December 30, 2007 archive

Sunday Salon – December 30, 2007

December 30, 2007

My husband and I have been out of town since Friday and although my post is late today, that does not reflect a lack of reading…merely a lack of access to the Internet.

In the last week, I read The Outlander, by Gil Adamson – an early review book from Ecco/Harper Collins which blew me away (read my review here).

I then picked up Candide, by Voltaire. Although slim, it packs a punch and is not exactly a “light” read. I have the Barnes and Noble Classic edition which has a great timeline and introduction, as well as ample notes and comments that helped me keep the historical events in perspective and gave me a better understanding of the novel’s meaning. In addition, this particular edition includes some incredible pencil plates drawn by Alan Odle. Overall, I enjoyed the book (read my review here), but I’m glad that this will be the discussion book for my Banned Books Yahoo group in January as I believe a novel like this can only be fully appreciated after much discussion and analysis.

After Candide, I felt a tremendous need for something light. I’ve picked up Mary Norton’s classic children’s book: The Borrowers. This was a favorite book of mine from childhood. I read the whole series at least half a dozen times. The story appeals to the imaginative mind of child in that it revolves around a family of “little people” called The Clocks who live beneath the floorboards of an old English country home. Norton is a gifted writer whose work has been honored and recognized by the Lewis Carroll Shelf Awards and The Carnegie Medal Award, as well as making the ALA’s list of most Distinguished Books. This is one I am happy to read snuggled beneath a blanket in front of the fire with a cup of good peppermint tea in my hand. If you haven’t read The Borrowers and the books that followed it…do yourself a favor and go get yourself a copy. You won’t regret it!

Candide – Book Review

Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology. He could prove admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and in this best of all possible worlds the baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses. -From Candide, page 12-

Voltaire published Candide – a classic satire which skewers politics, religious fanaticism, war, and colonialism – in 1759 to almost immediate success, despite being quickly condemned by French and Swiss authorities and banned by the Catholic church. The book sold phenomenally well “underground” and is considered one of the greatest satires of all time.

Voltaire created the naive, young Candide as a way to poke fun at religion and politics, while at the same time questioning the philosophy of Leibniz who was the eternal optimist, believing that all happened for the best and we lived in the best of all worlds. Faced with cataclysmic events (such as the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon which killed thousands), Voltaire questions the idea of a benevolent God who could allow such tragedy.

In the novel, Candide faces ludicrous and horrible situations…including floggings, beatings, betrayal, imprisonment, and separation from his beloved Cunegonde. Throughout his travels, Candide meets officials, Jesuits, and philosophers…and discovers a Utopian community…which all gives Voltaire ample opportunity to to attack corruption and hypocrisy in religion, government, philosophy and science. One of my favorite moments in the book was when Candide questions the leader of the Country of El Dorado (Utopia). The scene that follows puts Voltaire’s cutting humor on display:

Candide was interesting in seeing some of their priests and had Cacambo ask the old man where they were; at which he, smiling, said: “My friends, we are all priests. The king and all the heads of the families sing solemn hymns of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.” What!” says Cacambo, “you have no monks among you to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same opinion as themselves?” -From Candide, page 71-

Voltaire’s classic is as relevant today as it was nearly 250 years ago. Truly a book which will stimulate important discussion, this one is highly recommended.

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