Thursday, July 19, 2012

Atlas Shrugged

Title: Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand

I have read that Ayn Rand has written four books. And that Atlas Shrugged is her last book. She is considered to be the proponent of the philosophical theory called Objectivism. And it is said that it is in this last book of hers that she has presented her theory most extensively which has resulted in a culmination of all that she tried to tell the reader through her previous books. I have also read that it is through this book that she has been successful in concretely establishing her philosophical theory unlike her other books, and came to be well reputed to be a philosopher more than a writer. She has lived around a quarter of a century after this book was published, but didn't write another book. I guess she would have written more books had she not been known as a philosopher with the release of this work. Whatever, if she is a philosopher, then I would like to believe that she is a very immature one.

One might think that this book is about glorifying capitalism, greed, blind profit-making, selfishness or egotism, and is anti-communist, anti-socialist etc. But as mentioned above it is a new theory called Objectivism which is a foolish combination of all the above. The protagonist of this story, Dagny Taggart is an individual with great intellectual brilliance and self confidence coupled with enormous capability to undertake industrial ventures and make them a success. In her view, the fruit of one's hard work is to be enjoyed by one alone. It need not be shared with anyone. Not even with the government in the form of payment of taxes. It looks so stupid when we live in a democracy. Because in a democracy, the government is not an external agent; it is formed by people and its funds come from what people contribute to it. Apparently Rand is trying to say that there is no need to help others in any way with one's earnings and there is no need of dependance of anyone on anyone else. And the underprivileged are looked upon with hatred. Even indifference could be justified in the case, but not hatred and contempt. Rand seems to say that if someone has not got enough, it is because he/she has not worked hard enough. If this is true, the contempt could be justified, but I guess it is not always true. And how is it justified that a big manager in the steel industry cannot give some money to his old mother to buy the grocery just because she doesn't earn anything? Does the author mean to say that she also has to work hard and become some manager in some industry so that she can buy her grocery? It is very clear that the author has an axe to grind and is very prejudiced. It seems that she doesn't like some characters and tries to portray them negative solely because of it. I strongly have  a feeling that there must have existed some people similar to them among her own family members or close relatives and she is trying to vent the hatred for them through the portrayal of those characters. A great example is Jim, the brother of the protagonist Dagny Taggart. To the reader, he must look like a person with a very good heart, because he has a lot of good characteristics that people generally feel proud of. Despite being a manager of a great organization, he is humble to all and free from any tendency to discriminate people on stupid grounds. And Rand wants to portray him as negative. But she employs very weak and silly reasons to prove him bad. And I guess she has utterly failed in the endeavour. He never looked negative to me. And I loved Dr. Pritchett very much too whom she has considered negative for his words that the aim of philosophy is not to explain the meaning of life but to prove that it hasn't any. But I have loved him for these words. His dialogues are very stimulating to me.

Even though Rand seems to oppose dependance of one person on another without paying for it, Dagny Taggart falls in love with people now and then at the drop of a hat. And when it happens she is so childish and stupid and becomes obsessed and overdependant on the male for satisfying her desire. In the moments of love there is no thought of business or Objectivism or profit-making or the industry. The depiction of the love scenes looks too bollywoodish. It all looks so silly and not suitable for the theme of the plot. It all looks so out of place. Which again brings to me the feeling that she is stupidly trying to live her unfulfilled life through the book. Perhaps she has never been satisfied enough sexually in her own life the way she wanted. In the story, Dagny has three love affairs which is too much for a book like this.

In general the book contains characters which can be easily grouped into two. Good characters and bad characters. But all in the view of the author. All characters that the author supports are strong in character and the ones opposed are weak. But there is no doubt that the author has been greatly successful in creating figures with great strength in character. It could be considered an ultimate model for writers when creating protagonists with great will power, confidence and mental strength. Among the good characters (according to the author), I have loved Ragnar Danneskjold and John Galt for the uniqueness in their individuality. And among the bad ones (again according to the author), I have greatly loved Dr. Pritchett the philosopher. The book has given me the feeling that Ayn Rand is a writer of great ability with a wide range. I saw three books in this one book. The first one is constituted by all those parts which are so dry, dull, trying and tiring and devoid of much happenings and discussions, which pervades the major bulk of this bulky book of more than one thousand pages of fine print, nevertheless driving the plot in some way. A great bulk from the beginning of the book is nothing but this. Which means an average reader tends to abandon the book without going much far, thinking the entire book is the same dull story. In fact, I had tried reading the book two years ago hearing it was a philosophical book, but abandoned reading after completing a great part and sensing no philosophy at all. But in this second reading, I have discovered that on the sixth chapter, all of a sudden, it becomes very lively. It's the wonderful portrayal of a party scene where many of the great personalities from various realms of society like arts, science, philosophy and industry meet each other and exchange ideas and ignite stimulating discussions. It is where Dr. Pritchett first appears. While reading all those pages, I was really wondering if it is the same author that has written them. But such instances were like occasional oases in the vast dry desert, at least in the first three-fourths of the book. Other two greatly stimulating instances were the portrayal of Dagny embarking upon her new railroad and train service and the discovery of the special motor that has been abandoned and lay rusted in the wilderness. But the last one fourth of the book is the least boring and displays a constancy of style. and it is in this last part that the things in the first three fourths start making sense. In short, the book is interesting towards the end with a lot of happenings and peculiar twists and turns. Apart from these two styles of dull narration and stimulating happenings in the plot, there is this third style, the childish and immature one when it comes to romance and love, which has been already mentioned above. It makes one feel as if the book has been written by three different authors. I have got this feeling while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are characters in the book. But since the book is mainly about Huck, Tom appears in very few portions. But wherever Tom appears, things get so energetic and exhilarating. Otherwise I didn't find the book very interesting. It is as if even though the same author has created both characters, Tom defies the author himself and goes his lively way to add colours to the pages, and gets out of the control of the author.

And the characters I hated most are Dagny and Rearden.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Homo Faber

Title: Homo Faber
Author: Max Frisch

Publ: Harvest
ISBN: 0-15-642135-6

Walter Faber has a very simple, rational and individualistic view of life. I am so happy to have read this book. The time spent on reading it has been enjoyable. There  are only a few books with that quality. There are books that are great and yet boring. And there are books which are not enjoyable while reading, but gives a good  feeling in retrospect. This book is not one of them. Thanks to Maja, who calls me Faber, as she acknowledges my resemblance to him in character and idiosyncrasies, I  have discovered a great book and a great author. If it had not been for her, perhaps I would never have known Max Frisch or Homo Faber.

The simple and straightforward style of narration is so captivating. The entire story is a report from Faber about things that happened in the past. Which means that  at any point, the protagonist, who is the narrator too, knows beforehand what he is about to say. The central theme is that Faber, while on a voyage, happens to have a brief affair  with a girl much younger to him, who later turns out to be his own daughter from the relationship with his old girlfriend who he left years ago while she was pregnant, on the  understanding that she would abort it. No, this is not a spoiler. Because the narrator himself reveals it at a very early stage! Which means there is no room for suspense in  the plot. And that's the greatness of this book. Any author would have employed to full capacity the element of suspense to thrill the reader with an engaging read. He could  well have narrated the entire story with his having the affair with the girl and all the events taking place and finally described how he discovers at the last moment that  she was his daughter. The author has shockingly abandoned that possibility. Instead at the very beginning of the encounters with the girl, Faber says how could he have  known that this girl was his daughter. He has killed all the possibilities of the plot. And yet he has managed to create a marvel of story-telling. This is his greatness. It reminds of M. T. Vasudevan Nair's comment about  Basheer that 'great words of Malayalam have ran after him crying and imploring him to take them', but he abandoned them mercilessly and created magic with the simplest of words of the 
language, not pretending to be an intellectual, writing very thin books.

Recently one of my Facebook friends had shared a quotation explaining the criterion to tell a good book from a bad one: 'Strip the book of its story/plot if any. And still if there is anything remaining, it is a good book.' That's exactly true about this book. I remember reading about Khaled Hosseini that he taught creative writing. He must have taught great techniques and tricks to students on how to create an 'unputdownable' book. I am sure he has employed the same in his own books which have been international best sellers. But that's all about producing a book. Homo Faber is about creating awesomeness from thin air..

Monday, July 2, 2012


“സ്വർണ്ണവർണ്ണമാം മത്തങ്ങേ നീപ്പോയ്
കണ്ണു നീലിച്ച പെണ്ണിന്റെ കത്തിയാൽ
കറുകറെ നുറുങ്ങി പയറോടു ചേരൂ
നല്ല നാവുകൾക്കെരിശ്ശേരിയാകൂ”

- എൻ. ജി. ഉണ്ണികൃഷ്ണൻ