah

Americanah

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Summary

Ifemelu is a strong-willed and intelligent woman who leaves her native land of Nigeria to  attend university in America. Obinze is a kind-hearted and observant man who departs for London to begin a new life abroad. The two met in high school and quickly fell deeply in love, but are forced to part ways when their new lives take over. However, as time passes, neither has forgotten the other.

Ifemelu faces challenges adapting to American culture and struggles with the meaning of race and identity. As she chronicles her new life, she wonders about Obinze’s life and whether or not she made a mistake when cutting him off. Will they ever meet again? Will everything be the same, or will their relationship be completely changed after their time abroad?

Americanah explores both Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s journeys as as life abroad brings its waves of struggles and triumphs.


Memorable Quotes

“People were flattered to be asked about themselves and if she said nothing after they spoke, it made them say more. They were conditioned to fill silences,” (page 4).

“He [Blaine] taught ideas of nuance and complexity in his classes and yet he was asking her for a single reason, the cause. But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her,” (page 8).

“Other girls would have pretended that they had never let another boy touch them, but not her, never her. There was a vivid honesty about her,” (page 24).

“She kicked him under the table and he kicked her back, watching his laughing friends; they were all a little afraid of her and a little in love with her,” (page 25).

“He felt, looking out at the muggy darkness farther way, as if he could float, and all he needed to do was to let himself go,” (page 44).

“Her mother told them of a vision she had just had, a blazing apperance near the gas cooker of an angel holding a book trimmed in red thread, telling her to leave Revival Saints because the pastor was a wizard who attended nightly  demonic meetings under the sea.”

‘You should listen to the angel,’ her father said,” (page 52).

“It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her. They had none nothing of each other only hours ago, and yet, there had been a knowledge shared between them in those moments before they danced, and now she could think only of al the things she wanted to tell him, wanted to do with him,” (page 73).


Thoughts

This is a ground-breaking book about something not so ground-breaking in itself because Americanah exudes the aura of what it truly means to live. Adichie masterfully creates a convincing reality where life is not glorified and blown up to giant metaphors, but instead it is simply lived. A person’s situation and thoughts do not change in a day, and Americanah boldly demonstrates this slow-moving evolution. 

Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon it completely by accident and decided to read only because I had previously watched one of Chimamanda’s TedTalks for class. And wow, I am so glad I bought it.

As I have previously alluded, this is a book that I would (almost lamely) describe as “real.” Not real in the sense that the entirety of the book is one depressing look at life, but real as in a no bullshit approach in showing how the environment we grow up in influences the way we see ourselves and the world around us. It is beautifully colorful and descriptive, and sometimes lackluster and dull. This novel lives and breathes reality in every way possible. 

In life there is happiness, sadness, love, anger, jealousy, and overall confusion. There are moments of grandeur where the world seems to exist in vibrant technicolor, and there are moments when it dulls to a hollow black and white. Americanah is a book that not only points this out directly, but also thematically.

The main character, Ifemelu is a blunt and witty woman whose thoughts shift and expand as the world around her changes. From her homeland of Nigeria to the disorienting streets of America, Ifemelu guides the reader through different periods in her life. The beginning of the book takes place in the most recent part of Ifemelu’s life when she is living in America and planning to return home to Nigeria. Then the story jumps back to Ifem’s high school life in Nigeria, filling in missing details about her friends and family.

Throughout the novel the time constantly shifts back and forth between present time and the past, creating an interesting, but logical, storyline. In addition, the perspective switches from Ifemelu to Obinze, therefore consistently refreshing the plot.

The novel addresses themes such as race, displacement, first love, expectations, sex, adulthood, and the ways in which people confront life.

From the way it is arranged to the themes it brings forward, Americanah is a pleasure from beginning to end. I enjoyed this book because it reminds me that identity is not always who you really are because it is subjective to environment. When coming to America, Ifemelu goes from identifying as simply Nigerian, to becoming “African American.” 

Definitely a must-read for the occupational (or self-proclaimed) philosopher and any general person facing the daily woes of the human condition head-on.