Wednesday, March 09, 2016

But You Did Not Come Back

This small memoir - almost a booklet - stood on my shelf for a few weeks after I received it. The first day, I had scanned the opening page, but then I closed it and set it down.

It was too important to rush through, and I had a busy couple of weeks ahead of me, so this morning I picked it up again.

Marceline Loridan-Ivens hadn't "self-identified" as a Jew, but that didn't matter: she was deported with her father to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a young girl. All the familiar unspeakable horrors unfolded there, and from the first line, my eyes were hesitant to move down the page. I always have the feeling, when reading books like this or when watching movies about the Holocaust, that I'd rather not hear it all again but that I owe it to Germany's victims. And Russia's, and China's, and Uganda's, and Yugoslavia's. Syria's. The world's. My discomfort, my revulsion and my tears, are the very least of the tributes I can offer.

Marceline's father on the men's side managed, somehow, to pass a letter to her on the women's side. The letter contained, Marceline knows (she is sure), his urgent message of hope for their future life, and an exhortation to her, to survive.

But she has no memory of the words. She has no memory of where she lost the letter, or anything that it said.

Seventy years have passed since Marceline left Auschwitz, then left Bergen-Belsen, and marched through Czechoslovakia to a repatriation camp. She rejoined what remained of her family, and has carried Auschwitz-Birkenau with her, through all the mess and tragedy, up until 2016.

She lives in Paris. She sees the hatred that still burns against the Jews throughout the world. After decades of work as a documentary film-maker, she sees the failure of any system, of any nation, to establish either unity or peace.

Nearing the end of her life, she has written this memoir as if it's an ultimatum to us, to humans. All the terrifying events of her time in the camp, her time afterward - if there can be an afterward - and what she sees happening now...all these things unfold in bare, stark prose over only 99 pages.

I didn't cry a single tear during those 99 pages. It was all just too horrible, too full of despair, too unthinkable.

On page 100, there is a single sentence. That sentence, written so recently the ink is barely dry, caved me on myself and made me weep. I won't tell you why.

Read "But You Did Not Come Back".

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Just the kind of thing I like.

An interesting Christmas, this year -- my once-weekly job evolved into a bit more than intended and on top of extra classes to teach, as Thursday is my usual timeslot in the yarn shop, I had the unpleasant novelty of working Christmas Eve.

Everything turned out well, though, and we had a very merry Christmas day. My daughters cobbled together their money and bought me an impressively large gift card for Kobo, so I did some Boxing Day shopping and am now neck-deep in "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand", which I'm finding both enormously touching and killingly funny.

The Major found much to admire in America but also felt that the nation was still in its infancy, its birth predating Queen Victoria's reign by a mere sixty years or so. Generous to a fault -- he still remembered the tins of chocolate powder and waxy crayons handed out in his school even several years after the war -- America wielded her huge power in the world with a brash confidence that reminded him of a toddler who has got hold of a hammer.
It's full of wry, quotable sentences filched from the musings of its title character, whom I very much wish I could meet in real life, but am keenly aware that I wouldn't measure up to his notions of good manners.

Today I have the rare pleasure of being home alone. My husband has taken the kids to Nanaimo to shop, giving me a good few hours of lounging on the sofa with a chocolate in one hand and my e-reader in the other. I even have my glasses off, a technique I've developed in order to stay relaxed in a living room slightly too messy for true comfort.

My warmest, albeit late, wishes to you for a Merry Christmas. Don't forget -- we're only on the third day of twelve, so keep the Yuletide spirit going with a well-placed glass of champagne, some seasonal music, and pajamas at all hours.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Revivification Cordial

Piper's been gone a's so surreal strange weird sad. I miss him a lot.

One day I received a letter from the vet, in a card of condolence. She wrote,

Wow, that was a tough one. 

But we have a saying, "Better a few weeks early than one minute too late", and I think that applies to your situation with Piper.

I'm grateful for her words -- not that I wasn't sure we were doing the right thing, but it was a relief to hear her say it.

And now, of course, I'm terribly sick and have been in bed for three days. The stress got to me.

I've been throwing back gallons of my magic potion and it's making me feel loads better. I've been knitting a lot, too, which is marvellously buoyant to the spirits.

Maybe I'll take some photos and put up a new post next week. Wonders, they never cease.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Buried Giant

If you haven't read Kazuo Ishiguro, you should treat yourself and pick up one of his wonderful books. "Remains of the Day" is on my desert-island list, and I've just finished the beautiful "Buried Giant".

This is one of those very satisfying novels which, while you're reading it, plays you like a violin. I so much love the way authors can create pathetic fallacy in its most real incarnation, by engineering the reader's inner sky - the weather inside me changing according to the events of the story.

The husband and wife have forgotten something. It's important - it's part of their past and the story of their love and their youth, but the mists that lay over the land have clouded their memories and lulled them. They know there is something, but don't know what or why or how to get it back. So they set out to walk from their village, to find an answer they aren't even sure exists.

While reading this book, I felt the stirrings of puzzlement and curiosity precisely where, I think, the author wanted me to. They come and go, these stirrings - sometimes, they drop away out of sight so fast, and leave all quiet and placid, and you're left wondering whether they were ever there in the first place. In the same way, you sometimes wake up, heart pounding, hearing not a noise but the echo of a noise. And you listen hard for a few seconds, and soon you doubt you ever heard anything in the first place. Then, a few minutes later, you are back asleep and dreaming, sure there was nothing, after all.

I talked out loud to this book. I exclaimed several times "Who IS this guy?!" and many more times I furrowed my own brow in concentration, as the main character furrowed his, trying to lift his own memories off the page and into my mind.

Do yourself a favour and dig up "The Buried Giant". It really is the most marvellous thing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

five years and two days and one lesson

Grief is like

Grief is like...

I'm staring out the window. I'm half done the thought before I even realize I had started thinking.

There's no manipulating it.

There's no rewriting it or changing its nature or...

I'm looking down at my empty hands. The house is quiet.

There's no changing its nature or...

Both doors are open. Front and back.

We don't have a fence in the front. We haven't had the door open; standing open, thoughtlessly open, for seven years.

But it stands open now.

There is no changing its nature or cutting it short.

I was distantly surprised today when I felt, in a shock of painful, visceral recall - an ear-piercing moment of echoing, microphonic feedback from a past life - the need to hurt myself.

There is no escaping it.

There is no changing its nature or cutting it short. 

In fact, here is the truth.

Grief is like nothing.

Grief is itself.

Grief is itself, and only itself. It doesn't have a simile because it is the metaphor. And you cannot change it and you cannot move it and you cannot escape it, or negotiate or plead or remonstrate with it.

You can only feel it. You can only sit with it and in it and through it. You can only let it be in you and around and through and over you.

It is the sole defining process of our lives, the learning process, the growing process.

You are inside it, and filled with it, and whether your eyes are closed or open, you cannot see or find or imagine a way out. You can only wait.

And you must wait.

So I will wait.

Piper, I will miss you until I see you again.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Green Road

This is a great book. Not a beautiful book, not a 'nice' story or an easy read, in some ways, but it's a great book.

Depressing as hell though.

It's extremely character-driven, and these characters aren't super likeable. The central problem of a woman who pushes away her children and then complains that they're gone, is so ubiquitous as to be boring...but I was so interested in the children, that the mother just seemed like background noise to me.

Man, I really don't like Rosaleen.

There is a moment at the end of the book, where one of the sons is walking through his childhood home, taking pictures of small features of the place where he grew up. A photo of the bathroom tap. A photo of a doorknob, of wallpaper, of a banister. This scene really struck me. It made me realize how all of the small details slip away as we age - all those tiny critical things that we associate with our childhood.

Close your eyes and think for a second...can you recall what the bathroom tap looked like, from your eye level when you still had to stand on tiptoe to reach it? Do you still remember how the screen on the back door smelled when you pressed your nose against it? Can you picture the print on your grandma's kitchen curtains, or remember what it felt like to open that old-fashioned fridge?

It seems Anne Enright can. And that's why I kept reading, almost without stopping, all the way to the end.

Monday, May 04, 2015

At the Water's Edge

Today I finished "At the Water's Edge". Sara Gruen, the author, also wrote "Water for Elephants", which I read not too long ago.

In this novel, set in early 1945, the main character is an American woman visiting Scotland with her husband and his best friend. Back in Philadelphia, they are socialites with more money than direction or purpose, and their trip to Scotland in the middle of World War II is more of a frolic than anything else.

They are after a sighting -- and hopefully photographic proof -- of the Loch Ness monster. This fact, coupled with their truly awe-inspiring rudeness toward everyday, working-class people, alienates the sympathy of the local populace with surprising speed.

Mild hijinks ensue and our heroine, frequently abandoned at the inn while the men go adventuring for days at a time, winds up interested in, attracted to, and understanding of the hardworking locals.

I have to admit, here, that I didn't feel captivated by this book. The conflicts seemed overly contrived, and because the villain spent so much time off-stage, I didn't feel very invested in or concerned about the threat to our heroine. I never really believed she was in any danger -- certainly none that a bit of stiff upper lip couldn't prevent.

With all its faults I preferred "Water for Elephants" to this one. Still - I'm glad I read it and it was a nice way to pass a few hours over the last week or so.

Up next -- Kazuo Ishiguro does it again!