Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A meek act of love

This is going to be a very indolent week of blogging, with short posts only until I can build up the literary energy reserves enough to churn out something that requires more than the blink of an eye to read. For the time being the mention of Russia yesterday reminded me to refer Rotten to another classic read that is heartily recommended if he hasn't been there already. That's James Meek's 'The People's Act of Love' set in Russia during the aftermath of the First World War as the civil war rages between the Whites and the Reds.

It’s a great book featuring cannibals, Skopi castrates, lusty women and a battalion of Czech soldiers led by a psychotic drug-addled 24-year-old Colonel desperate to return to their newly formed country. But it’s more than just an entertainment. The title refers to the various permutations of love as expressed or acted out by the central characters in the book. To paraphrase Meek himself, they all agree that love exists and matters, but they disagree on what love may be. Samarin, the anarchist political prisoner turned cannibal, and Balashov the religious castrate believe that it may go beyond the love of man for woman, or mother for son, or friend for friend, beyond individual love; that there is a real love which is greater than individuals. This is God’s love in the case of Balashov; this is the People’s love in the case of Samarin; this is one’s country’s love. Anna, the main female character and Mutz, the thoughtful Czech subordinate officer, are more sceptical of this kind of idealism. Yet Samarin and Balashov’s yearning for God’s love or the People’s love is, until it is taken to extremes, attractive to Anna, who is given some steamy sex scenes throughout the book; Mutz knows that he lacks something, for her, without it.

The people’s act of love is also, literally, an act of cannibalism. But to Samarin’s mind, it is a small gesture of love, of care and cherishing, from one failed, dying generation of humans to the next, happier generation. According to Meek, the ability to see something wicked and cruel as an act of love is characteristic of the extreme idealist. You can read more about Meek’s ideas in this interview.

Drawing your attention to the book was my own meek act of love to this most popular of blogs ;)

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