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Archive for April, 2010

Tenar was born in the same day the High Priestess in the service of the “Nameless Ones” died. She showed all the signs to be considered the High Priestess reborn, so when she was 5 years old she was taken to be trained to be High Priestess (that is, to be remembered about her previous reincarnation).

Tenar became Arha, “the eaten one”, a child-priestess of dark cruel rituals and the guardian of the places where the malevolent and powerful “Nameless Ones” dwelt – an unlit underground chamber leading to a labyrinth where a legendary treasure was hidden. Just higher priestesses were allowed there, and any trespassers would meet a slow painful death, chosen by Arha.

As Arha became aware of the political machinations of the older priestess, who had no real faith, she began to retreat herself to her underground dark realm.

One day a trespasser got in, and Arha became aware of what she already had begun to realize.

The Tombs of Atuan is the second book of the Earthsea series. It is connected to the previous book,  A Wizard of Earthsea, by the character of Ged (the trespasser), but the story stands by itself.

A Wizard of Earthsea is about the growth of Ged to maturity, which is reached in the final confrontation. The Tombs of Atuan is about the growth of Arha to a free being. While Ged had an active, epic growth, Arha’s development is more introspective.

Arha’s growth is a self-development of the self, in the dark isolation from the world, where she discovers herself as an independent being – neither the child her parents had to abandon, nor the blind empty servant of the “Nameless Ones”.

Ged’s presence works as a beacon for Arha. It is interesting to notice that he is not an authoritarian or paternal figure, he does not impose himself as a masculine presence, and sexual attraction does not play a role between him and Arha. He just sheds some light for Arha to grow by herself.

The story of The Tombs of Atuan is a darker, more passive and introspective version of A Wizard of Earthsea, but I would not consider it a feminine/feminist version. Actually, I would not consider any of the stories as related to a specific gender, as they are about the growth of a being to find itself in the World, either by conquering obstacles created by itself or by freeing itself from the prison created by traditions.

The Tombs of Atuan was a Newbery Honor Book in 1972.

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New York, 1939. Josef Kavalier, a Jewish teenager from Prague, arrived as a refugee to live with his aunt and cousin. Josef used to study painting in the Academy of Fine Arts and escapology with a famous Czech escapist, and he soon discovered that his cousin (Sammy Klayman) shared his interests in drawing and the famous escapist Harry Houdini.

Sammy (aka Sam Clay) got a contract for Josef (aka Joe Kavalier), himself and several other Brooklin teenagers, to create a comic-book hero for a novelty products company intending to rival the recent success of Superman. This hero was The Escapist, who used his powers to free the Jewish people from the Nazi threat. However Sammy and Joe lived their own adventures with their personal problems: Joe wanted to bring his family from Prague and Sammy had to deal with his sexual identity problems.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an epic novel about two Jewish boys in New York, who used to write about super-heroes and didn’t realize they were living amazing adventures in their own way, which was a reflex of World War II and the context of New York in the 40’s. It mixes the Golden Age of Comics, American culture in the mid-20th century and the influence of Jewish culture in American History/Mythology.

The description of events and characters is very colorful, resembling a comic book plot. Sammy and Joe influenced the comic book characters with their personal life, and were also influenced by their own characters. Some details are fantasy-like, for instance, the exotic appearance of the golem of Prague in several parts of the book. Several events were based in the actual lives of famous comic-book creators and some historical figures played minor roles in the plot (Orson Welles, Salvador Dali,…).

Although The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay seems less “adventurous” than Gentlemen of the Road, it manages to be more “epical”.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001.

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Duny was a young boy living with his father in Gont, one of the larger islands of the archipelago or Earthsea. Duny discovered his talent for magic and his aunt, the village witch, teached him what she knew about magic and plants. However his aunt was simply a rural witch and his powers exceeded hers.

Duny’s talent for magic attracted the wise mage Ogion, who offered to train him. In a rite of passage to adulthood Ogion gave Duny his true name, Ged. The true name should be kept secret, as a magician could control a person by it, and so Ged was known as Sparrowhawk.

As Sparrowhawk grew a powerful and restless young man, he and Ogion decided that it was best for him to go to study in the renowned school for wizards in the island of Roke. At school, during a dispute with some colleagues, he used his huge power and unleashed a dark creature from another world. He managed to survive the confrontation, but the creature got loose and the Archmage, head of the school, died in the confrontation.

Sparrowhawk was wracked with guilt, and even though he recovered from the physical pain, a psychological pain tormented him. He knew the creature still hunted him, and that their fate lied together.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a delightful work of epic fantasy. Everything is well balanced. Every character and every event takes its time and place in the story, without overstretching. For instance, the passage of Ged through school has many similarities with Harry Potter, but it didn’t took 7 books to pass. The characters, even minor characters, are well developed with human qualities and flaws, and gain the right measure of the reader’s sympathy.

Something I really enjoyed about this book was the angst Ged felt after the release of the creature in Earthsea. The story could easily become lame, but it didn’t. The pathos had always something unnatural about it…

A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is the first book of the Earthsea series. Although there are some hints and connections to other books of the series, the story stands by itself. A Wizard of Earthsea won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1979.

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Two Jewish bandits travel together in Kingdom of Arran, in the Land of the Khazars, 950 AD. They make a strange pair:  Amram is a hulking Abyssian carrying a battle axe, while Zelikman is a thin blond Frankish physician who uses a lancelet as a rapier. They call themselves “gentlemen of the road”.

One day, in a inn, they take into their guard a fugitive Khazar prince, Filaq, whose family was murdered by the usurping bek, Buljan. The two friends intend to deliver Filaq to his wealthy relatives and collect the reward, while Filaq intends to take revenge on Buljan.

Gentlemen of the road describes the strange adventures of this odd group of travelers in the roads of the Khaganate, Land of the Khazars (the only Jewish country in history, situated between the Black and Caspian Seas) and dealing with the brutal and treacherous webs of power at the time.

The main characters of Gentlemen of the Road are well constructed and are the best of the book. The plot itself is not uninteresting, however it brings nothing new. The action scenes are stereotypes from any historic novel, and the crazy twists in trip are not comparable with Voltaire’s Candide. The theme of the Jewish country of the Khazars is not often tackled; however there are other books with a more interesting approach, such as The Wind of the Khazars by Marek Halter.

Gentlemen of the Road is worth reading because it is entertaining, short, fast and easy to read. However, I felt it the plot should have gone deeper.

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