September Books

I finished reading the 4th book of this year, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan and by the look of it, it seems likely now that I'm gonna finish 5 books this year since the current book I'm reading is not very thick. The Narrow Road to the Deep North tells the story of Australian prisoners of war under Japanese occupation who were tasked to built railroad in Burma back in WWII. As an Indonesian who grew up in Indonesia, during history lessons back in school when I was a young'un, my curriculum back then (as I recall) only talked about Japanese occupation in Indonesia, in which we were taught of the Japanese word rōmusha which means forced labourers. It was only in my adulthood that I realized these forced labourers were also something that the Japanese did in other parts in South East Asia during WWII. One movie that deals with this event is Colin Firth's The Railway Man. That movie was based on a true story in which Colin Firth's character was forced to work on the railway in Burma too.

At the beginning I thought The Narrow Road to the Deep North would be about a love story, but it's actually not the main part of the story. The main story is really about the war and its aftermath. It gives detailed description of what it's like to be prisoners of war, the condition they're in. There is not just one word or enough words that can encapsulate how hard life was for the POWs. They didn't have decent or enough food, medicine, shelters. Most were naked because their clothes were worn out. They didn't have adequate tools to do the job of clearing the jungle and breaking rocks for the railroad. They had to work when they're sick and of course punishments were severe. It's really heartbreaking, there's so much suffering and honest to God, I don't know if I can survive that. It was such a traumatic experience and the book also tells the story of how it's like for the surviving POWs after the war. I was also pleasantly surprised that the book also tells the story of the Japanese officers and other staff after the war. One of the staff was actually just a young Korean boy recruited by the Japanese to guard the POWs. In my head, I often pictured the men as men, but many of them were just young boys. I wasn't having good days (still don't) when I was reading this book and reading how tough it was for the POWs, it's like God is trying to give me perspective and telling me to tone down my complaining because seriously I wasn't having it as hard as compared to these POWs. That being said, I still don't do well with my self-pity.

So right now I an reading Less by Andrew Sean Greer, it's the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction. This would make it perhaps the first time since I've started reading Pulitzer Prize winners for Fiction that I'm doing it in the year that it wins. Usually I started late in the year and it crossed to the next year. Less is quite light in topic, considering the story winners of years past have told. I've only started reading the winners from 2013 and there's always some tragedy in the story. I don't know yet if anyone is going to die in Less but so far I like it and I welcome the levity. It's about a guy who's avoiding the wedding of an ex-boyfriend that as an excuse he planned it in such a way that he would be travelling to several countries during the period the wedding was to take place. He's approaching 50, single, and there's a certain I don't know how to do life feel with him which I find endearing because of course it's something that I deal with constantly. There's these lines in the book that I can relate to.

What had Freddy meant, "the bravest person I know"? For Less, it is a mystery. Name a day, name an hour, in which Arthur Less was not afraid. Of ordering a cocktail, taking a taxi, teaching a class, writing a book. Afraid of these and almost everything else in the world. Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

As I googled that so that I can copy and paste rather than typing the words from the book, I saw several people are quoting that too in their blogs or what have you. You know, what you feel is never a unique experience in this world of many humans and yet why do many of us feel so alone? I'm not the only one who get that sentiment above. Freddy is right though, Less is brave because bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is marching on though you're afraid. That daily dose of courage is why he is so brave.

If The Narrow Road to the Deep North is like God trying to tell me that I am not suffering, Less feels like God telling me there are many others who are not figuring it out either like you do. I hope Less has a satisfying ending for me. Some people would argue, why don't you just go to church or something like that to hear what God really wants to tell you rather than searching for signs or being desperate for signs that you're like making out things in things that perhaps mean nothing at all? I don't know. Desperate people clings to everything I guess. There's this line from The Narrow Road to the Deep North that I find to be so true.

To have been part of a Pharaonic slave system that had at its apex a divine sun king led him to understand unreality as the greatest force in life.

If you think about it, it is so true. Hope for better days are the driving force of many people in this world. At the base of of hope is something that is not real yet, unreality.

:) eKa @ 9:30:00 PM • 0 comments

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