Saturday, March 23, 2013

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters - Julian Barnes

''I don't know how best to break this to you, but Noah was not a nice man. I realize this idea is embarrassing, since you are all descended from him; still, there it is. He was a monster, a puffed-up patriarch who spent half his day grovelling to his God and the other half taking it out on us.''

I dont know if this is considered a novel or a collection of stories. While each chapter may have a correlation with an incident in history, these are mostly read as independent stories than a full length novel.  But, what is important is its quality, and not the form. On that ground, this book was very impressive. What did I like the most is his control over the language the way he formulate the sentence and paragraphs, the way he mixes things up from one story to other by varying the style and the method of delivery. I was also impressed with the deep sensitivity with which he dealt with the subject, even in those satirical chapters, retaining the sublime humour through out..

10½ Chapters, starting with Noah's arc and ending with a dream the new heaven, are in one way or other had a stream of similarity and connection. The first chapter, where a wood worn recollect his life in the Arc, with which Noah was entrusted to save one 'breeding pair' of every specimen of the living creatures on the land ( was it applicable to the marine species, I have no idea), the wood worms manages to sneak in (despite being rejected) in slightly large quantities( 7 of them). He recounts the events and the aftermath, being critical to the Noah for his capabilities, his behaviour ( he ask why dos GOD choose a drunkard to save the living from the apocalypse), and the aftermath.  The worms comes back in another tale of a mock trail in which the reverend of the church had a severe fall from his chair, which was alleged to have been eaten by these worms, causing the legs to givaway. The argument for and against the accused,  often citing GOD as the witness, is another hilarious reading. The Visitor, is based on the hijacking of a cruise liner by the Palestine Liberation Movement,  the Shipwreck , a critical study of the the painting of Theodore  Géricault  ( the raft of Medusa) before returning to the theme of the Noah's arc ( in one journey of an Irish women in search of the Noah's Mountain in the Armenia/Turkish mountains to pay homage to her father and the other 'project ararat' where a celebrated astronaut , Spike Tiggler ( based on James Irwin) set about to find the remains of the Noah's Arc in the Ararat mountains).  In  the half chapter ( between 8 and 9) we read a serious' meditations about the authors impressions on 'Love',

Except for a couple of chapters ( especially towards the end, where the command and intensity was some what lacking), the rest of them were brilliant. He has a way with his words which was captivating.  It was often funny, and often philosophical without being judgmental.  Even with a highly politicized subject of the hijack, or with the religious aspects of the Noah or the whale,  or the fictional recounting of the shipwreck of Medusa ( French ship Medusa, sank in the Atlantic in 1816 and the famous painting by  Géricault in the year 1819) his prose is controlled and detached from the sentimental aspect of the issue.

The ship is often repeated through out the book. As Noah's arc, of survival, or in the form of disaster ( shipwreck or hijack). The quest for the Arc ( may be as a saviour of the mankind in an abstract way) and the omnipresence of 'woodworm' depicting' the decay or disaster is intentional ( or may be I am making it up, trying find some connection between the chapters). "We make up a story to cover the facts we don't know or can't accept, we keep a few true facts and spin a new story round them. Our panic and our pain are only eased by soothing fabulation; we call it history." , said Barnes.   But what is important at the end I liked the book. I haven't read any other book, but will seek out a couple more soon.

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters(1989)

Julian Barnes


309 pages
NY Times, Wiki

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