Monthly Archives: August 2014

The key to the Pasha’s library

As readers of Andre Aciman’s wonderful memoir Out of Egypt will know, Egypt was until the 1950s home of a Levantine Jewish community that lived for most of its history comparatively well integrated and respected in this part of the world.

Multi-cultural Cairo and Alexandria were at that time home to many religious and ethnic minorities that over the centuries had learned to cope with each other in a – mostly – peaceful way. Many members of the Jewish community like the Cattaui family had risen to great wealth and affluence. With the rise of Egyptian nationalism, the wars in 1948 and 1956 and the erection of an authoritarian regime of officers under the leadership of Nasser, this period came abruptly to an end. The Jews were no longer welcome in Egypt and had to leave, usually with very little except their lives and a few clothes.

This is the historical backdrop of two books of memoirs by Lucette Lagnado, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit and The Arrogant Years. Lagnado, a journalist working for major newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, was born in Egypt, where she spent her first years before emigrating via France to the US with her parents and siblings.

The books are covering roughly a century. Whereas The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit focuses mainly on her father, The Arrogant Years is mainly devoted to the life of the author’s mother. Although the two works cover the same period, Lagnado avoids redundancy as much as possible which makes both books worth reading.

The author’s father, Leon, was obviously a larger-than-life figure: he was very tall, good-looking, with impeccable manners and a talent for languages; a boulevardier that liked to go out every evening until late at night; a business man that was so secretive about his business that even his close family members had no idea if his business was thriving or if he was on the verge of bankruptcy; a womanizer that was rumored to have had many affairs (including the charismatic singer Om Kalthoum); a man that was at home with the British officers in Cairo during WWII who dubbed him “the Captain”; but at the same time a devout Jew who observed all rules of his creed and was praying every day in the synagogue; a patriarch with a very traditional mindset when it came to the role of women in the family; but at the same time a very kind and patient father (especially with his youngest daughter, the author).

Edith, the author’s mother, was considerably younger than her husband. Although her background was very different from Leon’s – her family was very poor -, her charm and good looks, together with her good education and humble manners made Leon approach her. The first chapter of Sharkskin which describes the courting makes quite an entertaining read. There was not much romance, the whole affair was conducted in a quite businesslike way by Leon and Alexandra, Edith’s mother, who set the rules for the further proceedings.

But the marriage proved to be a rather unhappy affair. Leon didn’t change his lifestyle of going out late every evening (except Sabbath) without his wife. Edith, who had worked as a very young teacher and librarian for the Cattaui family, the most influential Jewish family in Egypt, had to give up her job she loved so much and was confined to the home where she was supposed to take care of the children and the household, which was de facto dominated by Leon’s mother, a rather stern woman from Aleppo who insisted to speak only Arabic (usually Levantine families like the Lagnados would speak French as native language).

Both parents felt deeply enrooted in Egypt. While more and more of their friends and relatives were leaving the country, they tried to hold out as long as possible. But after a short arrest of the oldest sister Suzette, it is obvious that they have to leave. In Paris, the family which is now completely depended on the support by some organizations that deal with Jewish refugees, has to wait quite a long time until finally being admitted to be resettled in the US.

Life in New York held many difficulties in stock for the Lagnados: Leon, once a quite wealthy and successful businessman, had to support his family with the small earnings he made as a street seller of fake silk ties; the mother’s dream “to rebuild the hearth” fell apart since the older children were step by step going their own way or even leaving home for good. Life in Cairo was better in so many respects for the older generation and the nostalghia they are feeling in relation to their home country doesn’t exactly help them to embrace the American Way of Life that seems so strange to them.

While the author’s father seems to get tired from life and is withdrawing more and more to his prayer books, Edith surprisingly re-invents herself. She applies for a library job and despite lacking degrees or practical experience (except for her work as a young girl in the Cattaui library), she is surprisingly hired. From the author’s descriptions it becomes clear that this – beside her childhood – was probably the happiest time in the life of her mother, who deeply loved (mainly French) literature and who had read the complete Marcel Proust already as a young girl in Cairo.

Lagnado’s books touch on many interesting issues: the school and university system in the US; the typical problems of immigrant children who “try to fit in”; the change of the role of women in family and society that started in the 1960s with the Women’s Lib movement; the role of tradition and religion in the Jewish community; and also the situation of the health sector in the States. Quite a lot of the books deal with the ailments of her parents and herself (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s in the case of Leon; a series of debilitating strokes in the case of Edith; and Hodgkin’s disease in the case of the author). But that’s not a criticism: this family has had more than their fair share of sufferings.

Lagnado’s books are not only a monument for her parents, but also for a now almost extinct specific Levantine Jewish culture. At the end of both books, she is able to reconnect herself with her own past and the past of this community. After many years, she is visiting Cairo again, standing on the balcony of her former family home in Malaka Nazli (now: Ramses) Street. And somewhere in Switzerland she tracks down the remains of the famous Cattaui library, including the books that were purchased decades ago by her mother who was given the key to the legendary Pasha’s library by the famous Madame Cattaui.

As readers we can feel rewarded that Lagnado shared her family history with us and we can be glad that she was able to make new friends again in her native city. Two truly remarkable and touching memoirs.

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Lucette Lagnado: The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Ecco Press, New York 2007

Lucette Lagnado: The Arrogant Years, Ecco Press, New York 2011

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Ara Güler’s Istanbul

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Really great artists are frequently very modest, even humble persons, says Orhan Pamuk in the introduction to the photo book Ara Güler’s Istanbul. 

Güler calls himself a photo journalist, but he is much more: a chronicler of his home town Istanbul since the late 1940s, a kind of archaeologist (since Istanbul has changed a lot in the last decades), but definitely also a great artist.

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Ara Güler’s Istanbul presents just a small sample of the more than 800,000 photos he took almost exclusively with his Leica, but they give a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of the artist’s most iconic works.

We see fishermen mending their nets, children playing in front of derelict Ottoman structures, ferry boats passing the Golden Horn, street vendors pushing their carts in the cobblestone streets of Kadıköy, a tram waiting for a man with his horse cart passing the rails. It’s usually not the Istanbul tourists know. We see crumbling buildings and people who look tired from their everyday struggle to survive in this glorious city. Istanbul and its buildings are only the backdrop for a big stage: the drama of life with its difficulties, everyday routines and small pleasures.

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Güler’s photos breathe a deep humanity. The people we see on his photos, no matter how poor they may be, are never devoid of a certain dignity. And frequently there is a touch of magic there too, which is difficult to describe. Just have a look at these breathtaking photos.

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Ara Güler’s Istanbul, Introduction by Orhan Pamuk, Thames & Hudson 2009

Ara Güler’s website: http://www.araguler.com.tr/

© Ara Güler (photos) © Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A pseudo “service”

Are customer reviews on amazon.com a real service and useful for readers? 

The answer is: no. Customer reviews on that website are clearly a pseudo “service”. 

A very few of them are interesting. But I usually do not know who is writing them. In some cases it is an author who writes under certain aliases reviews about his own – usually mediocre – book, while writing very unfavorable reviews on the books of competitors (Orlando Figes is not the only case). In other cases it is someone who is paid to write these reviews in the interest of the author or publisher. And even a very high number of favorable reviews don’t say anything about the quality of the book – unless you think “a million flies cannot be wrong”… 

Nevertheless, some of the amazon.com customer reviews make for hilarious reading. Some examples: 

“The most boring read ever! The main character spends all his time doing nothing — and, worse, makes us all listen to his tedious CONTEMPLATIONS on how he does nothing. Much too slow; there should be more action here. Moreover, the author reverts time and time again to tired cliches — e.g., “outrageous fortune,” “murder most foul,” “primrose path,” “the time is out of joint,” “more honored in the breach than the observance.” The list could go on and on: we’ve heard them millions of times before, and we hear them every day. Finally, the story is too grim and sad. Why do so many people have to die? Why can’t the main character just realize that it’s better to forgive and forget than to take revenge and CONSTANTLY PONTIFICATE about EVERYTHING. Stay away from this book. There are lots of better and more entertaining books to buy.” (A. Person, Cambridge, MA – on Hamlet) 

Ok, if you need more action, I recommend Counterstrike…no contemplation required. 

“I don’t see anything philosophical, moral or intelligent about this book. It’s a boring, nonsensical story that has no point and on top of that is an excellent example of extreme ennui. If anyone other than the intellectual, snob critics’ pet “Kafka” had written it it would have been flushed down the toilet where it deserves to be.” (Euterpe – on The Metamorphosis) 

If I had the choice to either flush this review or The Metamorphosis down the toilet, it is an easy guess which one would I choose. 

“Paulo Coelho in my opinion is the best writer I have read in my life. He astonishes me with his natural talent and his insight.” (NN jr. – on The Zahir) 

I feel sorry for each person that thinks that this insufferable windbag P.C. is a writer at all. “The best writer I have read in my life” – Mr. NN jr. has either a wicked sense of irony, or he is a serious contender for the award for the dumbest sentence in a book review ever. 

“Not a great novel by ANY means. VEEEEERY SLOOOOOOW, INCREDIBLY BORING and NEVER really gets going at all (I bet most people will fall asleep after the first chapter or two). Defies logic how this novel gets so highly rated by ANYONE. Quite a bizarre/weird writing style and I really struggled with this one. Don’t waste your time reading this garbage.” (graygray – on Crime and Punishment) 

Defies logic how this masterpiece can be rated by anyone as “incredibly boring”. 

“This book is absolutely BORING!! I can’t believe almost everyone (or is it just everyone?) rated this book as 5 full stars! First, I don’t get it, second, Werther is somewhat pahychotic (Sic!), and third, this book has no plot. Therfore (Sic!), no climax, which is the most important part of a book.” (A Customer – on The Sorrows of Young Werther) 

Ah yes, Goethe, the old bugger. He hadn’t got a clue how to write. No plot, no climax – and I bet also his orthography was not on par with yours… 

These reviews made me think of two sentences of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: 

„Wenn ein Buch und ein Kopf zusammenstoßen und es klingt hohl, ist das allemal im Buch?“ (When a book and a head are colliding and it sounds hollow, is it always in the book?) 

„Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel: wenn ein Affe hineinsieht, so kann kein Apostel heraus gucken.“ (A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out) 

So, better you read some good book blogs or other print or electronic media with a more serious approach to reviewing instead of amazon.com’s customer reviews – and better buy your books at your local bookstore. (And if you buy online, there are many good alternatives to Mr. Bezos’ figment of monopoly capitalism.)

 

The Lichtenberg quotes are from his Waste Books (NYRB Classics, transl. R.J. Hollingdale).

Waste Books

 

The quotes from customer reviews are from the Amazon.com website.

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Endings

The fictitious village of al-Tiba is located somewhere near the desert, probably in Saudi Arabia, although it might be almost anywhere in the Arabian peninsula.

Life in this region depends on the availability of water. And since several years, the usual rainfalls become less and less and this is a real threat for the survival of the village and the people. The drought is not a temporary problem but a permanent danger and has become the trigger for changes, changes that are described in Abd al-Rahman Munif’s novel Endings:

“Drought. Drought again! When drought seasons come, things begin to change. Life and objects change. Humans change too, and no more so than in their moods.”

The novel consists of three parts. The first part gives a general description of the village life, the second part introduces the main character, Assaf the hunter and the other characters, such as the Mukhtar (head of the village) and Abu Zaki, the carpenter. But also animals play a great role in this novel. There is Assaf’s hunting dog, and there are the animals that are hunted by Assaf and the other villagers and occasional guests from the city.

Assaf is a loner, a person that is considered as odd by the villagers and that is the subject of ridicule and jokes. But on the other hand everybody in the village appreciates his skills as a hunter. Assaf tries – without big success – to explain to the other villagers and the people that come sometimes from the city to kill wild animals that it is important to hunt only when there is a need. Assaf understands the concept of sustainability, contrary to the the other villagers and the city folk.

During the drought period, game becomes practically the only food source. Now the villagers get closer to Assaf and want to embark on a big game hunt together with some visitors from town. A terrible sandstorm leads to a catastrophe: Assaf (together with his dog) gets killed. The depressed villagers take his body home and – this is the third part of the book – during a vigil for Assaf they tell each other stories (which are based on classical Arabic stories), that reflect the life of animals and more rarely men in the village.

After Assaf’s funeral, a group of the men, headed by the Mukhtar, drives to the city to lobby for the construction of the dam that was promised to them a long time ago. Without the implementation of this project, al-Tiba seems to be doomed.

The book is for various reasons remarkable. Endings is told by an omniscient narrator in a quite impersonal style. Very few of the characters have really individual traits. The village and the desert seem to be the true main characters of the novel, and the animals have at least the same importance for the story as the people.

Munif describes the deep difference between the city and village culture, and although he seems to sympathize with the villagers, he obviously doesn’t put much hope in them. This becomes clear when he describes how they look at the living Assaf, whom they consider as at least odd, or even half crazy. And that not only because of Assaf’s obvious preference for a solitary life in the desert and on the hunting grounds, but also because they fail to see Assaf’s point about the use of the resources the village has. Over-usage can and will destroy the village in the end, unless the villagers change their minds.

For a moment, under the deep impression of Assaf’s tragic death and the night they spent to honor him, the villagers wake up from their usual lethargy. Whether they will be successful with their intervention in the city in order to lobby for the construction of the dam, Munif doesn’t tell us. But his own experience as an economist in Saudi Arabia, and later in other Arabic countries, made him very pessimistic.

Abd al-Rahman Munif was born 1933 in Amman, Jordan, where he also grew up. Later he studied law in Baghdad, and oil economics in Belgrade. He held high positions in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, published several books on the nationalization of the Arab oil industry and was chief editor and publisher of the influential journal al-Naft wa-l-Tanmiyah (Oil and Development). But his open criticism of Saudi Arabia resulted in his being stripped of Saudi citizenship and also his return to Iraq was blocked for the same reason, his criticism of those in power.

After that Munif embarked on a career as full time writer, mainly living in Paris. He published fifteen novels, among them the series Cities of Salt, a monumental quintet that can be seen as the arguably most remarkable work of modern Arabic fiction. In 2003, one year before he died, Munif published a book Notes on History and Resistance, in which he recalled the Iraqi uprising against Britain in 1920 and that ended with the infamies of the recently returned collaborators of the world’s only superpower – in Munif’s words

‘the most ignominious and shameless opposition of the world, a collection of kiosks selling lies and illusions’.

Since that time, things have gone even worse. Munif’s books haven’t lost their urgency and literary power and strength.

 

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Abd al-Rahman Munif: Endings, transl. Roger Allen, Interlink Books, Northampton 2007

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The Little Book of Honey

This is a small and nice book for all who love honey – and who doesn’t?

The Little Book of Honey consists of three chapters. In the first chapter, the reader learns about different honeys from different flowers and from different origins (including such interesting varieties as coriander honey, carob flower honey, thistle honey, or asphodel honey, to name just a few).

The second part is a collection of different recipes for all kind of breads and biscuits and for teatime. If you always wanted to know how to make your own challah, or Yemeni honey bread, or baklava, or tiessennau mel (welsh honey muffins), or if you are just curious to know what you can do with honey, you will indulge in this chapter for sure.

The third chapter, ingeniously named miscell-honey, explains some additional uses of honey: as an ersatz for sugar, as an ingredient of a face cream, as a basis for mead, and others.

The small compact format and the beautiful illustrations by Su Jones and Paddy McEntaggart make it a pleasure to touch the book or to look at it. Elizabeth Gowing, the author of a book on bee keeping in Kosovo (Travels in Blood and Honey) and of a book about the British traveler Edith Durham (Edith and I), has written this delightful book.

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Elizabeth Gowing: The Little Book of Honey, design and illustrations by Su Jones and Paddy McEntaggart, Elbow Publishing 2012

http://www.thelittlebookofhoney.co.uk/

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The Story of a Simple Man

It begins like a legend and it ends like a fairy tale: Joseph Roth’s novel Job, the Story of a Simple Man, as the subtitle says.

Mendel Singer is a “pious, God-fearing and ordinary . . . everyday Jew,” who lives the life of a poor school teacher in Zuchnow, a shtetl in the then Russian part of Galicia. It’s the early 20th century and the lives of the Jews were not only threatened by poverty but also by the frequent pogroms. Emigration or involvement in one of the revolutionary political groups were the only real way out of this misery; for all the others the only relief from their difficult situation lay in the imagination. It’s the world that is described in the novels and stories of Scholem Alejchem, Isaac Bashevis Singer or Isaac Babel, or in the paintings of Marc Chagall.

Mendel Singer’s life is not different from many others: he is married, has two sons and a daughter and his life is rather uneventful. Things change when his fourth child, his son Menuchim is born. Menuchim turns out to be not able to speak (except for the only word “Mama” he is mumbling again and again) and he cannot walk properly either. Menuchim’s presence changes the whole dynamics of interaction within the family. His father gives him much more attention than to the other children, in the hope that this will enhance his development, his mother Deborah is visiting a famous rabbi in the next town to ask his advice, while in the meantime even the usual household routine suffers:

She neglected her duty at the stove, the soup boiled over, the clay pots cracked, the pans rusted, the greenish shimmering glasses shattered with a harsh crash, the chimney of the petroleum lamp was darkened with soot, the wick was charred to a miserable stub, the dirt of many soles and many weeks coated the floorboards, the lard melted away in the pot, the withered buttons fell from the children’s shirts like leaves before the winter.

Menuchim’s siblings don’t really like their brother who is such a burden to them and in one specific moment even make a half-hearted attempt to kill him, fortunately without success.

When the children grow up, things go worse and worse for Mendel Singer. While his son Jonas joins the army (usually most Jews in Russia dreaded the moment when their sons had to go to the army where they were exposed frequently to the rudest forms of anti-semitism) and even likes it there, his second son Schemarjah is deserting and emigrating to America where he soon changes his name to Sam.

The biggest problem beside Menuchim who doesn’t show any sign of development is Mendel’s daughter Mirjam, who has several affairs with soldiers and even cossacks, who had frequently a prominent role in the anti-semitic pogroms. The only way to save his daughter from the path on which she was embarking seems for Mendel Singer the emigration to America. An invitation from Sam, who sends also the money for the ship tickets through his new American friend Mac, will make it possible.

But there is a problem: the sick Menuchim cannot travel (the immigration officers at Ellis Island would send whole families back in such cases). Mendel and Deborah make for themselves all kind of excuses. If Menuchim will be healthy one day, he will join the family. In the meantime, he will stay with a good and caring family who will live in the house of the Singer’s. Deborah remembers the words of the famous rabbi: “Don’t ever leave him!” And also on Mendel, who is by then estranged from his whole family except for Menuchim to whom he feels particularly close, the moment to say goodbye is heartbreaking.

The second part of the book describes Mendel Singer’s and his family’s life in New York. Sam, together with his reliable business partner Mac is successful and able to provide a comparatively good life to his family. Jonas is writing a letter from Russia with some good news about Menuchim who surprisingly started to speak. Sam and his wife have their first child. Mirjam is having a regular job in Sam’s company. For the first time in his life, the sorrow seems to disappear from Mendel Singer’s existence. But only for a short while.

WWI breaks out and again everything changes for Mendel Singer. After some time he loses contact with Jonas, who went missing and is maybe dead. And also from Menuchim there are no more news anymore. Mendel fears the worst. After America enters the war, Sam also enlists for the army. Only a short time after he was shipped to Europe, he gets killed in combat. When Mac brings the bad news, Deborah has a breakdown and dies. Mirjam has to be admitted to a mental hospital after the outbreak of an unexplicable mental illness, probably schizophrenia.

Mendel Singer is withdrawing more and more from life. The most remarkable thing is that he stops praying. He is angry with God. What has he done to deserve such a fate? The parallel with the biblical Job is obvious.

Still, even after the complete collapse of his existence, life has a few surprises left for Mendel Singer. When a grammophone record plays a beautiful melody from his home region, Mendel finds out that this touching record is called Menuchim’s Song. And one day the composer of this song is by a strange coincidence giving a concert with his orchestra in town and is investigating about an old man, Mendel Singer. He wants to bring him some news from his son Menuchim…

Job is a great novel. It is very touching, without being sentimental. It is written in a very beautiful prose. It is well-composed. It has very interesting parallels not only with the biblical Job, but also with Joseph, Jacob’s youngest son. And it is asking interesting questions regarding belief and moral. It is a story that will stay with you for a very long time when you read it.

Joseph Roth knew about what he was writing. He was born himself into the world he is describing in Job, but he had the chance to grow up in Vienna. In the 1920s and early 1930s he worked as a journalist for the best European newspapers. His salary when he was working for the liberal Frankfurter Zeitung is said to have been the highest of any journalist. Beside from that Roth was an extremely productive author of novels and stories.

For those who don’t know him Job is (beside Radetzky March) probably the best starting point to discover his work. Since Roth objected Austro-Fascism as well as Nazism, he was forced into exile, where he drank himself slowly to death. His catholic funeral in Paris 1939 was attended by his friends, by Otto von Habsburg, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by representatives of the Jewish community, and by a delegation of the Austrian Communist Party. His grave is at the Cimetière parisien de Thiais, where also Paul Celan and Yevgeni Zamyatin, Leon Sedov and the Albanian king Zog are buried.

 

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Joseph Roth: Job, transl. by Ross Benjamin, Archipelago Books, New York 2010

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Javier Marias a Snob?

Javier Marias, the eminent Spanish novelist, has recently published a text “Seven Reasons Not to Write Novels and Only One Reason to Write Them” in the Threepenny Review (and reprinted by the Independent). You can read Marias’ text here:

http://threepennyreview.com/samples/marias_su14.html or here:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/javier-marias-there-are-seven-reasons-not-to-write-novels-and-one-to-write-them-9610725.html

I was dumbfounded by this article and like to comment on it.

First, it is very superficial to give the impression that the reasons not to write and publish novels outweigh the reasons to write and publish them by 7:1 – this is not a football match Germany-Brazil, Mr. Marias, but a question that is decided on an individual basis by each (potential) novelist and by each reader of novels based on qualitative and not on quantitative criteria. I suppose that any “real” novelist (you use the term without defining it) doesn’t make a list first with reasons “Why I shouldn’t write this novel” and another one with reasons “Why I should write this novel”. This is not how the mind of a genuine storyteller works – and I am sure you know that.

You claim, Mr. Marias, that there are already too many novels and too many people that write them – too many according to what criteria? If it is the quality of the books and novels we read – and I see no reason why we should waste our time to read badly written, boring or uninspiring novels – then there can be never enough novels and enough novelists that write them. And no, Mr. Marias, the existing novels are not “demanding to be eternally read” (at least they never raised their voice with such a demand when I am standing in front of my book shelves). Many of the novels that were published up to now will fall into oblivion in the future because the readers will decide not to read them anymore and maybe because they will prefer to read some of the novels that will be published in the future and which they will consider as more interesting, entertaining, relevant to them.

And, Mr. Marias, with all due respect, but why are you such a snob? Because novel writing doesn’t require (in theory) a higher education or special training, you seriously assume that any potential novelists will not write or publish a novel? Because it is, as you say (and I strongly disagree), an activity that “lacks merit and mystery” and because (potentially) everyone could do it, any novelist will in all seriousness decide not to write his novel? I rarely came across a more snobbish and conceited statement by an intelligent person and writer I otherwise admire for his published novels.

My strong guess, Mr. Marias, is that neither Goethe, nor Flaubert, nor Tolstoy, nor Kafka wrote or published novels in order to become rich – and that is true for probably 99.99% of all novelists. (The bunch of Dan Brown, Paulo Coelho, and the like I consider as hacks, not as serious writers)

The same goes for your argument that a novel is not a guarantee of fame. Maybe I am naïve here, but isn’t the main driving force for all storytellers and writers the wish to tell and share a story that is meaningful to them, in the hope it might be entertaining and even captivating to others as well? An author that starts his writing process with the thought of possible immortality is in my opinion a case for a therapy. So why exactly do you picture your colleagues as being driven by the strong wish to make busloads of money and to become immortal and world famous?

And no, Mr. Marias, also your sixth reason not to write a novel is ridiculously wrong. Writing novels (or any other kind of prose) indeed flatters the ego – maybe in another way as you seem to imagine, but it does. To be able to tell a story that is gripping readers or listeners can be an extremely rewarding activity, as you should know better than me.

And, Mr. Marias, please stop whining about the “abnormal life” of writers and the “great sufferings” they have to experience. They are not suffering more than any human being, and not all of them are alcoholics either.

But when you are trying to tell us, Mr. Marias, that only brilliant people like yourself should publish novels in the future, I will gladly forgive you. For I will trade with the greatest pleasure one hundred shallow articles like this one of yours for one page of your next novel.

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.