Anaïs Nin is my beloved witch, capable of making the nebulous frontiers between imagination and reality dissolve away into oblivion with one well-maneuvered flourish of her metaphorical pen, her personalized magic wand. Or I see her in my mind's eye, as a lovely but shabbily dressed seamstress, patiently weaving a patchwork quilt of exquisite beauty out of the gossamer strands of time.
Does art imitate life or does the opposite hold true?
Where does life begin? Where does it end? What lies in between? What does it all mean?
Anaïs Nin attempts to answer these hazy, unanswerable questions by giving us a snapshot of the perpetual movement of time and the phantasmagorical spectacle of humanity caught in its web, establishing without a doubt that there's no end, no beginning and no middle. Life is ad infinitum.
Dreams and reality collide in her writing, exploding in a dazzling array of fireworks illuminating the obscure part of our consciousness, giving us brief flashes of the realm in which the ultimate truth lies cocooned in the protective covering of the mundane, slumbering peacefully - the truth about life and beauty, love and lust, happiness and grief, the extraordinary and the common.
Collages is exactly what its title implies and much more than what our feeble imaginations can conceive upon the utterance of this word. It is not about a nation or a set of natives, a single protagonist or many, one life event or a set of discrete occurrences. Anaïs Nin renders perfect delineation unnecessary, makes clearly visible lines of divide vanish without a trace. Instead, vignettes, eerie and abstract, tangible and solid, merge and fall into each other, clumsily yet seamlessly, to create a surreal painting, a collage of the human consciousness holding the random admirer in thrall, glaringly all-encompassing in its wild, colorful abandon even though the viewer strives to make sense of it. But isn't life just like this baffling, bizarre work of art that Anaïs Nin begets? Comprehension stays forever out of reach. Even when we feel it floats mid-air at arm's length, attempts at trying to grasp it remain thwarted.
As Renate pours her beautiful, meaningless dreams into her empty canvasses, falls in and out of love with Bruce, drifting through space and time, touching the lives of many we get an impression of life's fluid grace and its capacity of encasing the infinite. The diseased, old man who shuns the company of his loved ones, preferring to live in a cave by the sea with a few seals as companions, the heart-broken French consul's wife who grieves for her broken marriage and vindictively contemplates finding a Turkish lover, the clairvoyant film critic who describes for Renate the scenarios written by struggling writers which never saw the light of the day, Nobuko who fights to free herself from the suffocating, rigid civility of the Japanese way of life - these are but a handful among the many myriad shades and facets of humanity shuttling in and out of Renate's life causing vague but perceptible upheavals. The quietly floating gondolas of Venice, the ochre-hued sand dunes of an African desert, the peaks of Peru and palaces of Marrakesh, upscale avenues of New York and streets of Arcadia, California all make fleeting appearances in this stunning collection of interlinked snippets, dismantling in the process all man-imposed barriers between nations and cultures and presenting to the reader an eerily arresting picture of life in all its glory and imperfection.
I don't care about Anaïs Nin being mostly recognized as a writer of literary erotica since I beg to differ on the subject of this categorization. I don't care about the fact that she shared an incestuous relationship with her father. But what I definitely care about is discovering and appreciating more of her splendidly assembled collages.
I give this book 5 stars to spite the myopic David Gilmours and the V.S. Naipauls of the world who think books written by women are irrelevant. I give this 5 stars to make up for the many 1/2/3 star ratings it may receive simply because of Alice Walker's forthright, honest portrayal of unpleasant truths that are often conveniently shoved under the carpet so as not to disturb the carefully preserved but brittle structure of dogma and century-old misconceptions.
And I award this 5 stars, symbolically on Banned Books Week as an apology for all the cowardly sentiments of the ones who misuse their power by banning books, thereby shutting out many powerful voices which demand and need to be heard.
In my eyes, an author's merit lies not only in their sense of aesthetic beauty, but also in the scope and reach of their worldviews which must reflect in their craft.
Alice Walker's is the voice of one such African American writer that recounts a story which not only breaches the boundaries of an issue like emancipation of women but tries to detect a common pattern in problems plaguing civilizations across continents. She gives us one horrifying glimpse after another into the lives of women ravaged by unspeakable brutalities like rape and abuse, lives searching for meaning and connection and seeking out that elusive ray of hope amidst the darkness of despair.
And by the end of the narrative, she brings to light with great sensitivity, that misogyny, sexism and blind patriarchal prejudices are as rampantly in vogue in the urban, upscale sphere of American cities as they are in the intractable, untameable African landscapes.
Celie and Nettie. Shug Avery, Sofia and Mary Agnes. Tashi and Olivia.
All these are but different names and many facets of the same disturbing reality.
If the lives of Celie and Nettie are torn apart by sexual abuse and humiliation from childhood, then Tashi and other unnamed young African girls of the Olinka tribe are victims of genital mutilation and other forms of psychological and physical torture.
If the men of African American families dehumanize the female members to the point of treating them as mere care-givers and sex slaves, then the objectification of African women by the men of their families is no less appalling. And contrary to accepted beliefs, white families in America are just as easily susceptible to misogyny as the African American families are.
But Alice Walker doesn't only stop at opening our eyes to the uncivilized aspects of our so-called civilized world, but also shows us how knowledge of the world and people at large, self-awareness and education can help exorcize such social evils, how it is never too late to gain a fresh perspective, start anew and how empowerment of women eventually empowers society.
Dear David Gilmour, if I were a professor of English literature I'd have taught Alice Walker to my students without a shred of hesitation, because here's an author who may not possess the trademark sophistication of Virginia Woolf's lyrical prose but who, nonetheless, fearlessly broaches subjects many masters and mistresses of the craft may balk at dealing with.
Alice Walker: 5 | David Gilmour: 0
Either this book failed to do what it set out to do, or I went in with the wrong expectations. Whatever the cause, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock did not have any appreciable impact on me.
You see, I read this book hoping to gain some insight into the mind of a school shooter. Someone like Kevin Khatchadourian, just not so inherently evil. I wanted this book to scare me, stun me, make me question, make me think, maybe break my heart a little.
What I did not want this book to do (and what it essentially did) was give me a long list of excuses for why this guy was walking around with a gun in his bag.
Now, I'm not trying to undermine the gravity of the situation here. Leonard has had a tough life; has endured some horrible things. He's depressed, he's lonely, he's been bullied, and I understand how difficult that is to get through. But isn't that true for a lot of teenagers?? Not everyone lugs a P-38 to school though. Shouldn't there be something more? Something in the way Leonard's mind works? Something to do with the person that Leonard is rather than the circumstances?
"They've become an army of super weeds, intent on strangling superior life forms."
"We all get shit thrown at us by jealous little wannabes. It goes with the territory."
"Evil and brutality lurk in the human heart. If they are allowed to develop freely, they flourish, putting out dreadful offshoots...."
"Our entire nation will have to pay for all these wrongs and this unhappiness, all the crimes we have committed. Many innocent people must be sacrificed before the blood-guilt we've incurred can be wiped out. That's an inexorable law in small and large things alike."
"....Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion. They are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven's music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life."
"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." - Rebecca West
"You are precious, Michaels in your way; you are the last of your kind, a creature left over from an earlier age, like the coelacanth or the last man to speak Yaqui. We have all tumbled over the lip into the cauldron of history: only you, following your idiot light, biding your time in an orphanage, evading the peace and the war, skulking in the open where no one dreamed of looking, have managed to live in the old way, drifting through time, observing the seasons no more trying to change the course of history than a grain of sand does. We ought to value you and celebrate you, we ought to put your clothes and your packet of pumpkin seeds too, with a label; there ought to be a plague nailed to the racetrack wall commemorating your stay here."
"School is the unavoidable choker around the neck of youth, and I confess that it is a valuable piece of jewelery indeed. What a burden we would be to our parents, workers, passersby, shop owners, if we didn't have to go to school!"
"The more big and important a polite person is, the more benevolence his civility has."
"Not only boys can bear grudges against other boys in such a way, so too just as well can grownups against grownups, mature adults against mature adults, and I would venture to say, nations against nations. A vengeance or revenge can collect in the heart of a nation due to self-regard that has been injured in various ways, and it grows and grows, without end, becomes more and more pressing, more and more painful rises up like a high mountain no longer to be cleared away, obstructs any mutual understanding, inhibits warm, healthy, reasonable reciprocal communication, turns into twitching nervous fury, and is so tyrannical and degrading that it can one day no longer be reined in and cries out wildly for bloody conflict."
"Autumn was beautiful, with its brownish melancholy that seemed attractive and happily right to me, while in May the blossoming trees and all the singing and wonderful smells plunged into sadness."
"Restlessness, uncertainty, and a premonition of a singular fate may have been what led me, in my sequestered isolation, to pick up my quill and attempt to create a reflection of myself."
"A book bewitches and dominates us, it holds us spellbound, in other words it exerts a power over us, and we are happy to let such tyranny occur, for it is a blessing. Anyone captivated and gripped by a book for a given time does not use that time to initiate gossip about his dear fellow man, which is always a great and crude mistake."
"I have sometimes heard people talk about so-called harmful reading, e.g., infamous Gothic novels. That's another story we shall avoid getting into but we can say this much: the worst book in the world is not as bad as the complete indifference of never picking up a book at all. A trashy book is not nearly as dangerous as people sometimes think, and the so-called really good books are under certain conditions by no means as free of danger as people generally like to believe. Intellectual things are never as harmless as eating chocolate or enjoying an apple tart or the like. In principle, the reader just has to know how to cleanly separate reading from life."
"But soon enough he was cheerful again. Love of humanity and the sorrows thereof, a lust for life and the pain therefrom, rose exquisitely up like tall ghostly shapes in the pale, golden air of the summer evening. Softly the figures seemed to wave to him."
"Like the rain, I had brought tragedy into many people's lives but, more often than not, rain also brings relief, clarity, and renewal. It washes away our pain and prepares us for another day, and even another life. Now that I am old I find that the rains follow me and give me comfort, like the spirits of all the people I have ever known and loved."