Monthly Archives: June 2013

page 293 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

This most recent chapter, where Meme meets Mauricio and Amaranta predicts her own death, though the is still an air of the magical, this was a very ‘normal’ book chapter.

Girl meets boy, girl is secretly impressed with boy, girl has lots of sex with boy, boy is shot in the spine and spends his life in bed paralyzed and as an accused chicken thief.

Yellow was predominant again; mustard and the butterflies.

The Grapes of Wrath: Read from June 20 to 30, 2013

Replace farmers from Oklahoma with migrant workers from Mexico and I doubt you’d be able to tell that this novel was written back in 1939. And that’s what really stuck me about this novel – how relevant it still is – in some ways even more now than then.

The first similarity is economic. As I write this we are still either going through a ‘great recession’ or are slowly emerging from an economic downturn. The causes are different, of course, here in the novel it was bad farming techniques mixed with new technology that drove the farmers from their land. Today it’s an over-saturated housing market – people banking all their futures on the bubble of hope that perhaps the value of their own home will increase enough for them to make a tidy profit. And just like land that’s been worked too hard, people worked the housing market too hard and it collapsed. Banks came to take the farms in the novel and banks came to take the homes in our own time.

And both examples were of people running as fast as they could just to stay a little ahead of disaster. The farmers grew crops that destroyed the soil because they had no choice – they couldn’t compete with the new farms, the corporate farms and machine efficiency. A family can’t compete with a fleet of harvesters and tractors – working the land by hand can’t keep up with a tractor. And the same goes for the people with houses these days. Everybody borrowed on cheap credit from the bank to hopefully ‘buy low’ and then ‘sell high’, but when everyone does it then there isn’t no value in any of it and it all falls apart and everyone still owes the banks. And all they wanted was a piece of a dream, a chance to stay afloat economically, to send their kids to a good college, to make the car payments, put food on the table.

In the novel the Californian’s hated the Oakies, called them lazy, called them animals, called them thieves; in today’s world we call the homeowners who lost it all idiots, greedy, lazy. But we also hate the banks. Call the banks greedy, inhumane, a great machine that’s too big to die and too big to fail and everybody has to keep feeding it because nobody is really too sure how to control it anymore.

But there is one difference, and that’s the work. When the people lost the value on their homes, when the banks realized that the amount of money in the economy was based on a weak speculation and that there was actually a lot less money than there really was, when that caused credit to dry up, and when that caused smaller businesses to close up because they couldn’t run the businesses with no credit, which in turn caused people to lose their jobs, and that caused the economy to drag down deeper and created a vicious cycle that made it worse and worse – after all that, the people had nowhere to go because all the ‘poor jobs’, the type of work Steinbeck writes about in the novel had all been taken by the immigrants.

And that cussed more issues. The poor American middle-class blamed the Mexican’s and now militia patrol the borders to kick the Mexican’s out or do worse things in the desert at night when nobody is looking. A man like Casey in the novel is no different than a immigrant getting killed by some militia border patrol.

And that causes resentment on all sides and the center can’t hold.

And that’s just the economic similarity between the novel and today’s times. Politically it’s the same too. A conservative will say the poor just gotta work, but the conservative will also be on the side of the businessman and when everyone needs work, the businessman can keep wages down and in turn keep the poor really poor. But that’s supposed to be ok because the conservative will say the poor can take help from a charity or a church – but that’s easy to tell someone else when it’s not you having to beg and take charity, easy to tell another man to beg. But the conservative man is holding on by a thread as thin as can be too and he’s causing his own demise because soon the corporation will put him out of work too, his job will be lost and he’ll have to go begging and he won’t be so mean and conservative anymore. He’ll see the value of sticking by your fellow man instead of blaming him for his troubles.

And that’s what the book is about – about family, about sticking together, about helping, about not letting the fruit on the vine rot when others go in need. And that’s why it’s an even more radical novel today than when it was written because it ‘smells’ of Communism or of Socialism. And the conservative man doesn’t want to hear about that, he doesn’t want a union because union men are lazy and he doesn’t want socialism because the government will tell him what to do and he doesn’t want communism because he can take care of his own family.

That is until he can’t, then he’ll be singing a different tune or he’ll be turning on his own people like some of the people in the novel who turned against their own just to put food on the table; the great selfishness.

That’s the saddest thing about the book – how spot on Steinbeck was about human nature. And for as beautiful as the novel is, as well written as it is, nothing can compare to how true it is. And maybe that’s the thing that makes people still so angry about it – that it reveals a truth we don’t want to accept about ourselves, that deep down we know that they way we live, that the American dream is not working, that it never really worked and that we either side with the people who will toss us on the heap of irrelevance or we fight the powers that be. And maybe if we worried a little more about if their neighbor has enough in his bowl and a little less about if we have enough in our own then maybe things would be better.

The novel is a microcosm of American, then and now. And that’s quite an achievement because how many novels ring this true 75 years after they were written? And the novel is a damning indictment too, and that’s why it still scares people.

And that ending. What an ending too. It’s both hopeful and sad. It’s religious and it turns religion on it’s head too. It’s bleak and yet it’s also comforting.

Now I didn’t realize it at first, but this is the third in a series of books I’ve been reading that deal explicitly with society – ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ talked about a people fighting for their independence in the deserts of Arabia, ‘100 Years of Solitude’ about a village coping with modernity, and now this novel about a country having to find a new direction. And they are also about the poor, about people who have been taken advantage of by a government or an economy and have been cast aside. And that’s been a struggle since man understood ownership and it will continue to be a struggle as long as some men side with the very forces that could steamroll everyone in the end.

‘Don’t turn on your own kind’, Tom says. Well I hope Tom is still somewhere out there keeping an eye on everyone, helping where he can, beat up and bloody but still fighting. The world needs more Tom’s and more Ma’s. Someone’s gotta keep the family together.

Anyway, brilliant novel. Pure genius.

page 269 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

It never occurred to me before that this novel and the bible share a common trait in regards to how time passes.

When we’re kids time passes real slow, and the bible and this novel begin with time passing slow. As we age time slips past quicker, just like both books do too.

The image of Remedios floating up to heaven along with the bed sheets is such a beautiful image and really conveys that sense of floating

page 517 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

The point isn’t to make sure your own bowl is full, it’s to make sure the guy’s bowl next to yours isn’t empty.

The camp women, when they chastise the other lady for not taking store credit, they go on about how they won’t take nor do they give out charity. Everyone wants to work. Yet ask a man who already has a full cup and he’ll say another man shouldn’t be too proud to accept charity.

page 446 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

Well now I know what the title means … it’s even more depressing than what I thought.

The old adage of giving a man a fish vs. teaching him how to fish is only applicable if everyone has an equal fishing pole and equal access to the water. And that’s the real crime Steinbeck is trying to highlight : raw, unchecked capitalism has allowed the few to fence up and gate the waters and the land.

page 415 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

With the Joad’s now at the government camp I keep thinking about Solzhenitsyn’s experience in ‘One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich’, however, only as a counter example.

Steinbeck seems to be extolling the virtues of communism or at least the virtues of the poor who share.

I never know how to feel myself since I can see both up and down sides. They are both extreme points of view.

page 245 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

I can’t believe how slowly I’m needing to take this incredible novel (I’m going half pace), but it is a lot of fun going back and re-reading every chapter to pick up on the details and the texture of the story.

From a cultural point of view: any culture that views the world in terms of the miraculous would actually find the miraculous to be quite ordinary and what we consider mundane they would be in awe of.

page 361 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

I keep thinking of the other side of the coin – Levin in Anna Karenina. He was an honorable man but he was also a landowner with his own set of responsibilities. He knew right from wrong but sometimes his right could very well mean wrong for some poor peasant.

However, this novel tells the story we never got in the 19th century; the poor. Maybe they ain’t more right, but it’s their story worth telling too.

page 296 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck intuitively writes people as though they are more or less similar to each other when in a group and only shows them unique when alone. Striking then when a new character, the Jehovist lady, comes along and seems like such a bother.

In turn, the term Oakie lumps everyone into one similar lump and nobody is seen as a human being; animals.

It’s still a problem today with how migrant workers are treated

page 222 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Marquez is saying something rather funny about the raising of children. In the case of Fernanda, she was raised always being told she would be queen, pissed in a gold pot, and was separated from the kids at school. And she married a man who kept a concubine and everyone laughed behind her back.

Meanwhile all of Ursula’s children were well loved and modestly raised, but all turned deranged and even murderous.

page 247 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

I’m pretty sure this is the first great work of literature that uses the word ‘shit-heel’ in it.

So far everyone who runs a business is a thief or a son-of-a-bitch. Steinbeck seems to be saying that nobody who runs a business is any good. And while I get his point of speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves, the taken-advantage-of, it’s a more nuanced argument than just black and white.

page 203 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Calvino wrote in ‘If On A Winter’s Night’ about a series of stories that all have beginnings and no endings and that are all connected through some complicated outside force.

This novel is similar except the stories are people and though their lives have more than beginnings, the family keeps circling a sort of psychic plughole that never drains but rather sort of bubbles everything back up into the tub.

page 194 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

Funny how this book could be considered even more politically radical now than it was when it was written – just hint at communism and whisper the word Marx these days and you’ll get everyone worked up.

And funny ho times have not changed at all since this novel was written. We still don’t trust the banks, are still getting kicked off the land, we still don’t trust businesses and salesmen – but we need ’em too.

page 150 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

Uncertainty and doubt vs. clinical inevitability. Tom is wary of people asking questions, Pa is wary of the buyers, Ma is weary of what happened to Tom in prison, Muley uncertain of his fate, and the preacher about his faith.

Meanwhile the tractors cut the land into even, perfect strips and the banks exact to every %. Yet even they are unsure how the system they work for works.

Man is a collection of doubts.

page 161 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

The insomnia (and following amnesia) the town suffers introduces an interesting paradox. With the loss of memory comes the loss of emotion and any nostalgia for the past and that turns men hard and cruel. However, we see sentimentality and nostalgia as being fake and unearned emotions that are ‘the mask of cruelty’.

That center cannot hold because either all feeling are fake but at least felt, or they don’t exist

page 97 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

I’ve never seen the John Ford and Henry Fonda film version of the book so the way I imagine ‘seeing’ the novel is through the eyes of a Terrance Mallick.

The section with the used car dealership in particular is very art-house cinematic in how it’s there to paint a thematic picture. The camera would pan along the little flags, the leaking oil, a broken pen, and quick handshakes.

The novel is very relevant.

page 49 of 608 of The Grapes of Wrath

Like ‘100 Years of Solitude’, this is another book I’ve always wanted to read but never got around to.

Actually I’m glad I waited because younger me would not have appreciated this novel the way slightly older me can.

What occurred to me right from the start is how unfortunate it is that there is no longer any art left to draw attention to the problems of the world, it’s like the banks took art away too.

page 141 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

I think the thing that surprises me most about the novel is its violence and also its sadness. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this is far more real than I anticipated.

And that’s ironic, that reality, since the book is filled with ghosts, men tied to chestnut trees, magic carpets, streams of blood flowing up curbs and through the neighborhood back to its owner’s mother.

It’s dizzy fascinating.

page 103 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

I like how fluid the narrative is; a paragraph begins with one person and ends with another. In fact it’s sort of dream like where it all makes sense in the reality of the dream. It’s also as if the story has been told by so many people that the facts of gone over-ripe, like a game of telephone.

There is a lot of tragedy too, be it death, insanity, or revolution. Saddest of all is the loss of the town’s innocence.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Read from June 06 to 19, 2013

There isn’t a work of fiction that can rival this incredible true story; it’s as if most works of fiction strive to achieve what happened for these two years in the deserts of Arabia through the eyes of a single, odd Englishman during World War I.

Of course Lawrence has the mind of an author, his ability to stand apart from the men and world around him and take in all the details and grains of life and then turn all that into a coherent story with vivid characters is a skill very few people truly possess. And there were times when I really did wonder if everything here really happened or if it was invented. Any other author I would be much more skeptical of, but Lawrence was an unusual person who actively hated himself, hated his own body even, who never could figure out how to fit in, who would rather long for a desire rather than grasp the reward, who spent the best part of his life living as another person. That pedigree, that inability of him to ever take credit for anything other than cleaning up a hospital of dead, liquefied Turks, made me trust his account, even the dreamy bits.

There were parts of the books I struggled with – mostly the names and places. Maps are helpful, but maps lead to outright historical documents to me laid next to the book for quick consulting and then I’m not even reading the book proper anymore – so I dispensed with any hope of knowing who all the people were and focused on those that mattered, namely Faisal, Auda, and the brief moments of Allenby. The language of the Arabs is very foreign sounding so it got a little confusing keeping everyone straight in my head and I was grateful when he resorted to generalizations such as calling a group ‘The Australians’.

Other parts weren’t clear because so much time has passed since the events here (nearly 100 years) that people and events who were probably quite well known when the book was first published have faded into history or have been too confused with David Lean’s masterful film “Lawrence of Arabia”.

However, this did not hinder my enjoyment of the book and aside from an already decent understanding of the events of WWI, and the overarching political structures, I was able to proceed into the desert without much difficulty. Though it would be fun to really sit down with this book and research every last person and event.

The one part of the book I had been told would be tedious was the part I found not only the most fascinating, but also the most crucial : the landscape. But Lawrence wrote so much of the landscape because that is what the Arabs were fighting for and Lawrence wanted to give every grain of sand in Arabia its due glory. And only then after we’ve turned over every stone, every burning lava field and slate, every murky well, the supreme glory of Rumm, only after seeing all of this country do we see why they fought the Turks. The cruelty of the Turks in that village, that little girl … Tallal became the Arab conflict and this is what Lawrence was trying to tell us the entire time. It took that many words, that much detail to get the point across as to why they fought and why they actually came together as a people who normally hated each other to defeat a common foe.

And the fact that Fiasal was able to get these tribes to stop killing each other for just long enough to take Damascus and win the war is the most remarkable thing here. Lawrence’s story was incredible for sure, but what Fiasal did is unmatched and only Ghengis Khan can surpass such political ability (however Fiasal actually didn’t even have to resort to Mongol brutality either). Yet that’s the sad thing here too since that corporation lasted for such a short time and has never been seen again. Even now in a post Arab Spring world, there is not much hope of a unified middle east – Saudi Arabia is rich but not trusted (though must be respected because of Mecca). Syria is still reeling and probably always will, and the West Bank and Palestine is in even worse shape.

For that brief moment there was hope but it started to fall apart the very hours after the taking of Damascus as the men immediately fought over political control. Maybe that’s why Lawrence added the bit about shoveling up the jellied remains of the Turk soldiers an poured those stinking remains into the grave because he knew how vile the whole business of humanity was, how terrible (yet glorious) war was, how petty, how temporal and fleeting life is, how in the shadow of Rumm all of us are utterly insignificant.

And he knew it wouldn’t last. “Fantasies, these will seem, to such as are able to call them my beginning an ordinary effort”.

He tried, he gloried, yet couldn’t enjoy it, and could never shake that it was all vanity in the end. But what a tale!

77% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

That one image of Tallal, stricken with grief after witnessing the inhumane cruelty of the Turks on the villagers as he gallops down that gentle slope, between two enemies, one friendly, one enemy, all silent as they listen to hoofs beating the sand, and him knowing he rides to his death is the most tragic thing I’ve ever read. I’ll never get that image out of my mind, or Tallal.

page 59 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’ve always wanted to read this book but I was waiting for the right time to start

I’m already in love with the book and am having a hard time putting it down.

I’m not going to pretend to have some great insight into the allusions or symbolism within because I’m not culturally literate enough to catch them all, however, the magical oddness is so beautiful, the characters so alive that it’s enough just to enjoy

72% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

There’s a talent some people have when leading men that allows them to effortlessly manage to make everyone in their charge feel as if they were having a direct impact on the situation at hand. These types of leaders manage to make their orders feel as if it was you who decided to take that very action. These leaders always give the credit, never take it. Great leaders as such, like Lawrence, are all insecure.

67% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

It would be quite the feat to write an account of so dangerous an adventure as Lawrence’s without giving away at least a hint of the man behind the headdress.

His one line of something happening to him as a child that made him never want to be touched spoke volumes of his desire to flay his own flesh, to deny his body any pleasure, to basically kill the body.

No wonder that Arab’s accepted and trusted him.

The Lost Steps: Read from June 08 to 16, 2013

About halfway through this novel I came to the conclusion that the narrator (the main character) is one of those people you would have met in New York City during the 1980’s and would have regaled you with their adventures into the primitive wilderness sometime during the 1960’s and of which they’ve been spending the past 4-5 years re-acclimating themselves to ‘The Modern World’ for whatever excuse.

Ok, that is a very specific generalization I’m making, but it fits the stereotype of all those hippies who wandered off into the Amazon, or along the Ganges, or across the mountains of Pakistan, during the 60’s and 70’s and then came back in the 80’s to tell everyone that their Modern Life was a lie but that they had to come back for “grumble, grumble, wave hands, make some excuse”. Better yet, think of ‘My Dinner With Andre” and of the people Andre is telling his stories about; about his time in the forest with the Germans, of being buried alive during a ritual – all these people searching for something because, for whatever reason, they were dissatisfied with ‘The Modern World’.

And these people always fit the type, they act as if they are above the society they were born from and that only they have some magical insight into how life should be led – primitive, free, unencumbered with rules. And these people are always tiresome. They are arrogant to the point of starting a collection to raise enough money for their one-way ticket back to whatever jungle they can’t stop telling everyone else should go live in.

This is what I don’t get about so much modern literature; everyone hates where they live and think everything in ‘the modern world’ is a sham, a lie, a farce, and they have to go around all day long trying to point that out to everyone. These books (and the people in real life whom the authors have modeled their ‘heroes’ on) are full of half-baked juxtapositions between some modern ritual and its ancient precedent. We’re beaten over the head with how ignorant we (and all Modern Society) are and that even the most educated people are just fooling themselves, that the real knowledge comes from picking up a spade and digging into some South American dirt.

Yet why is this such a trend that refuses to go away? This book was written in 1956, but it could have easily been a first draft to the novel (and film) ‘Fight Club’ with how dissatisfied everyone is with our modern world. Maybe it’s that age-old nostalgia for a simpler time, that cognitive dissonance we all suffer from when thinking of the past and how much better we all were ‘Back Then’. And maybe this book could be excused as part of a movement in post-war art that was coming to terms with a civilization that could destroy the entire planet in an afternoon. That feeling of ‘we’ve gone too far’ is a legitimate concern and perhaps this book is a reflection of that sentiment.

But it’s still nonsense. In fact the book is picking some pretty low hanging fruit. ‘Our Modern Society’ is easy picking to find fault with and it takes very little effort to go on for a few hundred pages about how terrible everything is. And here, at least, this novel recognizes a few key things that have escaped more recent authors : our main character is a juvenile, arrogant, jerk, and he suffers for his arrogance at the hands of the very society he wanted to turn his back on. Better yet, Carpentier made the main character a nameless artist as a stand-in for all the false artists who have come after this novel claiming to have some profound new insight onto how terrible our “Modern Life” is.

Basically, Carpentier is calling bullshit on all the hippies that were to follow this book’s example by saying they are all assholes who don’t know a damn thing and they sure as hell won’t find it in the jungle or atop a mountain or in a dirty river.

However, I’m not going to actually credit Carpentier fully here either because I don’t think this was his intent. In fact I think the main character and this whole book was a vehicle for Carpentier to do some good ol-fashioned preaching about ‘Getting Back To Nature”.

Yet I stick on with my premise because reading this book not through the forced perspective of the narrator, but rather between the lines, from the point of view of the side characters – especially the women – is where the truth really lay.

Our narrator pays no attention to anyone but himself. He’s more than self absorbed and that’s the main cause of his dissatisfaction with life (not the world actually being all that terrible). He treats everyone poorly except for when he lusts after them (Rosario) and even then it’s all sexual and no intimacy. And since the book is all 1st person POV, we get inside this characters limited and shallow mind and see first hand how hes filled his head with half educated ideas – he’s the guy we all know who is always telling us how some situation or other reminds him of some work or art but it’s always some well known thing so that everyone else can follow along, yet it sounds just smart enough as to try and sound intellectually impressive. Yet it’s all smoke. This guy is a proto-hippie and proto-hipster.

But it’s fascinating seeing him bring himself to his own demise. His wife gets the better of him, and Mouche, whom he detests because she spews a different fragrance of bullshit : new age mysticism, astrology, and pseudo-science, but whom he hates because she’s exactly like him in every way except for her sex (no wonder he hates her so much) and how good it was to see her get the better of him too.

In all this book is a warning to everyone who read this book in the 60’s and 70’s but totally missed the subtext. The book is saying that if you can’t be satisfied in this marvelous modern world full of paper and ink (the one thing that causes our narrator to get on that plane) then the problem is with you. And no amount of hand waving is going to change the fact that it’s you who have the problem, not society.

Even the society they create in the jungle falls apart before it even begins. They have the notebook with the laws all written down and they have to acquire more notebooks for when they fill up the old notebooks with laws. Man is destined to order his world and his life and create a society and no amount of looking back to simpler times is going to change the fact that we cannot live as primitive people. The book even says point blank that the items carried out of the jungle by academics and put on display in museums are always wrongly labeled as ‘barabaric’ because these items are, in fact, serving the purpose they were intended for by the people who made them – they are a tribe’s ‘high technology’. Just because we have better tools doesn’t make their stuff barbaric or ours less real.

So it’s hard for me to say if Carpentier intended any of what I read in the novel. I read the book because when reading “Clandestine on Chile” this book was mentioned in that book and it sounded like another real-life “Fitzcarraldo”, and in a way they are similar, especially with the focus of truth and lies and ancient and modern, but after having read it I’m wary that Carpentier meant something more in line with what all the hippies took from it.

Yet real life prevails and by the 1980’s during the height of the narcissistic, me-me generation, even the most ardent proponent of hippiedom had wandered back to ‘Civilization’ and spent the next 10 years bitching about how we are all being lied to and that our rituals are all empty. And they are still at it and they are still juvenile because what they are saying isn’t profound at all because it is they who can’t navigate their own society and are always looking everywhere around them for an answer but never at themselves for one. They cause their own downfall just like the main character of this book.

55% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Did the Turks just not know that a blue eyed, blonde haired, fair skinned, smallish built man wasn’t an Arab? I suppose dirt and heat and exposure and hunger and overall misery will change you, and perhaps maybe the Turks just didn’t want to see, but the ‘governor’ who thought about raping him, even he didn’t figure it out.

No wonder he thought the Turks were, at best, stupid.

50% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Early in the book Lawrence explains how religions of the region were always born of revelation, of men who wandered out into the desert and came back with knowledge of God. At first it seems that Lawrence is just interested in giving us a cultural lesson, however, he’s also explaining how he managed to convince the disparate tribes to join under Faisal’s banner and defeat the Turks.

‘We happy few’

46% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Fascinating how Lawrence was more disturbed by the leaving behind of an African slave during the train attack and the resulting loss of honor – especially since the man actually survived being shot in the back and returned to camp – then he is by coming upon the Turks sick with typhus and just closing the wrecked train doors on them. So fully was he ‘in character’ that it might be true his character after all.

page 158 of 296 of The Lost Steps

The narrator is a juvenile in an adult body. He thinks he is profound, he thinks that his passions are paramount to the wishes of those around him, he’s bad tempered, aloof, judgmental, and sexist but only because he does not understand women at all and so he either despises them or lusts after them.

I’m trying to figure out what the author is trying to say with this unlikable character – I fear it may be nowhere

41% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Lawrence makes a very interesting comparison between the very funny story of him shooting his own camel in a charge with that of how and why a modern military functions as a unit.

The Arab war was a guerrilla war, individuals united only in cause. The Turks were modern, and thus exploited. A group is a hindrance against the guerrilla, a lesson nobody seems to ever learn.

And now onto hopelessly divided Syria.

page 139 of 296 of The Lost Steps

First, the main character does not seem terribly interested in his wife. Second, while he was never more than sexually attracted to Mouche, he’s grown to despise her as well now that he can’t get away from her because of the trip into the jungle. And now there is Rosario.

Out ‘hero’ does not like women very much. In Mouche, he sees everything petty and vain.

I’m not sure if the author does too.

30% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I wonder if Lawrence had more love for geology and geography (the places where people lived) rather than the people who lived in those places? Such an astute eye, someone so careful seems to me to be someone who makes few friends. Fiasal must have appreciated this cool regard.

And the landscape lulls you – page after page of blue, cream, pink rock and sand and sun. No wonder this is a land of God’s prophets.

page 97 of 296 of The Lost Steps

Mainly it’s the narrator’s observations that keep me going, otherwise the book is mostly pretty obvious whose insights are not nearly as profound (or even insightful) as they could be.

Yet there is a strangeness too, and it’s enticing. These lost steps (musical term) slowly become audible, the score is filled in, a melody is apparent. There magic in the music, even in the sound of a fruit falling in the night.

25% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

What makes this book so terribly difficult is keeping track of who is who and how their relationships and history effect some other person or tribe’s relationship.

So I’ve given that up. The only people that really matter here are Lawrence, and Fiasal.

Where the story shines is when Lawrence is telling us what he did, describing the landscape, the custom, his own inadequacies – that’s where we know the man.

page 53 of 296 of The Lost Steps

There’s (hardly) no dialog in this novel, it’s all 1st person observation.

Aside from a few minor descriptions Alejo doesn’t punch with the full weight of his writing until we first land in the city. Where before everything seemed moldy and confused, here in the heat everything comes to life. Our main character truly has no love left for anything modern.

Truth and lies will be the main themes explored here.

11% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Lawrence sets the stage with a bit of historical background of the conflict between the Turks and the Arabs. He then explains how he came to meet Prince Faisal after tricking the English into letting him go.

The road to Faisal is pretty much biblical and we learn about the customs and the geography of these people. Everything is old.

The first real line of dialogue “You’re a long way from Damascus” is perfect.

6% done with Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Immediately I was surprised and impressed with how Lawrence places himself within the broader scope of history. He does not see himself as a ‘great man’, but a guest in a strange land who just happens to share the ideals of the times.

And the writing is superb – if I didn’t know better I’d say this was a work of fiction. Yet I get the feeling that though Lawrence writes so well, he’s not overly nostalgic.

Spring Torrents: Read from June 02 to 05, 2013

The impression I get from this novel is that it is written by an incredibly gifted author whose talents, sadly, have left him. Yet there are flashes of brilliance here and there, and perhaps that’s why Turgenev wrote the novel in the first place, perhaps he was overcome with a flash of inspiration that he eventually had to see to the bitter end, just like our ‘hero’.

To read the novel in such a meta way would make this a brilliant novel, but after what I thought was a promising start, quickly becomes a bit tedious, empty of real feeling, and of not much consequence.

I think the biggest problem with the novel is that we never really know Sanin. Yes he’s very good looking and this has quite the effect on the people around him (young women), and we know he’s given to flights of quick passion that keeps the plot moving along, but aside from that he’s sort of an empty shell. And of course that is exactly what Turgenev wanted to give us, Sanin is supposed to be a young, handsome, wealthy, and utterly shallow person. However, that does not make for the most interesting character to follow around through every page of a novel. So at the whim of everyone else around him is he that almost nothing really happens aside from total chance (his initial meeting of Gemma, the gust of wind, the meeting of Polozov; all chance).

Yet again, from a meta point of view, Turgenev must have known that this is exactly the story he wanted to tell. He wanted to take a shallow young landowner (one who owned serfs, otherwise known as slaves) and turn him into a fool and a slave. He wanted to turn social convention on its head; to have Maria marry a homosexual so that she can carouse about Europe with her fortune left solely to her from her peasant father. Turgenev was making fun of the young Russian landowners and their wealth. That’s why so much of the novel revolves around the theater : everything is a performance (and not a very good one) and only the best actors can fool the audience.

However, even with all this subtext, Turgenev just didn’t really have his heart in this one. Something was missing; he was an actor reciting his lines well enough, but his elbows were pointed straight to the audience as he spoke and the audience wished they were somewhere else.

And what of this ending? To America? After all that time? It’s an interesting ending, I think, but we just don’t know and feel attached to Sanin well enough to even care, let alone understand why after 30 years of apathy (money making apathy to be sure, but apathy none-the-less) why he’d run off to America to see Maria. Does he think he still has his looks? Is that what the photograph of Maria’s daughter was hinting at? Did he think he could buy his way into favor? Seems to be the real novel should start at this point and follow him across the ocean and see what happens.

Oh well, I really wanted to love this novel, but I don’t. It’s good, for sure, but nothing very special aside from a few brilliant moments and the excellent writing. To bad too because this could have been quite the masterpiece (and there IS plenty of meat to chew on here), but Turgenev just didn’t have his heart in it. ‘Cele ne ture pas a consequence’ indeed.

42% done with Spring Torrents

Ippolit is one of the most fascinating inventions in literature that I can think of. To come across a gay, but married to a millionaire woman, a man so lazy that just talking tires him, with the juice of an orange dripping down his chin towards his Buddha belly, who clothes shops for his beautiful young wife … well it’s fun to meet this character in such a novel.

He REALLY reminds me of Otho from Beetlejuice.

28% done with Spring Torrents

It didn’t occur to me last night when Turgenev waited to tell us what Sanin looks like that this was actually going to be the main theme of the novel.

Sanin is not someone who has ever thought about hos his actions have consequences. He’s never thought beyond anyone but himself before, yet now, in a torrent, ‘love’ hurricanes in and he’s swept up in it, and it’s not going to end well for a lot of people.

13% done with Spring Torrents

To me it’s more impressive to tell a simple story well than it is to tell an exciting one well.

Turgenev’s novel here is a very simple story, but his ability to keep you interested in what’s going on, to tease out details slowly and carefully (such as the masterstroke of not telling us what Sanin looks like until after we’ve met everyone else) is what makes him the greatest of the Russian novelists.

A High Wind in Jamaica: Read from May 29 to June 01, 2013

This is the second time I’ve read this magical novel and I like it even better this time than I did the first. A lot of what I love is just in the language Hughes uses – for example describing the ocean as a ’tissue of sensitive nerves’ – you can feel the languid heat of the tropics, the wetness of everything, the riot of vegetation, the primitive danger of everything all around. This is a novel to just get lost in, to be held captive by like the main characters, so much so that I’m not particularly interested in analyzing the book to death.

I could talk at length about the theme of crumbling institutions (adulthood, piracy, plantations, the church, England), about childhoods that never end (John, through his ‘martyrdom’, and the pirates through negligence). I could compare it to Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ which is just as dreamlike, or to Peter Pan, or even Don Quixote.

However, I just don’t want to pick this one to pieces. I’d rather play the role of Mathias and allow the book to surprise me, trick me, confound me with it’s circus of near insanity, instead of turning it into a Margaret that’s been violated by a bunch of dirty sailors (academics).

Some books I just want to enjoy and this is one of them.