Four Feet Under — A perspective contains life

With Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, waiting for the bus turns into a curious investigation about the narrator’s life, who previously worked in a law firm and never liked his job. I was the only one sitting on the bench. Shortly, a guy came with two big bag of collected bottles. His hair greasy, his hand slightly shaking, his clothes dirty and smelly a bit, and he is stunningly skinny. That’s all I could collect as the tell-tale information about this guy before he starts to talk.

He opened a bottle, drinking avidly. Seconds up, I found myself not really reading Murakami.

“Excuse me ?” He said to me, in the meanwhile, taking tobacco out of his back pocket, trembling.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Sprichst du Deutsch?” (Do you speak German?) As asking, he seems to offer me his tobacco.

I shook my head, hoping not to get involved in the conversation, and certainly I don’t have any lighter.

“Do you speak English? ” He smiled and asked again in a nearly perfect English accent. His voice low and reserved.

“Yes.” I answered.

“Can I smoke here? ” He asked me.

“Yes.” I answered.

He smiled, and said “I just want to know, do you mind if I could smoke here?”

Here? In an open-air bus stop with nobody around? No-one has ever asked me this question before. Or no-one cares about it. Wait a sec. Does he want to start a pick-up conversation by saying that? I thought, waiting for the next question. There was nothing. He started to smoke.

It was pleasant for me to be asked, to be considered. It was a quite gentleman gesture to ask, but on the other hand, I was judging him by his appearance. Perhaps, he is homeless, drunk and not polite. No, he might be none of those.

Getting on the bus, I started to think about a crowdfunding project I backed month ago — Four Feet Under. A crowdfunding book project on Unbound, non-fiction. The author collects stories from homeless people in London, taking photos of them, getting to know them, telling their stories. Haven’t read the whole book yet, but I know that among them, there are business man, orphan, and so on. The title comes from their perspective, meaning that they see the world from “Four Feet Under“. But aren’t we all are, sometimes? We judge people from four feet under? We judge them by brand, clothes, professions, social status? Is “Four Feet Under” their perspective or ours?

It was always my dream to talk to homeless people, regardless where. I knew they all like us, carrying stories, burying pains. But I never have done so. Not sure what’s the reason. It could be a lack of courage, or simply couldn’t careless. Things and thoughts got buried easily by time. The author did what I have always wanted. Hoping to read it soon.

(This post is not sponsored by the crowdfunding project Four Feet Under. Simply some personal thoughts.)

The Voice We Should All Hear

This book should be put in the shelf called Books That Made Me Cry, if not, still I should apologise for categorising it on my Russia book shelf, it is about Belarus, Ukraine, also the USSR. It’s quite different, isn’t it? But the people are the same. As always, people remain the same people.

Then there comes the threshold — Chernobyl catastrophe, yet a doomed to be muted one. In the beginning and in the end contains two heart breaking love stories with the only one survivor narrating. People got some relief seeing in Schindler’s List two Jewish Lovers could got married with a melted gold ring under that extreme circumstance, at least. But in this book, there is no future, no happiness, no end.

It happened contemporarily, a modern nuclear war already. It is still happening. I mean, the same way certain government conducts things, dealing with crisis, it is all the same. What left are only nameless people, heroes, or just say, human beings, sacrificing their lives, for the mankind, for many other people. Without them, half of the Europe will be gone, the proud yet not proud Europe. Can anyone imagine? A great deal of civilisation will be erased, vanished from the earth. Maybe that was also the goal for certain people, since other groups of people need to be liberated from the burning hell.

Heroes, there are always nameless, only people who does not leave their names could be called heroes, the real ones. That’s our Chinese old saying. Those who are named, in the history book, in the real history, they are not!

I wish I could read this book much earlier, knowing Chernobyl is not only what they described on the text book for exams: a nuclear leaking accident. That’s too easy. Why don’t we get to know this? Because people will be panicked about nuclear, and we still are building them. Why don’t they get masks and protections? Because if they get, people will get panicked. Oh, now I know how important it is for the Communist government to keep things under control, in order, tidy and clean, and what they are willing to get as a price. Astonishing.

I’ve always admired Russian people for their toughness (maybe it’s not the right portray here). Like this, when they believe the world will get to hear their voices in one day, they keep believing it, and eventually it happened. It’s the belief. Touching. Yet, they have the ability to reflect, and to say it, to record it, to try to prevent it.

The form of the book is oral history. And it’s perfect. History does not only compose of famous people and leaders, this misleads many people nowadays who wants to climb up and be heard, but there are so many nameless people, they carved the history with their own precious lives, and in this case, maybe several generation’s lives. They have a voice, a collective memory, a right to live, but certain things were disguised and deprived from them. And life goes on. People forget and keep silence. Svetlana Alexievich uses a Journalistic way to record these tragedies, but it’s the cold-blooded reality. What’s literature? It’s a collection based on these life stories, these life and death momoents.

I really wish more and more people reads this book, simply.

About “Submission”


This book is a contemporary masterpiece. One might not find it appealing, since it talks about the well-known boring academic life, where nearly no one gets to do research on their chosen topic, or simply read what they want. However, the author portrays a middle-aged professor who is intelligent, melancholy, depressive, and yet very French. Maybe it’s not fair to say “very French”, but it is the French sensibility I’ve read in its literature.

Indeed, there is something very French about this book, about the characters, the past, present and the future as well. The pace of the narration mirrors even Sagan, saying, Bonjour tristesse! Salut Life! Being an expert on 19th century French literature, where Baudelaire brought the “depressive disease” at the turn of the century, the protagonist knows all about sensitivity, being an intellectual, politics, privilege, visiting prostitutes and strolling…Only the social background changed a bit, as the protagonist talked about with his colleague in the book, about the death of the Europe, the demise of the capital of the Europe!

Sometimes, I could smell the indifference Camus brought to our awareness. That, also strikes me to think about all the terror attacks happened recently. Some of the reviewers have already pointed out that both French edition and English edition have been published around a turbulent time in France, namely charlie hebdo shooting and other attacks in a year or two. Although this book is talking about the near future 2020, which could end up in science fiction section, it is actually much easier to become reality right now. Now, in the year of 2017, when the author still describes it as a future, Marine Le Pen with the National Front could soon take the whole story, and turn it upside down, the book is already nothing funny as it says on the blurb, but scary.

When Abbes comes into power, how on earth could he understand Camus’ indifference with the tight kinship background. But yet the transformation for women to stay at home and wear veils have been smooth, not much confrontation. But where, should we put our Walter Benjaminian bourgeois sorrow? Nothing matters. When the change happens, we flow with the change — a typical psychopath reaction. But there lies the thrill, doesn’t it?

And there is also the title “submission”. As a professor, submission could mean a bit different for the protagonist than other people. But for the ending, submission also means to yield. The question is, to what “we” superior force do we give our submission to? Religion? Humanity? Life? Among some issues, author sounds like Dostoyevsky, only with a much more peaceful reasoning, but still, the stormy conversation in big chunk paragraphs. It’s reminiscent like history at all times.