Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Easter Island (A Novel)

Easter Island

I read about this mysterious island in a book titled ‘World Famous Unsolved Mysteries’ several years ago. Since then it has always arrested my interest even at the slightest mention of it. Therefore, when I stumbled upon this book titled “Easter Island: A Novel” at the old book store, I bought it instantly. The highlight on the back cover suggested a tale of mystery where two stories, belonging to two different eras begin to unfold in this mystical island and finds an interesting conclusion as the stories intersect each other.

Synopsis

There are two stories which we get to hear in this book. The first is the story of Elsa Beazely ,her troubled sister Alice, and her second husband Edward, whom she has recently married. This story is set in 1913, when they visit Easter Island for a scientific expedition. Elsa feels that such a trip would help her move on with her past despondencies and also make her sister feel good with a change of atmosphere. The second story, set in 1970s, is that of Greer Farraday, an American botanist who recently lost her husband (her husband was alleged to have stolen her research works to attain fame for himself.) She too has come to Easter island to get rid from her past and complete her research work on flowering plants, for which the secluded ecosystem of Easter Island provides a perfect research ground.

Both these stories progress at a slow pace. Nothing surprising happens. A reader only relishes the experience of staying in a remote, mystery laden Easter Island, with its sparse population, simple lifestyle and unexplained historical folklores. The claim made that the two stories intersect each other in interesting way is misleading. They don’t connect in any significant manner. Perhaps there is no thrill in both the stories; the only delight of the novel is the experience of living in the quiet and esoteric Easter Island.

The Author

Jennifer Vanderbes has been quite earnestly lauded for this debut novel of hers. It also won her Washington Post Book World and Christian Science Monitor Best Book of 2003. I gathered she has written quite a lot of non-fiction on the subject of botany. Undoubtedly it reflects in this novel too. The character Greer, the botanist, goes at length to explain about her research on angiosperms (seed-bearing vascular plants) The whole of the second last chapter in this novel is the research paper published by the character Greer at the end of her research. This chapter was quite obtrusive as it broke the flow of what I was reading.

Experiencing the Isolation

The only good thing about this book, as I have stated, was to get a feeling of life in Easter Island. The population is sparse and in the novel it is depicted that everyone knows each other. There are no big factories or industry. Every such good is transported from Chile, once in a month. People place their orders and after a month the supplies arrive on ships. People line up to collect their orders.

The island’s past is shrouded in mystery and people don’t seem to have a clear account of its history. The gigantic statues, called moai, have many versions of folklores as to why and how they were created, although the scientists are unable to agree on any of those theories. Explorers and Voyagers have been bumping upon this island and writing accounts, expressing perplexity over its variety of flora and fauna despite being cut-off from any landmass by thousands of miles. The author invokes commentary from such famous explorers like Captain James Cook, Charles Darwin etc. Additionally she introduces us to rongorongo, an unsolved mystery of Easter Island. Rongorongo is a system of glyphs which appears to be writing or proto-writing and it has not been deciphered yet.

With such a mystical backdrop, the endeavor of Greer, to try to move on with her past seems a fair plot. I liked few lines where the sense of isolation and peace is evoked.

“She became aware of the silence all around her, broken only by the slight slap of water against her boots. Here I am, she thought. In the middle of a crater on the most remote island in the world. Reeds rising all around me; all I can see is sky. Not a voice, not a rustle to be heard.”

“On the rocks, about twenty yards from her, she spotted a plate covered with a metal lid, a halo of steam curling from its edges. It was odd, this abandoned meal, but then again, the island seemed governed by its own rules and rituals”

“She takes a deep breath. There is a moment of silence between them as they watch the port chandlers pack up their goods for the evening, as these last signs of familiar civilization rumble their carts into the distance.”

Conclusion

This story is interesting only if you like Easter Island and a little bit of reading about plants(since we have a botanist character here). The story, in itself is not quite gripping. The pace of story is slow and it is only the mystical feeling of the islands that is appealing. It makes for a fine reading on a sluggish rainy day.

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(I am glad to post my review for the Recycled Book Reading Challenge, an interesting initiative by a curios reader and explorer, Mliae! Do visit her blog and learn lots about her life experiemnts! PS- Its snowing on her blog these days! 😀 )

 

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Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Amsterdam

Aha! So here I am to tell you about a recycled book I got to read. It’s called ‘Amsterdam’ and is written by Ian McEwan. This was the first book I read of McEwan. At the old book store, the book cover had caught my attention. It appeared like a thrilling tale with mystery and suspense. Furthermore, the declaration made on the book cover that the book won the 1998 Booker Prize added to my conviction that the story must be great to have deserved such honors.

As I read the book, soon I found my pace slacken becuase of lack of a gripping plot. The characters didn’t appear very interesting to me and their personalities didn’t make me eager to know about their endeavours. One of them was a music composer and the other a newspaper editor. They entered into a pact that if one of them will acquire any terminal illness, the other will help by aiding in quick demise of the other to avoid a painful existence. This, they had deduced, after seeing the horrible conditions suffered by an amorous lady who had died of cancer. This lady had dated both these men and so both of them held sympathies for her.

In the course of the story, a battle ensues between both these guys concerning the issue of morality. What one sees as the other one’s moral duty , the other dismisses it with contempt. What I could gather from it was the hypocrisy ingrained in people, to only see bad in others while justifying their own wrongs.

All in all, the book was quick to finish. The narrative wasn’t quite gripping , nor was the plot. The twists weren’t thrilling nor did I feel like taking much out of the novel. Mostly, after finishing a novel I will have plenty of quotes picked up, or some incidents to talk about or some interesting sequence in the story to think about. Unfortunately I didn’t find any such thing in this book. While I was searching online to read some published reviews, I found one published in The Guardian. I could’t agree more to the words of Sam Jordison

The fact that it won the Booker will make many people (and more and more of them in the future) assume that Amsterdam must be McEwan’s best work, when it is far from it. And if Amsterdam were the only book of his I’d read, I’d never want to read another – and so miss out on one of our best contemporary novelists.

(I am glad to post my review for the Recycled Book Reading Challenge, an initiative by Mliae! Do visit her blog to become a part and also meet bloggers who are a part of this reading challenge! )

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Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Of Human Bondage

I finished reading the book ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham. It uses the character of Philip to demonstrate how human beings, ever after birth, gets bonded by  his/her uncontrolled emotions and prejudices. In an attempt to find a meaning of existence, Philip gets entangled in the complexities of life where he finds himself helpless and indecisive. He is in a constant quest to unravel what happiness means but whatever ideals he develops, he fails to abide by them and succumbs to his uncurtailed desires.

Philip, since birth had a club foot and bore an infiriority complex because of that. He wanted to get loved but he didn’t love himself. His own fears, hatred and apprehensions weighed upon him, making him irritable and prejudiced. He met Mildred, a selfish greedy lady, and fell in love with her. She didn’t love him though and continued to humiliate him. He thought he will be able to make her love him, but it never happened, yet he continued to grovel infront of her and spend away his hard saved pennies to satisfy her extravagant desires. It makes a reader question whether he was mad to do that. Perhaps he was insanely trapped by the chains of his own uncontrolled mind.

I believe there are two groups of people- One who lives life in simple terms, that is conventionally, normally. The other group is too curious to accept things immediately. They want to unravel such philosophical dimensions first, like what is life and why are we born. This path is somewhat dicey because in the absence of a  firm guidance, one may end up forming ideals which will misdirect them. This second class of people is what Philip represents.  His quest to understand the meaning of life leads him to raise fine questions, but in the absence of a learned guide, he ends up making shallow conclusions. It leads him to  deny the veracity of the Divine and belive that life is meaningless; human existence is nothing but a biological accident and so there is no such thing as ‘morality’. The purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure and nothing more. Incidentally, he derives joy in inflicting himself pain and succumbing to his maddening desire of wanting the love of selfish Milderd although he hates himself for that.

I would blame the vicar, his uncle, in whose custody he grew up after the demise of his parents. When Philip first began to understand about life and raised such queries like what it meant that ‘with faith one can move mountains’, the vicar answered him coldly and never bothered to understand his curiosity and intentions. Had he tutored the child lovingly, he would atleast have given Philip’s young mind some idea of morality and meaning of life rather than keeping him ignorant because of which Phillip was still struggling with basic questions even during his mature adult days. Having no solid foundational philosophy comparing which he could judge his revelations, he was bound to succumb to any fickle idea that seemed convenient to him at the moment. The result was he failed miserably all the time, hurt himself, and always lived in a state of deception, thinking that he had finally found answers and attained freedom, while in actuality he only strengthened the stranglehold of ‘bondage’ around him.

(PS: I had been missing being a part of Recycled Book Reading Challenge, a wonderful initiative by Mliae. I want to dedicate this review as my October entry for the challenge. It feels so therapeutic to get back to the habit of reading and writing!  I am thankful to a friend of mine at office for recommending me this book, and prompting me to read it. It has helped me get back to my reading schedule! )

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Recycled Book Reading Challenge: The Prophet

“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror

But you are eternity and you are the mirror”

The Prophet is a poetic narrative of philosophical thoughts. Author Khalil Gibran is a Lebanese writer and this work is considered to be his masterpiece.He introduces us to an old man, the prophet, a wanderer and a mystic, who is leaving the island of Orphalese to go back to his homeland.

As the ship is seen arriving towards the island after twelve years of wait, people of the island surround the old man to bid him farewell.They are sad that he will leave them soon. In their sadness, they urge the old man to share with them his wisdom before he goes, and the old man is pleased to speak all he knows.

Yet this we ask ere you leave us, that you speak to us and give us your truth.And we will give it unto our children, and they unto their children, and it shall not perish.

Then one by one citizens ask him to tell about the different aspects of life. What the old man responds is all this book is about.

It is a short book with only 96 pages, of which 8 pages have abstract artworks. The thoughts shared in the book are profound and often offers a different perspective of looking at things. It is to be read slowly and the ideas should be let to form an enigmatic painting in the mind. I will share some excerpts, which I readily admired reading.

And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

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Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.

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You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts:

And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.

And in much of your talking thinking is half murdered.

For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.

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Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

 

I am grateful to Mliae for hosting this wonderful challenge. If you have a stock of old unread books waiting to be read, do become a part of the Recycled Book Reading Challenge.

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