“A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess

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Last week (22 September – 29 September) was the time of year when we celebrate nowadays’ freedom to read by reading books that have been banned in previous centuries. I have already shared with you my enchantment with prohibited novels, so it is anyone’s guess that I participated in the event with unbridled enthusiasm.  I had heard a lot of talk about the book that I picked: some people acclaiming its ingenuity, others wondering what all the bustle was about. As its reception, “A Clockwork Orange” is also enormously contradictive and highly debated. Knowing little about the plot, the rendition and the characters, so many aspects of the book came as a complete surprise.

The story is actually quite simple. Alex is the epitome of a hooligan. He and his posy, albeit in corrective schools, continually perpetrate atrocities against innocent civilians. They burgle, they batter, they rape and they bash even each other in a perpetual crescendo of violence. It comes as no revelation that people ready to cause so much anguish to others are not happy with themselves. In a bloody attempt at coup d’etat , Alex is arrested for voluntary manslaughter. And his life takes a turn for the worse as he is enrolled in a special programme which is meant to refine and redeem all miscreants transmuting them into exemplary, yet devoid of will, citizens who cannot withstand violence and therefore become automatically benign and helpless.

“Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man… He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.”

Anyway, even though Alex is a recidivist, he is astonishingly erudite. He has a proclivity for classical music and knows all about the lives and work of Mozard, Beethoven, Bach etc. – quite atypical for a jailbird. ‘Symphony #9’ overwhelms him with exaltation and is his personal definition of happiness. Nevertheless, after successfully completing the reforming programme, his love for music morphs into abhorrence. Being deprived of the moral choice between delinquency and diplomacy, his appreciation for all that brings about joy in one’s life dissipates.

 “Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence – the act of love, for instance; music, for instance.”

Being someone who is incredulously ignorant of the notion of news and current affairs, I am not consciously aware of the vice and crimes all over the globe. My realization of murder, malignity and physical suffering is so ephemeral and tenuous that I do infallibly abate in a fabulous world of unicorns, elves and rainbows. Reading about all the bloodshed in “A Clockwork Orange” made the malevolent and bellicose side of humans more than just a hypothesis and a universal motif in s deluge of novels, but some people’s reality.

Not all of us get to worry solely about the grade of their math exam and perhaps the choice of good and evil is not really a choice, but a forceful result of the environment about you. Especially, as teenagers we are tremedously affected by our friends and urroundings. The older one gets, the more peer pressure attenuates, the more clearly one’s own phenotype is expressed. Being sixteen and thinking you have figured out who you are is a common sighting and a common misconception. At that age you are more a product of your environment than your genes. So in a convoluted, yet cunning, way being a teenager is equal to having taken part in that reforming programme. We are deprived of the possibility to express our true nature – we are all, or have at least been, clockwork oranges.

“Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. Not, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.”

That is an unprecedented combination of the living and the robotic. Even though the orange is capable of developing and maturing on its own, it has a clockwork mechanism to determine its growth and its proliferation. The orange isn’t able to make choices, as far as we are concerned, so the ethical problem is not the privation of options but the privation of freedom to express his own nature with all its mutation, delays and malignancies.

I gave “A Clockwork Orange” only 3 stars because reading about brutality wasn’t a pleasurable experience and because the rendition was far from beautiful. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant novel with a unique argot, called Nadsat – a fascinating amalgam between contemporary English, Russian and Shakespearean English. I had a whale of time deciphering the language, which was not as difficult for me provided that my native language is quite similar to Russian, and I think I have mastered it.

Reading “A Clockwork Orange” is a challenge from all perspectives. It is nearly as hard to get the hang of Alex’s dialect as to perceive our innate proclivity for violence and our susceptibility to biochemistry.

Mery

Mery

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“Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger

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I am one of those appalling bibliophiles who just don’t comprehend the hustle and bustle around “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. It was banned shortly after its publication and it even got a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma fired for assigning it in class, but even though I proclaimed my fascination with outlawed  novels, I find no rationality and logic behind Holden Caufield’s actions and decisions. Withholding that this may precisely be the beauty and gist of a story about teen angst, it is also my reason for disliking.

Nevertheless, when I glimpsed over the minimalistic cover of “Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger wedged amongst outstanding classics as “War and Peace” and “Ulysses”, I found it irresistible. Such a miniscule book must harbour a lot of , I thought, so as to be shelved among the paramount works of literature (I am yet to read). My inkling didn’t lead me away.

Divided in two parts “Franny and Zooey” depicts another adventure of the Glass family, who are a common subject of Salinger’s short stories. It is told by Buddy, the eldest living sibling. He relates his little sister’s mental breakdown, what triggered it and how she recovered from it. The novella revolves around religion and its implications in art and daily life. But as the narrator points out in the introduction: “I say that my current offering isn’t a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it’s a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.”

In the very first pages of the book we are introduced to a young attractive girl who is supposed to have a whale of time with her boyfriend during the weekend. But there is something peculiar about Franny’s conduct, atypical for the mirth and joy commonly associated with the 1950s. She doesn’t keep her end of the conversation. She berates the pretentiousness and duplicity of her sanctimonious boyfriend and lines up everyone under a common denominator: “It’s just that for four solid years I’ve kept seeing Wally Campbells wherever I go. I know when they’re going to be charming. I know when they’re going to start telling you some really nasty gossip…”

Franny is disillusioned about the world we all live in, pursuing unattainable dreams and attempting to be remarkable in every aspect just like everyone else. “I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting.” So in her not-so-dissembled disappointment and abhorrence of human nature and propensities, she seeks reprieve in religion. She forsakes her illustrious career in acting and neglects any zeal for beauty and success. She spends her days lying on her parents’ coach until her brother Zooey reconciles her expectations and aspirations with the reality of the world.

In a lengthy, but gripping, dialogue, Franny discovers the real source of her exasperation with the world. She is incensed by the disregard of people for all the onerous efforts that go into the creation and production of any piece of art. She despises people for the lack of appreciation and their hasty to judge and criticize. But as Zooey confides in her that “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s”, she finds it in herself to forgive laymen for their privation of sophistication.

And so the story of a mental breakdown morphs into a multifarious love story whose moral story is that we all need to accept and tolerate each other in all our hideousness and absurdity. It is absolutely necessary if one desires to prosper in our ruthless society to love one’s public and to persevere for one’s own self. Thus, the question of whether we should write/draw/play for ourselves or for the others is rendered irrelevant. We should love the human in each other despite the mutations and protrusions sticking out on the surface for we all crave for the same: to be admired and appreciated.

J. D. Salinger, himself, is an epitome of an artists who shoots for perfection on his own terms. His novella “Franny and Zooey” comes over as written gracefully in a flourish of inspiration by the fireplace. His rendering lacks any pretentiousness and ostentation but enchants with its simplicity and approachability per se.

Mery

Mery

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

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I find a certain kind of enchantment in reading books that have been banned in the past because of the controversies they arouse. Perhaps this is because I feel like a 20th-century recidivist, compulsively devouring illegal literature and breaking the law, or it is simply due to my penchant to challenge the foundations of the world as we know it. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley gave me the opportunity to do both simultaneously. As any other dystopian novel, it questions the worthiness of our moral values and the obstinate fixity of our lives. It helps us break out of the rigidity of our mindsets and see what was, what is and what could be from an alternative perspective.

“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. That has such people in’t!”

The brave new world Aldous Huxley depicts is not an alluring angelic place. It is a world where children are not conceived and born, but manufactured and decanted; where moral lessons are not inferred from fairy tales and hidings, but are subliminally memorized during sleep; where rhymes connote not poems and lyrics, but government hypnopaedic slogans. Religion, love, bliss, free will, family and sorrow are outlandish terms for in a society conditioned to like its inescapable social destiny, there are no dreams, tears and need for support.

As newborns the future citizens of the World Stare are shaped accordingly to their future roll in the mechanism of their reality. They are divided into classes, degrading in the following orders: Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas and Epsilons. They are impelled subconsciously to adhere to the customs of the ‘Utopia’ and the rules set forth by His Fordship. What is instilled in them – rewarded promiscuity, death as a cause for celebration, addiction to somma (an amalgam of the paramount narcotics), humility and thoughtless submissions, renders all unaware of the ethereal existence of the concepts truth and beauty.

In such a prosaic environment only the ultimate consumerist society can plod on for centuries. Its people could never experience depression or withdrawal for people are only solemn in their pursuit of absolutes. When one has had solely material desires inculcated into one’s being, one can only desire to acquire them, thus enhancing the World State’s economy.  “You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art.”

Henry Ford’s name – the industrialist who introduced the conveyor belt assembly line in the 20th century, is chanted and adulated in “Brave New World” instead of the name of Jesus Lord who purportedly died to expiate our sins. The former is the man who gave rise to the ‘Utopia’, restored order and spread away bliss. With his first mass-production he begot consumerism – materialistic suppression of the absolute truth, cloaked behind the meaningless of our lives.  Depriving people of the nitty-gritty of science, he urged them to bath in its practical applications and forget its glorifying beauty.

“It isn’t only art that is incompatible with happiness; it’s also science.”

The novel juxtaposes the attitudes and beliefs of the citizens of the World State and John – a savage from a reservation in America who bears the same morals as contemporary people. His respect for women, his admiration of Shakespeare, his attachment to his mother and his sense of beauty make him incongruous in the world he has always dreamed of. A misfit among the indigenous tribes and among the sophisticated erudite consumerists, he resists again the mindless, narrow existence of Alphas and Epsilons equally. However, in the struggle of principles that follows there could be no winner because we are “completely part of something else… just a cell in the social body” and even as individualists we are dependent and easily influenced by the society we live it. It either turns us into abhorred pariahs, or a copycat of our neighbour whose happiness is measured by his number of acquisitions.

In a magnificent dialog between His Fordship and Mr. Savage the nuts and bolts of the World State and our own world are divulged. Philosophy, religion and science intertwine to expound the appeal of consumerism, the possibility of a reality, deprived of Shakespeare, Beethoven and Van Gogh, and the indefatigable firmness of instilled values. “Brave New World” is a novel that would quake the foundations of your existence and call into question all that you have ever perceived as rational and undoubtedly true.

Mery

Mery

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

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For the last few years there has been a boom in film industry and more and more movies based on YA novels surface finding their way on the silver screen. In my opinion it’s not a bad tendency for it popularizes reading as a pastime. Also it gives you new ideas for what book to grab next. Maybe it was because the actress that portrays Beatrice Prior also plays Hazel Grace in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ that made me read ‘Divergent’. Or maybe it was just curiosity for yet another dystopian teenage drama. All in all I don’t regret it.

Veronica Roth sets her background in a futuristic Chicago that has been divided into five factions, each one upholding a virtue of humanity: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). Every year every sixteen-year-old must undertake an aptitude test which will determine the faction they belong to. But in the end the choice they make may not be the final result of the examination. The decision is final and of the utmost importance for if you err or fail initiation you become factionless. Not a desired faith for in this world faction comes before blood.

Beatrice Prior is confronted with the decision of her life making a step that surprises even her. Choosing Dauntless she leaves behind her family in Abnegation where she never could find peace of mind. And now she has to face the physical and mental difficulties of proving herself worthy of the bravest faction. But there is something that makes her different from her brothers in arms which must be kept secret. Because it is a secret so big it may cost her life. Will she manage to survive in such a hostile environment and will she manage to keep attention away from her in a place where everything is under close surveillance?

And while all this questions are at hand, Tris (the new name our protagonist acquires) finds friendship where she didn’t even look for it. Not only that, the trainer Four is more mysterious and attractive than desirable and not on one occasion she finds herself distracted by his demeanour. But will she find a person she can trust? Well, one thing is sure: you’re not getting any answers here.

‘Divergent’ gives a very good point of view of what bravery is. For sometimes the line between a valiant act and a stupid act is quite thin and easily crossed. The reader gets a glimpse of all kinds of ideas of what dauntless stands for: some are selfless and just and others cruel and scary. Is the person who accepts his fate in a faction where not everything is agreeable with him the brave thing to do? Or is the one who has the guts to quit and venture into the life as a factionless the real dauntless man?

To see where Tris’ instincts and decisions lead her, don’t hesitate to garb ‘Divergent’. Veronica Roth’s writing is such that you won’t be at peace until you finish the novel. It will take you just a couple of days from the first shuffling through the pages to the thoughtful staring at the back cover. Enjoy!

Sophie

Sophie