Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Ringmaster’s Daughter

I would say it again… Jostein Gaarder is the master of storytelling! Not only that he crafted a puzzling frame story for this book, but he also “deceived” us on the title. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is NOT at all about the daughter of a circus owner—which for some years made me mistaking this book as a bit childish. It is far away from childish. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is about how traumatic childhood experience can hugely change someone’s life.

Petter “The Spider” was leaving a book expo in haste because he thought his life was in danger. So, we know that he is a bookish man, who has done something that makes other literary people from the expo wanting to kill him. After he arrived safely at a secluded hotel, he forced himself to write his story—as usual with Gaarder: story within story.

Little Petter lived with his mother—his dad has left the house—and he had a unique ability to create stories from…well…everything! His brain is hyperactive, and he couldn’t stop it from inventing plots of stories. Connecting that with the book expo, he should be an over-productive writer, right? But no, Petter doesn’t like to be famous, and he don’t have patience to write novels. He just created plots—a lot of them! Later when his mother died, and he was on his own, he founded Writers Aid, a corporation that helps writers around the world get brilliant plots for their next novels. Suddenly Norway—where The Spider lives—was flooded with new novels; not only that, literary world suddenly getting a booming; all because of this one man, the ghostwriter, Petter. Oh and he got rich from it. But then... as in all things that are built over falsity, the bubble is threatening to blow out.

From there I know there’s something wrong with Petter, but what? And what about the little man with green hat who at first dwells inside Petter’s head, but then becomes real although only Petter can see him? And of course there’s Panina Manina the ringmaster’s daughter who didn’t know his father until it’s too late, which seems to be Petter’s favorite story. Not until the end though, did I get the meaning of them all. Here’s a spoiler…. Petter turns out to have traumatic experience when he’s a kid. Right after that he likes to have those active thinking. It’s just his mechanism to shut his brain from remembering the traumatic thing. So I guess the little man with green hat is his consciousness. At first he’s just a boy with active imagination, and so the little man only appears inside his imagery world. But when he’s grown up and brings the imagery world into reality (Writer’s Aid), the little man too must do his job in the real world. Mystery solved!

As always, Gaarder crafted the story amazingly. I also loved the plots and stories created by Petter. Hey, it feels like reading Italo Calvino’s If a Traveler’s…. stories in a story! Two things that I just realized after reading this are: our existence in the universe (Gaarder taught philosophy for high school anyway), and his love of oranges. Yeah… I think I read about oranges in several of Gaarder’s books; he must love oranges very much! J

For all that…. Four stars for The Ringmaster’s Daughter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Life in Books: A Book Tag

Thanks to Melisa, I will have something to post in this blog, finally! If you are wondering why I have abandoned this blog since… early this year (X_X), I have explained all in this post. Hopefully this book tag will return my blogging spirit!

1. Find a book for each of your initials

I picked two of my favorites for this year.

Far from a Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

2. Count your age along your book shelf: What book is it?

Goodreads made it easier than counting along my actual book shelf; so here is the 44th book from my “own-shelf” shelf:

The Racketeer by John Grisham

3. Pick a book set in your city/state/country

There are not many Indonesian books in my wishlist, but one of them is:

Max Havelaar by Multatuli

4. Pick a book that represents a destination you would like to travel to

I love Paris too much to not wanting to travel there again….someday….

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

5. Pick a book that is your favorite color

One of my favorite books in my favorite color: Red

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

6. Which book do you have the fondest memory of?

I don't know about this. Maybe I don't have one in particular, but this book has set me to be Zola's fan.

L'Assommoir by Emile Zola

7. Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

8. Which book in your TBR pile will give you the biggest sense of achievement?

Couldn’t read this book this year, hopefully next year!

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

If you want to do it, you’re free to tag yourself! ;)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vita Brevis: A Letter to Saint Augustine

In one of his trips in 1995, Jostein Gaarder accidentally found an old manuscript in a secondhand bookshop in Buenos Aires. It was a letter in Latin from a woman signed herself as Floria Aemilia, addressed to Aurelius Augustinus, Bishop of Hippo. Gaarder bought it, and after examining it, became strongly believed (although no authority could yet confirm) that it was being originally written by St. Augustine’s mistress, whose identity he has concealed in The Confessions, but Augustine did mentioned the woman as his mistress quite a lot. I read this book right after finishing The Confessions, in order to judge it more contextually. My copy (translated to Bahasa Indonesia) contains only 150 pages, yet it was a thought-provoking reading.

Floria was an intellectual woman; she met Augustine for the first time when they were both pupils in rhetoric school. And through her letter, she quoted a lot from great philosophers like Cicero or Horace. The main purpose of the letter was to criticize Augustine for abandoning her for God, and to question his thoughts in The Confessions which she happened to read, perhaps not long after it was published. For some people, Vita Brevis—the Latin words of ‘Life is Short’—was perhaps a touching love story of an abandoned woman, but I regarded it as a mere ungrounded jealousy of a woman who could not accept being defeated by a “philosophy”. She bitterly and desperately wanted to tell the world that Augustine was all wrong.

I felt sorry for Floria because, though she was intellectual, she was so selfish and narrow-minded that she could not see beyond herself. She kept accusing Monica (Augustine’s mother, the Saint) for breaking their relationship to make way to Augustine’s marriage with a young girl. Well, dear Floria, think about this, by whatever standard you valued yourself, you were just a mistress, never Augustine’s legal wife. So how could you claim your rights to own him? Any mother who is intimate with God would react the same as Monica to any woman who seduces her son to live in sin. Then you criticized Augustine’s struggles to purify himself by staying away from earthly beauty as blasphemy to God. It only proved your ignorance and narrow-mindedness. Why couldn’t you be happy that your beloved man was reaching towards his real call, which is God? Why couldn’t you just support what he was fighting for? If you loved him as much as you kept boasting, you should! Instead of asking the same question over and over again: “Do you remember how sweet our love was, Aurel?

And in the attempt to pour your anger to your Aurel, perhaps, you have done just the same thing as you criticized Augustine for. You accused him of cutting the whole context of bible text: 1Cor. But in the attempt, you yourself cut the whole context of Augustine’s Confessions. It was only proof that you could not really understand the deeper meanings of Confessions. Well, for that I could not scold you, because this whole thing is just about two persons who have loved each other in the past, then one of them completely changed, while the other stayed the same. Thus there lied a wide gap that separated them, as wide as the gap between earthly and spiritually lives.

See? This book is for me more tiring than touching. I just can’t sympathize with women who think life is just about love, lust, and romance. It’s rather surprising, in Floria’s case, because she was a learned woman, and she was then even a catechumen. I can understand how hurt for her to be abandoned by the man she’d loved, but doesn’t it happen to many women? She criticized that God or the Catholic Church has acted injustice by hindering a man from loving a woman. But it does not apply to every man, only whom He calls, and Augustine was among them. And it’s not because men shouldn’t love women, if so, why then God created us as man and woman? It’s because, in this case, Augustine’s sexual passion over Floria has barred him from seeing the Light of God.

In the end, I was disappointed by this book. I have expected Floria as somehow in the same level with Augustine in theology and philosophy, as she has dared to answer the Bishop’s Confessions. Or at least, I have expected a bit about feminism. But in the end, it’s just about the rage of a woman over romances problem.

I guess two and a half stars are even too good for Floria, but at least it made me understand and appreciate The Confessions more than my original reading of it.


I read Indonesian translation by Jalasutra Publishing

This book is counted as:

Friday, January 30, 2015

Anna (Dunia Anna) by Jostein Gaarder

Jostein Gaarder, one of my favorite contemporary writers, is a remarkable storyteller. He could weave serious issues into an entertaining novel that it doesn’t feel like patronizing. Most (or all?) of his books are addressed to young readers, but adults can also enjoy his thoughts. Anna (translated to Bahasa Indonesia as Dunia Anna) is his latest novel, and it discusses about climate change and earth damage.

Anna would turn sixteen on 12 December 2012, and she gets an ancient ruby ring. For several nights, she has been dreaming about herself in the body of another girl of her age, even stays in the same house, named Nova. The difference is that Nova lives in 2082, when the face of our earth has completely changed. Temperature is going down, and many plants and animals are extinct, in consequence of human’s mismanagement of their nature. It turns out that Nova is Anna’s great-granddaughter, and now Nova is demanding her great-grandmother to restore the damaged earth to its early shape—that is before people from Anna’s generation spoiled it. And Anna sees it all in her dreams.

Now together with her boyfriend Jonas, Anna is going to work her best to prevent the earth damage. It is an almost impossible thing to do, but she apparently knows that the earth has gotten a second chance, and it’s up to her whether Nova her great-granddaughter must witness the damaged earth or can live happily as she is now.

As a young adult novel, Anna might be an engaging novel which entertaining as well as inspiring young people to act more responsibly towards their environment. But for adult readers, I think it lacks Sophie’s World or Maya’s deep reflection. It is in the story itself; it’s too short and a bit forced. When Anna needs a solution to save 1001 animals and plants, then voila!... Jonas produced it the day after, as he has just written it for school task. Too easy? And how about Aladdin’s magic ring which still had one request to be fulfilled, which is now belonged to Anna—the precious ruby ring? It’s a bit too childish, don’t you think?

But overall, Gaarder’s idea is good, and perhaps with this book, he wants to encourage young people to start thinking about earth problems; and that this big project is not impossible as long as we have courage and determination to start it. As is with his other books, Gaarder asks us to view outside ourselves; that we are part of a bigger existence, and we have equal responsibility to protect what God has trusted in our management.

Three and a half stars for Anna! And special thanks to my #secretsanta for giving me this.

Buat Santa: mampir ke sini ya...


I read Indonesian translation from Mizan publishing group

This book is counted as:

#SecretSanta….Who Are You? (#BBI2014)

Sejak 28 Desember 2014 lalu ketika posting riddle dari Santa, aku hanya sempat beberapa kali saja mencoba menelusuri identitas Santa. Sayangnya akhir Desember hingga hari ini (dan sampai awal April nanti) aku luar biasa sibuk, sehingga meski sudah diberi clue oleh beberapa teman BBI, aku tetap tak bisa berpikir jernih dan menemukan identitas Santaku. Maaf ya Santa….. aku terpaksa nyerah deh! T_T. Mungkin ini jadi pelajaran buat tahun depan, seharusnya aku gak perlu ikut event ini lagi, karena tahun depan rasanya sih bakal sama sibuknya kayak tahun ini.

Sebelum liburan, aku sempat punya beberapa ‘tertuduh’ dari riddle Santa yang panjaaang ini. Tapi mereka adalah member BBI lama yang aku sudah kenal, dan masing-masing tidak dapat memenuhi semua kriteria di riddle itu (menurut penelusuranku sih…). Jadi kemungkinan besar Santaku yang baik hati memberiku 2 hadiah ini adalah member BBI angkatan baru, benarkah Santa? :D

Jadi….karena terbukti aku tidak layak sama sekali buat melamar menjadi asistennya Cormoran Strike #eh, maka beribu maaf buat Santaku, kalo aku gagal menemukan identitasmu, hiks… Semoga kau cukup terhibur bahwa aku senang banget mendapat Dunia Anna yang jadi incaranku, dan berhasil kubaca dan kureview. Terima kasih banget sudah memberiku 2 buku ya, Santa! Buka dong topengmu…. :P

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lucky No. 15 Reading Challenge

I know I know!….I should have stopped signing up to more reading challenges (I have entered 5, although my first intention was only 3, and it’s not included my own challenge!). But this one is irresistible! Astrid is hosting it for second round (I have missed the first one), so I think I would try my luck this year! (and 15 is my birth date... :D).

This challenge will require you to read 15 books (or more) from 15 categories below:

Chunky Brick: Grab that book with more than 500 pages that you’d always been afraid to tackle. You know you can do it!
My pick: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (637 pages)

Something New: Just purchased a book lately? Don’t let it buried in your stacks, read it now!
My pick: The Dreyfus Affair: J’Accuse and Other Writings by Émile Zola

Something Borrowed: Read a book that you borrowed from someone else. Don’t make the owner waiting forever for you to finish it. (Books borrowed from friends, libraries, or even rental places, are allowed)
My pick: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey (will borrow from Melisa)

It’s Been There Forever: Dig your TBR pile and read a book that has been there more than a year. It’s time for you to appreciate it :)
My pick: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Freebies Time: What’s the LAST free book you’ve got? Whether it’s from giveaway, a birthday gift or a surprise from someone special, don’t hold back any longer. Open the book and start reading it now :D
My pick: Dunia Anna (Anna) by Jostein Gaarder (it’s a gift from my secret Santa—whom I have not uncovered the identity yet! :P)

Bargain All The Way: Ever buying a book because it’s so cheap you don’t really care about the content? Now it’s time to open the book and find out whether it’s really worth your cents.
My pick: Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder (I never buy books without being certain I would like to read the content, but this book was really cheap—about $1.5 perhaps—and hopefully the content worth more than ithe price.)

Favorite Color: Pick a book from your shelf which has your favorite color for its cover! Is it pink, red or black? You decide.
My pick: Empress by Shan Sa (Red is my favorite color, and I love this book's wine-red color)

First Initial: Read a book that has been written by an author whose first initial is the same with you (Example: My name is Astrid, and I can read anything written by Agatha Christie, Aesop, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc)
My pick: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Super Series: Read one (or more!) books that belong in a series, it can be trilogy, or tetralogy, or anything.
My pick: The Moor by Laurie R. King (#4 of Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series)

Opposites Attract: Read a book that’s been written by a writer whose gender is different from your own.
My pick: The Walden by Henry David Thoreau (this is the easiest category so far!)

Randomly Picked: Ask someone else (a friend, your spouse, even your kids!) to randomly pick a book from your TBR pile. Don’t complain whatever they choose for you, just read it :)
My pick: The Golden Bowl by Henry James (I asked Mr. Random to pick it for me from this pic—bottom to top, and he picked no. 12, which is on the top :D)

Cover Lust: Grab a book from your shelf that you bought because you fell in love with the cover. Is the content as good as the cover?
My pick: Far From A Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Who Are You Again?: You’ve never read a book from this author, maybe you haven’t even heard his/her name before. But who knows? Maybe he/she will become your new favorite author!
My pick:  Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

One Word Only!: Read a book that only has one word for its title (number is allowed as long as it’s only consisted of one word, e.g: 1, 2, 11).
My pick: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Dream Destination: Read a book that has setting in a place you’ve never visited before – but would like to if you have a chance. Could be real places or even fictional!
My pick:  Bleak House by Charles Dickens (because I’d really love to visit London if I had chance… someday… hopefully… ).

If you’re interested in joining, just visit Astrid’s blog.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Letter of Mary: Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes Series # 3

What would you think if you have lived in London in the 1920s, and heard news that the famous retired detective Sherlock Holmes has just married? ‘Awkward’ would be the first word pop up in my head. But interestingly, in A Letter of Mary, King has written it such that it seems normal—interesting but normal.

A female archeologist, Russell’s friend, visited the Holmes’ residence, and placed a small box containing an old papyrus under Russell’s care. It is believed to be a letter from the first century written by Mary Magdalene. Yep, it’s THE Mary Magdalene, the Saint. Few days later the Holmes found out that Ms. Ruskin has died in a hit-and-run accident in London. It turned out, of course, to be a murder. King develops several leads of suspects, including a sexist colonel who was disappointed that the archeologist he was about to sponsor was a woman; a Palestinian man who have visited Ruskin; and her nephew who would have had benefit from her death. Then a group of men ransacked Holmes and Russell’s house, and most probably wanted to get to the old papyrus. So Russell translated it (originally written in Hebrew), and found in it that Mary Magdalene has called herself the apostle of Jesus, which, if the letter was published in today’s world, would have huge impact, both historically and theologically.

[spoiler] Actually, the papyrus would have been an interesting point to dig on, and I have imagined some journeys to the east, tracing over historical facts, etc; but apparently King had another plan. In the end, it was just a usual lust-of-money kind of crime. [spoiler end] Again, there is the feminist theme all over the book (Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ apostle, Dorothy Ruskin the female archeologist among her male colleagues, and the misogyny Colonel and his son). However, concerning our detectives, King made Holmes won over Russell in solving this mystery. Maybe it was meant to be a balancing aspect against the feminism topic? And what about Russell’s feeling over the Colonel, considering his misogyny ideas? I think here in this story, Russell has fully grown up as a woman—she sees feminism not only as ideology, but the way a woman sees her opposite sex.

Speaking about feminism, one of the most interesting parts of this third book of Mary Russell-Holmes series is Russell-Holmes relationship—now as husband and wife. Russell said to Holmes that she thought they are not a romantic couple. But I disagree; I think they are romantic…in their own way. I think romantic isn’t about flowers, candle-lit dinner, etc. Romantic is when you know details about your partners; their habits, their likes and dislikes, their feelings and reaction over something; things you only share with your partners. And above all, they respect each other. Russell and Holmes are like this. I think the marriage life of two genius detectives with acute pride and high ego would be just like Russell and Holmes’s.

And sometimes there are indeed several ‘romantic’ scenes throughout the story. My favorite is when Holmes must leave Russell to her undercover at the Colonel’s house; and at the door before he left, he stopped, looked at Russell with unread expression, and said: “I feels like Abraham…”. This he refers to Abraham, when he took his family to Egypt, and told Sarah—his beautiful wife—to lie to Pharaoh that she was his sister, lest Pharaoh will kill him to take her as his wife. Isn’t it sweet? Or when Holmes confessed to Russell that now his heart controlled his mind (he was worried about Russell); to me that’s romantic—romantic in Sherlock Holmes style! :)

In short, this book might be my other favorite so far from the series, besides The Beekeeper Apprentice. Now, I can’t wait to read the fourth book, The Moor, which was set in Dartmoor, the setting of Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Super interesting, eh? ;)

Four stars for A Letter of Mary, I liked and enjoyed the whole story. It’s been an oasis during the hectic month of December!