Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

When I finished reading the novel Anna Karenina several days ago, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. Very few novels have that kind of effect on me. When I began Anna Karenina several weeks ago, I allowed the size of the book to lower my expectations and therefore, somewhat diminish my appreciation for the piece of classic literature. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good thick book from time to time but this one, I thought, would prove to be quite a challenge. Strangely enough, when I read the book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich many years ago for fun, I thoroughly enjoyed it and did not care about the page count. This was also my second dive into Russian Literature; my first was Crime and Punishment and I loved every word of it. However once I began reading Tolstoy’s words about a woman and her lover, I was immediately hooked until the very last page. Normally, when I write book reviews, I tend to focus on the plot of the writing style of the author. However, since several of the characters were so memorable to me, and will be for a very long time, I wanted to use this review to focus on them instead.

Anna, the main tragic character, is a victim of Russian society and the ideals created and choked by it. Once at the height of society, she falls to a position of loathing and exiled outcast to which she can never recover from. Because she chooses to love for the very first time, she is condemned for it and never regains even a modicum of her earlier dull life. It is due to this ultimate choice that she slowly goes mad with grief and jealousy, forcing her to make a choice in relieving herself from the pain she endured on a daily basis. Even her death was viewed as base and common, words that were not used to describe her when she was a part of the same society that later treated her worse than a leper. Her marriage was nothing more than a sham, created purely for the sake of appearances and even when she makes the choice to leave, the husband suggests continuing with the façade so as to keep up the “act” for the good of all. Yet, even during such turmoil, one cannot help but fall in love with her bewitching looks, charm and grace of all to be expected of an upper class Russian lady. She was the epitome of grace and beauty, even as a fallen woman, and that was what I think fueled most of the hatred spewed upon her by those in society. They saw her as a woman who broke free from the restraints set by society, caring for herself and her life rather than the lives of others. With that choice, however, came a price that could only be paid in blood.

Vronsky, Anna’s suitor and the object of both her love and jealousy, is a man, at first, with little morals. He tosses aside the sweet and innocent Kitty (an act that later turned out for her benefit) in order to pursue Anna, forcing her to choose between himself and a husband that clearly does not love her but does care for her in his own slightly aloof way. In the beginning, Vronsky cares for no one but himself; even his mother is a recipient of his heavily laden sarcasm. Yet, once he falls for Anna, everything changes. He spends his time loving her and giving her what she lacked in her marriage. I will admit that I found myself hating Vronsky for what he did to Anna, although she did make up her own mind in loving him and leaving her husband. I hated the fact that while Vronsky could still function somewhat in Russian society, Anna could not simply because she was a woman and a fallen one at that. However, I had to remind myself to not place this novel in the year 2010 but rather when it was written and that women were seen as something quite different than as they are now. Women were seen as second-class citizens with no voice in a society ruled by men; such was the way of the world. Yet, even amidst the anguish Anna suffered, I felt myself feeling somewhat sympathetic towards Vronsky when Anna’s anguish turned into hatred and jealousy towards him. She felt him to be untrustworthy, thinking that every time he left her in their home that he was off with another woman. Vronsky, for all of his faults, clearly did love Anna and was crushed when he learned of her suicide. What a pity that his constant but ineffective words of love were not enough to keep her from jumping on the train tracks. Because of my change of heart towards him, one of the plants in my apartment is now named Vronsky and I do give it much love and attention.

Although there were other characters with the novel that were, like Anna and Vronsky, subjects of change, the last one I wanted to mention was Levin. Levin reminded me of the intellectual during this period of time: brooding, self absorbed, aloof, yet somewhat timid, naïve and tragic at times. It seemed as though the weight of several worlds hung heavily on him and he accepted it with much complaint. In the beginning, he loved Kitty but she refused him since her heart was thrown at Vronsky, who later walked away from her to pursue something more of his speed. After that rejection he spirals into a cloud of darkness while returning to his home in the country, working with his peasants out in the fields and suddenly gaining a new found respect for their simple yet profound lives. It is during this moment that the reader begins to see a glimpse of a change within Levin, a change that will ultimately be for the better. However, his mood swings, dissolving any immediate hope for a better outlook of life. Later in the novel, he sees Kitty again and this time Kitty confesses to him that she loves him; he was true to her in his naïve but solid love while Vronsky proved to be a rogue and scoundrel in her eyes. They marry and soon, Levin is somewhat happier. Or is he? The emotions flow back and forth again with moments of clarity and muddy despair but still he trudges on. He even meets Anna and Vronsky and is somewhat charmed by Vronsky while momentarily bewitched by Anna, an effect that she confesses to doing since she feels that Vronsky no longer loves her.

He also tries to fit in with the men of Moscow’s upper class after he and his wife move there and soon finds them nothing more than a bunch of lazy men who drink, smoke heavily, gamble, seek the company of other women, and produce much effort but little result. This thought sickens him and soon they return to the countryside. However, it is at the very end that the readers see the ultimate change occur; Levin, while surrounded by Nature, realizes just how much he has taken for granted. That, although he does not claim to be a Christian, he understands the message the religion is trying to convey to mankind. He also realizes that other religions may have different paths but the destination is quite the same as Christianity. Then comes the final moment: he realizes, in the midst of it all, that while he may still have a short temper, while his wife may do something wrong and he may fault her for it then later apologize, that while he may still have a bleak outlook on life, he must accept the world for what it is and understand that only he can provide happiness in his life. When I read those final words, I immediately thought of some of the Taoist books I read a couple of months ago; one must be like the flow of water to get the most out of life. When one fights and struggles the entire time, much energy is wasted on the futile and soon, nothing is gained. However, if one goes in the direction the river takes them, their lives are soon free from obstacles, leading them to a better and more enriched life. This what was I thought Levin felt at the end; he was, by far, the most changed character of the novel with the greatest lesson learned.

So, with all of that, I will be blunt: buy a copy of Anna Karenina soon and read it. If you have already read it once, then I suggest you read it again. This is a novel that will still carry the same messages for me with every new reading of it, messages that, honestly, I will never get tired of taking into my own life.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tea Taste - Lipton Green Tea with White Mangosteen and Peach

I can’t decide what to do tonight: shall I read more of my latest book, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, or shall I work on my latest manuscripts? Tough choices, but I was able to play a bit of World of Warcraft earlier. I never get tired of that game. Since it is now 9:45pm, I might go back to Azeroth and kill some more ogres. A paladin’s work is never done, especially when you are a level 44 Draenei paladin with very cool armor. And, while playing my game, I will have a cup of Lipton Superfruit Green Tea with White Mangosteen and Peach. Wow.

Okay, I’ll admit it: I fell for the exotic mangosteen on the box, considering that I’d never heard of the fruit. Apparently, mangosteens are rare and quite delicious, according to Wikipedia, but are also quite harmful to one’s system if taken in large quantities. I am very familiar with peaches so I do expect a smooth blended taste that will not crowd out the other ingredients in the tea. Kudos, by the way, to Lipton for coming up with these tea blends. If it wasn’t for them, I never would have known about the mangosteen. Cheers!

I can hear my kettle boiling over while I am typing this out and I admit that I am curious to try this new green tea….. just prepared my cup and the scents of peach and the mangosteen (I am assuming) are quite clear. My mouth is tickled to try this tea. The liquid is a bright yellow, peaking my curiosity even more. I just sniffed my cup a second time after taking out the tea bag and my nose still detects the peach and definitely something else – almost a coconut, grassy smell. Perhaps that is the green tea Lipton used but I’ll find out shortly when I have my first sip. Right now, however, my cup is too damn hot.

First Sip – First sip was faint at best, so I plunged my tea bag back into the still fragrant liquid, hoping that I did not leave it in there long enough. A few minutes later, I removed the tea bag and took several more sips. The taste is still faint but it is pleasing to my taste buds. I could taste the peach and the “other” fruity taste that I would assume is the mangosteen. This is definitely a spring/summer tea to be enjoyed both hot and/or cold. Now that the tea has cooled down somewhat, the scent is still strong while the actual flavour and taste of the tea is light and airy. Not bad but not a strong flavoured tea.

Rating – B

Happy Cups!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Remembrance - A Poem

I wrote this poem for my grandfather's funeral.

I look down at my feet and see that now
There is only one set for footprints.
I must carry on, for my own sake
Because he would have wanted it that way.
Each step claims to be heavier than the last;
Each mile professes to be harder than the last
And yet I still walk on, never giving in
To the doubts that exist.
My skin is tough but strong under the sun,
My eyes still focused after all these years
And my mind is still sharp, a trait he gave me
So long ago.
With every step, I say goodbye to him,
With every breath, I proclaim his name.
I look down and still see
The single set of footsteps;
A sign that my Life has barely begun.
And still, though I now walk alone,
I can feel his breath upon me, cooling my skin
And protecting my eyes.
Here was his life, in good and bad,
Here was his mark among so many others
That failed to dim or crack under the weight of the world.
With every step, I shall never forget him.
With every breath, I shall remember him,
With every Life, his memory shall live on.

Tea Taste - Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange Spice

It is 8:20 at night and I am currently editing my publisher’s collection of short stories soon to be published. This is probably the third time I have read these stories and of course, I have to have a cuppa tea. After becoming a member of the Dixon Art Gallery and Gardens earlier today, I decided to celebrate my new membership by purchasing a box of Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange Spice. In my years of drinking tea, I have never had this blend before, although I have seen it many times in grocery stores. Today, however, proves to be the day when I stop walking by it and actually purchase it.

After adding the water to the tea bag, my nose detected cinnamon and oranges; this is going to be quite a nice cup. Celestial Seasonings is one of the better tea companies and even though most of their blends are herbal, they are still quite tasty and still quite good for you. The ingredients in the Mandarin Orange Spice are: orange peel, hibiscus, roasted chicory, blackberry leaves, chamomile (to help with relaxation and sleep), hawthorn berries, cinnamon (obviously), natural mandarin orange flavour with other natural flavours, cloves and coriander.

First Sip – I instantly tasted oranges spiked with cinnamon without it being too much. The next sip gives off the flavour of coriander while blending quite nicely with the other ingredients. However, the overall flavour is not that strong. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I did not put too much sugar in my cup so as to be able to taste the tea and not just sweetness. The more I sip it, the better I like it but the overall flavour of the tea is not strong. This tea is meant to be prepared after a meal. Also, this tea would be better enjoyed in the afternoon rather than in the morning (in my humble opinion). Overall, I am glad I purchased the tea and it will make a nice addition to my growing collection but I think I will add a little more sugar to my next cup.

Rating: B

Happy Cups!