American Prometheus

31/12/2009

Eugene Henderson suffers.  In the middle of his sixth decade, he yearns to ‘burst the spirit’s sleep’, to experience the deeper truths of life.  Tired of his American life, Henderson takes a trip to Africa, to the ‘bed of mankind’, in the hopes of silencing the voice of desire (‘I want, I want’) in his soul by smothering it with rich experiences  – experiences he believes can only be found ‘off the beaten track’.  Henderson flees the ‘privation of high conduct’ that plagues his life in the States.  Into Africa he journeys with his guide, the native Romilayu, seeking something like religious epiphany, a revelation to stir the sediment of his soul.  After a brief but fateful encounter with the Arnewi tribe, Henderson finds himself among the Wariri and in the company of their king, Dahfu.  It is Dahfu that prods Henderson awake and it is from Dahfu that Henderson – and, by extension, the reader – comes to understand the primary theme of the novel: the acceptance of death as a part of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Silk’s Iliad

08/09/2009

RothStainThe Human Stain

by Philip Roth

Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Coleman Silk.

Lives unravel.  Threads catch on unforeseen misfortune and the lace of our lives falls apart.  Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain, is the story of one such unraveling, that of college classics professor Coleman Silk.  It is also about the unraveling of three other lives: college janitor and Silk’s mistress, Faunia Farley; Faunia’s ex-husband and Vietnam War veteran Lester Farley; and, to a lesser extent, the woman who succeeded Coleman as Dean of Language and Literature at Athena college upon his resignation in disgrace, herself a model of institutionalised intelligence, equipped with the parlance of both the cynical graduate and French gentility, the woman Delphine Roux.  Roth, with his grand irony, weaves together the stories of these unweavings with his consummate hand, building in layers and daedalan braids an intricate web of dissolute threads, reminding us in the end that for the lives of all of us, for the most proud and humble alike, it is Klotho who spins the threads, Lakhesis who measures them out and Atropos who holds the shears.

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9780099771814

‘The Swede.  During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical  name in our Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city’s old Prince Street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete.  The name was magical; so was the anomalous face.  Of the few fair-complexioned Jewish students in our preponderantly Jewish public high school, none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed, insentient Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe as Seymour Irving Levov.’

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yidThe U.S state of Alaska is famous for its salmon, its forestry industry and its beautiful wilderness.  This land of great, yawning grizzly bears waiting for leaping salmon to join the salmon-pink tongues already in their mouths, the forests of spruce and birch, mammoth glacial drifts moving in melting slow-motion – this wonderland is no longer the exclusive domain for god’s finest natural creations, but has also become (in 1948) home to His chosen people, the Jews. Read the rest of this entry »

9781841154930Crafting a golem, as any rabbi will tell you, is a dangerous business.  One need only think of that popular patchwork icon of horror, Victor von Frankenstein’s monster, to know that they have the nasty potential, like any creation,  to turn against their creator. Read the rest of this entry »