“Professor Mannhardt relates a strange legend current in Mecklenburg to the effect that in a certain secluded and barren spot, where a murder had been committed, there grows up every day at noon a peculiarly-shaped thistle, unlike any other of its kind. On inspection there are to be seen human arms, hands, and heads, and as soon as twelve heads have appeared, the weird plant vanishes. It is further added that on one occasion a shepherd happened to pass the mysterious spot where the thistle was growing, when instantly his arms were paralysed and his staff became tinder.”
From “The Folk-Lore of Plants“, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer
This one got passed to me by someone in Korea. My wife is a fan of Kundera. Or was, before I ruined her taste with comic books and Fritz Leiber.
The Joke details several “jokes”, none of which are the haha kind. The first one is a postcard written by Ludvik Jahn when he was a student that caused him to be sentenced to the coal mines. This event propels the plot in so much as the plot is about Ludvik’s quest for revenge fifteen years later. In the ways his plan gets fulfilled and in the ways others react to it provides the rest of the “jokes”.
“When it is postponed, vengeance is transformed into something deceptive, into a personal religion, into a myth that recedes day by day from the people involved, who remain the same in the myth though in reality (the walkway is in constant motion) they long ago became different people: today another Jahn stands before another Zemanek, and the blow that I still owe him can be neither revived nor reconstructed, it is definitely lost.”
Ludvik’s a rather unpleasant and bitter guy, but in him we can see a thwarted hero. His path suggests an anti-bildungsroman where the youth does not mature by overcoming adversity but instead grows cynical when he encounters the injustices of the world. For awhile I was at a bit of a remove while reading it, waiting for it to transcend its “Soviet-style bureaucracies are never good” message. But by its end The Joke is less about any particular course of action or desire the characters have and more about the way history (and historic events) undermines all our expectations — and discovering redemption despite this. It’s a great book as long as you don’t mind your existentialism mixed with a blend of male chauvinism.
My vacation’s about over. I’m in Boston until Thursday when I’ll once more enter the air travel relay race and fly back to Korea. It’s been a great trip. I’ve had time to catch up with family and friends, and in between all the running around and socializing I got to be pretty damn lazy. No complaints there. Now to figure out how to fit that pile of books above into my suitcases.
All of which is to say things are still on hiatus here.
There’s likely to be a lack of posts while I’m visiting the USA.
My flight was more or less fine. The whole thing “door to door” took close to 30 hours. I think only 15 of those hours involved being on an airplane. The rest was spent in transit or sitting around. No highlights, except for the leg early on between Korea and Japan where the woman seated beside me burst into tears halfway through the flight. Yeah… fun times.
All right, this book is one of those I wish I had read as a fifteen year old. At fifteen I would have gobbled this up as I did Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. A Mohawk-sporting, telepathic juvenile delinquent hops through time and dimensions to raise an army to do battle with mind parasites?
Yes. Sign me up.
Now sometimes this is a mixed bag. Often encountering something that speaks to our teen-self only increases our awareness of time’s passing, and you either succumb to wistful nostalgia or get grumpy because you got older. Other times by some quirk in the work or possibly within ourselves, the magic’s still there waiting for us to open the pages and discover it. Warchild was one of those other times.
If you have SFnal fifteen year olds in your life, find them a copy of this book and give it to them.
“There is no better way of obtaining useful information than by mixing with people. According to a wise saying of the ancients: “The eye never tires from seeing, nor the ear from hearing.”
Therefore, I decided with the help of God to blacken these pages with what I saw and heard during this voyage, be it clear or obscure. For I am but a woodgatherer of the night, the one who lags behind, a horse who is out of the race.”
– Disorienting Encounters: Travels of a Moroccan Scholar in France in 1845 – 1846. The Voyage of Muhammad As-Saffar