Quarantine Reads #7: Centuries Gone By

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

If you are looking for a quick classic read I would recommend giving this one a go. Its about a man who keeps getting shipwrecked on different strange islands. It mocks the travel-memoir genre popular at the time (1700s) especially as Robinson Crusoe was published seven years earlier. It has lots of fantastical elements like tiny people and giant people living on different islands. Understanding their societies and how they are different to our own provides commentary on how societies should function. Sometimes the exploration into how these fantastical societies worked were confusing to read. Mostly this was a sequence of unfortunate events.

The House by the Dvina: A Russian Childhood by Eugenie Fraser

This is a very different type of memoir – it is real and haunting. We follow the life of a girl with a Russian father and Scottish mother. Spending most of her childhood in Russia, the reader gets amazing insights to the way of life in a different culture and extreme climate. The narrative takes the reader through the loss of normality through the governmental changes in the first half of the 20th century and its devastating effects. Having studied the Russian Revolution at school, I found the story interesting. It does have a lot of Russian names and nicknames throughout the large family so it could be confusing at times. It is character driven instead of having twisting plot points. It is a study of humanity rather than pure entertainment.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

This classic is much longer than the first mentioned in this post. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. We jump from character to character, most of them down-beaten in some way. There is a lot of military talk and discussion of rank which is expected in a military focused novel but I didn’t find that interesting. The only end goal is to not die and get sent home but I didn’t feel emotionally engaged enough with the characters to root for them. It does portray the brutality of war from an individual perspective. Women are extremely objectified and sexualised which can reflect the characters and the time but there is no challenge to the degradation. As a trigger warning, I will say that near the end of the book there is an incident of rape and murder. The events are detailed but it was shocking. I like the Catch-22 concept but I’m not sure it worth reading the 500+ pages.

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