Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banned Books: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

                When Jurgis Rudkus first laid eyes on Ona he fell in love and knew immediately that she was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. It was because of her young age and Lithuanian tradition that he sought permission from her father for marriage. Her father was a rich man and Jurgis was a country boy. Ona’s father was not impressed by the two horses he was presented by Jurgis and refused the arrangement. But when her father died leaving most of his estate tied up with creditors, Jurgis, Ona and her remaining family decided to move to America to start anew. In America a man could be free, become rich and not be forced to join the army. So the Lithuanian family moved to America with all they had. They went to the Stockyards of Chicago where a friend of theirs had made it rich. They came seeking a fortune but they soon realized that they weren’t the only ones seeking change and that the land of plenty they had dreamed of could very quickly become a living nightmare where they would struggle to put food on their table.
                I hadn’t been looking forward to reading this novel. I didn’t realize at the time how emotional and eye opening it would be. I was going through my list of banned books, saw it and was intrigued but I wasn’t in a rush to read it. The Jungle was simply biding its time as a book on my shelf. Then I picked it up, read the first chapter and couldn’t put it down. The novel begins at a wedding. There are no clues provided regarding what kind of life these characters live. This is simply a joyous occasion. Yet there wasn’t much joy. I kept reading to discover the circumstances and with each turning page my heart dropped. I couldn’t understand the cruelty, the maltreatment, the trickery and the pain the Rudkus family endured. I didn’t want to believe the struggles they experienced could be based on anything real. I was horrified by the conditions they endured and it brought to light, at least for me, the very real history of greed in the county and the plight of the immigrant that lived on little in a country that had so much to give. The idea of the working man literally working himself to death was obvious on every page. Jurgis came to Chicago a man determined to provide for his family. He was genuine, loyal and willing to do everything necessary to provide for his family. Slowly and surely his spirit was completely broken. It was disturbing to watch the family suffer because of the political system in the early 1900’s. I’m not even going to begin with the amount of detail provided regarding the meat packing industry as a whole during that time either because it is too disgusting.
                This is one of the few novels that I have read this year as part of my banned book theme that I am not completely shocked by the fact that it was ever banned. The political views expressed, especially some of the socialist views being broadcast when this book was published in 1906 would definitely alarm and upset some. This book has been banned in Yugoslavia, East Germany and South Korea. Though reasons weren’t provided for each country, I am going to assume the reasons had more to do with the political views then it did the plight of the working man. It was actually burned by the Nazi’s in 1933 because of its views. Like I said, I’m not shocked. I wouldn’t be shocked if most people found this book utterly appalling simply because it reeks of an honesty and brutality that many, in my opinion, choose to ignore. The root of all evil is money and at the very least greed. If you don’t believe me, read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and look at the lengths that people have been willing to go because of greed. The entire meat packing industry was affected in part because of the public reaction to this novel. That alone should make you want to read this novel, if it could help incite such change.

“Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century”   http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=bbwlinks&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=136590    

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Jun Do was not an orphan but he lived at the orphanage, Longs Tomorrow, with his father the orphan master. He was the oldest boy at the orphanage since his father refused to let anyone take him away. He knew nothing of his mother except that she was a beautiful singer taken to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His name is one that he chose from the 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution whose stories and names he had all memorized. It was when the famine came, when Jun Do was 14, that the boys were sent to the Army and his fate was sealed. It was because his home was Longs Tomorrow that he was assigned the detail of tunnel soldier. That’s how he learned to fight in the dark. That’s how his reputation spread to attract the attention of those in higher positions. When the officer came looking for him he wasn’t given a choice. Everything in North Korea is done for the good of the country and for the love everyone has for their Dear Leader.
I was mesmerized by this fictional account of life in North Korea. The character of Jun Do is so well developed and so intriguing that I was immediately invested. But it was more than that. The cloud of mystery that hovers over this entire story simply adds to the suspense and the thrill of this novel. Could this really be what’s happening in North Korea? Could a boy perceived to be an orphan, be taught to sweep tunnels and to fight in the dark, in order to defeat any sneak attack by America and South Korea? I have no idea but all I kept telling myself was this can’t be real. Jun Do’s character is so genuine and so full of depth that I couldn’t help but be entranced by his story. It was his strength and his resolve that had me turning the pages.

Johnson took full advantage of the limited information available to the public about North Korea and created a world that is completely believable and ultimately terrifying. Johnson wrote the story in two parts which worked brilliantly. The first explains the life of Jun Do and what trials and tribulations he had experienced until the man we know as Jun Do no longer exists. The second part of this novel takes place in the thick of the North Korean government and forces the reader to decipher the truth within the pages. Both parts were equally intriguing. Both parts offered insight into everyday life in North Korea. The second part was an intimate as the first, but offered various angles to the story. I didn’t want to put this book down. I needed to know what would become of this unknown world and I was thoroughly satisfied. I give this novel 5 out 5 stars. This wasn’t a light read but it was extremely insightful and enjoyable. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

                Lady Constance Chatterley is in a loveless marriage. Her husband, Clifford, was injured in the war and paralyzed from the waist down and for that reason they are not intimate. He is the sole heir to Wragby and a Baron to boot. Unable to father a child, he has given Constance the option of having a child by another man that he will raise as his own so the Chatterley name will live on and the Wragby estate will continue to flourish. Constance was unsure how to respond to such an offer. Would Clifford really want to raise another man’s child? She began having lovers unsure of who she would want to have a child by. She wasn’t expecting to fall in love with anyone. She wasn’t expecting to discover herself in the arms of a man that wasn’t her husband. But when it happens she begins to experience a moral dilemma of the heart where there is no easy answer or way out.
                There was a complicated question asked in this novel: What do you do when your husband encourages you to have an affair in order to have a child? It’s selfish on both ends but surprising to hear out of the mouth of a man. Constance, or Connie as she was called in the novel, is content. She isn’t in love with her husband but knows she is in a mutually beneficial marriage. Now that she has been granted the freedom to explore herself out of the marriage sexually she is beginning to identify with what it is she desires and wants. Clifford is an aristocrat making the issue of classes and wealth a theme prevalent throughout the novel. When choosing a “father” for her child, Connie ponders who would be a desirable match. Who would be a man that Clifford would find respectable if he ever found out the father. It was interesting to watch the sexual relationship develop for Connie, especially when the level of intimacy increased and the emotional connection between her and her lover became evident.
                This was not an easy novel to get into. There was so much backstory that needed to be explained that I found myself dragging through the first fifty pages. Then things got interesting. Once Connie started showing her own motivations and her own desires she became more human and the story became more interesting. Lawrence took his time with developing the characters and though he thoroughly described the sexual rendezvous it was almost poetic and yet erotic at the same time. I really enjoyed this novel. Mostly because of Connie discovering herself and understanding what it means to live for herself and not for the whims of others. There is a huge level secrecy regarding the affair but there is also a large amount of romance and intimacy. Released in 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover was immediately banned in the United Kingdom because of its sexual language. There were even trials in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in England and the United States regarding the publication of the novel. Alas it is now available uncensored for anyone’s reading pleasure.

“The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover” Robertson, Geoffrey   http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/oct/22/dh-lawrence-lady-chatterley-trial

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Banned Book: Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

                Alice has found herself on the other side of the looking glass. One moment she is peering through, trying to see if there was an actual fire in the fireplace, similar to the one on her side of the glass, and the next moment the glass has melted away. Alice expects she is quite alone in this looking glass house and her curiosity has caused her to wander around and see if there are differences between this world and her own. After conversations with chess pieces within the house she sets off for the garden where the extraordinary and unbelievable continues to happen. Then she begins her quest, to become a queen herself, by traversing through the woods to the other side. Along the way Alice meets many animals that can speak and many flowers that can too, some of which are helpful while others don’t have a clue.
                Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There is another fantasy novel by Carroll that explores the imagination of young Alice. Alice has once again drifted off into a land of her own vivid creation. She navigates through this world with the same trepidation and fascination that was evident in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This world beyond the looking glass has the same unbelievable feel and movement as Wonderland but it’s much more confusing and not as enchanting. Alice is on a journey but the points between are so muddled that many times throughout the story it seems as if she has forgotten or lost her way. Carroll’s sequel is very much the same story simply set in a new atmosphere. Alice is in a land of her own creation and it is filled with unbelievable antics and questionable motives and characters. There was the addition of poetry through the story but most of that was nonsensical and simply added to young Alice’s confusion and frustration. The whimsy and flights of fancy weren’t as apparent in this second novel as it was in the first. I enjoyed it but nowhere near as immensely as I did the first novel.

                When I originally began this novel I hadn’t planned on including it under my “banned books” theme, because there is no evidence that I have been able to locate that would suggest that Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There was ever banned or challenged. This is surprising since the books are so similar and have so many of the same controversial aspects, most notably the presence of talking animals. I find it curious in the case the same way I found it curious with The Giver and Gathering Blue. In this case the first book was much more successful than the second book but similar themes were explored and yet only one was ever banned. I’m not sure what to make of either situation but I do find it extremely interesting and worth noting. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

                Rachel was the only one to survive the fall. Her mother, younger brother and baby sister lost their lives that day. A few months earlier Rachel’s Danish mother, Nella, left Roger, Rachel’s African American father and took all the kids to live in Chicago with a new man in her life. Their untimely death has left Rachel in the care of her paternal grandmother in Portland. It’s the 1980’s and Rachel stands out like a sore thumb as the only biracial child in class. She doesn’t fit in with the black girls who tease her about being so fair skinned and she doesn’t fit in with the white girls either because of the neighborhood she comes from. As Rachel ages and matures she struggles to identify with those around her. She fights to remember the father that never bothered to return for his daughter and the mother whose love she lost in the fall and whose secret she’s kept.
                The Girl Who Fell from the Sky follows the life of Rachel and a few other characters affected by the death of her mother and siblings. Rachel is being confronted with the truth of her identity in a very harsh and abrupt fashion. Rachel, as a biracial child, dealt with both interracial and intraracial racism. She was an outcast throughout most of her life because of that. As the narrator throughout most of the novel, Rachel’s inner thoughts and coping mechanisms were obvious and easy to understand. She was a put in a very precarious position at a very young age. When you add in the tragedy that she had been through, it’s hard to believe she was able to be so level headed throughout the novel. She made mistakes, like other kids her age, but she never let other people’s opinion of her bring her to shame. She was able to tap into her own strength and make her way through.

                Durrow did a great job with this debut novel. She was able to create an interesting, intriguing, delicate story and turn it into a complex, moving novel that touches on a subjects that many people don’t like to discuss: alcoholism and racism. There are characters throughout the novel that struggle with alcohol addiction and abuse. That topic, paired with the obvious issue of racism, made for a very serious tone throughout the novel yet both issues were handled delicately and with care. Something that I really enjoyed about the story was the way in which Durrow shared the history of the parents, using journal entries and reflecting on moments in the past. Delving into the past added depth to the story and increased my understanding of how events unfolded. My only complaint stems from how some of the outlining characters were used, which in my opinion, at times felt contrived. This novel regardless of my complaint was easy to become invested in. The underlining mystery of the tragic deaths kept me turning pages. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Banned Book: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

                Alice is bored waiting for her sister and the book that is near holds no interest. The white rabbit is running past and talking about the time, discussing to himself about being late. But what could a rabbit possibly be late for and since when did white rabbits keep the time? Young and curious Alice follows the white rabbit and falls slowly through the rabbit hole into a land of wonder. A land where consuming different foods or drinks can make you grow or cause you to shrink. A land where riddles are made with no answer in sight and everyone can be considered mad. A land where gardeners paint flowers and babies can turn into pigs and the Cheshire cat disappears. It’s a land of fantasy, a land of dreams, a land of wonders.
                Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fantasy novel full of clever quips, beautiful imagery and whimsy. This is the well-known story of a little girl’s dream and her trip into a wonderland. Alice’s young mind originally tries to process all of the ridiculous things she sees and experiences but realizes eventually that there is no way to make sense of anything. She must simply exist in this world and make her way through to whatever end she may find. Her young mind is open to this new and very strange land that she has come to.
                Carroll captured the beauty of a child’s imagination with this novel. I found it extremely enjoyable and funny. It felt like a dream. It was completely unrealistic and yet fantastically vivid. What is the world? What are these creatures? It was a complete sensory experience and I found it to be lovely and refreshing. This novel was released in 1865 and has been considered controversial for quite some time. It has been banned in the United States in the 1960’s for its supposed promotion of drug use. Objectors pointed out a passage where a hookah smoking caterpillar offers Alice a shape altering mushroom after giving her helpful advice about her journey. It was also challenged because of the animals throughout the book could talk, which many religious cultures believe to be an abomination. This was actually the reason why the government in the Hunan province of China banned the book in the 1931. I honestly don’t know what to say except that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fantasy fiction book. It’s supposed to outside of the normal realm of society, isn’t it? I thought that’s why people read fantasy novels! To ban a novel that simply fills the requirements of its genre is ridiculous and foolish.

“Banned books: Alice in Wonderland” Rosenthal, Kristen