Monday, May 27, 2013

78. The Betrothed

The Betrothed
Alessandro Manzoni
Around 500 pages

I just got back from a vacation to Maui.  It was absolutely beautiful and I got to do one of my favorite things in the world there: read in a gorgeous setting.  In the course of my week long vacation, I got to read Fahrenheit 451, Cat's Cradle, The Blind Assassin, Inferno, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and this novel.  Yeah, it was a great trip.

Anyway, let's talk about this book, which I never would have heard of had it not been for The List.  This is surprising, because apparently this is the most widely read Italian novel of all time.  I just don't understand how this book could still be considered relevant today.  Let me explain…

This is the story of Lucia and Renzo, who want desperately to get married.  However, various people and events get in the way of their nuptials.  For instance, Don Roderigo is in love with Lucia so he forbids the wedding.  He also kidnaps Lucia, because hey, that is what was done back then.  In her darkest hour, Lucia vows to God that she will become a nun if she lives through this.  Through a few extraordinary circumstances, she does happen to live through it and then is forced to give up Renzo.  Remember, this is just one example of the many obstacles that the lovers face.

Like I said, I could not relate to the novel at all.  I don't want to push any religious buttons here, but I am an atheist, so many of the "problems" that Lucia faced seemed to me easily solvable.  Additionally, the melodramatic crises that Renzo faced were unusual, bordering on absurd.

So this is a hard novel to connect to and I wasn't that taken away by the style to be impressed.  Renzo and Lucia are pretty much the same old kinds of characters (a sweet, beautiful virgin and a hotheaded lovesick hero). I probably should mention that the author describes the plague that hit Milan in the early 1600s in heavy detail, which was the most interesting part for me.  Other than that, nothing to write home about.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

First Italian historical novel.

UP NEXT: Red and Black by Stendhal

Thursday, May 2, 2013

77. The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the Mohicans
James Fenimore Cooper
Around 500 pages

After a string of forgettable novels that no one has ever heard of, we reach this classic.  I had heard from both my mother and sister, who were forced to read this book in school, that the novel was dreadfully dull.  However, I adored this book and obsessively finished it within a few days.

Uncas, the title character of the book, is actually only a minor character in this story.  Cora and Alice Munro are actually featured much more prominently.  The Munro sisters are escorted through the wilderness by Duncan Heyward, who is in love with Alice (she is kind of a blubbering idiot, but hey, she's pretty).  They are ambushed by the Huron tribe, led by Magua.  Hawk-eye and Uncas are able to save them but not for long, since they both get captured more than Daphne from Scooby Doo.  I think if you are kidnapped that many times, you are pretty much on your own.

First of all, I absolutely can see why people would be turned off by this book.  His style is formal and verbose.  Having followed this list chronologically, I am quite used to the romantic style that he uses.  However, it seems to be going out of style by this time, at least in America.  This demonstrates another advantage of going through the list in order: you see trends a lot more easily.

I hesitate to say this book is progressive.  The Native Americans are often referred to as savages and they are easily fooled by someone wearing a bear costume.  However, the "good" Native Americans (the ones that help white people) are portrayed in a positive and noble light.  Additionally, Cora is a very intelligent and independent character. Not only is this a step in the right direction for feminism, but because she is of mixed race, race relations as well.  So good on him, though there are some cringe worthy moments.

Overall, a great adventure story.  Certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but it was what I needed to get out of this slump.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Mark Twain wrote an essay in which he criticized Cooper's style in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

Parodied in South Park.

Trailer for movie:
UP NEXT: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni.