On Human Suffering

I managed to read two books this week because I deleted instagram from my phone. Instagram is highly addictive because it contains all sorts of high quality imagery as well as lets you know via short videos what your friends and ‘influencers’ are up to.

I used to use it for fashion inspiration and also to see what nice pictures my friends took on their out-and-abouts, but now my feed is all full of parenting, education and food ‘inspiration’. I must say I have learnt a lot about how to deal with my toddler by following the relevant experts and experienced mothers.

It helps when you’re isolated and can’t really share experiences with many mothers.

However, it is also a waste of time because you can end up scrolling your feed for 45 WHOLE MINUTES after your bubba has gone to bed and not realise the time.

‘That’s it,’ I said firmly last Monday, ‘THAT IS IT. I’m done with this sodding app.’

And because I suddenly had pockets of time free from scrolling, when I picked up my phone I went to the ‘books’ section to see what I’d left to dwindle.

And I found I had two books in there at 0%.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christie Lefteri, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

I know. Deep and heavy subject matter. But I delved in.

I started with The Beekeeper of Aleppo, purely because it was the first option in my library. It read like a sad, haunting poem. The imagery in this book was beautiful. The story was heartbreaking and you really felt like you were in the characters’ shoes. Christie Lefteri is the daughter of Cypriot refugees, and she was brought up in London. And, speaking as someone with Arab blood, I could very much tell that her portrayal of Syrians, their food and their way of life, even the words they used and how they spoke to each other, was very much through an overly romanticised western lens. This bothered me a little, but the story was so well-written that I was completely hooked throughout. Christie Lefteri did a beautiful job portraying the lives of people who are so often vilified in today’s media, and for that alone she deserves five stars. Most people like the Ibrahim family in this book will certainly not have the happy ending they did, but I think more than anything this story was meant to humanise refugees, and show that if they had any other choice, they would not be making these devastating decisions. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and it haunted me for days afterwards. The author based this story on a collection of true stories she had heard from the mouths of refugees during her time as a volunteer at several refugee camps.

I then moved on to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written well, certainly, but after Christie Lefteri’s haunting writing, this one felt a little monotonous. Like I was reading a screenplay. Throughout the entire book I never knew how the characters really felt, it was like I was being held at arms length by the author. If you overlook that, and just read the book for the sake of the plot (which is based on a true story), then you begin to really feel the story. And there are parts which are absolutely horrifying and I wish I never read, but know that it was a must to know these things. Because these things are happening again to many people around the world, and they always say ‘We will never forget the holocaust’ but they did forget it. Because humans are still suffering in horrible ways today, at the hands of evil regimes, for their religion! I was hooked on this book, I both dreaded each new page and anticipated it.

Reading two books so close to one another, both of which detail human suffering in such explicit ways makes me grateful, so grateful, that I live in ‘peace’. I have a home that isn’t bombed to a shell, my son is not lying dead in my arms with unseeing eyes. My family are not being gassed in chambers or taken away to evil camps. My siblings are squabbling peacefully and my mother is ranting about my sister’s shoes in the hallway. We are going through hard times, for sure. People are losing their jobs, dying, losing loved ones. But opening my eyes to this sort of suffering makes me realise that sometimes I complain too much, and it’s much better to count one’s blessings.

And delete instagram and read real books.

24 out of my 25 books for 2020. I think I am doing quite well.

The Thorn Birds

A peado priest falls in love with a little girl.

No, I am joking. He doesn’t. He only ‘falls in love’ with her when she develops a pair of … I can’t think of a dignified name for those things.

No that is too vulgar. Anyway that really isn’t the entirety of the story, but I think it caused sensation when it was published because that is what stood out the most.

That isn’t what this book was about. I read the last sentence today.

And we still do it. Still we do it.

Do what?

Put thorns in our breasts, that’s what.

This book touched me beyond my brain cells. It touched somewhere deep inside my cranium, some would call it a soul. It prodded it and then it simpered like an evil waif, and vanished, leaving me looking down at a new hole. A bit surprised, actually. I didn’t think it would affect me this way.

Somebody once told me that once you have read or seen something, it is a thought in your brain. It belongs to you. You cannot un-think it.

When a writer writes so well that you feel like you are one with the characters, feeling things they feel, even though you have never felt these things… you have bent to the will of the pen. You have never felt those things? Oh, but you have. You’ve felt an echo of them. And now, you know.

I didn’t like all of the characters, but I liked them immensely.

This book didn’t sear me because of its plot, or its characters. Its plot was devastating, to be sure, and its characters deeply twisted and vastly, enormously human. But this book had a soul of its own. It is life, itself.

Sure, it was life from the perspective of one individual brain, but it seethed into being, it spluttered, it gasped, it breathed.

I really wish I didn’t read it, because I can’t un-think it.

But I am glad I did.

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