The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 31 May 2012

Death With Interruptions

Hello Gentle Reader

Death is a cliché. Every time someone mentions death in some artistic way or says that this book, that deals with death or this picture here really depicts death, or that television show is about death as if it is human in a comedic sense – it all is just cliché. The subject of death, in any way be it philosophical, artistic, reality or just as a plot device is just something that to me is cliché, and boring. Admittedly death will be part of all works in some way or another – a characters parent has recently died, or there are brief mentions of a character or a relationship of sorts to a character that has passed away. Death is just the shadow on the outskirts of the story. The ghastly morbid pictures that can be seen everywhere though. As if in someone or another, society itself and the human individual itself is obsessed with the our own ambiguous mortal fate. Some people embrace it – with skull and crossbones tattooed on their arms; others use it as a gimmick or some marketing scheme to attract a certain kind of group of people, who think they are edgy because they are all into the concept of death or that they are really deep because they think about death often. If anything death is just a concept and marketing ploy that has been exaggerated and blown far from the extreme that it no longer has any real function besides its intended natural purpose in society. The idea of philosophising about death, or talking about death, writing about it, and using it in some comedic sense, has all been done before, and is not something that particularly interests me because of the fact that it almost feels like it has all be done before. There is no denying that death is part of the human experience. There is no doubt that death is part of every human culture that has existed throughout the time line of human history. From Hades the god of the Greek underworld and his Roman counterpart Pluto, to the ancient Egyptian god Osiris who was killed and cut up by his brother Set – not to mention the Jackal headed god Anubis; in Japan (Shinto) Izanami is the goddess of both creation and death; in contemporary society Santa Muerte or Holy Death (Saint Death) is a rising cult figure in Mexico, to even Christian beliefs with the concept of the angel of death Uriel and the misunderstanding or the theory that Satan itself is the angel of death. In the end the human experience is surrounded by the mysterious and ambiguous concept of death, however the concept itself has been explored far too much.

Even to this day it is still being explored and talked about, in fiction and in works. One just has to look around and see it plastered all over. Young adult fiction at the moment has found its niche with this trend, from undead love interest between the living and the dead, or being haunted by a loved one or a love that transcends life itself; or for young adult men it is about the perseverance of the human spirit to survive against the odds. If one requires examples, one can say J.K. Rowling’s novels (her “Harry Potter,” Series) really focus on death – it’s about the idea of trying to conquer death itself. This new up and coming film series “The Hunger Games,” focuses on death in a dystopian world but also focuses on politics – but right now it looks to be about the survival against the odds – it is also very popular piece of work, being a continual seller over the Christmas season. Yet it’s trite, trivial and has been over done before.

Realizing I needed a book, because I myself was running out of books to read, and just looking for some to read that was cheap, and may have been somewhat interesting. While hunting around, I couldn’t find anything of real interest and decided to play it safe, and grabbed another book by the Nobel Prize winning author in nineteen-ninety eight Jose Saramago and his novel “Death with Interruptions,” or if you are in the United Kingdom it is “Death with Intervals.” With the above being said, I thought to myself this sounds really cliché and that I am not going to enjoy this, but I needed something to read, and needed something to review for the blog and I went off and bought it anyway. However I was surprised as well, while reading this book.

It certainly feels like my vocabulary has increased, immensely. Which at times became a condescending plenteous and patronizing annoyance to me, that I didn’t know what some of these words meant. Which brought me back to do the days of being young when I used words that seemed so adult to me and foreign and grown up to me; I used these words everyday sentences, and the looks that were given to me, as laughable humored condescending smiles often discouraged me and made me angry. Reading some of these words, here and the exposure of my ignorance to some words still, however it was more of a vocabulary lesson more than anything else.

Jose Saramago’s novels, read more like an oral folk tale. As if someone is reading the transcript of some conversations between random people that just happen to make up the story or the novel; or another way to look at it, is that Jose Saramago really quite literarily takes the concept of the third person narration, as being a fly on the wall and then suspends character development and psychological insight in favour or observation of the characters or rather just listening to the characters. While this worked rather well for his novel “Blindess,” because the characters themselves were blind and therefore names, even characterization was put on hold because of the lack of site, however when it came to this novel personally it felt more like a sense of laziness or a lack of really wanting to put the effort into psychological in-depth and characterization, instead favouring sociological insights and political criticism and one’s own views on the state and affairs of political messes. Though there are many memorable quotations and memorable discussions of the philosophy of death, and there is plenty of food for thought – a whole buffet worth really; it felt more like a discussion or a transcript for the first bit, and was becoming more of a tedious read than anything else. However one of my favourite lines is the following:

“We will continue to philosophize since that is what we were born to do, even if all we have to philosophize about is the void, What for, I don’t know what for, All right, then, why, Because philosophy needs death as much as religions do, if we philosophize it’s in order to know that we will die, as monsieur de Montaigne said, to philosophize is to learn to learn how to die.”

This is how the entire books is written. These run on sentences, and long winded sentences would make even the sentences of Virginia Woolf appear normal. If one looks carefully at the quotation above, certain words are capitalized at the ending of a coma (,) and others are not. The capitalized words are, the beginning of a new characters speech. This can become quite tiresome after all the re-reading to see who is talking when and where. The constant political and moral and philosophical conversations, appear less and less like a political allegory after a while, as the book was first intended to be (or what the back of the book said it was going to be) and instead comes off or across as the author himself have a discussion with himself, about the nature of death, morality and political and moral issues. As a reader it certainly felt like, I was being alienated and that I just happen to be standing in a large group of people chatting about the same discussion while completely ignoring me as a reader.
However half way through the novel, its tedious and tiresome reading starts to take a different view and outlook. What at first becomes a crisis of control or a crisis of religious proportions of how do we get believers to believe in what we say there is to believe in, if the greatest fear of all is taken away? How can there be hope without fear? When it starts to shift away from the macro point of view of this unnamed country plagued by the inability to die, and people ageing and getting hurt, and still getting sick and yet still unable to die – and started to focus on a smaller stage, or a more personal stage then it gets interesting.

‘death’ with a small “D,” becomes a human character itself. She feels for a cellist who she cannot bring herself to kill. With a moving towards a smaller cast of characters, it starts to get a little more interesting. But after a while, again Jose Saramago falls into clichés. In the end it felt like I was just reading another variation of the Orpheus myth, and when Jose Saramago tried to tie the two story lines together it felt weak. The protagonist ‘death,’ felt one dimensional and I think that personally Jose Saramago focused too much on larger idea’s or the larger picture that he never allowed his characters development and again came off as more of a fictional discussion of his political idea’s and his views and thoughts rather than anything that was new or intriguing to me as a reader. In the end by far “Blindess,” was a better book.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 24 May 2012


Hello Gentle Reader

There is something, strangely appealing for people, about the private investigator life style that each of us imagine – well generally speaking that is. There is the life of hunting down (alleged) crooks, getting the beautiful woman (or man), dealing with the excitement of daily life, and of course walking the razors edge. Of course that is just what we suspect. What we hope for. What we imagine. Of course, the life of a private investigator can be anything but. One upon a time, Gentle Reader, I had met a private investigator, whose life was as mundane and mediocre as the rest of ours. He simple explained he does his job, and goes home. His job as a private investigator was just that dull, boring and nothing but, at the time of our simple meet and greet, he was working as a security guard. He simply got up in the morning – or at the beginning of dusk, and went to work. That was it that was all. He did nothing else. His life simply was just like the rest of ours. No dangerous adventures. No seedy underworld in need of investigating or probing. It was simply just that. A world like the rest of ours. He just sat there or stood there, following the protocol. Accidently messing up here and there, simply out of boredom. His life was nothing special at all. There was very little walking the razor edge of his life. Though to a degree it could be seen that he felt comfortable in his job, because he never quite or left it. He continued on right through and through – or at least that is what I assume. There was no James Bond (though is more espionage and intelligence agency kind of gun) grabbing the sexy girls, and making love every so often. There was nothing of the sort. No hidden gadgets. No saving the world, from the shadows that lurk around us. It was just simply what it was, just a life, and just a world. Maybe sometimes one does surveillance, on someone else. Of course that someone else is not expecting that they are being watched. The investigator watches everything – anything out of the ordinarily. Eventually enough watching leads to facts about, the routine of whoever is being watched. For example the person being watched, falls into certain routines. For example those routine might follow like the following:

5:30pm – subject leaves work office
6:00pm – subject arrives home, from office.
7:00pm – subject eats supper.
7:15 – 7:30pm – subject cleans up from supper.
7:30pm – 9:00pm – subject watches television
9:15pm – subject, goes through work – that has been brought home.
9:45pm – subject goes on computer
– subject checks e-mail
– browses internet
10:00pm – subject fixes himself/herself/itself a snake.
10:05pm – subject receives phone call
10:15pm – subject goes and watches television
10:30 -11:30pm – subject watches television
11:30pm – subject heads upstairs and gets ready to bed.
12:00am – subject has gone to bed
6:00am – subject is up.
6:00am – 7:00am – subject gets ready for work
– subject showers
– brushes teeth
– brushes hair
– gets dressed
– eats breakfast
7:15am – subject enjoys cup of coffee watches television
7:30am – subject leaves for work
8:00am – subject arrives at work
12:00pm – subject leaves for lunch
12:15pm – subject enters park and has lunch on park bench
12:30pm – subject goes for short walk
12:45pm – subject heads back to office
1:00pm – subject arrives back in office
5:30pm – subject leaves work office.

Eventually all this becomes routine to the investigator, becoming more absorbed into the subjects life and routine rather than that of their own. Of course there do come times, though when something else happens, time to time. Eventually the investigator begins to chip away at the facade of normalcy and see’s there is something far more sinister beneath it all. Eventually the investigator learns that the subject has a mistress. The investigator learns that the subject is mildly involved in drugs. This is what makes it all that more interesting. The investigator simply becomes the fly on the wall. The gray between the black and the white.

There is something about stories of closed spaces, which I enjoy. The claustrophobia of the closed space. The details soon become very familiar and slowly begin to become more and more bleak and more and more mundane, and more and more of a pain to look at. The mind begins to crave something else. Slowly and surely everything begins to lose that edge. The defined boundaries of sanity and insanity are slowly being tested.

Sleep becomes neither a saviour or a necessity. It’s just the nihilistic desire to do something, that in the end amounts to nothing. There is that slow feeling of cabin fever, prickling over the skin, like goose flesh that make such a story for me so interesting and ye so horrifying. Of course I like a story that takes place over a large as well, but when placed within a very small confinement or perimeter the story is forced to make certain adjustments, like following the slow decent into insanity. The psychological impact of lack of socialization or going outside, or have something to entertain the mind. This is what “Ghosts,” is about. This is what I enjoyed the most about this short little novella. Is the compact, claustrophobic space.

Each character is named after a colour. There is Mr. White, he hires a private investigator by the name of Blue, to watch on another person Black. Blue watches from a pre-paid apartment window Black. Both Blue and Black are located on Orange Street. Blue is engaged to Mrs. Blue. A person by the name of Red also makes an appearance – as a bartender; as well as a prostitute by the name of Violet. Blue’s mentor was another private investigator who goes by the name of Brown, who has since retired from the business and lives down in the Florida and spends most of his time fishing. Then there is an old coroner by the name of Doctor Gold – or simplified to Gold, who is on the search for the killer of a child.

For a novella of seventy pages or so, writing about the simple mundane activities of a man, who watches another man who does nothing, but reflects and writes, not to mention grocery shop’s among other odds and ends of no real particular interest; and yet it is still a interesting and compelling read – not that I can explain how. Perhaps there is just that feeling that something is going to happen – something or anything is going to happen – and then something’s do happen.

Blue is not the kind of person who can sit there, and do nothing and feel great about making money. He is not one who can fall into lethargy. Eventually blues disguises himself as an old man by the name of Jimmy Rose, and meets Black on the street. The two get to talking, and Black reveals that Jimmy Rose/Blue, looks a lot like Walt Whitman. The two then have a discussion about Walt Whitman. Again the two meet, and have a different conversation, this time about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story titled “Wakefield,” about a man who gets up and leaves his home, and goes and lives into another apartment up till twenty years, without anyone knowing. It is a strict allusion to this novella titled “Ghosts.”

It’s an interesting read. Minimalist in its form. It is not something that is written in a flowery language. It’s cerebral and lucid. Everything moves like the ink from a fountain pen that Black might be writing in. However, it is not by any means the most believable story. But the thought of a man sitting in an apartment and doing nothing but watching some else, for some reason seems like such a neat story – it has been done before; but the thought of such a closed space environment always is strikingly interesting.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 17 May 2012

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness & Aghwee the Sky Monster

Hello Gentle Reader

** There will be No Short Story Review this month, because I have become very busy at the moment.**

In these novels of this volume of four short novels by the Nobel Prize winning writer and the second Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature Kenzaburō Ōe, there certainly are certain themes and concepts that are constantly seen throughout these four novels Gentle Reader. Damaged people, certainly is one of those themes that come up with the writing of this writer. The author himself has a brain damaged son born in nineteen-sixty three, who has inspired his “idiot boy,” stories and novels, which have populated his autobiographical outlook of writing, and his ability and desire, to exorcise these demons or troubles. From the first time he heard the Emperor of Japan’s voice; on the radio renounce his divinity and the destruction that the war in which he had grown up in, as a child and wrenched him away from the world of childhood innocence and naivety, into a world of barbaric behavior with a rather ambivalent moral compass. This had lead to his existential themes in his work, where the adult characters wish they could head back inside the childhood shell, in which they were painfully wretched away from; like a piglet taken away from the nipple of their mother. These existential characters then act on sexual impulses and violent behavior that isolates them on to the fringes of society that, then allows Kenzaburō Ōe to give his own social criticism of what he sees. These characters and the characters that are separated from the paradise of childhood, and the people they become remind me in many ways of the people in the photographs of the photographer Diane Arbus with her photographs of the people living on the fringes of society.

“Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,” was written in nineteen-sixty nine, in the year nineteen-seventy two “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away.” In this collection of novels titled “Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,” – “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” is the first novel that one reads, even though it is the last novel in this collection that was written. “Prize Stock,” the second novel in this collection, is the earliest written in this collection, published in the year nineteen-fifty seven, and it had won the prestigious Japanese literary award the Akutagawa Prize. The consensus however if one reads this collection of four short novels, is that by far “Prize Stock,” being the best written out of all four. While “Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,” and “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” are the more challenging, but are not the most popular or well respected by the reader. One of the reasons being I think is that while reading, “Teach Us to Outgrow our Madness,” is that it felt like it was re-written version of “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” – which now would be best to say is that “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” is a re-written version of “Teach us to Outgrow Our Madness.”

The core concepts are still there, with both of these novels. For one, both novels deal with the parent-child relationship, between both the son of the novels and the mother. The father in both novels of the narrator has gone absolutely mad and has secluded himself. Isolating himself away from the world. While the mother in both novels, is an antagonistic creature. The kind of person who greatly causes many problems for the narrator himself.

In all, it felt like a cheated trick while reading this novel. The similarities were greatly similar, and it was difficult to read one without, thinking of the similarities with the other. One of the major differences though between both novels, is that “Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,” has a brain damaged child in it, and concerns more specifically with the relationship between the child, and the rather obese father. Where as “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” does not have a brain damaged child, but rather focuses on the relationship between father and son, simply by the parental relationship between the father falling into the depths of insanity and the narrator as the son. Not like “Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,” where it focused on the relationship between the relationship as the narrator or the obese father, as the father and the brain damaged child as son, with the mad father now deceased in the background. These are the only differences between the two novels. The rest is all recycled. The themes, the style itself – there are no quotation marks, and moves in a rather disjointed time line; and the relationships between the characters if slight reversed or changed, still echo the similarities. It felt like a cheap cheat of a trick.

Aghwee the Sky Monster

Written in the year nineteen-sixty four “Aghwee the Sky Monster,” is one of the first novels, that deal with Kenzaburō Ōe’s theme and his ability to concept in dealing with the birth of his first born son, who happened to be brain damaged. The character D in this story had a brain damaged child born to him. The doctor himself had said that the child itself had a brain hernia. Together with the doctor, D starves the child to death. However he later learns that what was first suspected of being a brain hernia was actually a benign tumour. What comes next is his subsequent descent into madness over his grief of what he had done to his child, and the fact that he is now haunted by “Aghwee,” a fat baby the size of kangaroo in a white cotton gown. This leads to him become a lunatic and his inability to work, and refusal to leave his home, and his entire life falling apart. Which then leads to his father to hire the narrator as a companion; kind of a caretaker and chauffer, for his now insane son.

“Alone in my room, I wear a piratical black patch over my right eye. The eye may look all right, but the truth is I have barely any sight in it...when I look at this world with both eyes I see two worlds perfectly superimposed. A vague and shadowy world on top of one that is bright and vivid. I can be walking down a paved street when a sense of peril and unbalance will stop me like a rat just scurried out of a sewer..Or I'll discover a film of unhappiness and fatigue on the face of a cheerful friend and clog the flow of easy chat with my stutter,”

This is the opening of this short little novel, and is an intriguing beginning to a good short novella, one of my favourites with “Prize Stock,” which in all brings this entire collection of four short novels to a fifty/fifty appreciation. On a personal view of opinion, as a reader, I would recommend this collection to any reader who has patience, and is interested in Japanese literature, to start here when reading Kenzaburō Ōe to become acquainted with his themes, and also just for the two novels “Prize Stock,” and “Aghwee the Sky Monster.”

While reading “Aghwee the Sky Monster,” it felt like, reading a novel that Haruki Murakami would have written. In essence it is a ghost story. A sad somewhat depressing ghost story, which deals with the relationship between father and son, and the grief a father, feels for what maybe seen as a selfish and immature action to save his son out of mercy and yet in the end he feels an immense sense of grief because his only and first born child is dead. From there something snaps in his mind. A screw came loose metaphorically and in his grief “Aghwee,” – the only word his son could say before his death; is formed, and becomes his companion. From there on out, D’s life falls apart bit by bit. His wife leaves him, and his mistress, can no longer wait around for him. D’s former life becomes a mere shadow to the present situation of the aftermath of his mental breakdown and the appearance of his invisible and imaginary friend “Aghwee.”

Yet matters become more complicated when the narrator begins to question of “Aghwee,” really exists for D, or if it is all just a ploy for his own unseen motive until it is all but too late.

The description of how the sky, is full of all the people a person looses, is one of the most beautiful and memorable moments of this novella. The story itself about human companionship, itself is a wonderful story, much like “Prize Stock,” was. Both deal with some of the continual themes and criticisms that Kenzaburō Ōe deal with. I also have to admit that these four short novels are the only ones that I have read by this author and finished. As previously admitted, his novel “Somersault,” was attempted a few years ago and failed miserably and, since then was very unsure of reading anything by this author. However, with the completion of these novels, by the author, there is a renewed interested in him and his work.

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

Thursday 10 May 2012

The Hunger Angel

Hello Gentle Reader

I never understood how reviewers and literary critics often applauded a authors use of language, as a thrilling and interesting. Obviously there are many languages in the world; however when reading a book either by a writer whose native tongue is English or whose work has been translated into English, there are rules of the language that apply, and are usually put in place. Simple sentence structures are always appropriate. Speech is often verified (though who is speaking can be vague and often deliberately obscure) comas, semicolons, explanation marks, dashes, questions marks, and periods are always used accordingly. Yet at times authors use an archaic language (like Jose Saramago did with his novel “Death with Interruptions,” when he used such words as ‘eventide,’ or ‘vespertine,’—though this often lead to more pretentious word association when more simpler and common place words would have done just fine) however upon reading many novels by Herta Müller, the concept of how language can be used in written works, outside of the simple confides of punctuation and grammar, can be seen. Peter Englund the current Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, remarked on Herta Müller’s use of language. The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy noted her precision of words, her experience at witnessing the corruption and misusing, as well as abusing the language and words. The most noted fact about Herta Müller’s use of language is her sentences. There are no long winding sentences, just picturesque sentences. Short and episodic, weaving and creating a larger picture. In fact there isn’t really a long continuous narrative strand, but details and anecdotes. The author (Herta Müller) is not an epicist a writer. She doesn’t write large sprawling novels; there are no thousand page novels, of painstaking long winding sentences, or a loss of confusion of characters, and events. The works are small and brief, but are incredibly intense short pieces of work, that are relentless in their depiction of life under tyrannical regimes. However this is what makes “The Hunger Angel,” by Herta Müller so much more different then her previous novels. The original German title is “Atemschaukel,” which is a compound word or neologism, which means “breathe swing,” in German; and is about a Soviet (forced) Labour Camp, and the taboo and often not talked about subject of ethnic German, Romanian’s who were sent to the Gulags in the Ukraine, to repent and pay for the crimes of Hitler, during World War II.

The novels of Herta Müller are moral, but they are not moral in the sense that they pass judgement to the reader. They do not accuse the reader of being as guilty as the guards or the dictator that happily cause misery wherever they can. Rather the opposite, the novels themselves can appear mechanical and detached from the characters or the experiences that they face. Descriptions of interrogations and daily life all become a matter of fact descriptions. There is nothing that can be done about these incidents. Descriptions of streets, houses, and shops show the inadequacy of the surroundings. A piece of tin sheet metal becomes a moveable door, to an otherwise doorless toilet outside. The grey buildings become common place, and the aspect of rats underneath the floor boards, or a one shovel of coal equals one gram of bread. The world behind the iron curtain was absurd and rough.

The novel depicts the harsh realities of life in a Soviet gulag. The first chapter itself where the famous line “Everything I possess I carry with me,” (also the title of the UK edition of this novel) and in this first chapter, titled “On Packing,” there is almost a hopeful optimism in the way Leo, thinks about the camp as perhaps being a chance to travel. Such a naïve thought, is often what we tell ourselves when faced with an obstacle that is both incredibly elusive and unavoidable. What is left is the only defensive mechanism, of trying to hope that something good can come out of it. Yet the reality always proves otherwise. Rounded up like cattle or other livestock the people from the villages who were on the list and met the requirements set down by the Stalinist government. People between the ages of seventeen and forty-five were eligible to be set to the gulags, for rebuilding and to pay for the German crimes that had taken place. But against all better judgement or lack of any judgement and morals, the Soviet Officials themselves had created crimes just as harsh as those done by the Nazi regime.

The best known account of life in a Soviet Gulag camp came from a fellow Nobel Laureate in Literature Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who also spent time in a Soviet Labour camp for his criticism of Stalin and communism itself. Eventually the author himself found himself forced out of the former Soviet Union, and did not return until after the collapse of the red beast itself. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn himself later wrote a three volume book on the subject of the gulags between nineteen seventy three and nineteen seventy eight about the history and developments of the police state in the Soviet Union.

Sixty seven thousand, three hundred and thirty two Romanian ethnic German’s were sent as forced labour in the Gulags – that is the second highest number, besides the former Eastern territories of Germany and Poland which totals to one hundred fifty five thousand, two hundred and sixty two. When I showed a video of this novel (when the video was made of the shortlisted novels of the two thousand and nine novels for the prestigious German Book Prize) the first remark was “it looks like these people were being shipped off to a concentration camp,” – in the end that is what it was. Hundred upon thousands of people had died in the camps.

Based on the experiences of both her mother and a friend Oskar Pastior (who passed away in two thousand and six), who were both sent to labour camps while they were still relatively young, Herta Müller has depicted the snowy landscape and the harsh conditions of the disposed. The late Oskar Pastior and Herta Müller wished to write the novel together, but Herta Müller was forced to write it, herself, when her friend had died. Which then lead to a startling revelation, for Herta Müller, Oskar Pastior was an informant for the secret police. But Müller was reluctant and unable to criticise the late poet. He had already suffered in the gulags at the age of seventeen, he was a homosexual who could have been killed for it, and at such a stage in his life he just wanted to live, and was unfortunately open to the price, that it would cost him, to do just that. However she has been less lenient towards fellow Nobel Laureate in Literature, for his controversial poem about Israel and Iran. Herta Müller has said that Gunter Grass has lost all his moral credibility when he hid his affiliation with the Nazi SS (Grass was part of the Waffen SS at the end of World War II) while Herta Müller herself has always been honest about the amoral past that of her own people. Her father was part of the Waffen SS and supported many of the views of Nazi’s political standings until his death – he never officially distanced himself from it. Yet Müller herself had been rather critical of all ideologies, including Fascism which had claimed her father’s life and Communism which had claimed both her mother’s life and her own, and countless friends. Which is why Herta Müller’s novels are the way they are – both political but distanced itself from all ideologies, because all ideologies are full of lies.

With “The Hunger Angel,” Herta Müller shines light on the subject and the fate of the forced labour of ethnic Germans, from nineteen-forty five onwards (our main character Leo stayed in the camp for five years) all of which paid for the crimes of people who may or may not have supported Hitler:

“None of us were part any war, but because were Germans, the Russians considered us guilty of Hitler’s crimes.” – with an almost ironic revelation that David Lommer a character in the camp was Jewish.

Throughout the novel, the concept of hunger is examined continuously. A spectre that represents the hunger that starves all the camp prisoners equally is called the Hunger Angel, which is described as a protean spectre that appears as a white hare in the wasted-away cheeks of anyone on the verge of starving to death. Which further shows the poetic imagery that Herta Müller uses in this novel, as well as the Kafkaesque metaphors that the camp comes to produce.

The suffering of the characters and the people in this novel are at the forefront. When Leo finds 10 rubles in a puddle of mud, when someone throws his gaiters, at the market, he quickly goes on a spending spree, and eventually buys so much food and eats it all he quickly ends up vomiting it up once again. This greedy gluttonous action is all that he can do when given so a chance to devour food after being starved for so long.

Memories serve as both a savour, and a painful reminder of what has been lost, and the horrible situation that has become the life of the residents of the camp itself:

“Deep in the fruit garden, at our summerhouse in the Wench, stood a wooden bench without a back. We called it Uncle Hermann. We called it that because we didn’t know anybody by that name.” – even the past becomes as surreal as the present.

In the end it’s a great book, in my opinion. Poetic and disturbing, but not for everyone’s liking. The brief vignettes make up the chapters and the constant discussion of hunger, can often put people off or annoy them, but hunger is all that is left in the camp and its forced residents. It is in the end what reminds them that they are human. It was critically acclaimed by Peter Englund of the Swedish Academy, and the German Book Prize, was supposed to predict the wining of this book as it was the critics favourites, however it lost to Kathrin Schmidt and her novel “Du stirbst nicht,” or “You’re not going to die,” – which by the way I am still waiting to see a English translation. However in the end it was a great book, one that did not sugar coat the facts of the reality but it did use beautiful language to create a harrowing picture of deprivation, hunger, inhumane treatment, and the lack of human dignity as well as injustice, in order to leave a lasting impression the reader.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 3 May 2012

In Cold Blood

Hello Gentle Reader

All crimes are terrible. On a personal note, the entire concept of a ‘true crime,’ book is not very pleasing to my ears. All crimes are terrible. No crime is different to me. Robbery/thievery, heists (be it jewellery or art), attempt of murder to murder, to rape and murder, to child sexual molestation. It is all horrible. Every last bit of it. What can possess a human being to commit such raging acts of complete hedonistic savagery is beyond my comprehension of the human mind. People however eat it up. “A Stolen Life,” a memoir of the Kidnapping victim of Jaycee Lee Dugard, was a rather popular during this Christmas season. Many middle aged (I presume) housewives – suburban living mothers, bought the book a long with some other mystery novels, that they read as fast as they could eat their bon-bon’s. However upon repeated, passing of the True Crime section, at the bookstore, while helping customers; I stopped and would go through the books there. Nothing of real interest. The common of what is to be expected from there. A lot of Anne Rule books, books on the mafia, biker gangs, and other odds and ends. However there were even more gruesome books placed there. “The Red Market: On the trail of the world's organ brokers, bone thieves, blood farmers and child traffickers,” by Scott Carney was one of such books. A disturbing book about the organ trade, it brings to mind that film “Inhale,” too mind. It was a book that, in no way would fit my own reading tastes for its subject matter, that is all too real, and yet is something that is best left forgotten or swept under the carpet. Other books were also around. “Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History” by Ben Mezrich was an interesting book, though again not something that would interest me in reading. Then of course comes the question on why on earth, did I pick up “In Cold Blood,” By Truman Capote. It is a difficult and not at all an air tight story at all. Passing by the section, day after day, the book stayed where it was. Eventually on a slow evening passing through the section, I decided to pick up the book and read a few of the paragraphs. Eventually the first ‘chapter,’ was read so to speak. A simple description of Holcomb, and its quaint prairie existence now, in full view for the entire reading public to maul over like a cow eating its cud.

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansas call “out there.”’ For a city or urban dweller, such a thought of a place, so empty and vast can be quite invigorating. Yet for me, that first sentence of this book, allowed me to reminisce of my own (almost) two decades spent in a small village or hamlet in a place that one could say is ‘out there.’ When travelling near on the roads to get to it, GPS (Global Position System) simply states that the entire roads do not even exist – at least not the one that I’ve rode with. Yet the thought of that old town sitting out in a place ‘out there,’ surrounded by farmer’s fields – towards the north on the east side is the pasture of a group of cows. Stray cats from the village often go out there in the summer when, the cows are close to town and use the cows for warmth or for company perhaps. The pumpjacks sit like lonesome sentinels or monkes in the fields. Their horse heads bob up and down like they are bowing to the oncoming traffic, or can be seen like praying. However in the end they do resemble clockwork chickens, pecking at the ground for corn. Farmer’s houses lay scatted over their fields and pastures. The small hamlet sits obstinate, in its place. Not much happens there. Trains go through. Baseball tournaments (don’t ask me why) happen in the summer. The whole agriculture days happens early in the summer. The small fire department goes around with some of the denizens of the town, and hand out candy. During Halloween all the kids of the town dress up in goblins, ghouls, devils, witches, angels – and the younger ones dress up now as cute little animals (the most peculiar and cutest was the boy as a Skunk). Nothing bad – at least not on a major scale of personal tragedy has ever happened in the community. There were natural deaths, of course. But nothing pertaining to the subject of murder.

Part one of this book “The last to see them alive,” is the best of the book. These first 70 or so pages were the best of the book. The complete scene of the book was set. It is here, that the reader gets to know who the Clutter family are. The poor four person family who met an untimely fate. They were a good moral family of good values. Nancy Clutter is the last daughter of the Clutter family living at home. She’s a sweet girl, with a wonderful disposition. A hard worker and a gentle soul; who throughout this book, appears to be the one who everyone could identify with most, and her personality is able to put a sense of desire to catch the people who had murdered her, her father and mother, and her younger brother. She is dating another young man in the community Bobby, and is beloved by many in the community. Herb Clutter, is a man involved steadily in the community, always active in it, and therefore renewed in the community as a good man. Kenyon out of all the family would perhaps have been the only one to have picked up the farm from his father. He was the second one, shot in the family after his father’s brutal murder of having his throat slit, and then a shotgun blast to the head. Bonnie the wife of Herb Clutter, and the mother of Nancy and Kenyon, was a rather ill woman, and in the moments leading up to the demise of the family, showed her great compassion for them. However one should take that as fact – however the authenticity of this book and the dialogue and scenes are perhaps always brought into question.

This is one of the greatest criticisms of this book. What is fictional and what is the fact are often something that are, easy to see at times, while at times, it can become rather difficult to see as well. The easiest one at times to see is dialogue. It has always stricken me as interesting with non-fiction books, how they can see they are ‘non-fiction,’ and yet use dialogue, is something that has always interested me in, a ‘non-fiction,’ book (especially with biographies) because who can remember certain conversations of interest, unless they tape recorded them.

With an interview with “Esquire,” magazine Phillip K. Tompkins interviewed a woman who appears in this book Mrs. Meier, denies in an interview with Mr. Tompkins that, she never heard Perry (one of the executioners of Clutter family) cry and they never really talked or held any bond with each other. From Wikipedia:

“Capote has, in short, achieved a work of art. He has told exceedingly well a tale of high terror in his own way. But, despite the brilliance of his self-publicizing efforts, he has made both a tactical and a moral error that will hurt him in the short run. By insisting that “every word” of his book is true he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim.”

Jack Olsen a true crime writer also commented on the discrepancies in this book, and the fabrications in this book, with his own criticism. Truman Capote however responded to the criticism with just stating that Mr. Olsen was just jealous.

Even Alvin Dewey Jr., the investigator of the senseless murders of the case, had said the last scene where he visited the graves of the Clutter family, was a scene that Truman Capote had made up.

However despite the discrepancies and questionable facts, in the book, it still is an enjoyable read. It’s difficult to say where I stand on the book, because of how it is. It is based on events that have happened, in the village of Holcomb, and includes real people as characters. However with his own style, his own use of prose, his own documentation and subjective use of the ‘non-fiction,’ form. However what Truman Capote had succeed, is through his eyes, he shows an idiosyncratic town. All the characters become people that we ourselves can know. The postmaster or postmistress, and their odd habits. There is the grocery clerks, the kids, and everyone else who comes throughout the town. He shows how the act of murder, the viciousness of the crime and the almost pointless and meaningless act itself, affects the town. The paranoia for six to seven weeks that had left people unsettled and scared. Nervous if the killer or killers were walking amongst them, and even after the murders and during the trial life never went back to normal for the village of Holcomb. However Truman Capote presides his characters (murders) and the victims with equal psychological scrutiny.

The other thing that Truman Capote, has done is really moved the true crime as a genre forward. Ever since “In Cold Blood,” came into print, others have repeatedly used the same formula with their own twist and turns, but the true crime book, came to be something of its own genre. Not quite mystery fiction or crime drama, but rather the horror of crime in real life.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*