Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh

Title: The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: David Damrosch
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 2006
Genre/Pages: Non-Fiction, History/272 pages
Source: Library
Grade: B+

Summary of facts I learned from reading this book:

In 1840, a young English adventurer by the name of Austen Henry Layard visited the ruins of ancient civilizations in Greece and Turkey. He then traveled to the area around Mosul in Northern Iraq searching for evidence of civilizations around Mesopotamia and found only mile long mounds which even further piqued his interest. He decided he would uncover what was hidden beneath these mounds. Layard and his assistant Hormuzd Rassam discovered the lost city of Nineveh under one of these mounds, and here buried was King Sennacherib’s vast palace. In the palace was a library assembled by his grandson, King Ashurbanipal with over 100,000 clay tablets and they shipped them back to the British Museum.

The most important find in this library was the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest story written over 3,000 years ago. Ashurbanipal had collected many copies of this story because to the Assyrian people King Gilgamesh was like a god. He was two-thirds god and one-third human, having the god, Ninsun as his mother. He also became known as the governor of the Underworld, where he would judge a person after death. This is according to an old Sumerian poem, “The Death of Bilgamesh.”

Written on these clay tablets is an intricate form of picture writing called cuneiform. When these tablets were found, nobody could read this – it was the ancient Akkadian language. Sir Henry Rawlinson, who had a intense love for ancient languages, had a breakthrough in deciphering this cuneiform when he learned of an inscription on a monument built for the Persian King Darius written in three different forms of old Persian languages in cuneiform. After 15 years of work, he could translate Gilgamesh; the year was 1850. Then by 1872, George Smith, a gifted curator at the British Museum began to translate it and he found the story of the flood which held much fascination to the people because it was remarkably similar to the story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible.

Many of the tablets found were letters written during the time of King Esarhaddon’s reign. He was Ashurbanipal’s father. They reveal this king’s paranoia about who would usurp his throne. He used many priests, oracles, diviners, and exorcists to flesh out the details of these plots. As a child, Ashurbanipal was trained in the ancient Sumerian and Akkadian languages. His training in literacy was not common for an Assyrian king and could be why he collected such a huge collection of clay tablets. And because his palace and library were destroyed in 612 BC, we are able to enjoy the story of Gilgamesh and learn so much about the history of the Assyrian civilization from these preserved clay tablets.

One similarity between the Iliad and Gilgamesh would be that the heroes in these epics both had gods for their mothers: the mother of Achilles was the god Thetis and the mother of Gilgamesh was the sun god Ninsun. Thetis pleads with Zeus to help Achilles in battle, and Ninsun pleads with Shamash to help Gilgamesh in his battle with Humbaba. In both epics the mothers both fear for their son’s mortality and the heroes’ adventures both lead to the death of their respective best friends, Patroclus and Enkidu.

Saddam Hussein liked to compare himself to Gilgamesh. Hussein had planned to rebuild Ashurbanipal’s library in Nineveh and to make casts of the 25,000 clay tablets in the British museum. After the first Gulf War, Hussein became a writer and gained immortality in this way. His first novel, a political romance named Zabibah and the King, contains elements of Gilgamesh and The Thousand and One Nights. The king in this novel was a tyrannical ruler, much like Gilgamesh, and Zabibah, a common woman, was his muse and lover, much like Enkidu, as she urged him to become a more just ruler. Hussein may have been trying to gain the sympathy of his people in this novel as the king has a much troubled upbringing, just like Saddam Hussein did in his youth.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed reading about the history of the events leading up to the destruction of Ashurbanipal’s library and the subsequent loss of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and then the finding of these ancient cities and artifacts. I also enjoyed the history of the difficulties with the translating of the clay tablets and the history of the political rivals at the British Museum. The author gives all the pertinent details which gave me a greater understanding of the Assyrian people and why they wrote this story and what was important to them at this time in history. The epic recounts the hero Gilgamesh’s fear of death and his quest for immortality; it is also a story of love and tyranny. Learning about the Assyrian people through these findings is very interesting to me. I love to see how people from thousands of years ago are just like the people of today. We all would like to be immortal. And coming to terms with life, love, power and death are common themes for everyone throughout history.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: North of Beautiful

Title: North of Beautiful
Author: Justina Chen Headley
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Genre/Pages: YA/ 373 pages
Source: Library
Grade: A-

Terra Rose Cooper is a high school senior who, after having completed high school in just three years, applies to Williams College early decision so that she can get as far away as she can from her family, her small town outside of Seattle, and if she could, from her life. She has lived with a “flawed” face since birth, one side covered with a large port-wine stain. This story deals with her growth as a young adult as she comes to terms with her dysfunctional family, beautiful friends, boyfriends, and in particular her inner beauty and true desires.

I loved this story; it was fast-paced and the characters were true to life. Terra meets a boy by accident at one point in the story who has a lot in common with her; he was adopted from China as a child and people have always stared at him as they have at Terra. He has adapted to his differences much better than Terra; he exudes confidence and he has the ability to not care what others think about him. He proves to be a great example for Terra, and he also accepts Terra for who she is inside-without her cover-up makeup. This story gave me great insight into how hard it is for young people to accept themselves flaws and all. While very entertaining, insightful, and developed around a theme of maps and the searching for geocaches, this story is appealing to young and old alike.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gilgamesh: Final Thoughts

This is the rest of my summary of the epic of Gilgamesh and my concluding thoughts.

Enkidu comes to Uruk, fights with Gilgamesh because the people of Uruk complain about how he sleeps with brides first on their wedding night. Gilgamesh wins the fight and then praises Enkidu. They both decide to fight Humbaba, guardian of the cedar forest, for whether they live or die in the battle with him, they will further their reputations. This metaphorical triplet describing Humbaba appeals to me:
"Humbaba’s roar is deluge, his mouth fire, and his breath death."
Gilgamesh encourages Enkidu to “fear nothing and forget death” as they enter the forest. They kill Humbaba. Then Ishtar tries to encourage Gilgamesh to become her husband by promising him all the riches he desires. Gilgamesh responds by telling her that she has had many lovers and her love for them died out quickly. This insults Ishtar and she flies up to her father Anu and cries. Then Ishtar gets Anu to make the Bull of Heaven so that he can kill Gilgamesh. Instead, Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven. The gods decide that one of the heroes must die because they killed Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. Gilgamesh dreams about a day of fate that is coming for Enkidu and tells this to him. So Gilgamesh prays to the gods for Enkidu. Enkidu curses the love-goddess who brought him out from the wilderness. Shamash hears him and tells Enkidu that all of the people of Uruk will weep for you and Gilgamesh will wear the signs of grief on his body. Enkidu is relieved and now blesses the love-goddess. Enkidu becomes very ill and is very near death when he tells Gilgamesh that he is sad that he wasn’t given a heroic death in battle. Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh is devastated. Every animal, river, and person weeps for Enkidu. Gilgamesh states his intention to see the sage Utnapishtim because he is very bitter and angry that he will have to die just like Enkidu. Gilgamesh arrives at the mountains that reach heaven and touch the underground. Here, Scorpion-people guard the comings and goings of the god Shamash. They ask Gilgamesh why he has come there. He responds that he has come to see Utnapishtim and to know death and life. Through a journey of darkness as Gilgamesh enters the gate and takes the road of Shamash, the sun, he arrives at the edge of the sea and encounters Siduri the barmaid. She asks him why he looks so pathetic and filled with sorrow. Gilgamesh tells her that he roams the wilderness because of Enkidu. “Not for that do I roam the wilderness in quest of a wind-puff. In fear of death I roam the wilderness.” She tells him the way to Utnapishtim and tells him, “After crossing this sea of water you will arrive at the waters of death and the boatman, Urshanbi, who has the “things of stone” and the “Urni-snakes,” can bring you across to Utnapishtim.” Gilgamesh arrives at Utnapishtim’s place and Utnapishtim tells him that there is an enormous gap between the divine and humanity. He tells Gilgamesh that there is no permanence, that sleep is a brother to death. Destiny decides the end of things – she decides life and death. But the time of death is hidden from us. Now Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret of the gods. He tells him the story of the flood. This story is very similar to the story of Noah and his ark. And the story ends with the Utnapishtim and his wife becoming gods because they told some people that the flood was coming. Gilgamesh asks for eternal life like Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim instead gives him the symbols of life, such as clothing – “the robe of life.” Then he decides to give him something else – a plant that gives everlasting life. Gilgamesh, however, loses the plant to a snake. Gilgamesh finally arrives back in Uruk – to its strong, everlasting walls.

Gilgamesh learns the reality of life and death as all humanity must come to understand and accept. He desires everlasting life, but it is not possible. He learns that destiny decides our time of death and that humanity has no control over this. He will die just like Enkidu. This is a truth that is sad for everyone. However, as the last tablet of Gilgamesh emphasizes: it is very good to have sons, to die quickly, or to die in battle. But it is not good to die falling from the mast of a ship into nothingness, or to die in the wilderness alone. But the worst thing of all is to die unloved. There will be no one left to remember you or cry for you when you are gone. As Gardiner states, “Mainly what we know is that to die is a terrible thing, but to die without having truly lived – without having loved and left loved ones – is to be garbage surviving through eternity on garbage.” This is the truth revealed in the wonderful story of Gilgamesh.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: My Bookish Resolutions

I love lists, and if you do, visit The Broke and the Bookish to post your top ten resolutions too. Here are my bookish resolutions for 2011:

  1. Read 100+ pages/day:  I find that if I have this mini-goal everyday, I will be able to accomplish my bigger goals for the year.  Even though I want to start a new book, it's sometimes hard for me to just start.
  2. Read 100+ books: This is my big goal for the year.  I don't think I've read 100 books in a year since grammar school. 
  3. Read the books I choose for me:  With my homeschooling journey sadly coming to a close soon, I will be able to choose more books for pleasure and to reread.
  4. Read more classics:  I enjoyed immensely the classics that I read in high school such as Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment, and they had such a profound effect on me, that I think it's time for me to renew those emotions.
  5. Read books from my shelves: I have so many books on my shelves from all these years homeschooling and all my visits to the bookstore.
  6. Organize my shelves:  I don't even know where to begin.  I have bookshelves all over the house with children's books and my books all mixed together.  There is no organization whatsoever.  I also have books in boxes in the attic.  It is time to organize and giveaway (where is the best place?).   
  7. Continue reading aloud to my daughter:  Now that she's 12 I don't read aloud as much as I would like.  I'm going to start this year with Little Women. I haven't read it in so long and I loved it, and I'm sure she will also.
  8. Review most of the books I read.
  9. Write more everyday: I love to look back and remember events more clearly. I need to jot down just a few reflections each day.
  10. Start a book club:  I would like to get together with my friends and family to discuss the books we recommend and share with each other.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Challenge: 100+ Reading Challenge

100+ Reading Challenge

This is my last challenge to join. My goal is to reach 100 by the end of the year. I am confident I will reach it, especially now that I have this blog to keep track of them and all the wonderful bloggers I read everyday with their awesome reviews and recommendations!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011 Challenge: Ireland Reading Challenge

Ireland Reading Challenge - 2011

I am joining this challenge at the Shamrock level (2 books) because I am interested in Irish history and would like to read something by an Irish author.  I have one book I have been meaning to read for years that will be in on this challenge - How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.  The other one I will get over in Ireland when I visit in February.

Here are the rules:

~ The challenge runs from January 1, 2011 to November 30, 2011.

~ Any books read for this challenge can also apply to other challenges you are working on.
~ Re-reads are allowed.
~ Any book written by an Irish author, set in Ireland, or involving Irish history or Irish characters, counts for the challenge – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, audiobooks, children’s books – all of these apply.
~ Choose your commitment level:
      Shamrock level: 2 books
      Luck o’ the Irish level: 4 books
      Kiss the Blarney Stone level: 6 books
~ Write up a post indicating that you are participating (feel free to copy the lovely graphic at the top of this post), and then add your challenge post’s link to the Mr. Linky on the main challenge page.
~ You don’t have to list your books ahead of time – just have fun reading throughout the year.
~ I will put up a page for the challenge in my left sidebar, and add a Mr. Linky for reviews and wrap-up posts.
~ Everyone who fulfills their challenge level and writes at least one review is eligible for the giveaway prize at the end of the challenge: a copy of Tipperary by Frank Delaney. Wrap-up post and giveaway details will go up at the beginning of December, which is why the challenge ends on November 30th.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Angelology

Title: Angelology
Author: Danielle Trussoni
Publisher: Viking, 2010
Genre/Pages: Fiction/452 pages
Source: library
Grade: A-

With a 5 star rating from S. KrishnaAngelology became my first read in 2011. I enjoy historical fiction, especially when an author chooses parts of the Bible to formulate an interesting story. And this book did not disappoint me.

The novel begins in the 1940's during WWII, as a group of angelologists are examining the body of a dead, but still extraordinarily beautiful angel, in the cave of a remote mountain in Bulgaria.  Then, fast forward to December 1999 to the locations of NYC and a convent in Milton, NY.  We are introduced to the main characters: Evangeline, a young nun at St. Rose Convent, Mr. Verlaine, a Columbia University professor with a special interest in art history, and Percival Grigori, head of a powerful family who are descendants of the angels.  Grigori hires Verlaine, without telling him the real reasons, to find out anything he can about a correspondence between Abigail Rockefeller and the abbess of St. Rose Convent, Mother Innocenta, back in 1943.  Verlanie requests permission at the convent to view files that might pertain to this relationship.  Evangeline receives his request - denies it, but then begins to investigate herself. When Evangeline finds evidence of a relationship between Abi Rockefeller and Mother Innocenta, she is intrigued.  She uncovers much more than she ever imagined.  Her own family is heavily involved in the mystery. And we are lead on an incredible battle between the descendants of angels, the Nephilim, and the angelologists as they are both on a quest to uncover a heavenly object which can lead to the destruction of the world if the object is not destroyed first.  This is an adventurous journey to the very end.

For the last 200 pages, I was unable to put this book down.  I couldn't wait to find out how it would end. But the only drawback to me, was that I didn't have a strong connection to the characters; yes, I desperately wanted to know who would win out in the end, but I didn't really care if one of the characters was eliminated.  However, I will read this author again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Challenge:Take a Chance Challenge 3

Take A Chance Challenge 3
 I am signing up for my first challenge ever.  This one looks very appealing because of the randomness involved in book selections.  It looks like a lot of fun!
Here are the details:

•The concept of the challenge is to take chances with your reading by finding books to read in unusual or random ways. I’ve listed 10 different ways to find books below. Feel free to complete at many as you want. However, anyone completing all 10 challenges by December 31, 2011 will be entered in a prize drawing to win a book of their choice from Amazon.
•The challenge will run from January 1, 2011 until December 31, 2011.
•Crossover books from other challenges is fine. You can read books in any format.
•On January 1, 2011, I will post pages for each of the 10 challenges so you can link up your completed posts.

The 2011 Challenges

1: Staff Member’s Choice: Go to a bookstore or library that has a “Staff Picks” section. Read one of the picks from that section.
2: Loved One’s Choice: Ask a loved one to pick a book for you to read. (If you can convince them to buy it for you, that is even better!)
3: Blogger’s Choice: Find a “Best Books Read” post from a favorite blogger. Read a book from their list.
4: Critic’s Choice: Find a “Best of the Year” list from a magazine, newspaper or professional critic. Read a book from their Top 10 list.
5: Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb.
6: Book Seer Pick: Go to The Book Seer and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.
7: What Should I Read Next Pick : Go to What Should I Read Next and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.
8: Which Book Pick: Go to Which Book and use the software to generate a list of books. Read a book from that list.
9: LibraryThing Pick: Go to LibraryThing’s Zeitgeist page. Look at the lists for 25 Most Reviewed Books or Top Books and pick a book you’ve never read. Read the book. (Yes … you can click on MORE if you have to.)
10: Pick A Method: Pick a method for finding a book from the choices listed below (used in previous versions of the challenge).
   •Random Book Selection. Go to the library. Position yourself in a section such as     Fiction, Non-Fiction, Mystery, Children (whatever section you want). Then write down random directions for yourself (for example, third row, second shelf, fifth book from right). Follow your directions and see what book you find. Check that book out of the library, read it and then write about it. (If you prefer, you can do the same at a bookstore and buy the book!)
   •Public Spying. Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.
   •Random Bestseller. Go to and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2010 for the max. and then hit generate. Then go to this site and find the year that generated for you and click on it. Then find the bestseller list for the week that would contain your birthday for that year. Choose one of the bestsellers from the list that comes up, read it and write about it.

My booklist:

Started Gilgamesh

After reading the long introduction, I finally began the epic, Gilgamesh.  I am in the middle of Tablet II, and there are twelve tablets in the whole story.  This version I'm reading has been translated from the Sin-Leqi-Unninni version by John Gardner and John Maier.  Unninni was an exorcist-priest poet who gathered together parts of the story to make it a cohesive unit about 1000 years after the first stories about Gilgamesh, the Sumerian king who lived during the early Third Millenium, were written.  I had this version on my shelf; my son was supposed to read it a few years back in high school, but I don't think he actually did. 

There have been many translations of Gilgamesh written since it was first found about a century ago in ancient Mesopotamia, which is modern day Iraq. The orginal was found on these stone tablets written in fragments of the languages, Akkadian - an old Babylonian language,Sumerian, and Hittite.

In Tablet I, the reader is introduced to Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk.  He built the walls of Uruk, with the strongest of materials. His father, Lugalbanda, was human and his mother was the goddess, Ninsun.  When the people of Uruk complain that Gilgamesh is misbehaving, Aruru, the Mother and creator of humanity, hears them and creates Enkidu, the fighter, like the war god Ninurta; Enkidu lives with the wild animals and behaves like them. Next, the Stalker, a hunter, is troubled when Enkidu intrudes in his space.  The stalker's father then tells him to go to Gilgamesh, who has the greatest strength, and he will tell you to bring a temple prostitute, or a love-priestess, to tempt him and civilize him, and draw him out from the wilderness.  She succeeds and she and Enkidu spend six days and seven nights "at it".  Then Enkidu says he will go to Uruk, and the love-goddess tells him all about Gilgamesh, the joy-woe man.  Gilgamesh has a dream about Enkidu's coming to Uruk, and that he will be like a friend-wife to him.  After the second dream, Gilgamesh is foretold that an axe will fall on Uruk, referring to Enkido, the shooting star of Anu (the sky god) with awesome strength.

I am really enjoying this epic. So far I have accomplished my goal for the year of 100 pages per day, thereby finishing Angelology,  and will have a review of it soon.  It was very good!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 Resolution

I am trying painfully to finish up book reviews for the few books I finished up 2010 with.  With the holidays and family visiting, I was not able to get to read as much as I really wanted to either.  For now, as I'm trying to decide which book challenges I want to join, I am going to make only 2 resolutions: read 100 pages a day, and read the classics, but not exclusively.  I am going to be following along with Lifetime Reading Plan's blog and will try to read along.  I tend to be a perfectionist and do not like to leave anything out in the process.  This is why it is taking me so long to post.  Enough complaining, and back to a life filled with reading no matter what else is going on in my life.  Now, if I could only open up my new Ipad, which my son gave me for Christmas, I can enjoy all these free books I am hearing about!