Haruki Murakami – 1Q84, volume I

Below you’ll find the character, concept, and image chart I’ve made for the first volume of this three volume novel.  Apologies for the lack of notes and page numbers, this is due to technical restrictions with the software I’m using.

As the novel alternates between chapters that follow the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo, each character’s narrative has its own collection of characters and images that branch off from their name.  Aomame’s branches are blue, Tengo’s are yellow, and when an item becomes cross-referenced by being mentioned in both, I change the branch to green and connect the two with an arrow.  (The different-colored connection arrows are only changed for aesthetic reasons; there’s no special meaning attached to the purple arrows as opposed to the blue ones.)

Note that the two characters are also linked, not only by the novel’s title in the center, but also by the fact that each character has remembered the other, independently and albeit anonymously, so far. Continue reading


Jaroslav Hašek – The Good Soldier Švejk; part I, chapters 1-6

I usually prefer to wait until I have a bigger chunk of a piece before writing a post about it (sometimes too big, to which my recent lack of posts can attest), but something I noticed about this first section jumped out at me so much that I just had to stick my pretty little nose in here to point it out.

The events of the first section revolve around a plainclothes police officer named Bretschneider fishing for subversives in a nearly empty pub.  He arrests both the titular Švejk and the pub’s owner, Palivec, neither one for saying anything particularly subversive, and accuses both of them of treason.  The primary point of interest here is that the German-named Bretschneider is a plainclothes police officer entrapping Czechs, which anyone old enough to remember the late 80s conflicts at the close of Soviet Union (e.g., not me) will recognize as very similar to the protests at Wenceslas Square.  Video is surprisingly hard to come by, but in the late 1980s, youths’ protests were violently quashed by riot police aided by plainclothes police among the protesters who pointed out particular members of the crowd.

The Good Soldier Švejk‘s first chapter makes it clear that Czechs were in this paranoia-fostering position even before communist control.  As a member of the Austro-Hungarian empire, they were just as under control of foreign powers as Czechoslovakia became in the post-war era, and were just as wary of secret police looking to take their comments out of context.

From one John’s bed to the next. Continue reading

Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace; epilogue & appendix

So now, at last, we are finished with War and Peace.  The two-part epilogue consists of a few chapters with the characters Natasha, Pierre, Nikolai, and Marya, eight years after the war with Napoleon, aging and changing; and lots of Tolstoy-essays about the nature of war, history, freedom and power.  The Appendix, published originally partway through the final text’s publication in a respected journal, consists of Tolstoy himself explaining some of his intention and outright stating that he blames a sense of predestination on the events of history—which I view as something of a cop-out and resist.

As these last sections are for the most part underwhelming and unnecessary and lack passages that jump out to a close reader and as the novel itself is so bloody long, I think I’ll take a page out of Harry Bagot‘s book and opt for general appraisal of the novel rather than summary.

Last week, as she watched me near the end of this book, my girlfriend asked me if it was very difficult.  I thought for a moment and answered that it wasn’t; that it’s grouped in with other extremely long white whales of literature for other reasons:

  • Its length
  • Its scope and therefore the time-span it covers and large number of characters
  • The fact that a lot of people consider it to be one of the greatest novels ever written.

Continue reading

Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace; volume IV

Caught in the chaos of a deserted and burning Moscow, Pierre is accused of arson and put on trial, in a scene echoed in one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest films, Paths of Glory:

These questions, leaving aside the essence of life’s business and excluding any possibility of discovering that essence, like all questions asked at trials, were aimed only at furnishing that channel down which the judges wished the answers of the accused to flow, leading him to the desired goal, that is, incrimination.  As soon as he began to say something that did not conform to the purpose of incrimination, the channel was removed, and the water could flow wherever it liked.  Besides that, Pierre experienced the same thing that an accused man experiences in any court: perplexity as to why all the questions were being asked of him.  He had only the feeling that this trick of furnishing him with a channel was being used only out of indulgence or courtesy, as it were.  He knew that he was in the power of these people, that it was only power that had brought him there, that only power gave them the right to demand answers to their questions, and that the only purpose of this gathering was to incriminate him.  And therefore, since there was power and the wish to incriminate, there was no need for the trickery of questions and a trial.  It was obvious that all answers would lead to finding him guilty.    (960-961)

Pierre’s predicament during his trial is that the purpose of the French trial is not to discover the truth of what happened, but rather to prove his guilt.  The comparison that Tolstoy makes is to directing water flowing down through channels; if it doesn’t go the way the prosecutors and judges want it to, it’s allowed to spill over and is ignored. Continue reading

Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace; volume III

Two passages for the third volume, the first of which contains something very close to the work’s title (I have to believe that in the original Russian, it was the title word-for-word).  It’s from a conversation between Andrei and Kutuzov before the decisive battle of Borodino:

[C]hanging the subject, Kutuzov began speaking about the Turkish war and the peace that had been concluded.  “Yes, I’ve been reproached a great deal,” sad Kutuzov, “both for the war and for the peace … but everything came at the right time.  Tout vient à point à celui qui sait attendre [Fr.: ‘Everything comes at the right time to him who knows how to wait.’].”    (744)

Kutuzov mentions being blamed for both war and peace; that is, both his success and his failures as a military commander.  This reflects two things: the fickleness of high society and Tolstoy’s revisionist goals with much of his prose, especially the essay chapters since the start of the third volume.

Continue reading

I love the English language

Take the word editorializing:

To edit is to alter preexisting words.

An editor is a person who alters preexisting words.

An editorial is a piece of writing that gives the opinion of a person who alters preexisting words.

To editorialize is to assume the voice and or diction (whether in speech or print) of a piece of writing that gives the opinion of a person who alters preexisting words.

The act of editorializing is the present tense form of assuming the voice and diction of a piece of writing that gives the opinion of a person who alters preexisting words.

It’s such a beautiful telescope.  Let the critics hate us for our insufficient alphabet, nonsensical spelling system, and hodgepodge of influences; it’s quite wonderful once you get the hang of it.

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Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace; volume II

Quite a long section; this one was mostly concerned with Peace, specifically the lifestyle of the aristocrats in the novel.

“Well, here you want to emancipate the peasants,” [Andrei] went on.  “That’s very good; but not for you (I suppose you’ve never whipped anyone to death or sent them to Siberia), and still less for the peasants.  If they’re beaten, whipped, and sent to Siberia, I don’t think that makes it any worse for them.  In Siberia he’ll go on with his brutish life, and the welts on his body will heal, and he’ll be as happy as he was before.  But it’s needed for those people who are morally ruined, live to repent it, suppress this repentance, and turn coarse, because they have the possibility of punishing justly and unjustly.  Those are the ones I pity and for whose sake I would wish for the emancipation of the peasants.  Maybe you haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen good people brought up in this tradition of unlimited power, as they can’t become more irritated over the years, become cruel, coarse, know it, can’t help themselves, and become more and more unhappy.    (386-367)

This monologue is spoken by Prince Andrei to Count Pierre as the former’s condescending criticism of the latter’s charitable actions towards the many peasants on his estates.  Pierre has undergone the changes due to his recent admittance into the Freemasons and the value they place on serving mankind.  Though he eventually sours towards his fellow Masons’ inaction and hypocrisy, at this point he is devout in his idealism, and Andrei is cynically critical.  Andrei’s speech is somewhat misleading at first, with his declaration that the emancipation would be good, but “not for [Pierre].”  This may come across as fairly obvious: Pierre isn’t helping his peasants to help himself—unless you want to give credit to a (basically) selfish desire to be selfless—he’s helping them to help them.  But Andrei downplays the importance of the end result of helping someone in order to make their lives better; Andrei only sees the value in redeeming the upper classes from the abuses of the lower classes to which they’ve become used. Continue reading