The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 14 February 2013

Mondo and Other Stories

Hello Gentle Reader

Jean Marie Gustav Le Clezio must be one of the most interesting authors, which have gained notoriety from the Nobel Prize for Literature. Along with such other names like Herta Müller, Kenzaburo Oe, Tomas Transtromer, Wisława Szymborska – in all their Nobel accolades, owe to some degree the Nobel Prize for Literature for their further renowned reputation as a world class author. Though, in many ways Tomas Transtromer and Wisława Szymborska would have had that recognition regardless of the formality of the Nobel. In the case of Herta Müller and Kenzaburo Oe, however the Nobel accolade, allowed for a larger audience to become aware of their works. Both authors have turned personal experiences of tragedy into new ways of expressing the human condition; Herta Müller through political oppression and censorship; and Kenzaburo Oe, expresses mankind’s continual outlook for freedom in a universe and world that has, at times already set out an ambiguous and lenient fate to obstruct the path. Both authors write about the enduring and resilient human soul; and yet both are well aware of its tendency and open possibility that it may break. Be it they are writing about the landscape of the disposed, or a fathers personal struggle and existential choices with a son who is brain damaged, and which act of cruelty is the merciful one; both repetitively take the task of writing of the condition of the true test of endurance of the human will to be free. This is where Jean Mari Gustav Le Clezio fits in; for his characters and novels deal with the individual attempt to escape the, confides of modern day life and realities, and seek freedom.

There is something about these works (some more so than others) that resonated with my inner core and being. A piece of them, struck a chord, or the right note in my memory; that something resonates, a part of me reminisces, a fragment is dug up from the past. From another time, that is so far. A place where the summers were longer and never ending; when the winters were bitter and cold, but still had warm hearths in every home; where hearts were the homes of the body. Now the world has taken on such a stranger appearance. Ashen and gray; deprived of hope and life. Chained and shackled. Why were we in such a rush to grow up? School a prison of childhood (and legal obligation) had simply been replaced by another. Who is to blame for the direction my life has taken? Where have all my childhood friends gone?

Reading these stories transports one back to the days when life was simpler. It transports one back to a time when life didn’t need to make sense; when rationality was put on hold for flights of fantasy. Dreamscapes were explored, on a plane that mirrored that of reality. When flowers became more than just flowers. When childish acts of violence, were ingrained a sense of territorial breach and defense; chivalry, protecting that code of honor – there was never a sense of immorality to them; violence was not something that either one had a penchant for. It was common ground. It came easily; and without a second thought – it was applauded by our peers and punishable by our parents. In each of us raged a beast.

All old people lament however, the lack of enjoyment that the present youth will enjoy. Today’s parents are not finding themselves in a middle ground. On one side there are the tiger moms and other over achieving parents. Taking a strict stance modeled after the highly completive culture of Japan and China; it grooms and prepares children for roles that will find them in a high placed job, which pays well; therefore they would be able to take care of their parents; as they were groomed for similar success. Their children are planned for a musical instrument courses; learning a second language, and of course there is always a need for sport and competiveness; not to mention that there also comes the educational requirements. Those high grades, come at hard work and constant studying. To be the best, one must out do their fellow students. Then comes the other extreme parent. They want to be their child’s friend. They do not bother to teach their children proper etiquette or table manners. Their children become wildings at best. They run uncontrolled, scream and become impenitent and are impertinent. They become problems, which others look at with such disgust. Which people must remind themselves that it is not their fault that they are that way; it is the parents fault. They are allowed to be rotten; as if it is expected of them. In my time, parents raised their children to have responsibility but also to have freedom. Chores were an expectation; and freedom to run free (with limitations) never caused anyone any problems. Exploration was a pastime – and one didn’t have to travel far to find something new and exciting. On a personal note, I grew up in a small town. For me traversing the fields, and finding a cow bone, was like finding gold.

Maybe that is why these stories may (or may not) resonate with someone. They are elegies; and end in fault and failure in some way or another – but they traverse the landscape of ambient atmospheres and dreamscapes. Crossing the thin lines between innocence and wisdom. Which is why these stories (apart from their visual and beautifully descriptive language) will please and bring adults and children (older children to young adults) to this collection alike; for its ability to resonate with both age groups. The language used in these stories are poetic, and sensual, but by no means are they cryptic. The images, the semiotics are all lush and beautiful. It is a universal language. An experience that in many ways almost anyone can empathize with.

“The vast blue, the vast light, the wind, the sound of the waves, violent or gentle, and the sea resembled a huge beast swaying its head whipping the air with its tail.”

“Lullaby,” for example is told from the perspective of a young girl. She escapes the confides of her school and decides that she will run free, and be free. She is from Iran, where her father (we are left to presume) still resides. Her mother is absent; not necessarily physically (though she does not appear in the story, she is mentioned) but one is left to assume she is a busy woman or absent emotionally form her daughter. Regardless Lullaby is able to enjoy life, freely. She goes off exploring, the seaside town.

She discovers a house which is called XAPIΣMA. It’s abandoned, and left alone and decrepit. Its walls are covered in graffiti and obscene massages. Yet it is here, in this isolated and lonely house, with the beautiful name, that Lullaby finds peace and transcendence in her new surroundings and nature.

“Lullaby was like a cloud, a vapor; she mingled with whatever surrounded her. She was like the scent of pine trees. Warmed by the sun on the hills, like the scent of the grass that smelt of honey. She was like the spindrift of the waves where quicksilver rainbow shines. She was the wind, the cold breath that comes from the sea, the bushes. She was the salt, the salt that shines like frost on the old stones, or the salt of the sea, the heavy acrid salt of undersea ravines.”

This is where people come and say that the prose often comes close to the bordering overtly spiritual goals. Becoming as a hindrance, new age ridden – like something Enya would sing about. Yet it works. Upon first reading, I was not under that impression in the least bit. I found the poetics of the language alone, a feat that few authors ever achieve throughout their life time. The ecstasy of reading such a passage is an invigorating experience. The spiritual pursuits (if any) were not apparent to me. What I did find though, was that the story did come to take on a feeling that it was aimed at both high and low reading types. Children and adults – literary or not. This was the first point that I began to realize that these stories were meant to be interchangeable for adults and children. At first there was a feeling of slight betrayal. How could I be conned so easily into buying a book of stories for children – but then after thinking about the resonance that the collection was able to bring forth in me, it was for both children and adults, so that one can be entertained, and another can remember and look back with fondness on a time that was simpler. Full of failures. Full of difficulties. A time that was more complicated, than any time could possibly. Of contradicting emotional extremes. Yet there was something about them, which was beautiful. Much like Mondo, these stories connect us to our younger generations and to our past selves. The different stages of ourselves, from our life, come to meld and melt into each other. Like salt dissolving in water.

Flights of fantasy are not uncommon.

“She moves slowly when the clouds are upon her, not to frighten them. The local people don't really know how to talk to clouds. They make too much noise, they wave their arms, and the clouds stay high in the sky.”

But they are placed against at times philosophical poetically posed questions and statements, that often lead one to understand how they fit into the world around us.

“Old Bahati and the school teacher, Jasper, told Little Cross: white is the colour of snow, the colour of salt, of clouds and of the north wind. It is the colour of bones and teeth, too. Snow is cold and melts in your hand, and the wind is cold and no one can grasp it. Salt burns your lips, bones are dead, and teeth are like stones in your mouth. But that is because white is the colour of emptiness, for there is nothing after white, nothing that remains.”

“Mountain of the Living God,” is the most apparent tale of spirituality and religious themes. To a fault, somewhat, of course. But there was something about it. A emphatic link was made. My body had got warm from the core of my solar plexus and radiated throughout my body. The lush descriptions and the passage into adult hood that overcomes the protagonist in the end was evocative and thrilling high point of the story.

“Jon had never seen a stream like this one, it was limpid, the colour of the sky, gliding slowly as it wound its way through the green moss. Jon went closer, slowly, feeling the soil with the tips of his toes. So as not to sink into a bog. He knelt by the edge of the stream.”

Stories of passages into adulthood. Stories of exploration, and self-discovery; of growing up and of failing and learning. Attempts at escaping the confides of society and being free. The stories, are whimsical and poetically evocative.

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