Wednesday, January 27, 2021

My review of The Prince and the Pauper


People know about Mark Twain mainly as the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and later on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - these are the books which are promoted academics, the champions of inoffensive literature. To my mind the most significant American writer is Mark Twain.  He became a writer during the great American Revolution.

Mark Twain

He grew up during slavery, a friend of General Grant and became the most eloquent champion of racial equality, a scourge of hypocrisy, religion and greed.  As he wrote in his autobiography “I know best myself and I assume that other people are like me and I draw all my characters good and bad from myself”.  It was a tough call. 

At the time Americans were more hypocritical than the English. Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women), was outraged even by Huckleberry Fin “It’s a pity that Mr Clements cannot have anything better to say to our innocent youngsters”. Hemingway wrote that all of American literature grew out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but in fact the novels first appeared in Canada and England before they saw the light day in America.

MT is of universal significance because his work embodies the transition from a religious age to the post religious age. You haven’t lived until you read Letters from the Earth and A Mysterious Stranger.  After god created the world the archangels of course praised it, but Satan, one of the archangels wasn’t impressed.  “The spider kills the fly, the bird kills the spider, it is just kill kill kill”.  God was offended and banished Satan to the earth where he wrote back to his fellow Archangels about the strange beliefs of people on earth.  It reads like a prosecutor's speech, listing God’s crimes against humanity.  It is about a century later that the film The Life of Brian caused outrage although it is milder than The Letters from The Earth, so you can imagine what a hard time MT had when he wrote the books.  As Bernard Shaw wrote to him “If people understood what you are really saying they would kill you”.

 “In God we trust is a wonderful phrase and it would not sound any better if were true”, he said to Andrew Carnegie. 

He wrote to a friend "The difference the almost right word and the right word is the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning”.

His specifically American in that his work embodies the idea that all men are created equal and also the many ways that American reality failed to live up to this idea.

He dedicated his first masterpiece The Prince and the Pauper to “Those good mannered and agreeable children, Susie and Clara Clemence, this book is affectionately inscribed by their father”.

Mark Twain is known to most people as a humourist.  His work can be best summarised by Stendhal’s definition of great literature.  “It conveys generous sentiments which inspires people to revolt”.  If you have youngsters, this is the book to give them during the lockdown from the coronavirus, they will be readers forever.  

The story is about a prince Edward the son of Henry VII and a slum kid who look alike and cannot be distinguished from each other, both experience the world in the eyes of both the Prince and the slum kid at a time, when they burnt witches and boiled people in oil and hanged those who thought differently. If you read the book you certainly glad that you weren’t around at the time. As always Mark Twain can give at least a double vision of everything he describes. Horror, cruelty and viciousness is relieved by feeling of goodness, trust and peace which melts your chest.   The emotional sway of the book can be compared to classical music, the loud and shocking passages are melt into adagios.

To continue with the musical analogy I would compare the novel to Hyden’s Morning, Noon, and Night symphonies. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

My review of Thomas Mann and Felix Krull


While I am waiting for the appearance of my new novel, I am reading Felix Krull for the umpteenth time and every paragraph and sentence is perfect.  Its an incredible thrill to read a joyful masterpiece.

A few decades ago, Thomas Mann was acclaimed the world over as the greatest living writer.  He got the Nobel Prize for The Magic Mountain in 1929, which is about the sanatorium of people suffering from tuberculosis before the cure for it was invented.  Thomas Mann uses this setting to give a summary of all the ideas, which were current at the time. It is like a weekly paper summing up what happened the previous week, except that it is a very, very long book.  I think you have to have professional interested in literature to be able to read it from beginning to end – looking for the flashes of genius.  This is true of most of his work.  For instance in his biblical novel Potiphar's Wife, she, the wife, the heroine and is in love with young Joseph and to test her love she has female friends over for a meal and have Joseph appear just when they are trying to cut some delicacy with a sharp knife.  All the women ended up cutting their fingers when they catch sight of Joseph. 

Like all great writers he could tell you also what he does not say, giving the reader the thrill of imagining what was not actually said.  A memorable moment in Buddenbrooks is when Mrs Buddenbrook is playing piano duets with a young officer. The piano falls silent just as her son comes home and runs to meet his mother.  His father waylays his son before the kid can open the door on the silent pair in order to ask him about his schoolwork.  

You can’t create great works without going through hell.  Thomas Mann was a bisexual and his work at the time when any deviation from the heterosexual norm was considered both a sickness and a crime. He came from a rich and tragic family of suicides where two of his sisters and one of his own sons committed suicide. His experiences enabled him to create works, which are lifted by a breeze and thrown by death.

His most famous novel “Death in Venice” is about a homosexual writer who was caught in Venice during the plague and he dies as he falls in love with a beautiful boy he has seen on the beach.  Falling in love and dying at the same time is one of the most moving masterpieces in literature.  I particularly indebted to The confessions of Felix Krull.  As a German critic spotted it, In Praise Of Older Women is inconceivable without The Confessions of Felix Krull.

It includes all the discreditable things which never find their way into memoirs. It is called “first part” because of the references of his later life in prison.  

Felix Krull is a unique character and I cannot think of any other literary figure you could compare him to.  He was a thief, a gigolo, a confidence man and what makes him admirable, in spite of all this, is his imagination the joy he has playing different roles in his life.

He is a great actor who plays and enjoys every role he plays, which makes his confidence tricks all the more enjoyable.  If you like good books and enjoy wit then you will enjoy Felix Krull.

This novel has an immense reputation in Germany and they clearly did everything to make it into a great movie – proving that there is no way to make a good movie from a great novel. Although the book includes all the discreditable things a young man can do it is also one of the best books on love.  Not sex but love in its deepest sense, which prompts you to touch and stroke a dirty boy’s head even if he may have a contagious disease.  

Felix is trying to seduce a young girl who has a horror of the flesh. He argues that the natural human reaction to other people is shrinking into oneself.  This is what the young girl feels and as he converts her to love, this is one of the best passages in literature. 

What is unique about the writing of the book is that he wrote most of it as a young man and the later part as an old man, yet  they bend together so seamlessly that it would be impossible to say what part he wrote as a young man and what part he wrote as an old man except his German gets more convoluted in the later part. You won’t notice it if you read the excellent English translation by Denver Lindley.  Some people say that Confessions of Felix Krull is an unfinished book, but I feel they are wrong because to finish with and ode to love is a perfect ending.

Thomas Mann described his writing as “Ironic conservatism”.  Quite apart from everything else the novel gives you an idea of what society was at the beginning of the 20th century. I quote Thomas Mann in an Innocent Millionaire, “How inventive life is! It brings our childhood dreams to pass”. In Felix Krull childhood dreams becoming reality, which gives the book its unique charm. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Just watched the Death of Stalin.

In early 1950's the movie explains the paranoia and backstabbing when Soviet Leader, Joseph Stalin dies suddenly.    I felt the movie was written by people who know little about power and a total falsification of facts around Stalin’s death.

I felt none of the real characters thought that they could convince anybody with their arguments.  Each of the characters had some armed force behind them.  The only realistic detail was in the fact that marshal Georgy Zhukov who was the head of the red army managed to disarm Lavrenti Beria forces.  Beria was the head of the secret police the NKVD, he had information of the crimes of all the other members of the Politburo including rape, embezzlement.   

He came to meetings with his own secret police. In effect the Politburo were prisoners of Beria’s troops, but while they surrendered the central committee one of Marshal Zhukov’s generals pretended to come to inform the committee of an American attack and was able to get to the committee rooms with his brief case.  Once inside he drew out a revolver from his briefcase and shot with a silencer Beria. So while the NKVD waited outside, the committee left the room by a secret passage and went to Beria’s home to get and burn the evidence, which Beria had on all of them. It was only a day later that Beria’s troops realised that something was wrong, but by then it was too late and Marshal Zhukov’s soldiers managed to disarm them.

I was fascinated by falsehoods, what engaged about the movie is how it twisted reality of what happened after Stalin’s death, although I watched the movie to the end.

There was not much else I can remember about the movie, but I watched the movie till the end.  The movie makes me think about how history is constantly being falsified. 

I noticed that Olga Kurylenko who played Maria in the movie was very stubborn in the how she felt about Stalin.  I remember that in Hungary I was in danger of being reported that I was glad that this mass murderer died.

You can find out more about the film on IMDB