El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Posts Tagged ‘russian

“Gooseberries” by Anton Chekhov

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As an undergraduate at the university I had a favorite Professor of English who was a devotee of the French philosophers. After a few of his literature courses I became an existentialist for a couple of years. In my own defense, I never owned a beret or even a black turtleneck sweater. But I will admit it was kind of fun to live a life where I could “plunge to the depths of despair” while clearly separating myself from those around me that seemed oblivious to the true meaningless of life and the eternal suffering of our pitiful human condition. Even now it can sometimes seem comforting to view the natural forces that sustain our lives–the Sun, water, wind–as simply rotting our planet away in the midst of an uncaring and unforgiving universe.

Of course, eventually, I had to graduate and begin the time honored process of clawing my way into the middle-class. A family, a job, a home, even a station-wagon seemed to salve my sense that something wasn’t right. A life in the ‘burbs, surrounded by other families that were all building toward the elusive and perhaps, indefinable, “American dream” was easy to fall into and, to be honest, had its own rewards, I could say that I was happy. A life of “quiet desperation” was preferable to one punctuated by dark despair and Weltschmerz; and besides, I just don’t look good in a beret!

Well, now that former life is gone. I live in a tiny apartment, tucked into a very Mexican neighborhood surrounded by a dirty, often noisy, ramshackle industrial city thousands of miles away from family and friends. Man, talk about the potential for despair! Usually I am more frustrated by the injustice that I witness around me than despairing over my own human condition. In a way I consider myself very fortunate–I had a life I loved and now have a chance at a second life, a life with a purposefulness that I can define, instead of having a life that defines me. I’ve been allowed to join the ranks of the “reconstructed existentialists” that recognize a life of moping despair serves no one. And to walk with the Sun on your back or the rain in your face should not be oppressive but inspiring; the tiny, ephemeral joys of this existence are what we get and in large part are what we make of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t morphed into a Pollyanna, or a Sarah Palin. Life is still a very confusing and challenging condition, and to paraphrase the old bumper sticker: Mean People Still Suck. But that is what makes the hundreds of thoughtful, caring, intelligent people I have been privileged to meet and know and work with over the years all the more important. Gee, that does sound kind of “Pollyanna-like”. Regardless, imagine, if you can, my response when I recently rediscovered Anton Chekhovs’ short story “Gooseberries” tucked into an old paper-back edition of “The Best Short Stories of the Modern Age”. Certainly “Gooseberries” meets the criteria for inclusion in the book.

Chekhov lived from 1860 to 1904 and was born in Russia. His contributions to the modern short story include sharing a deep sympathy for his characters and their situations. He writes with an, often, stark truthfulness more focused on the flow of ideas than on formal plot lines. Obviously, I am not classifying Chekhov as an existentialist but his work can often give that same sense of despair.https://i1.wp.com/www.my-chekhov.com/images/foto/chehov_24.jpg
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“The Pearl” by John Steinbeck

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Hi. Welcome to the first installment of the Book Nook. (Ok, I know the “Book Nook” is kind of a lame name–hey! that rhymes too–I just wanted someplace to write about books. I am willing to change it if somone comes up with a better name.) I just finished re-reading “The Pearl”, a short novel or a long short-story by John Steinbeck. Of course, Steinbeck is known as a great American author. One of my favorite books is his novel about the westward migration of Americans from the mid-west dust bowl of the 1930’s to California, “The Grapes of Wrath”. The Grapes of Wrath will be a future topic in the Book Nook. I recently saw the movie version dubbed into Spanish and it was just as moving and inspiring as any of the dozen times I’ve watched it in English; maybe even more so, as I recognized parallels between the “Okies” and the current wave of Mexican immigrants. More on that later, now on to “The Pearl”. //www.gemdiamond.com/department/images/home/Pearls.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

I’m tempted to do a book report type post, but I am just going to use a few excerpts from the story to look at some enduring concepts that Steinbeck translates into wonderfully meaningful prose. The premise of the story is that “Kino”, a poor pearl diver finds a valuable pearl one day. The story follows the trail of events precipitated by his discovery of the pearl and the changes that occur in him, his family and his village because of it.

In the following passage the villagers are crowding around the door of Kino’s brush hut wondering what he will do with his sudden good fortune. Coyotito is the infant son of Kino and his wife Juana. “In the pearl he saw Coyotito sitting at a little desk in a school, just as Kino had once seen through an open door. And Coyotito was dressed in a jacket, and he had on a white collar and a broad silken tie. Moreover Coyotito was writing on a big piece of paper. Kino looked at his neighbors fiercely. ‘My son will go to school,’ he said, and the neighbors were hushed. Juana caught her breath sharply. Her eyes were bright as she watched him, and she looked quickly down at Coyotito in her arms to see whether this might be possible.

“But Kino’s face shown with prophecy. ‘My son will read and open the books, and my son will write and will know writing. And my son will know numbers, and these things will make us free–he will know and through him we will know.’ And in the pearl Kino saw himself and Juana squatting by the little fire in the brush hut while Coyotito read from a great book. ‘This is what the pearl will do,’ said Kino. And he had never said so many words together in his life. And suddenly he was afraid of his talking. His hand closed down over the pearl and cut the light away from it. Kino was afraid as a man is afraid who says ‘I will,’ without knowing.”
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