Quote of the Day: Joan Acocella on Rescuing Luther’s Bibles From a 2004 Fire

The book historian Stephan Fussel, in the explanatory paperback that accompanies the two-volume facsimile, reports that in 2004, when a fire swept through the Duchess Anna Amalia Library, in Weimar, where this copy was housed, it was “rescued, undamaged, with not a second to lose, thanks to the courageous intervention of library director Dr. Michael Knoche.” I hope that Dr. Knoche himself ran out with the two volumes in his arms. I don’t know what the price of a calf is these days, but the price of this facsimile is sixty dollars.

The New Yorker, 30 October 2017

Martin Luther: Importance

Excerpts from The Hammer: How Martin Luther Changed the World, by New Yorker critic-at-large Joan Acocella (The New Yorker, 30 October 2017)

The crucial text is his Bible: the New Testament, translated from the original Greek and published in 1523, followed by the Old Testament, in 1534, translated from the Hebrew. Had he not created Protestantism, this book would be the culminating achievement of Luther’s life.

*     *     *

Luther very consciously sought a fresh, vigorous idiom. For his Bible’s vocabulary, he said, “we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street,” and, like other writers with such aims — William Blake, for example — he ended up with something songlike. He loved alliteration — Der Herr ist mein Hirte (“The Lord is my shepherd”); Dein Stecken und Stab (“thy rod and thy staff”) — and he loved repetition and forceful rhythms.

*     *     *

The books also featured a hundred and twenty-eight woodcut illustrations, all by one artist from the Cranach workshop, known to us only as Master MS.

*     *     *

The three-thousand copy first edition of the New Testament, though it was not cheap (it cost about as much as a calf), sold out immediately.

VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL: Viktor Latun, Photographer

He died from cancer of the blood. We had a wake, and in the Slavic tradition we drank. And then the conversations began again, until midnight. First about him, the deceased. But after that? Once more about the fate of the country and the design of the universe. Will Russian troops leave Chechnya or not? Will there be a second Caucasian war, or has it already started? Could Zhirinovsky become President? Will Yeltsin be re-elected? About the British Royal Family and Princess Diana. About the Russian monarchy. About Chernobyl, the different theories. Some say that aliens knew about the catastrophe and helped us out; others that it was an experiment; and soon kids with incredible talents will start to be born. Or maybe the Belarussians will disappear, like the Scythians. We’re metaphysicians. We don’t live on this earth, but in our dreams, in our conversations. Because you need to add something to this ordinary life, in order to understand it. Even when you’re near death.

— p. 193, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen)

VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL: Colonel Yaroshuk

p. 131, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

Colonel Yaroshuk is dying now. He’s a chemist-dosimetrist. He was healthy as a bull, now he’s lying paralyzed. His wife turns him over like a pillow. She feeds him from a spoon. He has stones in his kidneys, they need to be shattered, but we don’t have the money to pay for that kind of operation. We’re paupers, we survive on what people give us. And the government behaves like a money lender, it’s forgotten these people. When he dies, they’ll name a street after him, or a school, or a military unit, but that’s only after he dies, Colonel Yaroshuk. He walked through the Zone and marked the points of maximum radiation — they exploited him in the fullest sense of the term, like he was a robot. And he understood this, but he went, he walked from the reactor itself and then out through all the sectors around the radius of reactivity. On foot. With a dosimeter in his hand. He’d feel a “spot” and then walk around its borders, so he could put it on his map, accurately.

VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL, AN ORAL HISTORY OF A DISASTER, p. 65

“I read in a book — it was by Father Sergei Bulgakov — it’s certain that God created the world, and therefore the world can’t possibly fail,” and so it is necessary to “endure history courageously and to the very end.”

Let’s Eat Radiation

From an interview with a Russian soldier sent in to help the radiation clean-up effort around Chernobyl (pp. 41 -42, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster)

  • I’ve spent all day riding through all the villages, measuring the radiation. And not one of the women offers me an apple. The men are less afraid: they’ll come up to me and offer some vodka, some lard. Let’s eat. It’s awkward to turn them down, but then eating pure cesium doesn’t sound so great, either.

 

Radioactive, Stay Away!

Self is fascinated by radioactivity. She was in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History less than two weeks ago, and learned some about carbon dating. (She would have loved to ask a question about Area 51 but the tour guide might have thought she was crazy)

So here’s what happens when journalists cover a nuclear disaster:

At ten in the morning, the cameraman Shishenok died.

— p. 7, Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading: HIS FINAL BATTLE, THE LAST MONTHS OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, by Joseph Lelyveld

Skimmed the last 50 or so pages of Submission. Fascinating, densely written. After the President of France is elected, there’s endless amounts of conjecture about Sharia Law. The last paragraph of the novel was brilliant.

And then she began the next book on her reading list, His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt. Self loves World War II history books.  A really good World War II history book can light up her life in a myriad ways. This one had her completely hooked, from page 1.

Self doesn’t know why, but she was completely ready for this book. Against the panoply of war is a sick man who just happens to be the President of the United States. The curtain came “down abruptly” on Franklin Roosevelt in the twelfth week of his fourth term, “on a balmy April afternoon in Warm Springs, Georgia.”

Roosevelt’s fourth term was “the third shortest presidential term” in U.S. history. Shortest was William Henry Harrison’s 32 days, and then the six weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s second term. Roosevelt was, to borrow a term from author Joseph Lelyveld, “plaintive” in his last months.

p. 12:

Mortality is the ultimate reason for feeling plaintive. In our waning hours, we get on with our tasks. Roosevelt was racing, as we all are, against time. If we want to take him in his full measure, we need to see him in his full context, in the round, not just as a dying man in what we may glibly call “denial,” but as an actor playing out his role, simply because he found no alternative; in that sense, a man touched by the heroic. Of all his responsibilities as the war headed into its climactic last year, calculating the date of his own terminus was not necessarily, in that clamorous time, the most pressing.

In other words, people, it’s not always about you. What a contrast to 45, who manages to make even hurricanes seem like personal affronts. 45 addressing the people of Puerto Rico: “Personally, I’m having a horrible day.” Not sure if he said this before or after he threw Brawny paper towels at a roomful of people. Self still doesn’t understand the significance of throwing paper towels to people who are recovering from what @RealRBHJr calls “Big Water”. (A joke, maybe?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Houellebecq: SUBMISSION, p. 128

  • He was born in 1922, if you can believe it. Exactly a hundred years ago. He joined the Resistance early on, in late June 1940. Even in his day, French patriotism was an idea whose time had passed. You could say that it was born at the Battle of Valmy, in 1792, and that it began to die in 1917, in the trenches of Verdun. That’s hardly more than a century — not long, if you think about it. Today, who believes in French patriotism? The National Front claims to, but their belief is so insecure, so desperate.

Women Writers For the Reading List

It’s taken self over two years to get to an issue of The New Yorker, the issue of 27 July 2015. The Book Review section. Here are her picks to add to her reading list:

Independence Lost, by Kathleen DuVal: An “intrepid history of the American Revolution that shifts the focus from the rebellious thirteen colonies to the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Valley, where Native Americans, African slaves, and Spanish, French, and British colonials were fighting very different battles.” (The New Yorker, 27 July 2015)

Life After Life and A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson: In Life After Life, “Ursula Todd, a young Englishwoman, repeatedly dies and starts her life again.” In the follow-up, Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy, lives “a life of quiet sadness: he is widowed early, has a selfish daughter, and struggles to connect with his grandchildren. Teddy, unlike his sister, lives only one life, but Atkinson’s deft handling of time . . . is impressive.” (The New Yorker, 27 July 2015)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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