Around the World in Eighty Days

Author: Jules Verne

Publisher: Penguin

Category: Literary Fiction

230 pp

Around the World in Eighty Days could be considered the ultimate adventure/travel book. In 1872, during a game of whist at his favourite haunt, The Reform Club, our protagonist, Phileas Fogg, makes a bet with his friends that it is possible to travel around the world in eighty days. Recently, there has been a robbery at the Bank of England, with the thief stealing 55,000 pounds. Fogg and his friends discuss the fact that the world is becoming more accessible, and therefore travel is becoming faster. It is revealed that the Morning Chronicle newspaper had published an article stating it was possible to travel around the world in eighty days, travelling from London – Suez – Bombay – Calcutta – Hong Kong – Yokohama – San Francisco – New York – London. This had become possible because of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the near completion of a Trans-Indian Railroad. Phileas Fogg makes a bet with his friends for 20,000 pounds that he in fact can travel around the world in eighty days, and sets off on his great adventure that same night.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Fix believes Fogg to be the bank robber and writes to Scotland Yard, asking them to issue a warrant for Fogg’s arrest. However, a series of mishaps delays the warrant and sees Fix following Phileas Fogg all the way around the world. Fogg and his French manservant Passepartout have many adventures during their trip. Firstly, Passepartout, who is a somewhat bumbling servant that reminded me of Manuel from Fawlty Towers, leaves the gas on in his room back in London. He then enters a sacred Indian Temple with his shoes on, which results in him losing his shoes and later being arrested. Despite being advertised as complete, the railway from Bombay to Calcutta stops half way, and in order to avoid a delay, Fogg is forced to buy an elephant as a means of transport to Allahabad where they can pick up the train once more. Fogg and Passepartout rescue the Indian Mrs Aouda from certain death, and she accompanies them for the rest of their journey.  In Hong Kong, Passepartout visits an Opium Den with Inspector Fix, and becomes so intoxicated he passes out. This results in Fogg missing his ship to Yokohama, although in a comedy of errors, Passpartout manages to stumble aboard the ship as it sets sail, and the two are separated for a time. By the time the four reach London, the “had used all possible means of transport: steamships, railways, carriages, yachts, commercial vessels, a sledge and an elephant”.

Despite his hot-headedness and clumsiness, Passpartout is the most loyal of servants, and his antics provide some humour against the impassiveness that is Phileas Fogg. At the end of the novel, one of Fogg’s Reform Club friends notes that “our colleague is an eccentric of the highest order”, summing up Fogg’s character perfectly. He is the model of a staid English Gentleman, and as the narrator points out “he was the sort of Englishman who gets his servant to do the sights for him”. Despite this cold exterior, Fogg does prove himself to be capable of warmth when he rescues Mrs Aouda. The juxtaposition of these two characters helps the story a lot. Without Passepartout I think the story would have been very dull.

Originally Around the World in Eighty Days was published in Le Temps newspaper as a serial, and was timed to finish on December 21st – the same day that Phileas Fogg arrives home in the novel. I had intended to read this novel as a serial – one chapter a day – but it didn’t quite pan out like that. Still, I can imagine the French public opening their papers every morning with their coffee and croissants and reading of the adventures of Phileas Fogg, possibly wishing that they too could be travelling around the world in eighty days.

7.5/10

This is the second book read for The Classics Club challenge.

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Schindler’s Ark

Schindler’s Ark

Author: Thomas Keneally

Publisher: Sceptre

429 pp

Category: Fiction

Call it a morbid fascination if you like, but I love reading books about World War II. Some of my      all-time favourite novels are set during this era – Charlotte Gray, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Suite Francaise, The Reader, and of course, The Diary of Anne Frank to name just a few. The common thread of these novels is the amazing ability of humans to survive through the most horrific events of war. Although Schindler’s Ark is often quite brutal in describing some of the events that took place during World War II, it was the remarkable capacity of prisoners to survive against all odds that really stood out.

Written in 1982, and winning the Booker Prize that year, I guess Schindler’s Ark is somewhat of a modern classic. It is one of those books that had been on my TBR pile for a while and, thanks to my friend Judy who nominated it for this months’ book club, I finally got to read it.

Oskar Schindler is a debonair German-Czech businessman living in Zwittau, Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the Second World War. He is a big drinker, a heavy smoker, has a wife, a mistress and a girlfriend, and comes across as quite unfriendly. He is wealthy, wears double-breasted suits, and is chauffeur-driven in a BMW. In 1939, Schindler visits Poland, looking for a factory to invest in. He finds an enamelware company that has gone bankrupt, buys it, and begins the Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik Company. Schindler wins a contract with the Armaments Inspectorate and begins to supply equipment to the German Army. He meets the Jewish accountant, Itzak Stern, who recognises something of the saviour in Schindler. Schindler, who has become disillusioned with humanity, hears of a Talmudic verse that says “he who saves the life of one man, saves the entire world”. Stern believes that this was the point where Schindler decided it was worth trying to save people from the atrocities of war.

Governor General, Hans Frank, soon announces his intention to make his beloved Czech capital judenfrei (jew-free). A few thousand are permitted to stay as skilled workers, but the rest are shipped off to other Polish towns. Schindler has many Jewish workers employed in his factory when the SS decides to set up a Jewish ghetto, making it compulsory for Jews to live inside its’ walls. Life rapidly becomes dangerous for these Polish Jews, and in 1941 Schindler is horrified when he is witness to an Aktion that slaughters thousands. It is after this that Schindler was ”resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system”.  By dealing in the black market and bribing German officials with alcohol, food and cigarettes, Schindler manages to keep his factory workers safe from execution.

When Commandant Amon Goeth decides to set up a forced labour camp at Plaszow, on the fringes of Cracow, Schindler decides to set up a subsidiary camp within his factory on the pretence that he needs skilled workers to keep his factory going. The 1200 Jewish workers that he houses there call themselves Schindlerjuden. At the same time, Schindler becomes part of the resistance, providing information to the Zionist movement in Hungary. Nearing the end of the war, Schindler compiles a list of Emalia workers that he manages to relocate to a camp in Czechoslovakia. In a lovely completion of the circle, Schindler’s factory workers give him a ring at the end of the war. It had been melted down from the gold fillings of one of the workers, and inscribed with the same Talmudic verse that Schindler had heard at the start of the war.

Even amongst all the horror and loss of life, I was struck by the fortitude of the workers and the lengths some of them went to in order to survive. Some prisoners escaped the constant round-ups by building fake walls in their houses – carting in bricks one at a time in wheelbarrows, hidden underneath goods that were allowed. Others escaped into the surrounding forests by crawling through the sewers – risking the fact that a German soldier may be guarding the exit at the other end. Some who had been imprisoned in the concentration camps, escaped execution by hiding down the hole in the ground used as a toilet.

Schindler’s Ark is a confronting, gritty novel. At times it is overwhelmingly brutal and sad, but ultimately portrays a message of hope. Although categorised as fiction, it often reads more like a biography, and is a fascinating portrayal of one man’s’ attempt to save as many people as he could. It is impeccably researched and richly detailed and I highly recommend it.

My rating: 8.5/10

This is the first book read for The Classics Club Challenge.

The World of Melina Marchetta

 

Recently I have been delving into the literary world of Australian author Melina Marchetta. Marchetta writes YA books that are gritty and real and I love the worlds she creates. Earlier this year I read On the Jellicoe Road, which I loved. You can read my review here.  During the past month I have read The Piper’s Son, and the Lumatere Chronicles trilogy comprising Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn.

The Piper’s Son was published in 2010, and is a sequel of sorts to Saving Francesca. Many of the characters are the revisited, but The Piper’s Son is mainly the story of Tom Mackee and the Mackee and Finch families. Many of the characters in The Piper’s Son are flawed. They have witnessed great tragedies in their lives and often find in nearly impossible to communicate with each other, but somehow they are still likeable and you find yourself hoping that things will turn out well for them.  Marchetta creates real characters with real lives and real problems, but still manages to do so with a light and often humorous touch.

I resisted reading the Lumatere Chronicles for a while because it is fantasy and I don’t see myself as a fantasy reader. I’m so glad I changed my mind and read them though. The world Marchetta has created in this trilogy is amazing. It’s like reading a medieval novel although within a fantasy setting. These books are full of adventure, battles, tormented characters, castles, underground caves, and romance. The action takes place in the fantastical world of Skuldenore, which is made up of many different regions. These regions are governed separately, with a fair bit of animosity between them. In the case of the region of Charyn, this is also divided into provinces. The result is a complex and tempestuous story. There are betrayals, ancient curses, and divided loyalties. I highly recommend it as a series worth exploring.

All books 9/10