[Book Review]De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is definitely one of my favourite authors that I read most of his works. If I can invite anyone(dead or alive) to my dinner, Oscar Wilde would be always in my list.  Reading his quotes, I think I would be able to enjoy his wit for a long dinner.

De Profundis or “from the depths” is a long letter written by Oscar Wild to Lord Alfred Douglas while he was imprisoned in Reading Goal.

The letter is Wild’s attempt to come to terms with his past, present dire circumstances and the future that he will have to face once released. As the name states, the letter is account from the depth – from his soul with all honesty. Although he holds that he is unjustly convicted, he nevertheless admits that he has committed grave errors in the past. He is repentant on the superficial life he has had led. And he seeks forgiveness and bestow forgiveness of those who he believed wronged him.

The letter is also a way of releasing his anger, bitterness and despair while he struggled to find a meaning and purpose for the continuation of his life. He himself admits that he wanted to end it in utter despair. But yet he struggles, despite his losses (he was made bankrupt and he was barred from any contacts with his sons), to come to terms with the nature of life which he say is “full of sorrow” which can be endured only though “love”.

It was truly sad to read the emotional and mental agonies that such a fine artist had to go through. When he said that he had brought disgrace to the name that his loving parents had bestowed on him, my heart broke. It is a huge burden one carries with oneself.

The letter is also full of his philosophical views and beautiful writing. Letter or not, it is by Oscar Wild and one should not expect less.

Here are some sentences that I thought insightful and sassy as usual:


‘Suffering is permanent, obscure, and dark And has the nature of infinity.’


Those who have much are often greedy; those who have little always share.


The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.


the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals.


Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous.  But behind sorrow there is always sorrow.


Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world.  I cannot conceive of any other explanation.  I am convinced that there is no other, and that if the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the soul of man, for whom the world was made, reach the full stature of its perfection.  Pleasure for the beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful soul.





[Book Review]A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

I started to read the first book of this series on late July and finally finished reading the fifth book of the series. Each of these books are so incredibly long that it feels like a major accomplishment to complete them. I feel like I should get a merit badge or something. Now I’m finally on the queue of begging George R.R Martin to publish the next book as soon as possible.

Here is the link for the review on the first book of the series about a year ago:My first review on the book. I was being lazy on writing reviews on the second, third and the fourth.

The fifth chapter of “A song of ice and fire” is yet another confirmation that George R.R. Martin, in the field of the epic-medieval fantasy, is the most worthy contemporary successor of J.R.R. Tolkien. The universe molded by Martin is described with a manic cure and with so many details that some readers are rather disappointed, accusing the work to be too long and/or boring. I do not agree. Game of Thrones has become what we today know exactly thanks to the painful precision of the author in painting the houses and the mechanisms that regulate their everyday life. The meticulous work done by Martin to draw up the genealogy of the main houses accompanying each volume recalls once again to Tolkien. At the moment, my reading experience is so immersive that I would probably guess the noble family of any new character only from the description of his ethics and behaviors. This means in my opinion that Martin has created a world, and he did it damn well.

“Life is not a ballad”

The bitter thought of Theon the “turncoat”, the outcast Geyjoy, beautifully contrasts with the fact that Game of Thrones is one of the most beautiful ballads that contemporary literature has given us.

Lannister, Baratheon, Targaryen, Stark, Greyjoy, Bolton, Martell and many other houses continue their game for power constantly passing through alliances and betrayal, in which you can not trust anyone, not even your own children. The only voice out of the chorus is that of Jon Snow, who is not able to make everybody around him understand that there will be no Iron Throne to conquer unless the dark presence beyond the Barrier, the Enemy of all, will not be overthrown. Therefore, long life to George Martin. I hope he will leave his mortal coil at least in one hundred years. And not before finalizing A Song of Ice and Fire.

Winter is coming. Aye.

[Book Review] Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges(2): “Ficciones”

Rating:  ★★★★★

(You can check the previous one: (1)A Universal History of Iniquity)

This work would probably be the most well-known literature by Borges. Also, in the very beginning part of this literature, Borges said

It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books- setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.

Now we know why Borges did not bother to write a five- hundred- page novel.

This is a collection of 17 of his “best” short stories, held together merely by the thread that they are like nothing else you’ve ever read or even thought about. There are some of them I would like to highlight.

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

In this one, I underlined most part of this novel. It’s a full of creative and original imagination.  It’s one of the most abstruse works I’ve ever read. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is a wonderful musing on the relationships between ideas, the written word, and reality. The narrator tells the reader of discovering a seemingly unique article slipped into a single copy of an encyclopedia, detailing (but vaguely) the profile of a country called Uqbar. As it turns out, Uqbar may not exist (or, may not have existed?) in our world, but may exist in a parallel world called Tlön. Tlön may be wholly the invention of a secret group of intellectuals who have conspired to create a hidden imaginary history – but their fabulist inventions seem to be sneakily creeping their way into our existence.

The story is aesthetically appealing to any lover of fantasy worlds – and any bibliophile. It’s delightfully multi-layered, with truth and fiction inextricably tangled.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

I have said that the people of that planet conceive the universe as a series of mental processes that occur not in space but rather successively in time.

To explain an event is to link it to another; on Tlön, that joining together is a posterior state of the subject, and an neither affect nor illuminate the prior state. The paradoxical truth is that systems of thought do exist, almost countless numbers of them….There are systems upon systems of thought that are incredible but possessed of a pleasing architecture or a certain agreeable sensationalism.

The people of Tlön are taught that the act of counting modifies the amount counted, turning indefinites into definites. ….We must always remember that are Tlön, the subject of knowledge is one and eternal.

Tlön may well be a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth forged by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.


Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

Another story set up as a mock review of one Pierre Menard’s attempt to recreate Don Quixote ― not copy it, but study Cervantes and his world so deeply that he can write Don Quixote exactly as it was originally written. The reviewer lauds Menard’s work, which uses the identical words as Cervantes, as far richer and more profound than the original. It’s an insightful satire, I would say.


The Library of Babel

One of Borges’ most famous stories, “The Library of Babel” posits a universe in the form of a library made out of connected hexagonal rooms, each room filled with books and the barest necessities for life. Each book contains 410 pages, with 40 lines of 80 letters each. There are 25 letters and punctuation marks in the alphabet. The Library contains every possible combination of those letters. Most of the books are complete gibberish, of course, but like the Infinite Monkey Theorem says, if you have enough monkeys banging away on typewriters for long enough, eventually they’ll write Hamlet. But life for the people dwelling in this library is profoundly frustrating, even depressing, since only a vanishingly small percentage of the books make any sense at all. Borges explores the ways that people react to this, with several nods to religion and philosophy. Mathematicians have had a field day with this book’s concept, figuring out how many books such a library would contain. Per Wikipedia’s article on this story, there would be far more books in this library (1.956 x 10 to the 1,834,097th power) than there are thought to be atoms in the observable universe (10 to the 80th power).

Here are some quotes I would like to share:

If the honor and wisdom and joy of such a reading are not to be my own, then let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my own place be in hell.

Infidels claim that the rule in the library is not “sense”, but “non-sense” and that “rationality” is almost miraculous exception.

I am perhaps midled by old age and fear, but I suspect that the human species-the only species-teaters at the verge of extinction, yet that the library-enlightened,solitary,infinite, perfectly unmoving, armed with precious volumes, pointless, incorruptible, and secret- will endure.

The library is unlimited but periodic

Theme of the Traitor and the Hero

A man named Ryan researches the death of his great-grandfather, an Irish nationalist hero named Fergus Kilpatrick, who was assassinated and is now viewed as a martyr to the cause of Irish independence. Something about the manner of Fergus Kilpatrick’s death strikes Ryan as enigmatic, a series of events that are like “circular labyrinths” (that image again!), oddly echoing elements from Macbeth and Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s classic tragedies of betrayal. In “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” the conceptual aspects of this tale don’t override the compelling plot, and this was one of the stories I really loved.

The End

A shopkeeper, who has suffered a paralyzing stroke and is lying on a cot, sees and overhears a confrontation between a Negro man, who has been hanging around the shopkeeper’s store, playing his guitar and waiting, and a man who rides up to meet him. Their conversation makes it clear that the black man has been waiting seven years for this meeting. As mentioned in an editor’s footnote, this brief, bleak story is essentially a coda to a famous Argentine 19th century epic folk poem, “Martin Fierro,” about the life of a violent gaucho. In a famous scene in the poem, Fierro crudely provokes a black man and then kills him in the resulting knife fight. Several years later, in this story, Fierro is an aging man with some regrets for the life he has lived, and whose free and lawless gaucho way of life is passing. Once I really grasped the connection between the poem and this story, it became one of my favourites in this collection.

The South 

The main character is Juan Dahlmann, a mixture of German and Spanish ancestry, whose life is mundane but who dreams vaguely of a more romantic life, inspired by the Flores side of his heritage and the Flores ranch in the South that he owns but has never visited. One day Dahlmann brushes his forehead against something in a dark stairway and realizes afterwards that he is bleeding. He develops a life-threatening infection and is taken to a sanitarium for treatment. After many excruciatingly painful and feverish days, he recovers, and decides that he will take a trip to his ranch to convalesce. He travels out of the city on a train, feeling as though he is traveling into the past, and has an unexpected confrontation as he nears his final destination. Or does he? You decide, but several clues in the text ― a mysterious cat, a spitball that brushes his face, a dagger tossed to him by an old gaucho ― have led me unequivocally to my own conclusion. The brain cells, by the way, were completely engaged by this tale, which was complex and layered enough to make me think, but didn’t lose me in a labyrinth of difficult-to-grasp ideas.

He sensed that had been able to choose or dream his death that night, this is the death he would have dreamed or chosen.



Repeated labyrinth imagery, scenes of deception, and challenges to our perceptions of what is real echo throughout the stories of Ficciones. These stories are often elusive, twisting out of your grasp or revealing unexpected depths just when you think you’ve got a handle on them. Even the lightest stories have several layers and hidden meanings to unpack. If you’re interested in philosophical ideas and are up for a literary challenge, I highly recommend Ficciones.

[Book Review]Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges(1): “A Universal History of Iniquity”

I read this book for the first time about a couple of years ago. Recently, I was browsing my bookshelves and thought “hmm…I read this collected fictions by Borges but I forgot most of the parts.” when I spotted this book randomly. I remember this book was full of “out of the box” thoughts but I could not recall what they were. Probably at that time, I didn’t write book reviews nor write down some of the favourite quotes in my notebook. Since I started to write book reviews nowadays, I thought it would be great if I start to read this book again and write a review for each short fiction as possible within this book. And this is the first post of this Borges series. Let’s cross fingers for not losing streak.

Rating: ★★★★-3.5

From his early years, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges lived among books and languages, classical literature from many civilizations and cultures: Chinese, Persian, Nordic, Spanish, to name several. His greatest childhood memory was his father’s library; he was reading Shakespeare in English at age 11; by the time he was an adult, Borges turned his mind into one vast library. Therefore, it is a bit ironic this bookish man chose to write an entire collection of tales about men of sheer action and where the action is immorality, wickedness, injustice and evil.

‘A Universal History of Iniquity’ is a jewel. Unlike Borges’s baroque and abstract writings, these nine short tales are straight-forward and make for easy reading. But it still contains some conceptual quotes.

Here are some tastes of it,

The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it.

Thus did I sin in the years of my youth, deforming the true colors of the creatures. The Angel would tell me that lamb were not the color of tigers, while Satan would say to me that the All-Powerful-one desired that they be, and in that pursuit he employed my cunning and my dye. Now I know that neither the Angel nor Satan spoke the truth, for I know that all color is abominable.

The chaotic story takes place in the cellars of old breweries turned into Negro tenements, in a seedy, three-story New York City filed with gangs of thugs like the Swamp Angels, who would swarm out of the labyrinthine sewers on marauding expeditions; gangs of cutthroats like the Daybreak boys, who recruited precocious murderers of ten and eleven years old; brazen, solitary giants like the Plug Uglies, whose stiff bowler hats stuffed with wood and whose vast shirttails blowing in the wind of the slums might provoke a passerby’s improbable smile, but who carried huge bludgeons in their right hands and long, narrow pistols; and gangs of street toughs like the Dead Rabbit gang, who entered into battle under the banner of their mascot impaled upon a pike. Its characters were men like Dandy Johnny Dolan, famed for his brilliantined forelock, the monkey-headed walking sticks he carried, and the delicate copper pick he wore on his thumb to gouge out his enemies’ eyes: men like Kit Burns, who was known to bite the head off live rats; and men like blind Danny Lyons, a towheaded kid with huge dead eyes who pimped for three whores that proudly walked the streets for him.

I have included the long quote above for a specific reason: Borges was fascinated by the image and concept of labyrinths his entire life. However, such a labyrinth of unending perversion and violence was one Borges would never himself experience directly; rather, as a bookish, literary man, Borges entered this twisted human sewer through his imagination.
My guess is anyone reading this review is light-years away from entering a world where teenagers kill for the hell of it or cutthroat gangs hack and slice one another to pieces under the banner of an impaled dog or rabbit. But such worlds existed aplenty in the 19th and early 20th century and they still exist today. How to experience these violent worlds for yourself? One easy answer: let Jorge Luis Borges give you a guided tour.


[Book Review] 2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut

(FYI, you can get this book for free in Kindle)

Rating: ★★★★-3.5

The first impression of this book is “what the hell is the title?” But as soon as I read the title out loud, I was impressed about how smart it is to quote famous Hamlet’s line in this most hipster way as possible. And it is a 15-page-story so about 15 minutes would be enough to time to enjoy and embrace Kurt Vonnegut’s dark sense of humour.

Writing more than several sentences would almost surely spoil it, so I’ll say almost nothing beyond this: future, population control & ethical suicide studios. Does that peak your interest or make you cringe? For me it was both.

[Book Review]The Letters of Vincent van Gogh


The main problem when encountering Van Gogh is that his life has become the quintessential artistic myth of our age. The obscure genius ahead of his time, toiling in solitude, tortured by personal demons, driven by a creativity that sometimes spilled over into madness—and so on. You’ve heard it all before. You have also seen it before. His paintings suffer from the same overexposure as does his life story. Starry Night hangs, in poster form, in dorm rooms and offices; it is used in commercials and as desktop backgrounds. The challenge, then, as with all iconic art, is to unsee it before it can be properly seen.

The best way to pop this swollen bubble of this myth is, I think, to read these letters. Here an entirely different Van Gogh is revealed. Instead of the mad genius we find the cultured gentleman. Van Gogh could read and write English, French, and German fluently, in addition to his native Dutch. His prose is fluent, cogent, and clear—sometimes even lyrical. His knowledge of art history is equally impressive, as he, for example, compares Shakespeare’s and Rembrandt’s understanding of human nature. Not only this, but he was far from insulated from the artistic currents of his day. To the contrary, he was friends with many of the major artists in Paris—Seurat, Signac, Gauguin—and aware of the work of other prominent painters, such as Monet and Cézanne.

But, of course, Van Gogh’s myth, like many, has some basis in truth. During his lifetime he did not receive even a fraction of the recognition his work deserved (though if he had lived a little longer it likely would have). He was often unhappy and he did suffer from a mental illness of some sort, which did indeed lead him to sever a portion of his own ear. What is less clear is the role that his unhappiness and his mental illness played in his work. In our modern world, still full of Romanticism, we are apt to see these factors as integral to his artistic vision, the source of his inspiration and style. Van Gogh himself had, however, quite a different opinion, seeing his suffering and illness as a distraction or an obstacle, something to be endured but not sought.

This book contains letters to his brother Theo. The letters span from the Summer of 1872 until a couple of days before his death on 1890. In other words, the letters started from when 19-year-old Vincent was discovering his passion toward art to until a few days before his death.

It has been a fascinating process to be able to follow how he gradually discovered his painting vocation, which happened relatively late. At first he felt his calling was for the church. Once he became disappointed with the clerical life, he thought of becoming a social helper. During this time, though, references to paintings and art, and close descriptions of landscapes, fill his letters. It was not until he was around 26 that he finally decided to become an artist. This was in 1879 and he had to begin his training, drawing and materials, from the start.


<The Zandmennik House>  ca. 1879/1880- when he decided to become an artist,

What comes across clearly, whether he is discussing art or whatever else, is the profound intensity with which he approached anything he undertook and the passion with which he defended his ideas. One could say he was a Romantic, not in the historical sense, but in the theoretical one. He pursued with his art his religious longings. Aestheticism at its purest.

During my read, I felt compelled to post many updates. Most of these are either descriptions in text of what could have been visual. If even before he drew and painted he would send accounts of his visual impressions, once he began producing paintings, at a very fast rate, he would send textual versions of his painterly renditions. In text, colour dominates. His paintings are described as a succession of things in tones. The colour of the tree, the colour of his table, the colour of the grass, the colour of the sun, the colour of someone’s coat… He does not discuss compositions or arrangements or drawing. His art discussions veer towards the most visual, colours. We see then that even if he painted outdoors and very rarely from memory, he was not a naturalist. He developed his own system for colours based on correspondences with his own moods and very personal impressions. But this was not fixed. It could not be, It varied with his emotions.


<Self Portrait>-1886-arrival in Paris

This personal meaning to his painting is what explains that even if it was after his arrival in Paris in 1886, where he fell under the spell of Impressionism, when he changed his palette from the earth tones to the bright and primary colours, he pursued something very different from the French painters. He aim was not to record of the sensory. That is also why he did not get close to the analytical art of the Pointillistes( if you are unfamilir with this term, think of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat). Van Gogh had a profoundly and intensely intimate relation with painting, with the act of painting itself. His brushstroke is rich and thick and expressive. His canvases have a loaded texture. And this texture has his mark.

With such a personal approach to his art we should not be surprised that his stated favourite genre was portraiture– of others and of himself.

I should like to do portraits which will appear as revelations to people in a hundred years time. I am not trying to achieve this by photographic likeness but by rendering our impassioned expressions, by using our modern knowledge and appreciation of colour as a means of expressing and exalting character.

To follow this epistolary approach to his art is also suitable because Van Gogh was a very literary man.  I didn’t know this side of Van Gogh until I started to read this book so it was a pleasant surprise. This literary outlook tinted his vision of his surroundings. A compulsive reader, he peppers his letters with references to a wide array of writers(mostly French writers). Very knowledgeable of French literature, and even if he turned his back to the Naturalist painters, his preferences in literature were for the Naturalists, in particular those who included a lens focused on the social content. He mentions regularly Zola, Flaubert, Maupassant, Daudet and Hugo. From English literature his favourites were clearly Charles Dickens and, very dear to him, George Eliot.

Vincent’s story had a tragic ending. On a summer day in July he walked into a wheat field where he was painting and shot himself in the chest. He survived two more days, finally passing away in his brother’s arms on July 29. The circumstances surrounding this death are rather remarkable, and I don’t wonder that two biographers, Naifeh and Smith, have raised questions about it. The tone of his final letters, while troubled, are far from despairing. He even includes an order of paints in his final dispatch to Theo. And it is also extraordinary to think that a man who had shot himself in the chest could walk a mile back to the inn, or that a man locally known for his mental instability could get a gun. The film, Loving Vincent is focused on this question.

This selection of letters is a perfect antidote to the alienating effect of ubiquitous reproduced images. Reading them is highly refreshing. They succeed in enlivening the aesthetic emotion when contemplating Van Gogh’s very dazzling and unforgettable works.


<-Wheatfield with Crows>, 1890-the year he quitted his life.

[Book Review] Silence by Shūsaku Endō


I actually got to know this book through the movie ‘Silence’ directed by Martin Scorsese. In the interview with Scorsese regarding to the movie, he said that he read this book years ago and was deeply inspired by this book. He was thinking of this book making into the movie and it took quite a long time to really execute it.

Growing up in South Korea for more than half of my life, I know that there had been a lot of persecutions against Christians from the government because the government was afraid that Christian religion would persuade people that the King is under the God. As far as I know, Japan was not so different on that perspective. This book describes hardship of two Portuguese Jesuit priests coming to Japan to look for their former mentor who renounced his faith.

This is an intense and grim novel written mostly from the vantage point of a Roman Catholic priest, a missionary to Japan, early in the 17th century. The events are based on historical facts and the characters on actual people. The succinct introduction by translator William Johnston reveals that the novel begins after the period when daiymo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had once allowed the Christian missionaries much privilege, had twenty-six Japanese and European Christians crucified. Apparently there “stands a monument to commemorate the spot where they died” to this day. Although missionary work continued, there began a savage effort to exterminate Christianity from Japan. The first executions created too many martyrs, so the Japanese officials attempted to force the Christians to apostatize by stamping or pressing their foot on a depiction of Christ or the Virgin, a fumie. If not, they were wrapped tightly and hung upside down in a pit filled with excrement until they signaled their apostasy (with their one free hand) or died.

The novel opens with two priests willing to risk capture and death to keep Christ’s flame burning. They are Sebastian Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe from Portugal.  What happens to these men in Japan is beautiful and terrible. The letters of Rodrigues are testament to the powerful writing of Endō and show the priest’s anguish as God remains silent in the face of so much suffering. He writes: “I knew well, of course, that the greatest sin against God was despair; but the silence of God was something I could not fathom.” Rodrigues is plagued by his inability to understand. His journey to Japan parallels the suffering of Christ, his dealings with Judas, as well as his interviews with Roman officials. It is not a good outcome, but the ending blew me away.

Here are important questions to the faithful: If you could save men and women from slow torture by stepping on the fumie and apostatizing, would you do it? Or would you hold your ground while listening to their agonizing moans? Does God want you to help the suffering of human beings or does God want you to keep your foot off his image? What a terrible situation for a Christian priest. At one point Rodrigues is forced to watch the death of Japanese Christian martyrs as they are wrapped alive in matting and dropped into the sea. He cannot shake the vision of it, and he sees the “sea stretched out endlessly, sadly; and all this time, over the sea, God simply maintained his unrelenting silence.’Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani!The priest had always thought that these words were that man’s prayer, not that they issued from terror at the silence of God.”

If you grew up Roman Catholic as I did (I’m not religious kind of person now, though) , this book will strike a strong chord in you. The questions that Rodrigues asks are the questions we all wanted to ask. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Like Dostoyevsky, Endō shows the existential condition of man as alien in the world, lonely, and horribly in need of comfort. More than anything else, Silence is food for thought.