Sunday, May 7th, 2017


I just read two books back to back–A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marr and The Year Before the War by Helen Simonson. The first is about the impact of somewhat recent wars on Chechnya and the second about World War I.  They were both compelling in  different ways–tone, hope, cultural context, individual heroism and lousy-ism.

I admire both for the work the authors did on historical accuracy and the plot turns that in any work that did not include war could be labeled contrived. Marr’s book had such sharp edged particular people. Simonson’s were more the usual British prototypes but not false nor flat regardless. I think it was the specificity, the details in both that gagged me, more in the Chechnya book because the horror was always there. There was no one lived outside the atrocities.  Both allow that war ‘is’ and will be.

In both, there was the petty  cruelty of cultural class war and the ever presentcruelty of individual hate and pain.

I am sober after reading them, not that I haven’t been many times before after reading about our ability to hate and kill. This time I am sober because I am aware that we are at the cusp of deciding if war just ‘is’ or whether we can turn back from the edge of allowing competing differences turn into unalterable damage. Do we live at the brink and won’t know it?  Or are we in just one more cosmic burp of violence and hate that just ‘is’?  Do we need the life and death drama in order to have respite after the destruction?  Nature or nurture?  What can we change?  What will we change?  And what will we accept?  What do we accept in our daily lives where, instead, we could sow tolerance and compassion and don’t?

You see, this is what novels are for–showing us dramatic choices.  Bless the authors.


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