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Yan Timanovsky (Brooklyn, NY)
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Dead Souls: A Novel
Dead Souls: A Novel
by Nikolai Gogol
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moral Rot and Mordant Wit, June 6 2004
This review is from: Dead Souls: A Novel (Paperback)
Dead Souls is an interesting selection for several reasons. Above and beyond its commentary on the topical issues of Gogol's days (serfdom and the slow reforms thereof), sociopolitical satire, and uncommonly maladroit and unsympathetic hero, the book is an important exhibit in the evolution of the Russian language and the solidification of Russian literature.
Chichikov, a Russian customs civil servant, rides his troika into N., an unnamed provincial anytown. His intentions unknown, Chichikov effortlessly wins the hearts of the seemingly superficial officials and landowners, whose hospitality and good cheer seem boundless. Chichikov, though, is courting the kind citizens with a purpose. Soon, he is traveling from house to manor, offering to buy deeds to dead peasants for reasons unknown.
With Chichikov's travels through the Russian countryside, Gogol unleashes his comic insight into Russian society, especially (and unlike many of his shorter stories), rural Russia. Soon, the good hosts are exposed as guileful misers and the munificent oficials as venal and depraved. The sharpest comic exchanges come in Chichikov's haggles with the more incredulous targets - notably, a woman who preposterously suspects a hidden value in dead souls, and Sobakevich - a man bearing more than physical resemblance to a bear.
At the same time, Dead Souls paints for us an unorthodox hero in Chichikov - a morally unscupulous bureaucrat whose only ambition is financial aggrandizement. Relegated to mediocrity since childhood, Chichikov pursues the crass goals set out by his dysfunctional father. Yet Chichikov is not a man, he is a state of mind - one that Gogol saw afflicting much of his beloved Russia. Through Chichikov, and with great humor, Gogol illuminates the decay of human relations and decency in a country and people he loved so dearly.

The Leopard
The Leopard
by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa
Edition: Paperback
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The Fall of the Leopards, April 17 2004
This review is from: The Leopard (Paperback)
In The Leopard, Di Lampedusa masterfully narrates the downfall of an ancient aristocratic Sicilian family. We are introduced, among many others, to the paternalistic, intellectual Prince Fabrizio, his beloved but financially unendowed wit of a nephew Tancredi, Father Pirrone - a clement and practical reconciler and the Prince's ever-present conscience, and Don Sedara, a crass and uninitiated self-made landowner from the peasant class, whose beautiful daughter Tancredi falls for.
The Leopard, a pithy and briskly-paced historical novel, opens for us the door into the world of an old Sicilian family and the patriarch who tries to maintain the rule of tradition in his beloved world under the backdrop of Garibaldi and the reunification of Italy. That the book is extremely well-written is evident even in the eloquent translation. The story, undulating the tone from the tender expressiveness of all that is dear and familiar to a man who loves his country and heritage, and the gentle sorrow attending the perception of forces that gradually efface the bonds that hold those things together.
The chapter dealing with Don Fabrizio's declining health is an achievement in its own right, reflecting the organicity and artless sophistication of an experienced writer. It is to be read slowly, with sweet relish

Class: A Guide Through the American Status System
Class: A Guide Through the American Status System
by Paul Fussell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.26
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4.0 out of 5 stars Can Class become a classic?, March 14 2004
Class is a studied, hilarious, yet tongue-in-cheek dissection of the American social class system. It exposes such fundamentally American (and hence, germane) misconceptions on class as the truistic acceptance of class as a purely economical distinction (for the 2 lower classes, anyway).
Using an 8 or 9-class structure (by my count), Fussell spares no target from incisive scrutiny. The middle class with its safe, boring, and envious ways is Fussell's central target, but in the course of his attack, he takes working class slobs and upper class snobs prisoner as well.
While very funny, readable, and entertaining (check out the illustrations!), Class does, contrary to some overzealous reviewers' desire to bestow overarching approval on the book, feel a bit dated for a younger generation of readers. Although many of its keen observations will stand the test of time, an updated edition, as in any great textbook, is warranted.

Tender Is the Night
Tender Is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.71
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quiet sacrifices, tender regrets, Feb. 25 2004
This review is from: Tender Is the Night (Paperback)
Tender is the Night was written over a decade, and it shows. Characters grow, stop, we fast forward, and they change and mature without transition. Tempting is the correlations between Fitzgerald's companionship with mentally unhinged Zelda and Dick Diver's nurturing husband/psychotherapist to Nicole, an heiress and ex-schizoid in occasional relapse who was traumatized by her father at a tender age.
Tender is Dick's caressing but scientific approach to loving Nicole. When Rosemary Hoyt, a young starlet-to-be, pursues Dick with all due diligence, Dick loses the cool stability of his marriage experiment for the exciting, verily unscientific, if affected, opportunity to feel something new. Having committed himself to Nicole's love and care despite his better reason, Dick lives with the consequences he signed on to live with. His wife, recovering from her deep, despairing mental illness, sucks the life out of Dick, gaining strength with each drop of vigor he loses, fully aware of his inevitable failure.
Tender is the Night, where Fitzgerald starts to show the influence of Hollywood (not incidental, the Rosemary character, ey?) on his narrative composition, feels like a cast of actors playing their roles with converse dramatic irony. Nicole's and Dick's anticipation of the paths they are on, curves, divergences and all, perhaps account for the absence of dramatic tension and suspense in Tender is the Night. It is, instead, a journal of selected scenes catching the moods and musings of a doomed marriage, often striking poignancy at a perfect pitch.

The Beautiful and Damned
The Beautiful and Damned
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.39
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4.0 out of 5 stars Often Beautiful, If Ultimately Damned, Jan. 27 2004
Fitzgerald's second novel shows a maturation rather than maturity. It is a no-frills, yet poignant and focused portrait of the profoundly amoral young aristocracy boozing up the 1920s, rather than a predictable rise-and-fall morality tale. Here, Fitzgerald holds the reins over his language; he is firmly in control, cutting down on some long-winded passages and verbosity seen in This Side of Paradise.
B&D is true to the values of its hero, Anthony Patch, a superfluous and utterly indolent Harvard graduate who's far less sure of what he wants and likes than what he doesn't, except of course, for Gloria, a beautiful and narcissistic partner whose taste is compatible with his own.
Awaiting his grandfather's demise, the young couple drinks away their days and nights because there is nothing else they can conceive of doing. Their friends are a philosopher whose fundamental maxim is that there is nothing worth doing and a writer whose early promise deteriorates into banal tripe - a tragic waste of talent he is blind to.
Fitzgerald's prose and story are so deceptively fluid that the reader can miss many passive and active attitudes, bereft of any values or standards (other than aesthetic ones), towards life, family, fidelity, war, and death. In this world, marriage is a refuge from boredom (albeit a hopeless one), work is debasing, war is a decoration of the moneyed class, and wealth itself is a presumption.
As, usual, Fitzgerald's strengths (reaching the acme in Gatsby) are in his ability to describe feelings and moments. From Anthony's courthship of Gloria to his military affair with Dot, FSF never loses the palpable understanding of his own characters to satisfy effect.

Atlas Shrugged
Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.28
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3.0 out of 5 stars Genius or Cultist?, Dec 23 2003
Writing a review for Atlas Shrugged is personally difficult because while I grudgingly find Rand inspiring and was obsessed with the Fountainhead when I read it, I must concede that Ayn Rand is not an exceptional stylist or wordsmith. To the question: is she a writer or a philosopher, the answer is a firm 'philosopher.' Her works are much too idea-driven and one can't help but feel like he's reading a biblical comic book.
In this epic she presents a near-futurisitic world populated by industrial/scientific tycoons and populist parasites, the latter ruling the former, blinding them from perceiving their own greatness. Dagny Taggart, the engine behind a powerful railroad, and Hank Reardon, the inventor of a revolutionary steel alloy, are resolved to hold out when the industry giants begin to quit and disappear in response to American socialization.
Rand basically used this book to espouse (sometimes tediously so) the fundamental tenets of objectivism. It is wrong to criticize this book as anything other than what Rand intends it to be: a romantic vision of man as she sees him (as, indeed, she wants to see man). Yes, Atlas Shrugged, to a large extent, is a response to the time and place that produced Ayn Rand. Still, it is tough not to admire her steadfast, resolute, uncompromising vision of man as man ought to be - of freedom of ideas, speech, and ambition, the fulfillment of out greatest capacities for reason, progress, and happiness.
The tough part of reviewing Rand is looking at her as a writer. Yes, her character are cut out of cardboard. Yes, her ideas are single-minded and her morals fixed and diametrically opposed to her concept of evil. Atlas Shrugged is also frequently surprisingly flat, considering Rand's story-building skills. The Fountainhead had a hero and a worthy villain, but Atlas Shrugged has a number of heroes but not a single worthy adversary. For every John Galt, there are ten unbearably stupid, puerile, unconsciously evil enemies. This allows Rand to market her philosophy virtually without any competitition, making it that much more attractive. The story never really becomes compelling (even if the ideas sometimes do), and that is the measure of a great epic novel. We know where Rand is going and how she will get there; the issue that remains is how many words will she use?

This Side Of Paradise
This Side Of Paradise
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.41
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3.0 out of 5 stars 4 years of paradise, Nov. 27 2003
This review is from: This Side Of Paradise (Paperback)
This Side of Paradise is a paean to that special period in a young man's life when he forges the principles, flirts with his talents, find and loses love.
Fitzgerald's story is a bit more convoluted as he nurtures his hero from strangeness of childhood (a Portrait of the American Artist, to some extent), through the vanity of teens, through the confusion of college. He captures some of the ubiquitous sensations of being a college student - of the effervescent but ephemeral experience that feels like it will last forever; of friendships, and the general experimentation of finding and losing.
The book is also notable for a protofeminist (albeit from a male perspective) subtext that seems to play out in the background. When women enter into Emory Blaine's Life, it is as if the narrator yields the floor to the object of his affections so that she can write her own part, and by providing differentiation and individuation for the female characters, Fitzgerald validates them as living, breathing, self-willing entities.
By its end, This Side of Paradise seems like an incomplete story whose only outcome is melancholy. It is the gateway to FSF's biggest works, as the pathos of graduation from college leads to our most consequential decisions and ambitious acttions. Yet something is missing - the carefree, unadulterated moments of certainty that we will do something great, that the world is great, and that anything is possible as long as we don't attempt it.

Apple
Apple
Price: CDN$ 15.62
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5.0 out of 5 stars Off the hook., Aug. 28 2003
This review is from: Apple (Audio CD)
Extremely refined. This is a great album from an awesome band. A great example of beautiful raw energy elegantly arranged and often impeccably paced. Very apt indie guitars and drum, and of course the Japanese girl is adorable.

Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel
Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel
by Jonathan Foer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another unfulfilled promise, Aug. 15 2003
In in the interest of keeping this bashing brief and to the point, Foer fails to deliver the goods for the following reasons: lazy writing, ignorance of exploited subject matter, contrived characters and dramatic developments, cheap use of literary gimmicks to cover up lack of story.
Dear reader, allow me to bore and irritate you by declaring that Foer is utterly ignorant of the Russian language, Ukrainian customs, and my native city of Odessa. Allegedly, he shrugs his lack of research off with a laugh. This rather alarming habit of trivializing the importance of factual subject matter is disgusting not because it violates some objective paradigm of literary virtue, but because it exploits a grave and meaty subject while laughing off the hard work it deserves. Perhaps Foer thinks that his lazy scattering and transpositioning of English words transcends a dozen hours of mechanically generated Thesaurus entries. It does not.
Further along the same lines, the character of Alex is nothing more than a monkey sitting at an aforementioned electronic thesaurus and spitting out strings of unfunny, un-Russian, and lazy gibberish. If Foer wasn't busy trying to hack out Clockwork Orange or Catch-22, he might have spent more hours at a library or even bothered to learn some Russian to at the very least recognize speech patterns. Instead, we have a 'clever' 300 page wordplay and sketches.
Now, as for the subject itself, Foer, like so many polished young writers without anything to write about, chooses to borrow drama from someone else; not only a person, but a time. Like so many writers of little imagination, he digs in a fictional past (which he, once again, fails to investigate). So, Foer chooses to rewrite history and manipulate tragedy to infuse his story with an adequate sense of importance. WWII and the Holocaust, 2 of the major cataclysms of the modern era, are thrown into Foer's meatgrinder. This because the writer is so dry that he has to travel to another land and time - no, to invent another land and time (while affecting their reality) to spark his mind.
Oh, you might think that the story is redeemed by Foer's wicked satirical abilities. About the only scene I found funny was the potato-dropping incident in the restaurant. Shame on you Mr. Foer for butchering the English language (and not in any positive way). Shame on you for writing a fictitious piece of fictional storytelling.

The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
by Robert Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.16
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4.0 out of 5 stars Clear, Concise, Convincing, July 23 2003
The Moral Animal was recommended to me for several years by an ex-roommate and I finally relented and picked it up. The book was worth the time, at least the first half of it or so. Wright has that pleasant and tone of a TNR writer/editor - the patient, polite moderate idealogue. Here we have what appears to be a pretty solid introduction to the thinking process of an evolutionary psychologist. Much of the 'insights' are intuitive, but of course it is the counterintuitive findings that are most interesting.
It is amusing that (as per usual) several reviewers misinterpreted (or underintepreted) Wright's personal leanings on the politics of his subject matter. This book, after all, was focused on how evolution has shaped the way we think and how we define right and wrong (and why). One of the central points is that derivation of a moral code from nature is fallacious. For some reason, several readers assumed that since Wright (in an attempt to humor the conservative readership of the book) makes interesting commentary concerning the logic of Victorian morality, that he is an adherent of that belief system. This is, of course, ludicrous.
If anything, Wright sometimes crosses the line of permissible subjectivity by over-promoting his fetish for utilitarianism (fyi, a Victorian moralist would hardly gush about a Peter Singer). It is perfectly fine to tie this perfectly reasonable system of thought into his discussion, but by the end of the book, Wright's text is bordering on preachy piousness. Furthermore, his decision to exploit Darwin's life as the ultimate experimental subject of his own science in the lab of history reveals much more about how Wright thinks than it does about Darwin. Appropriately, though, Wright employs tempting speculation in a speculative discipline.
Other than those lesser issues, The Moral Animal resonates with and engages the reader. This book is at once enlightening and dangerous - a lightning rod for cynicism. I would not recommend it to people who prefer to preserve their own ideas about human relationships and the virtues of social life. It is perfect, however, for those who love to have their ideas challenged, and will challenge the author in turn. Perhaps the most promising and optimistic notion one can leave the book with is that human beings are an experiment that is constantly being improved - nature works us over on the outside, but it is up to us to realize our limitless intrinsic potential.

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