Posts Tagged ‘allegory’
I’ve spent some time thinking about this book. Almost a month now, to be precise. As I sat getting my hair cut one afternoon (the cut I wore to my wedding) by a woman from Mankato, a tiny town about 20 miles away from my hometown, I wondered how she made it all the way down to Nashville. It occurred to me that she probably wonders the same about me. I asked, and she said she wanted a change of scenery. Who knows why anyone ends up where they do sometimes? I feel like that is really the theme of this book, like it’s a couple hundred pages that just really ask “Why am I here? Why me? Why not me?” Thinking about all this makes me think about the stories in this book, and about my father, a veteran of the Viet Nam war and the things he told me about being in the service.
There is a lot to take in through this rather short novel, and the way O’Brien blends truth and “story truth” makes it difficult or impossible to separate the real from the imagined in many cases. That seems about right to me. I’ve asked my dad about what went on overseas and while some of his memories are strikingly vivid and accurate, many things are lost to him. He has spent a lot of time trying to figure out where he served and who he served with. Sometimes, when I thought about it, this search seemed odd, like it shouldn’t be something so easily forgotten, but later, when I come back to what he has told me of his memories, they are so large, so impossible to comprehend, that it seems like he shouldn’t be able to fit anything else in his head, and as I lived more of my life I began to understand how certain things just get lost along the way.
I finished this novel quite a while ago, and while I haven’t actively avoided writing this review (I’ve been snowed under at work and it leaves very little mettle for things like this when I get home) I haven’t really felt as though I can do this book justice. There is far more to this book than my limited perspective can grasp on one reading, and it is one of the few books in recent memory (The Master and Margarita being the other) that I immediately felt I needed to read again in order to fully appreciate its subtleties.
Touted as Greene’s masterpiece (by none other than John Updike) this is a sparse, short, and searingly raw tale of the exile of an unnamed Catholic priest who is on the run from a fascist and anti-religious government. The novel centers on the revolution in Mexico through the late 1920s that viciously suppressed any and all religion on the order of then president Plutarco Elías Calles. The doctrine was especially brutal in the state of Tobasco, where this novel takes place. There is no use denying that this novel traverses some difficult territory and deals with the human condition in a way that is at once honest and often disturbing.
A warning: parts of this review may seem a bit obtuse if you have not read this book. So. Go, read this book. You will love it. Then come back and read this review and you can see how smart I am and how much you agree with me. Really!
Manuscripts don’t burn.
So says Satan to Margarita late in the tale. Thus, Satan reveals a truth that Bulgakov found in his own life and brought to this book. The many meanings of this simple phrase offer an excellent metaphor for the novel itself. Quite literally, the notebooks in which writers of the day put their writing were not easily burned. But, of course, more than that, once something is written it takes on a life of its own, and is never really forgotten, and that is the true value and message of this tale.
Bulgakov burned the first copy of this book after the failure of another of his works, only to resurrect it years later. In fact, the novel would not have been finished at all if it were not for Bulgakov’s wife. Bulgakov died before he could finish the masterpiece and the last portion was written by his wife. In this way the relationship between the Master and Margarita (our title characters) seems eerily prescient, and is almost certainly an allusion to Bulgakov’s relationship with his wife.