Tag Archives: review

Under This Sun

It would flood her, steal her breath.
But then it would pass. The moment would pass. Leave her deflated, feeling nothing but a vague
restlessness.
-Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (168)

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I took a short break from reading Giovanni Verga’s Little Novels of Sicily to read a book my daughter gave me, A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was after Verga’s Story of the Saint Joseph’s Ass, when there, written in faint cursive script, someone had written, “depressing.” I laughed out loud because this story fell in the middle of the book and to be honest, we were well beyond depressing. D.H. Lawrence translated the novel of the Sicilian novelist and playwright born in Catania in 1840. The stories are like parables, except there is no consolation of sorrows to be found, rather a confirmation of pities. Each story is a wry, subtle social criticism pointing out the grinding down of humanity under the hard stone of poverty.

However, wherever there is malaria there is earth blessed by God. – Little Novels of Sicily, Malaria (70)

A Thousand Splendid Suns is not exactly a cheerful romp however, the story of two women’s lives amidst the upheaval and cruelties of Afghanistan 1960-2003… you kind of know going in that it’s going to be heartbreaking.

And it is, but as my daughter said, “Keep reading.” Some days are more splendid than others, and there’s just no knowing.

The attachment to the land of one’s birth is a strong component in each book, and one that I have difficulty relating to. As far as I can tell, the sun shines with equal beauty in all directions. To me it seems just one more chain of self imposed rigidity. Nationality, race, religion, should not a man make. But we do so need to belong….if not to someone, than to something.

A striking difference between these two books  is that one, Hosseini’s, is ultimately a hopeful story, because where there is love, there is always hope. Signor Verga, on the other hand, tempts my cynical misanthropic side: the greedy folly of men, the slow but sure slide into a dust of nothingness, helplessness that sours into hopelessness over the centuries are the realities that he builds his tales upon. His characters, like many people’s actual lives, are sadly lacking in love, the pursuit of a piece of bread is all consuming. Ignorance is all damning. Mere existence is a kind of purgatory, where the shock of lovelessness has worn off. In Hosseini’s story the rays of love, even if they are intermittent shards reflecting bits of warmth in between the horrors, are all sustaining.

Hosseini’s redemptive tale, in the end, is beautifully heart warming. The appeal of the Verga tales, on the other hand, for me, and perhaps for Lawrence, (based on what I’ve read of his works) is the cautionary aspect, the dry humor, a kind-hearted condolence to the unfortunate, and angry outrage at those that abuse their power. Lawrence’s writing is full of a call to love, of finding the meaning and worth of our lives in the connections made to other people. Through Lawrence’s translation of Verga’s stories we see the alternative, we feel the chill of our inhumanity that has the power to blot out our shared sun.

My children’s Sicilian grandmother would sometimes wag her finger and say, “Shamey, shamey, shamey.” Verga’s Little Novels of Sicily is just such a pointing finger.

Kasbah Around Your Heart

“When you pluck a flower, the branch springs back into place. This is not true of the heart’s affections.” -Balthazar, Lawrence Durrell

painting by Eric J. Ryan

I took a small sojourn away from Les Misérables to read the second of the Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell. Once I was forced to renew the book before I had even opened it up: well, the pressure set in. I had plenty of time to read too, after I was driven back into my car by a mother screaming inane and absurdly obvious instructions to her child as we watched our children play Lacrosse. She repetitively and loudly yelled such pearls of wisdom as “Pick the ball up!” and, “Shoot the ball.”  I just had to leave when she came out with: “On target!” Oh, really? Why, Thank you Obi Wan. Afterward my son said the next time he hears a parent yell “On target” he is going to to stop mid field and loudly whisper, “Shhhhhh! Don’t tell the other team that that is what we are trying to do!” Subterfuge people! Come on. Don’t give away all of our team’s trade secrets.
At any rate, having advantageously parked alongside the field I filled the minutes when my son was not playing with Durrell.

“I am making every attempt to be matter of fact….”Balthazar

There is more humor in Balthazar than in Justine (the first in the series, Mountolive and Clea are the others). Its main theme seems to emphasize sex more than love or the sort of angst and thwarted love that comprised the bulk of Justine. It is all the same characters, but told from a different perspective. What more than perspective exposes the truth for the elusive slippery fish it is? I suppose it’s the raison d’être for these little books. I found the character of Pursewarden very appealing in a sort of dry English way. The cynical tone, place in time and atmosphere of the environment permeate, but it’s the examination of the fortresses we build up that are at the heart and…well, it’s why we read I suppose.

” No, she did not mean the words, for vulgar as the idea sounded, she knew that she was right by the terms of her intuition since the thing she proposed is really, for women, the vital touchstone to a man’s being; the knowledge, not of his qualities which can be analysed or inferred, but of the very flavour of his personality. Nothing except the act of physical love tells us this truth about one another. She bitterly regretted his unwisdom in denying her a concrete chance to see for herself what underlay his beauty and persuasion. Yet how could one insist?”

Perhaps this sort of speaking makes men shy and insecure but there is a truth to it that, while going against societal expectations of what women are suppose to be concerning themselves with, is important to understand: on both sides. It’s the all important moment of yes or no.

In the book Pursewarden is friends with D.H. Lawrence which I find highly amusing, if you’ve been following along, you might recall that he has been calling out to me lately: his book Women in Love patiently sits on my desk, awaiting my attention. Seems Pursewarden and I have a mutual friend.
We love to love or love to hate characters in novels, but sometimes it’s wonderful when you know that a character would be your dear friend and you can’t wait to get his or her opinion on all matters large and small, or just laugh together -without a yes or no getting in the way.

“but to fall in love renders one ridiculous in society.” –Balthazar