Aaron Gertler's Reviews > Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
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it was amazing

Good gravy, this author can write! Some of the best prose I've seen in a book, ever, both for its beauty and its good sense. Just... just listen to this:

"Proust has pointed out that if one goes on performing any action, however banal, long enough, it automatically becomes ‘wonderful’: a simple walk down a hundred yards of village street is ‘wonderful’ if it is made every Sunday by an old lady of ninety. Franz Josef had for so long risen from his camp bed at four o’clock in the morning and worked twelve or fourteen hours on his official papers that he was recognized as one of the most ‘wonderful’ of sovereigns, almost as ‘wonderful’ as Queen Victoria, though he had shown no signs of losing in age the obstinacy and lack of imagination that made him see it as his duty to preserve his court as a morgue of etiquette and his Empire as a top-heavy anachronism. He was certain of universal acclamation not only during his life but after his death, for it is the habit of the people, whenever an old man mismanages his business so that it falls to pieces as soon as he dies, to say, ‘Ah, So-and-so was wonderful! He kept things together so long as he was alive, and look what happens now he has gone!’"

You could write an entire business book around this quote, and she just spins it off as though it were nothing, and keeps going, for twelve hundred more pages. Listen to this, too:

"The conspirators blew open the door of the palace with a dynamite cartridge which fused the electric lights, and they stumbled about blaspheming in the darkness, passing into a frenzy of cruelty that was half terror. The King and Queen hid in a secret cupboard in their bedroom for two hours, listening to the searchers grow cold, then warm, then cold again, then warm, and at last hot, and burning hot. The weakling King was hard to kill: when they threw him from the balcony they thought him doubly dead from bullet wounds and sword slashes, but the fingers of his right hand clasped the railing and had to be cut off before he fell to the ground, where the fingers of his left hand clutched the grass. Though it was June, rain fell on the naked bodies in the early morning as they lay among the flowers."

Rebecca West takes nothing for granted. Everything she ever reads about or sees during her years studying and visiting the Balkans, she stares at with such intensity that she enters into the person or place or thing and examines it from all angles, external and internal, before picking out the most interesting bits and flinging them at the page.

Now listen to this, about some Germans she met, who complained about Nazis raising their taxes:

"It was disconcerting to be rushing through the night with this carriageful of unhappy muddlers, who were so nice and so incomprehensible, and apparently doomed to disaster of a kind so special that it was impossible for anybody not of their blood to imagine how it could be averted. Their helplessness was the greater because they had plainly a special talent for obedience."

And this quote about Yugoslavia:

"A State which fights and believes it has a moral right to fight, and would give up either fighting or religion if it felt the two inconsistent."

Or this quote about a church service, which is objectively existentially terrifying but also just so, so pretty:

"From this divided congregation came a flood of song which asked for absolutely nothing, which did not ape childhood, which did not pretend that sour is sweet and pain wholesome, but which simply adored. If there be a God who is fount of all goodness, this is the tribute that should logically be paid to Him; if there be only Goodness, it is still a logical tribute. And again the worship, like their costume, was made astonishing by their circumstance. These people, who had neither wealth nor security, nor ever had had them, stood before the Creator and thought not what they might ask for but what they might give. To be among them was like seeing an orchard laden with apples or a field of ripe wheat endowed with a human will and using it in accordance with its own richness."

This is how the entire book sounds: A consummate observer and writer who has either stumbled upon some of the world's most interesting people at one of the most interesting times in history, or who is just so good that any people and time she chose would feel just as special. Good gravy.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 4, 2018 – Shelved

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