Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Quiet American

I finished “The Quiet American” by Grahame Greene. It is a moving novel which explores the character of an English journalist, Thomas Fowler, and his relationship with his local beloved, Phuong and also his obsession with an American spy, Alden Pyle.

Thomas Fowler, the protagonist of the novel, broods over a variety of public and personal notions. Fowler quotes on the colonized Vietnam and its people, the First Indo China War and destructive interventions of the United States in Vietnam’s affairs which makes the novel a political prophecy. Furthermore Fowler broods over a host of personal issues including the nature of his relationship with Phuong, old age, loneliness, duty, and God. That Fowler touches different issues on two levels of public and personal makes the novel much appealing to the reader.

Fowler, the unreliable narrator of the novel stands as a cynical European and a Sartrean existentialism. He has non-romantic and unconventional attitudes. Fowler is a cynical Englishman who hates colonialism and foreign intervention in political affairs of the third world. That is why during the course of the novel he insists on disengagement. Although he sympathizes with the local people, and even chooses a local girl as his beloved, he declares that he does not take sides. This turns out to be an irony later in the novel when he is involved in Pyle’s assassination. Although Pyle’s peculiar naivety is of great interest to him, he chooses to take side (against Pyle) later in the novel. This irony reveals that it is impossible not to take sides in a chaotic world where a naive virgin like Pyle acts like a destructive colonial machine.

On a personal level Fowler is a beautiful character. His cynicism does not only concern neo-colonization and the like. He is a deeply cynical man inside his psyche. He is apparently in love with Phuong. His feelings are extremely unconventional for he openly talks of the carnal nature of his affection and calls it love. However he yearns for his definition of love. He is desperately in love with Phuong and the appearance of Pyle as a rival makes him lose his mind and even cry. Phuong for Fowler is no ideal woman. She is not a shining star in Fowler’s life. She is a companion who should accompany him in old age and see him to his grave. Phuong, for Fowler, is an escape from loneliness, and this is what makes her so precious to him. He has had better women, but Phuong is the one whom Fowler “has not injured”; who is simple and obsequious; who is the only person who can see him aging and die. He is not alone with Phuong and therefore she is his true love.

Fowler is in contrasted Alden Pyle. Alden Pyle represents the idealistic American who works for the early neo-colonial United States that seek to intervene in national affairs of third world countries who are wearied by the old Colonial powers such as Britain and France. Pyle is an optimist American who acts as a CIA agent in Vietnam and represents his country as a “third force” that should establish democracy. This idealism stems from Pyle’s naivety. He acts like a prophet of an American religion. Sacrifices don’t matter to him as far as they contribute to the establishment of American democracy in the third world.

Eventually Fowler’s act of stopping Pyle could be investigated in different layers. Fowler could have been jealous of Pyle’s love for Phuong, or he could see him as a destructive yet stupid CIA agent whose ideas were in contrast with his. A mixture of both could describe Fowler’s final act against Pyle.

Whether you like novels full of acute characterization and touching internal monologues, or whether your are interested in historical and political novels, “The Quiet American” is a good choice.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

I watched “The Dark Knight”. It had a totally new look on the super-hero Batman. Actually the only Batman I had seen before was Batman Forever, and back then I was sure I didn’t want to try a Batman again, at least because I’m a non-American. However after I heard that it’s Christopher Nolan’s (and to my surprise I didn’t know he had made the 2005 one as well) I decided to try it right away. Not to mention its being rated No.1 in Well I know It’s going to drop once it out of box-office, but never lies.

I saw this and I tell you, it was not a pulp which propagates a dull American-hero. I loved the realism and symbolism in it. The images were fantastic: Batman’s dual identity, Harvey Dent the lawyer’s changing into a Two-Face. Even the damsel died! This is all so modern and new for a traditional super-hero movie. The acting’s were also lovely. Good shot and If I were to vote for, I’d go for 7.5.


I read “Nausea” by Jean-Paul Sartre. It is about a man, Antoine Roquentin who, like Ulysses, after years of travelling and adventure resides in a small port in France and starts to write a historical book about a Frenchman of antiquity. However as the novel goes on, Roquentin’s life of utmost loneliness results in a series of peculiar contemplations by him during which he starts to look at ordinary and everyday objects and events in a totally new way.

During his contemplations, monologues and epiphanies, he gains a new definition of “existence”. This new essence bears a strong sense of nothingness and absurdity. Roquentin feels this existence, when he is confronted by a so-called feat of nausea. He feels that this new sense of existence is actually the real meaning of the word and that other people are totally unaware of it. In other words, he thinks that ordinary people are so much drowned in their everyday lives that they cannot understand that their whole life is a useless effort in order to escape from loneliness and nausea. In other words people struggle so hard so as to forget their existence: their useless and absurd being. For example the act of writing a history book on Marquis de Rollebon, for Roquentin is a mere medium so that he can forget his being: “Marquis needs me in order to be and I need him in order to forget my being.”

The notion of loneliness is presented in a variety of ways. One lonely person is Roquentin himself, who has chosen to drown himself in his unconscious and contemplating others. Another lonely figure is Anny, Roquentin’s ex-wife who is supposedly a tinge of hope and a prospect of happiness for Roquentin, but ironically she is lonely too, but in a slightly different way. Abhorring her husbands’ eccentric manners, she has left him to seek a better life, but she has only lost herself and has become lonelier than ever. During her life of widowhood, she has pursued an unsuccessful acting career (life is just a play, actors merely fools) and now has come back to France, maybe to reconcile with her ex-husband (but in vain).

Anny is very pathetic, because she is too proud and too paralyzed to accept Roquentin’s offer of reconciliation, thus destroying any chance of a better life.
Another dominant lonely figure in the novel is the Autodidact who is a mere repeater of others. His lacks confidence, lacks courage to think and speak independently. Existentially speaking, although he is condemned to be free and responsible for his actions, he has chosen to stay in a library and read the books from A to Z (unconditional and unreasonable order). The lonely Autodidact envies Roquentin’s former life of adventure, and starts to hate him because of that. His final act of sexual harassment in the library is like a final blow both to himself and to the reader. This conclusion also concludes another kind of loneliness. Drowning oneself into a life of seclusion without giving the permission to oneself to, at least, think independently.

At the end of the novel, Roquentin thinks that it was not wise to write about Marquis in order to forget his being. After listening to an inspiring Jazz song, and going through an epiphany in which Roquentin finds his loneliness parallel to that of the singer (power of music is apparent in two occasions in the novel), he starts to believe that he must have written a book on himself, so that others and most importantly himself could understand him and his feelings better.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I finished "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz today. The 2008 Pulitzer award winner was an absolute masterpiece. The novel is the history of three generations of one Dominican family with the focus on Oscar, the youngest member of the trend.

The social background of the novel is very important in order to understand it. The history of family starts during the reign of Raphael Trujillo, the evil dictator of DR during the 30s-60s. The US backed dictator ruled the colonially damaged DR in the cruellest fashion. The Dominicans and people and families who suffered from his reign believed in a curse called Fuku. The power of this curse was said to be so immense that it remained in generations and generations of the poor victims. Oscar’s family is an example and that is what the novel is about. Fuku, this superstitious belief is treated in a beautiful way by Diaz who transforms Fuku into a fabulous colonial and hegemonic symbol.

What strikes Oscar’s family from his late grandfather, into his mother, his sister and himself is not really a supernatural curse. Although it’s even worse than a curse – a curse no scapegoat could eradicate. Fuku, I think, is the consequence of Trujillo’s brutality, and Trujillo himself in not responsible. They whole misery goes back to the first European settlers who entered the New World, Hispaniola so to speak, for the first time.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao explores how the destructive forces of colonialism, and cultural materialism resulting in the instalment of puppet regimes, could destroy societies, families, and even individuals. As Junot Diaz himself points out in an interview, Trujillo is not a Dominican, but a typical American. A person any American thrives to be like.

Oscar, whose virginity and death opens a psychological colonial approach to the text, is an alien both in America and DR (he is born in DR, though holds a US greencard). It is his unhomeliness, and double consciousness which drowns him in his fantasies and hinders him from fulfilling the real world.

I do recommend you do to read this novel. It is a piece with which you form an intimacy from the first page and which finally moves you up to heaven until the end with its touching epiphanies. It is a debut novel by a fresh voice: Junot Diaz is a young American-Dominican who teaches creative writing in MIT.

I'm back!

Man I'm back! Long time no blogging! Well, I'm not suicidal like I used to be. But well, I want to share my thoughts, mainly about stuff I read.

Since the last time I blogged, I have moved to South East Asia, to this end-of-the world Malaysia. But man I like it. It’s calm and nothing really ever happens. Life’s like shit in Iran so I’m happy I’m not around. However I do miss the place. After all Malaysia ain’t no Switzerland! No Utopia!