Thursday, February 26, 2009

Island of the World

I decided that I couldn't move on from Island of the World -- Michael O'Brien's most recent novel that I just finished -- without giving you a few quotes. As you know, I love quotes, and I'm saving the best for tomorrow, with some personal reflections to spark the beginning of lent. But first, a quote to justify my coffee addiction, on page 710:
He will leave in a moment, after just one more cuplet of coffee. Europeans know how to make it right! This is the best in the world, better than the specialty brands he experimented with in the delicatessens on Fifth Avenue. Europeans understand that flavor is not about sensory stimulation, it is about evocation. It is art and memory. It is reunion with exalted moments, and such moments are never solitary ones. In short, life without coffee is not really life.
Amen! Page 777:
It is essential to have nothing in order to keep the riches he has been given. Yes, he is rich -- he is a man who can distill sight and insight into bits of salvaged paper; he is a man who can enjoy taking the garbage down to the corner; he can chat with fishermen and carpenters and housewives, never as condescension but as the replenishment of his true self. Every day he can swim in the greatness of the ordinary. This is freedom, and he is very grateful for it. It is all good, just as it is.
Finally, from pages 789-790:
You would not hurt the tiniest sparrow -- not because you are a recidivist Hindu, but because you are so sensitive to death entering the world, and thus you do not wish to reduce the number of living symbols in our existential spectrum.... What am I saying to you? Perhaps it is only this: man does not look deeply at the world. He lives by habit and pleasure and impulse. He does not read the poetry in things. And so I say, if he must kill a creature, that is his right, but he should see its beauty before taking its life and understand its presence as language. Moreover, he must understand that blindness to the miraculousness of existence makes it easier for him to pull a trigger and end a human life. Do I exaggerate? We both know the 170 million answers to this.
About as eloquent an argument against hunting for pleasure as I've read in a while. I find that paragraph beautiful. Anyway, couldn't let Island of the World get away without some quotes. It was and excellent book. I still prefer Sophia House I think, and Cry of Stone, but I do think he becomes a better writer with every book. For you who have never read any of his novels, I would recommend them all.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

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