Stoner by John Williams

The story evolves so gently and quietly that talking about it feels like tainting it and violently intruding on something that prefers to be left in peace. This has as much to do with the story’s subtle and eluding tone, as with the parallel narrative. Stoner is a quiet and gentle men with the purest of intentions, but which, as it often happens, get tainted when materialized. His life advances in an isolated manner, devoid of the force that transforms a thought into action or the knowledge of how to use it.

Stoner grows up on a farm and lacks the notions of the bigger world’s complexities. When he, by coincidence, discovers literature and the academic world, the consequences are two-sided. Knowing hard work, he progress quickly. Lacking experience, he isn’t able to connect his own life with this imaginary world and instead, separates them completely. Since the new world has nothing to do with the former one – it is exempt from monotonous, repetitive, manual work and is full of wonder, novelty and flights of thought – he finds in it a perfect hideaway. It is a place where the practical life can’t intrude and the daily problems can’t invade, but where the inputs still have straightforward outputs and things are as simple as they sometimes were. The worse his domestic life gets, the more he retreats to studies; the more he masters the written word, the less he can articulate his own everyday. The two worlds become so isolated that even a desperate cry for help from his nearest turns into a distant call from a faraway land. Despite all the theoretical knowledge, he doesn’t have the tools to question and resist his own life course.

This book is a monument to the mundane, to the paths we choose without really choosing, to the joys and sorrows that coincidences distribute unevenly among people, and of a life that has much more within its reach, yet stays motionless and trapped between opposing forces. With simple, but deeply moving sentences it portrays a correspondent story. As many monuments, it captures a moment of life and provides a humble warning for those who are inclined to follow his path.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

In the middle of an African village on the verge of white people’s arrival, the rhythm of living is dictated by weather, crops and all sacred nature’s inventions. Inner life is as important as any of intangible magical forces – not very much in comparison with the plenitude of all the other ephemeral things.

Everything that transcends an individual is a cause for commotion. Marriage means a colossal feast and faraway death disturbs everyone’s night rest. All the society’s great events are accompanied by divine beings. With such a vast entourage, many of this distant world’s characteristic that we condemn today (gender inequality, lack of education, ostracism…) feel at least as peaceful and joyous as the ones we’ve gotten used to cherish.

Even some aspects of their arbitrary laws and consequent violence made me feel sorry for all that was lost in between. Without written, defined constitution, justice is made by people’s spontaneous and versatile interpretations of it. Divine order (or nature as a whole) is an unfair judge; it speaks to everyone differently and its language is too similar to all kinds of prejudices and accumulated experiences. But it is also a very reassuring messenger. It makes everyone responsible only to itself, the whole. Wrongdoings are therefore punished only for restoration of the divine order; they have no integral fault or debt to society in themselves. Guilt is nonexistent and thinking about alternatives diminished. Nowadays, there’s only camping left for a little bit of nature’s touch.

Of mice and men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Power and simple mindedness are terrible companions. No matter what aspect of life they inhabit, it is rarely with festive consequences; if they work on a smaller scale, the experience only becomes more personal and therefore tragic. This one certainly can’t get gloomier. Everyone wins the sad competition – the author, with his all encompassing vision of sadness, the readers, forced to accept his vision of human existence (worse things do happen every day in some places) and most of all, the characters. They dream of a world where everything would be different, but every time something new happens, it only increases their bitterness. I was always curious about the outcomes of Lessing’s fifth child living in a different environment and this book has provided me with an answer – distance doesn’t matter.

I assume every reader knows what this book is about right from the start, even if he is unfamiliar with the plot. One can’t escape the charged atmosphere, electrified by contrasting the indifferent, all-embracing nature to the human world, and an ominous feeling of increasingly tragic events. What’s magical about Steinbeck’s writing is that while the events keep moving faster with each page, they nonetheless remain perfectly still. This paradoxical stillness resembles a calm before an earthquake. With an alertness of an animal anticipating danger, the reader doesn’t need to change the position to see what’s on the other side; everything is already there at the beginning. Perhaps the story was almost too neat, which is why it was easy for me to get detached.