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Have fun with literary time travel

23 July 2018 12:40 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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There are ten chapters, covering all epochs, and aspects, of literature from the Biblical to Greco-Roman and modern times.

‘What Polish-born author who knew no English till his twenties, wrote the Secret Sharer and the Heart of Darkness?’ 

The Arabian Nights, by the way, is a very good read, often much more rewarding than randomly surfing the net.

I’d read about Tristam Shandy, though I never saw a copy anywhere. I wonder if the British Council library had one. 

 


 

A very interesting little book came my way at the Public Library. ‘In the World of Literature’ by Ceil Cleveland is a quiz book, testing one’s knowledge of fiction, drama, poetry as well as non-fiction. Since I considered my reading to be not too bad at least in the first three categories (a dangerous illusion?), I began leafing through it and discovered more books waiting to be read than what I’ve read. Worse, there were plenty of things I hadn’t even heard of…


There are ten chapters, covering all epochs, and aspects, of literature from the Biblical to Greco-Roman and modern times. The focus is on Western literature, but I discovered a thing or two on its eastern counterpart, too. There are ten chapters with titles such as Greek to me: Gods and Goddesses, To be or Not to Be an Expert on Shakespeare, Fiction: A Novel Way to go etc.   
Let’s start with that chapter on fiction. It asks you to name an eleventh century Japanese novel by Lady Murasaki, considered one of the greatest novels of Japanese literature.   

I have no idea, since it’s the first time I’d heard of Lady Murasaki. The answer is: The Tale of Genjii, believed to be the first full novel in the world. Lady Murasaki was a lady in waiting for empress Akiki, and it has been compared to Marcel Proust’s In Remembrance of Things Past as a study of decadent nobility.  


 

"‘This late 19th century writer wrote stories dealing with innovation and technology. His first published fiction was a short story called ‘Five Weeks in a Baloon’ which appeared in 1863. What was his masterpiece,W written ten years later, and what was his name?"


 


What 1767 book by Lawrence Sterne has several blank pages, several totally black pages, a stream of consciousness style and has no plot? I didn’t know that, either, and the answer is: Tristam Shandy, ‘still considered avant-garde literature because of its experimental form.’   

I’d read about Tristam Shandy, though I never saw a copy anywhere. I wonder if the British Council library had one. I wonder too, just how the author managed to find a publisher in that age. Stream of consciousness, by the way, is a literary method generally attributed to James Joyce, author of Ulysses.   


What monumental work by Leo Tolstoy depicts the lives of two noble families during the Napoleonic Wars?  

That should be an easy one…War and Peace. On the other hand, how many people I know of have read it? Well, one, two….and again, back to one. Funny, the number keeps slipping back to one, and that one is myself. It may be that I don’t move in the right circles.  

Two of Doestovesky’s Karamazov brothers were Dmitri and Smerdyakov. What are the names of the other two – one the skeptic, and the other an innocent?   I read the Brothers Karamazov during my school days, along with most of the Russian classics. Most of those names are etched in my memory, but this question stymied me. I did remember the innocent one’s name. He’s Alyosha.  

Well, Ivan is the skeptic. It may be that the Brothers Karamazov is a difficult work and I didn’t like it all that much.   

‘What Polish-born author who knew no English till his twenties, wrote the Secret Sharer and the Heart of Darkness?’  
That should be an easy one, especially those who have studied English literature at school. I can add to that question by asking people to name two famous novels by Conrad (what was his Polish name, by the way?).  

‘Samuel L. Clemens chose the pen name of Mark Twain. What earlier occupation supplied him with this pen name? ‘  

His career as a river boat pilot on the Mississippi River. Mark Twain was as popular as Robert Louis Stephenson ‘those days.’ I have no idea how it is now.  

‘A bit of tricky logic referred to in a novel about World War II went like this: The only way a recruit could get out of the miserable armed forces was to plead insanity. But by desiring with all his heart to get out of the miserable armed forces, one was judged ipso facto sane. What was this rule called?’  
That’s a good one, and the answer is: Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The moment I started reading ‘the only way a recruit could get out of the miserable armed forces…” I knew it had to be Catch-22. A memorable film was made out of the book. Heller, who was Jewish, must have hated his stint in the army. Question: when would a Sri Lankan writer come out with a book like that? I doubt if that would ever happen, because the military is entrenched now as a sacred cow.  
‘How did the thieves die in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves?’ 

That’s a good one since I’d forgotten. Well, they were boiled in oil. They climbed into tall jars to hide, but were discovered and boiled in oil. The Arabian Nights, by the way, is a very good read, often much more rewarding than randomly surfing the net.  

‘What is the title of Boris Pasternak’s epic novel about upheavals in 20th century Russia?’  

Dr. Zhivago. Those who haven’t read the book should at least see the movie. There’s two of them. Another question. Who directed the first, and more interesting, movie of the two?  

‘This late 19th century writer wrote stories dealing with innovation and technology. His first published fiction was a short story called ‘Five Weeks in a Baloon’ which appeared in 1863. What was his masterpiece, written ten years later, and what was his name?   

That should be easy, too, if that word ‘baloon’ rings a bell. It’s Jules Verne, and the book is Around the World in Eighty Days, in which the principal mode of transport is a helium-powered balloon.  
Let’s check out the drama quiz in the next article.  

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