Apparently this is the third of a type of trilogy. I did not know that. I bought it because it was short. Sorry, John. I was on vacation at the beach....moreApparently this is the third of a type of trilogy. I did not know that. I bought it because it was short. Sorry, John. I was on vacation at the beach. It was called Summertime. It was available in paperback and I was low on cash. What I got when I began to read was infinitely more. There are some books that affect us so deeply the $15.00 price seems ludicrous.
Admittedly, I am a lousy fan. There are few authors whose complete works I’ve read, no matter how much I admire their writing. Fewer still about whom I know anything personal. Summertime is a fictionalized biography. Interviews for a biography and notes written by the subject himself, really; an unfinished work. This furthers the impression of looking in on a life – the naturalness of it, the side of biographies we don’t normally see. It’s an engaging portrait of a man, a writer, an artist, possibly even Coetzee himself. All those things. It’s wise and beautiful and wry and, if not a strictly factual account of his life, perhaps it gives a truer glimpse of him. For what great writer writes anything without showing us something of themselves?
One of the things I do know about him is his famed evasiveness. He seems disturbed by the rockstar writer phenomenon and plays with that here. The biographer interviews the women that have most impacted the great author’s life. What indelible mark did he leave on their own? Disappointment. He was only a man. A man who was more alive within himself, than out. He couldn’t dance. To express himself without words – lots and lots of words – was nearly impossible. Yet he rarely spoke. The painful awkwardness of being human is captured perfectly as he seems to slyly poke fun at both himself and the rest of us. The women are repeatedly referred to as “his conquests” or “his women”, but it’s clear in each case that it’s him who has been conquered. As they speak of their relations with him, detailing his failings, they reveal more of themselves and their own shortcomings. That’s not to say they’re unlikable. More real. They’re strong, self-determined women, both touched and frustrated by this man. He speaks a different language, figuratively. And so he can be no more to them than South Africa in flux – transitory, impermanent. Disappointment. They move on. The one constant, from beginning to end, is his father. Always in his mind, his memory, the reality of caring for him… always a silent presence in his relationships with women. For that reason the story feels like an apology. To the women who never knew how much they meant to him. And to his father, for trying to live while he is dying.(less)
Poor Anna Petrovna, surrounded by megalomaniac and generally delusional men. Ain’t it the truth! THANK YOU, MR MEEK!
That’s not what this book is about...morePoor Anna Petrovna, surrounded by megalomaniac and generally delusional men. Ain’t it the truth! THANK YOU, MR MEEK!
That’s not what this book is about.
In Siberia in 1919, a forgotten Czech troop holds the town of Yaszyk. The town is mainly populated by an extreme sect of castrate Christians. It’s about history, revolution, Russia. It’s about ideals, cold and rational, brushing up against natural, warm-blooded reality. And it’s about love. What is love? What are its boundaries? What would you do for it?
Another question running through my mind while reading: What is the worth of human life? Are some dispensable for the greater good? Of course not. We’re not terrorists or suicide bombers. Yet we send soldiers off to wars. Though set as historic fiction, The People’s Act of Love is pertinent today. I really wished for someone to talk about it with as I was reading. Unfortunately my book club couldn’t get past the cannibalism.
“Supposing a man, the cannibal, knew that the fate of the world rested on whether he escaped from prison or not. Suppose this. He’s a man so dedicated to the happiness of the future world that he sets himself up to destroy all the corrupt and cruel functionaries he can, and break the offices they fester in, till he’s destroyed himself. Suppose he’s realized that politics, even revolution, is too gentle, it only shuffles people and offices a little. It isn’t that he sees the whole ugly torturing tribe of bureaucrats and aristocrats and money-grubbers who make the people suffer. It’s that they fall to him and his kind like a town falls to a mudslide. He’s not a destroyer, he is destruction, leaving those good people who remain to build a better world on the ruins. To say he’s the embodiment of the will of the people is feeble, a joke, as if they elected him. He is the will of the people. He’s the hundred thousand curses they utter every day against their enslavement, To hold such a man to the same standards as ordinary men would be strange, like putting wolves on trial for killing elk, or trying to shoot the wind. You can pity the innocent man he butchers, if he is innocent. But the fact the food comes in the form of a man is accidental damage. It’s without malice. What looks like an act of evil to a single person is the people’s act of love to its future self. Even to call him a cannibal is mistaken. He’s the storm the people summoned, against which not all good people find shelter in time.”
“Your imaginary cannibal sounds terribly vain.”
(Karen sent this to me.) (Karen's the sauce.) (less)
As EM Forster notes in the introduction, in light of The Leopard I can’t rate this book as highly as I would otherwise. The Leopard is so brilliant,...moreAs EM Forster notes in the introduction, in light of The Leopard I can’t rate this book as highly as I would otherwise. The Leopard is so brilliant, so perfect, that anything else must pale in comparison. And yet, to a fan of Lampedusa, it’s manna from heaven. Having finished only one novel in his lifetime, Lampedusa left his admirers forever wanting more. This is the more I was wishing for.
This book was not meant to annoy me. I realize that now. There are some beautiful passages and insight, but it wandered too much for me. I wanted to b...moreThis book was not meant to annoy me. I realize that now. There are some beautiful passages and insight, but it wandered too much for me. I wanted to be swept away by it – and I am. But only now, a week after finishing it, as I find myself dipping back in, dog-earing pages and underlining sentences. For me, its power is latent.
But perhaps it’s more effective because of that. Somewhere along page one Hampl introduces the thought that I, personally, may not have the fortitude for the relaxed conversational meanderings of this book. Me! I can sit on my arse poetica and ruminate for hours. The nuns at school used to nudge one another and ask “Is she breathing?” Later I would feign sickness as a means of escape. A book carefully hidden beneath the pillow of the sickroom could be read without interruption. Later still, I spent my mornings judging the perfect balance of badness. The proper offenses that would place me just this side of the fine line between in-school detention and outright suspension. Those in-school suspensions were grand things. Golden days that stretched before me with nothing to do but just what I wanted. Have I lost that carelessness with time? I hadn’t thought so. People who've had to wait on me while the clock ticks the wasted minutes away would say no. And yet it’s not the same thing. My only obligation then was to do nothing and so I did something. I filled my Trapper Keeper with drawings and poetry. Not great art, but I was practicing. Practicing being absorbed in a way that the day-to-day doesn’t allow.
For moderns – for us – there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals onto the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. Just taking our time, as we say. That is, letting time take us.
Modern? Me? Hardly, Ms Hampl. (For the record that’s from page eight, not one. It takes her eight pages to get to there. Not that I’m impatient or bored or counting pages or anything.) From page eight she goes on to explain why I do fall squarely in the category of post-modern, like it or not. How our ways of thinking and looking and even creating are different now. I’d like to read to you pages eight through twelve, but that would take too long. Unfortunate because I’m not good at synopsis and a thumbnail sketch can only hint at the full beauty of a painting. Ah, but had we world enough and time…
It’s a journey. Hampl takes us through convents, art museums and the artist’s studio, into the seraglio, from Chicago to Africa, to Nice and Vence, and, finally, into Matisse’s Chapel of the Rosary there – another convent. It’s about art. The art of painting, capturing essence on canvas with line, the art of leisure – and it is an art, the leisure required to create, the leisure required to see. And it’s about the desire for a calling, a passion, a “private endeavor” as Hampl calls it. A search for the sublime. (less)
I. Nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Now, and in the hour of our death. Amen.
Thus begins Lampedusa’s masterpiece, his paean to death. Sensuous, insight...moreI. Nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Now, and in the hour of our death. Amen.
Thus begins Lampedusa’s masterpiece, his paean to death. Sensuous, insightful, subtle, The Leopard is a work of absolute beauty.
In 1860 Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, is watching the lifeblood seep from his world: the power and the prestige, the unquestioned honors are all fading away, being bled out by revolution. He simply watches it go. He is resigned to it as he is resigned to his own nature. Sated ease tinged with disgust. His one constant joy in life, where he can escape this sense of himself, is the stars. He’s an astronomer and in the sky he finds blissful anonymity. There is no false revolution there. In the limitlessness of the sky there are no worries, only the reassurance that none of the rest matters because nothing ever really changes.
II. The history is interesting, but it’s superficial. E. M. Forster said The Leopard is not a historical novel, but a novel which happens to take place in history. The real story is something else. Somewhere between the characters – drawn too well to be forgotten – and the very fiber of Sicilians themselves.
All Sicilian expression, even the most violent, is really wish-fulfillment: our sensuality is a hankering for oblivion, our shooting and knifing a hankering for death; our languor, our exotic vices, a hankering for voluptuous immobility, that is for death again.
Under this definition, I know a number of Sicilians who’ve never set foot in Sicily.
Perhaps only Tancredi had understood for an instant, when he had said with that subdued irony of his, “Uncle, you are courting death.” Don Fabrizio looks for her constantly, sniffing the air for her scent, expecting to find her at every turn. This yearning for oblivion is so strong it’s a tangible thing. Fingering the rosary beads in the very first sentence. Nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Young lovers discovering ways of satisfying dark desires lost to the consciousness; beneath the conscious, the house, the gardens, the very air exhales it. Blackmail through beauty, redemption through blood. A dying man: A long open wagon came by stacked with bulls killed shortly before at the slaughterhouse, already quartered and exhibiting their intimate mechanism with the shamelessness of death. At intervals a big thick red drop fell onto the pavement. At a crossroad he glimpsed the sky to the west, above the sea. There was Venus, wrapped in her turban of autumn mist. She was always faithful, always waiting for Don Fabrizio on his early morning outings, at Donnafugata before a shoot, now after a ball. Don Fabrizio sighed. When would she decide to give him an appointment less ephemeral, far from carcasses and blood, in her own region of perennial certitude?
III. Floating above this longing for oblivion there is a story. Parts of it parallel the politics of Italy. Parts of it made my heart ache. There are sly bits that made me laugh.
Restless and domineering, the Princess dropped her rosary brusquely into her jet-fringed bag, while her fine crazy eyes glanced around at her slaves of children and her tyrant of a husband, over whom her diminutive body vainly yearned for loving dominion.
IV. Finally, let’s start at the beginning. From the back cover: Set in the 1860s, The Leopard tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching forces of democracy and revolution. The dramatic sweep and richness of observation, the seamless intertwining of public and private worlds, and the grasp of human frailty imbue The Leopard with its particular melancholy beauty and power, and place it among the greatest historical novels of our time. (less)
I highly recommend this book if you're looking to lose your mind, self confidence, or countless hours in futile pencil marks and eraser rubs before fi...moreI highly recommend this book if you're looking to lose your mind, self confidence, or countless hours in futile pencil marks and eraser rubs before finally realizing that, indeed, the very first number you wrote - the only one written dark and bold, you were so sure of it - was wrong. I also recommend it as a gift. If you hope never to hear from the recipient again.(less)