Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What books have I read recently? Well, what books have I started?

Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

The Stillborn God, Mark Lilla

The Pleasure of My Company, Steve Martin

And the only one I've finished is:

There are similarities between Geve's memoir with the fictional Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz, mentioned earlier on this blog. Although Geve is German, and Kertesz Hungarian, they both arrived at concentration camps as adolescents, and stayed remarkably long, learning to survive and proving themselves very adaptable to their surroundings. Most of all, the tone of the two books, the attitude and approach to daily life is very matter-of-fact, without sentimentalism. However, Kertesz drifts into a type of mania for logic and rationality which brings him into a daze about what is going on around him, whereas Geve exhibits pragmatism and is precociously aware of his need for hope and forward-looking companionship. Both spend time in infirmaries, too, and are of course very lucky, given the odds.

Geve mentions several times his awareness, even then, of the internationalist attitude he had gained from his experiences, and he contrasts this with others who hadn't been detained with a diverse group like he had. And the euphoria he describes during the days immediately following the liberation of Buchenwald are palpable and joyous, and I don't remember this from Kertesz' book.
Along the lines of earlier posts, an article in NY Review of Books on Islam, including a new book by Hans Kueng, the German religologist. He notes, for instance, that while many major religions have been able to criticize their texts, including Catholocism at a late date, Islam has not yet been able to do so.

I also thought this quote was telling, from Kueng:

"religion is no longer, as it was in the Middle Ages and the Reformation, an institution set over the social system to guarantee its unity, but merely a factor, a sphere, a one part-system among several."

This is similar to the background I read in Lapidus' book on the Islamic World about the development of Shi'ism as the dominant religion in Iran. Lapidus shows that the country's rulers viewed its popularity as assuring stability and logevity for their rule, both of which were lacking in that region in the Middle Ages.