Historical

Let’s Discuss — My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

I am nothing but a corpse, a body at the bottom of a well. Though I drew my last breath long ago and my heart has stopped beating, no one, apart from the vile murderer, knows what’s happened to me. As for that wretch, he felt for my pulse and listened for my breath to be sure I was dead, then kicked me in the midriff, carried me to the edge of the well, raised me up and dropped me below (3)

Let me begin by saying this book is very well written. The narrative isn’t provided solely by one or two characters–it’s told by a ranging cast of other persons, animals and even inanimate objects*. The title of each chapter will introduce the reader to the speaker, who will subsequently narrate their point of view.

Pamuk integrates folkloric and religious elements of Turkish culture into the novel, so readers will find myth sequences woven into the main story line. Pamuk also invites the reader to participate. In some instances, characters are aware of reader presence and they’ll acknowledge when the reader has probably formed their own opinions about what has transpired in the story. And from dialogue, readers will encounter philosophical discussions about style, semi-sarcastic, xenophobic attitudes and criticisms of western culture, and generally indifferent attitudes to what many consider to be perverted or grotesque.

Essentially, the story revolves around a man named, Black, as he unravels the mystery of a disappeared miniaturist**. Black’s primary motivation to complete this task is to win over his uncle, a prominent figure in the art community. By doing this he also hopes to rekindle his love for his cousin, Shekure. For me, Black’s character is very one dimensional.  Also a significant portion of the book revolves around Black and Shekure’s relationship…which was slightly annoying because neither is particularly interesting or likable—especially Shekure. I’d like to think Pamuk included her illogical actions and irrational modes of thinking to make a point about the role of women in Turkish society***, but that may be a stretch…I really didn’t like her.

I have to say, I put My Name is Red down quite a few times. I stand by the fact that it is superbly written, but after the first chapter, the pace slowed down and my interest didn’t return until about chapter 12. Maybe I was too eager to solve the mystery. I don’t know. I just know it didn’t meet expectations…I thought I would never put a book down which opens with a chapter titled I am a corpse.

We’re talking trees, portraits, colors, etc.

** An artist whose task it was to draw in red certain words or letters in manuscripts; a painter of miniature pictures or portraits, as on china or ivory, characterized by fineness of detail

*** I am not a feminist, or  historian, or anthropologist or anything like that…and I know next to nothing about Turkey so…that’s just a guess–semi-educated guess.

Let’s Discuss — The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anthony Patch with no record of achievement, without courage, without strength to be satisfied with truth when it was given him. Oh, he was a pretentious fool, making careers out of cocktails and meanwhile regretting, weakly and secretly, the collapse of an insufficient and wretched idealism (Location 593)

As a whole, I didn’t really care for The Beautiful and Damned, but there were some good parts. Primarily Anthony’s philosophical and sometimes poetic musings, many of which I didn’t always agree with. Fitzgerald consistently underlines the concept of a generation with displaced senses of entitlement and lack of direction.

Although Anthony Patch is basically a waste, he’s not totally unlikeable. He experiences bouts of depression, insecurity, nervousness, etc.  And then he meets Gloria Gilbert…Gloria is the quintessence of beauty and a society girl. If she’s “ugly” in any way, it’s her excessive selfishness and over-the-top vanity. In fact, Fitzgerald is heavy-handed with the theme of beauty. You’ll read this at the beginning of the novel:

The Voice: Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying “Do this!” and “Do that!” and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women…

Beauty: But this can’t be true! I can understand of course, their obedience to women of charm—but to fat women? To bony women? To women with scrawny cheeks? (Location 298)

Together Anthony and Gloria are almost always in a state of inebriation. Drunk off their egos and too proud to admit their faults. They’re that really annoying couple who argue all the time but never break up. They enable each other’s bad habits and pretend all is well in front of their friends. It gets to a point where it only makes sense they would marry.

They go on blowing money they don’t have, throwing parties, refusing to do anything to earn a living. And all this happens in anticipation of the death of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, a very rich man whose name carries weight in high society. There is a point in the novel where Anthony joins the military and is separated from Gloria for a time. The military experience seems to purge him of the idle poison…for a little while anyways. But eventually Anthony and Gloria reconnect and settle back into their old ways. And because of their silliness and laziness, they lose the weak identities they’ve established for themselves while waiting for the inheritance money. Although I would also argue they never had a true identity, just an ideal and beauty. Fittingly they aren’t left a dime in the will.

I guess the moral of the story is: find something to do, even when it seems like there’s nothing to do because there’s always something to do, and you’ll be a better person for doing it.

Especially since the alternative is getting piss drunk every day, having no money and arguing with your spouse all the time…yeah that sounds about right.

Let’s Discuss — The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

I was white. White in a country where this was to be implicated, complicated, and, whatever way I tried to square it, guilty. Genocide. Slavery. Indenture. Colonialism — big words which were linked to crimes so hideous no manner of punishment was adequate (355)

Roffey weaves the personal story of George and Sabine Hardwood with the historical and political story of Trinidad. Readers are introduced to two individuals in a loveless marriage, which according to Sabine is largely the fault of her husband, George. From the moment the couple arrives in Trinidad, George falls in love with the island; enjoying the ideal, the picturesque, the exotic women, and a potential legacy he could never establish in the United Kingdom. Sabine, on the other hand, can’t stand the island. She wanted to leave before she had even arrived. She realizes she can never compete with a beautiful island which offers more to her husband than she ever could.  For a while, Sabine is in denial about the reality of her situation–that her fate and happiness are tied to someone else’s “ideas.”

The narrative is loaded with vivid, sensory descriptions of the island colloquial language and Trinidadian accents. The colorful atmosphere contrasts with the conflict happening on the island. There are two forms of conflict, that of Sabine and George’s drama, and the echoes of revolution in Trinidad. It’s almost as if their marital strife mirrors the socio-political strife on the island or vice versa. Sometimes the injustice, corruption and political uprisings in Trinidad become background noise to Sabine and George’s problems.

“Eric Williams will destroy this country.” Bonny’s eyes hardened.

“Oh really? He’s a well-educated man. He’s been to Oxford. He’s an historian. How many people here can claim that? Do you think there’s one person in this garden with a university degree?”

Bonny quivered, a snarl on her lips. “Williams is obsessed with slavery. It’s all about the past. He can’t let it drop. He should forget about it. It’s boring.” (249)

I may be alone on this one but George’s wrongdoings as a husband do not outweigh Sabine’s self-righteousness. Her apathy and borderline ignorance about colonial legacy and race relations is…irksome. Yes, George should catch some hell for his post colonial ideas and self-serving ambition, but at least he cares—he feels. At least he sees Trinidadians as individuals, as people.  Sabine is the worst kind of post colonialist person. Why?  Because she has no real intention of righting any wrongs (socio-political or personal) Maybe having friendships with her two maids is her way of righting the wrongs.

But there is something off about Sabine. She develops an intense, almost creepy obsession with Dr. Eric Williams, the leader of the PNM. Why would a white woman determined to leave Trinidad be interested in the country’s new revolutionary leader? Well, I have a couple of theories. One–it’s a tactic of self-preservation, or know-your-enemy. Eric Williams wants what she represents (colonial chains) out of the country. Understanding his motives helps define her own. My second theory might be a reach, but still a possibility– she’s having an emotional affair with Dr. Williams. I say emotional because her fear and physical repulsion of black men is too great for the affair to ever be physical. Sabine writes hundreds of unsent letters to Eric Williams complaining about her husband George and life in Trinidad. She compiles newspaper clippings of his speeches and appearances.  And she hides them away in her home office. Why? Because Dr. Eric Williams represents something she could never do, possess or act upon—the courage to lead her own revolution, to put her foot down in her marriage, to say enough is enough!

I don’t know why Sabine didn’t leave George.