Friday, March 9, 2018

On “Timshel” [East of Eden] | The Freedom of Choice

I have been a bookworm since before I could even read. My mother used to read for me from illustrated children stories. So, my earliest knowledge about good and evil came from tales such as Hansel and Gretel or Cinderella, where the villains were always totally evil and the main protagonists purely innocence. That formula then shaped my perspective about the world through my childhood.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old and already been bored with my children books, my father—from whom I inherited the love of books—suggested that I tried Agatha Christie for a change. I picked After the Funeral from school library, and was instantly falling in love with Christie's. I don't remember the exact title, but one of the books has really shattered my conviction about good and evil. The pattern repeated while I ploughed through nearly all Christie’s book. Christie's murderers were mostly ordinary, good, respectable persons who, when being under certain pressure, decide to commit murder. From Christie I learned that a murderer does not have different qualification from normal persons—which until then I was certain I never possess. This suggested that every human being has the possibility to commit murder. It only needs a decision. It really made me shuddered when I came to this conclusion. I imagined that with only a weapon (and it could be just a pair of scissors or a penknife) I could have killed someone if I decided to. I, too, could have been a murderer. And like all teenagers, there was really a phase when I hated many things in the world; which only added to my fear of myself! Like Christie said, murder is simple. And that thought has literally ended my childhood innocence.

Fast forward; like everybody else, I read Harry Potter series. On the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry's youngest son Albus Severus has been worried that he might be sorted to Slytherin on his first departure to Hogwarts; to which Harry calmed him: "Albus Severus Potter, you were named after two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was the bravest man I've ever known. […] If it really means that much to you, you can choose Gryffindor. The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account." It implies that being good or evil is our own choice; the decision is in our hand; others will only “take our choice into account”. Really, if I have not, at that time, been impressed by J.K. Rowling's power of storytelling, that passage only would have made me love Harry Potter. Of course, ever since the Agatha Christie period, I have learned much about freewill and "God created everything good" doctrines; but that passage has strengthened my believe, that to be good or evil is our own choices—the freewill God has imposed upon us, which no one—not even Himself—can take from us.

For quite a long time afterwards, I held on to that conviction. Then I got to know one 19th century French writer who then became my most favorite author: Émile Zola. As much as I admire and respect his works on the heredity and environment effect on shaping human psychology, I can’t help thinking that Zola’s characters seem always to be imprisoned by this handicap (heredity illness). And while I always love his beautiful prose and mind-blowing stories—and I do admire his genius study on this subject—I also keep asking myself: “But what about freewill?” Maybe that’s why Zola has never been as much respected as his piers—because he praised the nature of man more than his divine quality.  

Fast forward again… Many classic pieces that I have devoured these years talked about conscience and freewill (William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is one of them), but they did not struck me as heavy as John Steinbeck’s magnum opus that I have just read: East of Eden. It’s as if John Steinbeck, through this magnificent book—and its prominent keyword: timshel—is re-convincing me about the goodness of man. That no matter how bad, how evil, how monstrous were our ancestors, and how thick their blood is inside our veins, it is what we choose that in the end matters, because God has imposed us with the most precious gift: the freedom of choice.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Announcing Zoladdiction 2018 | #Zoladdiction2018 – Sign Up

February is coming to the end soon; it won’t be long ‘till April. And April means: ZOLADDICTION!

As I have already mentioned last month, a new feature is coming up on the fifth anniversary of Zoladdiction this year. Without further ado, voila…

ZOLADDICTION 2018 | #Zoladdiction2018

  1. Leave comment with your blog URL (or Goodreads/Facebook) or URL of your sign-up post. You can join as long as the event is still up (no closing date).
  2. Reading book(s) or other writings by Émile Zola or about Émile Zola from 1st to 30th April. No idea which book to pick? Here is the list of Zola’s complete works.
  3. Post your thoughts or reviews of the books, and link it up in the provided linky on the Master Post (will be up on April 1st). You may post on your blog, Goodreads, or even Facebook.
  4. As the main purpose of this event is to spread recognition to Zola, I encourage you to share your posts in social media (Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram) using hashtag: #Zoladdiction2018 and #EmileZola.


To add more fun to Zoladdiction, and to encourage more people to read and love Zola, there will be a mini themed challenge; different theme each year. This year we will do #ZolaStyle—exploring his unique literary style, which I have divided into three categories:

Literal Painting
Zola had great interest in paintings. He had been a strong promoter of Impressionism; supported and befriended young artists such as Manet and Cézanne. His literary style often had quality of a painting. Quote and share those literal paintings you find from the book you are reading, or any book you have read; add paintings or pictures too if you like. You can check this post to get more idea about this literal painting.

Naturalism Metaphor
Zola often uses natural things as metaphor. In The Belly of Paris, for instance, cheeses are described as fruits. In Germinal, the mining machine becomes a giant beast; and a steam locomotive transforms into a woman in La Bete Humaine. Quote and post about this naturalism you find from the book you are reading, or any book you have read. Click this link if you need example.

Heredity Problem
As a Naturalist, Zola believed that human psychology is heavily influenced by heredity and environment. He wrote the twenty novels in The Rougon Macquart series to study this. Analyze, discuss, and post the heredity problem of the book you are reading, or any book you have read.

How #ZolaStyle Works

  1. #ZolaStyle challenge is NOT obligatory, you may opt for reading books only.
  2. You may post just one or all category for each book – in as many posts as you want; as often as you like, from 1st to 30th April.
  3. You can use current book you are reading, or any books you have read before.
  4. There will be TWO linkys in Master Post: for reviews and for #ZolaStyle challenge (both will be up on April 1st).
  5. It’s not obligatory, but if you own Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook accounts, sharing your #ZolaStyle posts means you are helping in spreading acknowledgement to Zola’s works. Please make sure to use these hashtags: #ZolaStyle #EmileZola #Zoladdiction2018 on your posts.
  6. Each #ZolaStyle post linked up at #ZolaStyle linky will be entered to win book(s) by Emile Zola of your choice max $20 from Book Depository. Yay!

Right now I am working on a kind of Zola section in this blog, a dedicated page for Zola. It will mostly contain links to my posts about Zola’s books or books about Zola: reviews, quotes, literary styles. On the later, I plan to put links to some of your posts too from #ZolaStyle.

Are you ready for another (or two, or more) Zola? Join us!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Challenges Update: February

February is always my favorite month. My birthday is on this month, and for me there is always an excitement in the air. In my age one does not really expecting birthday party with many presents; just a quiet lunch with my family. But this year, about a week from my birthday, I had a nice surprise from Adam—he picked me as winner of his #TBR2018RBR mini challenge! As it was Charles Dickens’ birthday, I chose a book from the Vintage Classics Dickens Series. By the way, these series are quite beautiful. My favorite is the Russians Series, but I’m not really into it right now. I have bought one of the Bronte Series last month, and liked it. Anyway, I know the gift is not intentionally for my birthday, but I’m happy to take it as my birthday present! 💝

As for progress, I have been unusually productive so far:

Book(s) read = 5
Review(s) posted = 5

  1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier for #TBR2018RBR
  2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
  3. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story)
  4. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene for #TBR2018RBR and The Classics Club
  5. March by Geraldine Brooks for #TBR2018RBR

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

What are your strategies for staying on top of your reading goals? Do you keep a bullet journal or other kind of planner? Do you aim for a certain number of books per week, per month? Do you just “wing it” and let whatever happens, happen? Tell us your secrets!
I make a one-year reading list in Excel; with certain books per month. Of course the books are not just randomly picked; I must keep a balance between tough and light books, classics and popular. Most importantly, I must adapt the list with my own reading pace. This way, I can manage to be on top of my reading goals and to keep up with all the challenges.

Right now I am only several days before ending East of Eden, so I can positively say that I have read 6 books in two months, wow! I love East of Eden so much it takes me nearly a month to finish it—having been savouring it slowly, and often repeating certain passages twice or even thrice. You see…. February always sends good vibes around me! 😉

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross: A Reading Journal

I have been meaning to read this book for some times, but I have always dreaded I won’t have enough time to plough the depth of the canticle. So, I decided to read the forty stanzas in forty weeks—one stanza a week. I am reading the Indonesian translation (titled: Madah Rohani), along with comments from a Carmelite priest, which I found very helpful to understand the canticle. This post would be my reading journal for the next forty weeks—I will jot down my thoughts of each stanza every week.

Stanza #1
Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.

My thoughts:
It’s about a soul’s search for unity with God—pictured as a bride who is seeking her bridegroom. It loves God so much that it hurts—longing for the perfect happiness, which is unity with God in Heaven. But when it is still on earth, it must be satisfied by just getting a glimpse of Him. However, right when it feels Him, He would flash out of its reach; and this bleeds the soul so much more. It seems that God deliberately do this to strengthen the soul; to always wait in hope for the eternal "marriage". Apparently the nearer a soul to perfection, the greater it is tortured by love. 

Stanza #2
O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

My thoughts:
The soul needs an intermediary (pictured as shepherds) to express its love lamentation to God (pictured as hill—or the highest peak). Here the commentator suggests that the intermediary could be its own longing and affection; or it could also means the angels—I am more inclined to the latter. So the soul begs the angels to speak about its sorrowful love to Him (whom the angels could reach easier than the soul) when the time is right for Him (or if God is willing) to listen to it (“if you shall see Him”). Here the soul does not demand anything; it just gives hints about its anguish and let the Lover do what He desires. By humbling itself, perhaps God would take more pity to the soul.

Stanza #3
In search of my Love
I will go over mountains and strands;
I will gather no flowers,
I will fear no wild beasts;
And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.

My thoughts:
Laments and intermediary does not suffice the souls to reach its Beloved; it must move and take active action (searching), i.e. by exercising contemplative life towards wisdom (mountains—higher place) and self-denials (strands—lower place). The soul decides to purify itself from vain pleasures which would block it from God (gather no flowers). Besides that, there are three other enemies that put the soul away from God: 1) The world (wild beasts)—which threatens the soul of losing its friends and belongings; 2) Satan (the mighty)—who will strive the soul from unity with God; 3) The natural rebellion of the flesh against the spirit (the frontiers)—the flesh is the frontier that hinder the soul on its spiritual journey. The soul determines to pass through all these obstacles to find its Lover.

Stanza #4
O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enameled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?

My thoughts:
After preparing the long journey to reach God (on stanza #3), the soul starts its spiritual journey by getting to know Him through His creations. It’s as if the soul begs the nature: show me how beautiful He has created you! It reflects the soul’s longing to grasp His traces/His touch on the creation. While it is still far away from the Lover, at least it can touch and adore His works. Just as a lover loves to touch or kiss a shirt belongs to the absent beloved one.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Phantom of the Opera: Second Reading

Some books must surely be read more than once to get into all the layers it contains! On my first reading of Phantom about seven years ago, I was fascinated more by its gothic theme than by the grotesqueness of its back story. Only now on this second reading did I fully grasp the scary reality underneath the fantastic story; even more because it’s so relevant with the world we live now.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the story, but in short it was believed that a famous Opera House in Paris was haunted by a ghost. Not only demanding to be paid on regular basis, the Opera Ghost (OG) often created inexplicable accidents when the directors didn’t give him what he wanted. Many of the theatre crews have seen scary apparitions. One night a mediocre female singer suddenly became an angelic diva after receiving lessons from an angel of music. These incidents, in the age when superstitious was quite strong, only made the phantom of the opera more sensational.

However, does the phantom really exist? Or is it just a tasteless joke thrown by the resigned managers to prank their successors? We, readers, have actually been warned from the first through the prologue:

“The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers,  the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.”

Because the opera ghost was indeed a real person called Erik. He was born deformed with corpse-like appearance and—as Christine Daaé put it—smelled like death. It saddened me to read how his mother rejected him because of that. I could not imagine growing up deprived of love. Add to it degradation and humility Erik must have experienced from his youth; and in the place of a supposedly loving and genius man, stands a really hideous monster. So, whose fault is it, if many years later what that man thinks is only revenge? It is inevitable.

My thought when I finished this second reading was: what would have happened if Erik was accepted by the society? He might have built grand architecture and brought brilliant innovations to the opera house for its good. But look now what it gets? Almost a major destruction if an innocent young girl had not bravely and lovingly accepted him as a human being. How just a tiny gesture of affection could make such huge change!

Not just about Erik, I think the phantom of the opera also refers to the marginalized people who worked as fireman or other (seemingly) insignificant jobs at the theater. When Christine Daaé showed the bowels of the opera house to Raoul, she pointed to these firemen as “ghosts”. It seems to me that to the glorious upper world, those underground workers are ghosts—nonexistent and insignificant; ugly things that must be kept hidden and forgotten. How relatable it is with our real world!

5 of 5!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

New Ideas for Future Zoladdiction

Hullo everyone! This coming April, Zoladdiction will be turning five, yay! I have started this event of reading (and promoting) my favorite writer Émile Zola back in 2013 (with o). Since then, I host it every April, except in 2016 due to my tight schedule. Now, welcoming Zoladdiction’s fifth anniversary, I am thinking of rejuvenating it a bit. My goal from the first is to promote Zola’s genius and beautiful writing. By picking “Zoladdiction” for the yearly event’s name, it assumes that once you get into Zola’s, you will find yourself being addicted to his works. This is true! Almost everyone I knew who has ever discovered Zola, confessed of falling in love with him or at least wanting to read more of him. And don’t worry, Zola has a lot of works you can plunge into without ever getting bored!

About the rejuvenation: Starting this year, Zoladdiction will come with different themed reading challenges. The purpose is to highlight Zola’s works as well as his life, to let more people know about him and admire his genius, while we are still having fun in reading Zola’s and explore more of his works.  I have come up with four ideas for four consecutive years:

Zoladdiction Themed Reading Challenges

2018: The Style – highlighting Zola’s unique and beautiful writing styles by sharing quotes etc.
2019: The Shortie – reading his short stories (which are sometimes more poignant than his novels)
2020: The History – reading biographies, essays or other writings about Zola, or his J’Accuse!
2021: The First Crush – reminiscing how we fell in love with Zola by rereading our first Zola

Now I need your opinion. What do you think of this? If you have better idea, let me know! Or if you would like to co-host or any other kind of contribution, just let me know, so we can discuss it.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Written in 1951 post World War II, The End of the Affair is a grim story about love, trust, and faith. I started my reading without any knowledge about this book or the author. I have assumed that this is simply about painful love affair. It was started by love affair, indeed, but it ended much more than that.

During and at the end of World War II, Maurice Bendrix, a novelist, made friend with Henry Miles, and had an adulterous affair with his wife—Sarah Miles. The affair quickly turned to love and hate relationship, poisoned by Maurice’s severe jealousy because Sarah refused to divorce Henry despite of their loveless marriage. One day a bomb blasted Maurice’s apartment where the adulterous couple was spending the night. They both survived, but after the incident Sarah broke off the affair without apparent reason. Two years later Maurice accidently met Henry, who has begun to suspect Sarah’s affair. Himself burned with passionate jealousy, Maurice took initiative to hire a private detective to find Sarah’s lover. The detective found her diary which revealed that when the bomb blasted, Sarah has made a promise to God not to see Maurice again if He let him live.

Interestingly, this book does not speak about guilt, which is usually common theme for love affair stories. From the beginning of Maurice and Sarah’s affair, there were these confusing tugs between love and hate, joy and sorrow, and between fleshly love and God’s love. They seem to not understand what or which one were their feelings at times. At first I thought that Greene was talking about post war depression that leaves men with emptiness in soul and apathetic behavior towards religion or God. But after that part, Greene seems to fling us to opposite direction, and end the story with a twist.

When the story ended, I was just: “What was that really about, then?” After three-quarter of the book which were full of hatred and disbelieve in God that was quite disheartening, suddenly I realized that maybe Greene is speaking about faith. I am still not 100% sure about this, but one thing captured me in the end: the fact that baptism received in childhood has the same power as when one receive it consciously as adult. The child could wander far away from the right path from that moment, but it will still be there; and in the right moment the adult version of the child will eventually get to it—though the road might be long and winding, and at times seems impossible. And of course, it needs one’s cooperation with God’s will to let it happen, for anyway, He has imposed us with freewill.

It’s quite a powerful work from Greene, but reading it has not been a pleasant time for me, so…

Final verdict: 3,5 / 5