Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Search

Man's Search for MeaningMan's Search for Meaning 
by Viktor E. Frankl

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.” - Victor Frankl

I first encountered Frankl's book as a reading assignment for a seminar led by Stephen Covey. I will never forget the first time I read it. It was exciting for its lessons and its inspiration. It was and continues to be one of the most inspirational books that I have ever read. That first reading led to subsequent readings which cemented its place in my own personal reading pantheon. Along with the works of Aristotle, Plato, Thoreau and others I have drawn support for my personal philosophy for living. It is an unlikely combination of one part personal memoir and one part psychology. But the two parts complement each other, producing an impressive argument for living your life with freedom through strength of mind and character.

I was impressed with the ability of Frankl to describe his experience in the concentration camps as one in which he was free. That is his mind was free because the guards could not control his thoughts and in that sense he saw himself with more freedom than they had. He concluded from these experiences “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” He goes on to say:
"We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life--daily and hourly. Our talk must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual." (p 85)
This is a deeply important paragraph with many lessons for Victor and his fellow prisoners as well as his readers. One aspect reminded me of the lessons I learned studying Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics where he also emphasized the importance of right action, right conduct, and taking individual responsibility. In Book Two he discusses the nature of virtue as it is concerned with feelings and actions. For Aristotle it is necessary to have the right feelings at the right times for the right things and for the right purposes. He goes on to discuss the actions of individuals and the nature of virtue but through all of this there is an aim towards the good and as Frankl says "the responsibility to find the right answer to life's problems.

Victor Frankl's personal experience through all the difficulties of immurement and physical deprivation make his story all the more powerful. He subsequently developed logotherapy (considered the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy" after Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology) which suggests an approach to life that is both positive and life-enhancing. I would recommend this book to all who are looking for guidance in finding direction in life.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Poem for Today

The Caged Skylark

As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage,
    Man's mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells —
    That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life's age.
Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage
    Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
    Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest —
Why, hear him, hear him babble & drop down to his nest,
    But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

Man's spirit will be flesh-bound, when found at best,
But uncumberèd: meadow-down is not distressed
    For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, from Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Folio Society, 1974.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Notes on John Donne, I

 John Donne's Poetry 

Song: Go and catch a falling star

Go and catch a falling star,
    Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
    Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
            And find
            What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
    Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
    Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
            And swear,
            No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou find'st one, let me know,
    Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
    Though at next door we might meet;
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
            Yet she
            Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

John Donne, born in 1572,  is probably generally familiar for quotations from his writings. Perhaps his best-known line, from Meditation 17 in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, a prose work, is often quoted as poetic: "No man is an island."
Donne is often considered a difficult poet. Other metaphysical poets, such as Andrew Marvell, have enjoyed a steadier, if less glamorous, regard, since much of their poetry is more accessible. Donne, who almost never seems completely accessible even at his most seemingly transparent, requires great dedication on the part of the reader--and, perhaps, gives more lasting rewards.
A division in Donne's poetry can be drawn between his early, sensual love poetry (often full of Christian imagery but carnal in tone) and his later, largely sacred poetry.   Many of his love poems, however , are considered from early in his career.  While publication dates may be available for some poems during Donne's lifetime, many of his poems were often circulated for many years in manuscript before publication was sought. Therefore, the dates of printing are meaningless as origination dates except as the latest possible date for any particular poem.  His hardships as an adult would eventually change him from the young spendthrift and sometime soldier who wrote "The Sun Rising" to the somber, almost death-obsessed writer of the Holy Sonnets and the Meditations of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.  In 1615, he became an Anglican priest, although he did not want to take Anglican orders. He did so because King James I persistently ordered it. In 1621 at the age of forty-nine, he was appointed the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London.  The importance of religion in his later writing does not mean that there were not religious references in his early love poetry.  For example in the song above, "Go and catch a falling star",  where he rejects the possibility of a "true and fair" woman.  The poem begins with rather brilliant lines declaiming the ephemeral and nigh impossibility of finding such a woman, but later  he suggests there may be hope:
"If thou find'st one, let me know,
    Such a pilgrimage were sweet;"
While not necessarily a Catholic reference one does not have to dwell to long on the line to think of holy pilgrimages, even poetic ones like that made famous by Chaucer.  The insertion of this does not lead the poet to believe that a true woman could be found for him as the poem ends:

"Yet do not, I would not go,
    Though at next door we might meet;
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
            Yet she
            Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three."

Another love poem has the poet battling with nature, the Sun in particular:

The Sun Rising

 Busy old fool, unruly sun,
               Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
               Late school boys and sour prentices,
         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
         Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

               She's all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world's contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

The poem begins with a bit of rant against the intrusion of the sun into the lover's bedroom lives.  It goes on to suggest their love is like an Arcadian ideal with lines like:  
"Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
         Call country ants to harvest offices,"
And it continues with the suggestion that love is not bound by the artificiality of the linearity of time as measured by more civilized selves.  
The lover's have banished those bounds, and consider wealth mere alchemy, but cannot ignore the sun.  So instead the poet chides the sun with the news that the center of the world that the sun warms is that bed of the lovers whose happiness is indeed more than that of nature.

In these poems and others including "The Bait" and "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" Donne demonstrates unique metaphors and a wit that is intellectually pleasing with its contrariness.  For example his arguments against the Romantic idealism of Christopher Marlowe's lyrical "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"  prove as delicious as the fishes swimming after the bait proffered by the poet's beloved:
"When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him. "
The poem ends with an ironic line suggesting the fishes that do not succumb to the bait are wiser than the poet.  It is complexity like this that might leave the reader with the feelings of a twentieth century man who is "bewitched, bothered, and bewildered".   This is a far cry from the Romantic ideal of love.  The poem follows:

The Bait

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the river whispering run
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there the 'enamour'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark'nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.

Useful generalizations about so large and varied a body of work as Donne's are not easy. He was a profoundly religious poet, with a peculiarly strong hold on and interest in the physical things of life. He used a unique lens to view his world, creating spectacularly unlikely comparisons that enlightened the reader on the nature of both of the things compared, sometimes in surprising ways. He continues to be read and discussed today, four hundred years after he lived.  I will continue my comments on his poetry and prose in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Poetry Collection with Variety and Excitement

Teaching a Man to Unstick His TailTeaching a Man to Unstick His Tail 
by Ralph Hamilton

"In the deep laws of space, other
realities are harder to avoid than
find---thus somewere the one
I love is loving me back" 

from "Stephen Hawking in Love" by Ralph Hamilton

The poet is a magician who creates what at first glance may seem like strange creatures - these poems. But upon closer, deeper examination, savoring each word, one discovers the familiar: the meanings, behind the sounds, that relate to your life. That is what I experienced in reading the poems in Ralph Hamilton's collection Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail.

I told myself: Concentrate. Concentrate really hard and turn off all the sounds. Then listen to the sound as you speak the words. Gradually the meaning rises from the page within and without the sounds--a part, and apart, as I thought about the poems like "The Mother, Broken". This poem has words that briefly built emotional depth as I read them. I could feel the depth inside me with each passing stanza. The moments that struck hardest were lines like "The heart is a clock" and later "The heart is a cloak". The movement of the poem grew within me to a point when the glass in the last stanza held "this dark wine". Moving moments occur in this and the other poems. Yet, there is a diversity among them and in some of the poems the words subtly grace the page strewn in patterns that have yet to yield to my analysis. In others the sound of the words bursts forth;  and the words demand a stentorian reading as in "Exultate". In this poem the words exude an effervescence that justifies the title.

There are poems which require a meditative approach and these, perhaps, are those that I savored the most enjoying the words and the silence of thought that followed. One of these. "Idyll" is seemingly delicate in its approach to desire, yet the the words break into a rougher mode with the line "savage in those primal woods". What woods are these toward which the desire on the "cloudless night" draws the reader toward "the thing desired" yielding both a caress and the harshness of Nature? Further meditation is warranted.

The poet demonstrates the control that I admire in truly good poetry. In the penultimate poem of the collection, "What Sappho Knew", the two line stanzas mimic the fragmentary nature of Sappho's poetry (that we have). But the poem also is held together by a water motif that appears in the first stanza and is repeated with words like "glided, floating, spilling, coursed," and "oceans". With water appearing only after more than a third of the poem has floated by. Would Sappho know life as well as water? The appearance of a child and infant near the end suggests that she does.

This is a collection of poems that vary in shape and style, sonnets and a prose poem, some with words that crawl about the page and others with words that jump off the page. It is thus a collection that was both exciting and enjoyable. I enjoyed the music of the poetry and found the challenge exciting even when poems did not share their meaning immediately. I look forward to returning to see what more these poems have to share.

Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton.  Sibling Rivalry Press, Little Rock.  2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Future Brain Networking

Nexus (Nexus, #1)Nexus 
by Ramez Naam

“We think of ourselves as individuals, but all that we have accomplished, and all that we will accomplish, is the result of groups of humans cooperating. Those groups are organisms in their own rights.”   ― Ramez Naam, Nexus

This novel reminded me of the science fiction that I used to enjoy, but no longer find nearly as interesting. The main idea, an experimental nano-drug, Nexus, which allows the brain to be programmed and networked, connecting human minds together, is interesting. But that is not enough to hold my interest for a whole novel. The story involves secret Government agencies, drug dealers, foreign agents, corrupt corporations and more.

There are multiple scenes of action and some suspense, though this did not create a reason for me to turn the pages. The action scenes were one of the aspects that impressed me the least while the scene of the action moves into southeast Asia. I've had my fill of mediocre science fiction set in the not too distant future in that part of the world.
The book raises some critical philosophical questions about emerging technologies and whether it is good to develop technologies that can be used for both good and evil. What are scientists' moral responsibilities regarding how their technology is used? The author is somewhat heavy-handed in his treatment of these questions (characters sit around debating these things a lot), but nevertheless they are important and difficult questions.

While many have found this novel exciting and well-written I was unimpressed by the writing and disinterested in the action. The best part of the novel was the appendix "The Science of Nexus" that lucidly explained the scientific genesis of the concepts upon which the "nano-drug Nexus" was based.  That was too late for this reader, however, those who like action scenes and a novel way of connecting human minds for communication may enjoy this more than I did.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Small Masterpiece

Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early YearsConfessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man 
(The Early Years)
by Thomas Mann

"How inventive life is!  Lending substance to airy nothings, it brings our childhood dreams to pass.  Had not I in boyhood tasted in imagination those delights of incognito I fully savoured now, as I continued to go about my menial occupations for a while, keeping my new estate as secret as my princedom had once been?  Then it had been a merry and delightful game, now it had become a reality" (p 253)

I recently reread Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man (The Early Years), Thomas Mann's last novel and a comic masterpiece. Felix Krull's confessions are filled with humorous episodes worthy of the Mann's story-telling mastery. Mann based the novel on an expanded version of a story he had written in 1911 and he managed to finish, and publish part one of the Confessions of Felix Krull, but due to his death in 1955 the saga of the morally flexible and irresistible conman, Felix, remained unfinished. In spite of that it is still one of the best novels I have read dealing with the question of identity.  It is that and much more.

Early in the story Felix learns to deal with circumstances by changing his character as needed and he continues to shift identities becoming whomever he needs to be in all the ensuing predicaments that he encounters. The expression of a latent admiration for a human being who can metamorphose himself into multiple identities reminds me of The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. That earlier novel is in a way a precursor to the modernity of Mann's unfinished opus. Felix Krull seems to view the world like a chessboard on which he can take pleasure in manipulating the pieces at will and cultivate his ambition and his knowledge of the ways of the world by spending whole days peering into shop windows.

There are three moments in the Confessions that exemplify the merging of identity and destiny of young Felix Krull. Early in the story Felix encounters an actor, Muller -Rose, whose extravagant operetta performance makes an indelible impression on him. The contrast between his stage character and his backstage repulsive self is a vision that impresses the young boy. The second moment occurs in Paris when Felix attends the circus. The performance of the acrobats and the high wire equilibrist Andromache were mesmerizing to Felix. "Andromache! Her vision, painful and uplifting at once, lingered in my mind long after her act was over and others had replaced it." (p 194)
The third moment occurs after Felix has settled into his identity as Venosta and is established in Lisbon. There is a bullfight which combines the flamboyance of the toreador costumes with the ravishing sensation of the duel to the death with the bull. Felix describes his impressions:
"the atmosphere that lay over all, at once oppressive and solemnly joyous, a unique mingling of jest, blood, and dedication, primitive holiday-making combined with the profound ceremonial of death." (p 375)
Each of these moments capture the sensation of Eros and Thanatos, pleasure and death, and form a counterpart to the often light-hearted way that Felix led his life as a confidence man.

He fools Venosta's parents with a lengthy letter that mimics the style of the man whose identity he has assumed and goes on to impress his contacts in Lisbon.  Yet, he maintains a calm demeanor throughout his escapades filled with confidence in his ability. The reader eventually succumbs to his charm in spite of an episodic life in different identities that was full of nervous suspense. It seems that Mann still had more story-telling magic left at the end of his life after World War II and decades after his great beginnings with Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice. The only regret is that Mann was unable to finish the novel; yet, the "early years" of Felix Krull still amounts to a small masterpiece.

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Changing Course a Bit

Summer Reading Plans:  updated

About a month ago I published a reading list that projected the books I planned to read over the Summer months.  I have finished four of those books:  The Cossacks, The Martian,   and Felix Krull: Confidence Man,  and Look Homeward, Angel;  I am in the process of reading My Name is Asher Lev
However my plans for the remainder of the Summer have changed somewhat so I thought I would update my list.  As it is now the second week of June the following is my revised list for the remainder of the Summer through the beginning of September.

1.  Selected Poems and Prose of John Donne:  This is for a class at the University of Chicago (Eula Snopes will have to wait until next year).

2. Nexus by Ramez Naam:  This is the June book for our Science Fiction book group.  In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind.

3. The Nibelungenlied:  This is an epic by anonymous about heroes (following my reading of  Thomas Carlyle earlier this year) and I was inspired to read it by the review at The Consolation of Reading.

4. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok:  This is  for our Thursday evening book group.

5. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton:  This novel won the Booker Prize and is a lively parody of a 19th-century novel.  

6. Mussorgsky and His Circle by Stephen Walsh:  I love music and this book should expand my familiarity with all the Russian composers of the nineteenth century who aren't named Tchaikovsky.

7.  Biographies of both John Donne and John Milton:   I am reading these in conjunction with the works by these authors.

8. Paradise Lost by John Milton:  This is scheduled for our study group discussion in August.  I have begun to reread this amazing epic for the first time in more than two decades.

9. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan:  I recently acquired the paperback edition of this Booker Prize winner and hope that it is as good as his Gould's Book of Fish.  It may help me stay cool during the heat of the Summer.

10. The Little Hotel by Christina Stead:  A friend recommended this book and it will be my introduction to yet another Australian author.

Some other tbr books that are not in the top ten may include:  The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan,  Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos, Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder, and  Europa by Tim Parks.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

A Young Man's Destiny

Look Homeward, AngelLook Homeward, Angel 
by Thomas Wolfe

"That we are born alone—all of us who ever lived or will live—that we live alone, and die alone, and that we are strangers to one another, and never come to know one another." (p 32)

Alone. This is a difficult concept to consider when thinking about the greatness both in size and content of Thomas Wolfe's first novel, Look Homeward Angel. The inclusion of so much of the world and so many other voices almost drowns out the voice of Eugene Gant, the narrator of this immense and impressive novel. But perhaps we should begin a consideration of this novel with the question of destiny. This is what we read in the first paragraph:
"A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world."

Is this destiny that of Eugene as well? And is it mere chance or will Eugene have a will to make his way in this world? This shows the direction of the story and, as it expands to take in the Gant family of Father, Mother, and siblings in Altamont, I was impressed with the translation of a country's manifest destiny into a town's and into a family's and beyond that the personal story and destiny of one Eugene Gant.

This translation of destiny is a story of coming of age told in what we today might call a "mash-up" of styles that leave the reader looking for structure among the historical commentaries, classical allusions, family rows, and soaring beauty of many more lyrical passages. The last of these alone made the book worth reading. Yes, it is worth persevering the Whitmanesque size of the narrative for some further passages of the beauty in the world that destiny had bequeathed to young Eugene Gant. While he is young and pursuing an education that seems unconventional, in spite of his attendance at the traditional schools, he is living a life of isolation from most of the world around him. There are exceptions, his relationship with his brother Ben is particularly poignant; yet there is a yearning for escape, from family and from Altamont to a world where Eugene may not feel quite so alone.

His estrangement from his own family is both exacerbated and caused by unlikable qualities from his father's boorish drunkenness to Steve's abusive behavior to his mother Eliza's self-centeredness. She is focused on a miserliness that builds a material fortune but does nothing for Eugene. With all his struggles Eugene remains detached from family and home; he seeks some solace with another family, the Leonards, and finds an "angel" in Margaret Leonard. But the stone angels outside his home remain a symbol that has warmth only in an ironical sense.

Wolfe writes near the end of the book that Eugene "stood for the last time by the angels of his father's porch . . . like a man who stands upon a hill above the town he has left, yet does not say 'The town is near,' but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges" (p 508). This is where his true destiny lies. This, perhaps, is a place where he will no longer feel the pangs of isolation or, perhaps, it is merely a dream of a destiny denied as yet. For this reader it is not unlike the statement of another young man, Stephen Dedalus, who at the end of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man says, "I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."

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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Commonplace Entry

Speaking About Music

I firmly believe that it is impossible to speak about music.  There have been many definitions of music which have, in fact, merely described a subjective reaction to it.  The only really precise and objective definition for me is by Ferrucio Busoni, the great Italian pianist and composer, who said that music is sonorous air.  It says everything and nothing at the same time.  Schopenhauer, on the other hand, saw in music an idea of the world.  In music, as in life, it is really only possible to speak about our own reactions and perceptions.  If I attempt to speak about music, it is because the impossible has always attracted me more than the difficult.  If there is some sense behind this, to attempt the impossible is, by definition, an adventure and gives me a feeling of activity, which I find highly attractive.  It has the added advantage that failure is not only tolerated but expected.

from Music Quickens Time by Daniel Barenboim

Stranger in England

The Enigma of Arrival 
by V.S. Naipaul

"I also bought a copy of The New York Times, the previous day's issue of which I had seen the previous day in Puerto Rico. I was interested in newspapers and knew this paper to be one of the foremost in the world. But to read a newspaper for the first time is like coming into a film that has been on for an hour. Newspapers are like serials. To understand them you have to take knowledge to them; the knowledge that serves best is the knowledge provided by the newspaper itself. It made me feel a stranger, that paper." 

The Enigma of Arrival is one of V. S. Naipaul's masterpieces. In this autobiographical novel he successfully conveys to the reader the atmosphere of the English countryside through the meditations of the narrator on his original journey from Trinidad to England. Through the mind of the narrator we experience the fictional reality of the world-a world of Naipaul's making. Echoes from both James Joyce and Marcel Proust are visible in the narration of the novel. This seems a quiet book, but it is a powerful one. The book is composed of five sections that reflect the growing familiarity and changing perceptions of Naipaul upon his arrival in various countries after leaving his native Trinidad and Tobago.

Most of the action of the novel takes place in England where Naipaul has rented a cottage in the countryside. The feeling of the place is palpable and the evocation of place is underlined by the physical effects and the history of the people and their artifacts. On first arriving, he sees the area surrounding his cottage as a frozen piece of history, unchanged for hundreds of years. However, as his stay at the cottage where he is working on another book becomes extended, he begins to see the area for what it is: a constantly changing place with ordinary people simply living lives away from the rest of the world. This causes Naipaul to reflect upon the nature of our perceptions of our surroundings and how much these perceptions are affected by our own preconceptions of a place.

As he re-examines his own emigration from Trinidad to New York, and his subsequent removal to England and Oxford Naipaul's narration illustrates the growing understanding of his place in this new environment and the intricate relations of the people and the land around them. The result is a magnificent read that is encouragement to savor other novels by this Nobel laureate author.

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