If there’s one thing going for Matthieu Aikins (going for him in a big way), it’s the dreamlike feel of the narrative:
Matthieu’s friends chicken out. He goes back to Kabul, aching with frustration. His friends will try another way to get out of Afghanistan.
He then ends up making some complicated travel arrangements: Istanbul, Venice, Trieste, Llubljana, Van. He flies out of Istanbul, disembarks in Venice, takes the train to Trieste, spends the night at a friend’s house, then takes the bus to Llubljana, where he catches a flight to Istanbul. At Istanbul, he undergoes some things: he is searched by a man wearing gloves (UGH), he is interrogated and put into a waiting room. He becomes friendly with a man who tells Matthieu that he has been in the waiting room for six months (Waiting Room = Oxymoron, lol). He tries to distract himself by reading Toni Morrison (Beloved) He is sent back to Llubljana.
This book, which I began reading a few days ago, is about a Western journalist, Matthieu Aikins, who accompanies his Afghan translator on the refugee trail from Afghanistan to Europe.
They set off in 2016.
When the news came on, the headlines that summer of 2016 was no longer about people in boats, but about the British voting to leave the European Union, about the Republican Party nominating Donald Trump as their candidate, and about a truck crushing people in the boardwalk in Nice.
Self thinks this is a rhododendron. A giant rhododendron. Either that or a giant azalea (lol) She dropped by the Mendocino Coast Botanic Garden this morning, and everything — azaleas, magnolias, rhododendron — were in bloom.
This neon pink bush was a few yards from the main entrance. They sell rhododendron in the nursery (and they now have a café!)
Self is enjoying Storm of Steel a lot, which is saying something. Junger is such a keen cataloguer of his emotions. Solipsistic? Maybe. There is a reason André Gide called this the best work on war that he had ever read.
On p. 80, he describes the experience of being shelled:
Light and heavy ‘toffee-apples,’ Stokes bombs, shrapnels, rattles, shells of all kinds — I could no longer identify everything that was buzzing and whizzing and crashing around me. . . It’s an easier matter to describe these sounds than to endure them, because one cannot but associate every single sound of flying steel with the idea of death, and so I huddled in my hole in the ground with my hand in front of my face, imagining all the possible variants of being hit.
On 28 December, I was back in command of the Altenburg Redoubt. On that day, rifleman Hohn, one of my best men, lost his arm to a shell fragment. Heidotting received a bad thigh wound from one of the many bullets that were whizzing around our earthworks in the hollow. And my faithful August Kettler, the first of many servants to die in my service, fell victim to a shrapnel that passed through his windpipe as he was on his way to Monchy to get my lunch. As he was setting off with the mess-tins, I had called out to him: “August, mind how you go, won’t you.” “I’ll be fine, Lieutenant!” And then I was summoned and found him lying on the ground close to the dugout, gurgling as the air passed through the wind into his chest with every breath he took. I had him carried back; he died a few days later in hospital. It was a feature of his case, as it was of quite a few others, that his inability to speak made him even more pathetic, as he stared at the nurses in bewilderment like a tormented animal.
— Storm of Steel, p. 59
This must be what my professors meant when they said, “this author demonstrates a complete mastery of his material.”
This week our topic is Abstracts. The definition of Abstract Art is: art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures.. Be creative and have fun with this challenge.
Art: Alexander Calder’s Josephine Baker wire mobile; de Young Museum roof and observation tower; Contemporary Ceramics Centre, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury
This concept (Depth of Focus) is so beautifully described (still on the Introduction to Storm of Steel — if this book is full of the ‘blood lust,’ this Introduction may be as close as I get to Ernst Junger) by Michael Hofmann:
“While the most characteristic depth of focus of the book is maybe ten yards or so — the interiors, the trenches and dugouts, the cars and lorries, the ruined houses, the beautiful, cultivated catalogues of war junk (like the one on p. 94) — still, there are also equally memorable distance shots, repeatedly of the sky, and of the colors and sounds of various ordnance, moments of eerie contemplation, like the background of a Renaissance portrait, and with just that in-and-out effect . . . “
Whew! I was expecting to spend at least two more days reading Spies, Lies, and Algorithms (fascinating book!) but today I discovered that the Acknowledgment section is about a third of the book (and I skipped that).
So, it’s on to her next, Storm of Steel, by Ernst Junger:
Ernst Junger is a very interesting writer. I’ve heard him described as a “right-wing, conservative” German author, which nearly put me off from reading him permanently, but I decided to read recent reviews from goodreads. One reviewer contrasted him with World War I English writers. At Stanford, self took a course called Literature of World War I, taught by the late, great Albert J. Guerard (prior to this, I knew nothing about either Guerard or World War I Literature). Required reading: The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, and the following authors: Siegfried Sassoon, Ford Madox Ford, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, and Vera Brittain. I crammed, and retained most of what I read.
Which brings me to this article in the Wall Street Journal (March 3), which I clipped because I was interested in Babi Yar. Ernst Junger is one of the authors mentioned, which led me to Storm of Steel.
Reading the introduction (more carefully than normal, because I do not want to spend the next week reading a book written by a Nazi), I learn that his memoir of World War I sold in the six figures, he was twice offered a seat in the Reichstag (but turned it down), and never joined the Nazi Party. He volunteered on 1 August 1917, the first day of the war, when he was 19. The writer of the Introduction, Michael J. Hofmann, struggling to describe him, tries out the word “solipsistic” (I have to look it up). I agree that any man who fills up 16 notebooks while fighting in a war is probably (at the very least) solipsistic!
His gifts as a writer are primarily those of a diarist: descriptiveness and an ear for speech, intellectual stamina and disjunctiveness, at his best over medium distances, as a writer of passages rather than of books or sentences.
Hofmann points out that Junger has a “particularly devoted following in France.” Andre Gide wrote, in his diary, in 1942: “Storm of Steel is, without question, the finest book on war that I know: utterly honest, truthful, in good faith.”
(Just read a one-paragraph excerpt quoted by Hofmann in the Introduction. Umm . . . umm . . . WOW! Pray it’s not all like this: “My first victim was an Englishman whom I shot between two Germans at 150 metres. He snapped shut like the blade of a knife and lay still.” If untenable, the next book on my reading list is Geoff Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. Stay tuned)
This week my black and white challenge topic is Fountains and Sprinklers. Anything that forces water out. I hope you have FUN with this challenge.
It was fun to go back through her archives, looking for pictures of fountains. She found these three: a water fountain in the quadrangle of Christ Church, Oxford; a fountain in Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park; and a fountain in Terminal 3 at Singapore’s Changi Airport.