“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

Hitchhiker

Have you ever wondered about the existence of it all? Why do we do the things we do? What is life? Is the Galaxy as big as we think it is? Are there creatures like us out there? And if the cosmos is so vast, isn’t it normal for it to be inhabited by more than just planet Earth? I’ve certainly pondered over these deep and complicated thoughts. If you too have, don’t you fret any more because I have found the man who can give you the ultimate answer to the meaning of life, the Universe and everything – Douglas Adams.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is an electronic book that tells you everything you need to know about anything. A very remarkable book, never been published on Earth and, in fact, never been heard of before the terrible incident involving Arthur Dent. But we’ll get to that later. Anyway ‘The Guide’, as it is most often referred to, is probably the biggest accomplishment of the publishing cooperation of Ursa Minor (which also rings no bell to any of the human inhabitants of the green and blue planet). It is a best seller kicking dirt in the faces of its succors: the most popular titles in the Galaxy such as ‘Fifty-three more things to do in zero gravity’ and the oh-so famous series ‘Where God went wrong’, ‘Some more of God’s greatest mistakes’ and ‘Who is this God person anyway?’. It even tops the great ‘Encyclopedia Galactica’. And although ‘The Guide’ is a storage for information which is sometimes inaccurate it is still quite successful for it’s slightly cheaper and has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

But this story doesn’t begin like this. It begins on a Thursday.

On this particular day the house that belongs to the absolutely ordinary Arthur Dent is about to be demolished to make way of new bypass. But that is quite irrelevant because the planet he lives on – the Earth – due to an inexplicable coincidence is also about to be destroyed for a new hyperspatial express route. Another coincidence is that the only person in a near distance who knows about the end of the world happens to be a friend of Arthur and a hitchhiker – Ford Prefect. They manage to save themselves just before the Earth explodes and  embark on a series of adventures which are all highly improbable. During their time in space they come to know Zaphod Beeblebrox who is the president of the Galaxy (with a very controversial personality, two heads and three arms) and who is also the thief of a spaceship. On board of it is the only other surviving member of the already nonexistent planet Earth, a girl named Trillian and the perpetually depressed robot Marvin who also happens to be extremely smart.

It is this company that sets on a journey which leads the group to the legendary planet Magrathea, home to the now-collapsed planet-building industry. There they learn about the computer Deep Thought who was capable to find the ultimate answer to life, the Universe and everything. It also explains that the answer is incomprehensible because no one knows the exact question. And so the mystery is unsolved.

But as ‘The Guide’ says DON’T PANIC, a solution can always be found. There are even more shocking revelations than the discovery of Deep Thought: just because humans assume they are the smartest beings on Earth doesn’t mean that it is actually true. Homo sapiens are holding the bronze medal and while the dolphins are happily squeaking and doing whatever water mammals do on the second pedestal the leader of the chart is yet unknown to most of us. The Universe has a lot of dark corners but maybe some of the biggest and scariest secrets are hiding just before our noses.

Douglas Adams is the author of an amazing, witty and unforgettable trilogy of five books that will leave you breathless and yearning for more novels like ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Long after you’ve read them all memories and quotes will keep haunting you never failing to bring a smile on your face. So don’t waste any more time and start reading!

Sophie

Sophie

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

13884363b014621d259ec521ce28b196_large

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel was first published in September 2001. Even though just a year later it won one of the most prestigious commendation awards – “The Man Booker Prize” it languished in obscurity for nearly 11 years until Ang Lee decided to turn it into the blockbuster which won 4 Oscars.

When I watched the trailer and realized that it was a book-to-movie adaptation, I marked it as a must-read. Let’s be honest! A tiger on a lifeboat is an irresistible temptation for a compulsive fiend for metaphors like me. I was simultaneously repulsed, flummoxed and compelled by this book. Its repugnant depiction of the reality of our inner world was so faithful that it put me off. Nonetheless, I was impelled to go on reading due to the tantalizing prospect of figuring out the ostensible hodgepodge of metaphors.

The novel is divided into three parts. The first one introduces us to Piscine Mortel Pater, who is quite a maverick. Pi, as he establishes himself in society, is the son of the only zoo keeper in Pondicherry, India. He has grown up among animals and learned the most important lesson about life through attentive scrutiny of their behavior. “Life will defend itself no matter how small it is. Every animal is ferocious and dangerous. It may not kill you, but it will certainly injure you”

Through the magnificent rapport he has developed with them he also comes to terms with the adulation and deference towards our intricate universe. He reconciles the multifarious forms of love and reverence by embracing three religions: Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. In what we find absurd about his eclectic belief, he finds reprieve, just like in his chosen nickname. “And so in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge”

The second and the third part are utterly different from their precursor. It makes me feel as if I’ve read two distinct stories, compressed into a common binding. Probably in hindsight that’s what life looks like as well, rife with fortuitous twists and cloaked vagaries. “Things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to, but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.”

Pi goes on to recount the outcome of his family’s departure from India to Canada. Their ship sinks with “a monstrous metallic  blurp“. He tells the story of his survival – the flickering hope, the momentous bliss, the unfailing sorrow and the indomitable despair of a castaway, stranded on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger, or, in another version of events with real people. Yann Martel grants us the opportunity to choose which account we like better – the apocryphal one or the brutal one.

By subtle parallels between human and animal nature he allows us a peek behind the spurious decorum of our kind. “Life of Pi” reconnects us with the violence and detachment of our evolutionary inferiors. The resemblance between their behavior, social hierarchy and instinctive response to any provocation and our own everyday conduct is astonishing. We maintain that we have left our wild roots rotting in the course of evolution but there are infallibly some vestiges that spring up to refute this fabulous belief. When we are pushed over the limits of our forbearance, when we are threatened, when we are scared and hungry, rationality and principles slip out of our minds so that we become dependent once again on our basic bellicose instincts for survival.

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

In his persevering attempts to domesticate the tiger, his only loyal companion  – Richard Parker, Pi is in actuality trying to tame his own  untrammeled atrocity which has broken out of its well-guarded prison cage due to the abject misery that has quaked the boy’s inner world. “For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out” Thus a spectacular struggle arises between humane conscience and brutish instinctiveness.

But the novel doesn’t dwell only on this glorious battle. It explores the intangible sources of simple joys in life, the complete devotion to religious beliefs, the credibility of the philosophies we choose as guiding stars, the significance of first impressions and the meaning of it all – why do we keep going on? It also offers scintillating arguments in support of zoos that I found quite compelling even though I am against this type of animal confinement.

Notwithstanding the vivid descriptions of slaughter and cannibalism, “Life of Pi” is a brilliant novel. It will indisputably land up a special place in your library. I must warn you, though.

Beware!

Beware your own Richard Parker!

Mery

Mery

“Marina” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

marina

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a Spanish writer whose name is often quoted as one of the best contemporary artists. His most popular work is his four book series which start with the widely-known ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ and continue with two even more gripping novels. In the awaiting of the last piece of the puzzle of this incredible story, I decided to read something else created by this absolute genius. I was bewitched by the title ‘Marina’ for it is a beautiful name which promises an interesting and enthralling protagonist. The girl embodies all of that and much more and is capable of charming the reader into falling in love with her. Don’t fight, it’s inevitable.

The tale is about Oscar Drai, who after years of trying to escape his past, ends up in lovely Barcelona where in the year of 1980 his life takes a turn that will give a new shape to his personal history. At the age of 15 the protagonist is in a boarding school, where the days are as dull as one can imagine. To entertain himself Oscar decides to look about an old and seemingly abandoned house where to his greatest surprise he encounters Marina, an enigmatic girl of his age. She lives in the vast and forgotten by the world edifice with her father, German Blau, who is still devastated by the loss of his beloved wife. Little by little Oscar delves in the lives of those lonely human beings and begins to uncover secrets and memories which have been long buried beneath the layers of time and dust. That is when he and Marina embark on an adventure that confronts them with a mysterious power that has set to achieve and impossible and unthinkable goal – defeating death.

This is a love story that is entwined with suspense and horror, a story so exceptional and rare where even the impossible is real. The plot of the novel is quite down-to-earth and fictional moments come as a big surprise to the reader. But they don’t ruin the authenticity of the book, on the contrary, they create an ambiance in which everything could happen. That makes the reader even more eager to get to the bottom of it all and understand what is hiding behind the curtains of this seemingly impossible to solve riddle.

The house where Marina and her father live is shrouded by the veil of history. Many generations have come to live under that roof and all of them bearing the same physical traits which are passed on much like the home itself. To keep the memory of ages past alive, a hall with portraits with all of the relatives of Marina is kept safe by the last of the pedigree. It is the inevitability for her to deny the roots of the family tree and the inevitability of her father to forget hiss grave loss.

The vintage atmosphere of the book creates the feeling that the reader is looking at an old faded photograph of Barcelona. The 1980 are the last years before technology takes over the life of an average person. The fact that young people can not imagine a world without their favorite gadgets makes the background of the book even more interesting and compelling to a young adult. Carlos Ruiz Zafon presents a city reined over by the modern and urban culture and still lacking much of today’s methods of communication and entertainment. It is this unique place that makes the story sound even more romantic, like the dear and cherished ballad, a song that constantly reminds of an unforgettable moment in time.

The story of Oscar Drai is that of love, life and death and the weight each on have on the decisions people make. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the decisions we make and goals we set must always apply with what we actually want from the world.  Because not to live and not to love for the sake of achieving immortality is a far more fatal faith than the natural end of a human being.

As a conclusion I can only say that Carlos Ruiz Zafon has written a masterpiece for ‘Marina’ is a profound novel which shows that sometimes the small things are those that shape our course of life. And it is the exceptional people we meet that make the biggest impact on us. So don’t hesitate and start reading this incredible book!

Sophie

Sophie

“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

12297

Nowadays when we all proudly bestow upon ourselves the title “a cinephile” so idly and unpremeditatedly, regardless of whether we actually are knowledgeable in the domain of film creation and  production, it comes as no surprise that we have grown accustomed to associating many objects, words of wisdom, characters and symbols with the celluloid. Movies’ unavailing attempts to contrive a contemporary interpretation of a classic book have done nothing but sully and impugn the novelty and profoundness of all those works which have earned a genuine homage throughout the centuries. “The Scarlet Letter” is an epitome of a magnum opus, marred by its resettlement in a 21st century high school, ravaged by hormones, intrigues and trifle enmities of which only horny, egotistic teenagers (yeah, I realize I am partly offending myself saying this) are capable.

As much as I loved “Easy A” when I saw it a couple of years ago, never having heard of the existence of such a man as Nathaniel Hawthorne, I now think it downgrades the essence of “The Scarlet Letter” and obliterates its light motif. I could live with that was it not for the degradation of Hester Prynne – one of the strongest female characters I have encountered in my reads. The film despicably portraits her as a purported slut, who has been cast out by society for her  licentiousness. However, if you care to peruse the book, you would comprehend the absurdity of the analogy between Hester and Olive.

The novel begins at the prison door in June 1642 in Massachusetts. The disgraced and ostracised Hester Prynne, carrying her newborn child ascends the steps to the ominous scaffold under the glaring, judging eyes of the populous, as she proudly wears the dreaded scarlet letter, embroidered on her bosom. No matter how passionately she is implored, how severely she is ordered she doesn’t divulge the culprit who has perpetrated adultery alongside her. The hours she spends in the spotlight of ignominy, rendered under the scorching blaze of aspersions, innuendos and disapproval of her own bygone friends, neighbours and acquaintances, unravel her indefatigable character and determine the way her life is going to unravel in the future.

Even though the story follows the despair and toilsome turmoil of her heart only in the beginning, it soon expands and reaches down to the heart of a stooped, deformed man, who is making his way through the crowd, never averting his eyes from the voluptuous figure on the scaffold and her illicit girl Pearl; and above to a tremulous, wane, feeble creature with his hand constantly over his heart. The roles of these two hapless men are beautifully implied as the novel weaves and scrutinizes what bonds them irrevocably together – sin and guilt.

“The sainted minister in the church! The woman of the scarlet letter in the market-place! What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise that the same scorching stigma was on them both?”

There isn’t a dearth of bedazzling and fascinating themes in “The Scarlet Letter”. Hester’s exquisite firmness of character, her unfailing independence of society, her free thought and moral strength are some what a precursor to feminism. She acts as a mediator between two extremities – the wronged one whose own penchant for bitter vengeance depraves him and the other one culpable for the scarlet letter whose guilt-stricken conscience induces him to savage repentance. “It is remarkable, that persons who speculate the most boldly often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society. The thought suffices them, without investing itself in the flesh and blood of action. So it seemed to be with Hester. Yet, had little Pearl never come to her from the spiritual world, it might have been far otherwise. Then, she might have come down to us in history, hand in hand with Ann Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect. She might, in one of her phases, have been a prophetess.”

I also relished the picturesque depictions of multitudinuous landscapes and shafts of light that vividly reverberated and reflected the inner world of the characters. “Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. Now, see! There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” The characters are not merely delineated by their  countenance, mien and demeanour but by their reaction to nature and vice versa which in turn makes them more authentic personae.

It is worth mentioning that the novel was written in 1850 although it transpires in the 17th century. Nathaniel Hawthorne outstandingly describes the mindset of the 17th century. He emphasizes the fidelity of people to religion, the common social hierarchy and the attitude towards sin and transgression. He makes an unequivocal distinction between what is viewed as complicity in his days (counts for today, too) and and in Hester’s days. As time elapses, our minds become inured to what were once deemed radical notions. Despite living in a world where we could choose whom to marry, dress in order to express ourselves; where women can vote and create and be as independent and auspicious as men; where unfaithfulness is commercialized via Rihanna’s  discography; where the sky is the limit; we adhere to stronger regulations, pertaining to the placidity and safety of our lives. No longer do we only chastise others on moral grounds – we upbraid and punish them, as well,when they go astray and break the written laws. There is no ambivalence in the true nature of right and wrong, as there was in the 1640s.  “It remarkably characterized the incomplete morality of the age, rigid as we call it, that a license was allowed the seafaring class, not merely for their freaks on shore, but for far more desperate deeds on their proper element.”

Reading the novel made me proud of our race, of women and men equally. We are marvellous creatures for we strive to tame and trammel the vivacity of our free, wild souls. We crave for valour and liberty but we don’t let ourselves stray too far away from the familiarity and rationality of conservatism. We learn from our mistakes and learn to bear the aftermath of our mistakes. On a crimson background of paganism, world wars, malicious decimation, glows the white, pure and impeccable sense of penance and our unfailing will to be better humans.

“On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.”

Mery

Mery