the pencil reads

posts on articles, books and movies

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I read this novel in two parts due to unforseen circumstances. But I finally finished it this weekend, and it was a wonderful read.

The setting of this novel is really quite something. Ralvelstein is set in New York and Paris; Herzog in the suburbia and countryside, Henderson is set in the heart of Africa. The textures and smells of this novel are fascinating. Bellow's descriptions of the two tribes E. H. Henderson encounters in his journey of self-discovery are so life-like that I googled the two tribes in the novel -- "Arnewi" the cow lovers and "Wasiri" the lion tribe -- to see if they had any ties with real tribes, but the search came to naught. I also googled "Grun-tu-molani", translated as "Man wants to live."

Typically, this novel by Bellow is deep. Bellow alludes to links between things you don't normally associate with one another. For example, one of the ideas in this novel is that you can take on the characteristics of the animals that you associate with -- that even inanimate object and animals have souls. Along these lines, Dahfu, the king of the Wasiri tribe, postulates that there is a link between our personality and our external features -- that we are our own authors of our faces, our noses, our bellies. Henderson is described as grunting, with a paunch between his belly, an extraordinary nose, and very strong. It is as if Bellow is trying to say that the world we live in is more alive with connections than we know.

Another interesting element in this novel is the journey Henderson makes to find himself. He is driven into Africa by a voice that says, I want I want I want! But the voice never says what it wants. Later in the novel, there is this passage:

"I had a voice that said, I want! I want? I? It should have told me she wants, he wants, they want..." (286)

"All you hear from guys is desire, desire, desire, knocking its way out of the breast, and fear, striking and striking. Enough already! Time for a word of truth. Time for something notable to be heard. Otherwise, accelerating like a stone, you fall from life to death. Exactly like a stone, straight into deafness, and till the last repeating I want I want I want, then striking the earth and entering it forever!" (297)

Henderson is like a microcosm of the world we live in. He takes on the desire, the fear, the preoccupation with death, and the suffering of the entire world. He suffers more than anyone else, perhaps like how Christ suffered for the sake of the whole world, except that Henderson contained within himself both sin and redemption. Dahfu alluded to the great figures of history as model forces:

"Do you think that Jesus Christ is still a source of human types, Henderson, as a model-force? I have often thought about my physical types, as the agony, the appetite, and the rest, to be possibly degenerate forms of great originals, as Socrates, Alexander, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus..." (303)

Even with dead persons in the past there are connections! Gmilo the lion is Dahfu's father, as Suffo the lion is Gmilo's. It is altogether extremely thought-provoking.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Sunday, July 10, 2005
I keep having to take breaks from reading this book for fear of completely drowning in the haunting story line. I am only at chapter nine, and it has broken my heart a few times already.

Some books are written to be read fast, skimmed over the way a gatherer gleans the first fruits of a crop; some to be eaten like pickled plums, a little at a time, to keep yourself from being overwhemed by the intensity of taste. This book is like the latter.

----- UPDATE

I finished the book this week. It was a riveting read to the end, but the plot made me roll my eyes at some point. The author tried too hard to tie up the loose ends, making the storyline strained to the point of absurdity. Come on, did the protagonist really have to have a hair-lip scar to redeem him? Or did the son really have to mimic so exactly what his father did so long ago by pointing his slingshot at the SAME eye, at the SAME person? Was it necessary for Hassan's mother to make an appearance in the novel? It is a bit too much. Life isn't so neat, if you know what I mean.

That was the only pitfall of this novel. The first half was better than the second because the historical backdrop made it feel like the story was real (compare The English Patient which never lost this sense of reality); in the second half, after the encounter with Aseef, it felt like a made-up story.

Nevertheless, the novel moved me -- Amir's longing to make his father proud, the loyalty of Hassan, the guilt Amir felt, the sense of sin and retribution, the belief in God, and the devastation of a country. The backdrop was fascinating. After US' exploits in Afghanistan, who wouldn't be intersted in an insider's view of the country's culture, religion, language and people?

For you a thousand times over. What a beautiful phrase.

The Colour of Magic

Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Funny stuff.