Saturday, August 18, 2007

Social Comment on Atwood from my Dad

My Dad sent me a wonderful e-mail today. He reads as much, if not more than I do. And now that I am older, I find it invigorating learning his thoughts on books he has already read, that I am just being introduced to. So here it is. Oh, and Dad lives in New Zealand, of course.

I'm enjoying your book-blog. It seems that you have more time for reading now that you're in the convalescent phase. That must be a nice positive amidst the negatives and inconvenience etc. I'm glad you're recovering well and that the swelling you experienced recently is nothing to worry about. However it definitely pays to check out these things!

"The Mystery of the Nile" sounds interesting, although I'm constantly amazed at how people do all these wonderful adventures with an IMAX film team trailing round behind them. It reminds me of the (only) IMAX film I've ever seen about climbing Mt Everest. It was that season when a terrible blizzard hit the summit and many climbers died, including a NZer, Rob Hall, who was guiding a client and who elected to stay with his client and die with him rather than leave him to die on his own. Anyway, the producer, John (I think) Krakauer wrote an excellent book called "Into Thin Air", which is engrossing if you're interested in travel in the Himalayas. It takes the Everest story beyond the old classic climbers into the new era, when it is just another peak to be climbed by any reasonably fit person who has the money to hire a guide. I found it quite fascinating.

I see you've discovered your fellow citizen, Margaret Atwood. I very much enjoy her books - she writes well and is always provocative and challenges your thinking. She has a talent for taking an idea and pushing it to a logical, if extreme, conclusion. What she has done for the fundamentalist right in USA in "The handmaiden's tale", she has also done for the possibility of the biotechnology industry getting out of control in "Oryx and Crake". Another dystopia, but makes one think, could it happen? I guess the answer is "maybe", but not necessarily.

The interesting thing about dystopia books is that by giving the warning, a writer may exercise a sort of secular prophetic function (like Jonah in the Old Testament) so that society is encouraged to take actions that avoid the possibility becoming realised. After all, "1984" is a great book and in 1948, when it was written, it looked very possible. However, when 1984 rolled round, the world was, in fact, quite different. This is not to say that Orwell got it wrong. His writings made people aware of the dangers of tyranny, both from the left and the right, and thus reduced the danger. I must say,also, that some of his themes concerning the use and abuse of language will always warrant constant vigilance.

I'm always intrigued that writers looking to the future rarely see good things happening. On the whole, we seem to be a gloomy race, who expect things to get worse rather than better. One of the good things about growing older is that I can look back over 70 years and see that, in spite of our forbodings, the world is, in many ways, much better than it was in 1937. [yes, my dad is 70 years old] In 1937 both Germany and the Soviet Union were ruled by two of the worst regimes the world has seen. Both are now gone. The big colonial empires are dismantled and more people are living in freedom than ever before. There were huge famines in Bengal and China which went unnoticed by the world; nobody cared. I don't want to sound like a Pollyanna, but we have a lot more to be thankful for than we have to complain about. Sure there are some ways in which the world has got worse - we just need to keep it in perspective.

This is not to say the world is perfect. It never will be. People will always be, as Genesis says, made in the image of God, with a huge potential for goodness and creativity, but fallen and thus also with a potential for evil.

Don't I ramble on! Still, it's Saturday morning here and I have a bit of time. I hope you have time to read it.

My favourite Atwood is "Alias Grace", about a murder committed in mid-19th century in a town just north of Toronto. I understand it's based on an actual event. I recommend it. ***** (five stars)

Love Dad.

Thanks Dad.

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