Monthly Archives: June 2011

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

After the somehow heavy and oppressive narrative of Burmese Days, I felt the need for something cheerful and while browsing through my to-read pile, came upon this little classic by Louisa May Alcott and decided it would make for a nice change.

The book tells the story of the March family, with a focus on the four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. The setting is New England, Massachusetts, during the Civil War. The March household is a happy one, in spite of the privations they have to endure, as the father is away at war and the mother tries to make sure the girls are taken care of and raised the “proper” way on modest means. The sisters have different temperaments and artistic pursuits: Jo writes, Amy draws, Beth loves music and Meg, oh well, she just wants to be rich.

The story follows the sisters as they are growing up, from their childhood games of improvised theater plays at home (another nod to Charles Dickens – his Pickwick Papers come to attention once again, reminding me of my wish to read more of his work) and to their daily tasks of keeping the house in order, as the family is not rich and they only have one servant, Hannah.

After the first hundred pages or so I thought this book was so nice and proper and sweet it made my mind ache and my motivation to keep reading waned considerably but I kept going and hoped for a little improvement. I gave the book the name The Good Girl’s Bible because it’s full of advice on different subjects, from being good and “loving thy neighbor” to keeping a family happy and helping each other in good times as well as bad. Even the little family “skirmishes” appeared too good natured to be true and I kept hoping for something to liven things up a bit. There was tragedy and heartache but even that did not feel real – it was just too perfect for my taste.

And finally, I got my happy ending.

I knew next to nothing about the author so I read the preface, which was mercifully short, and to my surprise found that Louisa May Alcott did not particularly enjoy writing Little Women, which sprang from a publisher’s suggestion that she write a “girl’s book”.  Isn’t it ironic when a writer’s most famous book is one they didn’t write because they wanted to but rather because it was more in accordance with the times…. Alcott had loosely based the story on her own family, and considered Jo to be more like herself, abrupt, speaking her mind, always reading or writing, running around and not caring much about social obligations and refusing to be forced into what society deemed “proper” for a girl.

I did enjoy reading the letters, as I’m discovering more and more that the epistolary form appeals to me because it gives the story a very personal touch and I like that in a book. Amy writes them from her trip abroad, and Jo does the same and it was easier to read them than the rest of the book – somehow it lent a nice touch of credibility to the story.

In the end I can’t say I disliked this novel, I guess I’m somehow on neutral ground; what I can safely say is that it’s a nice book and it made for a good respite from the tragic atmosphere of Burmese Days.

*read in June 2011

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 2 Comments

Burmese Days – George Orwell

This novel can be considered a good companion to The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh – they both deal with the British rule in Burma and this would make for a good reason to read them together even if the style varies. Orwell seems to be more focused on the dramatic lives of the characters (as opposed to Amitav Ghosh, whose book is about the story rather than the people), and there’s just enough of them to keep the action going at a nice pace without creating a confusion as to who’s who.

The action takes place in the 1920’s in a Burmese district where a select group of British officials are doing the Empire’s work. We get a good look at what the life there was like for the expats – their attitude towards the Burmese people, their privileged status and the way they spend their time. There are innumerable passages which describe the land and its people and how they perceived the English (“the holy one’s breakfast is ready”), and I was struck, yet again, by how totally different and sometimes bewildering the Asian culture is.

Usually I tend to pick a favorite character from the start and follow his/her adventures, cheering quietly from behind the pages and this time was no exception. My favorite character was Flory, a 35 year old British man who divides his time between his work, the Club, and occasional visits to Indian Dr Veraswami, his friend, where he can vent and talk about what he really thinks of the British Empire and its minions, and the way he feels about his life has struck a chord in me. Such loneliness and despair, such efforts to try and fit in and be happy or at least content! His trouble is that he doesn’t despise the locals – like most of his colleagues. He seems to be the only one who truly understands his position in the country and that only makes it more unbearable. Then Elizabeth arrives, a 22 year old English girl who has come to stay with her relatives and possibly find a husband. Flory sees her as his savior, the one who will bring meaning to his lonely life, and he wants to marry her and almost succeeds if not for a series of unfortunate events that seem to explode around him at the worst possible times.

“Have I made myself at all clear to you? Have you got some picture of the life we live here? The foreignness, the solitude, the melancholy! Foreign trees, foreign flowers, foreign landscapes, foreign faces. It’s all as alien as a different planet. But do you see – and it’s this that I so want you to understand – do you see, it mightn’t be so bad living on a different planet, it might even be the most interesting thing imaginable, if you had even one person to share it with. One person who could see it with eyes something like your own. This country’s been a kind of solitary hell to me – it’s so to most of us – and yet I tell you it could be a paradise if one weren’t alone. Does all this seem quite meaningless?”

This paragraph alone summarizes the book for me – to be so utterly alone, and hope, and have those hopes shattered; to finally realize there’s no escape and coming to this conclusion to do the one desperate, violent act – I felt a kind of despair and an unimaginable sadness, as if I knew him and I thought, if only she would have understood, if only she would have made the effort…if only she was different, if only…

It was not an easy book to read. After I put so much of me into reading “living” the story, I came out weary and a little depressed. I so wanted a happy ending, at least this time, or even a little hint of one, but in a way I was also relieved to see my favorite character had found his peace, at last.

*read in May 2011

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 4 Comments


Today I felt really good – I don’t know why exactly – maybe it was the light rain this morning which cooled the stuffy hot humid air a bit, maybe it was the sun who was trying really hard to push the clouds aside, maybe my gym session that really got me going and I nearly started to sing on the elliptical machine (wouldn’t that be something!) or perhaps a new book (by David Sedaris) I got today from a friend . Anyway, that happy mood stayed with me throughout the day and as I was browsing through my favorite videos on youtube, this one’s beat seems to fit nicely with the way I feel. Enjoy!


Posted in Favorite Sounds | 2 Comments