In “No One is Talking About This”, Patricia Lockwood shows mind is life’s portal to the world.
Every human being perceives the world though their mind. Her book offers three hours of introduction to a mind’s amorphous perception of the world, followed by one hour of clarity. Lockwood writes three hours of “stream of consciousness” to introduce one hour of personal belief in the sanctity of human life.
The author gives listener/readers a point of view about a subject that, contrary to the title of Lockwood’s book, is talked about by everyone.
Nearly everyone is talking about women’s rights. She makes a compelling case for limited women’s rights by telling the story of a pregnant woman that finds she has an unborn baby who is affected by the rare disease of elephantiasis. The unborn baby has a heartbeat but shows the unmistakable growth characteristics of elephantiasis in her mother’s womb. The State in which the mother lives does not allow abortions. Whether the State would allow abortion or not is not the story. The story is the mother’s decision to keep the baby.
In the end, Lockwood’s story implies women’s rights stop at the door of human conception.
Lockwood alludes to many of the trials of having a health compromised baby that will require special care. She notes the high medical costs that a family may incur. However, cost is irrelevant in this story because there is an unbreakable filial bond that sustains parents, grandparents, and siblings of the family. They love this stricken child. Added to that bond is religion. In their minds eye (the portal) the thought and action of abortion is inconceivable.
In some families, there is an unbreakable filial bond that sustains parents, grandparents, and siblings.
“No One is Talking About This” is a compelling argument against abortion. The flaw in Kisten Seih’s argument is it is one family’s point of view. Lockwood implies it is God’s commandment to preserve life. However, what if God is a manifestation of mind-not the creator and ruler of the universe? It becomes a question of faith to a believer but a case of reason to an agnostic.
Some suggest, God is nature, a complex manifestation of a physical world. The argument for “a right to abortion” is a singular choice by humans which are a part of the mind’s perceived physical world. “A right to abortion” rests with humans (a part of nature) who believe women should have a choice.
The argument for “a right to abortion” is conceived by some as a singular choice by humans which are a part of nature which, in their mind, is God.
Sara Novic (American author, translator,and professor of creative writing at Stockton University.)
Sara Novic writes of war in Croatia that is tentatively settled by the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Yugoslavia’s splits into 6 ethnic territories–Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia.
In a personal 22-day visit to five of the six countries, a Croatian guide tells our small group of travelers that he does not offer a trip to Serbia. (Our trip was in October 2o17. The guides’ name is not given for obvious reasons.) He explains his father was killed by Serbian soldiers in the Croatian war.
A little history gives perspective to our guide’s and Novic’s story. After WWII, Yugoslavia is set up as a federation of six republics to be ruled by one leader, Josip Broz Tito.
Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavian ruler 1953-1980, died in May of 1980.)
Though Tito is considered a dictator, under his rule the six ethnic republics experience a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability.
In having dinner with a family in Bosnia/Herzegovina, a grandmother says she misses Tito’s government. She felt life was better with Tito as leader of the six territories.
Mass grave in Croatia in 1991.
Novic’s story is of a 10-year-old girl who loses her mother and father when stopped at a Serbian check point in the early 1990s. The Serbian army gathers a group of Croatians, lines them up in a circle around a pit, and shoots them one by one.
Serbian soldiers murder every adult and child, each of which fall into their grave. The father tells his 10-year-old daughter to hold his hand and fall into the pit when he is the next to be shot. She plays dead as the Serbs complete their circle of horror. She escapes the pit before bulldozers cover the dead and dying.
Croatian Defense Force fighting in the Croatian War of Independence.
The orphaned girl runs from the scene. She finds refuge among a group of resisters. She is recruited by fellow Croatians who have gathered to fight for independence of their country.
She becomes a soldier for a short time before finding her way back to her abandoned home. With the help of her godfather’s family, she is illegally aided by a UN representative who smuggles her to America. She is adopted by an American family, goes to college, and eventually returns to Croatia.
On return to Croatia, she renews acquaintances and finds the place where she had taken refuge after her parent’s murder. The mass grave is near where she had found refuge ten years earlier.
This is not our guide’s story, but his story reinforces Novic’s picture of Serbia’s and Croatia’s conflict. Our guide explains how the United Nations helped Croatia survive the 1991-1995 war. Interestingly, the guide denigrated America’s role in the war. In his opinion, America stood on the sidelines when Serbs were perpetrating mass killings.
Novic’s story is well written. It clearly reinforces our guide’s perception of what happened in Croatia. The concerning part of the story is its analogous relationship to America’s intervention in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The troubling issue with all international conflicts is where the line is to be drawn between being “helpful Hannah’s” and exemplars of good and responsible behavior. Today, NATO’s Western Alliance is struggling with the line to be drawn in Ukraine.
Viet Thanh Nguyen (American author, 2016 winner of Pulitzer prize for fiction.)
“The Committed” carries forward the life of three Vietnamese blood brothers introduced in “The Sympathizer”, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s earlier novel. Nguyen’s story begins during America’s Vietnam war.
In the beginning of “The Committed”, the main character, Vo Danh, arrives in Paris with his blood brother Bon. Their first night’s stay is with a communist sympathizer who is Vo Dahn’s aunt. Bon is incensed by the aunt’s support of communism. Bon’s job as a Vietnamese counterspy in America was to murder communist sympathizers. Bon wishes to leave immediately, but Vo Danh calms him down and they stay the night. However, Vo Danh continues to visit his aunt and for a time lives with her.
The main character of “The Committed” believes all social beliefs one commits oneself to are corrupted by human nature. To Vo Danh, his aunt is just who she is committed to be, without being either good or bad.
Vo Danh and Bon leave the next morning to find jobs at a Vietnamese restaurant near the Eiffel tower. The restaurant is owned by a mobster. They are hired and choose to rent a room from the mobster. Bon mostly leaves Nguyen’s story until the last chapters of the book. He chooses to keep a low profile as a restaurant employee.
Vo Dahn takes an entirely different path. Vo Dahn becomes a customer procurer and seller for the mobster’s drug business.
Vo Danh’s experience in a Vietnam re-education camp taught him to believe in nothing. That teaching came from his third blood brother who is commandant of the camp during the Vietnam war.
This third blood brother is a communist sympathizer in name only. Before becoming camp commandant, this third blood brother is badly disfigured by an American napalm attack. He realizes Democracy’s liberation of Vietnam from communism is a meaningless chimera. In that realization, he re-educates Vo Danh to understand communism, authoritarianism, and democracy are fictions.
Re-education camps are a euphemism for detention and torture.
Committed beliefs about government mean nothing. One’s first thought is that the third brother is simply a nihilist. Vo Dahn understands something different. In sum, the commandant teaches Vo Dahn that commitment to any ideological belief is a trap. Even in accepting his blood brother’s re-education, Vo Dahn recalls the love of his mother. He believes the selfless love of his mother saves him from being a nihilist.
Vo Dahn does not consider himself a nihilist but agrees that believing in nothing liberates humanity.
In Paris, Vo Danh chooses to become a mobster who sells drugs for a percentage of profits. He lives life as he chooses. He expresses no personal scruple about sale or personal use of drugs or alcohol. He has no fear of the drug supplying restaurant owner, arrest as a legal consequence, or possible attack by competing mobsters. Vo Danh lives an amoral life informed by the love of his deceased mother. His life experience and studied philosophical beliefs lead him to believe in nothing as a way of living in an unprincipled world. His actions in the world are formed by the mother who loved him and a father (who is a priest) that abandoned him.
What is troubling about Nguyen’s story is that love and care is often missing or mutually misunderstood between a mother and her children. One might accept Nguyen’s story for those children who are truly loved and cared for by their mothers. However, if mothers are to be on a pedestal, what about the affect of mothers who do not truly love or care for their children. Are uncaring mothers responsible for children who become mass murderers, dictators, mobsters, and other societal miscreants?
Nguyen’s story has a strong point of view, but it diminishes the complexity of a child’s growth to adulthood. Interaction between mothers, fathers, and their offspring are interpreted though the minds of their children.
One is reminded of fictional and news worthy stories of children who are raised in perfect families who become serial killers.
A recurring truism in Nguyen’s story is that all humans are created equal. When one is asked where they are from, the only correct answer is “I am from my mother”. Nothing else matters. Color, national origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation do not determine the value of a human being. Nguyen is a great writer with a point of view worthy of many philosophers of this and past ages.
Ruth Ware (aka Ruth Warburton, Author, British psychological crime thriller writer.)
“One by One” is a maudlin psychological thriller that makes a mockery of responsibility. John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” creates characters that truly illustrate things beyond human control.
In contrast Ruth Ware’s characters are out of control of things within their control. Both novels have two main characters. Ware’s main characters are Erin and Liz.
Erin is a chalet hostess. Liz is a guest. A media tech company organizes a corporate meeting for stockholders to decide on a private buy-out offer. Most shares are owned by two principles. A small percentage is owned by Liz. The 2 biggest stock owners disagree about the sale. The founder wants to stay private to sell shares in a public offering sometime in the future. The partner who wants to sell now needs the 2% shareholder to agree to the current offer for the sale to close. The proposed buyout will make Liz a millionaire even though she holds only 2% of the shares. The sell-now partner has a verbal agreement from Liz to agree to the sale. The selling partner is murdered or missing before a final vote is taken by the shareholders.
If a crime has been committed, Ware outlines motives for who the killer might be from a plethora of characters. That is part of the problem with her story. There are a too many vaguely defined characters.
It is not only the number of characters, but also the annoying mechanism of first-person narration of the two main characters. As an audiobook, it is often difficult to know who is talking. There is only one narrator who shows no voice inflection when the character changes. Is Erin or Liz talking?
Further, characters are not well defined in Ware’s mystery. Ware is obviously an experienced writer. She foreshadows the murder of the “selling partner” who wares a red coat when the group decides to go skiing before the final shareholder’ vote.
The obvious choice of murderer is the founder of the company who does not want to sell. However, a reader/listener of mysteries knows it is unlikely that the most obvious perpetrator is the culprit.
The search for clues revolves around motives of Ware’s characters. The disclosed motives are unremarkable. The principal motive is found to be people who fail to take responsibility for those things within their control. The annoying refrain is “it’s not my fault”.
Some may find Ware’s novel a worthy mystery. To this listener, the characters are paper dolls in lives controlled entirely by circumstance.
“In the Distance” can be viewed from different perspectives. It is a story of emigration, isolation, survival, self-identity, human nature, extortion, and distortion. The author, Hernan Diaz, is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but fails to win. Diaz’s writing is unquestionably evocative and compelling but there is an aimlessness in the story that diminishes its appeal.
Emigrating to America in the mid-nineteenth century, Diaz’s main character is accidently separated from his brother and arrives in California rather than New York, presumably between 1849 and 1855 (the gold rush).
The story begins when a tall and muscular Swedish immigrant swims out of frigid water to astonished travelers on an ice bound ship, sailing in Alaskan waters. The Swede’s name is Hakan Soderstrom who is known by some as a legend named Hawk. Hawk tells his life story to the astounded travelers.
Hawk is the younger of the two brothers who emigrated to America. His older brother is alleged to have gotten separated in their departure, He lands in New York while Hawk lands in California. Hawk depends on his older brother for guidance and decides to journey cross country to be reunited.
One can imagine how isolated an immigrant would be without anyone who can understand or help a young emigrant boy who only speaks a foreign language. Survival is dependent on finding one’s way in a wilderness of language and culture.
Diaz pictures gold rush days in California as a land of violence, greed, and survival.
Hawk adapts to his environment and creates a self-identity based on what he must do to survive. Hawk becomes acquainted with a family led by a miner who is looking for gold. The husband finds gold but is extorted by a gang of town thugs. The thugs abduct Hawk who becomes attracted by the woman who leads the gang. Hawk is growing into a man of extraordinary size and strength. He is corralled by the gang leader who uses Hawk as a sex slave. She sees Hawk’s future potential as an enforcer for the gang. Hawk has other ideas. He escapes captivity and heads east with the hope of finding his older brother.
As the story unwinds, Hawk grows to be a giant of a man. He never stops growing physically (a condition known as giantism today) and matures with an understanding of the natural world.
Hawk’s understanding of nature comes from an acquaintance, a naturalist who is searching for evidence of the origin of human life. This naturalist befriends Hawk and teaches him many things about human life.
The naturalist is a nature-born physician (ahead of his time) who understands the importance of sterilizing medical instruments used to treat wounds and how poultices may be used to heal infections. Hawk gains understanding of many medical treatments, but more importantly, recognizes the sanctity of human life from the practices of the naturalist. The naturalist dies and once again Hawk is isolated and on his own.
Heading east, Hawk learns how to survive in nature. He makes a great lion-head cloak from the skins of animals that he kills for food.
Hawk survives severe weather conditions by creating shelters from whatever nature has to offer.
His shelter reminds this listerner of an underground shelter photographed in Turkey in 2o19– carved in earth by ancient Christians to protect themselves.
Hawk eventually returns to society by joining a group of settlers traveling cross country. The settlers are beholding to a flimflam leader that promises land when they arrive at their destination. This leader recruits Hawk as an enforcer without Hawk fully understanding why. Hawks giant size is what the leader needs to keep the settler’s in line.
The settlers and their leader are attacked by white renegades who disguise themselves as Indians. They attack a young girl to which Hawk is drawn. Hawk reacts by murdering the white renegades. The renegades are rebels from an unspecified religion, implied to be excommunicated Mormons. The re-telling of the massacre is distorted by public reports of the incident. Hawk becomes a legend who kills brothers of the church and innocent women and children. A price is put on Hawk’s head for a crime he did not commit.
Hawk’s actions become a widely known story that becomes distorted with its re-telling.
Hawk is eventually captured by brethren of the church. He is tortured and mutilated but he survives with the help of a male brethren who believes Hawk is innocent. They become close friends, maybe lovers, but other brethren of the church eventually find them, and Hawk’s friend is killed. The legend of Hawk continues but after the loss of his friend, he returns to years of isolation. He grows older and bigger but, through self-isolation, avoids capture.
Hawk is finally found by several rebellious uniformed soldiers who try to recruit him as their leader. They reason Hawk could strike fear into anyone they choose to rob because of his legend and immense size. Hawk sneaks away from the miscreants by preparing a dinner laced with a narcotic.
The story’s ending is all that is left. It ends where it begins. “In the Distance” offers some interest to a listener. However, to this listener, Diaz’s tale is more interesting because of its prose than its content.
Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883–Russian novelist,poet, and playwright.)
Understanding the culture of other countries is aided by reading histories and literary classics. Like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev paints a picture of Russian culture in the mid-1800s.
Russia in 1850
In “Fathers and Sons” it is the age of Alexander II, the Russian Tsar who began his reign in 1855. He presided over emancipation of serfs in 1861.
Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881)
The Tsar’s intention is to liberate serfs from aristocratic servitude. In respect for the Tsar, some Russian farmers offer their farmland to serfs in return for rent or a percentage of profits from the sale of produce
There is great turmoil during this time in Russia.
Tsar Alexander III (1845-1894)
It is eventually quelled by Alexander III (1881-1894) who represses and reverses Alexander II’s political and social liberalization. Turgenev dies soon after Alexander III’s ascension. In “Fathers and Sons” one can see the seeds for Alexander III’s reaction to Alexander II’s liberalization.
The principal character in “Fathers and Sons” is Yevgeny Vassillievitch Bazarov. He is a young doctor who sees the world through science.
Bazarov does not believe in God and sees morality as a fiction induced by society. He is a nihilist. He purports to believe life is meaningless.
In this Russian era, serfdom created an uneducated underclass that feeds Bazarov’s beliefs. Serfs had no place in society. They were indentured to an aristocracy that used them as slaves to cultivate land holdings.
Alexander II creates change which would allow serfs to own land, work for themselves, and break their cycle of poverty. However, serfs as well as the aristocracy are unprepared. Farmers who try to free their serfs find their farmland turns fallow. The reasons for loss of productivity are complex but such a sudden change in opportunity is either not properly capitalized or resistance by aristocrats scotches Alexander II’s liberation.
Bazarov sees serf liberation as evidence of the meaninglessness of life. Bazarov and a fellow traveler, both sons of farmers, return to their family farms after finishing their education. The fellow traveler is Arkady who idolizes Bazarov. Arkady’s father’s farm is shown to be deteriorating when the two travelers visit. Bazarov observes the indolence of former serfs who work the land. At the same time Bazarov notes the entrenched aristocratic prejudices of Arkady’s uncle who has come to live at the farm. This uncle is an immaculately dressed and groomed middle aged man who is well known in aristocratic circles.
Bazarov’s suggests Alexander II’s reform only reinforces the meaninglessness of life. To Bazarov, human nature is immutable, God does not exist, and art is an affectation. He places this argument at the feet of Basarov’s uncle. Arkady agrees with Basarov and recognizes him as a mentor and superior intellect. Both the uncle and Arkady’s father are offended by Basarov’s comments. The uncle is appalled by Basarov’s nihilism.
Turgenev introduces a doppelganger of Basarov in a wealthy young widow named Anna Odinsova. Odinsova is attracted to Bazarov’s views based on her life experience. She sees life as equally meaningless. The irony is that Basarov falls in love with Odinsova. Loving someone contradicts meaninglessness in life. Odinsova does not love Basarov but admires his intellect. Basarov’s professed love betrays his nihilist beliefs.
Turgenev accelerates his argument against nihilism by having Arkady fall in love with the sister of Odinsova. This sister has the moral strength of Odinsova but accepts Arkady’s love, and marries him. They settle on Arkady’s father’s farm. Arkady, with the help of his new wife, make his father’s farm prosperous. Arkady’s father changes his role at the farm and is eventually able to retire. Nihilism has no place in Arkady’s life. Life has meaning to Arkady.
Turgenev leaves his audience with the belief that Odinsova will overcome her belief in nihilism. She marries a prosperous and dynamic Russian businessman. Turgenev suggests she may grow to love this businessman and abandon her mistaken view of life. This is a Turgenev’ finishing nail in nihilism’s coffin.
Turgenev’s warning to humanity is that God, morality, and love makes life worth living, while ignominious death is left to nihilists.
Basarov dies from Typhoid, never to realize the wasted life he has led. His death leaves his mother and father to grieve over Basarov’s great potential and lost opportunity.
Kenneth J. Hammond (Professor of History at New Mexico State University)
“Dinner at the Center of the Earth” is a story of spies. It is a short novel illustrating the intransigent and complex conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ariel Sharon (Prime minister of Israel and Israeli general 1928-2014)
The context is in the last years of Ariel Sharon’s life before, during, and after his death from an 8-year coma.
A spy for Israel is recruited by “The General” through a connection with an American Jewish mother who persuades her son to become a spy for the Israeli government. The son reports only to “The General”, without any direct connection with the State of Israel. The plan is liberally financed by Israel.
The recruit poses as a wealthy entrepreneur that brokers used computer equipment to foreign countries. With that cover, he infiltrates an Egyptian supporter of the Palestinian cause of repatriation. “The General’s” goal is to eliminate the Egyptian cell.
The infiltration is a success, but the price paid by the spy is in a bombing designed to destroy the leaders of the Egyptian cell.
In the detonation, the building collapses on an adjacent building occupied by an innocent family.
The leader of the cell is the brother of the person befriended by the recruit. When the bombing occurs, the “friend” of the recruit realizes he was set up. He contacts the spy and tells him what death he has brought to his family and to innocent children near the bombing.
Contrary to the rules of spy craft, the recruit acknowledges his role and asks for forgiveness in return for intelligence on Israel. The recruit betrays Israel. In finding the recruit’s betrayal, “The General” puts him in an isolation cell that no one knows about.
The recruit appeals to “The General” for his release, but “The General” has fallen into a coma. This is one thread of the story. With the death of “The General” there is no way out for the recruit. No one with any power knows of the recruit’s fate.
In the end, with the help of a gift from his guard, the recruit hangs himself. The guard knowingly supplies a belt with a gifted robe, a forbidden act by the guard. He knew the gift would give the recruit a choice.
The meat of the story is in how the recruit is caught. This is where the story becomes maudlin and unbelievable.
The counter spy that captures the recruit is too contrived. She is a beautiful waitress with unfathomable wealth. There are so many clues to her duplicity, only an idiot spy would not see what is happening.
In a non-sequitur reveal, a listener is introduced to a Palestinian peace maker. He is called the map maker because he suggests the creation of two states. The female Jewish spy who led to the capture of the recruit has a deep and committed relationship with this Palestinian.
This “waitress” and “peace maker” plan a dinner for two in an underground tunnel between Israel and Gaza. It is a “Dinner at the Center of the Earth”.
The “waitress” and “peace maker” seem to represent the only hope for comity between Israelis and Palestinians. The moral seems death of human innocents is what matters, not land.
If there is a saving grace to Hammond’s story, there are both Palestinians and Jews who wish for peace. Peace is only conceivable with a growing recognition that death of innocent children is too high a price to pay for land that only belongs to nature.
In a bit of serendipity, “Project Hail Mary” reminds one of Jason Lanier’s memoir, “Dawn of the New Everything”. Lanier commented on a fascination with exhibiting himself as a crustacean in virtual reality. Andy Weir seems similarly captivated.
Andy Weir wrote the fictional novel “The Martian” about an astronaut being stranded on Mars. It became a block buster movie starring Matt Damon.
As an astronaut, Damon overcomes many things that might go wrong when exploring Mars. Weir vivifies and magnifies that danger by exploring the entire cosmos in “Project Hail Mary”.
Like the hero of “The Martian”, Weir creates a character who understands the science of space.
“Project Hail Mary” is the story of a brilliant Junior Highschool Science teacher who becomes a reluctant astronaut. This teacher overcomes many of the mental and physical challenges of space exploration. On his journey, he becomes the first human to contact an alien life.
A striking feature of Weir’s writing is the science he incorporates in his novels. As an only child, Weir is raised by a physicist father and electrical-engineer mother who may have had something to do with his interest in science.
Whatever Weir’s influences, “Project Hail Mary” is a tour de force of science and space travel for non-scientists. Whether Weir’s writing has scientific merit or not, “Project Hail Mary” is a great entertainment, narrated by Oliver Wyman, a master of the art of audio presentation.
Weir takes us on a journey to another solar system. Weir manages to suspend one’s imagination with a tale about a threat to earth on the scale of global warming. Ironically, global warming’s threat is subsumed by a greater threat–the growth of a fungus originating on Venus that absorbs the energy of the sun. Without that energy, Earth is doomed.
As has happened many times in history, a common threat creates friends of former enemies. Like the creation of a political alliance in WWII to defeat an enemy aggressor, a science alliance of independent countries is formed to defeat nature’s aggressor
In Wier’s story, a brilliant group of scientists from around the world assemble to assess the threat of a fungus that absorbs the energy of the sun.
A common threat demands singular, decisive, and coordinated action. Imminent threat requires focused leadership.
In Weir’s novel, that is Eva Straat. She is not the heroine of the story, but she is a leader. She is an historian who clearly understands the gravity of the threat—no energy from the sun, no life on earth.
Weir’s hero is Ryand Grace, a scientist who chooses to abandon science research to teach Science at a junior high school. Grace is a reluctant hero. He is commandeered by Eva Straat because of a science paper, written by Grace as a parting shot to the science community. The leading scientists of the day said no life exists without water. Grace’s science paper claims life on earth is not necessarily true for all life in the galaxy. Grace is convinced that water is not necessary for all forms of life. He quits the science community that vilifies him for his contrary opinion.
Teachers are great managers that know how to control resources, whether human or material. Grace is a quintessential manager.
Weir’s story credibly develops a belief that life might exist without water and oxygen interactions with the other elements of the periodic table. Grace eventually meets an alien he calls Rocky. Rocky is an alien from another solar system whose home planet is facing the same energy consuming fungus. This alien has no eyes but can see, no ears but can hear, no hydrogen or oxygen in his world, and looks like a crustacean with multiple appendages.
There are many story lines to follow in Wier’s imaginative novel. Some common threads are teaching moments. There is the thread of our world’s end if evolution is unable to keep pace with social and environmental change. There are the principles of friendship, hardship, scientific understanding, teacher and science contribution to society, crises response by the few, the one, and the many, willingness to sacrifice one’s life, and moral choice.
An overriding principle in “Project Hail Mary” is the story of evolution. Life’s adaptation is the soul of the story. Only through evolution does sentient life have a chance to survive.
Re-listening reprises its deeply religious overtone and its depiction of how some novelists view and reinforce inequality of the sexes.
Vasily Kachalov as Ivan Karmazov.
The role of religion in life is vivified by Ivan Karamazov, the 4th son and brother of the Karamazov family.
Depiction of Alyosha Karamazov.
Ivan tells his youngest brother, Alyosha, of an imagined poem. It is named “The Grand Inquisitor”. It is a story of the return of Christ noted in the Christian bible as the second coming.
Ivan offers a societal interpretation of the concept of God in his narrative poem. He explains to his brother Alyosha–if the Son of God returns to earth and shows his divinity through miracle, the returning Christ would be captured by church elders and rejected as humankind’s Savior.
Christ’s capturer in Ivan’s poem is a wizened bishop (the Grand Inquisitor) who explains faith is more important than the second coming.
The bishop explains the Church is commissioned by Christ’s Father to rule the world. With God’s commission, “The Grand Inquisitor” argues the Church dutifully manages human sin and confession. The inference is that a “second coming” will not successfully eradicate human sin because it is ineradicable.
The bishop argues the return of Christ is not as important as the church’s management of sin and its gift of hope to the people of the world.
In contradiction of Ivan’s poem and his societal interpretation of religion, Dostoevsky creates Father Zosima. Zosima tells his life story as a relatively wealthy young military officer who becomes a venerated monk.
Despite a secular life of sin, Zosima requests forgiveness from those he has sinned against. Because of his spiritual awakening, Zosima requests forgiveness, and with the help of a stranger’s confession, reconciles and accepts the word of God.
Zosima recalls the truth of God who tests Job’s faith by allowing the devil to take all his earthly wealth, health, and family. Job never gives up his faith in God. Zosima recounts reconciliation and forgiveness of Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery. Zosima commits his remaining life to God with these two biblical parables. Zosima’s life story foreshadows Ivan’s conversion from belief in the “…Grand Inquisitor” to belief in God’s truth.
For God’s believers, Dostoevsky argues the world will change just as Zosima changed. The change will come from salvation based on repentance, confession, and acceptance of God’s truth.
Dostoevsky suggests God’s truth is that no one should stand in judgement over another, each should pray for theirs, and their brother’s redemption. Zosima argues this change will come upon the world gradually based on a growing diminution of the human desire for money, power, and prestige. Care for others becomes as great as care for oneself. To Dostoevsky, this is an evolutionary imperative based on the biblical word of God.
The truth Zosima refers to is that all men are created equal, they should be treated with respect, and forgiven for their inevitable sins.
A blaring irony of “The Brothers Karamazov” is the reprehensible characterization of women. Dostoevsky’s vision is patriarchal. Women bare children keep the house and obey their husbands. There is no room for women’s equality. They are a mere rib of Man.
One might argue there has been progress for women since the 19th century, but women are still battered, women are generally paid less than men for the same work, and women are often treated like slaves.
“The Brothers Karamazov” is a classic. It is prescient for these times. One might argue that more attention is being given today to sexual, ethnic, religious, and racial inequality. However, progress is slow. America has taken many steps back, and few steps forward.
Dostoevsky’s “…Brothers Karamazov” is a reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote— “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Maybe, but this generation doubts its truth.
Ayad Akhtar (American author, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter-received 2013 Pulitzer for Drama.)
When listening to “Homeland Elegies”, one must remind oneself it is a novel. It is written by an author and screenwriter who can create characters with singular insight and theoretical power to change the world. Though there have been such people in history, they are never recognized in real time. Extraordinary people are only found in the perspective of history or in fictional stories by creative writers.
Many in history might be considered in the category of extraordinary people. They were not perfect, but they changed America, and in some cases the world, for the better. Extraordinary people are either revivified historic figures, or imaginary characters created by authors like Ayad Akhtar.
Pakistan, to many Americans, is a riddle wrapped in an enigma (a phrase Churchill used to describe Russia in the 1930s). The author manages to reveal some of that riddle in “Homeland Elegies”.
Without delving into the history of the author, the author’s main character is named Akhtar. One gathers from his novel, that Akhtar is an American, but his parents are from Pakistan. Akhtar is born into an upper-middle class family whose father is a renowned cardiologist.
Akhtar’s father sees Trump as a man like himself. Akhtar’s father is flawed in ways like Trump. Both Trump and Akhtar’s father look at life’s decisions as transactions with winners and losers.
Trump and Akhtar’s father’s mutual history of dalliance with prostitutes, their failure as business investors, and their unshakeable belief in the value of capitalist self-interest make Akhtar’s father and Trump brothers in both character and ambition.
Politically, the character Akhtar and his father are opposites. Akhtar’s father appears to have voted for Trump in the 2016 election; in part because of a brief medical encounter with Trump long before he became President. Akhtar argues with his father about Trump’s public persona. Trump’s lack of empathy, and his transactional domestic and foreign policy actions are “red flags” to his son. Though Akhtar loves his father, he attempts to bully him into changing his mind about Trump.
The author shows why Trump appeals to many Americans. The “…Elegies” help explain why disparaged American minorities (both nonwhites, and extreme libertarians), as well as white voters, support Trump.
Trump’s support crosses all strata of American life, including the rich, poor, educated, and un-schooled. Many Americans vote for and revere Trump. Trump’s appeal is not to any precise citizen category. His appeal is to every American that wants to be rich enough to be left alone by government or any outside interference.
One of several serious reflections by the characters in the “…Elegies” is an American Pakistani who uses Trump’s memes to punish anti-Islamist local governments that deny American Pakistani equality. This character is a brilliant strategist and wealthy investor. This super-wealthy investor, a born-in-America Pakistani, creates a hedge fund to be sold to communities that formerly denied Muslim equality in their cities.
This hedge fund creator concocts a hedge fund scheme to make money at the expense of anti-Muslim American city governments. Greed of government public fund’ investors blinds them to carefully worded risks in the hedge fund prospectus. In the end, these city bureaucrats nearly bankrupt their cities because of their failure to read the fine print. The cities governments sue the creator of the hedge-fund but are unsuccessful because the prospectus clearly explains the fund’s risk. The hedge-fund profits even more by having hedged against the fund because they knew what would happen to the original investment.
In a trip to Argentina last year, our guide suggested the same hedge-fund profiteering occurred in their country. Argentina fell prey to the same corporate shenanigan. Corporate investors profited twice (first in selling bonds and second from hedging against default). The Argentine people paid the price through inflated consumer prices and devalued currency.
The hedge fund creator has no empathy for citizens who are pawns in a scheme bought into by their local representatives.
The hedge fund creator’s primary objective is to punish local governments that had discriminated against creation of Muslim places of worship. The hedge fund creator exhibits the same characteristic that many ascribe to former President, Donald Trump. Trump shows little empathy for the public while focusing on those he wants to punish, regardless of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.
Two interesting perspectives come from this elegy of a super-wealthy American Pakistani investor.
He explains why Eastern and Western cultures had such different economic histories. He notes corporations led to accumulation of wealth in Western nations. In contrast, in the hay days of the Muslim Empire, individual wealth was disbursed to relatives who steadily diminished capital and retarded the general welfare of the Empire. Eastern nations failed to adopt the idea of corporations for 300 years. In that 300 years, accumulated wealth in corporations allowed Western economies to grow while the East foundered.
His second message is ironic. Individual managers of corporate wealth diminished the moral center of Western nation’ capitalism. The human flaw of greed became good.
The underlying theme of “Homeland Elegies” is that corporations have diminished the ideals of Adam Smiths’ theory of capitalism.
All races, colors, creeds, and religions succumb to the Hobbesian faults of being human. Only empathy for others can blunt the ill effects of corporatism and the wealth machine that feeds on the lives of the poor and near poor.
The author expands this argument in the elegy of a wealthy Black American who understands why Trump will win the 2016 election. This wealthy lawyer recognizes the link between corporate wealth and discrimination. He can see Trump will be elected in 2016 because White America wishes to maintain control of corporate wealth.
The counter to Trumpism in this American’s mind is to fight for control of corporate wealth; not to empathize with the poor, homeless, and non-white populations because it is a waste of time.
The S.P.A.C. (special, purpose acquisition company) movement reinforces this Black American’s argument.
Corporate and personal wealth are often experienced as a superpower created by the faults of human nature (namely greed). Citizens are not seen empathetically but only as transactions between company and customer.
Corporations see individual citizens and consuming customers as fodder for economic growth.
The author abandons a central corporatist distortion of reality with elegies of his personal sexual experience. The character of Akhtar falls somewhere between caring and transactional sexual relationships. In one encounter, it seems there is care for another; in most others, sex seems simply a pleasurable transaction. The inference is that casual sex is the equivalent of corporate greed.
The author’s main character sees sexual experience is often a transactional rather than caring experience between adults.
Ayad Akhtar is an insightful writer that gives listener/readers much to think about; not the least of which is unfair treatment of American citizens born here by former immigrant parents. One might look forward to seeing Akhtar’s theatrical production for better understanding of American culture.