Sunday, November 30, 2003

Survival at Auschwitz by Primo Levi

True story of an Italian Jew who was captured by the Nazis in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz. Very moving at times but in some respects lacking.

Lacking? How do you mean, lacking? Well, it sounds awful to say, but I did not find it gruesome enough.

There were moments that made you feel like crying, like when they got off the train and were immediately sorted into groups—those that could be of use in the labor camp and those who could not and would be sent within 48 hours to a gas chamber or a crematorium or both. The former, all able-bodied young men. The latter, all the women, elderly, and children. To think of being separated from your child or your wife under such circumstances and to speculate which would be more awful—to know what fate had in store for them, or to not know and never find out.

There were other moments that made you shake your head and wonder how such things could ever happen, but knowing at the same time that they did and that they made their own twisted kind of sense. Like the way the prisoners had to keep everything they had with them at every moment to keep them from being stolen—showering with their soup bowls clutched between their knees. Or the way those who tried to get out of work for a day due to their diarrhea would be lined up and brought before the doctor one by one and given 60 seconds to squat over a pot to prove that they were indeed ill. The dozens who stood in line desperately trying to hold it in so they could deliver when their turn came, and those who made it having their excrement examined to make sure it was soupy enough to qualify.

There were some of these things there, but not enough. Surely there were more, dozens, hundreds more, but so few seemed to make it to the page. There were some interesting things said about the human condition and the type of individual who survived such an ordeal, but now, barely a day later, very few of those thoughts have stayed with me.

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Survival at Auschwitz by Primo Levi
on Amazon
Primo Levi on Wikipedia
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Sunday, November 23, 2003

The Book of Insults by Nancy McPhee

Do I really need to say something about this book that I’ve already forgotten?

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The Book of Insults by Nancy McPhee
on Amazon
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Friday, November 21, 2003

The World of the Druids by Miranda J. Green

Incomprehensible. I’ve just read an entire book about druids and I have no idea what druids are. Neither, it seems, does the rest of the world or even the people who call themselves druids. Ancient druids may have existed, but were already dying out when the Romans stumbled across them and started writing about them. Mythical druids exist in Irish folklore, but it is folklore written by Christian missionaries who seemed to have a love-hate relationship with them. And modern druids…well, modern druids basically do anything they want in order to feel closer to their ancient spirits. What about the Dungeons & Dragons druids? I seem to remember that they could kick some serious ass. Maybe we should throw them into the mix and muddy the waters even more.

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The World of the Druids by Miranda J. Green
on Amazon
Author's website
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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Another one of those Russian novels written about the time the serfs were emancipated and the changes coming to Russian society. It’s a story, that much I can follow, but whatever the larger points it’s trying to make are are lost on me because I’m so far removed from that time and place. Bazarov is the nihilist in the story, the man who believes in nothing that he can not directly observe, and he dies in the end from an infection he gets from dissecting a corpse. Arkady is his devotee who strays from this philosophy, gets married, and lives happily ever after. What do you think that means?

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Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
on Amazon
on Wikipedia
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Friday, November 7, 2003

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch

A friend gave me this book and I found it a fairly good read. It’s about this man who is having an affair on his wife, who then finds out that his wife is having an affair on him and wants a divorce. His life begins to fall apart after that as we discover all kinds of hidden secrets about the lives of those around him. His wife’s lover is also having an affair with his own sister, and his wife and his girlfriend are both having affairs with his brother. It’s a tangled and complicated tale, but it held my attention both because of the prose style and because throughout all the ups and downs the characters more or less maintain stilted and phony cordial relations with one another. I took it to be a book at least partly about the need to maintain certain appearances in society, even when the dirty reality beneath it all is a whole other matter.

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A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
on Amazon
on Wikipedia
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Sunday, November 2, 2003

God, Please Save Me by Sister Mary Rose McGeady

A little book about Covenant House, a shelter for runaway teens. I read it because it was there.

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God, Please Save Me by Sister Mary Rose McGeady
on Amazon
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