We are closing in on the last four of Kevin's favorite books. Are you enjoying them? When I read this thoughts, I am in awe of his spanse of literary knowledge and his ability to express himself. It makes my daily posts seem like drivel! Now, for the last four:
7. À la recherche du temps perdu / In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust (1913-1927)
I had dabbled in and out of an old English Remembrance of Things Past in high school, found it absorbing, but never got very far. In the spring of 1971, however, I took the original text with me each weekend on a suburban train from Gare Saint-Lazare to the Norman town of Gisors. After wandering through the ruined castle and the church of St-Gervais-St-Protais, I would find a reading spot under a tree along the river Epte and sink languorously into my Proust. I not only improved my French and my appreciation of things French, I learned patience, slowing down, taking time to savor, and the importance of memory. Copious draughts of good Norman cider and slatherings of farm cheeses on French country bread were effective tools in my struggle to tame Proust.
8. Avtobiografija / Autobiography, Branislav Nušić (Macedonian translation, 1965)
In 1979, this little volume was given to me by a friend in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, as a going-away gift to read on the train to Thessaloniki. Until I opened the first hilarious page by Nušić, humor was the farthest thing from my experience of Balkan literature. The use of idiomatic Macedonian, translated from an equally idiomatic Serbian (which I later saw echoed in the idiomatic Bulgarian of Elin Pelin), gave me a new joy in reading these recently developed literatures with linguistic roots in the ancient Balkans. It encouraged me to find the humor in all these cultures and to recognize their similarities, their unity in the Ottoman and immediately post-Ottoman past. This is a major theme in my reading, my music, my thinking and my conversation.
9. The Alexiad, Anna Comnena (c. 1148)
I was interested in Byzantine history before reading E. R. A. Sewter’s translation of the The Alexiad, but that reading, in 1969, sold me on Byzantium and made it a major strand in my understanding of my own family heritage and the world it came from. Anna’s first sentences enthralled me: “The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright says, it ‘brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest’ [Sophocles, Ajax 646]. Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against this stream of Time; in a way in checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion.”
My tenth entry, like my sixth, is a multi-volume one. It includes:
--The Complete Poems of Cavafy, translated by Rae Dalven, Introduction by W. H. Auden, Expanded Edition (1976)
--C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard (1975)--Konstandinos Kawafis: Wiersze zebrane, Polish translation by Zygmunt Kubiak (1981)
--Homage to Cavafy, Ten Poems by Cavafy (Keeley/Sherrard translation), Ten Photographs by Duane Michals (1978)
--Cavafy’s Alexandria: Study of a Myth in Progress, Edmund Keeley (1976)
Cavafy’s poetry began to sink into my heart on first reading in the early 1970s. After Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, I was ready for anything Alexandrian and found, to my delight, Cavafy. I have read copies of his poems in Greek beside the Dalven and the Keeley-Sherrard translations and sunk deeply into the magic of Alexandria. This gave a lyric component to my fascination for the Levant, the Ottoman and post-Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean and Balkans, the detritus of Hellenism, and what it all means for the peoples of the region today. It has a lot to do with my inner Ottoman, too. Cavafy has helped me see the historic unity embedded in the midst of the various warring states of the Balkans and the Levant. This is glorious poetry in its own right, even without all the other layers that accompany it in my particular world.