Book Review of Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death

“…the very notion of a self is vague,”

The measure of one’s truth is in what drives a person to despair. How does one live? What faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to happiness? Is it by virtue of the lack of sorrow? And what faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to sorrow? Is it by virtue of the lack of happiness?

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about the idea of despair as being an eternal phenomenon as the “self” is an eternal force of nature. So the loss of despair is the loss of one’s “self” in which there can occur an annihilation of one’s relation to not only the outside world but to the “self” itself. The Sickness Unto Death is his profound, intellectual, and ceaseless conversation about self-actualization. His writing is easy no task to bear but if you are patient and amicable enough, the book is better than any self-help book you’ve ever read.

For Kierkegaard, this sickness of despair is not as conventional as physical sickness that may or may not drive one to death. Despair is rather an omnipresent, an underlying manifestation of the consciousness. It doesn’t alienate us from perception rather it elevates the intensity of the experience to the point of uninhibited self-expression, or what Kierkegaard calls “faith.”

One despairs in being oneself. One despairs in wanting to be oneself. One despairs in not wanting to be oneself. This tug of war between a self’s authentic and inauthentic despair is the formula of human existence.  The biggest danger, however, is “that of losing oneself, one can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

Read all my highlighted passages from the book here.


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Book Review of Albert Camus’s The Plague

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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Book Review of Haruki Murakami’s Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

His first debut short novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, are the first strings that tie Murakami’s fantasy together. The stories are rich, captivating, and vivid. They transcend layers upon layers into the characteristic vitality and loneliness that Murakami never fails to bring page after page. The lives of the people permeate everything. I couldn’t understand how else the language and longing of the protagonist are brought to be understood by so many.

The novels are centered upon ordinary realities whose very essence and soul are rare and unforgettable. I enjoyed revisiting the pleasant and nostalgic sensitivity of Murakami. Where his deepest and conscious thought is so effortless to make sense of. The book demands little in return. Consider it a light read… a moving work of literature. Meditative and tranquil; containing the sum total of one’s lonely, quiet, and vigilant voyage.

If what you seek is wisdom and meditation that’s lurking beneath the surface, you’ll find it in this story. All it does is give you a taste of that flawless and enigmatic purity that Murakami achieves in his later works. If you’re attentive enough, these short stories reveal the beauty of such seasoning of life.

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Book Review of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

It’s like going to sleep in this reality and waking up in another. A reality bereft of meaning but burdened with formulaic lifestyles. The book tells you that your character is a lie; forged as a result of denying pain and anxiety and suffering in the world. You validate and create your own supposedly infinite values so life’s possibilities may appear abundant, final, and redeeming.

We’ve all incurred this trait as it reaches an unconscious and almost robotic stage. Where, to break the pattern, the repression of these lies and delusions, one has to not only step out of this world but step out of the shoes that one, from childhood into adulthood, had tightened the shoelaces of. The Denial of Death calls this “the final terror of self-consciousness” under the light of facing up to one’s own death.

There is no doubt this book is consolatory for such times when our biological fate seems too hollow and out-of-hand. Evolution dictates the continuity of science, of geographical and historical precedence, but one does wonder if humanity is the real nature of the world. These “character defenses” we collectively but internally manifest and project out into the world is an attempt to delay the realization and acceptance of the only philosophical question about the human condition.

The “hero” is not the one with the answer but the one who bears the question without an explanation. Who lives undeterred by, but as a result of, the nothingness of life’s alibi. There are many definitions of death; poetically, we must return to the very form that created us, to dust; scientifically, our cells die and our organs do not regenerate; philosophically, death is nothing but the living of life. None do explain the accompanying awareness of death. And while we continue to form our own symphonies to bridge time, space, and existence – it’s books like The Denial of Death that broaden our understanding of our place in it. Don’t read it if you want answers, read it if you can start asking the questions.

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Book Review of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life

Reading Proust and meditating on his literature and wisdom are unique but strange experiences. His descent and inquiry into igniting every compassionate nerve in one’s body are exceptional. And Alain de Botton accomplishes the rare task of compiling Marcel Proust’s most significant and learned possessions.

The book comprises of life’s most sought but unrequited questions. Perhaps it’s not about people that we need to learn about. Nor is it about acquiring more words under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Rather, it’s understanding the varied dimensions to loving and being.

Presence, which goes above and beyond sensory perception is often unwelcome in the realm of friendships and loves.

Proust takes you a step further into the logic of such a philosophy. And when other philosophy books seem perplexing and perhaps too embracive, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life makes the same sentiment more alluring than just a glance. It’s intense, simple, and within the realm of one’s emotional, intellectual, and platonic possibilities.

There is a lesson in each question. Two of them that, in homage, I offer to time’s quickening spirit is ‘How to Suffer Successfully’ and ‘How to Read for Yourself’. Read this book as a reminder or merely a kind of repose which offers mind and creative courage. Alain de Botton delivers an unforgettable and imaginative evaluation of what Proust so eloquently discovered in his books.


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The Face of Another – Kobo Abe

The loyalty of a face is so inveterate against the reality of identity. We’re lost in the maze of misplaced, forgotten, or abandoned identities. And no other Japanese author understands the significance and crisis of this fable better than Kobo Abe. In his book, The Face of Another, this part of our humanity is most chronic and ablaze.

The book rises to the challenge of an experiment. This experiment is as much in the protagonist’s mind as it is in the reader’s. It’s a dormant state followed by a line of questioning. Though we can escape anger or loneliness, can we strip the face that holds on to these emotions? We may not look at other faces and turn our gaze to nature and reflect in its mirror, but how is it that we cannot turn away from the many faces we ourselves cannot bear to remove? Is it a disguise even if it feels more real and closer to reality than nothing?

The protagonist strips each layer of identity and then of its masks. He loses his ability to distinguish person from person, object from object, music from music. These sights, sounds, and smell flood his inner ecosystem. And to redeem it, he chooses a different identity in order to meet the world and himself. Kobo Abe’s literary style – in The Face of Another, The Box Man, The Woman in the Dunes – feels like a black hole in space. Inside it are different pulsating soliloquies suspended over a vast space of empty air.

Have you ever read a book that feels the right kind of nihilist, perhaps even cynic? Kobo Abe’s chilling and classic fiction scrutinizes a man’s suffering and reawakening. The most absurd and existential of catastrophes is the confrontation of your inner mind’s eye with your outer. This book is humanity’s letter of admission to the world. It’s brutal and brisk in the way it breaks down superficialities.


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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind

A deeply disturbing story that evolves through time as it shifts and surpasses the boundaries of literary worlds. What if what we perceive as the boundaries of our objective universe isn’t the only space we inhabit? The story of Perfume and the provocative and redolent sphere it creates definitely makes a good argument for it.

It inhabits a blip in time; a black hole of the universe’s most cruel joke which is to become an accessory to fragrance. Now, we think of fragrance as having a more meek quality. Imagine a world where we were the meek ones. It can be mystifying, titillating but knuckled under a growing horror. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer discovers the atoms and molecules of such a world in its every breath. It’s a celebration of the living world but carried out through its destruction.

The book is full of effulgent descriptions, the poetics of perfuming, and finally, murder blanketed as a sensual remedy for isolation. The path it takes is profoundly imaginative, horrific, and unpredictable. It’s not a historical tale, not a mystery, not a crime novel, nor is it horror. Most of the time, the stamp of a book is not what it is for the world, but what it becomes, detached, for itself. And that’s exactly the kind of book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is.


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The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence. 

A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

Buy A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro on Amazon

A rare ghost story, buoyant in nature, A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro is most remedying. The book draws its courage and simplicity from its narration. How deeply it strings together the forceful stream of memory upon a person’s solemn and intriguing life. The book, in many ways, teaches you how to live and do nothing else. And in that lies the means to live wholly.

Inspiring patience in monotomy and resonance in upbringing. And the roots of a family that plant one another at unforeseen moments, unremembered but never erased. This book is beautiful but sad. It maps the distance between such self-aware relationships. The fragility of them, how they once grew toward each other, and now they seem to grow apart. Isn’t that how most things in life transpire?

We all wish to re-live a few past memories while also welcoming the forgetfulness of them. Could that be more than dwelling on the past? Like navigating the gradual weaving of time. The phenomenon we know to be inevitable and yet feels as surreal as dreaming. The book dwells on the past and present in a way that it enriches the vivid presence of Etsuko. Possessing a quaint, vibrant, and soulful quality.


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If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller – Italo Calvino

We live in a world in which our perceptibility of reality, its acute awareness, and tireless influence are embraced as if canvassed across the night sky in a spectacle of lights. Marking your own bearings on such a sky takes a lifetime.

Every star, every imprint has a gleaming light of its own; a deep and intense light. This intensity keeps changing for those who are still on earth because they look at it differently. Some look at the stars in hope, some in anguish, some in euphoria. But do we wonder if anybody is looking back at us from above? The effulgence of light manifesting a ‘telluric’ quality of sorts.

And do we then derive our passions, loves, and fervor from the energy of lights? Standing under them, one after another, embracing all its ethereal traits. The multiple voices of a thousand and more lives. The language that resonates most with our inner voice. We hear it in whispers, taste it in nondescript flavors, and see it through the eyes of our soul.

Consider Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller as a trove of those voices. It remedies the ragged edges of reality. It reclaims the unattainable in dreams, the impossibilities in feeling, and the unimaginable in expression.

The path this luminous book takes is idiosyncratic in that it has many truths and many identities. It stations you into a world no one yet knows is. Invading your mind, soul, and whole concrete being. Calvino perfectly describes the uncertainty, the murkiness, the anticipation which compels a reader to read a new book. And how each time you read, you experience the self that is you, the reader.


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