Luis Sagasti: Fireflies

Scheherazade in A Musical Offering, Penelope in Fireflies. I see what you did there, Mr. Sagasti! The mother weaver of stories of the East, and the mother un-weaver of storytelling of the West. Spun and spanned. And spangled.

“Now I’m drunk, with universe.”

Ever since the two Zweigs that got me through the long wait at the polling precincts, I have only found myself turning pages of several books but absorbing nothing, only to reread the same pages and still end up drifting. The way many people have treated our national elections like they would a mere cockfight is confounding. Your books are beautiful reprieves. Write some more, please. This is going to be a tough ride. We will need more of your magic.

Is there anything to understand?

Without the slightest doubt, art is the answer.

What we can’t be sure about is the question.

Luis Sagasti: A Musical Offering

“Weren’t you just reading The Books of Jacob?” My mom asked when she saw me with this a day after I finished reading Olga Tokarczuk’s magnum opus.

“Recovery read,” I answered with a wink.

She shot me a questioning look.

“You know how runners do a short recovery run within 24 hours after a marathon?”

She could only laugh and shake her head.

It was the perfect easy run for this reader! In fact, I think every little detail of this book is perfect!

From the cover design, to the French flaps, to the first page that quotes Leonard Cohen:

Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you?

And truly, if you care for art and music, brilliant is an understatement of how this book is written. Think Apeirogon, think When We Cease to Understand the World but instead of physicists and mathematicians, musicians and artists — Bach, The Beatles, Brahms, Messiaen, Glenn Gould, Rothko, Mahler, Scheherazade… yes, Scheherazade!

Haven’t we already noticed that literature around the world is still undoubtedly under her spell, especially the Eastern Europeans and South Americans? Argentine Luis Sagasti’s musical offering puts us in the shoes of the bewitched Persian King Shahryar.

And we can only dream of a thousand nights more…

Conversations with Edward Said and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What a pleasure to have spent the past few days eavesdropping on these conversations!

My introduction to Edward W. Said was not through my current reading project but through classical music years ago via the Daniel Barenboim connection when they co-wrote an illuminating book and founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra — Said a Palestinian intellectual and Barenboim an Israeli pianist and conductor, bringing together musicians from areas of conflict to show the world that it is possible to create peace among people from these nations, to harmonize, and produce beautiful music. And now, I am reintroduced to Said through the enlightening forewords he has written for many of the literary works I am reading from that part of the world.

As for dear Gabo, I still vividly remember the day my best friend presented me with my first Marquez in our teens and I gave him John Fowles’ The Magus in return. This act of his, which was not entirely innocent, led to a Latin American reading stage that brought me to magical literary adventures.

When asked whether the inability to love is very serious, Gabo replies, “I don’t think there’s any human misery greater than that. Not only for the person afflicted but for all those whose misfortune it is to come within his orbit.” Love is something to be learned, he adds, and even lets one of his fictional characters echo this.

Said on the hand, gave me more lines to note in my journal and reminded me why he was once an intellectual crush.

“I’ve never felt myself to belong to any establishment of any kind, any mainstream. I’m interested in mainstreams, I’m jealous of them, I sometimes, occasionally, envy people who belong to them—because I certainly don’t—but on the whole I think they’re the enemy. I feel that authorities, canons, dogmas, orthodoxies, establishments, are really what we’re up against. At least what I’m up against, most of the time. They deaden thought.”

“I think a lot of this business we were talking about earlier, about politics and culture being separate, is really laziness. There’s a critical establishment that says you’re supposed to only study this, and that’s because you don’t have the time or the energy to study other things. For me it’s a manifestation of laziness and idleness. And all of them, it seems to me, in the end, really don’t advance to anything.”

“And far from being right, I think it’s important to be critical.”

These conversations bring together two significant reading phases of my life. 

What struck me this time was in realizing how much their musical tastes influenced their writings greatly. Chopin among others for Said, Bartok and Caribbean music for Gabo. Because he was a revolutionary says the former and the mixture of the two had to be explosive says the latter. Through this we see that they did not confine themselves to one form of art but saw art as something encompassing rather than something to be compartmentalized. 

Said and Gabo are very much alive in these pages. These great minds that impacted and straddled two centuries while they lived; and even in death, continue to change the way we think, read, and perceive the world; their inspiration consistently outliving the last page of each of their books; saying it in their own distinct way but always reminding us to live as fully and as passionately as we can.

Mario Vargas Llosa: The Language of Passion

The Language of Passion is an excellent education on writing and thinking.

The topics in this Nobel laureate’s book of essays and articles are broad — from politics and religion to art, literature, and spaces, and the scope of the material manifests the breadth of his mind.

“That two truths are ‘contradictory’ doesn’t mean they can’t exist side by side,” Llosa writes. This reminds me of another line I encountered in Maria Popova’s Figuring, “It seems to be difficult for anyone to take in the idea that two truths cannot conflict.”

Llosa was writing about both the Israeli and Palestinian right to a particular piece of land and Popova was referring to the conflict between religion and science.

This is the sort of contemplation that I am subscribing to at this point in life; and that I did not have to embrace all of his opinions while admiring the way he expressed his thoughts is, I believe, part of the immediate result of a Llosa education.