Monday, December 28, 2009


I recently finished reading Disgrace, the book that won J.M. Coetzee his then-unprecedented second Booker Prize (Australian Peter Carey later matched it). I wept when I read the last page. It's been a while since a novel has made me cry.

Disgrace is the story of a man who loses everything: his youth, his reputation, his academic career, and ultimately, much more. His downfall begins with an ill advised affair. He gives in to his passion, and later is unable to criticize it (or censure himself) simply because he is past his prime. After he leaves the University, he goes to live with his beloved daughter, who has a farm in the Eastern Cape. There he suffers a worse abasement. He and his relationship with his daughter are forever changed.

It reminded me of another novel I read earlier this year, Philip Roth's The Human Stain. The main characters are aging academics who suffer public humiliation, to which they respond with indignation. There are official inquiries, and early retirement. Other shared themes include race, sex with younger women, and university politics.

Also common to the two novels is the writers' unflagging honesty.
There is no shirking, for example, from the banal indignity of physical aging. Coetzee and Roth are master craftsmen at the top of their games.

Thanks, Lore.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Impossible Landscapes

View from the terrace at Kelebek Cave Hotel, Goreme.

The time I spent in Cappadocia, a region in Central Turkey, was
the highlight of my trip last month. I've longed to visit ever since I first saw images of this magical, other-worldly place some dozen years ago.

Admittedly, mid-late November is not the ideal time to visit. Days are short, and the nights are bitter cold. On the other hand, such conditions attract few (other) tourists. Our rambles were blissfully solitary.*

Cappadocia (spelled Kapadokya in Turkish) has been inhabited for
millennia. The Hittites lived here BCE. It was an important site of early Christiandom, producing many saints and patriarchs, as is evinced in the many cave churches that survive today. Hundreds of massive underground cities were built to protect early Christian populations from invading hordes, then forgotten and lost for centuries (a common theme in this part of the world). We visited on such site, Kaymakli. While the caves are no longer inhabited, people still live in some of the fairy chimneys, like those seen in the Goreme photo above.

*Not so blissful: getting lost, worrying about finding a road before it got dark and we froze to death.