jueves, 27 de marzo de 2008

Native Son (2)

Publicamos hoy la segunda parte de los comentarios de CubanInLondon, con su autorización, sobre la novela Native Son. (Leer la primera parte).

Les recuerdo a todos que pueden enviarnos sus impresiones, críticas literarias, comentarios sobre libros que hayan leído, si lo desean, para hacerlas públicas en este club literario.

Native Son by Richard Wright (2) (contains spoilers)

Por CubanInLondon

‘... If only ten or twenty Negroes had been put into slavery, we could call it injustice, but there were hundreds of thousands of them throughout the country. If this state of affairs had lasted for two or three years, we could say that it was unjust; but it lasted for more than two hundred years. Injustice that lasts for long centuries and which exists among millions of people over thousands of square miles of territory, is injustice no longer; it is an accomplished fact of life. Men adjust themselves to their land; they create their own laws of being; their notions of right and wrong. (...) Your Honor, injustice blots out one form of life, but another grows up in the its place with its own rights, needs and aspirations. What is happening here today is not injustice, but oppression, an attempt to throttle or stamp out a new form of life. And it is this form of life that has grown up here in our midst that puzzles us, that expresses itself, like a weed growing from under a stone, in terms we call crime. Unless we grasp this problem in the light of this new reality, we cannot do more than salve our feelings of guilt and rage with more murder when a man, living under such condition, commits and act with we call a crime...’

With these words, defence lawyer Boris A Max puts the entire American society in the dock in the closing pages of Native Son. In order to understand the flaws of the American War of Independence and its subsequent Civil War, we needn’t look further than Bigger Thomas, here characterising the uneducated black man, coming from the lowest rung on the American social and economic ladder. As his options comprise no more than menial jobs, Bigger’s life becomes a trap, which feeds him nothing but resentment and hate. He fears the whites, who determine his existence and this fear makes him see the white race as a collective that tells him where to live, where to work and what to do.

The setting of the novel, black and white colours with shades of grey thrown in and cloudy skies, eases the reader into the desperate plight the main character, Bigger Thomas, has. He is the focus of the novel and the embodiment of racism in the psyche of its black victims. Bigger and his compadres suffer from a popular assumption that whites are sophisticated whereas blacks are either subservient or savage. All throughout the novel and up until the dénouement Bigger’s thoughts change from shame (of his family’s abject poverty) to fear (of the whites who control his life).

Native Son is one of those novels that, although they focus on social and political issues, draw heavily from the work of other writers whose oeuvre might not be directly related to the issues raised in the novel in question. In this case it's that other great American writer, Edgar Allan Poe whose short-stories are the leverage that produce the effect in the novel . In Native Son, I saw clearly ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. The feeling of paranoia caused by the ‘vulture eye’ in ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ is on a par with Bigger’s mix of hate and fear towards Mary Dalton. The criminal modus operandi is the same. Both perpetrators smother their victims. They both stay in the same room where their dead victim is, as the police or investigator search the premises. They both panic in a moment of self-consciousness. Poe’s narrator begins to hear a faint noise that grows louder and louder. Bigger avoids replenishing the furnace. The atmosphere is the same, repressed, silent, grim and cold.

There’s an important lesson in Native Son and it’s mainly aimed at the liberal, white, middle class person. Mary Dalton, the victim and turning point in Bigger’s life, professes a benign type of racism, one whose own naïveté escapes its owner. Richard Wright, very deftly, criticises Mary’s attitude towards blacks, and specifically towards Bigger. Her youth and immaturity do not allow her to see beyond those rose-tinted spectacles she wears and therefore she fails to recognise Bigger’s signs of confusion and surprise when she approaches him in a such an open and friendly manner. Her assumption that Bigger will accept her friendship proves to be one of many fatal errors she and Jan, her boyfriend, make.

This is not to excuse Bigger. I wrote in the first part of my analysis of Native Son that as a father and husband, Bigger’s deeds tested my liberal credentials. They still do. But I feel now in a much better position to judge, and not too harshly, this human being who, rather than acting, was re-acting to the society that put him in that condition in the first place.
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sábado, 22 de marzo de 2008

Déjame que te cuente...

Déjame que te cuente ... (Jorge Bucay)

[Reproduzco aquí este post originalmente publicado en Desarraigos Provocados]

Muy interesante la selección de cuentos del libro de Bucay, psicólogo argentino que ha escrito exitosos libros de autoayuda. La novela Déjame que te cuente ... trata de un paciente que busca apoyo terapéutico con un psicólogo. Este último siempre tiene un cuento que contarle para ayudarlo a enfrentar y a solucionar los conflictos generacionales, de pareja, de trabajo, entre otros.

Por cierto, Bucay diferencia a los escritores "de raza" de los demás que, como él, publican libros de autoreflexión y ayuda en la vida:

Sí creo que hay una jerarquía entre lo que significa la novela de un artista, de un hombre o una mujer que tenga la gran literatura, y la novela de alguien como yo, que no soy un gran escritor, ni siquiera, quizá, un escritor, sino alguien que escribió una novela.

Interesante, ¿verdad?
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viernes, 7 de marzo de 2008

Cisnes Salvajes

Publicamos hoy una reseña de CubanInLondon sobre el libro Cisnes Salvajes, de la escritora china Jung Chang. CubanInLondon la publicó primero en su blog pero también la comparte con nosotros en este espacio.

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.

'It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)'
Bringing It All Back Home
Bob Dylan (1965)

I close the book and shut my eyes. I clench my fists and open my soul. The tears in my eyes well up. My pulse races. My breathing increases. Outside, my body is inert. Inside, my body is a volcano about to erupt. But it's alright, Ma, I am just bleeding. I do not want to cry here, though. I am at the hairdresser's. My long single twists have not been touched for a few months and the untangling process is claiming my scalp as a victim. But my pain is not of the follicle variety. It has to do with the death of roughly 30 million people. 'Is it hurting?' 'No, it's fine'. 'You shouldn't leave your hair unattended for so long'. 'Yes, I know, but you know, lack of time'. 30 million people. Or maybe it was 20 or 40. Who cares? One man, supported by mainly an idea contributed to the demise of millions of his compatriots. What prices paradise? What prices Heaven? How can you measure a panacea in human lives? And is there a measure unit to assess how many humans are needed in order to achieve someone's utopia? 'I hope those watery eyes are not the result of my comb'. 'Oh no, don't worry, you have to do what you have to do and I have been too careless with my hair'. No, my watery eyes were the result of reading someone's story about worshipping a leader whose actions brought suffering and devastation on her family. For the next three hours as the hairdresser continues to do my hair I carry on reading (a different book now) but my mind wanders back to the one I have just closed. As soon as she finishes ('Well, remember, don't leave your hair tangle up so much, come back in six or seven weeks', 'OK, I will') I go out into the London night. It is drizzling (or spitting, as they say here), perfect weather to let out my tears. I switch the taps on and allow my feelings for those victims of utopias everywhere to show.

Certain books have the capacity to ask us questions, others, aim at providing answers. And then there are books that just open themselves to us, untroubled but with problems, blithe, yet serious. They deliver the content in ways we are unaccustomed to.

Wild Swans is one of those books.

Written by a Chinese woman, Jung Chang, the book traces the history of that Asian nation in the twentieth century through the eyes of three generations of Chinese women, Jung's grandmother, her mother and herself. From the time when concubines were still a commodity down to Mao's last years, Wild Swans is not just a memoir, but also a literary documentary with even a photographic feel to it. Jung Chang's descriptions of the Chinese countryside provide the book with a sentiment of infinity and vastness. The sheer size of the country serves as a background for all the political and economic battles that roll out in the fifty-odd years the memoir covers.

As the empire is overthrown in 1911, there follows a succession of historical events culminating in Mao's Cultural Revolution upon which the Chinese people have very little say and direct influence, yet bear the brunt of the fallout.

Needless to say it is the section that covers Mao's years where my attention focused the most. The reasons stemmed from a desire to know more about an event whose significance is hardly ever discussed in Cuba, but there was also an appeal that felt more personal, since Jung's life and mine mirror each other up to a certain extent.

Chang left China when she was 26 in 1978. I left Cuba when I was twenty-six years old in 1997. Jung majored in English language. So did I. The Chinese author found her 'knight without armour' in Britain. Although I found my 'lady under no distress' in Cuba, I can identify myself with her feelings for her other half. From an early age she showed a passion for books and it was this zeal that kept her sane throughout her hardship. In the early to mid-nineties as the Cuban economy nose-dived I was commonly found on buses, backs of lorries and any other means of transport reading placidly a novel by Jane Austen or George Orwell (the latter, in secret for reasons we all know) whilst all around me the world collapsed.

En brèf
, Wild Swans was a reminder of a bigger truth. Whether it be a socialist, fascist or theocratic state, people's oppression and the means to carry it through changes very little. One of the most telling moments in the book is when Jung Chang, still a firm believer in Mao Zedong's policies, wonders how it is possible to whip up the frenzy that most of her compatriots seem to suffer from and that leads them to carry out violent acts. What is it that turns normal, law-abiding citizens into beasts whose thirst for blood overcomes even the minutest sense of respect for fellow human beings?

The only possible answer I have is a cynical one. We already have those traits and provided the puppeteer is capable enough, he/she will be abel to trigger off a series of emotions and feelings that will act as a catalyst for us to carry out these hideous deeds. That will irremediably lead to chaos and destruction. Recent events support my theory. Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Rwanda. The situation is probably all the more despondent if the main colluding element is the state, the one body in charge of protecting us.

According to Jung Chang, Mao Zedong did not have a secret police, Stasi-, G2-, or KBG-style. He did not need to. His own people acted as both aggressor and defender at the same time. This fact reminded me of a comments made by Milan Kundera in his outstanding novel 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being', already quoted on my blog a few times. On referring to the events of 1968 in Czechoslovakia, when Soviet troops invaded the country and comitted all kinds of atrocities, the author says:

'Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they executed many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.'

There is no doubt that Mao was a murderer. Whether he knew what was happening in China or not (the excuse that some apologists and revisionists like to hang on to) under his mandate, the truth is that many innocent people died as a result of his narrow-minded and totalitarian attitude. But what about those who helped him? Let's go back to Kundera:

'Whether they knew or not is not the main issue; the main issue is whether a man is innocent because he didn't know. Is a fool on the throne relieved of all responsibility merely because he is a fool?'

And now let's read Jung Chang's comment on Mao's 'success' as a leader:

'He was, it seemed to me, a really restless fight promoter by nature, and good at it. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment, and knew how to mobilise them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. In doing so, he got ordinary Chinese to carry out any of the tasks undertaken in other dictatorships by professional elites. Mao had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship.'

From which my conclusion is, in the making of a dictator we all collude. Some, more passively than others, but we are all in it together. And no, this is not a pleasant thought. Because when I was reading Wild Swans (which I had to put aside a few times as there were parts too painful to read) I was suddenly reminded of the time when I could have done something. And yet, I remained silent. Or rather, I sat on the fence.

In 1992, on my way to my twenty-first birthday and half-way through my English course, I came across the subject Scientific Socialism, already downgraded from Scientific Communism, in uni. The teacher was affable and friendly and we did not think much of the content of his classes. He was a joker and that was enough. One day, my classmate Luis Gustavo, who had been at El Saul Delgado College with me and whom I knew very well, stood up to answer one of the teacher's questions: Was there freedom of speech in Cuba? Luis had a brilliant mind and he gave him a really thorough reply as to why he did not think that people in Cuba enjoyed the benefit of discussing and debating their ideas freely. The teacher's reaction was curt and abrupt. I was called next to comment on Luis' remarks. Since year 12 when I spoke against one of my classmates' expulsion from college I had garnered a reputation for being something of an articulate and rational person. Now it was my big moment of showing the same capacity for oratory to defend my friend. However, I failed. I chickened out. At the eleventh hour I looked into my future and forgot his. I babbled incoherently about a different matter, thus, diverting attention from the real important issue my friend had just called attention to. The teacher understood, my class understood, I think that even Luis Gustavo understood. There are many tales like mine in Wild Swans and this was partly the reason why Maoism triumphed where other systems had failed. Because they had people like me who put their personal interests above the ideals they cherished: the rule of law, independence of mind, rationality, accountability and respect for human and civic rights. As a consequence of his remarks, Luis Gustavo was expelled from uni. The teacher was never the same again. I was never the same again, either. A sense of guilt overwhelmed me for a long time thereafter. After a while, though, that feeling of culpability subsided. Wild Swans brought to mind what happens when we all become bricks of the same wall. Our solid surface provides the façade against which everyone crashes. And those who crash today will probably be bricks tomorrow.

The ending of Wild Swans serves as a reminder that sometimes happiness is found elsewhere, even if one is separated from one's country of birth. Even if one, Ma, is still bleeding.
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domingo, 2 de marzo de 2008

Veronika decide morir

Por Aguaya Berlín

Veronika decide morir, Paulo Coelho
1ra Edición Rayo, 2001

Un libro digno de ser leído. Linda historia. Veronika decide morir cumple 10 años de publicado en el 2008. Y me ha dejado pensando en muchas cosas...

Cuando su vida era una eterna rutina, sin cambios, sin emociones, llena de conformidades y angustias, Veronika decidió que debía morir e intentó suicidarse. Despertó en un manicomio. Allí transcurre la mayor parte del relato. ¿Son realmente más cuerdos los que están afuera? ¿Son más libres los que viven adentro? Hay quienes no quieren entrar... hay quienes no quieren salir...

Este es el segundo libro de Paulo Coelho que me leo. El primero fue El alquimista. Sé que habrá un tercero,un cuarto, un quinto... los tengo en el librero esperando en la cola. Estoy convencida de que Coelho llegó para quedarse.

[Este post fue publicado inicialmente en el blog Desarraigos Provocados.]
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