Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I’ve chosen a highly recommended novel, set in one of the countries Phileas Fogg visited, in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, to review.

The final stop on the journey is America, so I have chosen to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a children’s story which follows Tom Sawyer and his friend Huckleberry Finn as they explore the surrounding area, making up games and going on adventures. When the two boys become accidentally caught up in a murder mystery case, they have to decide whether to keep quiet, and avoid punishment for sneaking out at night, or reveal the truth and risk the wrath of a terrible gang.

I really enjoyed reading this book, as I haven’t read any children’s stories in a while, and it can be really refreshing to read them with an adult perspective.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an all-round good, boyish, adventure story full of fun and humour. Twain’s style of writing is very sarcastic and witty, and I would love to read more of his work.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are very superstitious – they are always keeping an eye out for supernatural creatures and discussing various “spells” they can use. It’s light-hearted fun, but has a powerful purpose in the book, as ultimately, this is how they stumble across the scene of the murder.

However, the American language certainly takes some getting used to. As it was written in 1876, there are multiple uses of now archaic words which could trip you up and the dialogue is often written phonetically, to convey accent and tone, but this can also be a challenge to read.

The glaring issue with reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer nowadays, is the blatant use of racist language and stereotypes by the characters. Whilst this was normal at the time, particularly when considering America’s history with racism towards African Americans, I found it uncomfortable to read such discriminatory thoughts and attitudes in a more progressive and accepting era. It’s particularly worrying when you remember that this was a children’s story, and so could have taught white American children to take this attitude too.

Yet, if you can look past the racist comments and understand the lingo, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a genuinely enjoyable book, and Mark Twain is a talented writer.

 

– Judith

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Book Review: Memoirs Of A Geisha

I’ve chosen a highly recommended novel, set in one of the countries Phileas Fogg visited, in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, to review.

The fourth stop on the journey is Japan, so I have chosen to read Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden.

This was quite possibly my favourite book of the entire week.

Set in the time of World War 2, Memoirs Of A Geisha is a historical novel about a young girl named Chiyo. She is taken from her home village to Kyoto, the city which used to be the capital of Japan, to train to become a Geisha. She tries to make friends along the way, but makes rivalries amongst the other women in her okiya, particularly Hatsumomo. Chiyo completes her rigorous training regime and becomes Sayuri, a beautiful and influential Geisha.

I found this book so informative, and I was eager to read on – not only to unravel Golden’s story but to learn more about Japanese culture and history. Golden is certainly an expert on all things Japanese – an extract from the dust jacket on the book says:

‘Arthur Golden… is a 1978 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in art history, specialising in Japanese art. In `1980 he earned an M.A in Japanese history from Columbia University where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. After a summer at Beijing University, he went to work at a magazine in Tokyo.’

The descriptions in this book were stunning and Chiyo was a very imaginative narrator; all she described was linked in some way to nature and the elements, creating a calm and soothing atmosphere.

I liked the fact that retrospective narration was used in places because it was like the narrator was “pressing pause” to explain a certain Japanese custom or character in further detail so we could understand better.

Yet I still found Memoirs Of A Geisha quite shocking to read. I began this book by thinking that a Geisha was just a Japanese prostitute. Once we see Chiyo take part in non-sexual acts such as tea parties, dance and the art of conversation, I thought I was proved wrong. However, once Chiyo reaches adulthood, sex is permitted and finding a Danna (a kind of “sugar daddy”, I think) is actively encouraged by her okiya. Here, the book takes a slightly darker turn as Chiyo effectively prostitutes herself and this was more difficult to read.

Nonetheless, I still found this book incredibly educational and enjoyable, and if you want to learn about Japanese culture, I strongly recommend it to you.

 

– Judith

Book Review: When We Were Orphans

I’ve chosen a highly recommended novel, set in one of the countries Phileas Fogg visited, in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, to review.

The third stop on the journey is Hong Kong; I couldn’t get hold of a book set in Hong Kong, so I read When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is set in mostly in China and a little in Hong Kong.

Christopher Banks, the protagonist of Kazuo Ishiguro’s fifth novel, When We Were Orphans, has dedicated his life to detective work but behind his successes lies one unsolved mystery: the disappearance of his parents when he was a small boy living in the International Settlement in Shanghai.

Moving between England and China in the inter-war period, the book, encompassing the turbulence and political anxieties of the time and the crumbling certainties of a Britain deeply involved in the opium trade in the East, centres on Banks’s idealistic need to make sense of the world through the small victories of detection and his need to understand finally what happened to his mother and father.

As I’ve already alluded to, I found When We Were Orphans quite dull and it was incredibly difficult to maintain reading it. The plot seemed quite slow, and there wasn’t much description to set the scene of Chinese locations. This was disappointing, as I was hoping to experience something of the culture in which the book is set – as I had when reading A Passage To India and Death Comes As The End.

The narrative structure was another big disappointment for me. As a reasonably new fan of both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, I thought I would really enjoy this newer book to join the mystery genre. However, Mr Banks didn’t seem to make any breakthroughs in the case and he spent more time reminiscing over past cases then he did telling us what he was doing at the present.

Furthermore, the use of repeated flashbacks – a memory within a memory within a memory (#Inception) – made me forget what was supposed to be happening.

However, on a more positive note, I thought Mr Banks’ childhood nickname, Puffin, was absolutely adorable. Also, the scenes towards the end of the book were more interesting, because I got to experience the horrors of the Chinese/Japanese warfront and that provided a sense of realism.

Overall though, I am disappointed with this read, and would not have finished if I hadn’t chosen to feature it on my blog this week.

– Judith