Review: Memorial by Alice Oswald

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Book: Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad

Author: Alice Oswald

Publisher: W. W. Norton Company

Pages: 90 Pages

Format: Paperback

Source: Purchased through my university bookstore

In this daring new work, the poet Alice Oswald strips away the narrative of the Iliad--the anger of Achilles, the story of Helen--in favor of attending to its atmospheres: the extended similes that bring so much of the natural order into the poem and the corresponding litany of the war-dead, most of whom are little more than names but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably and unforgotten in the copious retrospect of Homer's glance. The resulting poem is a war memorial and a profoundly responsive work that gives new voice to Homer's level-voiced version of the world. Through a mix of narrative and musical repetition, the sequence becomes a meditation on the loss of human life.

Every once in a while, a book comes along and hurts you. It pushes you around, and it forces you to feel all the emotions that you don't want to feel, and when you think it's over, it pushes back harder and more intensely. And at the end of it, you can't do anything but thank it. You thank it over and over again, because of how beautiful and poignant it is.

This was my experience with Memorial.

Memorial is, as the title says, an excavation of Homer's Iliad, but the Greek epic is not required reading in order to get this book. What Memorial does is remember, grieve, and memorialize the fallen soldiers of the Trojan war. The collection starts by listing 200 names. Yeah. The first 8 pages are just names -- Greek and Trojan names intertwined, in the order in which they die in the Iliad. The book then goes to explain the deaths, and give context for almost each death that is just glossed over in the epic.

Each memorial is followed by a simile, which is then sometimes repeated. The way in which Oswald presents these similes makes them seem more important than the memorial itself, saying more about the death than the remembrance. The shift that Oswald makes from the first page to the last page, ignoring the main story in the Iliad, and ignoring the implications of the war in general, and focusing on the micro elements like the individual lives and bonds, and the small elements of nature, create an incredibly intimate retelling of the Iliad.

Oswald ignores the size of each character, giving Patroclus the same amount of time as a fallen horse, not letting any one character's memorial overshadow anyone else. And the time and emotion which she gives to each person is heartbreaking. This book is a eulogy for the victims of war, and this fact is repeated in the afterword by Eavan Boland. Boland writes: 

"They all die in front of us before the poem is over. And we shouldn't be surprised. There can be no other ending... But why, the reader might ask, do these young men need to die again? ... What we see above all is that the atmosphere of epic has no expiry date. The soldiers here are not ciphers any more than they are merely symbols in the Iliad. In fact, the opposite is true. They are the brothers, husbands, sons of every war. And as we put down Memorial, we wonder whether we first met them in Homer's epic or saw them on last night's news bulletin."

Reading this gave me chills. It's so true, and I didn't realize it until I read it. This story is giving a voice to, and memorializing those whose deaths are not publicized. Oswald turns the focus from the Gods, those who dominate over the war, and force us to realize how many deaths go unnoticed in these expansive fits of violence. It's eerie, heartbreaking, and ultimately brilliant.

I was utterly shaken by this book, and while I believe it is beyond a star rating since it really was a spiritual experience for me, I still gave it 5/5 stars. And I will leave you with my favourite simile from the book, in the hopes that it will hit you in the same way it hit me

Like leaves who could write a history of leaves
The wind blows their ghosts to the ground
And the spring breathes new leaf into the woods
Thousands of names thousands of leaves
When you remember them remember this
Dead bodies are their lineage
Which matter no more than the leaves

Happy reading

Winter TBR

Friday, 5 January 2018

School finishes in April, and while I'm really excited about the books I'll be reading, I'm also trying to focus on reading for pleasure. While the semester will have its ups and downs work wise, I hope to have a little bit of time here and there to do some reading! So instead of separating my year into quarters, I've put it into 3rds: Winter, Summer, and Fall. So here are the books i'm hoping to read in the Winter!

School Books

For my 4th year seminar on Michael Ondaatje:

For my 4th year seminar on aesthetics and ethics, Is Beauty Just?


& For fun

2018 New Years Resolution

Monday, 1 January 2018

2017 was a wild ride. I finished my 3rd year at university, and started my final year. I wrote my thesis. I lived in London for 5 months, and I went to 12 countries this year, I read 80 books. I saw 5 West End shows, and 2 broadway shows. I started meditating and reading tarot. But I grew apart from friends. I struggled with mental illness and self motivation. I fought with people, and I struggled through situations. but that's life, and it moves on. 

I want to really try and make 2018 the best in all the ways I can. I know there are things that are out of my control, obviously, but I've set myself some resolutions for 2018 that I'm excited for!

Read 50 Books
In 2017, I read 80 books, but that was mostly because of professors who just like creating huge reading lists. I only have 2 english courses this semester, and then i'm done my degree, so I'm setting my sights on the classic 50 book challenge. I have no set TBR, but I do want to accomplish some goals with my reading. Which brings me to...

Focus on Consuming More Diverse Media
I want to read more books by POC, Queer Authors, or authors of other minorities. I want to listen to more music by diverse musicians. And I want to watch more movies with POC and more diverse actors at the lead, and behind the scenes. I am open to recommendations as to where I should start, and I'm excited to make this a focus of mine.

Review Every Book I Read
I'm really bad at keeping up with reviews, but this year, I want to review every book I read, before I start the next book. I want this blog to be more a collection of my own thoughts on books, for me, rather than me just talking on a surface level about books. I think that by keeping up with reviews, I'll be able to collect my thoughts better.

Read More Tarot
I started reading tarot cards about 8 months ago, and I fucking love it. I find myself turning to the cards more often than not, and call me whatever you want, I do believe that there is something there. There are a few books on the tarot I want to read (more on that in another post), but I want to do more readings for myself, for others, and get my cards read some more.

Visit 5 New Countries

I was so spoiled this year to get to travel as much as I did, but i've been bitten by the bug, and I'm not ready to stop. I want to add 5 new countries to the list this year, and while this is a little more out there, and maybe the least possible, I'm adding it in anyway. I want to go to Italy, Russia, Ireland, Australia, and Portugal, but who knows where this year will bring me.

Post 52 Times in 2018
I want to post once a week. I want to be more involved in a community i've been involved in since 2012. I want to comment more, and read more blogs, and watch more videos, and I want to be an active contributor to this community that I'm so glad I get to be apart of.

Those are the goals I've set for myself in 2018! Please let me know what your goals are, link me to your blogs so that I can follow more bloggers, and recommend me some diverse reads!

Thanks for sticking around. Happy 2018. Let's crush it.

The Power by Naomi Alderman | Book Review

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 340 Pages

Format: Paperback

Source: Purchased at Daunt Books

Rating: 5/5 Stars

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

The Power is a slow building yet fast paced thrilling story about the violent shift from a patriarch to a matriarch, and I am in love with this story. The story starts with a world that is totally recognizable -- it is our world. And then girls start developing Skeins, which bring with them the ability to produce electricity, and the ability to awaken the Skeins in the bodies of other older women. This allows women and girls to rise up and revolt, something which starts slowly before escalating to a spectacular climax.

I don't want to give away spoilers for the book, because I went in knowing almost nothing and i'd love for people to read it that way. I was blown away by the way this book was written and the way each and every piece came together. From the broader stories of Mother Eve and the connection with religion, to the inclusion of Tunde, a young Nigerian man turned reporter, and our only male narrator, almost everything in this book felt necessary, and it all fit together like an unsettling puzzle. There were sections that were so graphic that I felt myself feeling sick, and there were scenes where tables were turned in their world, and I couldn't look away. Alderman is asking the questions that all women think of in this day and age and she voices it and holds back no punches. "What would happen if men were afraid for their physical wellbeing?" she asks. "What would happen if the women who have been wronged would be able to get their revenge?"

This book was stunning and an absolute powerhouse of emotion. I felt moved by each and every character and with each twist and turn, and with every moment of subversion and every step closer to the center had me leaning in more and more. The only thing that i'm not too sold on is the framing of the novel. But I know people who are in love with this, and i'll leave that for you to decide. For me, it didn't really add anything for me.

Please go read this. God, do it. This is a dark, twisted, eye opening, life changing read. I am so in love with this.