The first Saturday of the month which means its time for Six Degrees of Separation–a meme which I am really enjoying participating in very much. Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best. Inspired by the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’, originally set out in a short story by Frigyes Karinthy, which suggests that any two people in the world are connected through a chain of six or fewer people, the meme brings this concept into the world of books. Each month, beginning with a starter book that Kate selects (the month previously), every participant creates their own unique chain of books. Each book only needs to be linked to the next one in the chain, and one doesn’t need to have read the starter book either. Share your links on Kate’s page and have fun exploring the different chains other bloggers have created!
This is my third time joining in, and the first time I’ve actually read the starter book! The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki is a story about loss and coping, about mental illness, about family and friends and support systems, and of course about books. It tells of the Oh family, little Benny (13 going on 14), and his mother Annabelle, who was married to half-Korean, half-Japanese, Kenji Oh, member of a jazz band who dies rather tragically when the novel opens. Benny and Annabelle are heartbroken and try to cope, but begin to drift apart as well with Benny starting to her voices of all the inanimate objects around him crying out for help and Annabelle turning to shopping and hoarding for comfort. Benny begins to find some solace in the library and with an interesting group of friends he makes there, among them the Bottleman, a poet/ philosopher (an aside here, from his name -Slavoj – and views, I was sure he was based on Zizek but haven’t yet been able to confirm, If anyone else whose read the book thought so too, do let me know in the comments!), while Annabelle begins to heal through a Marie-Kondo-like volume she finds, written by a Zen monk.
The Book of Form and Emptiness covers a lot of ground, among which is philosophy and the life and ideas of philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and it is him that gives me my first link for he had an impact on the work of his friend and fellow-philosopher, Hannah Arendt, who along with another influence on her, Rosa Luxemburg, forms the subject of A Good and Dignified Life: The Political Advice of Hannah Arendt and Rosa Luxemburg (2022) by Dutch philosopher and author Joke Hermsen and translated by Brendan Monaghan. This excellent essay, a recent read for me, introduces readers to the ideas of these two remarkable women, the inspiration they provide for us – especially through their optimism in very bleak times – and the relevance of their thoughts in the current context.
One of Hannah Arendt’s best known works is The Origins of Totalitarianism, and a totalitarian regime is what George Orwell brings to life in 1984 (1949). The book tells the story of a lower-level official, Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth and rewrites history to conform to the regime’s version of the ‘truth’. In this world, Big Brother is always watching and anyone who doesn’t conform must pay the price. But Winston’s life changes when he meets a young woman Julia, and resistance member O’Brien.
Before he began his writing career, George Orwell served for nearly five years in the Burma Police during colonial rule, and for his, he attended police training school at Mandalay in Burma. And Manderley, albeit spelt differently, takes me to my next link, Daphne Du Maurier’s best known work (and I first I ever read by her years ago), Rebecca (1938). Rebecca sees our narrator meet and marry the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter and move to his home, Manderley. But the house presided over by the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers seems still to be occupied by Maxim’s deceased first wife, Rebecca!
The narrator of Rebecca, the second Mrs de Winter is never named in the book, and another novel with an unnamed narrator is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). The book critiques the Colonial exploitation of Africa and the so-called differences that were made out between those ‘civilised’ and those not, through the story of Marlow, a steamboat captain working for a Belgian trading company.
The story of the Heart of Darkness unfolds in Congo, and Congo is the name and for the most part, setting of Michael Crichton’s book Congo (1980). In the book we meet primatologist Peter Eliot who works with a mountain gorilla Amy whom he has taught sign language (she’s become a rather typical American gorilla, who likes to visit her favourite burger joint). Amy also finger paints, her drawings matching the fabled city of Zinj. And so they are involved in an expedition to find this lost city, in search of which a previous team of geologists set out but never returned. This was a book I only found so-so when I first read it, but then I enjoyed my reread of it very much and love Amy herself a lot.
And it is another mysterious city which forms my final link this time, the secret and legendry monastery Shangri-La, up in the midst of the Himalayas. James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (1933), sees a diplomat who has seen the worst of humanity in the first war and his fellow plane passengers crash in the Himalayas, from where they are led to the hidden valley of Shangri-La. A place of eternal life, a utopia; is it real or merely a dream?
And so ends my chain this month, which took me on quite an interesting route with most entries looking into philosophical or moral questions in some way or other. From Ozeki, to an exploration of the ideas of Hannah Arendt and Rosa Luxemburg, a totalitarian nightmare with Orwell to unsettling atmosphere of a different variety with Du Maurier, two different explorations to the Congo, both exploitative, but in their own ways, and finally some peace in the utopian Shangri-La!
Where did your chains take you this month? Next month’s starter is interestingly the book we end with this month, which means we’ll have lot of very different ones to explore!