Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Exile - Books Worth Reading

I didn't realize that last month would be filled with stories of exile, and yet, it was.  I didn't plan it that way.  The universe provided the material and I drank it up.  I'm a little les anchored in my personal space, but in a good way.  Thinking makes it so.  

My rolfing therapist handed me this, and told me I would love it.

She was right.  I looked at the world with heightened sensibilities after seeing it through the eyes of a young girl growing up.  Why she and her father are alone in the world seems less important than the lessons he's teaching her, until the outside world intervenes and changes everything.  Modern conveniences take on extra dimensions, the simplest tasks are revealed as bewilderingly complex, and through it all there is a serenity and a hopefulness baked into the protagonist's DNA.  

Read it, then breathe deeply.  You'll feel the difference.

I reread Nora Ephron's Heartburn as a palate cleanser; her snarky prose still makes me laugh.  Then I picked up Madeline Miller's Circe and was, once again, in exile.
The Olympians and the Titans fight like the Hatfields and McCoys, and Miller makes them seem just that real.  Another young woman alone on an island, although this one consorts with Hermes and argues with Zeus.  Did you ever wonder about Scylla's origins?  Have you thought about Minos's reaction when his wife gave birth to the Minotaur?  And why would he name the beast after himself, anyway?  Those and so many other mysteries are described and explained and made real.... even as I knew they were not.

A knowledge of the gods and goddesses helped me.  Having read the Iliad and the Odyssey I had a ready made place in my brain for the questions Miller raised.  Bringing Penelope and Telemachos front and center at the end turned those stories somewhat askew - and I loved it.

I sighed when I read the last page.

From Little Cuter's office at Notre Dame, I took Call Me Zebra,

a fantastical picaresque, a jumble of quotations and philosophy and history, and a sad sad story of a young girl uprooted from her Iranian homeland and deposited in the outside - alone, well-read, but poorly prepared.  This is not a light read; every sentence is laden with meanings.... many many meanings.  There are references to literary figures unknown and known to me; at times it seems that the author's boundless knowledge has vomited upon the page.

But Zebra's internal journey, her commitment to discovering the why's of her exile, her single minded focus on expecting the best from everyone and schooling them when they fail to meet her standards, kept me gong through the rough spots.  

It's hard to dislike a book when a one of the main characters is a suitcase.

Yuval Noah Harari's Saipiens

tells humankind's history through comics.  The author visits laboratories and cave paintings and fossil finds while teaching evolution. It's easy to pick up and put down, giving you time to ponder.  The drawings are complex and full of random fun - the background characters in the airports and train stations deserve your close attention.  This one could be shared with middle and high schoolers; it's sure to provoke conversation.

And now, I'm going on to the newest translation of the Aeneid, by Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer
It's readable and enjoyable and maintains the meter and rhythm of the Latin (or so the reviews and her introduction told me; I'm not a Latinist so I can't say for sure.)  After all these stories of exile and displacement, I'm happy to return to the mother of all these adventures.  

All the same questions present themselves - Why not go home?  Where is home?  What if home no longer exists?  Is the journey more important than the destination?  What does all this tell me about myself, beyond what it says about the characters contained within its pages?

It's been a great month of reading.  I hope you like some of these - and that you tell me what you think in the comments sometime.


  1. That is quite an interesting selection. I am still adjusting to that darn detached retina and resulting wonky vision. I go for follow up soon and I am being hopeful that adjustments in me prescription will be effective.

    1. Sending healing vibes your way. Wonky vision is no fun at all.


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