Friday, August 30, 2013

The Brothers Karamazov

I took a good two weeks to stagger through this story that spreads in tiny font over 936 pages. Usually, this would annoy me, even affect my opinion of the book, unless the length is clearly excusable (like in Harry Potter!). You know the writing advice that goes, 'Every sentence should either advance the story or reveal the character'? So much of those pages were simply Dostoevsky's ramblings, really, repetitive details or lengthy character speeches that were just the author's own musings spoken through their mouths. But I loved every page. How could I not when it started off with an adorable introduction to the reader apologizing for his book's long length?

Dostoevsky's life was dark and dramatic. His outspoken writing led him to prison, where he was given insane silent treatment, the kind where even his guards wore velvet shoes. He suffered years of hard labour in Siberia strewn with epileptic attacks. The fact that he came out of these horrifying experiences with the strength and mental ability to pen down master-pieces drained in powerful thought makes me respect his work and appreciate it tenfold.

The Brothers Karamazov revolves around three brothers who come from a broken family and grow to be individuals tormented by questions that our universe has forever struggled with: about God, man, the truth and the mystery of existence. Unfortunate events happen, ones that the three brothers find themselves entangled in, and ones where their answers to these questions play important roles.

There is very much fuel for thought in almost every chapter, but there are two bits I came across that especially appealed to me.

One was a Russian fairy-tale one of the main characters- Grushenka- tells the story's hero Alyosha:

Once upon a time there lived a nasty, very horrible, old woman. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.
The other was the dying speech of an elder from the monastery:
Much is hidden from us on earth but as compensation, we have been given a mysterious, sacred sense of a living bond with another world, with a lofty and superior world; and indeed, the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not in the earth but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossible for us on earth to grasp the essence of things. God took the seeds of other worlds and sowed them on this earth and they sprouted in His garden; everything that could grow, did. And all that has grown remains alive and lives by its awareness of its ties to other, mysterious worlds, and if that awareness weakens or dies in you, then all that has grown within you will also die. And you will become indifferent to life, will even come to hate it. 
Have you ever had anybody ask you to prove that God exists by asking you to show God to them?
How absurd is that.
Will the limitless power, the source of everything that is and can be, so immense and beyond our limited minds to comprehend, be a simple physical form, for your only human senses to see, touch and hear?

I am all for the questioning of beliefs and the freedom of thought, but nothing gets to me more than attempts to do away with the mystery of our universe and to reduce us spiritual beings to mere physical ones of skin, bones and nerves. In the words of Walter Miller Jr, 'I don't have a soul. I am a soul. I have a body.'


I am writing this book-review as part of my contribution to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse- a cyber book-club started by The Armchair Squid.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Words are energy
neither created nor destroyed
only recycled.
And the moment your squidish lips squirt their ink
there's no going back
the words are ever-immortalised.
You walk
and they walk with you
the air around your body
quivering under the weight
of everything you have ever spoken.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Instant clicking

I think I have come to terms with being an adult but there are still a few things that I need to digest.
Like how tremendously complicated it is to 'click' with people, and stay clicked. How infinite the factors to take into account are.

Do you remember how easy it was as a kid to click with other kids?

Once my mother took my sister and I to visit my aunt, who was living in the same city and who we visited regularly. Usually we spent our visits with her, telling her stories from school while she made jars of pickles in the kitchen for us to take home. But this time, there was a lady we'd never met before already sitting in the living-room, with a daughter a year younger than me. So as customs dictated, it was my responsibility to entertain the girl.

'Go and play' everyone urged, and so I led her to my aunt's room (which was the only other room) and we connected by turning her bed into a trampoline. That's all we did- we just jumped on the bed. I don't remember us asking each other what our names were, what kind of games we liked to play, what our favourite colour was. Jumping on the bed was enough of a strong introduction that I whined when they had to leave, and thought it was the most miraculous, divine miracle when we spotted each other the next day at school. It was enough for me to count it in one of my earliest real human connections and I don't even know what that girl's name was. 

This other time, I had one of the best summer vacations the year a cousin came from Kuwait with her two girls that were around my age. We clicked so quickly and deeply that I even started talking in a Kuwaiti dialect at home (much to my mother's annoyance). They had rented a house for their two-weeks stay that belonged to a family we knew- an Afghan family who were in the carpet-making business- so you can imagine how beautiful this home was. It stood alone on a road that steeped upward- a large, three-storeyed home with wooden floors. This became my second-home for those two weeks: we spent hour after hour having the time of our lives- but now when I try to think of it, we never actually had to talk or 'get to know each other' to connect. It was enough that we had cheerio-gulping competitions, sessions where we dressed up as ghosts and scared their little sister, and adventurous sneaks into the basement where we each had the privilege of ironing clothes (and burning them).

At one sleep-over that I'll always remember, we abandoned our beds and sprawled our blankets on the floor in the middle of the room, camping on them. We went out into the pitch-black garden at some point on tip-toes, rushing back after mistaking an upside broom for a human. When we finally decided to give in to sleep, we each held out a clothes hanger in the air to protect ourselves from the robber outside. I remember feeling so incredibly happy with my new friends as we closed our eyes and held out our clothes-hanger weapons before us. Simple, real connections.

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