Friday, December 30, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life -79 ( “All the light we cannot see” - by Anthony Doerr.... Lyrical meditations on war and its psychological ramifications)

Jottings : Slice of life -79 ( “All the light we cannot see” - by Anthony Doerr.... Lyrical meditations on war and its psychological ramifications)
The period between 1938 and 1945, the dark and painful period of Second world war still reverberates in Art, and literature in particular, like an unending ripple across the loom of time. Even though post war world brimmed with new found confidence and promised to be significantly different economically, politically, socially and culturally, the deep scars left by those torrid years of unimaginable brutality, primeval violence - both physical and psychological has left its indelible mark on Man’s collective psyche. Even after all these years memories of that appalling tragedy seems ineradicable no matter how much we wish to move away from its torrid memories. They spill over consciously and unconsciously into our writing, music and cinema and other arts.
None would have thought at the beginning of twentieth century our cosy world would crumble into chaos and confusion in matter of years. After all, 1900 began with a wave of optimism. Science had won its hard battle with theology, industrialism was revolutionizing the way we lived, Economists put forth theories of abundance and prosperity promising utopia, Art was breaking traditional formats and expressions, European powers were blooming with geniuses and were proud of their culture and imperial reach - and then 1914 happened. From nowhere, an inconsequential shooting incident in Sarajevo snowballed into collapse of European peace, and major nations quickly slid into war like of pack of cards falling on each other. The hardy Germans, since the time of Bismarck have been threatening to be world leaders by virtue of their race and blood. They smelt an opportunity to fulfill that prophecy and began their war with an assault on a neutral country (Belgium) . For five years they battled , until they were were overwhelmed and beaten by Allied forces into submission. The aftermath of the war left Germany devastated, and the treaty of versailles agreed upon and signed by victors, only added salt to an already gaping and infested German wound, and nothing else. There was no way they could pay the heavy repatriations the treaty demanded, or handle the shame and humiliation they were subjected to lying down. It was a matter of time they would recoup. While the world rejoiced in the thought that they had once and for all put an end to the German problem; in a dingy, festering prison camp, a short, mustached man thought otherwise. His dream, anger, charisma, racial hatred and vaulting ambition gave birth to the second world war, hundred times more devastating and painful than the first, and more importantly bought to bear upon the world the most shameful and uninhibited barbarism ever recorded in human history. Churchill described the rise of Hitler after the first world war thus .. “..the void was open, and into the void after a pause strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatred that has ever corroded the human heart..” . True!! It couldn't be summarized better.
The above paragraph was meant to give my younger readers a rough and sketchy historical context . To be in the middle of a full scale war as an involuntary victim or pawn, and not a active participant is an agony and existential distress hard to imagine for all of us who havent yet felt any anarchy around us. While there may be many factually accurate non-fictional accounts of two world wars in academic and popular press, the emotional and intellectual life of common men and women pulled into war because of circumstances beyond their control can glimpsed only through sensitive literature and art, and by master story tellers. From the pages of Shirer’s “The rise and fall of the third Reich” or Churchill’s six volumes of second world war or Hannah Arendt incisive book on “origins of totalitarianism” , we could , at the most, get an impersonal, abstract sense of historical direction , but never the inner microscopic life of men and women who had to live through each day of bloodshed and brutality with no prospect of a future, and only an obliterated past remaining with them.Their emotional condition, their daily lives in the middle of chaos, aspirations, empathy, fear of death, seperation from beloved ones - all these can only be sensitively depicted in a play, a book, a symphony, an opera, or a movie, a gripping photograph or a moving piece of painting. In other words, only art has the ability to snapshot and express private moments of Mans life in a crisis with all its inner tremors and palpitations. It needed a short diary of Anne Frank to open our minds to how intense was the jewish suffering . The holocaust and treatment of jews took a whole new meaning after the world read her diary. Her sensitive recollection of fear, emotional decomposition, uncertainty; and amidst all the turmoil, the solitary reaper of human hope and optimism she found in the german family who sheltered her - educated us more than any large, scholarly volumes on world war ever could.
Over the last half a century innumerable works of fiction have based themselves in the milieu of second world war. Scenes of battle, concentration camps, invasions and daring escapes, espionage, family life and many other themes have lend themselves to be embroidered into a fascinating by a competent writer. Herman Wouk, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Gunter Grass to name few that immediately come to mind, and many others ( the list can fill up a book) who have bought tremendous emotional resonance into their writing about war, and emotional state of an individual participating or caught in an unsolicited war. In the last decade or so, Markus Zusak’s “The book thief” based in Nazi Germany was admirably written for young adults. But by far the best book, in recent times on the psychological turmoil caused by second world war has to be Anthony Doerr’s’ 2014 Pulitzer prize winning novel “ All the light we cannot see”.
I bought this book in early 2015. It has been lying in my library ever since waiting for its turn, which eventually came last month. I have never read Doerr before. “At dusk they pour from the sky…” , so begins his beautiful novel on the incredible story of a young German boy and and blind French girl, whose disparate lives are torn apart by a war they dont understand, mysteriously find each other and psychologically redeem themselves in a momentary act of inner emancipation from fear and guilt. Doerr’s mediations on war, mesmerizing observations on man’s psych in a totalitarian regime, fluid poetic phrases and metaphors leaping out of sentences and paragraphs with stunning lucidity, his crisp narrative style zigzag chronologically in time carrying his emotionally, intellectually pregnant tale across across desolate towns and villages, and above all, Doer’s mastery of language and its evocative use makes this work of literature one of the poignant expressions of war manifested in the hearts of two lone sensitive individuals grappling with its depraved enormity, and maturing as they learn to cope with it.
This book has to be read in small doses like poetry, and one should find time to linger with Doerr’s meditations. In between poetic prose, Doerr exhibits meticulous mastery of facts as well. He writes about radio signals. snails, birds, guns, diamonds with equal felicity and poise. And at the heart of this beautiful story is a myth - in fact , a portent curse on the possessor of a jewel. It is Doerr's supreme artististry that he weaves the myth of this curse along with horrors of war and its rippling effects on his characters. “All the light we cannot see” is a multi layered novel. It is prismatic in its structure. Depending on the angle we study it from, the narrative reflects different shades of color and understanding. Finally, it is a story of hope, confidence and triumph of Human spirit. No matter how horrible the past has been, or how miserable the present appears to be, the future can still be wonderful and fulfilling. In concluding on this optimistic note, Anthony Doerr propels himself to that stratum of writers who writing qualify as classics to read and re-read again..
God bless…
Yours in Mortality,
Bala

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