Archive for the ‘dreams’ Tag

Another View of World History   Leave a comment

Review: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters – Meghan's ...

You‘d be forgiven for thinking A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters is massive with each section retelling what’s already been shared in the Bible, scientific journals and cultural studies. Instead, Julian Barnes evokes humor and pathos as he draws from those chronicles while creating a narrative about survival.

The half chapter, between 9 and 10, entitled “Parenthesis” is about love.

An unlikely narrator in the first chapter shares its experience as a stowaway aboard Noah’s ark. In a vastly differing account from what’s taught in Sunday schools, Noah is portrayed as unintelligent and a drunk. Although references to the stowaway occur in a few subsequent chapters, its role as narrator ends once the ark reaches shore much, much longer than the 40 days told in popular versions.

Ships, passengers and violent seas – well, in some cases, just violence at sea – set the scene throughout the narrative, as does a trial, space travel and contemporary searches for the ark. Each section (chapter) can stand alone, but it’s important to remember the book’s theme, which is what the title implies.

Just as some history books often get bogged down in too much detail, Barnes falls in line with the genre. For example, the chapter appropriately entitled “The Wars on Religion,” about the trial of woodworm accused of blasphemy, while initially amusing, gets old fast.

Even the final chapter, “The Dream,” which provides an idea of heaven is too long, especially since even the narrator grows tired of it.

A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters
Three-and-a-half bookmarks
Vintage International, 1989
307 pages

Street Cred   1 comment

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Full disclosure: I’m a John Irving fan. However, at around page 39, in Avenue of Mysteries, I wondered if he’d lost his touch. Before I knew it, I was on page 100 and realized I had nothing to worry about Irving’s storytelling mastery.

Fourteen-year-old Juan Diego and his younger sister, Lupe, are dump kids in Oaxaca, Mexico. That is, they live and work among the trash heaps where garbage is sorted, saved and burned. Through books he’s salvaged, Juan Diego has taught himself to read and learn English. He also serves as translator for Lupe, whose words are unintelligible to everyone else. What she lacks in comprehensibility, she compensates for in her mindreading ability. She’s no fortune teller. Although she has a sense of what will happen, she knows peoples’ histories.

The narrative moves between Juan Diego’s youth and his adult self, a successful writer living in the U.S., who visits the Philippines. Juan Diego’s dreams reveal his past: the dump, the Catholic Church, his mother (the prostitute and cleaning woman for the church), the would-be priest from Iowa and the circus, among many other elements. It wouldn’t be John Irving without the numerous components and the way they intersect.

As he travels, Juan Diego’s state of mind is manipulated by the medication he takes and forgets to take, as he meets Miriam and Dorothy, introduced as mother and daughter. The relationships with the women and a former student are complicated and interesting, but not nearly as engaging as Juan Diego’s earlier life.

Avenue of Mysteries
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
460 pages

It’s Time   Leave a comment

einstein

A physics background isn’t necessary to appreciate Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. This terse, yet philosophical, novel offers poetic vignettes, the dreams, based on what Albert Einstein might have wrestled with in his subconscious while developing his theory of relativity.

Each dream examines an altered way of experiencing time. Some are nightmarish, some sweet, others poignant, but all are interesting possibilities that, perhaps, other people have also considered, but never articulated. For example, time standing still, literally; or the opportunity to replay time for different outcomes. A variety of perspectives toward time also fill the dreams: parents who have lost children, lovers who grow apart, a baker who grows weary of extending credit. These are fleeting moments that haunt Einstein in his waking hours.

The dreams are offset by several “interludes” in which Einstein is awake. He meets with a colleague, seemingly his only friend, from the Swiss patent office. Although there’s a sense that Einstein wants to share his dreams, he always holds back. What is most obvious in the conscious interims is Einstein’s unhappiness. He feels a sense of drowning in his job and marriage. His desire to understand time buoys him.

Lightman’s writing is imaginative yet concise. It’s easy to imagine the vivid dreams with specific street names and recurring characters. From the very first dream, which begins “Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly,” it’s clear the author will explore the rhythms, pain and joy that comprise life.

Einstein’s Dreams
Four Bookmarks
Vintage Contemporaries, 1993
140 pages