Last night I went to bed a little lonely, even with S. right there. On Tuesday I finally completed War and Remembrance and going to sleep after an Updike short story instead of say, in France with Leslie Sloate or Leningrad with Pug Henry simply wasn’t the same. I know I bitched and moaned my way through these books but by the time I got to the end (don’t read further if you don’t want to hear about the ending) with Natalie hugging her child, her body ravaged from her time in the concentration camp, Byron shielding his eyes as though entering a room too brightly lit, I, to answer an oft-asked meme question, was crying. Maybe it was because it was so late at night, or maybe because I was finally finished, I dont’ know, but I cried by the time I completed this book.
Did Aaron really have to die? And did Wouk really have to ruin the above chapter by tacking one on that explains Berel didn’t really exist, but rather served as a metaphor? And how come before, despite numerous movies and the rather unmotivated intentions of my high school American History teacher, did I never understand the enormity of the Holocaust? How could I have skipped through school so lightly? And how come I never before knew Leningrad is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and why haven’t I been there yet?
Admittedly it took me quite some time to feel involved in these books, but once I gave myself permission to slow down and savor the text, to really learn from them instead of skimming through them, once I decided it was okay to read slowly, and that other books could wait, I found myself more engaged and surprised than by anything I have read recently. They took an absurdly long time to complete, but now I have, and the Henry family will be forever with me. I could have done without some of the more overt moralizing and obvious representations of a changing world (ie, the Henry’s divorce, and subsequent remarriages, Madeline sacrificing her career for Sime, all very changing world, ushering in post-modernism, etc.) and there were times where Wouk interjected as narrator and I didn’t enjoy that, but overall these books moved me, and have created an interest in WWII that previously I didn’t possess, which is embarrassing when your grandfather could claim he stormed the beaches at Normandy and your great uncles were fighter pilots and your own father a Marine. A Vietnam Veteran raised with a legacy of servicemen behind him, in fact.
My autumn reading project is to read through the currently unpacked books on our shelves, and only check out one library book at a time. I’d love to plow through all of our books before entering my winter project, which may have something to do with Russian literature – we’ll see. First on the list, Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, lent to me by the forbidable reading team of A. and her mom. And to the library tonight to check out an appropriate non-fiction balance – maybe Colony? I love choosing books to balance out my daily reading… it must be what true foodies experience when combining flavors. Yes, I’d like a little Lamott to cleanse my palate for Stephen King, or a little Didion to go with the Steinbeck…