Home is a Strange Place

In order to try to fill in the gaps in my understanding of how the island of Ireland has changed over the last 30 years, I have read three books; Seamus Mallon’s autobiography, “A Shared Home Place’; “Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe which follows the personal stories of those involved in the abduction and murder in 1972 of Belfast woman, and mother of six children, Jean McConville; and “The Education of an Idealist” by Samantha Power, the Irishwoman who worked as the US Ambassador to the UN under President Obama.

When I left Ireland in 1993 for Cambodia, the troubles in Northern Ireland were still inflicting murder and mayhem on both the Unionist and Nationalist communities there.  The media were constantly reporting on brutal atrocities followed by funerals, both Protestant and Catholic. 

When the peace process finally produced the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 thus ending the violent hostilities, I counted it as one of the most extraordinary miracles that I have witnessed in my lifetime.  I could never quite understand how Dr Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness could subsequently cooperate together in the governance of Northern Ireland while becoming “chucklers” into the bargain.

The Republic of Ireland has also changed beyond recognition over the thirty years that I have been away.  Gay marriage, legalised abortion and the turning away from the Catholic Church that happened in response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis are only the outer manifestations of a profound transformation of inner attitudes regarding social issues. Former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern once commented that there were three great “institutions” in Irish society, the Fianna Fáil party, the Catholic Church and the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association).  Now only the GAA has weathered the storms and continues to thrive.  The recent RTE (Raidió Telefís Ēireann) program on “New Gaels”, shows why.  I mean, even my seven-year old niece is into Camogie. 

On my last visit home to Dublin, I met the Protestant rector of my home parish on the 42 bus.  He cheerfully informed me that this year the number of Church of Ireland ordinations to the priesthood exceeded the number of Roman Catholic ordinations in the Dublin diocese for the first time since who knows when. 

In order to try to fill in the gaps in my understanding of how the island of Ireland has changed over the last 30 years, I have read three books;  Seamus Mallon’s autobiography,  “A Shared Home Place’; “Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe which follows the personal stories of those involved in the abduction and murder in 1972 of Belfast woman, and mother of ten children, Jean McConville; and “The Education of an Idealist” by Samantha Power, the Irishwoman who worked as the US Ambassador to the UN under President Obama.

In the first book, Seamus Mallon traces his political journey as SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) councillor and MP (Member of Parliament) with laconic wit and honesty.  He remembers all the killings and murders in his own area and attends all funerals both Protestant and Catholic even when his presence is not welcomed.  His story is one of perseverance and courage in a time of despair lived out over a life-time.  He is vilified and persecuted at different times by militant Nationalists and by militant Unionists who speak the language of hate.  He never flinches. Even the title of his book “A Shared Home Place” demonstrates his commitment to peace and harmony.  He articulates “parallel consensus” as a political principle to guide future discussions about the future status of the society in Northern Ireland.  Only when both Unionist and Nationalist communities agree on a way forward, can there be a way forward.  I sense that my Protestant forbears would concur.

In the second book, Patrick Radden Keefe, amasses a wealth of historical detail to weave together a tapestry of characters involved in the IRA (Irish Republican Army) of West Belfast.  By focusing on the Price Sisters, Dolours and Marian, Keefe is able to link, personalities, events and stories together over a period of nearly fifty years.  The Loyalist characters and British officials offer an alternative viewpoint throughout the narrative so it seems balanced in the end.  The wonder of the book is in fact the person of Dolours Price who listens to her conscience and instead of “saying nothing”, says something.  The something is not much, mind you, but Keefe follows each thread right to its end. He solves the mystery that the police force could not solve (the abduction and murder of Jean McConville).  The fact that certain key characters refuse to recognise the truth about what they did in the past, means that they lock themselves into their own world.  It’s the world of the living dead. No character in this long story is able to speak of forgiveness like Timothy Knatchbull did in his story “From a Clear Blue Sky”.

In the third book, Samantha Power, describes leaving Ireland while still a primary school student as her mother launches out into a new life in America away from her alcoholic father. Samantha’s candid love of both father and mother enable her to negotiate the family tragedies cheerfully.  She makes a new life for herself each time her new family moves.  During a trip abroad she discovers an interest in finding out the truth about conflicts that cause suffering to many people.  She spends time in war-torn Bosnia and learns how American political action can help or hinder the peace-process.  She returns to study Law and becomes involved in political action.  However it is the description of her time as US Ambassador to the UN, while remaining a dedicated mother of two kids, which is the most interesting.  She moves from crisis to crisis. Syria, ISIS, Ukraine, Ebola, etc. 

Power has a simple honesty which makes these complicated situations and issues easy to grasp.  While her account is personal, it does not seem self-serving and she is able to learn from her mistakes.  It is also interesting that for someone dedicated to dialogue for peace, the one outstanding regret regarding the Obama administration that she voices is the decision not to strike Syrian military targets after the regime used Sarin gas on the population of Aleppo in March 2013 until the US Congress approved such strikes. They crossed the “red line” and nothing happened. 

In a funny example of Democratic dis-connect, Power describes the house party she arranged for all the female ambassadors at the UN in her home on election night to celebrate the upcoming victory of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.  She was not the only one who got it wrong.

These three books witness to the enormous transformations that Ireland has experienced over the last thirty years.  However a few long hikes up Lugnaquilla and Mullaghcleevaun in the Wicklow mountains have allowed me to savour the beauty and tranquility of what has not changed.  It will be a challenge to find the right words to speak to the new spiritual language being whispered here and there.

បដិវត្តពណ៌ (Colour Revolution)

មានកូនសិស្សមួយចំនួនបានសួរលោកគ្រូថា «តើបដិវត្តពណ៌​ជាអ្វីទៅ»?​​ នៅក្នុង Blog ខាងក្រោមនេះលោកគ្រូនឹងព្យាយាមឆ្លើយសំណួរព្រមទាំងពន្យល់អំពីប្រភពដើមនិង​លក្ខណៈសម្គាល់ចម្បងរបស់វា!

មានកូនសិស្សមួយចំនួនបានសួរលោកគ្រូថា «តើបដិវត្តពណ៌​ជាអ្វីទៅ»?​​ នៅក្នុង Blog ខាងក្រោមនេះលោកគ្រូនឹងព្យាយាម ឆ្លើយសំណួរព្រមទាំងពន្យល់អំពីប្រភពដើមនិង​លក្ខណៈសម្គាល់ចម្បងរបស់វា!

2. Serbia

ពាក្យថាបដិវត្តពណ៌សំដៅទៅលើ ចលនាបាតុកម្មពេញនិយម ដែលលេចចេញនៅប្រទេសខ្លះ នៅអឺរ៉ុបខាងកើតនិងអាស៊ីបន្ទាប់ពីការដួលរលំនៃរបបកុម្មុយនិស្តនៅប្រទេសរុស្ស៊ីនិងអតីតសហភាពសូវៀត។ មានបដិវត្ត «ឈូសឆាយ» (Bulldozer revolution) នៅប្រទេសស៊ែប៊ីក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០០០។

3. young serb

មាន បដិវត្ត «កុលាប» (Rose revolution) នៅប្រទេសហ្សកហ្ស៊ីក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០០៣ និងបដិវត្ត «ពណ៌ទឹកក្រូច» (Orange revolution) នៅអ៊ុយក្រែនក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០០៤។

4. rose-revolution

5. georgia

6. Ukraine 2

7. ukraine-protesters

បន្ទាប់មកមានបដិវត្ត «ផ្កា​ tulip» នៅ ប្រទេស Kyryyzstan ក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០០៥ ។

8. tulip 2

 

ប្រទេសឯករាជ្យថ្មីទាំងនេះ ធ្លាប់ស្ថិតនៅក្រោមការគ្រប់គ្រងរបស់គណបក្សកុម្មុយនិស្ត នៃសហភាព សូវៀត។ ដូច្នេះទោះបីជាពួកគេមានសភាជាប់ឆ្នោតយ៉ាង​ណាក៏ដោយ ក៏លោកប្រធានាធិបតី នៃប្រទេសទាំងនេះនៅតែគ្រប់គ្រងកម្លាំងប្រដាប់អាវុធ ប៉ូលីស និងសេដ្ឋកិច្ច (ពន្ធនិងកម្មសិទ្ធិដីធ្លី) និងសេវាស៊ីវិល (សុខភាពនិងអប់រំ)។ តាមរយៈការប្រើប្រាស់អំណាច លោកប្រធានាធិបតីបានគាបសង្កត់ប្រព័ន្ធតុលាការនិងប្រព័ន្ធច្បាប់។

លោកប្រធានាធិបតីបានចាត់ចែងប្រព័ន្ធផ្សព្វផ្សាយពណ៌មាន ដើម្បីដាក់សម្ពាធលើ ឥស្សរជនប្រឆាំងរួមជាមួយនឹងអ្នកកាសែតស៊ើបអង្កេត។ តាមរបៀបនេះ លោកប្រធានាធិបតីបានក្លាយជាអ្នកដឹកនាំផ្តាច់ការម្នាក់ ដែលតែងតែមានសម្លៀកបំពាក់បែប ប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។

9. Burma 3

 

បដិវត្តពាក្យ«ពណ៌លឿង» (Saffron revolution) ត្រូវបានប្រើដើម្បីពិពណ៌នាអំពីការបះបោរ ដ៏ពេញនិយម ដែលដឹកនាំដោយសកម្មជននយោបាយនិងព្រះសង្ឃនៅប្រទេសភូមាក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០០៧ ។  លោកស្រីអ៊ុងសានស៊ូជី (Aung San Suu Kyi) ត្រូវបានរធ្ឋអំណាចឃុំក្នុងផ្ទះ ទោះបីគណបក្សលោកស្រីបានឈ្នះការបោះឆ្នោតយ៉ាងណាក៏ដោយ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែលោកស្រីមិនដែលសូមចាកចេញពីប្រទេសភូមាទេ។

 

ដូច្នេះក្រុមអ្នកតវ៉ាចង់បញ្ចប់នូវរបបផ្តាច់ការយោធានិងចង់រវិលត្រឡប់ទៅរកលទ្ធិប្រជា  ធិបតេយ្យសភាវិញ។ កងទ័ពបានប្រើវិធីសាស្ត្រឃោរឃៅដើម្បីបង្ក្រាបបដិវត្ត។ នៅឆ្នាំ ២០១០ លោកស្រីអ៊ុងសានស៊ូជីត្រូវបានដោះលែងពីការឃុំក្នុងផ្ទះ។ ពេលខ្លះពាក្យ «បដិវត្តពណ៌» ក៏ត្រូវបានប្រើដើម្បីពិពណ៌នាអំពីចលនាបាតុកម្មដែលបានកើតឡើងនៅអាហ្រ្វិកខាងជើងក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០១១។ ជាធម្មតាគេពិពណ៌នាចលនាទាំងនេះដោយប្រើពាក្យថា«រដូវផ្ការីកអារ៉ាប់» (Arab spring)។

10. tunisia 2

រឿងទាំងនេះគឺជាស៊េរីនៃចលនាទាមទារលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យដែលបានកើតឡើងនៅក្នុងប្រទេសម៉ូស្លីមរួមមាន ទុយនេស៊ី ម៉ារ៉ុក ស៊ីរី លីប៊ី បារ៉ែននិង អេហ្ស៊ីប។

Morsi supporters rally in New York to mark Rabaa and Nahda massacres

ដើមកំណើតនៃចលនាទាំងអស់នេះបានចាប់ផ្តើមជាមួយនឹងបដិវត្ត «ផ្កាម្លិះ» នៅទុយនីស៊ីក្នុងខែធ្នូឆ្នាំ ២០១០ នៅពេលដែលអ្នកលក់ដូរតាមចិញ្ចើមផ្លូវម្នាក់ គឺលោកម៉ូហាម៉េដប៊ូហ្សាហ្ស៊ីបានដុតខ្លួន បន្ទាប់ពីប៉ូលីសរឹបអូសរទេះរបស់គាត់ពីព្រោះគាត់មិនមានលិខិតអនុញ្ញាត។

 

បន្ទាប់ពីប្រជាជនបានតវ៉ាយ៉ាងខ្លាំងនៅទូទាំងប្រទេសទុយនីស៊ី ក៏លោកប្រធានាធិបតីផ្តាច់ការបានភៀសខ្លួនទៅអារ៉ាប់ប៊ីសាអូឌីត។ ព្រឹត្តិការណ៍ទាំងនេះបានជម្រុញចលនាតវ៉ានៅក្នុងប្រទេសជិតខាង។ បដិវត្តឆ័ត្រដែលបានកើតឡើងនៅហុងកុងក្នុងឆ្នាំ ២០១៤ គឺស្រដៀងគ្នាទៅនឹងបដិវត្តពណ៌ពីព្រោះវាពាក់ព័ន្ធនឹងមនុស្សសាមញ្ញដែលកាន់កាប់ទីសាធារណៈ ហើយទាមទារប្រជាធិបតេយ្យនិងនីតិរដ្ឋ។

12. hong kong 2

 

សព្វថ្ងៃយើងឃើញថាមានយវជនតូចតាចពីរនាក់បានក្លាយទៅជាអ្នកណែនំាដ៏ក្លាហានកំពុងប្រឆាំងជាមួយនឹងអំណាចគណបក្សកកុម្មុយនិស្តចិន ពោលគឺលោក Joshua Wong និងកញ្ញា Agnes Chow។

ដូច្នេះចំពោះប្រភពនៃចលនានយោបាយទាំងនេះ យើងអាចនិយាយបានថា បដិវត្តពណ៌បានកើតឡើងដោយឯកឯងក្នុងចំណោមប្រជាជនសាមញ្ញ ដែលធុញទ្រាន់នឹងទុក្ខវេទនាហើយចង់បានការផ្លាស់ប្តូរពីរបបផ្តាចការទៅជារបបប្រជាធិបតេយ្យពិតប្រាកដ។ ពួកគេចង់ជ្រើសរើសមេដឹកនាំរបស់ពួកគេដោយសេរីតាមរយៈការបោះឆ្នោត ក្នុងចំណោមគណបក្សនយោបាយផ្សេងៗគ្នា។ ពួកគេចង់បញ្ចប់នូវអំពើពុករលួយ។ ពួកគេចង់បញ្ឈប់អំពើហិង្សារបស់ប៉ូលីសនិងកងទ័ព ប្រឆាំងនឹង       ប្រជាជន។ ពួកគេចង់បានប្រព័ន្ធច្បាប់ត្រឹមត្រូវនិងយុត្តិធម៌។ ក្នុងករណីខ្លះ «បដិវត្តពណ៌» ទទួលបានជោគជ័យហើយក្នុងករណីខ្លះពួកគេបានបរាជ័យ។ ចំពោះលក្ខណៈសម្គាល់ចម្បងនៃ «បដិវត្តពណ៌» ទាំងនេះ យើងអាចនិយាយបានថាពួកគេត្រូវបានដឹកនាំដោយមនុស្សសាមញ្ញជាច្រើនកំពុងសហការគ្នា។ ជាទូទៅពួកគេតវ៉ាតាមរបៀបអហិង្សា    សូម្បីតែនៅពេលដែលប៉ូលីសនិងយោធាប្រើអំពើហឹង្សា ទៅលើក្រុមបាតុករក៏ដោយ។

13. hong kong 3

ប្រជាជនដែលពាក់ព័ន្ធបានប្រើប្រព័ន្ធផ្សព្វផ្សាយសង្គមដើម្បីទំនាក់ទំនងគ្នា ខណៈដែលរបបផ្តាច់ការគ្រប់គ្រងប្រព័ន្ធផ្សព្វផ្សាយរដ្ឋ (សារព័ត៌មានវិទ្យុនិងទូរទស្សន៍)។ ពួកគេមានទំនោររៀបចំបាតុកម្មទ្រង់ទ្រាយធំនៅតាមទីប្រជុំជននិងទីក្រុង ដូច្នេះប៉ូលីសនិងកងទ័ពមិនអាចគ្រប់គ្រងឬបំភ័យពួកគេបានឡើយ។ នៅពេលដែលអាជ្ញាធរសាសនាបានចូលរួម (គ្រីស្ទសាសនានៅអឺរ៉ុបខាងកើត ពុទ្ធសាសនានៅ ភូមា និងអ៊ីស្លាមសាសនានៅអាហ្វ្រិកខាងជើង) បដិវត្តពណ៌មានឥទ្ធិពលកាន់តែធំ ឡើងៗ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែ យូរៗ ទៅ «បដិវត្តន៍ពណ៌» ទំនងជាអស់ថាមពលទៅវិញ។

Le Démantèlement (The Dismantling)

The film tells the story of an old sheep-farmer, Gaby, who owns a small but beautiful piece of land with a prize herd of sheep in Quebec.  He manages on his own with the help of a young local lad and his faithful dog.  His wife left him long ago and his two daughters have made careers for themselves in the city far away.  They rarely come to see him on the farm.

Last night, the Cambodian One TV channel transmitted a film in French with English subtitles called “Le Démantèlement” or “The Dismantling”.  It kept me spellbound.  The film tells the story of an old sheep-farmer, Gaby, who owns a small but beautiful piece of land with a prize herd of sheep in Quebec.  He manages on his own with the help of a young local lad and his faithful dog.  His wife left him long ago and his two daughters have made careers for themselves in the city far away.  They rarely come to see him on the farm.

child feeds lamb

The older daughter Marie, who is living a comfortable life in the city, comes to ask for a loan of two hundred thousand dollars to help her by her husband’s share of their house as they separate.  Gaby decides to sell his farm, flock and house even though he knows that he will never be able to reach the amount that his daughter requests.  As he explains to his younger daughter Frederique, it is the nature of fathers to give.   His real goal in life has always been the happiness of his daughter, not his farm.

frederique

However this simple story contains another more universal story about the flight from stable rural communities to fragile city conglomerates.  The film catches the sadness of the simple farmers who see their friend’s life being destroyed by his own kindness to uncaring daughters. They know that the end will come for them soon.  It is like watching the end of an era not just the end of one farmer’s working life.

Gaby’s care of the sheep and love of his dog are not demonstrative at all but are all the more real because of his old-fashioned reserve.

This movie is like a parable of a prodigal Father with two uncaring daughters.  At least Frederique came to visit at the prompting of Gaby’s friend but Marie does not appear even to receive the money that Gaby has been able to raise for her.  He retires to social housing at the edge of the town far from his farm. The world is losing something of inestimable value without realizing it.

the land

 

A Gentleman in Moscow

But as the elixir dissolved on his tongue, the Count became aware of something else entirely.  Rather than the flowering trees of central Moscow, the honey had a hint of a grassy riverbank….the trace of a summer breeze…..a suggestion of a pergola…..But most of all there was the unmistakable essence of a thousand apple trees in bloom.

The Mammoth Communist octopus is currently spreading its tentacles across all sectors of Hong Kong society.  The octopus is quietly choking the life out of the robust democratic and legal traditions enjoyed by the majority of Hong Kong citizens.  The Free World can only look on in horror as the dramatic destruction of free speech plays out before its eyes.51852304_401

In this context of communist China’s oppression of Hong Kong, Amor Towles novel, “A Gentleman in Moscow” is a refreshing reminder of the possibility of human survival and creativity under a totalitarian communist regime.

On 21 June 1942, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to permanent house arrest in the Moscow Hotel Metropol.  He is assigned a tiny room in the attic.  The novel wonderfully captures the mentality of the eccentric aristocrat who has enjoyed personal if unequal relationships with his “inferiors”.   He knows his barber, the waiter who serves the food, the chef who cooks it and the seamstress who repairs his clothes.  These relationship enable the Count to adapt to his new role as Chief Waiter in the Boyarsky dining room.

The surprise encounter with the precocious nine year old Nina Kulokiva, a fellow long-term hotel resident, allows the Count to form an usual and life-long friendship with his young protégée whom he feels obliged to educate according to the “old standards” of human decency and civility.

old moscow

We meet a host of other interesting characters working in the Hotel.  However the oppressive Communist menace of the Gulag is never far away and the Count finds many ways to diminish its oppressive power over his life and that of Nina.  The encounter with the beautiful model Anna Urbonova  shifts from romantic liaison into another permanent friendship.

The passing references to the “First Five-Year Plan”and the second “Five-Year Plan” indicate the extent of the tragedy that Russia is traversing while the Count endures his permanent “exile”.

Once the Count realizes that he has lost Nina to the Communist enterprise he climbs up onto the parapet of the hotel to commit suicide.  Here occurs one of the most moving scenes in the novel.  He is interrupted by Abram, the old handy-man from his former estate who happens to live in a shack on the hotel roof.  Abram is excited to tell the Count that the “bees have returned”.  Years before, the bees disappeared from the roof under which Abram and the Count spent many evenings reminiscing.  So the Count has to see their new hives and taste the fresh honey.

 

“Dutifully, the Count put the spoon in his mouth.  In an instant there was the familiar sweetness of fresh honey – sunlit, golden and gay.  Given the time of year, the Count was expecting this first impression to be followed by a hint of lilacs from the Alexander Gardens or cherry blossoms from the Garden Ring.  But as the elixir dissolved on his tongue, the Count became aware of something else entirely.  Rather than the flowering trees of central Moscow, the honey had a hint of a grassy riverbank….the trace of a summer breeze…..a suggestion of a pergola…..But most of all there was the unmistakable essence of a thousand apple trees in bloom.

spring-the-rooks-have-arrived-1872.jpg!Large

Abram was nodding his head.  “Nizhny Novgorod”, he said.  And it was.  Unmistakably so.  “All these years, they must have listening to us”, Abram added in a whisper.  The Count and the handyman both looked toward the roof’s edge where the bees, having traveled over a hundred miles and applied themselves in willing industry, now wheeled above their hives as pinpoints of blackness, like the inverse of stars”.   True human communion includes communion with nature.

So when Nina rushes off to Siberia to look for her husband who has been sent to the Gulag, she asks the Count to take care of her daughter Sofia until she returns.  Of course, she never does.  The Count begins his second journey as educational mentor which will last for the next twenty plus years until the decisive moment when the Count realizes he can help Sofia escape to the West.  He has maintained his capacity to act.

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The scene on the roof with Abram reminded me of a scene in the film “Gone with the Wind”.  The South is disintegrating and Scarlett O’Hara is running down the street of a chaotic town while a black confederate militia is marching up the street in the opposite direction.  Suddenly, in a moment of mutual recognition, Scarlett joyfully recognizes the black slave foreman, Big Sam from Tara.  The two huddle in a brief happy conversation. The rest of the world just passes them by. This gigantic, good-natured man says something like “No need to worry none, Miss Scarlett, we’re gonna stop them Yankees”.

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In other words, there is always a truth beyond the grasp of a philosophical analysis of the  Master-Slave relationship, which will never be subject to Marxist interpretation by dialectical materialism.  Suddenly for brief moments, there emerges the truth of a common shared humanity in the creation and preservation of a human community whose essence is not determined by the specific rules, structures and laws apparently governing it.  This is perhaps why the only person in the whole world with whom Abram can share his joy about the return of the bees is his former master, the Count Rostov, who sits attentively on a piece of wood beside him listening to the wonder of their common story.

 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

“At magic hour, when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke”.  So begins Arundhati Roy’s second novel about modern India, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. 

“At magic hour, when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke”.  So begins Arundhati Roy’s second novel about modern India, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.  The book is a literary master-piece full of evocative language and images that serve to communicate a teeming over-crowded world full of dislocated but unique individuals. Continue reading “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”

‘Still Me’ by Jojo Moyes

It is striking that Lou remains faithful to her “London working class” perspective on social relations right through the three novels.  She always views society from the bottom up and comments on what she sees.  She is often blind to what people on the top see when they look down. 

In “Still Me”, the light-hearted and comic description of the life of the super-rich in New York shows how inhumane their society really is.  The London setting for the previous two Louisa Clark novels by Jojo Moyes, “Me Before You” and “After You” contrasted the Traynor’s life-style with that of the working-class Clark family.

It might be too easy to interpret each novel as a stage in Lou’s development towards a mature and stable love relationship with Sam.  One could easily focus on the dynamics of the love story by considering London and New York as simply the settings in which the love story unfolds.

However it is also possible to consider Lou’s love story with Sam as the context in which Jojo Moyes offers a reflection on social divisions.  It is striking that Lou remains faithful to her “London working class” perspective on social relations right through the three novels.  She always views society from the bottom up and comments on what she sees.  She is often blind to what people on the top see when they look down.  This allows Moyes to ensure a light and comical tone to the three novels.

However the social criticism hidden here is anything but comical.  It is a deadly serious reflection on the power of wealth to corrupt human goodness and empty persons until they become parrots or robots simple living in the way their social class demands.  Lou is naturally in solidarity with anyone who is poor or downtrodden.  It is her perennial, automatic, un-reflective response.  This is who she really is.  She imbibed it during childhood in a tiny council home which housed four generations of her family.

A few minor incidents in the novel can illustrate how this social criticism works in Moyes’ novels.  Lou’s aged grandfather finally dies at home in London while Lou is in New York.  The whole family is devastated.  He has been a friendly, kind presence in front of the “telly” with his “cup of tea” watching, maybe even betting, on the “races” for a long number of years.   He could be the real anti-thesis to Will Traynor.  “He accepted his lot” happily.

When Lou finds out that she has been framed for “stealing” by Agnes, her first instinct is not to protect herself but to protect Agnes who is her employer.  This is one of the surprising ways that Lou remains faithful to her working class origins.  She is employed to serve. So, she serves.  She understands the injustice of the situation but she is also understands Agnes’ predicament.   She puts Agnes first.  Justice can come later. Perhaps only people who have experienced real poverty, can find the spiritual freedom to act like this.

The family’s participation in the Christmas mass makes explicit what was implicit in the earlier novels.  Poor Lou’s parents may be poor and uneducated, but they know the source of their moral compass.

In the novel “After You”, it is clear that Sam lives and works happily on the underside of society in close physical contact with people who suffer from accidents, alcohol, drugs or violence.  This is his “real world” where Lou is also at home.  Yet, she remains available to help Lily Traynor, who seems destined to self-destruct but ends up later, saving Lou and Sam.

In the novel “Me Before You”, Lou constantly puts Will before herself and tries to love him back to life as it were.  But Will has made his decision and there is nothing that Lou can do to change the situation.  It might appear that Jojo Moyes has made the case for assisted suicide with her wonderful description of the limitations that Will experiences from his paralysis.  Lou’s moral confusion reflects that of the reader.  But it would be a mistake to miss the other side of the story.  Lou’s mother remains the one implacable and resolute moral voice raised against Will’s decision.  Grandfather is there, sitting in front of the “telly”.  In this way the novel quietly present both sides of the issue.  will and lou

Both Lou’s parents have to come to sudden terms with Lou’s sister gay relationship, half-way through the novel “Still Me”, but they do so with the surprising ease of those who have loved the outcast all their lives.  Their moral compass can shift in this area while it will never shift in the other area (i.e. life is a gift from God).

In short, it seems to me that the three novels poetically describe the corrupting power of wealth and the spiritual liberation that the solidarity of the poor can facilitate in a modern family setting.  It is the comic tone that disguises the serious reflection!

The Dutch House

Thirdly, the novel poses a more fundamental question over all the stories that we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our existence and give our lives a purpose.  The wonderful kind and caring Maeve, blames her step-mother, Andrea, for expelling her and her brother from the family home.

Each year one novel comes along that stands out from all the rest for its dramatic presentation of some existential truth.  Ann Pachett’s novel, “The Dutch House” would be my choice for 2020.

The Dutch House is an amazing novel for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it describes the intricate intimacy of a close sister-brother relationship in a deeply authentic manner.  The conversations, the reactions, the mutual devotion in times of crisis ring true.  There is not a false note in the relationship between Maeve and Danny from beginning to end.

 

 

Secondly, it poses a central question over the ideal of “other-centred” love or “agape” love as they tend to call it in the Christian or Catholic tradition.   In one sense, the Mother in the story abandons her children in order to escape the Dutch House and she commits to loving the poor and abandoned for the rest of her life as a sort of reparation.  Perhaps many religious vocations have been lived out in a similar kind of way.

 

Thirdly, the novel poses a more fundamental question over all the stories that we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our existence and give our lives a purpose.  The wonderful kind and caring Maeve, blames her step-mother, Andrea, for expelling her and her brother from the family home.  For the rest of her life, this is the central event that makes sense for her of everything else.  Danny shares with her this understanding but without committing himself to it.  Danny avoids really committing himself to anything other than his sister as his way of surviving.  He does marry Celeste and has two children, May and Kevin, whom he loves and cares for but not in a totally committed manner. maxresdefault

This last question about meaning becomes painfully explicit when Maeve becomes sick and the mother reappears to help to take care of her.  Maeve is over the moon as all her old hopes and dreams are returning.  Danny is much more circumspect.  In a certain sense, what seems to kill Maeve, in the end,  is the sudden decision of the Mother to take care of Andrea who descends rapidly into dementia.  Danny’s understanding of the reality is somehow closer to the elusive truth than is Maeve’s.  It is as if the truth is too painful to contemplate.

This is a powerful novel and it asks a really central question about the stories that we construct to give meaning to our lives.  However this question is posed inside the authentic life-giving sibling relationship of Maeve and Danny.  This family context grounds the question inside love.

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The Great Alone

However the real strength of this novel is in its second important characteristic.   Leni experiences the love relationship between her parents as a mystery at first.  She realizes that since Ernt returned from Vietnam, he is troubled and violent in a way that he was not before he went.  Cora loves him and tries to love him back to good mental health.  She fails. 

It was interesting to read “The Great Alone”, during this time of corona virus semi-lockdown in Battambang in Cambodia.  Kristin Hannah describes the life of one small family who decide to move to a remote region of Alaska.  They hope to begin a new life “close to nature” and far away from modern “civilization”.  Actually this family really just involves three people, Cora Allbright, her husband Ernt and their teenage daughter Leni.  Alaska

This novel rises above the level of a sophisticated romance story in two ways. Continue reading “The Great Alone”

The Long Take

But the novel’s real strength lies in the poignant vignettes of ordinary people, both men and women, whose lives have been ruined by personal or collective tragedy.  In particular, Walker tries to follow up on the experiences of fellow soldiers who end up on the bottom tier of society and are left just hanging on there until they fall off into the abyss of nothingness.

The Long Take is a most unusual novel.  Robin Robertson has penned a wonderful poetic description of a man’s spiritual journey after some horrific experiences as an Allied soldier in World War 2.  Walker’s geographical journey away from Nova Scotia to post-war Los Angeles, parallels his inner journey from contended innocence before the war to moral degradation after it.  Robertson describes the tearing down of the old quarters of the City which scatters the fragile communities living there in exquisite and compassionate detail.

The Long Take also catalogues the attempts by several movie directors to capture this sense of rapid but destructive capitalist development taking place before Walker’s eyes in the city.

But the novel’s real strength lies in the poignant vignettes of ordinary people, both men and women, whose lives have been ruined by personal or collective tragedy.  In particular, Walker tries to follow up on the experiences of fellow soldiers who end up on the bottom tier of society and are left just hanging on there until they fall off into the abyss of nothingness.  In the end, Walker simply follows them.  His fellow journalist, Pike, is simply the symbol of an evil, lurking behind always, just waiting to devour him when the time comes.0 xB4CfaulmMW_yPGi

But while this novel is a literary master-piece, I found it to be a moral kop-out.  Walker’s approach and attitude to his own and other’s suffering is the exact anti-thesis of Edith Eger in her auto-biography, “The Choice”, which I reviewed last month.  While Walker relates with kindness and compassion to those suffering loss in the dark and lonely places of Los Angeles and other cities, he can offer no real hope to those people at all, because he has none himself.

In the few, curt but sincere post-cards that Walker sends to his former fiancée, Annie MacLeod back in Nova Scotia, we catch a glimpse of what Walker could have become had he been able to overcome his own private suffering.  It is only towards the end of the novel, that we realize that his real problem is not the suffering of others but the evil acts that he himself committed during the war.  His own religious background (rosary beads at the bottom of a box) is not strong enough for him to hope for redemption.  So he simply denies himself and others that possibility.

Robertson

In the end, he can only describe the destruction of communities, of individuals and of himself.  He cannot construct anything new as those recovering through involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous may be able to do.  Walker chooses the bottle rather than the Bible.  That is why the novel is a kop-out.  There are other choices to be made.  Other choices that are more humanly authentic.

ទស្សនវិជ្ជានៃការអប់រំខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត

ថ្ងៃមួយនៅជំរំ មានលោកគ្រូពេទ្យម្នាក់ឈ្មោះ Mengele បានសុំឱ្យយុវនារី Edith រាំរបាំបាល់ឡេសម្រាប់គាត់ហើយនាងឡើងរាំជូនគាត់ទោះបីនាងដឹងថាលោកគ្រូពេទ្យទើប នឹងបញ្ជាឱ្យគេយកម្តាយរបស់នាងទៅសម្លាប់និងដុតចោលក៏ដោយ។

ខ្ញុំបានអានសៀវភៅមានចំណងជើងថា «មានជម្រើស» ឬ “The Choice”ហើយត្រូវបាននិពន្ធឡើងដោយលោកស្រី Edith Eger ជនជាតិហុងគ្រីម្នាក់កាន់សាសនាជ្វីវ ដែលបានរួចខ្លួនពីសេចក្តីស្លាប់នៅជំរំ Auchwitz នាសម័យសង្រ្គាមលោកលើកទីពីរ។ លោកស្រីបានលាក់ទុករឿងរ៉ាវអាក្រក់ទាំងនោះនៅក្នុងចិត្ត  អស់រយៈពេលជាច្រើនឆ្នាំ។ យូរឆ្នាំក្រោយមកគាត់ក៏បានសម្រេចចិត្តនិយាយពីបទពិសោធន៍ផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនរបស់គាត់​​ ហើយបានចង់ក្រងជាសៀវភៅមួយក្បាលដែលទើបនឹងបោះពុម្ពនាឆ្នាំ២០១៧ថ្មីៗនេះ។

ថ្ងៃមួយនៅជំរំ មានលោកគ្រូពេទ្យម្នាក់ឈ្មោះ Mengele បានសុំឱ្យយុវនារី Edith រាំរបាំបាល់ឡេសម្រាប់គាត់ហើយនាងឡើងរាំជូនគាត់ទោះបីនាងដឹងថាលោកគ្រូពេទ្យទើប នឹងបញ្ជាឱ្យគេយកម្តាយរបស់នាងទៅសម្លាប់និងដុតចោលក៏ដោយ។ បន្ទាប់ពីសង្រ្គាម លោកលើកទីពីរត្រូវបានបញ្ចប់​ លោកស្រីបានប្រើពេលវេលាយ៉ាងយូរមុននឹកឃើញថា           វិធីសាស្រ្តផ្សេងៗដែលគាត់ធ្លាប់ប្រើក្នុងជំរំ ដើម្បីការពារខ្លួន លែងមានប្រសិទ្ធភាព ការពារគាត់នឹងកូនរបស់គាត់ពីស្រមោលនៃអំពើឃោរឃៅអតីតកាល។ ជូនកាល ការស្តាប់ សម្លេងកញ្ចែឬសូរស្បែកជើងទាហាន ឬធំក្លិនរទេសភ្លើង ធ្វើឱ្យលោកស្រីភ័យខ្លាច ញ័រដៃញ័រជើងរន្ធត់ចិត្ត បាត់បង់ស្មារតីទាំងស្រុងនាំឱ្យកូនគាតភ័យដែរ។

លោកស្រី Egerរៀបរាប់អំពីជីវិតមិនស្រួលនៅប្រទេសហុងគ្រីក្រោមរបបកុម្មុយនិស្ត បន្ទាប់ពីការរំដោះដោយទាហានរុស្ស៊ី។ គាត់ពន្យល់អំពីការសម្រេចចិត្ត ភៀសខ្លួន ទៅប្រទេសអាមេរិចជាមួយប្តី។​ លោកស្រីបានចូលធ្វើការជាកម្មការណីនៅរោងចក្រដូច ជនអន្តោប្រវេសន៍ឯទៀតៗនៅសម័យនោះ។ ក្រោយមកលោកស្រីបានចូលរៀនអំពីចិត្តវិទ្យា នាពេលយប់។ គាត់បានអានសៀវភៅរបស់មនុស្សម្នាក់ ដែលធ្លាប់ឆ្លងកាត់ការរស់នៅក្នុងជំរំ ដ៏សាហាវដូចគាត់។​  សៀវភៅមានចំណងជើងថា “Man’s Search for Meaning” និពន្ធដោយលោក Victor Frankl  ។ សៀវភៅនោះបានជំរុញគាត់ឱ្យរិះគិតកាន់តែស៊ីជម្រៅអំពីអត្ថន័យ នៃបទពិសោធន៍ក្នុងដំណើរជីវិតរបស់គាត់។

បន្ទាប់ពីរៀនចប់ លោក​ស្រីចាប់ផ្ដើមព្យាបាលមនុស្សដែលមានវិបត្តិធ្ងន់ធ្ងរខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត។ គាត់មានរបៀបថែទាំនិងថ្នាក់ថ្នមផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនចំពោះអតីតទាហានមួយចំនួន ដែលគ្រូពេទ្យធម្មតាព្យាបាលពុំកើត។​ ដំបូងឡើយ លោកស្រីអញ្ជើញអ្នកជំងឺរៀបរាប់ អំពីបទពិសោធន៍នៃហឹង្សារបស់ខ្លួនដោយពុំមានភាពអៀនខ្មាស់ ដើម្បីឱ្យពួកគេយល់ អំពីដំណើរនៃជីវិត។ បន្ទាប់មក លោកស្រីរិះគិតពិចារណាអំពីពាក្យពេច ទាំងប៉ុន្មានដែលអ្នកជំងឺបាននិយាយប្រាប់ ព្រមទាំងពិនិត្យមើលចលនាខាងផ្លូវចិត្តរបស់ខ្លួន ដើម្បីជៀសវាងការវិនិច្ឆ័យនិងបកស្រាយខុស  ឆ្គង។ លោកស្រីអះអាងថាយើងត្រូវទទួលស្គាល់ថា​ «ទាំងអារម្មណ៍ ឬមនោសញ្ចេតនា ទាំងរបៀបគិតគូពីកុមារភាព» កំពុងជះឥទ្ធិពលនិង គ្រប់គ្រងលើឥរីយាបទនិងសកម្មភាពប្រចាំថ្ងៃរបស់យើងដោយមិនដឹងខ្លួន។  ការនិយាយគ្នាដើម្បីចែករំលែកពីអារម្មណ៍និងការវិភាគបែបនេះអាចនាំឱ្យកើតឡើងនូវគំហឹងឬបំណងចង់សង់សឹកបាន​ ប៉ុន្តែនៅពេលដែលអ្នកជំងឺទុកចិត្តលើអ្នកព្យាបាល នោះការចែកបទពិសោធន៍រវាងមនុស្សពីរនាក់ អាចនាំឱ្យអ្នកជំងឺនឹកឃើញពីភាពអាណិតអាសូរ និងសេចក្ដីស្រឡាញ់ចំពោះអ្នកដទៃ ហើយឈានទៅដល់ការលើកលែងទោសឱ្យមនុស្សដែលធ្លាប់ធ្វើអាក្រក់មកលើគេ។ តាមមធ្យោបាយនេះ ទាំងអ្នកជំងឺ​ផង ទាំងគ្រូពេទ្យផង អាចទទួលការព្យាបាលរហូតទាល់តែជាសះស្បើយពីរបួសខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត ។

មានសំណួរមួយដែលត្រូវសួរខ្លួនឯងថា «តើខ្ញុំចង់បានអ្វីមួយអោយពិតប្រាកដ?»។ ដើម្បីឆ្លើយតបនឹងសំណួរនេះឱ្យបានច្បាស់លាស់ ទាល់តែខ្ញុំរិះគិតលើមនោសញ្ចេតនាច្របូកច្របល់នៅខាងក្នុងដើម្បីឱ្យអារម្មណ៍ស្ងប់សិន ទើបខ្ញុំអាចសង្កេតមើលបំណងប្រាថ្នាចម្បងរបស់ខ្ញុំបាន។ បន្ទាប់ពីឆ្លើយសំណួរចម្បងនេះហើយ សំណួរបន្តទៀតចេញមកដោយងាយ។ «តើសកម្មភាពរបស់ខ្ញុំសព្វថ្ងៃ កំពុងជួយខ្ញុំឱ្យសម្រេចនូវបំណងប្រាថ្នាចម្បងឬយ៉ាងណា?» តាមលោកស្រី Eger ជាធម្មតាយើងត្រូវឆ្លើយខ្លួនឯងថា «មិនមែនទេ»។ មកដល់កម្រិតនេះ ច្បាស់ថាយើងត្រូវផ្លាស់ប្តូរឥរិយាបថប្រចាំរបស់យើងហើយត្រូវលះបង់សកម្មភាពអត់ប្រយោជន៍ចោល។  រឿងនេះជាមូលហេតុដែលលោកស្រីហៅសៀវភៅរបស់គាត់ថា «មានជម្រើស»។  ជម្រើសនេះគឺមានតែរូបខ្ញុំផ្ទាល់ទេដែលអាចសម្រេចបាន ហើយខ្ញុំនៅតែមានសមត្ថភាពធ្វើ។ គ្មានអ្នកណាផ្សេងទៀតអាចជំនួសខ្ញុំបានឡើយ។

ជំពូកដែលគួររំភើពចិត្តជាទីបំផុតនោះគឺ ចំពេលដែលលោកស្រីធ្វើដំណើរត្រឡប់ទៅជំរំដ៏សាហាវ Auchwitz ម្តងទៀត។ បងស្រីបង្កើតរបស់គាត់មិនព្រមទៅជាមួយឡើយ។ មកដល់អតីតជំរំហើយ លោកស្រីបានរំលឹករឿងអាក្រក់ទាំងអស់ដែលបានកើតឡើងចំពោះគាត់។ លោកស្រីពន្យល់អំពីចម្លើយខុសឆ្គងរបស់គាត់មួយ​ ក្នុងពេលដែលលោកគ្រូពេទ្យដ៏សាហាវម្នាក់សួរគាត់ថា «តើស្រ្តីម្នាក់នេះជា ម្តាយឬជាបងស្រី?»​​។ សម័យនោះលោកស្រីអាយុតែ១៥ ឆ្នាំ គាត់បានឆ្លើយថា «ជាម្តាយ»។ ដូច្នេះហើយគ្រូពេទ្យបញ្ជាអោយទាហានអាឡឺមង់យកម្តាយលោកស្រីទៅសម្លាប់ចោលភ្លាម ដោយចាត់ទុកថាគាត់ជាមនុស្សចាស់មិនអាចធ្វើការធ្ងន់បានឡើយ។ លោកស្រីត្រូវសុំទោសម្តាយដោយបានឆ្លើយសំណួរខុស។

មានបងប្អូនខ្មែរច្រើននាក់ដែលបានចែករំលែកពីបទពិសោធន៍របស់ពួកគេនាសម័យខ្មែរក្រហម ដោយបានប្រាប់អំពីសមាជិកក្រុមគ្រួសាររបស់ខ្លួនដែលត្រូវបានគេវាយប្រហារជីវិតឬស្លាប់ដោយសារអត់អាហារ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែ​កម្រមានមនុស្សទទួលសារភាពថា «ខ្ញុំសោកស្តាយទង្វើផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនដែលខ្ញុំធ្លាប់ប្រព្រឹត្តនាសម័យខ្មែរក្រហមនៅឡើយទេ»។ អ្នកគូរគំនូរខ្មែរឈ្មោះ វ៉ាន់ណាត់ ធ្លាប់ណែនាំការិះគិតពិចារណាឡើងវិញចំពោះអំពើទាំងប៉ុន្មានដែលបានកើតឡើងនៅពន្ធនាគារទួលស្លែងរបស់ខ្មែរក្រហម ហៅថា S21 តាមឯកសារទូរទស្សន៍។ ចំពោះមុខឆ្មាំចាស់របស់គាត់ ពួកគេពិតជាពិបាកទទួលស្គាល់អំពើអាក្រក់ឃោរឃៅដែលពួកគេធ្លាប់ប្រព្រឹតទៅលើបងប្អូនខ្មែរសុចតិតទៀងត្រង់ ទោះបីលោកវ៉ាន់ណាត់សួរសំណួរដោយរបៀបទន់ផ្លន់ស្លូតបូតយ៉ាងណាក៏ដោយ។ ពួកឆ្មាំតែងតែចាត់ទុកអ្នកជាប់ឃុំឃាំងថា​ជា «ខ្មាំង» មិនមែនជាមនុស្សស្មើនឹងពួកគេទេ។

vann nath

ចំណុចខ្លាំងក្នុងសៀវភៅរបស់លោកស្រី Eger គឺជាការអំពាវនាវដល់យើងម្នាក់ៗឱ្យទទួលខុសត្រូវចំពោះរាល់ការសម្រេចចិត្តរបស់យើងនៅក្នុងឆាកជីវិត កុំឱ្យយើងផ្ទេរការទទួលខុសត្រូវនេះដល់អ្នកផ្សេង។ រាល់ព្រឹកយើងមានឳកាសដើម្បីជ្រើសរើសការរីកចម្រើនជាមនុស្សដោយសម្តែងសេចក្តីស្រឡាញ់ តែបើយើងជ្រើសរើសយកការបដិសេធមិនព្រមបង្ហាញសេចក្តីស្រឡាញនោះ យើងនឹងប្រែពីសភាពជាមនុស្ស វិលត្រឡប់ទៅរកសភាពជាសត្វវិញ។