Animal Farm Or How The Pigs Overtook The World

If you haven’t read George Orwell‘s¬†Animal Farm,¬†I highly recommend that you do so! This is one of the best allegories I’ve read so far, which was written in the light of a very different political atmosphere and yet, it remains worryingly true to this day. Animal Farm is a big eye-opener. I believe George Orwell attempted to wake up his readers by letting them see themselves from another perspective. As a futurist, he knew his novel would live to see the same events repeat over and over again.

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Animal Farm; source: emaze.com

The story begins with Old Major, a well-respected boar and the oldest animal in Manor Farm. Feeling that his end is near, Old Major gathers all other animals to a meeting to share his revolutionary ideas. In a passionate speech, he teaches them that all humans are bad and refers to them as enemies. The animals are convinced they¬†need to revolt and build a new and better, human-free world for themselves where they live by the principles of Animalism. Upon Old Major’s death, the Revolution begins with two young pigs- Napoleon and Snowball leading the uprising. The old boar’s dreams come to life and the animals win the farm for themselves, getting rid of Mr Jones and his family. The name Manor Farm is replaced with Animal Farm and a few simple rules in accordance with the ideology of Animalism are set for all animals to follow. These are called the Seven Commandments and include:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal. (Chapter 2)

As leaders of the uprising, Napolean and Snowball remain in charge of the farm. Snowball even leads the defence of Animal Farm when Mr Jones and his neighbouring farmers try to take it back. United by these events, the animals live harmoniously in the beginning, free of the slavery set upon them by the humans. However, as the time passes, the pigs start to violate the Seven Commandments and the principles of Animalism.

The rivalry between Napoleon and Snowball is growing bigger by the day. It culminates in the brutal expulsion of Snowball from the farm. As the time passes, Napoleon becomes more and more authoritarian, oppressing the other animals with the help of his elite dog squad. He moves into the house, sleeps in a bed, eats fine food, drinks alcohol, privately educates his children, commands the killing of other animals, starts business relationships with humans and this way violates all Seven Commandments.

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Animal Farm – source: BreadPig

Now what’s most interesting about Animal Farm is what each character personates. Most of them represent key players in the Russian Revolution and the totalitarian regime that followed after. Mr Jones, for instance, embodies Tzar Nicholas II, who was ignorant of his people’s suffering and paid a high price for it. Old Major, the so-called founder of ‘Animalism’ is inspired by Karl Marx, whose theories led to the creation of Communism and the abuse of its power. He dreamed of all people being equal but never lived to see that dream come true, just like Old Major. Napoleon, one of the leaders of the Uprising, is the personification of Joseph Stalin. He removed from power his main rival Leon Trotzky (Snowball), thus becoming the sole leader of the Empire (Animal Farm).

Just like Stalin, Napoleon made his people obedient through fear and terror and violated all principles of Animalism. His Dog Squad (inspired by KGB) made sure no one stepped out of the line and if someone did, they would lose their life to Napoleon’s dogs. A pivotal moment in the novel is Boxer’s death, who served Animal Farm all his life, going by two mottos – ‘I must work harder‘ and ‘Napoleon is always right‘. He never stepped out of the line and yet was sent to the Slaughter House, instead of being allowed to retire and live the rest of his life in dignity, as promised.

George Orwell is a genius of his time. He foresaw political regimes changing in name but not in nature and always the same one paying the high price- the people. This is why he chose pigs to personify the politicians and leaders of his time; because power corrupts men and turn them into pigs or in the case of Animal Farm, turns pigs into men.

L.V.K.

 

Sisi – the last Empress of the Habsburg Empire

Allison Pataki‘s Sisi (The Accidental Empress and Empress on Her Own) is one of the most interesting and accurate historical novels I’ve read recently. The story engages you in Sisi’s life in a very big way. All her troubles and misfortunes, all her insecurities, eccentricities, the happiest moments of her life become part of you while you are reading Pataki’s novel. For me, this is a sign of a great literary achievement.

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Empress Elisabeth’s Hungarian coronation gown by Charles Frederick Worth;
Credit – Pinterest

The Accidental Empress shows a young girl who’s failing at finding her place in the strict and cold imperial court of the Habsburg Empire. The second book indeed shows Sisi as an empress on her own, troubled by so many things in her life, finding solace in riding and travelling the world. Sisi was an extraordinary woman, who started her life as a happy and free-spirited girl, whose spirit was slowly broken by the strict rules and protocol she was forced to obey in the court in Vienna. She was ill-prepared for her role as an Empress and too young to take on all the burden upon her shoulders. A 16-year old girl who was dreaming of her perfect prince, perfect love and life in a fairytale. However, the reality struck her hard, resulting in the melancholia that became her constant companion for the rest of her life.

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Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865;
Credit – Wikipedia

In the beginning, Sisi did try to fit in the role she was thrown in- she tried to be a good wife and a good empress, but the restricting rules came too much for her free spirit to bare. The interference of her mother-in-law in Sisi and Franz Joseph’s marriage was also something she was struggling to¬†fight. The real tragedy, though, came when Sisi lost her first daughter. The grief mixed with blame hit her so hard that she started believing what the others were telling her- that she was incapable to raise children. This resulted in her alienating herself from her other daughter Gisela– a gap that¬†was never overcome for the rest of Sisi’s life.

The birth of her first son, crown prince Rudolf, lifted Sisi’s spirits but her happiness didn’t last long; Rudolf, just like his sisters before him was taken away from Sisi to be raised by her much more capable mother-in-law archduchess Sophie. To add to the pain, Sisi found out her husband was accepting other women in his chambers while she was mourning the loss of their daughter. This, in my opinion, was the first pivotal moment in shaping Sisi’s personality in the years to come. This was the first time she abandoned her duties as a mother, wife, and empress and went on one of her many travels abroad.

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Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867; Credit – mimimatthews.com

I think Sisi is an example of why monarchies were abolished in so many countries at that time. Her luxurious life, her expensive travels, gorgeous gowns and hours-long beauty procedures were in a huge contrast with the way common people of the empire were living; poverty, suicide, and illness were the reality for many of them.

Sisi wasn’t an active politician, she was avoiding all her official duties as much as she could and was wasting a lot of money on her travels and hobbies. In my opinion, though, the biggest failure in her life was the one of a mother. The trauma of losing her first daughter and then being stripped of her other children made her selfish and estranged. The only child she was favouring was her last daughter Valerie, the only child she was allowed to raise herself. This is why Sisi became somewhat obsessed with her and completely abandoned her other two children.

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Archduchesses Gisela and Marie Valerie of Austria;
Credit – Pinterest

Gisela found the mother she needed in the face of Sophie, but Rudolf resembling Sisi not only by looks but by personality as well, needed his mother more than anyone else. He was the only child that was just like her- sensitive, fragile, visionary. This is why he was the most inappropriate heir to the great Habsburg throne. He lacked the stoicism and discipline of his father and just like his mother, remained misunderstood by the people around him.

Rudolf’s relationship with his father has been tense since an early age and with a mother who was always away, he found a confidant in his older sister Gisela. When she married and left Vienna, though, Rudolf’s downfall began. For me, this is when Sisi made her biggest mistake. She knew what her son was going through, she knew deep inside that she was the only person who could help him and yet, she did nothing to save him. She continued favouring Valerie over the others, which broke Rudolf even more; he was longing for his mother’s love and attention. No wonder the crown prince grew up to be unstable and broken, cruel at times, addicted to opiates, alcohol, and women. When Rudolf committed suicide the blame struck Sisi very hard and this is the stroke she never fully recovered from.

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Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria;
Credit ‚Äď Wikipedia

I believe Sisi loved Rudolf very much, but she never felt he was hers. He was taken away from her as a baby and being a crown prince, he was never allowed to accompany her on her travels or be part of her lifestyle. The two of them were deeply connected but never had the opportunity to develop this connection into a proper mother-son relationship. As a result, both their lives were ruined because Sisi was longing for Rudolf when he was a small boy and Rudolf was longing for his mother when he was a grown man. The two of them could have healed each other’s wounds but they never found the path to one another.

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Sisi and Franz Joseph; Credit – Pinterest

I feel I should dedicate a paragraph to Franz Joseph as well. He was a good person, with good intentions, who was always doing his duty. He was deeply in love with Sisi, but his duty and the empire would always come first. Franz was an epitome of an emperor- someone who gives himself in service to his empire and his people, someone who sacrifices his personal life, his wants and needs. Those qualities cost him his marriage and the love of his life, but this is how he was raised to be.

I deeply sympathize with Franz cause his life was very difficult, bound by duty, but he stood strong and bore all tragedies in his life with dignity. The moment I felt most difficult to read in both books was when Franz received the news of Sisi’s assassination. The way this strong man broke into tears was described so graphically that you can’t help but feel for him. His love for Sisi was very deep and very tender and never fade away.

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Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853; Credit ‚Äď Wikipedia

I personally like Sisi, she was a very charismatic woman who’s persona continues to fascinate people 119 years after her death. I believe she was a good person, with many imperfections indeed but with good intentions and a good heart. She was very sensitive and very fragile and her drama is that she remained misunderstood her whole life. Sisi is an inspirational woman and if you don’t learn from her actions, learn from her mistakes.

L.V.K.

Still a Harry Potter fan… after all this time? Always!

There are books that affect you for months. There are books that affect you for years. And then there are books that affect you for life. Harry Potter is one such book.

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I, like many people from my generation, have grown up with Harry Potter. I was 11 when I started reading¬†Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s stone,¬†same age as Harry. Then at age 12, I continued with¬†The Chamber of Secrets,¬†then at 13, I was on¬†The Prisoner of Azkaban. And so on until I was 17, almost 18, doing my final year at school while reading¬†The Deathly Hallows.¬†I had a golden childhood and one of the reasons for that is a book, my love for which I keep until now.

I was convinced I didn’t like fantasy at all (a beautiful example of how well one ‘knows’ oneself), however, some of my favourite books and movies prove me wrong-¬†Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Mortal Instruments¬†to name but a few. What I realised I like most about fantasy, is it perfectly represents the world we live in, with its complexity, the fusion of good and bad, the everyday fight for survival. Maybe¬†I exaggerated the last bit slightly, but don’t we fight for a place in this world every day? Don’t we battle our inner demons every single day? Don’t we have a concept for our life we struggle to prove right? Every. Single. Day. Of our existence.

As most of you know, the Harry Potter series show the path of a small and lonely child through life. A child whose biggest challenges happen to be in the very early stages of his life. Stripped of his parents as a baby, raised by people who despise him, Harry turns out to be a decent young person nonetheless, unaware of the world he belongs to and his significance for its well-being. As Harry is growing up, the books evolve with him, showing that none of the characters is pure good or pure evil. Even Voldemort has his reasons to be what he is by the end of the story. Voldemort, Harry and Snape are my favourite characters in all the books, having had the most extraordinary life paths from all characters (Dumbledore is quite interesting as a character too, but his early life is not explored that much, which is why I rather see him as one-dimensional).

8cfa96157712b03e29979268aacb3dc3Voldemort, who is a product of love magic his mother performed on his muggle father, is not capable of feeling love for anyone for that sole reason. I think what J.K. Rowling is trying to say here is that love cannot be forced. You cannot force someone to love you, but you can force them to be with you nonetheless, and the result could be devastating. Voldemort grew up as a lonely, orphaned child with no one to count on in this world but himself. He was cruel from an early age, feeling that he was very different from those around him. The pivotal point in his behaviour, though, is when he finds out he’s a direct heir of Salazar Slytherin; this leads to him believing he’s greater than all muggles and certainly greater than most wizards. His vanity led him to do terrible things. He had a weak spot, though. It’s true he didn’t feel love for any living creature, but he did love one thing in particular-Hogwarts, the only home he ever knew. This is the one thing him, Snape and Harry have in common, the limitless love they have for Hogwarts.

We don’t know much about Snape until the very last book –¬†The Deathly Hallows¬†– where we find out that he loved unconditionally Harry’s mother Lily and he risked his life ever since she was killed to protect her son. Snape, just like Voldemort, had a muggle father who despised wizards and a wizard mother who despised him. The only happy moments in Snape’s early life were those spent with Lily. He, much like Voldemort, found his real home in Hogwarts and remained there for almost his entire life. Maybe those similarities with Voldemort’s life made Snape admire him and his ideology so much and if it wasn’t for Lily’s murder, he would probably have stayed with Voldemort, although, getting to know Snape in the last book, we seem to understand that deep inside he’s a decent man.

Harry, the last of the three to join Hogwarts, has had a difficult childhood as well. He also didn’t know love as a child but the huge difference between him and Snape and Voldemort is that he himself is a product of great love between his parents. It’s true he grew up with people who despised him, surrounded by people who didn’t understand him. Just like Voldemort, he wasn’t fitting in the muggle world, but he didn’t know why. His early life experiences should have made him an angry and bitter person but they didn’t because he was loved – by his parents, by his godfather, by Dumbledore- although he didn’t know that until he was exposed to the world he belonged to.

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Although it is a children’s book,¬†Harry Potter¬†teaches wisdom adults could also learn from. I think this book series is suitable for absolutely everyone- from a child to an old man. This is because a child lives inside each one of us and if we let them come out on the surface, we’ll be much happier. A child certainly lives inside me and she will always be friends with Harry!

L. V. K.

 

Devil’s Advocate or How to Lose Your Soul

“Vanity, definitely my favourite sin!”

This is one of my all time favourite movie quotes. It’s so full of truth, wisdom and¬†cynicism at the same time that I want to cry and then laugh and then cry again. The movie this quote comes from, as most of you know, is Devil’s Advocate (1997), starring the titans Al Paccino and Keanu Reeves accompanied by the gorgeous Charlize Theron.

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The film tells the story of Kevin Lomax, a young and ambitious attorney from Gainsville, Florida, who’s never lost a case. One day, he receives a job offer from the world’s most powerful law firm, based in New York and owned by the mysterious and charming John Milton. Kevin grabs the opportunity and together with his wife Mary Ann, leaves for the Big Apple to pursue his dream. However, success has its high price and in Kevin’s case, this is his soul, which he sells piece by piece for money and power. The movie is so powerful not just¬†because of the great story it tells but also because of the magnificent performances Al Paccino, Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron and the rest of the cast give. They’ve put their souls in the project which makes it so real and influential.

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For me, Devil’s Advocate is an allegory of the biblical story of Adam and Eve and how they’ve been tempted by the serpent to taste the forbidden fruit. In the movie, the serpent (John Milton) persuades¬†Eve (Mary Ann) to tempt Adam (Kevin) to taste the fruit of success, no matter the price. Mary Ann does that, she is a big influence over her husband in the beginning of the story because she stimulates his ego. She erases all moral boundaries he has and throws him in a world, where she believes they both should belong. Kevin himself has issues with his vanity, never accepting he ever might lose a case, which makes him an easy target for the devilish tricks of John Milton. However, as everything should be free will, John gives Kevin the opportunity to take all decisions himself. He always shows him two paths- the right and the wrong, manipulating him to take the wrong way but never closing the door to the right way.

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Devil’s Advocate is an incredible movie, which shows us how we’re losing our souls every day. It teaches us to let go of vanity, which is the core of all sins and makes us think over the matter of success. What is it? How do we define it? What price have we paid for it? The world we live in is our own doing and what happens to us is too. Devil’s Advocate makes us take a deep, real look inside¬†ourselves and ask, “Can I bear to look at myself in the mirror, and if I do, will I see a monster?

L. V. K.

Artists vs. Celebrities: Is Celebrity Killing The Art

Today’s post is a little bit different from what I normally blog about. But since I love all forms of art- cinema, theatre, music, literature, painting etc., and definitely consider myself an art person, I decided to share my opinion on modern¬†cinematic art and its impact on society. My focus is on Hollywood because unfortunately, this is the only entertainment and show business industry we have access to on a global level. The thing that actually provoked me was a biography book I came across recently. It is the first biography of actor Christian Bale, published independently by his former assistant. I found out about the existence of this book through¬†Facebook, because its official page appeared as¬†a suggestion on my timeline. I checked it out and¬†decided to read some reviews on Goodreads to see what it was about as I don’t like¬†biographies and have read just a couple in my life. However, I do like Christian Bale so I thought I might give it a go if it was good and if it’s focus was on his career. Apparently, what it turned out to be was an angry former assistant taking revenge by revealing very personal aspects of a very secretive person’s life. I was disgusted by what I read and decided I will NOT read such thing.

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Christian Bale is one of my favourite actors and I respect him a lot for his talent and for his personality. I don’t know him of course, but I like his approach to the public- very respectful and a little bit reserved. What I like about him is that his personal life is very private and normal and I wish¬†it to remain so. I don’t want to know whether he talks to his¬†siblings or not, what he’s like at home, when he goes to romantic dinners with his wife etc., that’s his business. I only want to see him in good, quality movies like “The Machinist”, “Batman Begins” & the two “Dark Knight” films, “The Fighter”, “American Hustle”, “American Psycho”, “The Prestige” and so on (the list is quite long). And I want his performances to keep getting better and better with each movie he makes. I love his acting style and his dedication to his roles and¬†respect him for that. There are not many actors out there, who are ready to do the things he’s done. That’s why I think his former assistant’s biography is absolutely tasteless, disgusting and unethical. It’s robbing Christian Bale of his privacy and is exposing very personal aspects of his life to the public, which should never have happened. Actors’ job is to entertain the public and be ready to cross borders in the name of art but they are not obliged to feed the¬†public’s curiosity. I’m absolutely against actors revealing their personal lives because that is killing the art.

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Unfortunately, most of the so called celebrities are much different than the Christian Bale model I just described. Nowadays, talentless people rely on scandals to become famous. Drugs, alcohol, love relationships, marriages, divorces, affairs etc. are the things some celebrities use to get the public attention. And sadly, most of them succeed in that. What is sadder though, is that a lot of people really care about those celebrities’ lives and not about their art. Of course, there are many types of entertainment and a lot of¬†people enjoy reading gossip magazines¬†for example., but I think the¬†celebrities filling those magazines should not be put under the same category with real actors/artists/musicians who are famous for their talent and what they create and give to the world and not for their personal life. I think when an actor’s life is too exposed to the public eye, they somehow lose their magic and struggle to get into their characters and be convincing. This is because there should be¬†mysticism around actors as¬†this way they can easily become someone else; the public should never be allowed to see the real person behind the mask. That’s why I think celebrity is killing the art and that’s why I think actors such as Christian Bale and the late River Phoenix are brilliant because one¬†will never know who¬†the actor behind the character really is.

L. V. K.

The Machinist 2004- Guilt Cuts Sharper Than Knife

Most of you must have heard about Christian Bale’s highly praised performance in The Machinist, for which he dropped his weight to 55kg (he’s 1.80m!), looking like he’s just stepped out of a concentration camp.¬†The movie is as impressive as Bale’s performance, and¬†does not leave you indifferent to the story. It is one of those psychological thrillers, which keep you in tension until the very end. If you enjoy films like Shutter Island and Fight Club, you’ll deffinitely love this one too.

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The Machinist tells the story of Trevor Reznik, a young man who’s been suffering from insomnia for one year. As a result, he’s always tired, moody, unfocused and is so skinny that he resembles a corpse. One day at work, Trevor is distracted by¬†his new colleague and makes a mistake, which leads to the mutilation of a co-worker he’s operating a machine with at that time. The incident throws Trevor in a world of chaos, self-haunting and guilt. He’s often experiencing deja vu which brings back painful memories. Strange occurances straight after the incident make Trevor grow suspicious of everyone around him, except for two women he maintains relationships with.

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I love independent movies because¬†the fact they have low budgets makes them focus on the acting¬†rather than on special effects, rich decors, makeup and costumes and so on. The focus is simply on the art, which makes you get deeper into the story and feel the characters closer and more realistic. I feel some good actors love independent movies for the exact same reason. Christian Bale is an example of such actor who’s doing what he’s doing in the name of art and who’s ready to dive into¬†great¬†depths both physically and psychologically. Another example is River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho. In order to prepare for his role of a drug-addicted street hustler, he became one, hanging out with real hustlers, using hard drugs and basically staying in character during the whole filming period and after. His dedication resulted in him giving the¬†best performance in his career but this also cost him his life three years later.

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Method actors are extremely dedicated and devoted to roles they believe in. Sometimes a method actor could become so deeply attached to a role that they are never able to fully step out of it. This is a devotion in the name of art and such actors deserve respect and admiration. Such actors are no stars or celebrities, they are simply artists.

L. V. K.

Tomorrow Is Another Day

I’ve always loved classic books. The very word classic means that the piece of art- a book, a song or a movie- has been recognised by many as qualitative and deserving respect and admiration. I have recently finished reading Gone With The Wind– undoubtedly one of the top classics, both the movie and the book. Probably those of you who have read it know the emotions that follow after you reach the end- anger, despair, depression, but also hope; after all, tomorrow is another day.

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What I love about this book is the background- the tragic events related to the decline of a whole system of life- and the way the main character, Scarlet O’Hara, survives the crisis and fights for her and her siblings’ lives and rights. Many people would describe Scarlet as cold, selfish and cruel, ready to step over dead bodies just to accomplish her ambitions and desires. Maybe they are right in thinking so, but the coin always has two sides. I, personally admire Scarlet for her bravery and ability to adapt to different situations. The society she lives in is blind and fanatic and does not accept her behaviour, but Scarlet is an example of an emancipated woman. This same society lives by the old, restrictive rules which do not look favourably upon¬†women who work (especially ones who are running their own business like Scarlet), who “show off” in public¬†when they are pregnant, who live alone etc. But Scarlet is a modern, practical woman who rebels against the restrictions imposed on women by the vastly conservative society. And this is what makes Rhett Butler fall in love with her…

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Rhett is the male version of Scarlet- a cinic who’s rebelling against everything and everyone. He hates to be part of the crowd and is always there to criticise its manners and customs, its beliefs and ideals. However, behind the mask of a hardhearted turncoat, Rhett has a very gentle heart and is always ready to help his compatriots. He and Scarlet make the perfect couple, but their biggest misfortune is both of them carry too many masks, so their true selves can’t find each other. Rhett believes Scarlet does not love him, and Scarlet believes Rhett does not love her. Moreover, she fooles herself she’s in love with Ashley Wilks- her neighbour and friend from childhood. The only one who sees the truth behind the masks is Melany- Ashley’s wife. She is one of the last, true ladies who, unfortunately, belongs to the old times, the times before the war when everything had been much simpler and easier. The new order and the world she’s forced to live in are too cruel for her tender soul.

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Gone With The Wind is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. So tragic in its credibility and so intense in its presentation of complicated personalities. I think everyone who loves books should read¬†Gone With The Wind because this is an incredible story of love and hate, war and peace, death and life.¬†But once you get deep inside¬†the pages, you realise hate is actually love, peace turns out to be war and those who are dead are more alive than the ones who remain living. But at the end, there is always hope as “tomorrow is another day”.

L. V. K.