Dec. 11, 2008

Returning to Earth

by Jim Harrison

I'm getting very old. If I were a mutt
in dog years I'd be seven, not stray so far.
I am large. Tarpon my age are often large
but they are inescapably fish. A porpoise
my age was the King of New Guinea in 1343.
Perhaps I am the king of my dogs, cats, horses
but I have dropped any notion of explaining
to them why I read so much. To be mysterious
is a prerogative of kingship. I discovered
lately that my subjects do not live a life,
but are life itself. They do not recognize
the pain of the schizophrenia of kingship.
To them I am pretty much a fellow creature.

"Returning To Earth" by Jim Harrison. Reprinted with permission of the author. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jim Harrison, (books by this author) born in Grayling, Michigan (1937). He's the author of Legends of the Fall (1979), which contains three novellas. His most recent novel is The English Major (2008).

He said, "Being a writer requires an intoxication with language."

It's the birthday of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, (books by this author) born in Kislovodsk, Russia (1918). After fighting in World War II, he was arrested for writing letters that criticized Joseph Stalin. He was sentenced to eight years in Russian labor camps. In 1962, he published One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but two years later the government forced him to stop publishing.

Solzhenitsyn's manuscripts were smuggled into Europe and America. In 1970, he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

He said, "One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to."

It's the birthday of the man called the "Father of Modern Arabic Literature," Naguib Mahfouz, (books by this author) born in Cairo (1911). He wrote about the lives of ordinary people in the densely urban districts of Cairo. In 1988, he won the Nobel Prize, recognized for a work he had written decades earlier.

The defining event of his childhood was the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. He was seven years old, and he remembered looking out from the window of his house and seeing British soldiers shoot Egyptian men and women who were peacefully staging protests.

He got a degree in philosophy from the University of Cairo, where classes were conducted in English and French. In 1939, he got a job with the civil service and published his first book, a historical novel called Mockery of the Fates.

Then he decided to write fiction that focused on the present. Over the next five decades, he was incredibly prolific, publishing more than 30 novels, 350 short stories, five plays, and many articles.

Mahfouz is best known for Between the Two Palaces (1956), which is considered the most famous novel in the Arabic language. His novel Children of the Alley (1959) is also well known. In it, Mahfouz portrays God in an allegorical manner, and he writes about feuding brothers who resemble Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. The book was deemed blasphemy and was officially banned in all of the Arab world except Lebanon.

For most of his adult life, he got up in the morning, took a 90-minute walk around Cairo, and then read the newspaper at the same café each day. He died in 2006, at the age of 94.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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