Becky’s Two Hundred and Thirty-Fourth Book Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood was an amazingly powerful book. It is hard to explain how powerful this book is without spoilers, but I’ll try my best. This book takes place in the future after a staged terrorist attack kills the President of the United States and most of Congress. The U.S. Constitution gets suspended during the revolution by the “Sons of Jacob” (an extremist Christian group) and in a short matter of time all women’s freedoms and rights have been taken away and a new order comes into being that is almost medieval in its mindset.

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” (The Handmaid’s Tale, pg 24). I really liked this quote. I think it illustrates well the power behind the word freedom and how easily it can be abused. How easily the Aunts are able to turn the word around and use it to attempt to make the handmaids feel grateful for their status. And how quickly the world was forced to change.

The different roles that women in this novel held based on their social situation were very interesting. The older married women were treated better externally, although they did not appear to hold the same amount of respect as the Aunts did. Then the handmaids – physically they were the most valuable because they could have children – but they were considered lowest on the totem pole because that was their only purpose. They weren’t allowed to have anything of their own. Should they get pregnant – as they were expected to do – they were never allowed to keep their children. They were treated like cattle, breeding for someone else’s benefit. “We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” (The Handmaid’s Tale, pg 136).

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was so well done and I believe it would be a good book to introduce someone that hasn’t read Margaret Atwood before to her writing. It’s not a super long novel, but it illustrates the beauty of her writing well. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Atwood before I picked this book up; it had simply been too long! Her books are gems, but they are intricate. This is by no means a “beach read.” Her books are challenging, but so worth reading.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-Sixth Book Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

Every once and awhile, a book comes along that is so fantastic that you just don’t know how to go on with your life when it is over. For me, this was “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. It is a book that changes you when you read it.

“The Book Thief” is told from a unique perspective. The story is told by Death and the story he tells is of a girl he has run into a few times. The story he tells is hers. We meet Liesel when she is on her way to a foster home. She is on a train with her mother and little brother. It is the first time that Death meets Liesel, when he comes to collect her brother. “Yes, the sky was now a devastating, home-cooked red. The small German town had been flung apart one more time. Snowflakes of ash fell so loveily you were tempted to stretch out your tongue to catch them, taste them. Only, they would have scorched your lips. They would have cooked your mouth.” (The Book Thief, pg 13). Throughout the story, Death remembers the colors that he sees and it creates a very visual story telling that I couldn’t help but be captivated by.

Death takes the time to tell Liesel’s story despite the fact that war is a very busy time for him. It was very different reading about WWII from the perspective of Death. It was horrible and fascinating all at the same time.

Liesel becomes a book thief for the first time when she is putting her brother in the ground. The first book that she steals is “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” and she does it almost unconsciously when she sees the book dropped in the snow. Thus begins her life of crime. Her passion for books builds greatly as she discovers the freedom in reading. She also discovers the power that books have and she shares this when she can. “Where Hans Hubermann and Erik Vandenburg were ultimately united by music, Max and Liesel were held together by the quiet gathering of words.” (The Book Thief, pg 248).

Part of what I enjoyed so much about this book is the way I was able to relate to Liesel so well. The way that she feels about books is exactly how I feel about books. I could totally see myself in her shoes. She is a very likable character. “She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books. Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.” (The Book Thief, pg 134). This is frequently how I feel when let loose in a bookstore or my personal library.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely, it was such a good read. I really admire how Markus Zusak writes and I look forward to reading more of his work. I think that reading “The Book Thief” made me see just how war affects the individual. It’s quite different to read about a girl who had the war happen around her as she grew up. How differently it affected her and those she knew. The uncertainties that she was forced to live with. The fear. And through all these trials, she found solace in reading. It was a fantastic read.

 

Becky’s Seventy-Seventh Book Review: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. Re-reading this for I don’t even know how many times made me really focus on the why. Why do I like this book so much? Well, in order to answer this question, I need to take a look at the other book that is my favorite, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. Both books have female protagonists and between these two characters I see so much of me. First of all, both Francie (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Jane (Jane Eyre) are big fans of the written word. This is more true of Francie than Jane, but they both are readers nonetheless which I am able to identify with every easily. They both are also very independent and could be described as loners. While I might not be the best example of independence, I know that I impress my mom at least with my many adventures between moving away to go to college and taking the initiative to chase a dream job. Either way, the loner profile fits, at least in the sense that I don’t feel like I’m one of the popular girls by any means. So I believe that at least part of the reason why I like these two books so much is because I am able to identify with each protagonist on several levels. That being said, here is my review on “Jane Eyre”.

“Jane Eyre” is known to be an important piece of literature for feminism. I went into my reading of this novel with this in mind and focused on different areas that I believe reflect this widely shared opinion. Jane is a very independent thinker even before she is able to be independent on her own. This is apparent early on in the book when she finishes talking with her Aunt Reed, “Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.” (Jane Eyre, pg 39) Here Jane is getting really her first taste of freedom, of independence and here we also see how bold a character Jane is. There are many instances throughout the novel where Jane is both demonstrating independence and also comparing herself to a man, pointing out how she would act if she were a man. “Let their motto be–hunt, shoot, and fight: the rest is not worth a fillip. Such should be my device, were I a man.” (Jane Eyre, pg 178). This kind of thinking was unheard of during this time and that is part of what made “Jane Eyre” so revolutionary.

Her independence does not go unnoticed in the novel either. It is commented on by many different characters including one of her cousins, “you perform your own part in life, and burden no one.” (Jane Eyre, pg 239). Jane frequently comforts herself with the idea of independence and freedom when things begin to look tragic for the heroine, “Still indomitable was the reply: ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.'” (Jane Eyre, pg 314). The independence that she shows is truly remarkable. There are moments when she mentions wanting to give in, to not be so strong but her character won’t allow such frivolous things as giving up. Another example of this is “I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty feet in the flough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony.” (Jane Eyre, pg 295). This is a great example of both independence and the dramatic way that Charlotte Brontë writes. I love the way she manipulates language in her works. Another example of Brontë’s uniquely beautiful writing is, “Turn back: on so lovely a night it is a shame to sit in the house; and surely no one can wish to go to bed while sunset is thus at meeting with moonrise.” (Jane Eyre, pg 247).

I know that I am using a lot of quotes to support my points, but I can’t look at the words Brontë composed when writing “Jane Eyre” and not want to share them. There are so many examples throughout the novel of Jane being independent and part of this is in the frankness of her nature. “There, you are less than civil now; and I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery. I had rather be a thing than an angel” (Jane Eyre, pg 261). Here she is speaking very frankly and again, later in the novel you can see a heated discussion that she is having, “’But I apprised you that I was a hard man,’ said he, ‘difficult to persuade.’ ‘And I am a hard woman—impossible to put off.’ ‘And then,’ he pursued, ‘I am cold: no fervour infects me.’ ‘Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice. The blaze there has thawed all the snow from your cloak; by the same token, it has streamed on to my floor, and made it like a trampled street.” (Jane Eyre, pg 379). Jane is a very stubborn woman and this is part of what helps to display her independence.

Jane approaches the world very straight on with a frank and unyielding character. She comes to a cross roads and has the chance to be dependent or independent and this is how she assesses the situation, “Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool’s paradise at Marseilles—fevered with delusive bliss one hour—suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and shame the next—or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” (Jane Eyre, pg 356). In this quote, not only do you see Jane’s approach to the world, but Brontë uses different language to describe different situations. In the eyes of Jane Eyre, to be dependent is to be a slave, to be remorseful and shamed whereas to be independent is a light, free, breezy approach to life. The symbolism is very obvious here, dependence is like a prison while independence is free, honest, and healthy.

Jane dives even further into the notion of dependence vs. independence later in the book when discussing trying to please a man, “As for me, I daily wishes more to please him; but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, unrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation. He wanted to train me to an elevation I could never reach; it racked me hourly to aspire to the standard he uplifted. The thing was as impossible as to mould my irregular features to his correct and classic pattern, to give to my changeable green eyes the sea-blue tint and solemn luster of his own.” (Jane Eyre, pg 394) Jane notices that through trying to please this man she is sacrificing her own ideals and becoming less than she was. This same man brings multiple soliloquies discussing what to do with the offered dependence when she has such an independent nature. “Oh! It would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition” (Jane Eyre, pg 402). Jane realizes that she would never be happy to submit to another.

Overall the story is very entertaining and one that I believe every woman should read at least once, although there is no reason that “Jane Eyre” couldn’t appeal to men as well. Would I recommend it? Most definitely—“Jane Eyre” is a must-read. As much as I talked about independence in this review, the book is so much more than that. It is a tale of a woman who begins life as a dependent and vows to bring herself to independence. Through this journey she finds friendships, love, forgiveness, happiness, despair, family, and love again. It is a great read and a classic for good reason.