Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

It wasn't the poverty or the helplessness that disturbed him; it was the thing he would see again and again during the days to come -in the empty windows of photography shops, in the frozen windows of the crowded teahouses where the city's unemployed passed the time playing cards, and in the city's empty snow-covered squares. These sights spoke of a strange and powerful loneliness. It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten, as if it were snowing at the end of the world.

He read something else into the look his friend gave him, and it would stay with him for many years: Muhtar thought he deserved the beating he was about to get. Even with the certainty of his winning the election in four days' time, there was something so unsettling about his composure as to make him seem contrite for what had not yet happened; it was almost as if he were thinking, I deserve this beating not just for having insisted in settling in this godforsaken city but for having succumbed once again to the desire for power; I won't let them break my spirit, but I still hate myself for knowing all this and so I don't feel inferior to you. Please, when you look me straight in the eye, don't throw my shame back at me.

Watching the Kars Border Television archive videotape of the evening's performance, I was struck by the silence in the hall; it was as if the audience had left behind the struggles that defined them - the tussle of fathers and sons, the skirmishes between the guilty and the powerful - to sink into a collective terror; and I was not immune to the power of that shimmering fiction that any citizen of any oppressive and aggressively nationalistic country will understand only too well: the magical unity conjured by the word we

He sees a city that seems to have fallen into some sort of a black hole - forgotten by the rest of the world and even given up on by the people who live there themselves. Was it the fact that he was returning to his native city after all these years that made him feels so? He sees the look on Muhtar's face as one who has aspired for power to escape the drudgery of the city. As if the power would enable someone to rise to a higher level as most often feel. May be it the petty struggles between people that enable them to define themselves in a city as oppressive as this. But would there need to be a terror for the people forget their petty struggles and identify for once with their land? Or does terror cause people to realize how small they are and seek the shelter of a larger entity?

The thing that grieved and distressed him the most was not his terrible unhappiness; it was knowing that, had he acted a bit more intelligently, his entire life might have been much happier. The worst thing was knowing that no one even noticed his fear, his misery, his loneliness.

People who seek only happiness never find it.

He'd been far more relaxed that morning as he sat in his cell awaiting execution. Now he'd managed to save himself, he was already looking ahead in anger, aggrieved to know he'd never manage to do anything in life but generate more wrath.

No happiness lasts very long. But I have no desire to do something heroic that will get me killed just because I know how likely it is that I'll be unhappy again at some point in the future.

The book examines happiness, hope, suffering and despair almost throughout. How many times do you think back about decisions that may have changed the course of your life completely? How ridiculously simple the right decision appears when we think back. So do we make the same mistakes over and over again? The man who doesn't learn from history is condemned to repeat it. But does anyone have the courage to examine their own history? You could lie to others, but you could never lie to yourself. And then again you think sometimes, what difference would it make? I would have sooner or later messed everything up anyway. So what would you see yourself as then? An anarchist who could only take pleasure in destruction, in hoping that he would be remembered only for his crimes. So what of the little happiness that does come his way? Enjoy it while it lasts, before it is business as usual?

For the first time in years, he felt part of a family; in spite of the trials and responsibilities of what was called family, he saw now that it was grounded in the joys of unyielding togetherness, a feeling he was sorry to have known so little in his life.

But now as they welcomed this man to a carefully laid meal, with white cheese soon, he was sure, to be accompanied by raki, it was clear to Ka that such urges had no place at the table of revolutionary leaders, who sat down with an easy confidence known only to those for whom it has become second nature to decide other people's fates.

Contrary to popular opinion, a man can shut out love if he wants to. But to do, he must free himself not only from the woman who has bewitched him but also from the third person in the story, the ghost who has put temptation in his way.

Love and being loved. Possessing and being possessed. A family with a clear hierarchy - would you want the burden of being at the lowest rung even if that means you get spoiled once in a while, or would you want the authority of being at the summit even with all the responsibility that comes with it? Or would you just want to be free, knowing that neither would you ever burden anyone nor would you be the one to decide another's fate? Would that be cowardice - to escape? Or would it be noble to refuse? Maybe the suppressed would only find someone else to suppress them and the suppressors find someone else to suppress. What difference would it make by your escape? So what would it need to escape? Was it really that easy to break a bond? Is it really just the bond that needs to be broken or would you need to deal with larger forces that enable that bond - the third person who has put temptation in your way? and what if those larger forces were too strong to be reckoned with?

Shocked at the beauty of his own words, Ka could not help but ask himself, What does it all mean? It seemed to be a poem someone else had written - this he thought was why he was able to see its beauty. But also, finding it beautiful was a shock considering its contents, considering his own life. How to understand the beauty in this poem?

As Ka had so often suggested to me, I simply did not understand poetry well enough, nor the great sadness from which it issues, and so there had been a wall between us, a wall that now divided me not just from the melancholy city described in his notes but from the impoverished place I was now seeing with my own eyes.

You could see that the world was one, but you thought that if you close your eyes to this vision, you could be more unhappy and also more intelligent. And you were right. Only people who are very intelligent and very unhappy can write good poems. So you heroically undertook to endure the pains of faithlessness, just to be able to write good poems. But you didn't realize then that when you lost that vice inside you, you'd end up alone in an empty universe.

One of its important ideas was the poet's ability to shut off part of his mind even while the world is in turmoil. If this meant that a poet had no more connection to the present than a ghost did, such was the price a poet had to pay for his art!

A good actor is a man who represents the sediment, the unexplored and unexplained powers that have drifted down through the centuries; he takes the lessons he has gleaned and hides them deep inside him; his self-mastery is awesome; never does he bare his heart; no one may know how powerful he is until he strides onto the stage. All his life, he travels down unfamiliar roads to perform at the most out-of-the-way theaters in the most godforsaken towns, and everywhere he goes he searches for a voice that will grant him genuine freedom. If he is so fortunate as to find that voice, he must embrace it fearlessly and follow the path to the end.

Here I searched the checkout slips on the inside back covers for my friend's name; whenever I opened a copy of Auden, Browning, or Coleridge to find his signature, I shed tears for him and for the years he's wasted away in this library.

True to some extent. You need to isolate yourself for that flame of creativity to ignite. But that flame will burn out eventually. No one can sustain the flame forever. After a extended period of isolation would you be able to step back outside and face the world. The world could have changed so much, you would not even want to be a part of it. And what if after all the dedication, you were to and as a nobody? Or worse still someone remembers you after you were dead. I remember picking up a book of linear algebra in the library. Just browsing through, I saw a handwritten note inside the cover page - "Fantastic". The book did turn out to be fantastic and brought out a love for linear algebra. When out of curiosity I searched for the author, I found that he had passed away a few years back. What were my first thoughts? Sadness? Actually, rather stupidly, I felt hope. A hope that someday, someone, anyone would read something that I written and want to search for me online!

Mankind's greatest error, the biggest deception of the past thousand years is this: to confuse poverty with stupidity. Throughout history, religious leaders and other honorable men of conscience have always warned against this shaming confusion. They remind us that the poor have hearts, minds, humanity, and wisdom just like everyone else. When Hans Hansen sees a poor man he feels sorry for him. He would not necessarily assume that the man's a fool who has blown his chances or a drunk who has lost his will.

Here, perhaps, we have arrived at the heart of our story. How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another's heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known? Even if the world's rich and powerful were to put themselves in the shoes of the rest, how much would they really understand the wretched millions suffering around them? So it is when Orhan the novelist peers into the dark corners of his poet friend's difficult and painful life: How much can he really see?

The book examines Turkey's place and especially rural Turkey's place in Europe several times. Many times in the book it appears as if an appeal is made to the rest of Europe for acceptance. But is it because of Europe's affluence versus the poverty of a remote village like Kars? It throws up an interesting debate between the perception the rich and the poor have of each other.

The idea of a solitary westernized individual whose faith in God is private is very threatening to you. An atheist who belongs to a community is far easier for you to trust than a solitary man who believes in God. For you, a solitary man is far more wretched an sinful than a nonbeliever.

You're deceiving yourself! Even if you did believe in God, it would make no sense to believe alone. You'd have to believe in him the way the poor do; you'd have to become one of them. It's only by eating what they eat, living where they live, laughing at the same jokes, and getting angry whenever they do that you can believe in their God. If you're leading an utterly different life, you can't be worshiping the same God they are. God is fair enough to know it's not a question of reason or logic but how you live your life.

Another interesting debate is the relationship between religion and society. Could a man hold his own private belief in God? Or would God exist only when he prays and repents among others? So would God then be a concept that binds a society together or is God a concept that provides each one an inner strength. If God does bind a society together, would God not be the one to expel an individual who insists on his solitude and peace? If God is a concept that strengthens an individual, would God not then weaken the need for society? So eventually, is there a middle ground? Where both God and the individual can coexist?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Youth by J.M. Coetzee

A work of genius.

He would like to believe the last explanation. He would like to believe there is enough pity in the air for black people and their lot, enough of a desire to deal honourably with them, to make up for the cruelty of the laws. But he knows it is not so. Between black and white there is a gulf fixed. Deeper than pity, deeper than honourable dealings, deeper even than goodwill, lies and awareness on both sides that people like Paul and himself, with their pianos and violins, are here on this earth, the earth of South Africa, on the shakiest of pretexts. This very milkman, who a year ago must have been just a boy herding cattle in the deepest Transkei, must know it. In fact, from Africans in general, even the Coloured people, he feels a curious, amused tenderness emanating: a sense that he must be a simpleton, in need of protection, if he imagines he can get by on the basis of straight looks and honourable dealings when the ground beneath his feet is soaked with blood and the vast backward depth of history rings with shouts of anger. Why else would this young man, with the first stirrings of the day's wind fingering his horse's mane, smile so gently as he watches the two of them drink the milk he has given them?

Africa is yours. What had seemed perfectly natural while he still called that continent his home seems more and more preposterous from the perspective of Europe: that a handful of Hollanders should have waded ashore on Woodstock beach and claimed ownership of a foreign territory they had never laid their eyes on before; that their descendants should now regard that territory as theirs by birthright. Doubly absurd, given that the first landing-party misunderstood its orders, or chose to misunderstand them. Its orders were to dig a garden and grow spinach and onions for the East India fleet. Two acres, three acres, five acres at the most: that was all they needed. It was never intended that they steal the best part of Africa. If they had only obeyed their orders, he would not be here, nor would Theodora. Theodora would happily be pounding millet under Malawian skied and he would be - what? He would be sitting at a desk in an office in rainy Rotterdam, adding up figures in a ledger.

Patriotism: is that what is beginning to afflict him? Is he proving himself unable to live without a country? Haven shaken the dust of the ugly South Africa from his feet, is he yearning for the South Africa of the old days, when Eden was still possible? Do these Englishmen around him feel the same tug at the heartstrings when there is a mention of Rydal Mount or Baker street in a book? He doubts it. This country, this city, are by now wrapped in centuries of words. Englishmen do not find it at all strange to be walking in the footsteps of Chaucer or Tom Jones.

A beautiful description of his feelings for his homeland. He realizes the country is heading for a revolution; after all the blood that has been shed, nothing will be forgotten. Maybe he wishes things had been different. But how can he make amends for the crimes that his predecessors had committed and his brethren still commit? Would it be cowardice to leave a land in fear of the retribution that would be inevitable? Or was that the right thing to do after all? To see evil and remain where one is would be to commit evil. What would he like to say to people like Theodora? Let bygones be bygones or that he would want nothing to do with any of them if no action of his can make amends for the sins inflicted on them? Now comes the question of patriotism. Would he be wise to let his country slip away rather than live under the foolish ideal that another way might still be possible.

It was to escape the oppressiveness of family that he left home. Now he rarely sees his parents. Though they live only a short walk away, he does not visit. He has never brought Paul to see them, or any of his other friends, to say nothing of Jacqueline. Now that he has his own income, he uses his independence to exclude his parents from his life. His mother is distressed by his coldness, he knows, the coldness with which he has responded to her love all his life.

That is the worst of it. That is the trap that she has built, a trap he has not yet found a way out of. If he were to cut all ties, if he were not to write at all, she would draw the worst conclusions, the worst possible; and the very thought of the grief that would pierce her at that moment makes him want to block his eyes and ears. As long as she is alive he dare not die. As long as she is alive, therefore, his life is not his own. He may not be reckless with it. Though he does not particularly love himself, he must, for her sake, take care of himself, to the point even of dressing warmly, eating the right food, taking Vitamin C. As for suicide, of that there can be no question.

Question that seems to bother me quite often. Can love be without possession? Can you some love someone without wanting to own them? And is it a sin to break away from a love that threatens to swallow you? Even if it would mean destroying the person who loves you to begin with?

Like Pound and Eliot, he must be prepared to endure all that life has stored up for him, even if that means exile, obscure labour, and obloquy. And if he fails the highest test of art, if it turns out that after all he does not have the blessed gift, then he must be prepared to endure that too: the immovable verdict of history, the fate of being, despite all his present and future sufferings, minor. Many are called, few are chosen. For every major poet a cloud of minor poets, like gnats buzzing around a lion.

T.S. Eliot worked for a bank. Wallace Stevens and Franz Kafka worked for insurance companies. In their unique ways Eliot and Stevens and Kafka suffered no less than Poe or Rimbaud. There is no dishonour in electing to follow Eliot and Stevens and Kafka. His choice is to wear a black suit like they did, wear it like a burning shirt, exploiting no one, cheating no one, paying his way. In the way the Romantic era poets went mad on an extravagant scale. Madness poured out of them in reams of delirious verse or great gouts of paint. That era is over: his own madness, if it is to be his lot to suffer madness, will be otherwise - quiet, discreet. He will sit in a corner, tight and hunched, like the robed man in Durer's etching, waiting patiently for his season in hell to pass. And when it has passed he will be all the stronger for having endured.

How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of realizing our dreams? Would we sacrifice all semblances of happiness and a normal life? A hard decision to make - plunging off a cliff versus walking down a grassy path. But then the question is must all be given up? Could we live a semblance of a normal life like Stevens and Kafka and yet produce flashes of genius. I honestly believe so. Almost seems like breaking yourself up into two separate selves. Usually that leads to insanity, but could someone manage to hold those two completely different beings in one consciousness without driving themselves crazy?

The life of the mind, he thinks to himself: is that what we have dedicated ourselves to, I and these lonely wanderers in the bowels of the British Museum? Will there be a reward for us one day? Will our solitariness lift, or is the life of the mind its own reward?

So what of it? Is solitariness so bad that you must wish it to life one day like a prison sentence completed? Would not the company of one's own thoughts born from the books we read be the best companion that we could have? Is it in reality a blessing to be spared the agony of relationships that the rest of the world seems condemned to live, like cars crashing into one another in an amusement park?

He has never liked people who disobey the rules. If the rules are ignored, life ceases to make sense: one might as well, like Ivan Karamazov, hand back one's ticket and retire. Yet London seems full of people who ignore the rules and get away with it. He seems to be the only one stupid enough to play by the rules, he and the other dark-suited, bespectacled, harried clerks he sees in the trains. What, then, should he do? Should he follow Ivan? Should he follow Miklos? Whichever, he seems to follow, he loses. For he has no talent for lying or deception or rule-bending, just as he has no talent for pleasure or fancy clothes. His only talent is for misery, dull, honest misery. If this city offers no reward for misery, what is he doing here?

Now and again, for an instant, it is given to him to see himself from the outside: a whispering, worried boy-man, so dull and ordinary that you would not spare him a second glance. These flashes of illumination disturb him; rather than holding on to them, he tries to bury them in darkness, forget them. Is the self he sees at such moments merely what he appears to be, or is what he really is? What if Oscar Wilde is right, and there is no deeper truth than appearance? Is it possible to be dull and ordinary not only on the surface but to one's deepest depths, and yet be an artist?

Maybe Oscar Wilde is right, there is no deeper truth than appearance. To acknowledge oneself, do the best we can and live the way we want is to live up to the truth. Which on its own brings on an appearance of serenity. Does art really require inner agony?

He is in Cambridge, on the premises of an ancient university, hobnobbing with the great. He has even been given a key to the Mathematical Laboratory, a key to the side door, to let himself in and out. What more could he hope for? But he must be wary of getting carried away, of getting inflated ideas. He is here by luck and nothing else. He could never have studied at Cambridge, was never good enough to win a scholarship. He must continue to think of himself as a hired hand: if not, he will become an impostor the same way that Jude Fawley amid the dreaming spires of Oxford was an impostor. One of these days, quite soon, his tasks will be done, he will have to give back his key, the visits to Cambridge will cease. But let him at least enjoy them while he can.

He hates these confrontations with the blank page, hates them to the extent of beginning to avoid them. He cannot bear the weight of despair that descends at the end of each fruitless session, the realization that once again he has failed. Better not to wound oneself in this way, over and over. One might cease to be able to respond to the call when it comes, might become to weak, too abject.

Maybe we are all on borrowed wings, with keys to side doors that we must return when the time comes. Maybe nothing is really our own, we come and go. Might as well enjoy the trip, so that there is no pain in returning the key when asked.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

This is the third novel by Irving John that I read. A book about a father and son on the run and how it affects their lives or rather the lack of it. Some of the characters seem hard to believe and somehow that makes the book more interesting - the mix of characters.

Danny knew that his father's life had been changed forever because of an ankle injury; a different accident, to the boy's young mother, had altered the course of his own childhood and changed his dad's life forever again. In a twelve-year old's world, change couldn't be good. Any change made Danny anxious - the way missing school made him anxious.

Danny's father Dominic might have become a logger if not for that injury. His life had indeed changed, but for the better or for the worse? If not for the ankle injury, maybe he would have become like Ketchum - a hard riverman who lived among the elements and feared nothing. Instead he became a cook and a husband to a woman who was a school teacher. Throughout the book, there seems to be these two diverging roads - the one that Dominic took and the one that Ketchum takes. The two roads are so incredibly different that it is impossible to compare them. Makes you wonder, what is happiness and what must you have to be happy? Or rather, would not having anything like Ketchum be the ultimate happiness?

Perhaps the photographs of his dead mother were sufficient to make young Dan a writer; he had managed to take only some of them from the cookhouse in Twisted River, and he would miss the books he'd kept her photos pressed flat in - particularly, the novels that contained passages that Rosie had underlined. The passages themselves were a way for the boy to better imagine his mother, together with the photos. Trying to imagine those left-behind pictures was a way of imagining her, too.

Danny becomes a writer but was this why? He had so few photos of his mother and such a poor memory of her, that he felt he had to master words to remember her - words that wouldn't need more photos or more physical contact between humans. Or was it just that Rosie loved books, she might have read his books if she had lived longer? Somehow I came away feeling strongly about the choice of vocations that the characters in the book chose and their reasons for doing so. Maybe the author intended it, maybe he didn't. Dominic chose to be a cook but it was an interesting choice. Dominic being illegitimate had only his mother when he had his injury. And also, his mother had only him. Was that why he chose to be cook? The only way they could really be together? Ketchum was a logger and chose to remain one. Was it because he was estranged from his own children? Was by living like a nomad the only way he could not feel them missing?

"I suppose your mother was too proud to go back to Boston when she had the miscarriage - and she thought I was too young to be left alone when my mother died," Carmella heard Dominic telling Danny. "Rosie must have thought she had to take care of me, and of course she knew that I loved her. I don't doubt that she loved me, too, but I was still just a nice boy to her, and when she met Ketchum - well, he was her age. Ketchum was a man. We had no choice but to put up with it, Daniel - both Kecthum and I adored her, and in her own was I believed she loved the two of us."

But Ketchum had been estranged from his children; he'd already lost them. It wasn't necessarily true that Ketchum was braver, or more bold, than the cook. Ketchum wasn't a father, not anymore; he didn't have as much to lose. Danny only understood that his dad had been doing his best to look out for him. Leaving Twisted River had been a father's decision. And the cook and his son were both trying to look out for young Joe; their mutual fear for the boy had brought Danny and his dad closer.

How can you not see someone as important to you as that? Daniel Baciagalupo was thinking in the Iowa spring rain. More perplexing, his father had not seen Ketchum once in thirteen years. What was the matter with them? But half of Danny's mind was still unfocused - lost in the run-amuck chapter he was blundering about in.

The book throws loss and attachment in a fairly interesting way. Rosie being taken in by Dominic's mother when she was unmarried and pregnant. The act of kindness brings her close to Dominic but she still needs someone like Ketchum. Was the boy who made her pregnant all those years back in any way similar to Ketchum? When Rosie insists that both Dominic and Ketchum share her or that neither of them will have her, was she indeed suggesting a triangle or was it just they remain together as an act of completing one another? When Dominic and Danny leave Twisted River, they almost bid goodbye to their chance of living a normal life, though life in Twisted River may not have been exactly normal. Dominic didn't want to put Danny under any kind of risk though he only exchanged a physical risk with the risk of a lonely life. Eventually, Dominic and Danny had only each other. Why did Ketchum not see Dominic for thirteen years after Dominic left Twisted River? To erase the memory of their years together? But how much could be erased and if they eventually had to meet again, why even bother trying to erase it?

In her letter, Filomena wrote: "I warmly enjoyed your novel, as you no doubt intended - a generous amount of homage with a justifiable amount of condemnation. Yes, I took advantage of you - if only in the beginning. That you stayed with me for so long made me proud of myself, as I am proud of you now. And I'm sorry, if for a time, I made it hard for you to appreciate those inexperienced girls. But you must learn to choose more wisely, my dear - now that you're a little older that I was when we went our separate ways."

Seeing her naked and defiant made Danny realize that what had once attracted him to Katie now repelled him. He'd mistaken what was brazen about her for a kind of sexual courage; she'd seemed both sexy and progressive, but Katie was merely vulgar and insecure. What Danny had desired in his wife only now filled him with revulsion - and this had taken a mere two years to transpire. (The loving-her part would last a little longer; neither Danny nor any other writer could ever explain that.)

He was wondering what his life might have been like if he'd met someone like Lady Sky instead of Katie. Possibly, the skydiver had been closer to Danny's age than he'd first thought. Maybe some bad stuff had happened to her - things that made her look older, the writer imagined. (Danny didn't mean the scar from her cesarean section; he meant worse things.)

Danny goes through a number of women in his life and ends up writing about some of them. Was there ever a parallel between his aunt Filomena and his later wife Katie? The brazenness of his aunt in taking advantage of him was what he probably tried to replace with the brazenness in Katie. He had hoped that Katie's brazenness for a courage that he felt might have been lacking in Filomena. But finally, they ended up the same though Danny still writes well about both of them. It was strange how he awaited letters from Amy (Lady Sky as his on Joe called him). Maybe if he had met Amy before Katie, Amy might never have been jumping naked out of airplanes. He only then realizes he probably was not so badly off - the loss that would break him would only come much later.

When, after that year had passed, Danny Angel could finally bear to reread what he'd written in Baby in the Road, that accidental killing of that two year-old in diapers, which once began in the book, not to mention the subsequent of the dead toddler's parents, seemed almost inconsequential. Wasn't it worse to have a child escape death the first time, and grow up - only to die later, a young man in his prime? And to make the story worse in that way, in a novel - to make what happens more heartbreaking, in other words - well, wasn't that actually a better story? Doubtless, Danny believed so. He'd rewritten Baby in the Road from start to finish. This had taken five, almost six years.
Not surprisingly, the theme of the novel didn't change. How could it? Danny had discovered that the devastation of losing a child stayed very much the same; it mattered little that the details were different.

After the discovery that Lady Sky had written to him, Danny had received a few more letters from his fans who'd lost children, but he'd been unable to answer a single one of those letters. There were no words to say to those people. Danny knew, since he was one of them. He would wonder how Amy had managed it; in his new life, without Joe, Danny didn't think it would be all that hard to jump naked out of an airplane.

Amy had told him that she'd lost her little boy when she was much younger; she'd already lost him when Danny had met her as a skydiver. Amy's only child had died when he was two - little Joe's age at the pig roast. That death had aged Amy when it had happened, and for a number of years immediately following her boy's death. It wasn't that Amy was over her son's death - one never got over a loss like that, as she knew Danny would know. It was only that the loss didn't show as much, when so many years had passed. Maybe your child's death ceased being as visible to other people, after a really long time.

Danny actually rewrote the book about Joe's death. Was he expecting Joe to die to begin with? Danny worried about Joe from the very beginning - he probably was worried that Joe had his mother's recklessness. Was Amy driven to jumping out of airplanes by her boy's death? Joe called her Lady Sky and thought she was an angel. Would that have been the reason why she finally sought Danny out in the frozen wilderness? She was no angel is she couldn't be there for those who believed in her.

Sometimes, especially when Ketchum was drunk, Danny had seen the way the logger looked at his left hand; it was the way he had stared at his cast last night. If Injun Jane had seen Ketchum staring at his case, she might have taken this as a sign that Ketchum still thought about cutting off his hand. (But why the left one? Danny Baciagalupo would wonder. Ketchum was right-handed. If you hated yourself, if you were really taking yourself to task or holding yourself accountable, wouldn't you want to cut off your good hand?)

As Danny knew, the aspirin hadn't been "for the pain"; knowing Ketchum, Danny believed that the old riverman had probably relished the pain. The whiskey wasn't for the pain either. Both the aspirin and the whiskey, the writer knew, were strictly to keep Ketchum bleeding; the logger had little forgiveness for anyone who had a job to do and did a piss-poor job of it. (Only Ketchum could kill Ketchum, right?)

Little Joe was gone, but not a day passed in Daniel Baciagalupo's life when Joe wasn't loved or remembered. The cook had been murdered in his bed, but Dominic Baciagalupo had had the last laugh on the cowboy. Kecthum's left hand would live for ever on Twisted River, and Six-Pack had known what to do with the rest of her friend.

As for the river, it just kept moving, as rivers do - as rivers do. Under the logs, the body of the young Canadian moved with the river, which jostled him to and fro - to and fro. If, at this moment in time, Twisted River also appeared restless, maybe the river itself wanted the boy's body to move on, too - move on, too.

Ketchum wanted Twisted River to have his left hand in the same way Twisted River had taken Rosie. After all his left hand was Rosie's hand, his good hand. Ketchum maybe have felt that he let down Danny by letting Dominic get killed by the cowboy. But Danny was alive because of him - or at least the gun he gave Danny. Was that why Ketchum decided to end his life - because his duty to Dominic and Danny was done? Now he could give back to the river, the only part that was good in him. So finally, the river begins and ends everything.

He'd lost so much that was dear to him, but Danny knew how stories were marvels - how they simply couldn't be stopped. He felt that the great adventure of his life was just beginning - as his father must have felt, in the throes and dire circumstances of his last night on Twisted River.

The book has a beautiful ending. There are times when it is absolutely hilarious. Like all of John Irving's books, a pretty long one. But one hell of a read!