Treasures in my Hand This Week

First, there was a piece of seaweed clinging to a rock, looking to me exactly like a bonsai tree when I picked it up from the shore yesterday morning. Its miniature size, and tenacity, delighted me.

Later on I found a sand dollar, entirely whole, which is not common for me to find. Its width is about four inches across. But when I brought them home with assorted whelks and conch shells, they made a terrific stink. I will have to put them back into the sea today, temporal creatures that they are, but I enjoyed them while I held them.

Last night I finished this, an utter masterpiece of a book, which is exactly how I hope to begin each year’s reading. Arcadia Books had sent it to me years ago, yet I foolishly kept it on the shelf until this month.

As with all books which I love deeply, I am unable to write about it as Scott of seraillon has done. (You will not find a review of my most treasured books here, only a mention from time to time, as I am afraid I will ruin them by my shoddy analyses.) I cannot pretend that my thoughts will illuminate the author’s properly, nor that I can convey the power of those incredible books. They reside in my heart silently, but ever present.

All I can say is that for me, They Were Counted is one of those treasures.

Satantango, a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai  “…they trusted the new would not only erase the old but utterly replace it.”

The misfortune of the people is highlighted by the rain which pours unceasingly down on them, through their windows and into their houses where the rats dwell and the mold grows.

Perhaps Irimias will help them as he has promised, taking their money piled up before him on a table; they have given him all they have. All their trust is on him, whom they make out to be their savior.

But, he disappears for awhile, and it seems they have been conned out of their money and out of the hope they carried for the future.

The people drink, and dance, and malign one another as they wait for Irimias to return. The women talk incessantly, or lure the men with their sexuality, and everyone seems debased and foolish and destitute.

“We are born into this stye of a world,” he thought, his mind still pounding, “-like pigs rolling in our own muck, with no idea what all that jostling at the teats amounts to, why we’re engaged in this perpetual hoof-to-mouth combat on the path that leads to the trough, or to our beds at dusk.”

Is it a dream? Is it a governmental trick? Are the people suffering in this flooded village where there is no work a symbol for society in general? Or, are they simply a subset who yearn for the life that once was held in the abandoned manor home they cannot imagine paying to heat?

Eventually everyone was resigned to the sense of helplessness, hoping for miracles, watching the clock with ever greater anxiety, counting the weeks and months until even time lost its importance and they sat around all day in the kitchen, getting a few pennies from here and there that they immediately drank away in the bar.

This could be a small town in Illinois, rather than a village in Hungary.

Irimias, the hoped for leader, imagines a better world.

What I want is to establish a small island for a few people with nothing left to lose, a small island free of exploitation, where people work for, not against, each other, where everyone has plenty and peace and security and can go to sleep at night like a proper human being…

Who doesn’t want that?! I’m reading a book whose plot I can barely follow, which ends up in exactly the same place it began, but one thing is abundantly clear:  Krasznahorkai writes of the bleakest aspects of our lives in a dreamlike and haunting way. Without giving any clear answers as to how we got here, or how we can get away; perhaps bringing the conditions of depravity to light is enough to cause us to come up with our own.

Satantango won the 2013 award for best translated fiction. Read more about the author from New Directions books here.

Captivity by György Spiró (a glorious first read of the year, although I am not yet finished)


Behold Captivity, a novel of a mere 832 pages, each one riveting me to the story of Uri and his companions who are on a mission traveling from Jerusalem to Rome. Do not imagine that Uri is a sturdy traveler, nor that his companions are his friends. He has been selected for reasons he knows not why, other than that his father has loaned a tremendous sum to Agrippa, and it seems being a part of the delegation is the outcome of such a favor. But Uri is mistrusted, his bags are consistently searched, and he is spied upon during every leg of their journey.

Indeed Uri seems an unlikely candidate for such a trip. When they began his ankles were not strong, his belly carried a paunch, his head was balding, his chin was doubled, but worse than any of that is the fact that he cannot see well. His eyesight requires tremendous squinting to see any distance from afar, and Uri had developed a board through which to peer when he was at home in Rome.

But poor eyesight did not hinder him from reading, or from learning languages. Rather Uri can speak Greek, Latin, Egyptian, Hebrew and Aramaic. His favorite passion is reading.

“I also need peace,” he said hoarsely, “to read, because for me nothing else is of interest. I can recite to you the whole of Greek and Latin literature by heart. No one is using me to pass messages to anyone: I swear by Everlasting God who is One that this is the truth.”

Studded throughout the pages of this novel are characters who are already familiar to me from reading through the Bible:

    • Pilate
    • Herod Antipas
    • John the Baptist
    • Simon the Magus
    • the Sanhedrin
    • the high priests such as Caiaphas

I am hopeful that reading this prize-winning historical novel will further enhance my understanding of Biblical times. In and of itself, however, it is a fabulous read. Even if it will take me a few more weeks to finish. (I plan on posting a final review at the end of January.)

Any Interest in a Read-Along of Captivity by György Spiró?


Behold this book, Captivity, winner of the Aegon Literary Award, translated from Hungarian, and coming in at a mere 864 pages, it is not for the “subway reader.”

In fact, that term was brought to my attention by Vishy on Facebook tonight, who highlighted this gorgeous article: Ten Giant Translated Novels That Make a Mockery of Subway Reading. Included in the list is Haruki Murakami’s 1984 (love!) and Roberto Bolano’s 2666 (not so much), but I am woefully unaware of Hungarian authors.

So I wondered, with all of Captivity‘s accolades, and they are not a few, if anyone else would be interested in picking it up with me. VishyFrances? Claire?  Dorian? Tom? Juliana? Anyone?

We could start in January, or whenever you like. Tell me what you think.

Participants (thus far):