June 2009


The Secret Scripture
Sebastian Barry

Irish novels probably rank among my favourite and that must have something to do with the bleak side of me. I mean they are almost exquisitely hard and pessimistic whose characters have such an enormous Atlas-like burden on their shoulders. Then there is a rain (which I love), hunger, poverty and of course omnipresent utterly rigid Catholicism (which I absolutely dislike). So I guess this must be such a fertile ground for producing marvelous books which are staying with you long after you passed them further.

“The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Barry (Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008) is no exception. It’s beautiful almost poetic novel about personal history but also history of Ireland. And of course such a painful histories they are. Past and present are interweaving through the “Rosanne’s Testimony of Herself” and “Dr Greene’s Commonplace Book”. Rosanne McNulty is a hundred years old patient incarcerated in an asylum (“madhouse”) where she spent a lifetime of many and where she’s writing her story. Dr Greene of course is employee in the asylum and is coordinating process of moving patients into another institution since the current one is about to be demolished. And he’s not quite sure about what to do with Rosanne, whether she should be free woman or kept in the institution. And he starts to write his diary about Rosanne as well but mostly about his life, his marriage, wife, getting older… But Rosanne is more and more becoming his main interest. It’s very interesting to see two parallel stories (Namely Dr Green is not aware of Rosanne’s writing) when he investigates Rosanne’s story from other sources.

“In Rosanne McNulty” (as it said on the books’ blurb) “sly, confused, defiant, passionate – Sebastian Barry has created one of the most memorable narrators in recent fiction” and I can’t agree more. This is surely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

It is so hard to even imagine such a horror people were facing in the early 19th century, especially if you live in Ireland and you are Presbyterian (not Catholic) woman. Powers priests have had in those times is unbelievable and  the things they were doing I guess in the name of religion, lives they ruined is so hard to digest. However both Rosanne and Dr Green aren’t accusing, moreover they are explaining things from more compassionate and forgiving point of view (I wouldn’t) which is giving fantastic balance between the novel and the emotion the story is producing in reader.

There are no many characters in it which is giving great opportunity to entirely build those few. Portraits are fantastic, no one is without skeleton in the closet (I forgot the expression Barry used) but in spite the sinful past they don’t have compassion toward the ones who are passing through the same misfortune they passed years before. Gosh, such a hypocritical, self-convinced-good Christian society.

This novel grabbed me strongly and I was so greedy so that last 100 pages (which almost half a novel) I eaten in one swallow. And in one moment I shouted … something [I’m not going to tell you what cause it would be such a spoiler] and then I started sprint toward the last page. When I reached it and close the final page I had literally need to stand and applause!

Beautiful, beautiful, novel! Highly recommending!      

OK before you enter this site I’m advising you to empty your mouth and sit preferably on the chair without wheels. I spilled coffee all over my desk plus I was sitting on the chair with wheels. I almost fell. Apparently I’m very late but I just discovered Dickipedia. It’s the same as well known Wikipedia but “slightly” different. It’s “A wiki of dicks”.

It has quite huge list of all sorts of dicks: Political, Entertainment, Sport, International, Media, Miscellaneous etc –dicks and under each category list of them. I must say I checked only few and I’m so bookmarking this site! Each entry starts with usual introduction and at the end goes their title of dick! Then you’ll find history and present live that on numerous occasions confirms their dickness! There are lots of name there. Just to name some with little glimpse of their story:

Hillary Rodham Clinton

“…Clinton’s campaign strategy originally hinged on how many voters would confuse her with her husband. As the candidate pool got narrowed down to Clinton and a black man, Barack Obama, news reporters became increasingly focused on the divide between white women and African-Americans. Clinton decided to take the only appropriate course of action for a woman in her situation: exploit the latent racism among white men. Luckily, just before she dropped out of the race, she was able to salvage her public image by suggesting her opponent could potentially be assassinated.

In 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state by a group of Republicans she bonded with over mutual hatred of their new leader….”

Sarah Palin

“…Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain performed perhaps the greatest political mindfuck in American history by announcing that he had chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin celebrated by ovulating…”

Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Alois Ratzinger)

“…he is a dick who holds a position historically held by dicks, and which actually requires you to wear a hat that kind of looks like a dick… In his first recorded instance of hypocrisy, 14-year-old Joey Ratz (as he was known around “the neighborhood”) joined the Hitler Youth as one of their “future Aryan supermen” or “super-dicks.” The Pope Formerly Known as Ratzinger now insists that his membership in the Nazi Party was “unenthusiastic” and that he refused to attend meetings, which is a lot like saying you’re just a “casual member” of the Klan and only participated in, like, four or five lynchings, tops.

Another notable feat of hypocrisy was Ratzy’s attendance at Saint Michael Seminary while simultaneously training in the German infantry’s anti-aircraft corps. The dickish ability to see no conflict between Jesus’ commandment to love thy neighbor and Hitler’s commandment to violently murder millions of Jews should have served as a sign that the Papacy couldn’t be too far off.

…Benedict XVI has said that rock music is the work of Satan and has spoken out against such pagan/devil worshippers as Bob Dylan”

Of course there is a (real) Dick (Cheney) as well! I just really don’t understand how on earth George W Bush (or the one without W) is missing??? Gosh, he’s not even a dick!

"The Castle in the Pyrenees" in Serbian

Few weeks ago Mr. Jostein Gaarder, famous Norwegian writer was a guest of Belgrade. He was promoting his latest novel “The Castle in the Pyrenees” published last year in Norway and whose first translation in any foreign language appeared precisely in Serbian by my favourite publishing house Geopoetika. Somehow I think that’s quite fair, that we translated this novel first and to have him here among us. Namely Mr. Gaarder is one of the most popular authors here in Serbia, certainly one of the most popular foreign authors.

My experience with Gaarder’s books is of course related with Sophie’s World, novel which completely changed (or should I say “created”) the way I see philosophy. That book has taught me more about philosophy than entire course in my high school. Therefore that certainly was one of the most important books I’ve read during my education. After that I’ve read The Solitaire Mystery and I must say I wasn’t thrilled that much (although many of my friends were). And I believe that’s all I’ve read from him but nevertheless I’m sort of looking at him as if there’s no need to write anything else after “Sophie’s World”.

Anyway when I saw that his coming in Belgrade, of course I just couldn’t miss that.

That was the day when Joseph (“for friends Joe”) Biden, US vice president was in Belgrade as well and that meant trouble. Namely we didn’t want that anything unpredictable happens to Mr. Joseph Biden so entire town was blocked. The route I would drive for 10 minutes I had to walk for more than hour. I had to circulate around the city center and if you happened to live there and weren’t at home police wouldn’t let you in forbidden zone. The fact that you live there was irrelevant. No when I think folks who stayed in their homes have been whole day in quarantine, they couldn’t get outside and the blinds had to be closed (I’d prefer be outside the “zone”).

I reached Pavilion Cvijeta where I’ve found zillion people who managed to come in spite collapse in the city.

It was really lovely evening. Mr. Gaarder was in the very cheerful mood; he never expected how many Serbs are learning Norwegian (he talked the same day at the Department for Scandinavian Languages at the Faculty of Philology) and indeed it’s one of the most popular foreign language at the University. (Surprisingly) I DON’T speak Norwegian 😉

Mr. Gaarder and me (sadly someone called him in last moment so he turned his head)

Me with Mr. Gaarder (sadly someone called him in the last moment so he turned his head from the camera). May 20th 2009. Belgrade

He talked about his new novel of course (hopefully he didn’t say too much spoilers although I believe I’ve heard some things that I’d prefer not to know prior reading) but also about his other novels, process of writing, some things from his personal life, his views about current geopolitical situation in the world, Norwegian society … etc. It was very interesting indeed. Sadly I was at the balcony and out of his attention’ reach. Namely I was constantly raising my hand to ask a question but he never raised his head so he didn’t noticed me. When signing my book I told him that indeed he is such a rationalist (he said that when answering question about religion) but I never expected that he never raise his head towards the sky, otherwise he would see me there frenetically waving to as a question. Speaking about rationalism I liked how he described process of creating one of the characters in his latest book. Namely there is a clash of two ways of understanding the world: one of the characters is rationalist and explains everything thru the science which is close to his [Mr. Gaarder’s] way of thinking so there were no problems with that character. But in order to create persuasive, real character who represent the other way of understanding the world and existence in spiritual way he had to give her strong arguments. And since that wasn’t the way he represents he had to read books to try to understand better that ‘other side’. So the final result is that now, in comparison with the moment before he started to write this book, he is much more close to those spiritual, big secrets. But still he is more rationalists type. In one interview he said that recently he spoke with one famous neurologist who told him “We know nothing! It’s completely a mystery! And not only that we don’t understand the world, but we never will!”. And those were the words of one neurologist! (here is that interview. It’s in Serbian)

As I said he spoke about his fears and problems and he reminded me on something I used to say years ago: “If I could be born again I would SO love to be Norwegian!” I mean his preoccupation and fears are world poverty, global warming etc. Wouldn’t you love to be a Norwegian as well? At least for a day? Or two? Or few months? Maybe years?

Personally my favourite moment of the evening was one anecdote he said when answering about the question whether the children more intelligent than elders because kids are often very important characters in his books (or something like that, I don’t remember well). He said of course there are kids who are more intelligent than other kids. There’s no generalization and then he said what he heard from one American reader few years ago. He wasn’t sure was it during Clinton’s or Bush’ administration (but you’ll see it doesn’t matter. It could easily be Obama’s as well):

After listening President’s speech on the TV her daughter asked her:
– Mom why President always say in the end “God bless America”? and mother was confused so the girl explained:
– Why doesn’t he say “God bless the world?”

This is one very intelligent kid indeed!

Guy next to me on the balcony was recording the evening so for those who are interested here it is. (Gaarder spoke in English)

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