Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Mae Holland had moved back in with her parents after graduating from Carleton. She was $234,000 in school loan debt and took the first job offered to her at the utility company. It had been eighteen months since she started that job and she hated every second of it. Arriving on the campus of the Circle was the pivotal moment in her life. The Circle was the most powerful internet company in the world, employing ten thousand people on its San Vicente campus, as the driving force of the electronic age. Annie, Mae’s best friend since college, was one the Gang of 40 that consisted of the most crucial minds in the company. TruYou was the driving force for the Circle. With TruYou users had one identity, one account and one password for everything they needed on the web. It was the pathway to vanquishing false identity and everything you needed to accomplish you could, with TruYou. The goal was to one day close the Circle, making life transparent to all.
Intriguing. Haunting. Exciting. Terrifying. Complex. Those words are the best way to describe The Circle. I don’t want to be anywhere near the world Dave Eggers created. Mae acts as our na├»ve eyes and ears. She is young, gullible, impressionable, excitable and easily manipulated. She wants approval and to be recognized. She starts her work at the Circle simply grateful to be granted the opportunity to work for such a prestigious company. Every time someone approaches her with any criticism or reproaches, Mae works harder to prove herself worthy. This means she dedicates more time on social media, providing more information about herself and her interests because the Circle promotes community. Mae begins to understand that her experiences should be shared with everyone because everyone has the right to know what she knows and experience what she experiences. To not share those experiences would be selfish and counterintuitive to the process at the Circle. Why wouldn’t she or anyone else shy away from transparency when they could share their lives daily with millions of people through video feed. Privacy shouldn’t exist. TruYou and the Circle need to be expanded so that privacy no longer exists and everyone will live as if they are being watched, because they are.

The Circle demolishes and demoralizes any idea that privacy is sacred. It promotes the idea that “Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft.” Eggers created a deceptively simple setting for the destruction of privacy as we know it. He takes our current social media aware society and amplifies it, enveloping the masses into a world where they begin to feel entitled to penetrate and expose everyone’s life. This isn’t Orwell’s 1984 but it is extremely creepy because everyone has become big brother and the majority of people are happy about it. I was absorbed and terrified. Eggers presents the novel in three parts, with each one throwing us deeper into this mind frame of the Circle. A few of the minor characters act as the conscience while Mae represents the masses. As she dives deeper into transparency we see the world following suit. Egger is a talented writer who understands how simple delivery and gradual change can lead to unknowing domination. I enjoyed this novel for its incredible and unsettling view. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.  There were moments when the novel became predictable and Mae unbearable but overall I like it and would recommend it.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Nyx Triskelion is going to marry the Gentle Lord and then she is going to kill him. By killing him she will free her kingdom from the grip of the demons that have been attacking Arcadia, driving the victims insane. Nyx’s father Leonidas had made a bargain with the Gentle Lord before Nyx and her twin sister Astraia were born. Leonidas and his wife Thisbe wanted children but she hadn’t been able to conceive. The Gentle Lord would grant him twin girls as long as he was given one as a bride. Leonidas agreed. Thisbe died while delivering the second of the twins, Astraia. Leonidas chose Nyx as the daughter to marry the Gentle Lord revealing the truth to her at age nine. He then began training her to murder The Gentle Lord, freeing the kingdom. Nyx went into her marriage knowing that she was sacrificing herself for her family and the people of Arcadia. The last thing she ever expected was to fall for the Gentle Lord who asked her to call him Ignifex. There was more to the story of how Arcadia came under Ignifex’s rule. But in finding the truth could she come to love the demon that was her husband.
                Nyx is an interesting character. Put in a perilous a position to sacrifice her life because of a bargain she didn’t even make made her bitter and angry. When the unimaginable truth started to show she was overwhelmed and second guessing everything she had ever known. Her husband was a monster who bargains with people that pay more than they could ever imagine. But who gave Ignifex the power to make these bargains? Who gave him the power to control the demons that ravage as much as they can? The answers to these questions changes how she feels about her mission and how she feels about Ignifex.
                Cruel Beauty is supposed to be based off the classic story of Beauty and the Beast. For that reason alone I was excited to read this novel. There are definitely traces of the Beauty and the Beast to be found within the pages but I’m not sure how much of the same magic I felt throughout the pages. Nyx is no Belle and I mean that in a good way. She has been trained to kill, feels neglected by her father and is jealous of her sister. I wasn’t sure what I wanted from her character or from Ignifex though. This story ended well but the journey was full of mixed emotions and teenage angst, which got tiring. At the very least this story was unpredictable. Hodge in her effort to make a different take on Beauty and the Beast had moments where the story felt forced. It was hard for me to connect with this story even though I breezed through it. All in all, if you like retellings of popular classic tales you may enjoy this one. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. I was glad I read it because I found it interesting. This just wasn’t a novel where I fully connected with the main characters.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown

Masako Tanaka was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949, the last of eleven children. She lived with her parents and seven of her siblings for the first five years of her life. Unbeknownst to her she had three older sisters that were leaving in Gion Kobu, working in okiyas, what we know as geisha houses. At a young age Masako was actively being pursued by the proprietress of the Iwasaki Okiya, Madame Oima. She was in desperate need of an atatori, a successor, to run the okiya when she was no longer able. It was at the age of five that Masako decided to leave her family and move to the okiya. She would eventually take on the name of the family and forever be known as Mineko Iwasaki. Within the pages of the autobiography Mineko divulges what it was like for her to leave her family, her passion for dance, how she strived and became the most successful geiko (the word commonly used for geisha in Kyoto) of her time.
Geisha, A Life is an interesting story. Mineko had a very vivid memory of being a young child and relayed her motions wonderfully. She expressed the overwhelming fear and anxiety that was ever present in her youth. Part of becoming a geiko for her included overcoming her fear of people and being in social situations. She talked about the effect that being a geiko had on her older sister Yaeko, who fostered resentment and anger against her parents from the moment she was sent to the okiya. Mineko described in detail the exhaustion she felt and how success ultimately forced her to make due with an average of three hours of sleep a night. She revealed the life of a geiko and what that truly meant to the people of Japan.

I’m torn with this book. On one hand I really enjoyed reading about this different and highly mysterious aspect of Japanese culture. My interest had been sparked after reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden years ago, so I was very interested in reading this true account by the geisha that inspired what I considered to be a great novel. Reading Mineko’s account of the life of a geiko was extremely intriguing. She provided so much detail about her schedule, traditions, clothing and the culture that I could visualize and appreciate the true beauty and the art of being a geiko. On the other hand, this autobiography became repetitive and somewhat boastful. The tone would change in parts of the book from informative to, in my opinion, cocky and irritating. I got tired of reading about how successful she was and how she knew she was successful but had no true concept of how much money she was making or how much money was being spent. She just knew that she was the best geiko because she was the busiest. Mineko knew she was making money but only partially aware of the scope. I don’t know, I just got bored whenever Mineko would talk about her success. I found myself much more intrigued when hearing her speak about her relationships with other people and the dynamics between geikos. I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was enjoyable but it had its faults.