Review: Sophrosyne by Marianne Apostolides

22225751Title: Sophrosyne

Author: Marianne Apostolides

Published by: BookThug

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9781771660501

Sophrosyne

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Sophrosyne is one of only four virtues identified by Socrates – four traits which, if lived deeply, define who we are as human beings. But sophrosyne is a concept our culture has long forgotten. “”Self-restraint, ‘ ‘self-control, ‘ ‘modesty, ‘ ‘temperance’ – none of these terms expresses the essence of the word.
In this provocative new novel about desire and restraint in a digital age by acclaimed author Marianne Apostolides, 21-year-old Alex is consumed by the elusive problem of sophrosyne for reasons he cannot share with others. While Alex’s philosophy professor believes studying it will help shed light on the malaise of our era, Alex hopes it will release him from his darkly disturbing relationship with his mother. As he attempts to uncover his mother’s truth, Alex is drawn inside an amorphous, indefinable undercurrent of love and violation. Only through his lover, Meiko, does Alex open into a new understanding of sophrosyne, with all its implications.

This book is the most complex story that I’ve come across this year. It is a book, not simply to be read, but to be studied. Apostolides’ writing invites in-depth conversation with her disturbing, yet fresh and thoughtful prose. This story has unsettled me. It’s stopped me in my tracks and forced me to reconsider my thoughts on humanity,  on romance, on academia, on intimacy. Alexandros is haunted by his awfully dark relationship with his mother. He struggles to free himself from the impotence that plagues him, both sexually and intellectually. Through his academics and with the help of his lover, Meiko, he begins to cast aside the chains imposed upon him by the relationship he and his mother had.

We never directly see Sophia, Alex’s mother, yet she is a constant and imposing presence. She is always there, pushing and taking from Alex. She is presented through his thoughts, perceptions, and memories. Everything he is and everything he becomes is influenced by her. She is as much alive to him when she is absent as when she is present. She pushes him to better him, she says. But she holds him back, restraining him and isolating him from his peers. He questions, and thus the reader questions, what it means to be human, what it means to be a man, what it means to love.

Sophrosyne is a novel that cannot be read just once. There is no way to completely understand to fully absorb this story after just one read because it pushes you to think further and to delve deeper. It’s challenging in a way that most stories are not, but Apostolides coaxes you through with eloquent and poetic prose. Despite such disturbing subjects, her writing is beautiful.

This story is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s unsettling, it’s contemplative, and it’s vast. Apsotlides’ reader must be smart and thoughtful, willing to contemplate on the statements her characters make. For now, I will be setting Sophrosyne aside, with every intention of returning to dwell on this prose again soon.

 

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Review: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

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Title: The Lost Girl 

Author: Sangu Mandanna

Published by: Balzer + Bray, imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Published: 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-208231-2

Wow. This is the word I choose to sum up Mandanna’s epic novel. It’s very rare that I’m so struck by a concept that is so shocking and morally-challenging, but so brilliant and complete. “Eva is an echo, a clone. She was stitched by a Weaver in the exact image of a girl names Amarra. Eva’s life is not her own” the dust jacket proclaims. She is forced each day to wake, eat the same food as her original, read the same books, like the same things, love the same people. She has never lived another way, but this burgeoning young woman, who thinks and feels for herself, begins to mentally rebel by this life in which she is imprisoned. Freedom is not an easy option with the threat of the Weavers’ seekers who are there to enforce the Weavers’ laws, and the Hunters who seek to rid the world of these unnaturally created beings. When her original inevitably dies, Eva must replace her, moving from London, England to Bangalore, India, emulating Amarra’s action, conversation, and relationship. This novel will have you questioning: What does it mean to be human? Why and how do we judge others in our society? What constitutes life?

This thrilling Frankensteinian tale is timely in it’s discussion of genetic duplication what with Dolly the sheep and use of cloning to grow organs. Mandanna brings to light issues of unnatural human reproduction and how far some people will go to create beings in the human image. What happens when someone starts to play God? This position, the Weaver, comes with extreme power and corruption. I loved the naming convention Mandanna chose to use with her characters: Weaver, Echo, Hunter, Seeker. This convention brings a sense of reality and life to the novel. I especially love the term “echo.” Reflected on the cover with the silhouette of a girl, faceless and almost transparent–barely there, the concept of an echo is something that is similar, but not quite the same as, and perhaps even distorted from its original. As an echo, Eva is hardly an individual. She is a thinking, breathing human being, but she is but a shadow of her original. The novel demonstrates Eva’s discovery of her own autonomy, her attempt to fulfill the position of the original girl, and ultimately her failure to fully become the original, because she is not the original. 

I really liked Eva as a character, because she has such a strong desire to be her own person. She can be annoying with her argumentative and hot-headed ways. Even though she is headstrong, she makes an effort to be Amarra as best she can because she comes to love her familiars and her new siblings and she wants to do what she can to make them happy. Her efforts are really commendable. I really love that despite everything she goes through, Eva never loses her spark of individuality. She spends her life learning to be another, but through this process she fights to form her own opinions and to discover her own likes and dislikes. She is strong, she is persistent, she is sometimes irrational, but she a fighter.  

Criticisms: 

As I firmly believe with any novel, it’s not always about romance. I liked how Mandanna structured Eva’s struggle between the boy she truly loves and the one she is forced to love as she fills Amarra’s place. In this case it helped to strengthen the reader’s empathy with Eva as she works to forget her life and her love for Sean. But personally, if I’m running from the law at any point in time, and trying not to get killed, I don’t think pursuing a relationship/romantic encounter is going to be at the top of my list of things to do. I like Sean as a character, and he has a lot of sense throughout the whole novel, but the romance could have been put on hold. 

The only other thing I had an issue with was that I felt the end of the novel to be a little rushed. What I like about The Lost Girl is that it never feels rushed as we slowly get to know Eva and the people around her. But as soon as she begins to run from the Weavers, I feel like we begin to skim over things a bit. Maybe I was skimming while reading in my excitement. But there is so much action packed into the last little bit of the novel. I really would have liked to see this extended a bit more. 

This is an absolute MUST read. This novel had me tense and on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t put it down and I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Eva’s voice is startlingly honest and moving as she struggles with the grief she feels for the deceased girl and her family, but also determined on her search for her self-identity.