Friday, October 10, 1997

Freedom Or Death

by Nikos Kazantzakis
translated by Jonathan Griffin

This 500-page monster is another novel, set during the 1889 rebellion in Crete, soaked in the joy of living, rife with graphic fighting, killing, sex, feasting, drinking, and deep, calm  spirituality.  Kazantzakis' obsession with the duality of human nature is everywhere apparent, for example in the opposition of the wild Captain Michales to his blood brother and sworn enemy, the pleasure-loving Turk Nuri Bey; in some minor characters' attempt to reconcile sainthood and enjoyment of the earth; in the lusty old grandfather's final question concerning the meaning of life; the juxtaposition of the very old and the newly adult, the dead and the fortunately alive.  Many scenes are quite memorable, showing a bloody knife fight or men who get drunk and jump for the joy of life over the corpse they are supposed to be watching.  The final scene of death and sacrifice is the most powerful.  It's a great book.

four stars

Thursday, October 2, 1997

Another Country

by James Baldwin

Again, Baldwin has written a brilliant, impassioned, philosophical and brutal novel of life stripped down to its harsh realities: race, gender, lust, sex, love.  To begin with, Baldwin breaks all the rules by introducing the reader to Rufus, makes the reader care about him, and then kills Rufus off.  The next 280 pages describe the aftermath of this loss in Rufus' circle of friends; but he's not the center of the world, far from it, and other shattering and life-affirming events happen to the characters that have nothing to do with Rufus.  Still, his presence is felt in all their stories.  In some ways this novel was very hard to read.  Some of Baldwin's observations on love, giving, taking and needing are so unbearably accurate that they can't help but evince strong emotion.  A complex and immensely powerful novel.