Friday, January 8, 2010

Stop My Heart and Execute Me

There was a NY Times Op-Ed piece by Colum McCann on December 27, "Titles of the Times" that talks about the author's relationship with America, and literature and history. It's a well written piece with prose that begs to be read aloud, but one sentence continues to haunt me.
Literature can stop my heart and execute me for a moment, allow me to become someone else.
When I think about the literature that I love. . . when I think about the characters that I still wonder about, as if they are good friends that I've lost touch of, but still wonder about. . .these are the books that have stopped my heart. These are the books that have wedged themselves into my na'au (my guts). I reread them over the years and still find myself gasping for breath, even when I know what will happen. I mourn anew. I rage against the injustice as if it were the first injustice.

I think we, as avid readers, continue to be avid readers because there are books that stop our heart for a moment. When we read a really good book, we mourn at the last page, not ready to let go of the world we've occupied, the friends we've made, the enemies we've battled. A really good book requires a little quiet time at the end to decompress and return to reality. Like addicts, we are looking for the next high. We are willing to search our whole lives.

Here's one of my heart stoppers (I notice that I carry around tragedies - I don't know what that says about me).

Set in South Africa, Zulu priest Stephen Kumalo leaves his village to travel to Johannesburg in the 1940s in search of some relatives that seem to have gotten swallowed up in the modern city. He finds out that his sister is now a prostitute, his brother is a labor protestor and his son, Absalom, has been arrested for the murder of a prominent white man. This book is about a loss of culture, a loss of self, a quiet desperation and the seething rage of the blacks in South Africa, mirrored by the description of the changing landscape.

What are those books that you carry with you in your heart?


Jen H. said...

I love Gogol from Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. I feel like I know and understand him. He feels like a real person to me. Lahiri must be doing something right to create something so vivid and real.

Cathy Ikeda said...

Yes! I too loved Gogol in The Namesake. I was very disappointed in the movie, though.


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