July was a good reading month for me. I managed to finish 6 books in July, which is great. It has taken me quite a while to get to writing these reviews, so I’ll just jump straight into them.
1. أرض البرتقال الحزين لـ غسان كنفاني – 1962
أرض البرتقال الحزين، مجموعة قصصية للمؤلف الفلسطيني المعروف غسان كنفاني. تدور أحداث القصص حول معاناة الإنسان الفلسطيني ووطنه المحتل. استطاع كنفاني أن يمثل وجهات نظر متعددة ومختلفة من الحياة الفلسطينية والألم المستمر الذي يمر به الفلسطيني دفاعا عن أرضه وأهله.
أسلوب الكاتب يتميز بالسلاسة والجاذبية. وإذا كانت رواية رجال في الشمس تحتل المرتبة الأولى في أعماله، فإن أرض البرتقال الحزين تحتل المرتبة الثانية. أنصح بقراءتها لكافة العرب، فهي كنز من كنوز الأدب الفلسطيني.
A Raisin in the Sun is a critically acclaimed play by Lorraine Hansberry, it won awards and was turned into movies later on. Hansberry picked the title from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem”.
The play is about a working-class African-American family in Chicago and their struggles to realize their American dream. Following the death of their father, the family is waiting on an insurance payout of $10,000, a sum large enough to make each member of the family excited about their future. The Younger family consists of the eldest son Walter and his wife Ruth, their son Travis, Walter’s mother Lena, and Walter’s sister Beneatha. They all live in a two-bedroom apartment in southside Chicago.
Walter is a limousine driver who hates working for “the man” and struggles to make ends meet. His wife Ruth is satisfied with their lives and has more sympathy for her mother-in-law Lena and her dream. Walter’s mother Lena dreams of owning their own house, so as not to pay rent anymore. Walter’s sister Beneatha aspires to become a doctor. But Walter plans on using the insurance money to invest in a liquor store with his shady friends.
In its essence, the play is about the black experience of the American dream. However, it has so many more dimensions to it, from concepts of class, identity, mother-child relationships, husband-wife relationships, to feminism, and pan-Africanism.
Hansberry’s style is quite raw and beautiful. She doesn’t shy away from discussing the real issues that face black Americans. Her language is easy and even hilarious at times.
I highly recommend reading this play, for the sheer brilliance of it. The issues and ideas discussed are still very much relevant today. And the ending is perhaps the best, most realistic ending I’ve ever read.
3. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – 1972
It’s quite difficult to classify Invisible Cities because it’s neither a novel nor a short story collection. Rather, it’s a collection of vignettes talking about various urban and fictional cities.
Calvino takes on the historical figures of Kublai Khan, the emperor of the Tartars, and Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, and forms a fictional story in which Marco Polo is asked by Khan to visit various cities and report back on them. The result is an astonishing set of cities, all fictional and all bearing feminine names.
The writing style is quite dream-like and sometimes poetic, but absolutely wonderful. Calvino makes you fall in love with cities in a way you’ve never experienced before.
I recommend reading this book, as it offers valuable insights into what makes a city what it is. Exploring all aspects, from the buildings to the pipelines, to the people, to the underground. Invisible Cities will most definitely take you on a journey.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison – 1987
Beloved is one of Toni Morrison’s famous novels, which was adapted to a critically-acclaimed film of the same title. Inspired by the true events of Margaret Garner, an African American who escaped slavery in Kentucky in late January 1856 by crossing the Ohio River to Ohio. In Beloved, Morrison takes us deep into the psyche of the black experience at a time when slavery was still a common practice.
The novel follows Sethe, a woman born a slave who manages to escape with her children to Ohio. Though Sethe is free, she remains captive by horrible memories of her time at Sweet Home, the farm where she was working as a slave.
As the story unfolds, and Sethe’s memories begin to unravel, we realize that she is in fact haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and the word “Beloved” was engraved on her tombstone. The ghost of Beloved comes as a grown teenager to Sethe, and is determined to show her anger at Sethe over the singular events that led to Beloved’s death as a baby. Sethe takes the abuse of her Beloved because of the extreme sense of guilt she feels. The story unfolds from there, mixing the past with the present in a way only Morrison can perfect.
This novel is in itself haunting and deeply disturbing, but it is also one of the best stories ever written. An absolute must-read, Morrison never fails to match her artistry with profound stories that alter the way we think about the world and ourselves.
5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – 180
Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180). In Meditations, we get a glimpse of Aurelius’ thoughts and reflections on life, spirituality and wisdom. Meditations is considered one of the greatest works of philosophical reflection ever written.
Aurelius was a stoic philosopher, and his stoicism is made very clear throughout the book. Mediations discusses a wide array of ideas about life, leadership, power, relationships and much more. You will find many quotable lines in this book because even though it was written two thousand years ago, Aurelius’ reflections are still very much relevant today.
Although his style is very straightforward and easy to read, I wouldn’t recommend reading it in large chunks, but rather take your time with each chapter, and reflect on its ideas. I would definitely recommend reading Meditations for the massive value it holds within its pages.
6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – 1963
The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel, she originally published it under a pseudonym because it was partially based on Plath’s own life. Since its publication, the Bell Jar has become a celebrated work of feminist fiction for its reflections on the treatment of women in 1950s society.
The novel follows Esther Greenwood, an intern at a New York fashion magazine. In the beginning of the book, we see Esther happy to begin her career in writing. But as the story unfolds, Esther’s life begins to spiral out of control. She becomes severely depressed and admits herself to a psychiatric facility.
Plath does a wonderful job of allowing us to feel what Esther is feeling. I don’t think it’s an easy novel to read, not because of the writing style, but because of the subject matter. Going into the depths of depression can be very triggering for certain readers, so I recommend some caution when reading this novel. That said, the Bell Jar is an important work of fiction that discusses many relevant topics such as feminism and mental illness.