I had to share this one by George, the Poet.
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerald Manley Hopkins
Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man is just what the title says. Well, he’s not completely mad. The main character is an old man obsessed with his daughter in law, a former cabaret singer, whose husband’s grown tired of her.
The old man is sickly and most of his life is spent going to doctors and taking medication. His infatuation of Satsuko, the daughter in law who leads him on, but doesn’t let him do more than kiss her legs or eventually her neck, gets him to buy her jewels and later a pool. She’s got a lover and a fondness for Western fashion. It’s an interesting look at desire mixed with a battle against a failing body.
A quick read, the book provides an interesting glimpse of Japan in the post-WWII period when the Japanese were starting to prosper.
My online bookclub read Graham Greene‘s masterful The End of the Affair. I love how he makes Christian theology and faith real and meaningful to his characters – even nonbelievers. I’m impressed that he can make unlikeable people engaging despite their flaws. He captures Bendrix, the narrator, Sarah (the wife/mistress), Henry (the cuckolded husband) and the priest and the atheist preacher in such a way that you feel that God really does love them and us when we’re so flawed.
Here are some more thoughts:
I read this book years ago, but don’t remember how long ago. I now realize that it’s a book for mature readers, or one that the over 30 (maybe 35) crowd must get much better than young adults.
I loved how Greene writes from the point of view of an ordinary man, i.e. not a monster or villain, but a middle class, educated man who must seem quite normal to all around him and how he fills this man with self-acknowledged, un adulterated hate. It’s bold and honest. My guess is few if any writers today would deal with such a strong emotion without overdoing it or making the character implausible.
I loved how theology is absolutely in the water, air and earth of this world. The characters, all non-believers for most of the book, grapple with sophisticated ideas about God in a deep, unflinching way. Again this is bold and I don’t see it much in the modern era. I wonder how an atheist would take this book. Many seem to like their Christians to be simple-minded, superstitious fools (straw men) and a good many of us just don’t fit that mold. Since Greene carefully chose his characters’ traits and background I wonder who his imagined audience was. Was he trying to show non-believers the Christian God more so than to write for “the choir”?
I thought the writing was so masterful and the phrasing strong and riveting. That made the book a “quick” read, while there were also several passages I underlined and hope to remember or come back to.
There is amazing power and significance in a love story with a “sad” ending. (Yet is the break up of an affair sad? I think Greene would say no. I’d agree.) Because we have so few stories that have the courage to take this route, readers and viewers don’t get to experience this catharsis and emotion. It’s quite sophisticated to have an audience experience a character walking away from a relationship. The marketers don’t understand that they’re stunting American audiences’ emotional growth by mainly (only) giving us stories that provide the happy endings that young people crave. I just showed one of my classes Once, a film where the couple doesn’t wind up together. It’s a beautiful, compelling story, rather noble actually.
I’ve been digging around the internet and found some articles on the book. I’m plowing through one scholarly article that looks at desire and desire. It’s quite erudite so it’s slow reading, but I think it’s worth it. I’ll offer more insights soon.
There’s a recorded version of the book with Colin Firth as the narrator, which should be worthwhile and there’s a fairly recent movie that changed the ending, which I won’t bother with.
Jillian Lauren‘s memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem takes readers from the world of starving artists/escorts in New York to the palace and yachts of Brunei. A fascinating, witty read, Some Girls chronicles Lauren’s life through the before, during and after of her time as a party girl/concubine for Prince Robin (that’s his English name).
Lauren candidly shares her feelings and background with objectivity admitting when she’s conned herself vis-a-vis her family, birth mother, drinking, neuroses, boyfriends, jobs and time in the surreal world of royals in Brunei. Smart and funny, the book is more than a tell all though it doesn’t shy away from relating the seamy side of the machinations and competition between the girls from America, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore as they vie for a handsome Prince, who’s married (with 2 wives), cold, manipulative and far from charming.
FYI – It all starts with an offer of $20,000 for two weeks of partying, smiling and pleasing.
Thanks to whoever left this book in the teachers’ book collection.
After reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation Or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid, I’m putting his earlier books at the top of my “to read list.”
When Troost and his wife outgrow their home in California, they consider moving to China. But first Troost feels the need to investigate. Would China be the place to bring up his two boys? Thus he sets off on what must have been months of travel all around the Middle Kingdom.
Soon after arriving in polluted Beijing, it’s clear that Troost isn’t exposing his sons to the PM 2.5 laced smog that passes for air in China. No. He’s a good father.
Yet he’s also a traveler and he wants to see what makes this empire tick. So he travels through China stopping in Tai an, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shanghai, Tibet, Chengdu and many other exotic, perplexing, fascinating, crowded, polluted (and less so in a few, a very few instances) cities. All the while Troost delights with his wit, perception and insight. Here’s a sample of his prose describing a trip to a traditional market;
And then, as if we were lost in some grim Humane Society nightmare, we began to wander past stalls selling frogs, chickens, eels, turtles, cats, scorpions –big and small- – dogs in cages, ducks in bags, and snakes in bowls. There were 2,000 stalls in this market, and this, apparently, was where Noah’s Ark unloaded its cargo. If you were planning a dinner party and looking to tickle your guests’ palate with a delicately prepared Cobra heart, perhaps followed by some bunny soup and sauteéd puppy, the Qingping Market is for you.
Now there is some wit and exaggeration, so if you’re looking for a literary journey with a stodgy, politically correct anthropologist, this book isn’t for you, but I’d rather travel with Troost than a disciple of Margaret Mead.
Troost experiences the full China – the majesty of the Forbidden City, come ons from the prostitutes, the cute pandas, the karaoke on the Yangste River Cruise, the constant haggling, the bandit taxi drivers, the expat pot heads in Yunnan, the cheerful Tibetans, and the hordes who’ll knock down their great grandmother to get to their assigned train seat.
He weaves in history and politics with a light touch that makes it memorable and interesting. You’ll learn a lot about bargaining and patience on the road from Troost.