Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero by Henryk Sienkiewicz

(Polish Title: Quo Vadis. Powieść z czasów Nerona) - 1895 

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

"Where are you going?" a question asked in the New Testament (John 13:36), used in the Latin translation as the book title, it is quite empowering. It gives a sense of mystery.

This book has been on my wish list most for most of my life. Why I have never tackled it before? Well, maybe I thought it was more of a tackle. As it is, it is a surprisingly easy book to read with an astonishing story and a lot of historical background. I have read other books about the early Christians in Rome and I have always been fascinated by them. Why does someone give up their life and that of their loved ones for a new religion? What is behind those martyrs, what are their motives, their desires?

This book gives a lot of answers to those questions. It is a book about history as well as a book about religion and philosophy, about slavery, power and poverty. We can learn about how Ancient Rome was ruled, how the rich lived and how the poor. We have love and war, trust and betrayal, prayers and fights, the whole world seems to gather on these pages.

Granted, it is a large book (more than 700 pages) but well worth it. We even meet Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the former is always named as the first Pope. We see how his followers see him, love him, find strength through him. Maybe the main reason why this book is called "Quo Vadis?"

Lygia is a young Greek slave and the Roman patrician Marcus falls in love with her. At the beginning, he doesn't know she is a Christian but he tries all sorts of tricks to get her. Not much has changed there but he has different kind of tactics up his sleeve. He involves his uncle Gaius Petronius (who is one of many actual historical figures in this novel) to help him.

The plot is not the most breathtaking part of the novel, even though it is pretty good. But the writing is just as powerful, the characters are described very vividly, and so are the scenes. A very realistic description of every tiny little detail makes you believe you are there in the middle of the book with all the people.

I am not surprised the author received the Nobel Prize, he was a fantastic writer. I will try to read more of his books, this one was magnificent.

From the back cover:

"Quo Vadis is a powerful historical novel about the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Through a romance between a high-born Roman pagan and a Christian woman, Henryk Sienkiewicz masterfully brings to life the decadence of imperial Rome during the reign of Nero Claudius Caesar (AD 54-68), the bloodthirsty persecutor of the early Christians.

Quo Vadis has been translated into more than forty languages, as well as adapted into several movies. Jeremiah Curtin's accurate and lively English translation of the novel successfully conveys Sienkiewicz's muted portrayal of the beginnings of Christianity and his spectacular, apocalyptic vision of the Roman Empire in decline."

Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905 "for his outstanding merits as an epic writer."

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/145717.The_Green_Pope

Originally reviewed by LaGraziana

It’s not a particularly secret wisdom that those who have wealth are likely to have power too. After all, it’s money that makes the world go round… at least a materialistic world like ours. Little wonder that our society produces considerable numbers of men and women whose primary goal in life is to gain money and ever more money. In The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemalan winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1967 “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin-America”, a young American who cares for nothing but wealth and power starts a banana plantation in Guatemala mercilessly ruining, driving out or even killing small local farmers and opponents on his rise. Neither the suicide of his fiancé, the death of his wife in childbirth or the pregnancy of his unmarried daughter make him reconsider his priorities.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

(Turkish title: Benim Adim Kirmizi) - 1998

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

Every year, when the new Nobel prize winners are announced, I wait eagerly for literature recipient. Seldom have I been disappointed with their books. 2006 year was no exception, on the contrary.

Orhan Pamuk is one of those rare authors who seem to have reinvented the art of writing. His style is quite unique. Even though he settles his story in the 13th century, it applies to actual problems and facts in a way nobody else seems to be able to do. I have since read quite a few of his books, he is absolutely fabulous.

The narrator of the novel changes in every chapter which gives you an insight into the whole story that is beyond comparison. You don't just get the view of quite a few of the characters (including the person who gets murdered right at the beginning of the story) but also of animals and the painting around which the story revolves. This novel doesn't just give you an insight into Islam and art, a tour around Istanbul and life 700 years ago, it is an expression of the quest for the meaning of life.

A wonderful author. One of my favourites.

And here is a brief compilation of our discussion in the book club (years after I read this for the first time). There are a couple of small spoilers in there, so if you haven't read the book, you might not want to read this.

There were a lot of topics, not such an easy read. Many characters, lots of unexpected situations and philosophies. It was not just a murder mystery, there are so many layers. Someone found the book too large. We liked the chronology in the back of the book, unfortunately, it wasn't in all the different editions.

The book didn't grip you right away, only after about 100 pages does it get really interesting. Great writing. No doubt. The author obviously likes to shock his readers. Some couldn't put it down after a while, others still didn't finish it.

His language is quite florid, like Persian that was at its peak at that time, then the arts fell out of favour.

The author uses imagery very well, very colourful writing. He compares the art of the Eastern and Western world, the different way of painting, the religion and culture. Miniaturist Painting was prevalent though that region and time. Art, science, philosophy, concept of making everything realistic is going out of fashion, everything is more abstract now, see the pointillism. Orhan Pamuk wanted to be an artist, he educates us about art history. We enjoyed learning about the art part, depending on who was speaking, seeing how dedicated they were. The descriptions of Istanbul were very good, those of us who had been there enjoyed it especially. We would like to read something else about that time period.

His look at the world is fascinating.

We also had a talk about different cultures and how much they should assimilate when in a foreign country. We agreed that nobody should give up their own culture (but definitely abide by the law of the host country) but try to bring them together, social media is a good help.

We had a discussion about why they always use beautiful young boys or men for their pleasure.
We also wondered why Osman pierced his eyes.

Most of us were surprised who the murderer was.

From the back cover:
"In the late 1590s, the Sultan secretly commissions a great book: a celebration of his life and his empire, to be illuminated by the best artists of the day - in the European manner. At a time of violent fundamentalism, however, this is a dangerous proposition. Even the illustrious circle of artists are not allowed to know for whom they are working. But when one of the miniaturists is murdered, their Master has to seek outside help. Did the dead painter fall victim to professional rivalry, romantic jealousy or religious terror?

With the Sultan demanding an answer within three days, perhaps the clue lies somewhere in the half-finished pictures . . . Orhan Pamuk is one of the world's leading contemporary novelists and in
My Name is Red, he fashioned an unforgettable tale of suspense, and an artful meditation on love and deception."

We discussed this in our book club in February 2013.

I also really enjoyed "The Black Book" and "Istanbul - Memories of a City"

Orhan Pamuk "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. 

Orhan Pamuk received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2005.
  Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


1931

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read 

The first volume in the "Good Earth Trilogy", the second one is "Sons", the third "A House Divided".

I absolutely love this book. Pearl S. Buck was my first "grown up" author, I read all the books our little village library had.

The description of all sorts of people in pre-revolutionary China is really interesting, Pearl S. Buck manages to describe every single person and event so vividly, you feel like you're almost there.

We lead a very different life today and I'm grateful for that. It was a hard life back then, especially for women who were considered a burden to their families and often sold when they didn't have enough money.

Wang Lung, the protagonist of the story, manages to get very rich through the land he buys. He owes all this to his wife who used to be a slave. But he doesn't really recognize this and leads a life any male would lead at the time. I cannot really judge him for that because he didn't know any better. I feel sorry for his wife, O-Lan, though for whom life was one big misery.

From the back cover: "This Pulitzer Prize-winning classic tells the poignant tale of a Chinese farmer and his family in old agrarian China. The humble Wang Lung glories in the soil he works, nurturing the land as it nurtures him and his family. Nearby, the nobles of the House of Hwang consider themselves above the land and its workers; but they will soon meet their own downfall.

Hard times come upon Wang Lung and his family when flood and drought force them to seek work in the city. The working people riot, breaking into the homes of the rich and forcing them to flee. When Wang Lung shows mercy to one noble and is rewarded, he begins to rise in the world, even as the House of Hwang falls.
"

Find other books by Pearl S. Book that I read here.

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces" and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Good Earth" in 1932. 

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

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