Without the musician, all life would be loneliness. -IRJE #4

For my Independent Reading Journal, I have chosen a quotation from the novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing , written by Madeline Thien. This book follows a ten year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Marie. The story initially takes place in 1990, but the time varies as her family invites a guest into their home. Ai-Ming is young woman who has fled China, following the Tiananmen massacre. Marie befriends her guest, and together they recount the history of their families, following many different eras from Mao Zedong’s reign in the 1940s, to the very event that caused Ai-Ming to flee in the first place. One particular focus in the book is the power of music, and the emotions it can invoke. This particular quotation is from Ai-Ming recounting the story of a young man named Sparrow, who is living in 1949, nearing the end of the Chinese civil war.

      She gave him a single pear syrup candy. “This will keep your voice sweet,” she whispered. “Remember what I say: music is the great love of the People. If we sing a beautiful song, if we faithfully remember all the words, the People will never abandon us. Without the musician, all life would be loneliness.

Sparrow knew what loneliness was. It was his cousin’s small corpse wrapped in a white sheet. It was the man on the sidewalk who was so old he couldn’t run away when the reds came, it was the boy soldier whose decapitated head sat on the city gates, deforming and softening in the sun. (p. 30)

I really enjoy this quotation, because it shows how much music affects Sparrow. It displays what images come to his mind, in a world of loneliness, without music. Another reason I enjoy this excerpt, is because of how it can also be interpreted as inspirational. The first, minimal piece of dialogue by Big Mother Knife has the power to give some purpose to Sparrow, during such a difficult time, which also spurs his passion for music, which develops further as the story continues.

A Horoscope Without the Time is Fairly Worthless- IRJE #3

My current read is Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczyk. This Polish book was published in 2009, and it is a novel about an ageing woman in a reclusive village, who has a reputation to villagers as a crank. Janina is an avid believer in astrology and spends much of her time translating the poems of William Blake and conversing with animals. Soon, she inserts herself into an investigation of dead bodies turning up around her. While she is (somewhat) trying to help, she isn’t taken as seriously by many, as her unapologetically odd tendencies vex the readers, and even her closest friends.  

Obtaining a date of birth is relatively easy. All it takes is an identity card, or just about any other document, and sometimes, by chance, it turns up on the Internet. Dizzy has access to all sorts of lists and tables, though I won’t elaborate here. But what really matters is the time of birth. That’s not recorded in the documents, and yet it’s the time that’s the real key to a Person. A horoscope without the time is fairly worthless- we know WHAT, but we don’t know HOW and WHERE. (p. 116) 

I find this quotation extremely entertaining, mostly because of how strange it is. It truly shows Janina’s strange nature, and her thought process. Throughout much of the novel, Janina lets her thoughts and imagination run heedlessly. Her prattling on is rather entertaining, and somewhat concerning. It makes you wonder, why is she collecting horoscopes in the first place, and why she feels the need to look so deeply into other people’s lives? Personally, I find that looking into horoscopes this deeply is quite comical. Many would believe that a horoscope with or without time is quite worthless anyways.  

Personal Writing #2: Pointless, Winter Evenings

I hastily reach the end of the hall, eager to enter my room. Opening the door, the brass handle makes me shiver. In the winter, the heat seldom reaches our rooms downstairs, and lately, it has only gotten worse. Upon coming in, my eyes flit across my room. I realize how messy the place had gotten from this past week. The smell of old coffee percolates throughout the space, and I can barely see the floor. Clothes, half-empty soda cans, and books litter it. A hodgepodge combination of candles, gum wrappers, burnt matches and lip balm lie on the vanity, as well as some scattered papers. I implore that I will tidy up later. I know I for certain will not, but the notion is comforting in the moment. This habit has continued for the past six days.  

Outside my window, the strong winds whir and whistle, insistent on entry. The yellow streetlamp stands still on the powder-white sidewalk, waning. The flurries of snow are pushed right, left, right, left, before falling to the ground. Fleeting. I press my hand on the crisp glass. When I remove it, it leaves a print. I watch the transient figure, as it changes form quickly. One second it is there, the next, it isn’t. The cold has consumed it, turned it into something fleeting, now gone.  I envy it. Perhaps I am just tired.

Such Prideful Embroidery! IRJE #2- The Scarlet Letter

A book that I am currently reading is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This book takes place in the mid-1600s Puritan Massachusetts. The novel takes place around the husband of Hester Prynne who returned to Salem to find that his wife gave birth to a bastard baby. Hester is cast out socially, and punished to wear an embroidered red “A” on her chest, for adultery. However, the father of the child is unrevealed, due to his high standing in their community. The book begins with Hester’s punishment of standing on the scaffold in the market place for three hours. During this time, she endures much shame and debasement.

“She hath good skill at her needle, that’s certain.” remarked one of her female spectators; “but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it? Why, gossips,  what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?”

“It were well,” muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, “If we stripped Madame Hester’s rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously, I’ll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!”

“Oh, peace , neighbours – peace!” whispered their youngest companion; “do not let her hear you! Not a stich in that embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart.” (p. 51)

I really enjoy this piece of dialogue, as it really sets the tone of the book, and it displays how Hester Prynne was perceived by the public. This quote shows you how the gossips in the community viewed Hester compared to the magistrates and the ministry. In the book, the gossips are often described as ugly or old, and it is quite obvious that the much of their gibes toward the woman come from jealousy of Hester’s good looks. I am excited to continue this book, and as of right now, I find it very interesting.

Personal Writing- Time is ticking, Donna!

A book that I am currently rereading is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I have read the majority of her books, and she truly deserves the recognition she receives. Within her books and in real life, she truly finds new ways to keep her readers guessing. An example of this is the fact that throughout her career spanning 30 years, she has only produced 3 pieces, all of which are revered in the reading community. The Secret History being her debut in 1992, The Little Friend released in 2002, and The Goldfinch being released in 2013. Throughout her releases there seems to be a particular pattern. Donna releases her books every ten or so years.

While it hasn’t been confirmed, most find it obvious that it is on purpose. It usually doesn’t take ten years to write a single novel, so it must be. Her quite patient fans are asking, is it time for another publication? We are soon approaching the threshold, the dawn of a new era. It isn’t the case of an absence, because The Goldfinch was adapted into a movie in 2019, and she ardently showed her support. Any reader of hers knows that she is a big fan of making suspense known, so why not do it in real life? However, it may just be a coincidence, I try to be an optimist. I still recommend you to get ready for a five-hundred to a thousand page novel, that will without a doubt be worth the wait. 

Comparison of They Shall Not Grow Old, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Soldier’s Home

Throughout this unit, we’ve looked at a lot of media about The Great War/WWI, and many of them have a lot in common and a lot of differences. One of the main similarities between the portrayals is how depressing the war is for the soldiers, on all fronts. In most of the soldiers’ cases, fighting in the war was never something they planned to do. It was usually something they felt morally obligated to do, or did it because everyone else was. This is shown on both sides, in both All Quiet on the Western Front, and They Shall Not Grow Old. Most of these men usually felt broken when they arrived home, and felt that the war was all that they had, being young men when it began. Moreover, all of thee representations have a lot of similarities, both of the portrayal of conditions of the war, and of the soldiers.

There is nothing as imposing as anonymity- IRJE

The one of my recent IR books is Death in Her Hands, by Otessa Moshfegh. This book is narrated by an elderly widow, who tends to over-speculate. While walking her dog in the woods near her cabin, she finds an ominous note that indicates a dead body named Magda, and that whoever wrote the note did not do it, and that no one will ever know who did. The main issue is that there is no body, and the note leaves much to the imagination. This starts our narrator on an investigation, guided largely by speculation and presumption.

“Whoever had written the note understood that by masking one’s peculiarities, one invokes authority. There is nothing is imposing as anonymity. But the words themselves, when I spoke them aloud, seemed witty, a rare quality in Levant, where most people were blue-collar and dull. I read the note again and almost chuckled over that penultimate line, It wasn’t me. Of course it wasn’t.” p.3

I really enjoy this quote because it gives an interesting look into the narrator’s mind, showing quickly how she thinks. There is rarely any dialogue in the book, as majority of it is our narrator’s thoughts, but it never felt long-winded or tedious, which I really enjoyed.

Paul Baumer and Harold Krebbs in comparison

 

Harold Krebbs and Paul Baumer have many similarities and differences. Both are young men, who have enlisted in the military. Krebs is an American marine, and Baumer a German soldier.  

Soldiers’ Home is written from the perspective of a man who disliked speaking about his experience in the war when he arrived home, like Baumer. However, Baumer didn’t like to speak on the war because he felt like he was made a spectacle by the people of his town. Krebbs chose not to speak on the war because simply no one listened, and he lied in his stories in order to gain a reaction.

“A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told. All of the times that had been able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them; the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves.”  p.1

To Krebbs, the war was an escape from his former life, even when he had come back to it. But this quote shows it disgusted him to reflect on his actions, after pondering his other possible choices. 

When both men were home, the largest effect the war had on them was numbness. The things that would usually bring them joy and excitement became a burden to them such as reading, girls, conversation, etc. In response to this, Krebbs would crave the war. This is much different in comparison to Baumer who didn’t want to return to the war, but wanted to return to his normal life, before the war.  

“I feel excited; but I do not want to be, for that is not right. I want that quiet rapture again. I want to feel the same powerful, nameless urge that I used to feel when I turned to my books. Thebreath of desire that then arose from the coloured backs of the books, shall fill me again, melt theheavy, dead lump of lead that lies somewhere in me and waken again the impatience of thefuture, the quick joy in the world of thought, it shall bring back again the lost eagerness of myyouth. I sit and wait.” p. 171

Baumer longed for nothing more than his life before the war, and this quote shows how he feels about the things he once loved, and his youth that he had lost. 

Baumer enjoyed the presence of his mother much more than Krebbs did. To Baumer, being held by his mother brought him away from the war. She never asked him about combat. To her, he was no longer a soldier, just her son. Krebbs didn’t feel as much as a son or brother when he arrived home.  

So his mother prayed for him and then they stood up and Krebs kissed his mother and went out of the house. He had tried so to keep his life from being complicated. Still, none of it had touched him.”  p. 7

 His mother did much for him. This quote represents how Krebbs had never properly accepted or reciprocated the love that she had tried to give him, even if he tried. 

The war had traumatized both Baumer and Krebbs, but moreover, Krebbs longed for the battlefield, as it may have given him the purpose, he felt he needed. Paul longed for a sense of normalcy and hoped to once more enjoy the things he once loved.  

My personal response to All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque, is a deeply revered book. Its shocking and grotesque portrayal of war opened the eyes of many throughout the world, including mine. Reading the book I was forced into a world of violence and immorality. This was the world of Paul Bäumer, a naïve teenage boy, who under the impression of glory and heroism, joined the German military with his other teenage school buddies. This decision would later prove to be a large mistake, costing Paul his innocence and replacing it with dejection.  

Throughout the novel, the most common reoccurrence is death. It loomed over the soldiers, taunting them, but quickly became a comfort, bringing them away when they had nothing else left to suffer through. There were many instances where death was either a solace, or a terrifying thing. The contrast between these two to me is quite comical, in some lighter cases.  

“I merely crawl still farther under the coffin, it shall protect me, though Death himself lies in it.” (p. 67)

While during that moment, Paul’s use of the coffin is due to him being bombarded by shells, I believe that the use of the cemetery in this chapter is quite calculated. Many think that once you are dead, you have reached some form of peace. While these people lie in death, the people above are being littered with bombs, gunshots, and gas. After the bombardment, numerous graves were upturned, decomposing corpses strewn about the battlefield. The soldiers merely leave their own dead with them, scattering a bit of soil above. To the soldiers, death was more common than a good meal, or a comfortable bed. They became used to it and used to running from it. 

Another common occurrence throughout the book that I found interesting was the use of adrenaline. There were many instances where Paul and Kat would have died much sooner if it weren’t for their dissociation during battle. Once they hear the sound of a shell or take a step into No Man’s Land, their thoughts take flight, and their eyes are only set on survival, acting purely on instincts. Reading the novel, it managed to convince me that there is truly no other way to go about it. 

“But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts.” (p. 221)

While Paul made the decision to kill someone out of instinct, he himself received the larger punishment of having to stay by him, and ruminate on his actions, with nothing but his own thoughts, something he usually abandons.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I hope to read more pieces like it. War in literature is something that I have tried to enjoy, but I was never able to connect to. I seemed to dislike the tired story of so-called glory. I find it interesting to read books that contain a male narrator that doesn’t shy from his emotions, or go to large lengths to glorify something as destructive and horrific as war. 

About me

Hello, my name is Angelique. I was born in Victoria, but I lived in Miami when I was younger. I enjoy reading, hanging out with friends, and cheerleading. I also love to travel to spend time with my family.

This year in English, I hope to continue reading even more, and to expand more into classic literature. I will work hard to excel in my writing and work habits, and to fulfill the expectations I have set for myself.