“Every poem should remind the reader that they are going to die.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“Every poem should remind the reader that they are going to die.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“I just can’t help thinking what a real shake up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems…”
And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.
They’d die more like mad dogs, I think–snarling & snapping at each other & biting their own tails.”
I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolation of literature?”
In one of two ways,” he said, “putrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.
No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.,
“What use is a god with boundless mercy, sir? You mock me as a pagan, yet the gods of my ancestors pronounce clearly their ways and punish severely when we break their laws. Your Christian god of mercy gives men licence to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood, knowing a few prayers and a little penance will bring forgiveness and blessing.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro,
“At various points in our lives, or on a quest, for reasons that often remain obscure , we are driven to make decisions which prove with hindsight to be loaded with meaning.”
— Dai Sijie, Once on a Moonless Night
In 2014 Israel conducted an invasion of Gaza that lasted 51 days and killed 2,145 Palestinians and injured over 11,000 people. The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif is a day to day journal of this war that will give you a first hand look as to what it is like to live in these conditions.
This is a book that I only learned of it’s existence after scrolling through Instagram. Since I actively seek out books like this, I couldn’t understand how this one had flown under my radar. Regardless, this is a book that is absolutely necessary to read. In the age of pilotless drones and continual asymmetrical warfare where wealthier nations use their superior fire power on populations of poor, impoverished people – this book provides a perspective that *we* don’t often get.
As much as I’d like to talk about how important this book is, how tough it is to read – how it provides a window into what life is like when any moment could be your last. What I’d like to take a moment to talk about is this books reception. For the most part, the reviews of this book are quite excellent – but then you’ll come across a few that vehemently denounce this book as being “too subjective”, “not presenting both sides” and some of these “reviewers” will even toss out the ‘anti-semitic’ grenade in order to divert attention away from this book and cast it in a false light.
Why I’m pointing this out is that this book, as it talks about life in a war zone simultaneously, due to the war being discussed, exists in another type of war all together; an information war. This information war is just as lop-sided as the war being talked about in the book. The same side that flies the drones are working diligently to make sure that they control the narrative of what is going on. The brutal honesty of The Drone Eats With Me – which includes foot notes that direct you to news stories about events that are described in the book – is tough to combat, so in many reviews about the book, blanket allegations are launched at it by people on a payroll to do so.
I’ve noticed this phenomenon in almost every platform that discusses this book. I would not be surprised if a comment is written below this post tries to do much the same. There are several legitimate critiques of this memoir; ones that refer to perhaps the grammar and issues that arose due to translating the book. Those reviews are not what I’m referring to. The ones that state that the book is “too subjective” and doesn’t talk about ‘both sides’ of the war then go on with an attempt to justify the terror that Saif experienced – those are the reviews written by people on a government payroll. The absurdity of their reviews is that would they make these demands of Anne Frank or any other person writing about their experience during a war? No.
This is one of the few books that I’ve read that is a manifestation of the idiom that books are weapons in the war of ideas. The strength of this book is it’s honesty, its humanity and its ability to convey the terror of living under conditions of total warfare. It allows you to “see” a side of this story that rarely is conveyed in the media; a side that is taboo to talk about.
Add this to your personal library – and I strongly recommend giving it a read.
Like Eating A Stone by Wojciech Tochman is beautiful yet horrifying overview of the aftermath of the four years of war that tore apart Bosnia. Over 100,000 people – primarily men – were rounded up and massacred, their bodies dumped in mass graves during the war. This book follows the survivors of the war – primarily women – as they try to piece their lives back together. Much of this book revolves around the process of identifying the remains of the people buried in mass graves.
The war began in 1992, a war that when I was a child, I recall hearing about on television every evening after school. The break up of Yugoslavia was extremely violent, with most of the people killed being civilians. Campaigns of genocide were being waged, it seems, from both sides. This book brings back the horror of that war while it explores the aftermath.
Due to how recent this war was, as I grew up I began to encounter many people who fled the Balkans to the US as refugee’s. Those who lived through this war and escaped, in my experience, do not like speaking about this time. Like Eating A Stone helps to depict the environment that those survivors left. It is a moment in history that certainly should not be forgotten.
This is a tough book that should be read with caution – but read none-the-less.
“The story is told that when Joe was a child his cousins emptied his Christmas stocking and replaced the gifts with horse manure. Joe took one look and bolted for the door, eyes glittering with excitement. ‘Wait, Joe, where are you going? What did ol’ Santa bring you?’ According to the story Joe paused at the door for a piece of rope. ‘Brought me a bran’-new pony but he got away. I’ll catch ’em if I hurry.’ And ever since then it seemed that Joe had been accepting more than his share of hardship as good fortune, and more than his share of shit as a sign of Shetland ponies just around the corner, Thoroughbred stallions just up the road.”
— Ken Kesey (Sometimes a Great Notion)
The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim is a short memoir about how Ebrahim learned to turn away from the violent legacy left to him by his father. Ebrahim is the son of a man who was initially jailed for targeting and shooting a Rabbi. While in prison, Ebrahims father also helped to orchestrate the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
Through out this short book, Ebrahim describes how he grew up in a violent environment – one that encouraged the types of violence that his father was arrested for. He describes that after the arrest, his mother attempted to try and keep the family together but after awhile she finally got a divorce and married a man that was physically abusive to her and her children.
One way that Ebrahim attempts to break free from this environment is by getting a job. He is able to get a job at an amusement park which allowed him safety from his abusive step father and the ability to be around diverse people. Ultimately this becomes a source of enlightenment for Ebrahim where he is able to formulate for himself a choice – and the choice he makes is to turn away from violence and pursue peace.
The Terrorist’s Son is a short, quick read that is designed to offer a moral lesson. The lesson provided in this book is that violence is a choice – and uses the narrative of growing up with terrorists. The lesson in this book however needs to be expanded. Violence doesn’t only exist with religious zealots, it is a prevalent part of American culture. The book would have done well if it were expanded to discuss this. Most readers of this book probably don’t have notorious terrorists as fathers and wouldn’t consider what Ebrahim is saying applies to them. There is a certainty though that a majority of the readers of this book do live in a society that celebrates violence, a lesson on turning away from the glorification of war would have been nice.
As I’ve suggested, the downside of this short book is it’s brevity – it’s inability to expand a bit on the topic that is being discussed which is to make a choice to turn away from violence and pursue peace. I’d be interested to know how the author views the numerous wars and conflicts the USA is engaged in around the world. These are situations where the nation has made a choice to turn to violence to “solve” various problems – at the cost of countless of innocent lives.
“Those two, in paradise, were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative. Those idiots chose freedom, and what came of it? Of course, for ages afterward they longed for the chains.”
— Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE
Brain on Fire is brilliant; a book that I now consider a ‘must-read’. Although Brain on Fire is a memoir, it is so much more than that. This book is also a public service announcement that should become required reading across the US until the disease discussed in the book becomes more widely known. Although technically a memoir, this book could more accurately be considered a case study written in the first person, a case study about a little known disease that needs more public awareness.
Susannah Cahalan is a journalist for a New York publication. She is a young professional woman with a stable job and a promising future. Cahalan, however, for unknown reasons begins to experience symptoms – sensitivity to light, mood swings, slight hallucinations, speech impediments among others that she can’t explain. After seeing a doctor about this initially, she is told it is due to excessive partying; alcohol withdrawals. One of her doctors speculates that what Cahalan is experiencing are caused by her birth control, still another believes these symptoms are the result of too much stress.
Initially, Cahalan is skeptical of all of these possible diagnoses and attempts to diagnose herself with having, what she believes, is bipolar disorder. This self diagnosis, Cahalan reasoned, provided an explanation for a majority of the symptoms that she was experiencing. Initially she was content with this, however her condition worsened. Her mood swings began to get more and more extreme to the point that she was taken to a hospital to be examined. Numerous tests were run on her, and they all came back displaying that Cahalan’s health was normal, despite the severity of her symptoms.
Through a series of events, she is eventually hospitalized. Her initial doctor is so perplexed with her, that he eventually hand’s off her case to a different doctor. This new doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar was able to discover what really was going on with Cahalan and provide her with a diagnosis, a rare auto-immune disease, then provide a treatment that ultimately saved her life and returned her to a version of normal of her previous self.
This book helped to demonstrate the continued weaknesses of modern medicine – that despite our best abilities, there are still illnesses out there that, despite being prevalent, we know little to nothing about. What appears to be one thing – a mental illness, could very well be something much different. Even Cahalan’s initial doctor was perplexed by her ailments, and since he was unaware of the existence of the disease that effected Cahalan, he had no frame of reference to use in order to diagnose her.
“In the spring of 2009, I was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Just a year later, that figure had doubled. Now the number is in the thousands. Yet Dr. Bailey, considered one of the best neurologists in the country, had never heard of it. When we live in a time when the rate of misdiagnoses has shown no improvement since the 1930s, the lesson here is that it’s important to always get a second opinion.
While he may be an excellent doctor in many respects, Dr. Bailey is also, in some ways, a perfect example of what is wrong with medicine. I was just a number to him (and if he saw thirty-five patients a day, as he told me, that means I was one of a very large number). He is a by-product of a defective system that forces neurologists to spend five minutes with X number of patients a day to maintain their bottom line. It’s a bad system. Dr. Bailey is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule.”
This is why I believe this book should be required reading, because until more are aware of this disease, it will continue to be misdiagnosed until awareness grows.