Tag Archives: book club

Book Club: Episode 4!

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Somehow, I feel as though now I’m not halfway across the world, I’ll be doing more Book Clubs in a desperate attempt to infuse my new (old?) daily life in California with the Excitement and Exoticism that characterized my life in Morocco. Nope, I haven’t learned anything, especially not that the whole Exoticism thing is stupid and shallow. Why not? I dunno, I’m too busy distracting myself with BOOKS like

Lamb
The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal

by Christopher Moore.

(The title looks awesome when it’s Centered.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I was raised so Catholic that I practically farted incense (and I’m hell-bound for that one), except that from a tender young age I believed most Churchgoers were trapped reciting the Nicene Creed by alien mind-control and that the infallibility of the Pope had to be some kind of dogmatic mistake (I let transubstantiation go, though, so give me a break).

I generally pinpoint my break with being Officially Catholic around the time of my Confirmation at the end of 8th grade (I find this fabulously ironic, but that only boosts my ego), which coincided with a Newfound Freedom from my parochial school’s clutches (8th grade graduation), the end of forced confessions and penances (though I found 7 rosaries in my bedroom yesterday, there must be some symbolism in that), and the many opportunities for wanton sinning in the Dionysian pits normally referred to as High School (SINbolism? No. Embolism? Causing many, probably. I really hate excessive use of parentheses, don’t you?). I generally regard religion from a safe, comic distance, and I’m a sucker for a comedic rendering of all things Biblical.

So you can imagine my delight reading Moore’s book, Lamb, in which the Messiah’s best friend Biff, resurrected from the dead 2,000 years later, writes his own story from a hotel room, with a TV-watching angel and a Bible in the bathroom for company.  You know, I’ve always suspected that Jesus was pals with the Abominable Snowman. It’s funny, it’s poignant, there are crazy people and lepers and Chinese concubines, and it’s a great story.

Christopher Moore wrote some other books, too, but I haven’t read them yet. Am going to, probably.

You’re welcome for the plug, Christopher Moore.

Anyway, apart from Books, how am I doing with the whole transition thing? Great, I’m pretty sure. I’ve been eating bagels and chocolate chips compulsively, just got so sunburned that I radiate heat to the entire neighborhood, and am giving away piles of Clothing and Other Shit that’s just been buried in my closet for centuries. That’s how I found those 7 rosaries. Seven. I was going to run a 10k with my mom this morning, but my legs were so sunburned it hurt to walk, so screw that. I found a place to live for next year and am moving in around June 16, so if you live in Seattle and want to help move my only piece of furniture (a couch), hit me up!

I’m chatting with some friends and stuff, though I haven’t quite grasped the idea of inserting myself back into the School and Social Life bubbles yet. That’s fine, because I’m really not too worried about it anyway. I’m too busy cleaning, watching John Hughes movies, and trying to get over Judd Nelson’s nostrils.

PEACE OUT, ADVENTURE SCOUT.

Book Club: This Blinding Absence of Light

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And a new series is born, to join the ranks of Gender Talk and Art Talk! Welcome to Book Club, where I recommend good books. Aren’t I awesome?!

Also, just as a fun challenge, I am going to do my best to avoid books that have been assigned; so unless otherwise stated, these are all books I’m reading outside of class.

I’m retroactively declaring this post the first of Book Club, because I talk about books you should read (also, that post feels like years ago), and who wouldn’t want to read Dreams of Trespass and Beyond the Veil? Great books, all around.

This first real episode of Book Club isn’t quite so lighthearted, however: the book I’m going to talk about today is a difficult one. Not difficult to understand, no; in fact, it’s written pointedly in simple, understandable language. It is, however, emotionally draining, graphic, and heart-wrenching.

For a long time I searched for the black stone that cleanses the soul of death. When I say a long time, I think of a bottomless pit, a tunnel dug with my fingers, my teeth, in the stubborn hope of glimpsing, if only for a minute, one infinitely lingering minute, a ray of light, a spark that would imprint itself deep within my eye, that would stay protected in my entrails like a secret. There it would be, lodging in my breast and nourishing my endless nights, there, in the depths of the humid earth, in that tomb smelling of man stripped of his humanity by shovel blows that flay him alive, snatching away his sight, his voice, his reason.

So begins This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a novel depicting the sufferings of the inmates at Tazmamart, a secret concentration camp built in 1972 to contain Hassan II’s political opponents. In 1972, 58 army officers were transferred from the prison in Kenitra to Tazmamart, and effectively disappeared for 18 years, during which the government denied the prison’s existence. The release of the 23 survivors in 1991 and the ensuing discoveries of how the inmates were treated have made Tazmamart a powerful symbol of what some opponents of Hassan II called Morocco’s “Years of Lead,” marked by state violence against political dissidents.

The inmates were kept in individual cells underground, the ceilings less than 5 feet high, in complete darkness. They were given barely enough starches and water to keep them alive, or as Ben Jelloun says, “lingering on the edge of death.” There was no medical attention; the intention was for them to “die by inches,” a punishment made doubly cruel by the meticulous planning that had gone into its implementation.

This book is the product of the author’s close work with one of the survivors, who was a lieutenant who participated (knowingly? unknowingly? didn’t matter) in the failed coup d’êtat against Hassan II that took place in one of his many palaces in 1971. Scraps of hope, of escapes into spirituality, imagination, solidarity between inmates, and prayer are woven through his stories of desperation and deprivation, of immense suffering, of horrific death, of disease, and of the farthest reaches of inhumanity.

It takes many deep breaths and a few breaks to get through this book, but I do recommend it. Tahar Ben Jelloun is an excellent writer, and again, the style is simple, blunt, but also beautifully composed. It left me, unexpectedly, with a desire to read it again; passages of the book rang with a wisdom that stuck with me, and I found myself learning a lot as well. Though there are times when turning the page constitutes another sucker punch to the gut, the book will leave you with a weary but fierce appreciation (I want a better word, but can’t think of one) for the capabilities of the human spirit to endure the most horrific circumstances and emerge, alive, to once again live in the light.