The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

cover “If good things are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise”. This is one of many of the beautifully crafted words in Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist. From the streets of Andalusia to the deserts of Egypt, we are taken on an adventure that tests the limits of one’s desire for personal treasure. This novel takes you on the journey of a shepherd boy, Santiago, who wishes to find himself through a quest to the Pyramids in Egypt. He trades his old life for a new one where he gets to travel the world looking for his Personal Legend, or, his treasure. No one ever said it would be easy, but was his journey worth the trouble?

The story is presented through the eyes of Santiago. He spends his days following the same paths and in the same surrounding, until one day, he comes across a gypsy who completely turns his life upside down. She delivers the boy a very important message, one that is impossible to ignore. She tells him of a treasure waiting for him in the desert of Egypt, near the pyramids. He tries to resist her words, but how could he? He had been waiting for a change, and this was it. He had the opportunity to finally find out something about his life that had deeper meaning. He would no longer sit in the fields and wonder what lies ahead of him. He could learn the ways of the world and expand his knowledge of the things around him. Despite his doubts, he decides to take the old woman’s advice. He sets off to Egypt and finds himself in a place that is totally unfamiliar. He cannot communicate with anyone, and has no way of finding out if his treasure is even where the gypsy said it would be. Although he feels defeated, he cannot give up. He remembers the omens a wise old man from his village told him before he left for his quest. He must persevere and stay on his path; he cannot abandon what he has set out to do. Many die or move in before they accomplish what the universe intended had for them. The boy must keep his promise to find his treasure, no matter how long it takes for him to find it. When you want something with all your heart, the entire universe will stop at nothing to help you achieve it. In the end, it will all be worth it.

In conclusion, this novel teaches us all about faith and hope and never abandoning our dreams. We need to stand with our hopes and desires and believe whole heartedly we can achieve anything we set our mind to. No matter how long or difficult the process, we must continue on. As the wise friend of Santiago once said “where your treasure is, there also be your heart.”

Reviewed by Lauryn H ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

coverYoung Adult books have a few formulas: divorce, unrequited love, death of a parent, self-transformation, and as of late… vampires. Oh… and angst. Usually always angst. Picking up this book one might fear this would be the story of yet another teenager whose glamorized account of depression could make readers teary eyed but forget about the story almost immediately. Its Kind of a Funny Story is not one of those books. The writing is so dead on, so unpretentious and raw. Based on the author’s own experiences with mental illness and his time in a psychiatric hospital, the narrative of a high school senior under immense pressure is not only beautifully poetic but also intensely relatable for anyone who has ever struggled personally with mental illness or even knows someone who has. Craig is a senior at a competitive high school in Manhattan, who finds the pressure he is under is taking a toll on him. He feels the things that weigh him down, what he calls his “tentacles” dragging him down. He stops eating and sleeping until he finally decides that he’s going to take the big leap off the Brooklyn Bridge instead finds himself self admitting into a psychiatric ward in a local hospital where he meets a slew of different patients. Although each is there for different reasons they’re each attempting to cope with life in their own ways. Somehow Vizzini manages to take heartbreaking and bleak material and turn it into a humorous and touching story.

Mental illness is not something to dismiss this book showcases this in a way that needs to be discussed in everyone’s life. Ned Vizzini struggled with depression and anxiety for years before, during, and after writing this book, tragically he took his own life seven years after writing it. Vizzini’s words will have a lasting impact longer than his own tragically short life, spanning decades and generations. He and Craig work hard to remind us “Depression is just what happens when you forget to live. So live”.

Reviewed by Sophie R ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

 

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

coverHave you ever wondered what it would be like to start up a multi-million dollar company from scratch? Well, if you have thought about this or have had other entrepreneurial thoughts, Shoe Dog by Phil Knight might just be the book for you.

Knight’s memoir about creating Nike is a refreshing reminder of the hard work and failure that one day (hopefully) molds itself into success. Nike’s journey was not always smooth going as many people would imagine. When Bill Gates was asked to give his opinion about the memoir, he said that “the only thing that seems[ed] inevitable in page after page of Knight’s story is that his company will end in failure.” Of course, today, when Nike’s sales top thirty billion dollars, “failure” does not seem to run through people’s minds. However, throughout this novel, readers time travel back fifty years to when knight started his company by selling imported Japanese athletic footwear out of the back of his Plymouth Valiant.

From the very beginning pages of Shoe Dog, Knight spills all of his secrets unlike many CEOs of this day and age. Knight does not fit the stereotype of a typical, courageous entrepreneur and throughout the memoir, he is incredibly tough on his failings. From taking weeks to tell the girl who would on day be his forever partner that he liked her, to hugging himself when he was nervous, he still managed to comprehend his vision to do something different than everyone else with his life and create his own shoe company. As Knight writes, “So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy . . . just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.” If you want to learn more about Nike and how it started or you are interested in the factors that go into owning your own business I strongly recommend reading Shoe Dog.

Reviewed by Maddie ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Thanks to WordPress’s delayed publication feature, I can write this on a Thursday and publish it on a Friday. How awesome is that?

It’s 3 p.m. and that means that we are currently outside in the library courtyard, celebrating Sasha’s hard work and perseverance while also honoring the memory of a grandmother (Katie ’16 and Jen ’20), who passed away last year.

Why is this event worth noting on a book review blog you ask? Well let me tell you. This project was inspired by the book, Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder by Dr. Richard Louv.

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Sasha read this over summer vacation of her Sophomore year at Emma. If you’ve ever spent time with Sasha, you know that this nature lovin’ Colorado girl is outside as much as possible. She was bothered by her classmates’ indoor lifestyle and felt that they needed  encouragement to get outdoors, to unplug, and to enjoy Mother Nature.

Sitting upstairs, studying in the library, Sasha looked out over the overgrown, underutilized library courtyard, and was inspired. Could this be transformed into a student centered outdoor space? Could this transformation serve as a Signature project?

It could and it would! Read about her journey here.

If you are interested in environmental psychology, I encourage you to read this book.  It’s also great for parents and grandparents who are thinking about their children’s screen time.

It’s finally spring time. Let’s all go outside and climb a tree, make a fairy house, build a sand castle, or my favorite, just lie in a hammock and read a good book.

patioreading

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

coverFor those of you who read my book review on The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, you will find that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has a similar theme. In his novel, John Boyne addresses the issue of antisemitism, the holocaust, and concentration camps. However, he does it slightly differently than all of the other stories we usually hear about this time period in books, movies, and history textbooks. Boyne tells this story through the eyes of a little boy.

Although it is sometimes very difficult and gut-wrenching to read books about a topic so horrifying inhumane and gruesome, it is a must-read and is impossible to put down. The story opens with a young boy named Bruno. At the age of nine his family is uprooted because his father has a new job. They leave their cozy little house, the backyard that Bruno loves to play in, and all of his friends behind. Bruno’s mother tries to explain to him that the reason for their move is not because it’s just his father’s job, but it’s his duty. That is the first time in the book that the reader becomes aware of the fact that the father and the families story is going to coincide or overlap in some way with the story of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

The house that they arrive at is far different from the one they lived in before. There is no grass, there is no comfortable house. And even more dramatically is the shift from having all of his neighborhood friends to having nothing at all. Except for the people on the other side of the fence, of course. From his window Bruno would watch all of these people in jumpsuits. It is immediately apparent to the reader that his new neighbor is a concentration camp. One that his father is in charge or helping to run with his fellow soldiers. His ignorance and innocence is what makes the story so unbelievable.

But the story takes an unprecedented turn: one day Bruno decides to go out exploring. In his quest he finds another little boy named Shmuel on the other side of the fence. They become best friends and continue to have a relationship, undenounced to Bruno’s father of course. The rest of the story follows this intriguing, beautiful, and heartbreaking story of the boy’s friendship and a tragedy that arises from it all. Yet, “…despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.”

Having a family connection to the Holocaust made the story even more incredible for me to read. However, this is a book for everyone, even if you have no personal connection to the historical events behind the story. It’s a story that proves people are not born with hate. Love and acceptance are innate. Bruno is able to continue his love and friendship for his newfound friend despite the role his father has. It’s a point of view that any reader could benefit from or be inspired by. I think especially in our world today it is important to remember that people are all equal, even when one sits on a dirt floor with a striped jumpsuit, as the other sits on grass with a father who salutes. I was moved beyond words by this story and the way that John Boyne went about telling it. There are no other books to my knowledge that carry out this agenda so beautifully and seamlessly. I recommend it to everyone a million times over.

Reviewed by Bella ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

coverIs it possible to fall in everlasting love in a single moment? Is it possible to beat the best sword master in the land? Does this book even exist? The answer is yes and no. William Goldman introduces us to his novel, The Princess Bride(a real book) as an abriged version of , The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure (an imaginary book). The Princess Bride is set in the country of Florin, which is just as imaginary as the author S. Morgenstern. We are introduced to a common girl named Buttercup, who is soon to be the most beautiful woman in the world. However, this causes some problems because she is also soon to be the most coveted woman in the world. Despite this she lives on her family farm with “farm boy,” who she becomes infatuated with, which took her nothing more than a glace to realize. This is when the action and plot starts to speed up. The Princess Bride by William Goldman has anything and everything you could ever want in a book, sword fights, passionate love, and humor to make you laugh through the all pages.

With unexpected twists, turns, deaths, and revivals you will never know what Goldman will come up with for the next page. The book creates romantic scenes and by the end makes fun of it with statements like, “True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops.”

This book is filled with in depth and hilarious characters to push the plot along. Buttercup, one of the main characters, is not aware of her beauty and does not care much about her appearance, but as the Goldman says, “How could someone care if she were the most beautiful woman in the world or not. What difference could it have made if you were only the third most beautiful. Or the sixth?” Each character has a paradoxical characteristic, whether it be a peaceful giant who knows more than the know it all who in fact does not know it all.

           The Princess Bride is a satirical love story, but done in a way where you still care for the characters. The language used is easy to read and follow, with sarcastic remarks placed perfectly. If you want to laugh while still being captivated by an action packed love story, I recommend this book, a unique take on a simultaneously classic but exceptional love story.

Reviewed by Emma R ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

coverA Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard is an autobiography detailing Dugard’s kidnapping from June, 1991 to August, 2009. It begins with 11-year-old Jaycee  being abducted on the streets as she walks to her bus stop and ends 18-years-later with her safe return to her family. But what happened between those 18 years? Well, that’s something only Jaycee Dugard can answer.

Choosing to read this book was not a hard decision for me. I had seen the infamous news online, and wondered whether she was dead or alive . I knew about how she had been kidnapped and rescued, but I didn’t know what had happened during her kidnapping, so I picked up this book with the intention of finding out. What I thought would be an easy book to read, turned out to be emotionally exhausting. I experienced confusion when Phillip and Nancy Garrido kidnapped Jaycee, anger when they placed Jaycee in a tent in their backyard, shock when Phillip had his way with Jaycee, and defeat at the fact it happened to an 11-year-old girl and that she had couldn’t do anything about. One scene in particular that reflected this was when Jaycee was finally allowed contact with the world beyond the tent she was forced to live in. “Nothing has changed, yet everything has. I went out today and came back and nobody noticed. Nobody cared to ask who I was. . . I look no one in the eye.” After reading this part, I realized that Jaycee had always held out the hope that someone would find her. That someone would notice that this isn’t where she should be, but after realizing that no one did recognize her, Jaycee had given up hope.

Although this book has been tough to read, I definitely recommend reading it. Jaycee Dugard had to live through these traumatic experiences for 18 years. It wasn’t her fault, but the fault of the adults surrounding her. Reading this book I always wondered, what if her step-father had walked her to the bus stop? What if the neighbors had called the police to report suspicious activity? What if Philip’s parole officer had checked or monitored his activity properly? Could the abduction not have happened? Would she not have been abducted for as long as she was? Maybe, but we’d never know. So, by reading this book, I hope that it can help people be more aware of their surroundings, rather than focusing on oneself. If you see suspicious activity, report it. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and who knows, you might end up saving one’s life.

Reviewed by Iliyeen Z ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

coverThroughout life different people become affected in a myriad of ways by their circumstances. However, there is one thing that all people can connect on: a sense of belonging.

In Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie allows her readers to get into the head of a protagonist who is away from home. Adichie weaves two very different countries, essentially worlds, together to show the unique effect they have on the character. The term “Americanah” alone refers to the classification assigned to her after she has lived in America and returned to Nigeria. What initially appears as a novel about the experience of an immigrant, is actually a tale any person trying to understand the complexities of life will find solace in.

It starts with Ifemelu, a young lady who has a fellowship in Princeton, absorbing her New Jersey surroundings and then getting on a train to another New Jersey town in order to braid her hair, already highlighting the disparities between whites and African Americans/Africans. Once in the salon, it becomes clear that Ifemelu is not just different from white Americans, but also from other African immigrants who work in the salon. Her interactions with the employees cause her to think back on her own experiences at home in Nigeria and when she moved to the US. She identifies some of the differences between the bluntness of people from her hometown and people in America. This is particularly seen with her musings about the word “fat,” which is used seldomly and negatively in America, but is used very frequently in Nigeria, though not in such a negative connotation. On the other hand, the word “thin” is considered a positive trait in America, but is not something to strive for in Nigeria. Adichie contradicts the typical image of a glamorous, perfect America and brings out some of the ways that the bland industrialized culture has robbed the population of some of the simpler joys in life when in a quiet moment the narrator realizes “America had subdued her.”

The other major part of this story, Americanah, is about Ifemulu’s long lost love that remained in Nigeria after she left, Obinze. Ifemelu distanced herself from her love upon arriving in America, but now realizes she has never loved someone the way she loved him. Obinze, who after struggling in the seedy underbelly of undocumented life in London, is living in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos, has earned a name for himself and not only has established himself as a business man, but is now also a family man, which Ifemelu has to deal with. Their love story connects, after a while of no contact, due to her desire to move back home. As the two of them continue to reignite their love and catch up, the readers are able to identify the clear differences between a first world country and a third world country, but also the deep similarities in areas of love, family, and trust.

Do these two find their way back to each other? Does Ifemelu find her own identity among the cultural labels assigned to her? You’ll have to find out for yourself. The two paths of the main characters and their personal journeys of self discovery come together over several themes such as sacrifice, compromise, and the craving for true love. Both parties, Ifemelu and Obinze have to evaluate what they would sacrifice for each other and how their future could be reconstructed regardless of their past.

Not only does Adichie create a rich world of characters to entertain the reader, she fills her novel with astute observations of Americans that are very rarely noticed by the local observer. You’ll question your own identity and truths you’ve accepted in everyday life. Maybe you too will develop a better concept of your identity.

Reviewed by Tochi W. ’17 for Literature of the Millennium

 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

coverInstead of sending it off to the conveyor belt of the dining hall, I decided to finish my last piece of bread and felt the guilt, more strongly than ever. I went upstairs to my room and picked up the half-opened book on my desk, One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. As the food was swallowed down my throat and the warmth spread inside me, I was once again unsettled by the stories of survival in One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich, feeling a sense of responsibility to carry on the weight of the darkest days of Soviet history so that both the impotency and resilience of human life under extreme conditions shall never fade away from the collective memories of human race.

One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich is an account of life in the Gulag—the Soviet forced-labor camp—during the years of Stalin. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a prominent intellectual and dissenter of the Soviet Union, drew from his own experience in the Gulag in writing the novel, making the protagonist, Ivan Denisovich, somehow a truthful reflection of Alexander himself. As suggested by the title, the novel is written in the voice of Shukhov (Ivan Denisovich), a prisoner who has been in one of the Gulags in Siberia for seven years. From Shukhov’s perspective, we not only have a detailed account of the extreme and inhuman conditions of the camp, including the schedule of the prisoners, constant hunger and coldness, stringent discipline and savage treatment the of prisoners; we also empathize with his fervent thoughts and emotions that he buried deeply within.

It is perhaps difficult for us who live in the post-Soviet world today to imagine and truly comprehend the experiences of those who persisted in Gulag. It is easy to dismiss the sense of other-worldedness that one can find in this book because the description is perhaps too forthcoming and abominable to be a true. However, the camp is like a complex and hostile ecosystem where the rule of natural selection created a hierarchical social ladder that governed the lives of all. Prisoners have to follow strict, semi-military discipline of the camp that controls every aspect of life: Organized into gangs and labeled by number, they eat and sleep all together under the constant watch from the authority, ranging from the foreman to warder to commander and to soldier. Lives of the prisoners are worthless, and there are a millions ways one can die in the camp—coldness, insufficient food, penalties due to misdemeanor of disobedience of any formal or informal rules all attribute to an unnatural death. Nonetheless men persist in these extreme conditions

What moves me deeply about this novel is the admirable resilience of human souls in face of institutional cruelty. The will to survive is so strong that they adapt to the system, and one of the means they succeed in doing that is to forgo the ability of thinking, to think as minimally as possible. It is perhaps insane to say that Gulag simplifies one’s life in confinement, but it is a cold, relentless truth in the most tragic sense. Solzhenitsyn captures this truth with short, choppy sentences and realistic articulation of one’s thoughts, and the following description of the dinner scene reflects the effect of his style:

“He began eating. First he just drank the juice, spoon after spoon. The warmth spread through his body, his insides greeted that skilly with a joyful fluttering. This was it! This was good! This was the brief moment for which a zek lives. For a little while Shukhov forgot all his grievances… For the moment he had only one thought: we shall survive. We shall survive it all. God willing, we’ll see the end of it!”

Solzhenitsyn’s plain, simple language and hopeful tone not only illustrates the incredible strength and the will to survive of each prisoner; it also conveys a sense of tragedy by putting the noble resilience of a human being against the backdrop of unimaginable cruelty. As I was reading this, a vivid image came across my mind—a candle burning in the darkness; its flame was tragically cheerful.

I decided that I will try my best not to waste any food after putting down One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It might seem silly—how much a difference would my action actually make? However, a book like One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich has the power to remind us over and over again that those who have suffered, who are suffering, and who will suffer are real human beings, whose stories not only bear testimony to any difficult memories of the past but also transcends history itself. Those stories are as timeless as this simple truth: we all have the alienable right to live regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in.

Reviewed by Charlotte C ’17 for Literature of the Millennium