Book Review: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka tells the story of travelling salesman Gregor Samsa, when he wakes up from a nightmare one day and discovers he has been transformed into a giant, monstrous insect. The novella examines his life after this realization, his slow alienation and isolation from his parents and his sister (whom he had worked tirelessly to support), and his eventual decline.

I actually really enjoyed this novella, but not in any real ‘enjoyment’ sense- it just sparked a lot of deep thought. Although, throughout the novella, we are supposed to view Gregor as repulsive and be disgusted by him, just as his family is, I couldn’t help but feel pity and empathy for him. Everyone in the novella forgets that somewhere inside his now insectified exterior, he is still a human, with human needs and wants. They treat him as a chore, as an inconvenience, and then finally, as a villain- which I found cold and cruel. Although the overall story is fairly depressing, I feel that it’s an important read and deals with some very real issues and questions of our world today. The ending is really sad, but I won’t spoil it here for you all. You’ll just have to read the novella yourself to find out what happens!

-Vaidehi B.

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a fiction book which is set in the 19th century in the Congo Free state controlled by Belgian. Conrad uses his European heritage and more modern views to allow for the readers to be submerged into the scramble for Africa and European society at the time.

This book is a very complex, with a lot symbolism, rhetorical devices, and sophisticated language. Heart of Darkness is a shorter book at 77 pages but don’t let that fool you as it is very dense. I really enjoyed this book as it had many important themes regarding the spread of colonialism and made me question whether or not every item had a deeper hidden meaning. In the book as the main character travels through his hero’s journey and farther into Africa we can see the horrors of colonialism on the African peoples, the descent into ones id or their primal instincts, and the prevailing societal values at the time.

I recommend this book to anyone that loves a deep and thoughtful read. Due to some of the outdated and complex language it may be difficult to read and that is why I would also recommend the graphic novel adaptation of the book. It still gets the same themes and elements as the book but simply conveys these through images that are just as deep and appealing.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: Jane Eyre

To be honest, the book, Jane Eyre was a really complicated read with its dense sentence structure, its use of old English language, and difficult vocabulary. It is also difficult trying to connect with the history background of the 19th century.

Overall, Jane Eyre’s personality is very straightforward and she has an independent and hopeful attitude that I really enjoyed, especially since she went through so many hardships when she was young (such as being abused by her aunt, surviving at the strict and harsh Lowood School).

From the beginning of the book to the end, you can see a lot of maturation and moral growth from Jane Eyre. She became much more independent and was seeking for someone to be loved unconditionally. Jane seeks for a feeling of identity and worth in addition to romantic connection.

Ever since her parents died, she was looking for love in her aunt, she found none. In her teachers, she found none. Until, she met Mr. Rochester while being governess at Thornfield who she seemed to connect with and understand.

She finally began to feel that unconditioned love, until she found out on the day of her wedding that Mr. Rochester still had a wife. She fled to the countryside and eventually found that she had cousins (St. John, Diana, and Mary) and her Uncle who had passed away had left her a fortune.

She goes back to Mr. Rochester, only to find that he is blind and has lost one of his hands (Thornfield was burned down and he got injured trying to save everyone from the fire that his wife had caused). Rochester professes his love for Jane Eyre, and they live pretty much happily ever after!

This story is a great read if you want to feel the deep emotions and feelings that Jane Eyre narrates. It also helps you understand more about the hypocrisy and injustice of the 19th century social classes.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Pride and Prejudice book review

Pride and Prejudice is not an easy read. It takes intense focus and dedication to complete any one of Jane Austen’s books. However, if you look deeper into the long words and confusing sentence structure, you’ll find a story like no other.

Jane Austen’s are some of the most brilliant characters I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Specifically Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, the protagonists of Pride and Prejudice. The way their own flaws determined how they reacted to the situations they found themselves in, which lead to even more conflict, was done is such a masterful way. Not to mention the witty humor and conflicting personalities throughout the whole book. Even the side characters were full of depth, which is something I think is difficult to find in contemporary novels.

From a technical point of view, I loved the story structure. From the character development of both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, to the unexpected plot twists they faced. Pride and Prejudice is incredibly rich with literary gold. As someone who reads a lot of 19th century novels, I admit some have been dry. However I don’t believe this genre of literature should be given the blanket term of “boring” as it has by so many other teenagers. With this review, I hope to eliminate even a small portion of this stereotype, with Pride and Prejudice being one of the best examples.

I recommend this book to all teenagers, whether classic literature is their favorite genre or not. And if you’ve tried to read it before, I strongly suggest you try again. Within the pages of Pride and Prejudice, Austen has created a painting consisting of colors the world had never seen before. And perhaps will never see again.

“I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.”
-Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

The novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is a well-known classic, deep rooted in valuable life lessons in perspective, respect, and that mostly of moral growth. In the beginning of the novel, the plot did not garner much intrigue for me personally. In my opinion, there was a little too much detail on Maycomb County and the society of it all. I just finished this book since this was a required read for all freshmen at our high school.

However, as I continued to read the book, chapter by chapter, I realized that this novel had taught some important life lessons that the author wanted to get out to the world. Scout and Jem’s demeanor from the beginning clearly showed that they had a child-like innocence of the entire Maycomb scene.

However, as they grew older and witnessed the racial tension, prejudice, and imperfections of society, they lose some of their innocence and mature into more understanding characters who are easier to relate to.

The quotes, “You never really understand a person until until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 118), and “Real courage is when you know you are licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what” (Lee 178) were really moving.

These quotes really touched my heart because Lee’s powerful themes throughout the book taught me the importance of not giving up in life and trying to understand people from their point of view before judging them.

Overall, the book definitely had some unprogressive parts in which there was a lot of unnecessary dialogue (typically between Scout and Jem), but these minimal flaws are overwhelmed by the powerful themes and life lessons that is expressed towards the readers.

I would recommend this book to many people because it really teaches you some important themes need for everyday life!

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling is a Pulitzer-winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  The book is set in a remote area in the southern United States in the late 1800s.  A boy named Jody Baxter lives with his parents on a small farm.  He and his family live a relatively simple and primitive life.  Jody’s life changes when he discovers a baby deer.  He takes the fawn home and tries to raise it.  Jody develops a strong attachment to the fawn as he cares for it.  Later, Jody is forced to make difficult decisions as he tries to protect the animal from danger.

This is a classic story about boyhood and about maturing.  Jody grows up alongside his yearling, and he gradually learns to deal with the challenges of life.  Jody’s relationship with his family develops throughout the story.  I especially enjoyed reading about the development of his relationship with his father.  The dialogue in this book is immersive and captures the feeling of life in the South at that time.  The book is also highly descriptive.  I learned about plants and animals and a way of life that was almost totally unfamiliar to me beforehand.  The author seems to paint pictures with words to describe the sweeping landscapes and terrain of the southern backwoods.

I believe this is one of the best books I have read.  The story is deeply moving and seems to capture the essence of growing up in a dangerous and challenging world.  This book is considered a masterpiece, and I find it well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.  I highly recommend it.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

To Kill A Mockingbird

To be honest, I was definitely hesitant to begin reading this book. I thought it would be like one of those really slow books with little to no plot. This book definitely proved me wrong. 

Among the main characters are Jean Louise Finch (also known as Scout), and her older brother Jeremy Finch (Jem). Their father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer, and their mother died when Scout was very young. Another major character in this book is Charles Baker Harris, but he is simply called Dill. Dill visits Maycomb and his aunt during the summertime. To Kill A Mockingbird takes place in the town of Maycomb, Alabama.

Despite the ideals of that time period (the early 1900s) Scout frequently gets into fights. This only increases when the boys in her class begin to tease her for her father’s most recent case. He has taken on the difficult case of defending Tom Robinson. The issues of racism are brought up in this book frequently, especially in Tom Robinson’s court trial. Mayella Ewell, a 19-year-old girl, and her father have falsely accused Tom of trying to rape Mayella. Atticus must try to prove that Tom did not do anything to Mayella, but it is challenging because there were no witnesses besides Mayella Ewell, Tom, and, Mayella’s father Bob Ewell. It is especially challenging because the majority of the town is already on the Ewells’ side despite not liking them much, simply because of Tom’s race. They, and Bob Ewell, go as far as threatening Tom, Atticus, and Atticus’s children Jem and Scout.

I think that despite some portions of this book being as unfair and upsetting to read as they were, it is a book that everyone should read as it provides another important perspective.

-Peri A.

To Kill A Mockingbird  by Harper Lee is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is a raw, poignant novel about the realities of poverty, especially for children, in Victorian England.

The book centers around a young orphan named Oliver, who was given to an orphanage at birth after the death of his mother. Worked to the bone and severely malnourished, Oliver falls in with a gang of pickpockets and quickly turns to a life of crime. What follows is a powerful tale of Oliver’s desperate struggle to survive in the heartless world he lives in.

Although this book was quite bleak and depressing, I really appreciated it as an accurate retelling of poverty in Victorian times. The deep class divides affecting society even then are tangible, and Dickens’ fury and contempt towards the excesses of the rich are clearly felt throughout the novel. Overall, I would recommend it!

-Vaidehi B.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Howards End by E. M. Forster

Howards End - (Illustrated) - Kindle edition by Forster, E. M.. Literature  & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Howards End is a humanist work with female protagonists to explore the themes of connection and freedom. It explores the political, economic, class, gender and cultural issues of British society in the early 20th century. It has its specific character depiction, besides paying attention to the emotions of the Schlegel sisters, it pays more attention to the family and the view of money and interests, revealing the huge social inequality caused by the widening gap between the rich and the poor. This novel describes the relationships and entanglements between three families from different social levels, showing the status of class struggle in Britain at that time.

The Schlegel sisters, who represent the spirit and culture of the upper middle class in Britain, and the Wilcox family, who represent the same class in their practical, imaginative and arrogant ways, as well as the complex relationship between the upper middle class and the lower middle class in Britain. No matter the main characters’ detailed psychological narration or the few words of minor characters, Forster vividly depicts the mentality of all kinds of characters under the social conditions at that time. The Wilkes family from the upper classes was cold and hypocritical; the Bast family from the lower classes struggled to make ends meet and could not pursue their own ideals.

The middle class Schlegel sisters were privileged, but were deeply influenced by the democratic and liberal ideas of the time. Among them, the elder Margaret hoped that understanding and tolerance would bring people from all walks of life together. Her sister Helen, on the other hand, was full of sympathy for the lower classes and made no secret of her disdain for the upper classes. Howards End is the country home of Henry Wilcox, the hero of the novel. Henry’s ex-wife, Ruth, often talks about the home she loves to Margaret Schlegel, their accidental friend.

She even wrote a note to give it to Margaret before she died, and the Henry family, surprised and hurt by this, tore it up. Margaret then missed out on Howards End several times. Helen had an affair with Leonard Bast, and the children of a man and woman from different classes, equally despised by the upper classes, inherited Howards End and represented a new force in England. In Howards End, the protagonist Margaret reflects the social ideal of the author Forster. By means of symbolism, the author proposes that spiritual and material things should be connected.

Only by joining together, the symbol of The United Kingdom, “Howards End” can be saved. Howards End is a symbol of family, and Margaret’s visit to Howards end is also a cultural journey to find her roots. Howards End presents all kinds of social contradictions faced by the British society under the impact of industrialization and mechanical civilization in the early 20th century. The novel revolves around the complex relationship between the Howard manor and three characters of different classes, realizing the unity of material ecology and spiritual ecology.

In his novels, Forster praised nature, reflected on the relationship between man and nature, and expressed the survival thoughts of integrating into nature and returning to nature. This reflects the author’s creative and forward-looking green thinking, humanistic spirit and modernist spirit, and has some enlightening significance to the goal of building a harmonious society. The narrative modes and techniques used in the novel also influenced the modernist novels and inspired the writers of modernist novels to continue their pursuit and exploration of artistic truth. Through Howards End, Forster arouses the British people’s thinking about modern civilization and traditional culture, and urges them to re-examine the conflict and integration of different cultural identities and different classes.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

If you were to see Monsieur Meursault walking down the street, he would appear to be an ordinary young man. He shows up to work every day, doesn’t disrespect any of his coworkers, and is on good terms with all of his neighbors. Unless you were to actually meet him, you would never realize that he was a bit different.

When people ask him things, he doesn’t ever seem to have a definite answer- it almost seems as if nothing really matters to him. Because of this, people will sometimes become annoyed at him. They want clear answers, and Monsieur Meursault won’t give them that. However, no one really questions him and his lack of feelings until the death of his mother (Maman, he calls her). He had sent her off to a home for the elderly because he was no longer able to support her. Now she has died, and to Monsieur Meursault, it doesn’t really feel as if anything has changed – everyone around him is grieving more than the woman’s own son. People question him: Why doesn’t he seem to be in mourning? Why has he not shed a single tear?

It’s not until after a horrific event takes place that Meursault’s actions (or lack thereof) begin to affect him. Meursault probably never would have expected this to happen, and neither would any of his friends and acquaintances, but it did, and now he must face the consequences.

Originally written in French by Albert Camus, this book has been beautifully translated to English by Matthew Ward. It’s written in an unusual style that I think is very fitting for the personality of Monsieur Meursault. Although it may not be filled with action and adventure, this is definitely an interesting read, and it gives us insight on how this strange man thinks. I also enjoyed learning a bit more about the French culture, as this is where the book takes place.

Despite the fact that this is a fairly short book, it took me a while to read it. I only read a little each day because it gave me so much to think about and the protagonist and his actions really intrigued me. This is the first book I’ve read wherein the main character thinks in such a strange way. I’m really glad that it’s written in the point of view of this man, else I wouldn’t have been able to understand him at all. This is a very unique book, written in the point of view of a very unusual protagonist, and although I probably wouldn’t read this book again, I don’t regret reading it and would definitely say that it gave me a lot to think about.

-Elina T.

The Stranger by Albert Camus is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.