Law and Conversation

October 21, 2011

Terror in literature and real life

I’m shedding no tears at the death of Muammar Gaddafi, just as I shed none on learning of the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, or any other brutal dictators.

But I’m not dancing in the streets over it, either.

A friend and fellow Illinois lawyer, Lee Goodman, posted thoughtfully today on Gaddafi’s demise, the ensuing celebrations, and the coincidence of today being Simchat Torah, the significance of which another friend explained to me a couple of nights ago. (Lee is president of MentorCLE, which has a presentation of mine, “Persuasive Writing for Lawyers,” that you can watch and, if you’re a lawyer, get 1 hour of MCLE professionalism credit for; if you pay for the credit, I receive a small royalty.)

A famous line from Shakespeare’s play, “Henry VI,” is “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Back when I thought lawyer jokes were funny (that was a LONG time ago), I thought that was hilarious. Since then, I’ve not only become a lawyer but learned the context of that line: it’s what an aspiring tyrant proposes to do to make it easier for him to assume absolute power and despotism, and it isn’t a bit funny. As I was pondering Lee’s post and the events of yesterday, I started thinking about what it must be like to be a resident in a country where such unrest is occurring and how lucky I feel not to be there and, instead, in a country where the rule of law remains strong.

Libya and Iraq seem very far away, not only geographically but culturally, and Romania isn’t that much closer. But periods of terror have certainly happened in western cultures as well, and even in the fairly recent past: Romania straddles west and east, Hitler was dictator of Germany within living memory, and there are those in Spain who still mourn Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who, though ruthless, did bring Spain out of the horrible Spanish Civil War and into peace.

Here are some memorable literary treatments of historical terror:

1) Can’t start this list with any book other than Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” depicting life during the Terror in France in the years after 1789.

2) A number of people retweeted British author Adel Darwish‘s comment earlier today that the fate of Gaddafi’s body reminded him of the scene in “The Iliad” when Priam begs Achilles for the release of Hector’s body as he was dragging it toward the Greeks’ camp. Coincidentally, The Economist has a nice review of four translations of Homer’s epic poem and recommends sticking with Richard Lattimore’s 60-year-old classic work while checking out Alice Oswald’s recent “Memorial” for a reminder of how shocking Homer’s gory descriptions are, even in the third millennium after he composed them. (Hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily.) I picked up our household copy of Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, a thoughtful gift from my sister, and was struck by how opening it practically anywhere at random yielded a graphic, blood-soaked description of killing.

3) Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning  “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” provides a snapshot of life in the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo, as bad a ruler as they come.

Finally, Literary Kicks has an interesting post from last year by Claudia Moscovici on life in Ceausescu’s Romania. And Britain’s The Daily Mail has a piece on the demises of several notable tyrants, concluding with The One That Got Away: Josef Stalin, who, unlike his fellow tyrants, was never deposed and died in his bed of natural causes.

This Friday night I’m wishing for an end to terror in Libya and elsewhere, and a return to peace and the rule of law. Since Germany, Spain, Romania, France, Greece, and many other countries who have had awful periods of terror now enjoy peace and democracy, there must be hope.

March 12, 2010

Happy reading!

Reading is probably my favorite activity in the world and always has been.  In fact, it’s so important to me that I notice I’m less happy when I get busy with other matters and let reading fall by the wayside.  If I schedule time for pleasure reading as I schedule time for business and family activities, I read more.  So one of my goals is to spend most evenings between 8 and 9 reading with my family.

Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” has been on my very long reading list for more than a year, since a close friend and my husband read and recommended it.  Before I’d even finished Diaz’s 7-page introduction (complete with footnotes on the history of the Dominican Republic), I was hooked.  Diaz breaks a few rules–and breaks them very well–by, among other things, writing in Spanglish!  His energetic, honest, in-your-face prose reminds me of Sherman Alexie’s, whose “Ten Little Indians” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” my husband and I both enjoyed and admire immensely.  Now that I’m on chapter 2, I’m finding it close to unputdownable and can’t wait for 8 PM.

 Those who, like me, find it hard to squeeze time in for pleasure reading might like to take advantage of DailyLit.  The site, http://dailylit.com/ , has a number of books, short stories, foreign language lessons, and other offerings available by daily e-mail installments for FREE.  You can read for a few minutes each day or save them up and read several together.  If you find yourself with more time available, or you just can’t wait 24 hours for the next installment, you can have the next one sent immediately.  And if you get too busy even to read one e-mail a day, you can suspend the service for a while and tell it when to resume sending them to you.  I recently finished the 12th and final e-mail installment of one of Alice Munro’s short stories from her recent collection, “Too Much Happiness.”  No affiliation with the site—I’m just a happy reader.

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