Some thoughts on a few recently read books

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Bala gave this edition to me as a gift a few years ago. Just got around recently to reading it. It was much better than I anticipated. Then again, although I haven’t read any of Bellows work until now I always knew he was considered a great American author. The central idea that resonated for me was the main characters battle against the eternal “I want, I want, I want…” (pg, 250) The use of an African safari of sorts is an interesting device for his self-discovery. From the minute I began reading I actually believed that Henderson would end up being the new, and unwilling king. I thought the ending, seemingly ending with him “adopting” a young orphan boy, perhaps as the “re-incarnation of his Lion-king friend”, unexpected and touching. The front cover image is also striking in its simple graphic translation of the books title.

One particularly exceptional passage; “All human accomplishment has this same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is it not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, Imagination, Imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!

Hiroshima Notes by Kenzaburo Ōe

After reading this book one thing I will say is that I am glad the author of this text Kenzaburō Ōe is still alive. I only just learned this after reading his wikipedia page.. One, wonders what effect repeated years of visits to Hiroshima post-Atom bomb, may have had on Mr. Ōe even though he is seemingly in good health these years later. Or for that matter it’s population. It is no surprise that he won the Nobel Prize in 1994 for literature. The book is first of all highly humanizing. In that both it’s message and effect to and on the reader is one of deep humanism. For some reason although the entire work is full of deeply humanizing passages the last 3-4 pages had the most impact on me. I read them at the laundromat crying (although lightly), deeply moved. The work is among other things a deeply political book putting forth a strident although not, shrill anti-nuclear position. How could one not however? Yet, it is true as the author writes that even back then the horror of Hiroshima was quickly drowned out by the horror of the Holocaust, WW II, the Cold War and a myriad other events. By focusing so perfectly on the experience of the residents of Hiroshima, Ōe is able to repeatedly return to the idea of the ultimate dignity of these citizens, who are struggling painfully towards death. He writes of them, “Only through lives like theirs do dignified people emerge in our society.” Furthermore, by emphasizing the unknown and long term nature of the nuclear problem he is able to point to the far reaching consequences of our current misguided nuclear pursuits. He ends by laying out two positions. The first interestingly is the argument that he is “above all a Japanese writer”. The evidence he believes, is that he has faced Hiroshima as a fundamental focus of thought (pg, 180). The last, is simple. Ōe warns of possible self-destruction, at our most basic level (DNA), of our own humanity. Ōe closes, “The most terrifying monster lurking in the darkness of Hiroshima is precisely the possibility that man might become no longer human.

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