Journal: Andrić, Zweig, Julianus Pomerius

It feels like a very long time since I’ve written anything on here, and nearly as long of a time since I even finished reading a book. Perhaps it is because I am in my first year out of school, but it’s been difficult to set aside the time for reading that I once did. Whether it is because I’m actually busy or because reading doesn’t seem appealing when time finally opens up, all of the excuses are gone now. Everything is cancelled. Meetings, appointments, school visits, and so on. So now it is time to read again.

As I often find it difficult to remember all the poignant details of books after reading them, this time I think I’ll do something more like a journal. Instead of waiting until I finish a book, I will periodically talk about what I’m reading. This sort of update will also encourage me to continue reading when the interest ebbs and wanes.

Image result for omer pasha latasI decided to start with a shorter book on the shelf, and picked out Omer Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan by Ivo Andrić. Andrić is the only Southern Slav to win the Nobel Prize in literature, writing in Serbo-Croatian. His most famous work is The Bridge on the Drina, which is a novel that takes place over 300 years where the only consistent figure throughout is the bridge in the title. So far, Omer Pasha Latas resembles The Bridge on the Drina in many respects: it is set in the region of Bosnia, the timeline is extensive, there is a clash of cultures Eastern and Western, and a vying for dominance between the imperial and the local. Though both of the books are composed, more or less, from vignettes about different personalities here and there, the stories in Omer Pasha Latas all revolve in some way around the title character, much as The Bridge on the Drina revolves around the life of that bridge. Omer Pasha was an Austrian who abandoned his faith and consequently worked his way up through the ranks of the Turkish empire. Although he externally takes on the appearance of Turk, he is considered an outsider in everywhere to the Bosnian subjects he attempts to put in order.

Image result for stefan zweig world of yesterdayIn addition to this novel, I decided to give Audible a try and began listening to the memoirs of Stefan Zweig in The World of Yesterday. I’ve only just started it and I only listen to it as I drive, so it may take awhile to get through the 17-hour listening time, but already he explains why his perspective makes a good story: he has witnessed two world wars, and the secure order he grew up in during the late 19th century is unimaginable to those growing up in his own time. He talks about the beauty of Vienna, with its multiculturalism and artistic talent, and the Jewish genius, which prizes the intellectual life above all things. Though I never wrote a post about it, one of the last books I finished was a collection of novellas by Stefan Zweig. Each novella put in deep relief some particular movement of the human heart. I expect his own memoirs to do as well in expressing his own feelings at seeing the world turned upside-down.

Image result for bartholomew of the martyrsThe last book I want to mention is called The Contemplative Life by Julianus Pomerius, a 5th century African writer. How I discovered this work: I was reading about the recently canonized St. Bartholomew of the Martyrs, a Portuguese Dominican friar who became a bishop and assisted with the reform of the clergy around the time of the Council of Trent. I discovered that he wrote a manual for bishops, called the Stimulus Pastorum, which became one of the favorite books of St. Charles Borromeo. This work had never been translated into English, but my curiosity led me to a Latin version of the work. Whereas the second half of the work reads like a manual for bishops, the first half of the work is composed entirely from other works: On the Priesthood by St. John Chrysostom, The Pastoral Rule of St. Gregory the Great, On consideration by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and several other well-known works and authors. One extensively quoted work that I did not recognize was De vita contemplativa by Julianus Pomerius, a work I had never heard of, but which was available in English. So I obtained an English copy and began reading. So far, it’s an excellent work of eschatology. judgment angelicoApparently, the author was responsible for bringing the thought of St. Augustine from North Africa up to Gaul, where he was ordained and served as a teacher. Whereas St. Augustine sometimes sounds silly in the City of God, as he ponders and proposes about the nature of the next life and the resurrection of the body, the work of Pomerius trims down these doctrines to their essential points and presents them in a manner useful for meditation. For example, he usefully proposes that the active life is to the contemplative life as the contemplative life is to the life of the blessed in heaven. With this proportion in place, every description of the coming beatitude and resurrection of the body helps to illustrate the life to which contemplatives are called, while at the same time highlighting the perfection that remains for the next world. If someone was unfamiliar with the Christian doctrines of the beatific vision, the resurrection of the body, the last judgment, or the superiority of the contemplative life, I would certainly recommend this book as a level and clear explanation. The second half of the book will give counsel for those caught up in the active life, something I hope to find very useful.

Comedy of Errors

The first work I finished reading upon my return home was The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare. I simply picked up my volume of Shakespeare and went down the table of contents until I found a play that I hadn’t read yet. And what a happy choice it was! I remember once (was it actually 12 years ago?) picking up this same play on a lazy Saturday afternoon, but quickly becoming overwhelmed by the abbreviated roles (Aege., Duke., etc.), the characters with identical names, and the lack of footnotes. I put it down after one scene. Over a decade later with the experience of reading 20 other Shakespeare plays, I was able to enjoy this as the comedy it is.

ephesus

Location. Oftentimes I find it difficult to set a stage in my head when all I have is the dialogue between the characters. Although I have never been to Syracuse or Ephesus (the key spots in the play), I have been to the modern-day Sicily and Turkey which contain these ancient cities. Even if a bit anachronistically, this helped to populate my imagination with fashions and manners, so that I was not merely reviewing a dialogue, but reading a play. Continue reading

An Elegy for Kosovo by Ismail Kadare

Before I talk about Three Elegies for Kosovo by Ismail Kadare, the first winner of the Booker Man International Prize, I want to give a little background about the setting:

tsar lazar

An icon of Tsar Lazar that I found on my own journey to Serbia

One of my favorite books of all time is the vast Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, a philosophically and historically packed narrative of a journey through Yugoslavia in the 1930s. The title refers to two images that appear late in the book and perhaps leave a greater impression than any other part in the book. Whereas the black lamb becomes for West an image of the ugliest aspect of the Southern Slav, the grey falcon is a symbol of their loftiest aspect, which holds eternity in greater esteem than world success, and yet not without tragedy. Partly from laziness and partly for conveying the effect of oral history, I will retell the story of the grey falcon as I remember it from Rebecca West and other sources, so as to form something of a background to Kadare’s little novel.

It is 1389 on the eve of a great battle with the Turks. The Serbs and their allies are prepared for battle in the Kosovo Field. It is in the region of Kosovo that one find the head of the Serbian Church and many of their monasteries. The Serbs were led by one known as Tsar Lazar, not a king of the royal family, but the effective ruler of Serbs.

kosovo fieldAnd so, it is said that on the eve of battle, Tsar Lazar saw in the sky a grey falcon coming from Jerusalem with a swallow in its mouth, only it was not a grey falcon, but the Prophet Elijah! And it was not a swallow, but a book written by the Mother of God which he carried with him. And so, Tsar Lazar received this book and read in it a promise and a decision. The armies may go out tomorrow for battle and obtain both victory and earthly glory. Or they can celebrate the Divine Liturgy, having every soldier receive the sacrament, and then they will go out to battle with Turks, and nearly every soldier will die, but they will thereby obtain eternal glory.

And so, Tsar Lazar ordered the beautiful carpets to be laid out, for an altar to be brought forth and set, and for the priests to vest for the Divine Liturgy. The next day, Tsar Lazar nearly every soldier on the side of the Serbs fell in battle and the Serbs became vassals to the Islamic Ottoman Empire for centuries to come. And yet the Serb identity did not die. This defeat of the Serbs was immortalized in Serbian poetry and included within this were the words of Tsar Lazar: Cursed be every Serb that does not fight for Kosovo. And so one could hear echoes of these songs ringing even in 1999, during the brief Kosovo War, as the Serbs attempted to expel the Albanians from the region of Kosovo before this action was halted by foreign intervention. Continue reading