Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Nix

Hello! I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving weekend. In between studying for my finals, I’ve finished another book:

Lirael, by Garth Nix

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“Not that it mattered, because the Disreputable Dog never really answered her questions. Later, Lirael would repeat the same questions and get different, still-evasive answers. The most important questions–‘What are you? Where did you come from?’–had a whole range of answers, starting with ‘I’m the Disreputable Dog’ and ‘from elsewhere’ and occasionally becoming as eloquent as ‘I’m your Dog’ and ‘You tell me–it was your spell.’ The Dog also refused, or was unable, to answer questions about her nature. She seemed in most respects to be exactly like a real dog, albeit a speaking one. At least at first.”

Lirael is the sequel to the wonderful book Sabriel, (which I’ve reviewed here).

Lirael is about two people, Lirael and Sameth. Lirael is a member of the Clayr, which is a group of magicians who can see into the future, except Lirael can’t see into the future, even though she’s at the age when she should be able to do so. Meanwhile Sameth is the prince of the realm. His mother is the “Abhorsen” (basically someone who can travel into the land of the dead and interact with spirits, or who can banish the reanimated dead), and Sameth is the “Abhorsen-in-Waiting.” The trouble is, Sameth fears death and doesn’t want to inherit his mom’s position. There’s also a talking cat and a talking dog, both who are the coolest talking animals I’ve met in literature (up there with Bulgakov’s cat). After some lengthy introductory scenes, all these characters (except for Bulgakov’s cat, obviously) find themselves together on an adventure.

This book feels like one story told in the form of a bunch of short stories that get progressively longer. There would be the short-ish story of how one of them gets a certain position in life, then a slightly longer story of how that person gets a magical blade, and then a longer one about how that person goes on an adventure in the bigger world, which is interspersed with the story how the other person gets started on the same adventure. Basically, even though it’s supposed to be a book, and even though it tells one story about two main characters, the parts of the stories are so self-contained that they feel like short stories.

Also, this book was mostly setup. Even though it had self-contained stories leading up to the climax, the book’s overall plot wasn’t resolved at the end. You have to wait for the sequel for that.

This cliffhanger makes for good suspense but it doesn’t really make for as good of a reading experience. Unlike Sabriel, which was very self-contained and satisfying overall, Lirael felt more like a teaser trailer than an actual story. Because Lirael was all setup, it had a lot of backstory and scenes that seemed irrelevant/unneeded. All that setup didn’t feel like it had direction or as much substance as it could probably have had if the book had been structured less as a bunch of setuppy short stories and more as a big story in and of itself. I still did think the structure was an interesting approach, even though it wasn’t as satisfying as Sabriel.

Overall, after mentally weighing Lirael‘s sense of incompleteness against the merits of Sabriel, I’m still not sure if I’ll recommend this one, but I also don’t want to say that yet. Nix is definitely a good writer, and I’m confident he hasn’t lost his good writing abilities, so I’m willing to cut him some slack and wait to finish the sequel before I give a more concrete statement.

So like the ending of Lirael, this review will have to end with a cliffhanger. Who is the Disreputable Dog? What happens next? And will the next book be satisfying enough to be worth also reading Lirael?

DUN DUN DUNNNN!

Until then, stay well.

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Sullivan

Hello! I hope you’re all healthy and safe. I’ve read another book about…

Stalin’s Daughter, by Rosemary Sullivan

Exploring the Life of Svetlana Stalin, the Tyrant's Daughter

“The revelation of Stalin’s crimes was cataclysmic. The propaganda icon—‘the creator of happiness,’ ‘the savior of the Russian people,’ and a ‘genius among mortals’—had been a fraud all along, just another ruthless and cruel politician who had committed horrific crimes with impunity. Examining his own generation in retrospect, the writer Konstantin Simonov wrote: ‘If we are honest, it is not only Stalin we cannot forgive, we cannot forgive anyone, including ourselves…. We may have done nothing bad, at least at first glance, but what is bad is that we (became) accustomed to…what now seems incredible and monstrous, somehow gradually became some kind of norm, seemed almost customary. We lived amidst all this like deaf people, as if we did not hear the firing going on all round us all the time, people being shot, murdered, people vanishing.’ Simonov confessed that he had lived for a long time in a duality, knowing and refusing to know, ‘partly through cowardice, partly through stubborn efforts to reassure myself, partly through coercion of myself, and partly through a reluctance to touch on some things even in thought.’”

It may seem strange that I chose a quote about Russia to encapsulate a book about a person, but it’s not. This is a biography of Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, but it’s also a biography of Russia from around 1930 to around 2011. The two are deeply intertwined.

Firstly, it’s about Svetlana. She grew up under Stalin, literally and metaphorically. At first, she saw him only as a doting father, but as time passed, she realized the truth about his depravity. Then Stalin died in 1953, and she left Russia for the United States. That’s basically the first part of the book, and it sets up how her father impacted her psychology growing up. It also paves the way for the rest of the book, which is about how she tried (and usually failed) to escape from his shadow.

For instance, whenever a family crisis happened in Stalin’s life, he would order a new dacha/mansion to be built for him to move into. Similarly, whenever a crisis happened in Svetlana’s life after she left the USSR, she would move into a new house. Sometimes, it wasn’t even a crisis that caused her to move, but just an unhappiness that she never could escape.

Her unhappiness also came from Stalin. Everyone in the world thought of her as “Stalin’s daughter,” and judged her more according to what her father had done than according to what she herself had done. People were always out to milk her for funds (such as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) or for political leverage (the US government and later the Soviet government). Even though she was much more humane and much less sadistic than her father, Svetlana was never seen as her own person, even up to her death in 2011. She never did really escape his shadow.

So in terms of Svetlana, it’s about the life of someone who was never given the chance to become a real person.

In terms of Russia, it’s about how the state tried and failed to escape from Stalin’s influence, from Khrushchev to Brezhnev to Putin. That continuity of Stalin’s legacy means the book has a lot of important insights for our times.

For instance, there’s a remarkable account of what happened during and after Khrushchev’s “Thaw.” Everyone was horrified by what Stalin had done and it seemed they now knew better and would never let something like that to happen again. Then Brezhnev came to power, and he reinstated a similar type of oppression, and all the outraged people from before forgot their outrage and bowed their heads and didn’t object to the new horror.

Basically, I never knew how much one person’s life could be defined by another person. I also never knew how much a country could be defined by a person.

So in a way, you could say that Svetlana’s story is the story of Russia because both were defined by Stalin. Svetlana tried to separate from her father’s image, but in the end the world still remembered her as Stalin’s daughter. Russia tried to thaw under Khrushchev, but even in 2011, it still was Stalin’s state. Obviously, that comparison isn’t perfect. Svetlana wasn’t Stalin, but Russia is still repressive like it had been under Stalin. Even so, the comparison does give you a sense of how closely intertwined Svetlana’s story and Russia’s story were.

As you can see, this book was fascinating and thought-provoking, both because of its psychological insights and its global insights. For that reason, I would definitely recommend it. It’s also a book to reflect about, so I would recommend you read it when you have a long stretch of unoccupied time, like a winter break.

I’ll stop rambling now. It’s actually almost my winter break, and I have many other books to read, so you’ll hear from me again next Tuesday. In the meantime, keep healthy, safe, and reading.

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Faqiri

Hi everyone, I’m going to write very briefly today because of school. However, I did want to tell you some great news and to introduce you to a great writer.

First the great news: I wrote a novelette about a year ago that has just been accepted for publication. It’s the first time I’m being paid for my fiction. I’m very excited to share more details with you when the story comes out in September 2021.

Now, here’s the great writer:

“The Doleful Village”, by Amin Faqir, Translated by Iraj Bashiri

“It was at dusk when Dadkhoda and his son entered my room. I was lighting the lantern. Dadkhoda sat down. His son, too, sprawled himself on the floor beside the father. I put more air in the lantern. It caused the kerosene to overflow and the lantern to be set aflame. Dadkhoda said, ‘You should have given the lantern more time to warm up.'”

I read this story about two days ago and still can’t stop thinking about it. The plot doesn’t matter as much as the way the events are arranged and juxtaposed to make an impact. To get that aspect across I’d need to spoil the story. I won’t do that.

I’ll tell you some things about it though. It’s about a man who tells another man about his family. The family has a bull that dies, and the village believes that the man’s wife put a jinx on the bull for it to die. In the present, the family’s young kid wants to go to school.

See? Nothing’s interesting about it, but there are connections between the events that make them all gain in meaning. At the end, it has a huge impact.

The best thing you can do is to read the story. It’s free. Here it is.

I tried to find more stories by this writer on Amazon but I can’t seem to find any, which is unfortunate. I’d love to hear if anybody knows where they might be available.

That’s all for now. Stay healthy and hopeful!

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Bidpai/Ramsay Wood

Hello. I hope you’re all healthy and safe and hopeful and reading. Today, I’m reviewing a long-lost classic. It’s a bit like “Aesop’s Fables” but it’s better.

Kalila and Dimna, by Bidpai, Retold by Ramsay Wood

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“I was alone; myself at last, as I really am—just an ordinary rat, competent at some things, hopeless at others. Super Rat was dead. I had a type of pity for him, as one does for anything that wastes potential. I saw his pride, his arrogant falsity which gave him grandiose desires—his greed, in short, for that was his supreme disease—greed for more and more of what he did not need. Such ignorance was the price of pain, and he had spent and spent and spent. Now the burden of hankering care soared free; I lay defeated yet content, a winner of my own war on want.”

Kalila and Dimna was a very good read. It’s from ancient Arabic literature (from a genre called adab), and was supposed to act as a manual for rulers about how to rule well. It’s much more entertaining than a manual like Machiavelli’s The Prince, though. This manual teaches its lessons in the form of animal stories (with stories within stories), kind of like “Aesop’s Fables” but better.

The main story is about two jackal brothers named Kalila and Dimna. Dimna wants to gain as much influence as he can over the lion king of their animal kingdom. Kalila wants him not to. Along the way, they tell each other stories, and Dimna comes up with dastardly plots against their king’s most trusted advisor, a bull named Schanzabeh. There’s also another story called “Zirac and Friends” about a mouse named Zirac who befriends a bird, a turtle, and a gazelle. The plot of that story can best be summed up as a lot of fun adventures.

Both stories are very entertaining, especially thanks to the work of the “reteller,” Ramsay Wood. There are also morals in these stories that are applicable to life, but because they’re told so entertainingly, they don’t feel like morals. In fact, it’s hard to even remember that there are morals (unlike Aesop’s “The moral of the story is…”). Apparently the original goal of Kalila and Dimna was to be entertaining enough that anyone could enjoy it for its story alone. Then, if readers wanted to search for more meaning, they could re-read it and find new lessons upon each re-read. So while you may have read “Aesop’s Fables” once in elementary school and then forgot about it, you can read Kalila and Dimna at any age, and then re-read it years later and gain completely new insights from it. In my view, that makes it better than Aesop.

There’s one drawback to Ramsay Wood’s version of this story. There are many more stories that were part of the original K&D that didn’t make it into this book. That’s disappointing. It’s like a cliffhanger. The good news is that the other stories are available in other English-language translations of Kalila and Dimna.

So if there are more complete translations out there, why should you read this one? In my extremely limited experience of reading only two versions of Kalila and Dimna, this version’s funnier. It’s also the only version that my entire library system had available. For those of you who have no experience with Kalila and Dimna, you can think of this version as a “free trial” that may be more readily available to you at your library than other versions you’d have to pay for.

Basically, no matter who you are, you’ll probably get something out of reading (or rereading) Kalila and Dimna, and if you’re looking for a version that’s more likely to be available than not, I’d definitely recommend this version.

If any of you have read other versions of K&D before, I’d love to hear your thoughts about how this version seems to measure up. Is it really the funniest and most-accessible version out there?

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Aitmatov

Hi everyone. If you’re in the US, I hope you are voting or have already voted (safely, of course).

Now, if you’re looking for something to entertain you that’s marvelous and life-affirming and not election-related, you’ve come to the right place.

Jamila, by Chingiz Aitmatov

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“We were crossing the steppe along the soft, beaten road. Daniyar’s voice soared, ever new melodies followed one another with astounding grace. Was he so gifted? What had happened to him? It was as if he had been waiting for this day, for this hour to come! And suddenly I understood his strangeness which made people shrug and smile–his dreaminess, his love of solitude, his silences. I understood why he spent his evenings on the look-out hill and his nights alone on the river bank, why he was constantly listening to sounds inaudible to others, and why his eyes would suddenly sparkle and his usually drawn eyebrows twitch. This was a person who was deeply in love. And I felt that this was not merely love for another person; this was different, it was a tremendous love–of life, of the earth. Yes, he kept this love within himself, in his music–it was his guiding light. An indifferent person could never have sung as he did, no matter how great his voice.”

Here’s another Chingiz Aitmatov story, which some have called the greatest love story ever.

It’s set in Kyrgyzstan and is about a woman (her name’s Jamila) whose husband is away fighting in World War II. She falls in love with a crippled soldier who was sent back from the front to help out in the large USSR-owned farm called the collective.

All of this is told from the perspective of a guy who’s reminiscing about his childhood and what got him interested in painting, so it’s technically two stories in one. That means it’s not really a love story in the traditional sense. It has traditional love, too, but it also has other forms, too (like love of life, family, etc.)

That was refreshing, especially as someone whose main experience with “love stories” was mostly-cheesy YA novels (with some important exceptions) filled with mushy and contrived love-triangles. To me it seems there has to be something aside from two peoples’ attraction to each other for a love story to not seem cheesy. Fortunately, Aitmatov’s story doesn’t seem cheesy. Actually, I was surprised by how real the characters felt. They felt like people I knew, unlike the people in those cheesy YA novels.

Well, I don’t think any of this is really giving you any real sense of what makes this story good. Let me take another crack at it…

I once heard someone say that certain events in real life are less profound than people imagine them to be. Given that reasoning, an understated love story would be more realistic and powerful than an over-stated one with love-hexagons thrown in for good measure. Such a love story would also exist in a world where it’s clear that the love story is just a part of the world, and not the entire world. Such a love story would thus benefit from the fact that realistic and engaging characters don’t have to be flattened out for the sake of contrived and steamy plots. Also, the ultimate meaning of this type of story wouldn’t be limited to just two peoples’ love for each other (like some YA novels where whatever plot that’s introduced gets thrown away for the sake of incessant obsessing about the love-interest). Finally, the ultimate meaning to such a story would resonate with any type of person, regardless of his or her hormonal state. That’s exactly what happens with Aitmatov’s story.

So there you have it. And the best part? You can read the story for free via one of the links on this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamila_(novel)

Happy Tuesday! See you next week.

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Weir

Hello! I hope you’re all healthy and safe. Today I’m reviewing a book about the Wars of The Roses, a civil war that took place in England during the 1400s.

The Wars of the Roses, by Alison Weir

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“Pembroke, meanwhile, was hastening to join the King with his Welsh reinforcements, having joined up with Devon and his force. But on the evening of the 24th, when they came to Banbury, the two earls quarrelled over who should have the best lodgings at the inn. Pembroke, as the senior commander, insisted that he should occupy them, but Devon, who had arrived first, protested that they had earlier agreed to take lodgings on a first come, first served basis. Pembroke peremptorily ordered Devon out of the rooms, and Devon, put out because he had just seduced the innkeeper’s daughter, marched off in a rage with all his men.” (This quarrel takes place when they’re supposed to be making haste to march to fight against the army of the currently most influential man in England, the earl of Warwick).


This book by Alison Weir isn’t very interesting to read at first because you’re inundated with a bunch of names and dates and explanations of governmental systems. Then you realize that very few of those names are actually super-important for understanding what happened, and then you’re finally able to start making sense of it all. Even so, compared to other books I’ve read about this subject, Weir’s book is much less convoluted.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning: Weir starts her account super early on, with peoples’ parents and so forth, who don’t seem that relevant to the actual conflict’s outbreak. Sure, it can be relevant that Henry VI’s father was such a great king and that Henry VI wasn’t, but it doesn’t feel super-relevant to the point where it deserves multiple chapters of explanation.

Basically, I would say that the overabundance of irrelevant-seeming details is my biggest quibble with this otherwise well-written book. One of my greatest pieces of praise about this book is actually that the overabundance of details winds up adding a lot of flavor once the book gets into talking about the war itself.

So in the end, you have to be okay with what seems to be too much detail in the beginning before you can get to the point where the war starts and the details make the book entertaining.

(A final note: this book only discusses the first War of the Roses, so it has nothing about the Plantagenets.)

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Omar Khayyam

Hello! I hope you’re all healthy and safe. Due to something urgent that came up, I wasn’t able to read a book this week, but I did read an amazing poem that’s practically as good as a great book, so I hope that makes up for it:

The “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam

The “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam is soooooo good. It affirms life, love, and happiness, and it’s only like a fifteen-minute read.

I learned about this ancient Persian poem from Eugene O’Neill’s play, “Ah, Wilderness!” (Whose title’s actually a direct quote from it). Obviously this left no choice but for me to check it out myself.

Reading the “Rubaiyat” makes me feel like the writer who wrote it actually felt what he was writing, in a slightly good-humored sort of way. I honestly have no idea why. It’s just something about the way it’s written/translated.

It has a lot of fascinating metaphors about wine, wizardry, pottery, checkers, and so on. But it’s much better than this other famous poem (George Sterling’s “Of Wine and Wizardry“). In my opinion, the Rubaiyat is much more…alive.

Finally, something interesting in a lot of medieval Arabic/Persian literature is the fact that wine is seen as something that’s not wonderful to drink in this life now, but that you can have as much of it as you want in the afterlife, so you might as well abstain now and then drink it later on. Meanwhile this poem argues the exact opposite: live now because you only have a short time to do so. Can it be subtly trying to disprove the afterlife? Who knows?

Finally, it has a lot of references to The Shahnameh (by Ferdowski) and the Bible.

If you’ve ever read the poem (or re-read it), I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Best Line(s):

“Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,

Before we too into the Dust descend;

Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie

Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End!”

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay in love with life.

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Kafka

Hello! I haven’t had time to read a book for this week due to all my midterms, but I did read a short story.

“A Report to an Academy” by Franz Kafka

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“Esteemed Gentlemen of the Academy! You show me the honour of calling upon me to submit a report to the Academy concerning my previous life as an ape.”

This story’s told from the perspective of an ape who has learned to read and talk and write, and who basically acts enough like a human being that humans have accepted him as one of their own. In the story, the ape’s writing a report to some academy about how he came to act like a human.

One interesting thing about the story is how it downplays human mistreatment of animals, but at the same time you get the sense that the story’s actually criticizing it: Sure, the humans used to stick blazingly-hot and agony-inducing cigars into the ape’s fur when he was a captive on a ship, but overall the humans were nice sorts.

Maybe the ape is criticizing humans, but he’s writing a report to a human-run academy, and he wouldn’t get anywhere by outright criticism. That might explain the subtle criticisms. Eventually, the ape even tries to downplay the importance of his report by going on about how it’s just a report. That may also be an attempt to sneak his subtle criticisms past the humans.

At the end, the question I was left with was how much of the report reflected what the ape really felt about how he’d been treated by humans.

In analyzing the story, I guess you could say that it’s a depiction of what it’s like to live under a totalitarian regime where you have to censor your thoughts and so on. You could also say it’s an animal rights type of story, or an animal rights story and a totalitarian critique at the same time.

In the end, though, it seems to me that what makes the story interesting is that it’s just a story about an ape who’s writing a report to an academy, but that Kafka lets you give that report any kind of meaning you want.

(If you want to read the story online, here’s a link.)

Happy Tuesday. Stay healthy and safe.

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Aitmatov

Hello. I hope you are all healthy and safe, and doing your best to stay that way. I’m in the middle of midterms week at school, but I’ve managed to read a great book. I wanted to share it with you:

The Place of the Skull, by Chingiz Aitmatov

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“If only I could write something, something that would get a reaction from thousands and thousands of people, people who would treat it as something of intimate concern to them personally, as a fire in their own house, a misfortune affecting their own children, only then could the Word, caught up by thousands of people, none of them indifferent, overcome the power of profit and triumph over vice!”

Basically, if you have a chance to read Chingiz Aitmatov, get your hands on everything you can by him. He’s criminally-underrated. (I’ve reviewed another one of his masterpieces here).

The Place of the Skull is another modern-ish classic. It’s a bunch of stories woven into one. It’s the story of a family of wolves living on the Kazakh steppe, an absurdly-idealistic Russian who’s expelled from a seminary, Jesus Christ, and a farmer. The wolves just trot along through the story and make you feel a bit like you’re reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. The idealistic Russian wants to infiltrate the drug trade to see what makes people sink to depravity (he also wants to reform some of the depraved people, which is fascinating to see). Jesus Christ gets crucified. The farmer (named Boston for some reason) has to deal with Soviet collectivization (where the USSR forced Kazakhs to work on a big farm instead of working on their own individual farms), and with the wolves that trot their way into his plotline. It’s all very exciting in actuality.

One thing I will mention. It… has… a… lot… of… ellipses. But once you get over that…

…the book’s a joy to read.

It’s fresh with ideas and heart. Its plot is well-done, too. You have a bunch of stories but they work well together, and the overall story wouldn’t have the same impact it does have if it weren’t to have all of those stories within it. Its grand scope also enables it to talk about environmentalism, the meaning of life, wolves, and morality.

Another thing I’ll mention. This book has all this philosophy in it, but for some reason it’s able to make it entertaining to read (unlike some Russian novels I’ve read–my opinion only).

The philosophy in Aitmatov’s novel asks questions that are actually interesting to contemplate: What makes people sink to immorality, how is the environment related to humanity, what gives people the power to be good, can humanity ever redeem itself, etc. So instead of having some boring guy droning on about a philosophical parable, Aitmatov’s book has characters who are actually struggling with topics that are super-relevant to their existence, and for some reason, you feel a sense of urgency when you read it. Maybe it’s because you get the sense that the author cares a lot about what he’s writing about, or he makes it so you understand why the characters care about it, and why you should care about it, too. At some points I thought he could’ve taken his ideas farther than he did, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Basically, read it for yourself.

Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Kivirähk

Hello. I hope you’re all healthy and safe, and that you’re able to find ways to enjoy the last few warm days of the season. Here’s an amazing book that you will probably want to enjoy at some point, too.

I’d basically consider it a modern classic (it was published in 2008 but it was translated into English in 2015):

The Man Who Spoke Snakish, by Andrus Kivirähk

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“This knowledge drove me to despair. I wanted to live in the forest, I wanted to be with Magdaleena, I wanted other people around me, I wanted them not to be fools, I wanted them to know Snakish, I wanted some meaning in my life, I didn’t want to decay. But all these wishes were incompatible and in opposition, and I knew that most of them weren’t destined to be fulfilled.”

The Man Who Spoke Snakish starts out funnily enough. It’s set in medieval Estonia, and is about a boy named Leemet who learns from his uncle how to talk to snakes and other animals (“Snakish”). He’s part of a tribe of forest-dwelling people, and all of them can speak Snakish. It’s super-cool.

Then the Germans come and conquer them. More and more members of the tribe leave the forest and go to live in a village, where they become Christianized and forget how to speak Snakish. Meanwhile, Leemet grows up and seeks to make the most of forest-life in this changing world.

The story is hilarious throughout, but then you realize that it’s actually a very, very, very, very, very sad book.

There’s something about its end that is especially sad. It doesn’t answer questions but it leaves you wondering about things that are very sad to wonder about. Like how much of someone’s identity is tied to other people, and what is left when those people are all gone? What’s left when all that love and hope and sorrow and rage someone once felt is gone, too? Is that person moral? Does it even matter in the end? The answer that the author seems to give to all of this is that he doesn’t know.

So you’re left with his confusion on top of your own sober confusion, and it’s an awful lot of confusion about a very sad topic and a very sad question. But it feels like a necessary confusion.

I kept expecting the author to leave us with a certain kind of ending where the protagonist would miraculously figure it all out, but it turned out that by refusing to settle for that type of ending, the book became even more powerful. I got more out of being confronted by the void than I would have gotten had the author taken the easy route and tacked on a neat and cheesy ending. It made the story feel realer and deeper. It was as if, throughout the whole story, I was being led through some kind of tunnel and then the ending of the book was the tunnel opening up into a vista and showing me how things really stood, and that since I knew how things really stood, I fully understood why the author didn’t really know where to go from here. It was a very profound experience, actually.

This book reminded me a lot of Ali and Nino, in the way one culture was being impacted by another. This book felt more realistic though, even though it had really cool fantasy in it (giant talking fish, giant winged snakes, people who could capture wind in a bag, etc.). It wasn’t even any type of vivid description or character-depth that made this book more realistic. It was just very emotionally realistic.

If I had to say exactly why, I would say that this book’s emotional realism actually came from its plot and narration. The story’s events and the way they were described let you examine stuff that the characters felt and thought and did without forcing you to take sides. Meanwhile, the story still gave you room to question all of it and come up with interesting connections and insights, and those intellectual revelations led to you getting new insights into how the characters felt.

Also, it’s the type of book that leaves you thinking about it for a long time after it’s over.

So, if you like your modern classics hilarious and sad and profound, you’ll really like this one.