Friday, June 28, 2013

The Madman

Book: The Madman
Author: Kharil Gibran
Edition: Gutenberg eBook
Read: June 2013
58 pages
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5

This is one of the lessor known books of Gibran. It is a book of parables about a person whose mask had been removed by thieves. He can now see clearly and is a madman. So he tells stories about the truths he tells.


It is better to tell stories with meaning than to say so plainly. With a story, the listener gains understanding. With direction, only a law.

One story (TheWise King) which struck me told how a whole city had gone mad overnight, except for the king and his advisor. This was because their well had been poisoned. The people started whispering that the king was mad, should he rule?  In this short story, Gibran opens up a whole realm of questions. What is the nature of madness? How can a person rule his subjects which think he is unfit? 

Or in The New Pleasure, he shows how thin a difference virtue and vice, sin and goodness can be. CS Lewis would say that sin would only be corrupted pleasure. Or in The Three Ants, he explores what we know and how our ignorance leads us into disaster.

The Blessed City talks about a city which has the reputation for righteousness. When the traveler comes to it, he discovers the population is missing their right hand and eye. When he attends a time of instruction, he understands the lack of hands and eyes and their righteousness. He then flees the city. Read the story and find out why.

More stories along the same lines. Some of them I do find wise. Most I do not.

 This writing is one which provokes thinking. Unlike The Prophet which is more explicit, Gibran relies on story images to convey his thoughts. He is mostly effective in his story telling. There are a few stories which lack ths qualities, but that may be due to something in the reader.  Such as the Scarecrow saying only those who are stuffed with straw can have the joy of scaring. A year later, two crows were making a nest in his head. Interesting on both parts.

This is the type of book which I like to read-simple, but raises profound questions.

Good Quotes:

  • First Line:  You ask me how I became a madman
  • Last Line:  Why am I here, O God of lost souls, thou who art lost amongst the gods?
  •  And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.  2


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Things Fall Apart

Book: Things Fall Apart

Book: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
Read: June 2013
238 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

Achebe tells the story of a young Nigerian who grows up under a disgrace of a father, vowing never to be like him. The story follows Okonkwo's rise in his own clan to being rich, famous and powerful. It being only a matter of time before he becomes great. Then an accidental death occurs forcing him to flee from his village to the village of his mother.  As he waits out his seven years there, he plans out his glorious return.

Except, the entry of the white man and his religion causes unexpected chaos in not only his father's village, but into his mother's village, reaching all the way to the conversion of his own son. The story then shows the confusion of Okonkwo and the tragic results.

 Achebe tells a story of a young pre-colonial Nigerian. The first half to two thirds of the book plods along. I could not figure out what Achebe was trying to do with it. The assumption is that I did not understand the African cues which Achebe was giving because I could not see them. Little did I know that Achebe was laying the groundwork for my understanding of the last part of the book.

When the whites come into the picture, there is a mixture which Achebe wants me to understand. He understands the customs, the fears, the superstitions which in almost any society today is abhorrent. The killing of twins, the abandonment of a wife who has outlived her usefulness, the brutality which allows for a person to kill another whom he has treated as a son in cold blood—all of which Achebe lays before the reader. He shows how the white man's religion came in and drew upon those who felt they were outcasts and brought them in.

But Achebe also saw that the white man also came with arrogance, with his sense of superiority over the Africans. In many, not all, there was not the love their religion had taught them for their fellow man. Instead, the Africans were treated as objects, to be discarded or beaten if they did not prove to be useful.

It is in Achebe's main character where all of this meets up. The man could not cope with the changes. He riles against them. When he sees his fellow villagers being resigned to be ruled over, he rebels until he cannot take it no more and brings about his ultimate disgrace.

All of this makes for a book to read and ponder over. To think about how we do not rightly understand those who are different. What is good which we bring to others? What hidden faults to we bear? These are the questions of Achebe.

Notes from my book group:
The group generally liked it. There was a wide ranging discussion on the book, even on a pot luck night—these discussions tend to be more low key. The thoughts expressed included how  Okonkwo was shaped by his reaction to his father, how he could not adjust to changes in his culture, the impact of the white man's coming, and how little regard there was for low-class people in that society.

Good Quotes:
  • There is no story that is not true. (141)