This work of speculative fiction tells the story of an alternative present-day reality or near future in which the US government has been supplanted by an oppressive religious regime. Fertility rates are down. In the new Republic of Gilead, women have lost their independence. Some are assigned to deserving soldiers as wives, domestic servants or econo-wives while others are forced into prostitution or are made into handmaids—women who will symbolically bear children on behalf of the wives.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a controversial work. It is studied in American high schools, but some parents feel that its sexual scenes are inappropriate for teenagers. Others complain about the negative depiction of Christianity. I would say that it’s a book that, like many others, will not be fully understood by teenagers but is nevertheless well worth reading and pondering.
For more on the plot and themes, continue reading.
Continue reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The topic is interesting, but the book itself is junky. Oops.
Brilliant is not as brilliant as it wants me to think it is. Probably it’s really hard to write a book on such a huge topic, but then isn’t it the author’s and the publisher’s responsibility to focus and communicate the topic appropriately, to create and then meet readers’ expectations?
If you want to know specifically why I didn’t like the book, or what I still managed to learn from it, keep reading.
Continue reading Brilliant by Jane Brox
Before it was an award-winning sci-fi novel, it was an award-winning sci-fi short story. It’s commonly studied, deep, and poignant. (I’m not really a fan of poignant.)
Flowers for Algernon tells the story of a retarded man named Charlie who undergoes an experimental surgical procedure to increase his intelligence. Algernon is the mouse whose success has convinced scientists that the procedure should be tried on a human test subject. It is clear early in the book, if not from the title of the book itself, that the procedure ultimately fails. Hence the poignancy.
For more on the format, plot and themes, continue reading.
Continue reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
See below for my thoughts on A Suitable Boy, when and why I read it (twice!), and a list of other books I’ve read that are about India or by Indian authors.
My write-up of the premise, characters, themes and what I liked about the book contains some details about the characters that could be considered spoilers but does not give away the climax or resolution of the tale.
Continue reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Life and Death in Shanghai is an amazing book about an amazing woman. The tone in which she tells her own story is deadpan, but the events are extremely dramatic. If you’ve never read about the Cultural Revolution, it’s eye-opening.
Some of my memories of the book are:
- how Nien Cheng’s private home was turned into living quarters for several families, and regular household routines were disrupted by food rationing;
- how when destructive Red Guards came knocking, Nien Cheng tried to preserve, and in only some cases succeeded in preserving, some antiques she had in her house, by relinquishing them to be stored in government museums;
- and how after she was arrested, she had to live in a freezing concrete cell, where her food was insufficient and her clothing was insufficiently warm, yet she maintained exquisite poise and self-assurance.
A few passages from the book are reproduced below.
Continue reading Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
I enjoyed The Rational Optimist. Pessimism is more attention-getting than optimism, but sometimes we need calm, happy stuff.
No charity ever raised money for its cause by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page by telling his editor that he wanted to write a story about how disaster was now less likely. Good news is no news. (295)
Ridley is a welcome candle in the dark. Hear more about what he has to say below.
Continue reading The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley