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Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP, J.D. Salinger.

At 91, the man who made the word "phony" legendary is "phony" no more. RIP

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ray Charles "Georgia On My Mind"

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Deep Regret...

It is with deep regret that I inform my friends in blogsphere that I will be away for some time to deal with some health and personal issues.


Friday, January 15, 2010

"Going After Cacciato" Once and For All...

Tim O'Brien was hot stuff in the peak of Vietnam War interest back in the early and mid 1980s. His novels--at least the ones that deal with the war--carry within them a realism hard to match, and a level of understanding of the human condition only Jung and Freud could top. That is not to say that his novels are mere psychological examinations; their quality really stem from their arresting power to convey a truth so palpable the only thing missing is the actual experience of going to war in real life. My first book by Tim O'Brien was "If I Die in a Combat Zone." This novel is an excellent tale of philosophical questioning, existential analysis and downright a firestone of personal ethics. The protagonist weighs his position after being drafted of whether or not to go to Vietnam or flee to Canada. But this is only a small part of the novel, really. After this book, I read "The Things They Carried" and taught some of those excellent short stories various times in the classroom; particularly, "The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong." Having been in to some curious and apparently useless bellicose "parties" while in the United States Marines, I can tell you what they DON'T carry into combat. But that's a story for another day. These are vivid stories, not so much interlocking but close enough to convey a beautiful (and terrible) sense of what it means to be in a hopeless situation (read, Vietnam).

Now, finally, I have picked up "Going After Cacciato." This book was recommended to me by a close friend in 1993 and I ignored the recommendation (at my own risk) until today. The story seems to take from Beckett the absurd, from Joyce the intricate form, and from Dali descriptive scenes that defy the mere suspension of disbelief. The plot is about a platoon squad, led by an old demoted officer, and their pursue of one named Cacciato who decides one fine day in Vietnam to walk all the way to Paris, France. Right now, I am roughly on page 95, so another entry on these little jewel of a book will be forthcoming.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

What Thomas Pynchon and Andrzej Szczypiorski Have in Common

First I should point out that Pynchon and Szczypiorski have nothing in common; at least in terms of work and genre. I simply ended the year with "The Crying of Lot 49," and began the new year with Andrzej Szczypiorsky. Why? I don't know. Andrzej Szczypiorski's novel, The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman is a complex story in and of itself. I bought this book exactly 20 years ago (seems like yesterday). The book has traveled with me to every single one of my nooks, apartments, tents, efficiencies, and finally home I have held in the last 20 crazy years of my life. And here we are, 2010, and the perfect time to pick up this little volume and become engrossed in this Jewish tale of survival and death, identity and race, nationalism and despotism.

The novel is more than simply episodic in nature. The chapters work like interlocking parts that vary from characters and point of view, to temporal abstractions and changes. Mrs. Seidenman is trying to pass for a non-Jew in occupied Poland. She has the support of a few good friends, but an informant of sorts (collaborator) turns her in to the Gestapo. From there, the wheel are in motion to get Mrs. Seidenman out of prison before it is too late. There are some fine passages here, and I am quite impressed by the translation (I do not speak Polish, but some other reviews place Klara Glowczewoska as the Polish language translator par excellence). One of the passages that most impressed me (and reached me for obvious reasons) follows: "The world lied, and their duplicity and profusion, made one's head spin. The multitude of betrayals and humiliations. The diversity of the means, methods, and shapes of betrayal. I betrayed that Jewess, but she too betrayed me. Even Christ didn't forsee that. He was too artless for that. To Judas He said "friend!" To Peter He cried, "Begone, Satan!" Perhaps that was His sense of humor." Even without the emphasis or content of the plot, this passage recalls the story of common trickery and hypocrisy. Eventually, all is restored and temporal changes indicate as many changes within the characters. For example, we see Mrs. Seidenman in 1968 still struggling with her identity as a Jewess and her Polish nationality. Pawelek Krynski, the young man who is secretly in love with her (much younger than her) grows up and becomes a leader of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s. A scene between him and a long forgotten friend displays how the young man has become disenchanted with his involvement in the movement. At the end, we are no closer to understanding the agonies of the characters as they struggle with identity, national pride and religion. This is a four star novel, but be forewarned there are many jumps and intricate changes from chapter to chapter.

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