Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Animal Farm: Reading the Classics is Fun!

The student book club here at RB recently selected George Orwell's 1945 classic allegorical novel Animal Farm to read. I like reading the classics, especially when they're so short (gasp! yes, I said that!). If you're not familiar with the story, it's set in the English countryside and is about talking farm animals who overthrow their farmer in order to live free, self-determined, happy lives of abundance. The animals, led by the pigs, establish a set of rules to live by, including such mandates that no animal shall kill another, no animal shall wear clothes, and no animal shall sleep in a bed. The animals also live by the slogan "Four legs good, two legs bad." The idyllic, equal life the animals had imagined for themselves quickly changes, however, as the pigs take over. The pigs become increasingly power hungry, change the farm's rules so that they (and only they) CAN kill other animals, CAN wear clothes, CAN sleep in beds and, perhaps most egregiously, CAN walk on two legs. The story itself is fascinating, but when you add the fact that it's also an allegory of the Russian Revolution, and that the two "head pigs" are actually Lenin and Stalin, Animal Farm because so much cooler! I thoroughly enjoyed Animal Farm on so many levels, and know that you will, too.
4 out of 4 Bananas!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Soviet-Era Murder Mysteries are Awesome

It's been so long since I've posted! It's good to be back, talking about more great books that I've been reading. I only have a few pages left in Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, but I just couldn't wait to write a post about it and share the awesomeness that is Child 44 with the world!
I'll admit to a fascination with Cold War-era Soviet Union (I even took a college history course about it), but even those with little background knowledge will be fascinated by what it reveals about the Soviet government and the reign of terror it held over its citizenry during the Stalin and post-Stalin years.
The novel's protagonist is Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a resident of Moscow and an agent of the Soviet secret police force. Leo is often obliged to arrest citizens in the dead of night for a variety of "crimes against the State". He doesn't normally consider the validity of these arrests, as his job gives him enormous personal benefits and a comfortable life compared to the vast majority of the population. Leo's unwavering belief in the righteousness of the State is shaken, however, when two events occur: first, he realizes that a man he's just arrested is a completely innocent veterinarian, and second, one of his colleague's children is brutally murdered. Leo is forced to pay the family a visit and essentially threaten them into accepting that their child's death was simply an unfortunate accident, not a murder. Murders and other crimes are not supposed to exist in the Soviet system, which is supposed to breed happy citizens, and happy citizens do not commit murder.
When it's discovered that Leo does not believe that the veterinarian he arrested was guilty, he and his wife are forced into exile, and Leo is demoted to the local militia. He soon discovers that several local children have been murdered in the manner in which his colleague's child was killed. This discovery leads Leo to begin investigating a serial killer who has been murdering children across the Soviet countryside, but he is forced to pursue the killer secretly, for fear of being discovered by the authorities and executed for his illegal investigation.
This book absolutely crackles (I don't think I've ever described a book that way!), but it's an accurate description of how fast-paced and exciting it is. Smith's prose is fluid, and the picture he paints of life under 1950s Soviet control is stark and terrifying.

Child 44 is without a doubt one of the best three books I've read in the past several years. Totally recommended to everyone who enjoys a great story with a ton of dramatic tension. 4 out of 4 Bananas!