The Birdcage Archives

Saturday 20 November 2010

The Land of The Green Plums

Hello Gentle Reader

History is full of dictatorships. People mad with power. The ever corrosive touch that power has on the mind of people. How the very sensation of power, slowly twists, turns, warps and eventually consumes the mind of the person. History is full of these people. People who inspire, and yet slowly become deranged, and unstable.

History is full of these people. There are the common names:

Adolf Hitler
Josef Stalin
Benito Mussolini
Fidel Castro
Jorge Rafael Videla
Pol Pot
Muhammed Omar
Yahya Khan
Mao Zedong
Mahathir bin Mohamad
Kim Jong-il
Sonthi Boonyaratglin
Victoriano Huerta
Alexander Lukashenko

History is full of dictators, and will always be full of dictators. For when people -- be it a man or a woman, have a taste of power, the desire, and false "need," for power becomes all that the person can think about. "The Land of the Green Plums," a novel -- perhaps the most well known novel; of Herta Muller (Nobel Laureate in Literature of 2009). The novel however does not concern itself with any of the above dictators. It concerns itself with one dictator not listed, but has done his own evil, and has certainly left his own special brand on Herta Muller's mind, and certainly her life. This man who had such power? Who corroded his country with his acidic touch? Who is this man who grew up a peasant? Who later, later stirred the political pot with his communist preaching, and activities? Who is the man who forever destroyed so many lives? His name -- for such a disaster of a creature does have a name -- was Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Written in Herta Muller's signature style, of quick short sentences, that explode with expressions, and symbolism, the novel certainly is something of its own calibre. There are however many points to be made her, and warnings to be said. Herta Muller's characters, are now well drawn or characterized. That does not mean that the roughly 250 page (hardcover) book, is not worth the read, or even tedious. Herta Muller is more or less a poet, writing in the novelist form, to put it in some form of understandable terms. Does this mean that this novel is going to please everyone. As is very common in today’s world, that is impossible. Will people who enjoy poetry enjoy the style? The metaphorical language? The densely packed prose? The scalpel almost laser like precision in which Herta Muller, pieces together her words, and sentences, making the entire story hand selected, personal. Maybe and maybe not. Will novelists, enjoy the books length? The playfulness of form, and the story telling technique taken to a new extreme, or maybe a new minimalist extreme? It would be wrong for anyone to judge or assume that either one would full heartedly enjoy the book. However certainly their will be individuals on both sides that will enjoy the novel.

At times, Herta Muller's sentences, almost feel like they are each floating in their own world, and each world is separated by some mist or fog blurring the connections between sentences. However this comes off to be strong at times. In a country where fear is everywhere. Where the dictator (Nicolae Ceauşescu is barely named in this novel) is seen as an omnipotent being. All watching. All knowing. All around. In every chink, every home, every building. He see's all and makes notes on it. One can only suspect that sometimes, the people would barely make sense living under this oppressive, and often absurd, moments.

Where your interrogator is named "Pjele," who has a mean dog named "Pjele," -- though to separate confusing the owner of the dog "Pjele," is called Captain "Pjele." Yet a pivotal moment of fear, and the atmosphere got dark and surely we were going to find out how the dictatorship infiltrated the lives, the minds, and oppression of the people that it had housed underneath its large roof. Yet the absurdity of "Pjele," and "Pjele," sharing the same name offers a sense of quick sigh of relief, before things start to get worst and worst. The friends, (the narrator) Edgar, Kurt, Georg are frequently interrogated, and are good friends. This is when the reader learns, the secret code, that the characters, follow through and start using, to explain if they have been followed, interrogated, among other serious events that may happen as each one lives individual lives. They make sure that they know their letters are tampered with by the cunning use of hairs.

Then a new member comes into the group. A woman by the name of Tereza. This new character, is a woman. She appears odd, to the reader (or at least to me) she's bubbly, and awkward. She doesn't seem genuine (if that could be said) she more or less acts on the orders of Captain Pjele.

The novel however goes further downhill. One learns about the evil of the dictatorship, and how it either brakes you or makes you confirm to it. Surely this explains Herta Mullers, strong urge not to confirm into the dictator, and explains why her strong will has kept her alive and survived the dictatorship. However as the story progresses, we learn that others are not so fortunate. Fired from their jobs, harassed, interrogated, and surely on the brink of giving in, and letting themselves to be taken into the collectivism of the communist regime. Eventually some escape, and some are not so fortunate, and escape in other means necessary.

Herta Muller's novel, relies heavily on atmosphere, and disquieting symbolism, allegories, and the realization that the dictatorship often made no sense, as sometimes this novel did. Laughing, crying, scratching your head. Trying to pick out the metaphors from the facts that lay beneath. This novel is a puzzle, and also enjoyable. However it certainly is not for everyone.

Take Care Gentle Reader
Thank-You For Reading Gentle Reader
And As Always Stay Well Read


Wednesday 10 November 2010

Magical Realism . . .? What is it?

Hello Gentle Reader

Before we begin the intended post of the day, I would like to run down some quick random thoughts. Tomorrow in Canada is "Remembrance Day," that is why this blog of the week is going to be a day earlier. I am not entirely sure if this holiday and day of remembrance is a "universal," day where people all over Europe, and America have a moment of silence and honour the people who fought in wars past and present for their rights and freedoms, and so on. Tomorrow if you are a person that respects these people who fought and fight for you, hold a moment of silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.


(Now for the Feature Presentation}

Magical Realism as defined by is:

"a style of painting and literature in which fantastic or imaginary and often unsettling images or events are depicted in a sharply detailed, realistic manner."

As a common reader or a reader who just reads fantasy and other speculative fiction genre's how is it that "Magical Realism," is considered a form of "Literary Fiction," and yet novels considered "Fantasy," are see as mindless trash that only people who live in their parents basement and have never had a girl friend, would read. Which makes me wonder what is the difference? Apparently Jose Saramago had written in the concept of Jose Saramago. Perhaps his novel "Blindness," is best described as to this effect -- and it is the only novel in which I have read by the late author. I have read novels that are considered fantastic or are considered in the genre of fantasy as well -- and bearing in mind, I did not always find them enjoyable. I can see a difference for sure.

In Magical Realism -- at least from my point of view -- the fantastic or surreal events, are more metaphorical, in order to explore a theme rather than using it as a plot device. Magical Realism is also from my understanding a bit more, random.

In fantasy there are rules, and laws to these surreal events. In magical realism there is no rules, no laws. When the "White Blindness," spread throughout the unnamed country of Jose Saramago's novel "Blindness," the disease is not explained. Why is it white rather than the typical black? Why is it contagious? why is it all of these things? Yet these questions are not answered. They are random occurrences. While in fantasy in order to use magic, for example . . . the "Harry Potter," series, a magic spell must be uttered, or a wand must be used. Of course I will note that I have not read the "Harry Potter," series, and I am open to the idea that I may be wrong on this . . .

But it appears that fantasy and magical realism share some common traits, but are also very different. Magical Realism is very metaphorical and more, sophisticated then general fantasy it appears. Magical Realism, is the magic of this world, rather then the magic of another imagined world. It is metaphorical, and is dissecting the human condition, and toying with philosophical thoughts. Fantasy is not metaphorical (or is not generally seen as metaphorical) and usually (or not generally seen as being philosophical) not very philosophical. Fantasy is seen more to entertain, and just be a light read in which the reader, reads the novel, and then once the novel is finished the reader is left with nothing gained or lost. It should also be noted that Magical Realism can be also entertaining, but its metaphorical use of the fantastical and surreal are more or less, first and foremost, in exploiting themes, rather then truly entertaining the reader.

Magical Realism, maybe has derived from the Fantasy genre, and maybe even considered a sub-genre of fantasy. But one thing is noted for sure. Authors like Italo Calvino, Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Winner of 2010) Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Jose Saramago, Salmin Rushdie, Angela Carter, and others have all been noted as magical realist, and are highly praised by the literary establishment and critics. Fantasy authors (in general) are not really praised as much as their cousin or relative of some kind. In fact Fantasy is seen as nothing but trash, along with science fiction, romance, horror, and other genre related, novels. Yet, there are always exceptions and Magical Realism in some way or another is an exception, just like J.R.R Tolkein is considered a exception of Fantasy, as is Margaret Atwood for science fiction, as is many other authors, for many different genre fiction, that can be held up against the contemporary classics of the modern day.

What is Magical Realism? I couldn't tell you. Why is Magical Realism praised by critics, and despised by fantasy writers? I speculate that the writers of magical realism have achieved something that some fantasy writers, want to achieve but are not able to achieve because of the genre that they write in, and in the fact that the literary establishment looks down on them. Perhaps Magical Realism is the bastard child of Literary Fiction, and Fantasy. Either way my first taste of it, was satisfying, and has kept me intrigued.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care my Dear Gentle Reader
And As Always
Stay Well Read


Saturday 6 November 2010


Hello Gentle Reader

Ever been in a dark room. Where you have lifted your hand up towards your face, and moved it about. Thinking you could see the ripples or vibrations of the movements of the hand cutting through the darkness that engulfs and surrounds you? As we all know this is typical of blindness. The total lack of light and colour. Its almost as if your eyes had been covered by some shadowy invisible, blindfold that you cannot remove. Yet what if the blindness was like a milky sea of white? Like a fog that cannot be penetrated? Does that cause some solace, in an other wise feeling of hopeless despair? That the person is no longer, left in a dark shadowy void or abyss, but rather is stranded on some island in the middle of a milky white overcast, sea? Are both the same? Do both cause the same hopeless despair and anxiety that, a person can no longer rely on their usual sense of sight to guide them around the world, however large or small? Or would it be worst to be the only person able to see in a city or a country or even a world, over come with blindness?

The characters, in Jose Saramago's (Nobel Laureate in Literature of 1998) novel "Blindness," are universal. They have no names. They are just simply described by the "narrator," by their superficial traits -- the doctors wife, the girl with dark glasses, the boy with the squint -- they have no other identity then that. They are nameless and faceless. Though they all share one thing in common, they are Blind.

As the story goes an entire unnamed and unspecified country is suddenly struck by Blindness. But not the kind of Blindness, that is like having a sole, candle burning in a pitch dark room, and the candle is suddenly burnt out. No this Blindness, is different in the sense that the people, are thrown in a world of everlasting, and never-ending White(ness) where all they can see is nothing but white.

It becomes apparent to the government of this unnamed country that this "white blindness," is contagious and soon an epidemic, and the government of this country makes containing this disease its responsibility and priority. Gathering everyone up that is blind, and those suspected of being infected but yet to go blind, they stick these poor unfortunate people into a uninhabited and abandoned Mental Asylum. There these poor people, are isolated, and alienated from the outside world. Kept under lock and key, and threatened with death, these people, have to learn to cope with their new situations, and are left only to realize that they will most likely never be cured, and will live out the rest of their years, in such a disgusting and old, place.

As more people start coming in, the wards become fuller and fuller, the asylum sure only on the brink of exploding by the overpopulation. People who once thought themselves, as something higher then "animals," find themselves, acting in savage manners, just like animals. The floors become beds, and lavatories. The ever present ravenous gnawing of hunger reminding the inmates that they are still alive, they are left only with one thought -- when shall we die?

Then things suddenly go from bad to worst (if such a possibility is possible). New inmates arrive, but they suddenly turn a situation that is already hopeless, and despairing into something that is borderline hell. These new inmates take all the food rations, and greedily hoard them to themselves. They demand all inmates valuable possessions, for payment for food. Then once all the possessions are gathered up, the next step is to gather all the woman to satisfy their primate urge for sexual gratification. How is it that these tyrannical inmates enforce their sadistic rule? With weapons, from simply, sticks, to poles -- to the smuggled in gun. The threat of violence and death is something that all the inmates understand perfectly. Under these threats, and the desire to live -- even if they are blind -- they do as they are told.

However with civilization stripped away and therefore the very rules of society and civilization stripped away, and the sudden realization that its survival of the fittest, and soon there is very little "humanity," left in people. Soon the animal in all us -- the true 'self,' in many ways takes hold.

and sometimes vengeance is one of those things that takes hold on people. No saint is really without, the human desire for payback and vengeance, and since one person can see, and was humiliated by the Tyrant and his little gang, she acted on those feelings and caused vengeance. Survival of the fittest one could say sometimes means taking out the fittest one.

However, even a Saint sometimes allows the stray sheep to die, for the better of their own flock. When finding food, would a person share it with everyone? Or would that person, take all that they can carry, and share it amongst those that are in its group? People appear to be like dogs, in many ways. Once the collective body of a government and society/civilization, falls they form into packs. Rabid, selfish packs which only worry about their own survival and could careless if another group suddenly without warning dies.

In many ways Jose Saramago's novel "Blindness," has stripped away mankind’s false premise that people are "civilized," and nothing can change that. This supposed "civilized," nature that people have, is only a mask. Something that is easily worn and easy to break. Through out history people have witnessed the break down of societal groups into anarchy. It only takes a disaster that starts out small and soon travels to a full scale, destructive measure. Haiti’s earthquake set up a country into a mass anarchy that no longer follows rules, or societal, "normalities," but soon quickly dissolved into a all to common idea of animal panic, and fear, and that soon dissolved the very "humanity," in everyone -- or the concept that we fool ourselves into thinking we have -- into anarchy based on survival, even if that means we have to kill our neighbours who we used to have drinks with and invited over for dinner.

The one thing I do applaud Jose Saramago's novel is -- that his novel, does not come across as over emotional poetic in terms of trying to romanticize the misfortune and pain of those that he has created. He merely acts as a observer, describing their trials to survive, even when it is easier to give up. Jose Saramago however does make it quite clear, that even with the hopeless situation that these people find themselves in, there is something that has them continuing forward. As if there is something that they are "hoping," for and yet have a strong understanding that is a fantasy. However, Jose Saramago does very well in describing mankind’s spirit that demands respect, and therefore keeps people going. The last aspect that I enjoyed and respected greatly with this book is; that the author/narrator/observer, does not try to justify any of the horrible atrocities that people are capable of. He merely holds up the mirror to our possibilities and shows us just how fragile our "civilizations," are and how society can break down in a blink of an eye.

Take Care my Gentle Readers
Thank-you For Reading
And As Always
Stay Well Read


Thursday 4 November 2010

Humanity and Violence and Altruism

Hello Gentle Reader

For the past couple of days I have been reading "Blindness," by the late author Jose Saramago, who had passed away on June 18th of 2010. As I start moving towards the last stretch of the novel (review coming soon) I find myself, wondering, about the inheritance of humanities, violence and often its altruism -- if such a aspect exists.

Watching these nameless, characters, fight for their lives, and face tyranny of their own species, one cannot help but look back at human history with a certain aspect of scepticism that humanity is naturally and inherently good. For their have been cases of slavery, inhumane torture, genocide, war, the very alienation and isolation of certain people, based on the "class," they are born into.

These aspects, of humanity really do not show a positive light. There seems to lack a certain sense of human compassion within humanity itself. One thing that is certain, is that human beings love the idea that they are better then another human being. For whatever reason. People forget that we are all human. That we are all made of the substances, and need the very same aspects and nutrients in order to survive.

But the question now is: "Does the horrible atrocities, of human beings, out way the positive aspects that human beings do for each other?"

Is Mother Teresa’s humanitarian work with Lepers overshadowed, by the oppression and tyranny of the holocaust?

Does World War I, destroy the hard work that Betty Williams put in to ease the suffering and violence of northern Ireland?

Do the residential schools of the British Colonies, over shadow the colonies later work in promoting peace, and humanitarian need for those that suffer in third world countries?

Perhaps for some people it does. The bitter taste of the atrocities that people are capable of, appears to linger on the taste buds and mouths of people rather then the sweet joys of the good people are capable.

In many ways I would say personally that violence and altruism are both aspects of the human mind. That both are two of the same person -- just two different halves. It in many ways is the individuals choice of which one the individual decides to focus on. Certainly we are bread with violence placed in our feeble minds. But we certainly also have the awareness to know that it is wrong, and that we can help our fellow mankind rather then kill our fellow human beings.

Truly if anything history has taught me, is that mankind, as a whole, is capable of good aspects of the human character, and bad aspects of the human psyche. But also as human beings we are individuals. Individuals shape society and human race as a whole. That also means that certain individuals choices often reflect on people as a whole. Hitler's destructives tendencies, the Rwanda genocide's lasting impact, Africa as a whole, fallen into the depths of hell. These choices and historical impacts have affected everyone in some ways grand and miniscule. However, the effort to do good, by individuals, and organizations such as MADD and the Red Cross and Betty Williams, Mother Teresa, and others, they have shown that mankind can get past their destructive past, and strive to grand and honourable contributions to the world. Maybe in time the sweet taste of the altruistic will be more appreciated then the linger bitter taste of the horrible aspects of people.

Take Care Gentle Reader
Thank-you for Reading Gentle Reader
And As Always
Stay Well Read