Monday, March 14, 2011
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
This was recommended by Louise Anne, Ian, Judith, and Sharon. This is the second time I've read this book. I loved it the first, and possibly loved it even more the second time round. I was a little disturbed by how little of the actual story I remembered from my first reading which made me think why do I persevere with this list when I could just re-read the same the book afresh each time. What I do recall from the first reading was a sense of defeat at the lives of our wee tailors. Every time things were looking up, BAM! something would come along and crush them back down again. It was just one bad thing after another. Each time it looked like things were getting better for the tailors something awful would happen that would just leave me feeling despairing for them. It was as if the dye (sorry about the pun) was well and truly cast (oops, sorry). I was left with the sense that the caste system and corruption in India is so entrenched that there really is very little space for hope. Every time in the story when things were going well I was waiting for the next bad thing to happen. But this second time through it didn't seem nearly as grim a story. Even though the world around Dina, the tailors and Maneck is always threatening to destroy them, inside the padlocked safety of Dina's small crumbling flat they find a way to break free of the old world rules and prejudices and briefly experience joy, kindness and generosity with each other. Ultimately their flat is no fortress against these destructive forces and each are brutally dealt with for daring to want something different, and even though it’s terrible what happens to them, there is something about these characters which stopped me being so bound up in the despair. This time around I wasn't so caught by the despair and hopelessness. The “fine balance” was a little easier to see. Initially was difficult for me to think of the tailors lives as hopeful, and thought this was just a too Pollyanna-ish and perverse view of the horror of what they were living through. It's hard to imagine more tragic circumstance for the poor old tailors, and even Dina suffers the crushing defeat of having to return to the protection of her brother. Is hope the capacity to keep going in the face of despair? Sometimes its easier to recognise hope when it looks more like longing or desire, but I wonder if there is another aspect to hope that is harder to recognise. Is it this aspect of hope that carries us through the even darkest moments of our lives - how we just keep going in spite of whatever is happening? Is hope the quiet, unspoken, and unrecognized knowing that gets us through the troughs of our lives? In this sense hope is more closer aligned to just life itself. Interestingly, it is Maneck, who has by far more opportunities and resources, and who actually gets out of India, who finally succumbs to despair and kills himself. This is the fine balance – hope and despair, death and life.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Another romp through the British upper classes – house parties, and gossip. Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh were great mates – the wit, satire and contempt for the upper classes are there. But, it’s difficult to see how this book and Madam Bovary get to be on the same list. Perhaps its all the make over tips from that great ‘aesthete pansie”, Cedric who takes over Hampton and sends Lady Montdore off to the spa for an orange juice only diet – although she eventually breaks out and is busted for breaking out and stuffing elevenses down her throat. This doesn’t dampen Cedric’s resolve. He makes Lady Montdore say “brush” before she comes into a room so that “her face is fixed in a very gay smile”. Watch this face!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wow! Bang! Kapow! Splatt! This book packs a punch – the Prague Ghetto and WW2, comic book heroes, morphine addiction, the Arctic Circle, American Nazi bomb plots at Barmitzvahs, a terrible gay rape scene, fathers and sons, sex, love, and loss. This is a great book and definitely should be brought onto the desert island. Thanks to Rachel and Sharon for packing it. Our two heroes, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, create an enormously popular comic hero, The Escapist, for whom there is no lock or chain that he cannot open to liberate the oppressed and shackled everywhere. It’s no coincidence that this comic book hero is born of Joe, who fled the holocaust, and his Jewish cousin Sam, who is also gay. The story tells how both these men ultimately find the key to their own painful liberation and escape. In this sense the comic book hero is presented here as a golem of their time – those Jewish mythical creatures who are artificially created with supernatural powers. A kosher Frankenstein (duh, just noticed how Jewish that name is). According to Chabon, these creatures are our gestures of hope during times of despair and desperation - our longing for something to free us, to escape, “to slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws”. Rather than join the chorus of the critics of these popular comics which see their escapist fantasies as corrupting, Chabon is suggesting that there is something noble in being able to call forward these heroes who, on our behalf do our bidding or our fighting, and restore the world as a just and fair place. But, the escaping that both Joe and Sam do in the end is not fantasy or fiction. Both Sam and Joe in different ways end up being wound in a final set of chains but manage to escape. And, like the great escape tricks of Houdini, they have their metamorphisis – less a matter of escape, but more a matter of transformation. In the end our two heroes do escape, are transformed, and again it is through love and generosity. The longing and escape into fantasy holds the potential, or keeps the spirit oriented in the right direction. So it got me thinking about the whole idea of hope, and how we can hang onto it in a way where we give up on the present and ironically become hope-less, or how, as in the case of this story, hope is the bright orienting star during the dark stormy nights of despair - it doesn’t lead to hopelessness, but helps us through it. Perhaps this is what Viktor Frankl was referring to when he describes how hope could pull one towards life, and transform our lives, even under the most tormenting of circumstances. I’m also beginning to think about the golem of our own time – ah, easy, the iPad.