§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: March 2014

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Promised Land: The Tragedy and Triumph of Israel by Ari Shavit

Excellent book. Heavy emotional overtones, but the author never promised a straight-forward history. I've been fascinated by Israel for a long time but lately been more and more critical. The Wall is horrifying ( we're building a wall--even here in Texas--to keep the Mexicans out, but I don't like that either and believe both will go the way of the Berlin Wall). Shavit calls Israel now a colonizing power in a age when colonialism's light has gone out. 

The book begins with Shavit's Great Grandfather, a well-to-do English Jew, arrives in Palestine to "scope out" the land as a homeland for the Jews, for the Zionist movement. He and many others recognized that Jews were unwelcome in Europe and though he and many like him had done well in England, the only way to thrive going forward would be to assimilate as many Jews were doing all over Europe already. He foresaw that in a few generations they would intermarry and lose their Jewishness. A Jewish homeland was the answer. The problem was, the problem which started way back there in the 19th century, was that the visiting Jews did not "see" that the land was already occupied, any more than the Conquistadors did not "see" that Peru was already occupied.

It's a powerful image which Shavit comes back to again and again as he both celebrates what the Zionists made of Israel and recognizes that they will not survive unless they deal with the current problems. One is that huge numbers of residents don't contribute to the society. The ultra orthodox Jews who won't even serve in the military and maybe don't pay taxes either (I may be wrong about that). And the Arabs who are a subjugated people in their homeland but who with a different social and governmental structure, would have much to contribute.

What it seemed to me (perhaps naively) was that he seems to think (as any thinking person must) that Israel would work best if all its citizens were equal and contributed to the whole. No walls. No occupied and occupier classes. But at the same time, he can't quite give up the "Jewish state" idea, even as he recognizes that Arabs will outnumber Jews in a few years. I've always thought there was no hope for a two-state solution but one state without walls is another story. Not that Israeli political elite are likely to go in that direction.... Shavit writes this book partly out of frustration because he too sees that.

The Zionists didn't explicitly see The Third Reich coming, but they did feel at a crossroads. And while WWII gave their dream a reality, that reality was not a well-thought-out plan and only because of the utter chaos in Europe at the end of WWII, with millions homeless, and no one ready to step in with the solution, did it become a solution for the displaced Jews of Europe, most of whom would rather have gone somewhere else more urban, more "civilized" had they only been welcome.

Well worth reading.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Infatuations by Javier Marias

First of all I read it in English, The Infatuations, but could not find the translation in English. As contemporary novels go this one is excellent, primarily because it's different. It' said thoughtful, even philosophical novel, not that it's propounding a philosophy but that it encourages the reader to do consider doing so.

At first I thought this was a stupid book, maybe one more love story. 

Aside: I must say that I'm not into fiction that much these days, especially fiction by Anglo women. Clearly a prejudice. I used to think there couldn't be enough books by women. Now I think there are too many and too many alike. I find myself drawn these days, if to fiction, then to fiction of writers who are not Anglo (meaning from the US, Canada, UK or Australia/NZ though I recognize many of those are not Anglo-) A clever plot. Well written. So what?

Back to The Infatuations. Written by a man with a female narrator. A Spanish man.
Maria, the main character, begins by talking about the "perfect couple" she sees every morning as she sits in the coffee shop before going to work. They are both good looking and seem genuinely wrapped up in each other. Well dressed, the kind of people she knows. She doesn't really know anything about them but she envies them.

Then she finds out that the man (Miguel and his wife is Luisa) was killed in a terrible attack where he was stabbed many times and must have suffered considerably. 

A scene in Luisa's house where they go after they've introduced themselves in the coffee shop and Maria wants to be helpful to Luisa: While Maria is there some friends stop by, a professor and another man, Javier, to whom she is instantly attracted. He's introduced as Miguel's best friend and clearly he's trying to help Luisa recover and take care of her home and children.

Then Maria starts an affair with Javier who makes it clear he's always been in love with Luisa and intends to marry her when she gets over the death of her husband. Maria really cares about him but tries to remain detached because she's convinced he's "taken".

Up to this point I don't see much hope for this novel. Where can it go from here? Some domestic, romantic tale? I hope not. It's a book group book and I already feel guilty because I refused to read the selection before (and I'm supposed to the the group leader).

Back to the plot: Maria is at Javier's apartment and they've fallen asleep after lovemaking. The doorbell rings and Javier gets up, assuming she's still asleep. He closes the bedroom door but she's curious so, without letting him know she's awake, she overhears some of the conversation. Enough to assume that Javier instituted the murder of his best friend whose wife he adores.

From this point on the story becomes a philosophical one, focusing on love and friendship and guilt and honor and loyalty. At this point I realize that we've moved from a plot driven novel to one that has another dimension, And at first I don't know what to make of it. Maria finds it hard to believe that Javier can actually have committed murder, or hired someone to do it, let alone such a vicious murder. But she doesn't know him that well.... 

So I'm hooked. At least it's not another so sincere but boring romantic tale. I recommend it. Not a long book. You'll enjoy it.

Harder to explain is this aversion I seem to have to most fiction these days. Maybe it's my age. I've heard so many readers  say that they read less and less fiction as they grow older, even though they still read a lot. That seems to be happening to me. Mostly I want to read history and let one book lead me to another, not read what the book groups want me to read. 

The best novels I've read lately (Chimamanda Ngozi's Americanah and Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son) take me into worlds I don't know, haven't experienced. I love the romance in each of them though romance is not the point of either. So I'm not down on romance per se and none of the novels I don't want to read would be classified as romance novels anyway....