I really enjoyed this book. it drew together so many threads from my own life. I headed for Malaya in 1972 after being wounded in combat in Cambodia a...moreI really enjoyed this book. it drew together so many threads from my own life. I headed for Malaya in 1972 after being wounded in combat in Cambodia and spent a couple of months walking and hitch hiking around the country, including a couople of excursions into the jungle. A place with which I became very familiar while serving in Vietnam. The descriptions of the jungle and life there were pretty much aligned with what I experienced without the drama of the Emergency. It had changed in atmosphere and fact a few years later when the Bumiputra movement was forced on the population by legislation, and it was not a change for the better. Still I loved the place the first time around and went through or to many of the places mentioned here, even spent a few days on a tea plantation and in a tin mine.
Like Judge Teaoh, I too had wounds to heal and I could closely identify with much of what she often felt towards her war experience. In addition, I was raised by parents who went through WW2, my father having fought against the Japanese in the Pacific> his views may not have been entirely racist but he never forgave them their actions towards their prisonners and those they occupied and strangely I find neither have I.
This despit a university degree which included a slab of early Japanese history and a current dedication to Buddhist teaching and so familiarity and admiration with the products of Zen and an enjoyable interest in Japanese authors, including Kawabata and Mishima who I admire greatly as craftsmen of words. I also spent a year as curator of the largest Edo style garden outside Japan which has been constructed in Cowra in NSW and developed an extensive knowledge, interest and enjoyment of Japanese garden design. A journey to see the gardens in Kyoto was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.
In addition to storng characterisation, and beautiful descriptions of landscape and a lifestyly now disappeared, this book has been very well resarched and gives an accurate picture of plantation life during the emergency. It's a great piece of work and a highly enjoyable read.(less)
This book had such an intense effect on me it has taken me some time to be able to comment. It is a book about sexual abuse and predation. It explores...moreThis book had such an intense effect on me it has taken me some time to be able to comment. It is a book about sexual abuse and predation. It explores in detail the wider ramifications of abuse on those who experience it. Those consequences that that group of people trapped in the behaviour who seek to justify and minimize or to simply ignore the impact of what they do just can't afford to see. I agree with the author's view that the idea of childhood innocence is a projected fantasy of adults, it happens for many reasons and has little actual substance. What is sure however is that children experience the things that happen to them in a much more intense and direct way than those old enough to have developed brains to dress everything in wishful thinking.
The direct intensity of childhood experience lays down in the mind the reference points through which all future life is seen and interpreted and although the impact of abuse is experienced individually and differently there is much that is common; principally that it is always negative.
The driven nature of abuse derives from the fact that many abusers were themselves abused as children and it requires the abuser to direct their minds through a blinkered tunnel as they seek with compulsion that something that fills the damaged core in them in some way. Sometimes it is false promise of love and acceptance, sometimes it is a sense of power, sometimes a sense of comfort through joining at some subliminal level with another. The variations are myriad. In their blind pursuit of what they need they cannot countenance the truth of their perpetuation of the very pain in which they themselves are submerged. That part of them with all that it requires of them has to be split off in some way and an outward appearance of things being otherwise maintained. It is sure though that in these people everything in them is ultimately drawn into the service of getting what they want. Then the chase itself becomes another strand of the seduction.
This is a terrible and terrifying aspect of human frailty, and it is little understood either by those afflicted, law makers or the general populace. The brouhaha that often accompanies the discussion I feel sometimes just makes matters worse and suffering more intense. Both perpetrators and victims are in a way all on the same continuum, for those who a driven to misuse the young in this way were themselves so often misused in the same way when young. What is to be done? Perhaps the aim must be to bring those so trapped to the point the main character here ultimately reaches, that of being able to see it all for what it is, accept the truth of it and act with love. Not an easy ask and the structures established by society to deal with this problem are the least likely to bring about that result. The driving force in that camp being hysteria.(less)
If this story does not rip your heart out, you are either not human or a Pharasee. It is the story of a sensitive young man who leaves Idaho, fleeing...moreIf this story does not rip your heart out, you are either not human or a Pharasee. It is the story of a sensitive young man who leaves Idaho, fleeing from violence and abuse and all that so often accompanies poverty and despair, and heads for New York in search of the one person who truly loved him, a boy he grew up with. It explores the lives of "the shy hunters", those people who became his friends, his companions, his lovers and his teachers, during the first terrible scourge of the AIDS epidemic in New York.
This book had a profound impact on me, there was much about the "underbelly" that is the big city for fringe dwellers that was so familiar to me. My own journey into that particular hades turned up not so many with as much nobility as Will or Rose or True Shot, but there were some I did glimpse, some who I touched and who touched me. At that time I was too young to see what was before me in them, but I do see it now.
It is a story of deep anguish, loss and suffering but also a story of great abiding love bewteen those who have only each other and their own pain. Much touched me, there were so many memories, of savage, moments quiet moments and tenderness. On the whole it really did my head in for a while, I need some time to absorb it all; including some of the most profound lines I have had the privelege to read in the English language. "Fate leads those who will and drags those who won't".
This is not a story of the Readers Digest variety. To experience it fully I think somehow, like me, you will probably have to have been there!(less)
This book is not an easy raed. It's not hard though to see why it received the National Book Award. There is a plethora of writing now about the Vietn...moreThis book is not an easy raed. It's not hard though to see why it received the National Book Award. There is a plethora of writing now about the Vietnam War, of course it varies in quality, this is one of the few that should be included as part of that canon that defines that sorry conflict. Heinemann captures perfectly the timbre of the isolation, the destruction wrought on the soul by combat trauma as, I believe, only someone who has gone through that particular hell can. It is the intensity and the grief, the anger and the sorrow, the emotional numbness that are the hallmarks of ptsd. Paco, poor bastard has been through the fire at the extreme end of the spectrum. It is the same for all of us who were impacted in this way the depth of the hole only varies in degree.
There is much contained here that is part of my own story; my own response to the brutality and the idiocy of what was that war for so many. There are a couple of beautiful soliloquies that sum up so well my own view of those who sent us and the "wanna bes", and the "gung ho" rednecks who now drape themselves in the gloried fairy tale that has become the Vietnam War in their minds. I just loathe these people with a vengeance and that is why I have had nothing much to do with the ex service organisations and the congregations that have been formed around remembrance of the war. The bullshit just infuriates me too much, if I could have my way I would be shot of it; have the deep and abiding grief and sorrow and pain excised from my soul such that I might in some measure be unburdened.
Even after 40 years have passed and then two decades of working my way through this morass it is still with me. I still cry myself to sleep at night sometimes;from the sheer grief for those lost on both sides, to death then or the ghosts now. It marked me in ways only another combat veteran who saw, and smelt and tasted it all can truly know.
I try never to tap into it because it is just too dangerous for me to give it any rein, but deep within me there is an icy fury that becomes murderous in the face of politicians I hear advocate a war as a legitimate extension of the national interest. I can give an assurance that cold blood has real meaning for me. I try to be compassionate towards the ignorant pricks lavishing benefits upon themselves as perks of their office, and avoiding military service for themselves and theirs for they are ignorant and will always remain so; but sometimes it is very, very hard.
Well done Larry, thanks for speaking for me. My heart is with Paco wherever he may be and whatever the uniform he may have worn.(less)
John Irving is, in my view one of the great novelists of the 20th Century. Certainly one of the best American authors. It has been a while since I hav...moreJohn Irving is, in my view one of the great novelists of the 20th Century. Certainly one of the best American authors. It has been a while since I have read his work and i had forgotten just how good he really is. This book was a tour de force. Funny, witty, sad and at times scarifying. The contortions of emerging adolescent sexuality and the pain of rejection and feeling outside the pale, all caught here in what can only be called an impassioned embrace. The sexual experiences of this young man and the way in which those closest to him deal with them, and his proclivities form a bitter yet tongue in cheek condemnation of those who condemn the different. It asks the questions that need to be asked of those who would damn another, ...and precisely what is your dirty little secret?" We all have them, secrets. they only become dirty when we see them that way.
I really enjoyed this book, I laughed and I cried. Another reviewer likened the read to an emotional roller coaster and it was certainly that. But then so is life. A great read. (less)
Together with the first two volumes in this trilogy, White has appeared out of what has been for me, the mist of gay literature as one of the most pro...moreTogether with the first two volumes in this trilogy, White has appeared out of what has been for me, the mist of gay literature as one of the most proficient writers I have ever read. This man wastes not a word, his characterizations are powerful but in a way such that they slide up on you. I felt that I really knew the characters peopling this tale-though at times that sense of things was uncomfortable for me. At times horrified, at times disgusted, at times enthralled, at times highly amused by a wit and word so incisively cynical I felt simply drawn through this book.
The whole milleau of gay life in the 70's and 80's before the age of AIDS is a completely foreign landscape to me. Had I not read this book I would never have thought that people could either think or behave in this way, though a few years in Darlighurst, Sydney during the 80's gave me some hints. The living of this life seems almost surreal to me, though it literally heaves with truth.
This major literary work in three parts spanning this man's whole life, has been an experinec for me and one I would not have missed, for the sake of some small prejudices.(less)
This is the second of White's trilogy that I have read, one to go and I am truly looking forward to it. The first A Boys Own Story left me breathless,...moreThis is the second of White's trilogy that I have read, one to go and I am truly looking forward to it. The first A Boys Own Story left me breathless, I have very rarely seen anyone who can work with the English language to such effect. There is not a wasted word anywhere and the strength of characterisation is such that I felt much of the time, so very identified with the main character. Visceral and disturbing at times, it is certainly those things but then the agony of this boys struggle with his own sexuality in a world where what he was as a person was regarded as diseased could only be described in that way.
The period is not so far removed from that in which I grew up so there is much here that I recognise, especially since I too grew up in a small country town, an outsider. I have had little to do with the so called gay community aside from casual acquaintances but I can truly see how some of the more outrageous and pathetic forms of stereotype that many of the people I knew around the gay ghetto of Sydney seemd to embody grew up. In the kind of spiritual vacuum that existed in most western civilized countries that just made what a gay person was at essence somehow wrong and classified what was a natural form of relating to them into a crime, robbed a whole generation of role models who embodied homosexual "love" as a natural expression a the humanity of some of us, to be treasured in the samw way as anything else that serves the soul. That form of idealized love it is often romanticised in gay fiction and movies or spoken about in tight circles with a great deal of yearning behind it, yearning in hope that it may actually be possible when what people so often see instead is a denial of the connection at depth between two people that love can bring. That denial rising so desperately out of the wrongness that has been forced like a straight jacket onto the minds of those who feel in love in this way.
Things may be getting better, as a result of the political activism of the gay community throughout the 70's and 80' to this current day, but there is a darker shadow that has been left as a kind of archetype that persists still for many and it is sometimes evidenced by the strident declarations that should not be necessary in a civilized society. White has been able to encapsulate the sense of all of this for me here. This is a great work of literature and of social comment. Bravo!!!(less)
I really enjoyed this book. Beautifully written, the voice of Robin, definitely not a "normal boy" dealing with his unfolding realization that this is...moreI really enjoyed this book. Beautifully written, the voice of Robin, definitely not a "normal boy" dealing with his unfolding realization that this is so for him. Set in a context of great stress in his family as his brother is dying as a result of an accident in which Robin has played a part it explores the passage from the violet light of childhood into the grittiness of life with all its accomapanying emotions, and vagaries. Life where no one is what they present and the hidden is always as potent as that which is presenting. It is a story about movement through adolescence towards the discovery of what is truth for Robin and his realization what the truth of those who are central in his life. The most striking thing for me was the authenticity of Robin's 15 year old voice, the voice of a boy who struggles through the dawning realization that he is different and what that might mean for the experienced timbre of his life.(less)
This is probably one of the best pieces of English literature I have read. It is certainly THE best piece of gay literature I have read. Why?Simply be...moreThis is probably one of the best pieces of English literature I have read. It is certainly THE best piece of gay literature I have read. Why?Simply because it is so genuinely human. It really strikes at the heart of an issue that will sit at the centre of many lives; how we lie to ourselves about who we truly are' through fear of what others will think; through fear of defying the expectations of the gigantic figures in our lives, particularly parents; from the yearning for the easier softer way out of anything confronting and that so western sense of self loathing. The things we do to others, the harm and hurt we cause just to avoid acceptance of who we are terrible burdens which as life moves into the end game just get heavier with the passing of time.
The characters in this book are life in detail. I know these people. I have seen and met them, I have breathed the air that surrounds them, permeated as it so often is with despair and pain. The want to be loved and to give love, so destructive if thwarted in its flow that it can wound all who come into contact with the struggle against its nature.
This is a great piece of work,written from the heart with precision and great technical ability.It rightly deserves its place as a modern classic(less)
There was something beside the innovative approach and the power of the words and images, about the book that really hooked me. That was the employmen...moreThere was something beside the innovative approach and the power of the words and images, about the book that really hooked me. That was the employment of death as narrator. It gave a picture of death, a sense of that being that I am familiar with. I fought in Cambodia in 1972 at the height of that bloody debacle, so there was much of the holocaust in that place at that time as well. Death was everywhere, and the Cambodians I fought with came to terms with that presence by describing death as a lady. Not something to be dreaded or feared but "someone" who just was, a presence. Maybe it was their very special way of viewing life...and death but that image, that understanding of death's presence as a beautiful woman has stayed with me all my life. They used to speak of her "being here today" and that was a sure sign that she was here for someone. Death's gathering of souls in this book matched so eerily my own sense of her movements across the battlefields of my early 20's (just a boy really)I felt that I shared something very deep and personal with the characters of this book as death moved among them in the same seamless way. It touched me; very deeply.(less)
I read a lot. Occasionally I come across a stand out author Mary Renault demonstrates the capacity for that in this novel. The depth of characterizati...moreI read a lot. Occasionally I come across a stand out author Mary Renault demonstrates the capacity for that in this novel. The depth of characterization and the finesse with which she handles the complexities of "coming out" in the forties is truly a wonder. She has caught the shifting light of the conflicting emotions in two young gay men,one (the protagonist) who is coming to terms with his sexuality and the other (his love focus) who just can't seem to accept the feelings he experiences for what they are, preferring instead to keep it all in at arms length. No translation of those tender stirrings into any action that "should not be spoken".
The difficulties of the gay community then and the lives they led, at least partly as a result of societal hostility, is well sketched. Renault captures crisply that tendency of some gay people to see their identity principally through their sexuality, together with all that it implies for their relationships and their lifestyle, seemingly as pronounced then as it is now. This is an imbalace that has slanted much of how many gay people are perceived; on the same terms! Any person should experience themselves and others should experience them as so much more.
The intensity of yearning for that secial something. experienced by young gay men coming of age (later then than now I think), is here and expressed with a great deal of poignancy. This is in my view a great piece of writing and a masterful exploration if a delicate aspect of the human condition. Well before its time. For the 1950's aa I said a wonder. especially for a woman who was not, I think gay herself.
I really enjoyed this piece of work and will read more. (less)
This book just took my breath away! It is intense to say the least but it is such a beautifully written exploration of a young man's search to define...moreThis book just took my breath away! It is intense to say the least but it is such a beautifully written exploration of a young man's search to define his own sexuality, that I couldn't put it down. It explores in intimate detail the workings of the adolescent mind in an emotionally and sexually charged context and it captures all the driven longing; the fearful hesitancy; the romantic dreaming' the cruel self doubt and the intense emotional sparring that often goes into a relationship, (usually brief), that becomes the centre of that process of self definition. It's impact so dramatic perhaps because it explores the timbre of "the one perfect passion" all people dream of but few ever experience. Perhaps all the more intense for someone who has been in that space. This book touched corners of my soul that I had forgotten were there. (less)