Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Five of the books I read from 1946 had foreign lands or cultures as their subject matter.

Zorba The Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis, Simon & Schuster Inc, 1946, 311
This one took me quite a while to get into. I had thought it would be a happy book, but it had an underlying sadness. Zorba is an exuberant, irrepressible character, while the narrator is a writer/philosopher/reader. They meet up in a Greek pub and decide to go to Crete together, where the narrator has inherited a coal mine.

Zorba believes in living to the fullest, ignoring the church and morals, living by his own code of honor. He loves women, wine, food and work. He tries to get the narrator out of his head and into life. They never make a success of the mine. In fact, their attempts are a comedy of errors. They do get involved in the community and with women, but really nothing turns out well. But in the end, Zorba dances away his sorrows and takes off for his next adventure.

I liked it. It was a good change from all the serious war books. I also saw the movie which is a good reflection of the book.

Mine Boy, Peter Abrahams, Faber & Faber Ltd, 1946
There are two authors named Peter Abrahams. One writes mystery thrillers and this is not him. This Peter Abrahams is African and writes about countries who have been colonized and achieve independence. Mine Boy is one of his early novels, but the writing is so lyrical and beautiful that I was entranced by it.

Xuma comes from the country into Johannesburg. He is big, strong and goes to work in the mines. It is the story of a man growing up and becoming politically aware. Of course, he is black and through love and loss, happiness and pain, he sees some truths and finds his place in the way of things.

Thieves in the Night, Arthur Koestler, The Macmillan Company, 1946, 357 pp
Arthur Koestler has become one of my favorite writers. This is the fourth book of his that I have read for this project. He is very political but he is also a philosopher, a man with great insight into people and a tireless champion for freedom. He maintains a bit of humor, no matter how serious he gets, and a love for mankind as well as a realist's point of view.

Thieves in the Night takes place in Palestine in 1939. There have already been Jewish communes there for a generation because the Geneva Convention, which was held after World War I, gave the Jews a part of Palestine, though the Arab inhabitants were not consulted. This piece of idiocy continues to be an unsolvable problem today.

In this story, Joseph is a newly arrived member of a new commune. The English, who still rule the country as a colony, are backing out on their promises to the Jews in order to appease the Arabs. The Jews have by this time developed their own terrorist organization to combat Arab terrorism.

As far as I know, this is the first novel to explore the situation and I learned a lot. The Jews in Palestine are a communal group of people from all over the world. They came there for freedom but only found more suppression. They are the outsiders in this country, but they are mainly upright peoples working hard to improve conditions there. Because the two cultures are so different, there seems to be no successful way to solve the animosity, except through violence. Koestler presents the Jewish side of the story here. I am aware that finally, almost 70 years later, the Arab side is beginning to appear in fiction translated into English. It's about time.

All Men Are Mortal, Simone deBeauvoir, The World Publishing Company, 1946, 345 pp
For days after I finished this book, I was still trying to figure out what she was trying to express in the story. Her writing has improved since her earlier books but that doesn't make her meaning clear.

Fosca is a man who in the 1100s drank a potion that made his body live forever. He thought that would make it possible to accomplish his goals. The goals progressed from power for himself and his city to freedom for mankind. But of course, he couldn't achieve any of them. He just lived on and on and the world went through the cycles of birth and death, war and peace, victory and defeat.

In the current time, he meets an actress who only cares for fame. He tells her his history, which is the history of Europe since 1100, and convinces her that it is all useless. So my question is, does deBeauvoir really believe that or is she mocking the hopelessness as an evil idea? Her mentor, Jean Paul Sartre, as part of his existentialism, believed that a person should remain engaged in life, trying to do something about the world. Very puzzling book.

Then and Now, W Somerset Maugham, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1946, 278 pp
A different book for Maugham from others I have read. It is historical, set in Italy at the time of Cesare Borgia and Machiavelli. Borgia is intent upon a conquest of Italy. Machiavelli at this time is an ambassador sent from Florence to plead with Borgia in defense of his city. Machiavelli is a lover and seducer of women and only of minor importance in Florence at the time.

Not knowing much about the history of that time, I was a bit adrift, but the writing is excellent and the insight into human nature and the effects of power on individuals is quite spot on. I don't think Maugham was capable of writing a bad book.


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