Sunday, March 26, 1995

The Reprieve

by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Eric Sutton

The second volume of the Roads of Freedom. It is a completely original, intricately planned masterwork. The narration of the novel shifts frantically back and forth from character to place to first person, all without warning, once even going into the head of a dead man (he died secure in the knowledge that WWI was the last war). This duplicates the confusion and frantic anxiety everyone was feeling as the Germans demanded Czechoslovakia. Often, two scenes that parallel each other are shown intertwined, to great effect. Perhaps the most powerful of these was the final scene, when the taking/rape of Czechoslovakia shifted and corresponded with the taking/rape of Ivich. And beyond matters of style, it was fascinating to read about the war years from a totally European perspective, a book in which America is mentioned (I believe) once. It really was an utterly European concern. A great book, a classic.

five stars

Tuesday, March 7, 1995


by anonymous
8th-11th century AD
translated by Burton Raffel

The edition I read also had a lengthy afterword by Robert P. Creed. The poem itself was great stuff, epic in the Homeric sense, full of lengthy monologues and side stories in the midst of bloody action. It was also surprisingly subtle (for instance, the contrast of Beowulf's personality from the Grendel stage to the dragon-slaying, elderly stage). Raffel's intro was basically an ad for the poem, while Creed's essay was first an ad for Raffel's translation (and he made a great case for its quality), and in its second part an interesting description of the style, intent and ability of the historical poem-singers of sixth century England.

four stars

Saturday, March 4, 1995

Egyptian Mythology

by Veronica Ions

Although messily written, with misplaced sentences, non-identified references and awkward redundancies, it was an intriguing beginner's book. What I learned from the book in a nutshell is that there were a lot of Egyptian gods, existing not in set story form like Greek & Roman mythology, but as changing concepts: a war god might evolve into a fertility god, a fertility god into a solar god, or a domestic god into a death god. Also, despite the book's rejection of the idea that ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death, what I got out of the deity descriptions (which made up 98% of the text) and the (many, fascinating) pictures was that basically they were concerned with two things: fertility and the afterworld. (I realize that this book is a narrow view of the entire picture.) All in all, my curiosity was definitely whetted about Egyptian myths.

four stars