Friday, April 29, 2011

Review- You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

Many years ago, I watched the movie You Can’t Go Home Again starring Chris Sarandon and Lee Grant and wanted to read the book. When I tried to read the book, I found that I could not understand any of it and set it aside for years. I returned to the novel once more, now older and much wiser, and found that the movie did the book a great disservice; the book is a thousand percent better. I don’t know what version of the book the producer and director of the movie read, but the book I read carried much more weight than what they tried to attempt on film. For You Can’t Go Home Again is a prime example of a Great American Novel, the novel that represents a part of America’s history through the eyes of one character; for this, we have eyes of the author George Webber. George begins our story as a wild eyed and frustrated author trying to make it in 1920s New York. His lover, theatre patron Esther Jack, is one of the few outlets in his life that can soothe him; however, he is driven to do something great, something that will change America and the people who occupy it. He comes from the Deep South, a place during this time that is frozen in their ways and beliefs; George was one of the lucky ones who escaped to seek a better life. Later in the book, he must return to Libya Hill to attend a funeral of his last living relative and it is there that he witnesses the death of his town by the hands of those who live there.

After his first novel is published, a scathing and yet accurate telling of his home town, Libya Hill is in an uproar over having their dirty secrets revealed to the rest of the world, not so much because of the acts themselves but that he chose to write about them with such frank honesty. This act begins George’s learning experience of “home”; what it is and where it truly lies. Throughout the remainder of the book, his travels back to New York and in Europe are his searches for a new “home”, one that will accept him for who and what he truly is. New York takes him as a literary darling, complete with those who seek to use him for their own gain, while Nazi Germany loves him like a son, even under the dark cloud of Hitler and the stirrings of the beginning of World War II. He makes friends and lovers then quickly leaves them, for no one is truly permanent in George’s life. To him, it is better that way, whether he wanted it or not. In the end, we see not only redemption and hope for George, but for the rest of America as well.

After reading this novel, I felt proud to have read it. Strange emotion to have for a book but it did happen; this book is a Great American Novel, a task that few novelists can truly achieve. At times, Wolfe’s style of writing locks eyes with you and refuses to let you go until something makes better sense, or something is clearer to you now than before. This is a novel of dreams and hopes dashed and rebuilt, created by sentences and paragraphs that simply amaze the reader. I found myself underlining whole paragraphs because something in them spoke to me, something tugged on my heart as not only an American but as an author, for as I stated before, this is not only a novel of an American man, but of American history. For example:

And by his side was that stern friend, the only one to whom he spoke what in his secret heart he most desired. To Loneliness he whispered, “Fame!” – and Loneliness replied, “Aye, brother, wait and see.”

Another favourite of mine is this:

If fools are fools, then let them be fools where their folly will not injure or impede the slumbers of a serious man.

And yet again is another great paragraph:

“Great trains pass under me,” he thought. “Morning, bright morning, and still they come – all the boys who have dreamed dreams in the little towns. They come forever to the city. Yes, even now they pass below me, wild with joy, mad with hope, drunk with their thoughts of victory. For what? For what? Glory, huge profits, and a girl! All of them come looking for the same magic wand: Power. Power. Power.”

Thomas Wolfe was clearly a master of the English language to write such lyrical and poignant verses; it was simply not enough to just write a scene or a person’s thoughts. In my own opinion, I feel that Wolfe had to give the full experience to the reader so as to truly understand his own thoughts and feelings as described through his characters. Foxhall Edwards, Webber’s publisher, is one such example. During the course of one morning spent in his home, readers catch a glimpse of a man who is, on all outward appearances, calm, intelligent and a part of the Elite. However, the inside is quite a different story; he spends his thoughts thinking of how the world has changed and breathed new and different life around him through women. His wife and daughters represent everything that is wrong to him and yet he realizes that he cannot escape it. For as he walks through his home to enjoy his breakfast, he no longer recognizes his home, thanks to interior decorators employed by his wife. When he reaches his table, he is no longer sure of himself and his new surroundings but does realize that it is because of women, whatever IT is. Then, a strange event occurs; Ruth, his fourth daughter, comes down for breakfast and enters into a rather tension filled conversation with her father, who is obviously trying to reach out to her. He sees her as a possible guide in understanding this new world and forces her to accept this role, while Ruth merely wants to eat her breakfast and flutter away to school. Wolfe draws out every other word spoken by Ruth, fitting for an exasperated and frustrated teenager who is trying to get away from her boring father, while Fox’s words are concise, tense and deliberate. Then, just when we can no longer bear it, Ruth escapes her father and flutters away like a little bird, happy in her new freedom while Fox sits, ponders and the world goes on.

You Can’t Go Home Again is a book of an American Dream, a dream of freedom, a clear voice and the rest of the world’s attempt to destroy no matter how good the intentions. Thank you, Mr. Wolfe.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell (1819 - 1891)

128. The Present Crisis

WHEN a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time. 5

Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,
When the travail of the Ages wrings earth's systems to and fro;
At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,
Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth's yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future's heart. 10

So the Evil's triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod. 15

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;—
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim. 20

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light. 25

Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 't is Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong. 30

Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,
That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion's sea;
Not an ear in court or market for the low, foreboding cry
Of those Crises, God's stern winnowers, from whose feet earth's chaff must fly;
Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by. 35

Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own. 40

We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market's din,
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
"They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin." 45

Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,
Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;—
Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play? 50

Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 't is prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied. 55

Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design. 60

By the light of burning heretics Christ's bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back,
And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned
One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned
Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned. 65

For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn. 70

'T is as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves
Of a legendary virtue carved upon our fathers' graves,
Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;—
Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time?
Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, that made Plymouth Rock sublime? 75

They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past's;
But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free,
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee
The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea. 80

They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom's new-lit altar-fires;
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day? 85

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quote from the book You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

"Already his next novel was begun and was beginning to take shape within him. He would soon have to get it out of him. He dreaded the prospect of buckling down in earnest to write it, for he knew the agony of it. It was like demoniacal possession, driving him with an alien force much greater than his own. While the fury of creation was upon him, it meant sixty cigarettes a day, twenty cups of coffee, meals snatched anyhow and anywhere and at whatever time of day or night he happened to remember he was hungry. It meant sleeplessness, and miles of walking to bring on the physical fatigue without which he could not sleep; then nightmares, nerves, and exhaustion in the morning."

What a great way to describe the life of a writer. I think it's rather fitting.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review - A Severed Wasp by Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L’Engle was best known for her young adult fantasy classics such as A Wrinkle in Time. However, she also wrote adult novels such as the book A Severed Wasp, the sequel to the book The Small Rain. World-renowned pianist Madame Katherine Vigneras has returned to New York from Europe with hopes for a quiet retirement filled with playing daily on her piano. However, she is asked by her friend and former Episcopalian bishop Felix Bodeway to perform a charity concert and soon her life is up in a whirlwind once more. Through the planning of the concert, Katherine makes new friends with not only Felix’s small network of people but also the tenants in her home on 10th Street. Yet, all is not well for the Madame, for she is now the target of obscene phone calls, vandalism and flared up jealousies from both her past and her present. Although she is a woman of strength and much character, she is also haunted by her past, of her times spent under Nazi rule while living in Europe and the atrocities she and her husband, Julian, faced. This is the world of Katherine Vigneras told in an expert fashion my L’Engle.
This was my time ever reading L’Engle and to be quite honest, I was not sure if I was going to like it or not. I purchased the book at a library book sale and was later pleased to know that I had a First Edition for only $2.00. For almost a year, I passed by the book many times as it sat on my bookshelf while I always read another book. Finally, I chose it and opened to the first page with less than enthusiastic expectations. How wrong I was, for I found myself reading the book with great and rare abandon and even taking many breaks at work just so I could sneak a couple of pages in. L’Engle writes with such simple charm that shows off her powerful voice. She wrote the characters without fluff and quite believable, making me wonder if perhaps some of them wee patterned from people she knew in her own life. Katherine, the main character, is somewhat withdrawn, aloof, professional without being too elitist, and genuinely has a passion for music. Since I did not read The Small Rain, I was thankful in that the book did make enough references to Katherine’s past with regards to its influence on her present as well as what kind of person she was and still is.
One subject matter that weighed heavily throughout this book was guilt. It seemed as though most, if not all of the characters, suffered from some form of guilt. Everyone had secrets to hide and yet they came to Katherine to confess for they knew she would listen. Everyone’s guilty past and how they handled it gave strength to their own character, for it only added to their realistic tendencies and their relationships with each other. Even the children in the book had guilt over secrets in their life and yet they acted more like adults because of said guilt.
Another subject matter that played a part in the book was sex. Sex between married people, sex between lovers never to meet again, sex between people of the same sex and even imagined sexual fantasies of a dark and sinister nature created lines of familiarity between the characters in the book. In my own opinion, sex and love are two different matters; however, the two were quite joined at the hip in the book and yet it seemed so natural. Sex and guilt, such driving factors in humans and yet if we did not have them, would we no longer be called human? Do those two ideas give us the clear separation from animals? Or, perhaps, does it mean something darker than what we can admit not only to ourselves but also to each other? Many questions with answers left up to everyone who reads the book.
Regardless of my posed philosophical questions and thoughts, A Severed Wasp was quite a joy to read and an even greater joy to review. I am looking forward to going backwards to read The Small Rain to make my knowledge of Katherine Vigneras and her world complete.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tea Taste - Organic Double Green Matcha Tea

Tea Taste – Organic Double Green Matcha Tea

When I visited Phoenix last year, I had the pleasure of attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony at Matsuri and fell in love with the bitter and yet refreshing matcha tea. Since then, I have searched high and low for a similar tea that would remind me of such a sacred and yet educational time. Well, the look is over; The Republic of Tea, one of the better tea companies out there, has created an Organic Double Green Matcha Tea. As I am typing out this review, my cup sits nearby, cooling to a decent temperature so that I can enjoy the first sip while remembering a fond memory.

First Sip: I added a spoonful of clover honey to my cup; clover honey does not make any item sweeter but rather accentuate the flavour. I could barely taste the honey. First sip was clean and fresh without a hint of bitterness. This is a tea worthy enough to be used in a tea ceremony, even though it comes in round tea bags. When I opened the canister, a small green puff of green floated out of the can, reminding me of the powdery matcha within each bag. The green liquid reminds me of freshly mowed grass and with each sip, refreshes my palate more and more. This is definitely a tea for the Spring and Summer months, or just any time of the year. I have yet to be disappointed in any tea produced by The Republic of Tea and this one will be added to my repeat purchases. Thank you, Republic of Tea! This Citizen is most pleased.

Rating: A+

Happy Cups!