Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Some book thoughts

It's been awhile since I brought anyone up-to-date on my readings, so I thought I'd share the last couple of things I finished. Over the weekend, I finished up A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet, by Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela. A fascinating review of the different elements of Chilean society, government, economics, history, etc. during the sixteen years of Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship over Chile...a nation that had held one of South America's strongest democracies until the coup in 1973.

I knew some of the details, but not all, and this book definitely enlightened me to the many sides of the Chilean issues both before, during, and after the coup. Perhaps I viewed Allende's government (never exactly "communist" as Kissenger and the Chilean right-wing alleged, but certainly to the left of many "socialists" as you would find them elsewhere) with some rose colored glasses. The country certainly seemed to be coming apart at the seams during his time in office. And perhaps if the coup had simply gotten rid of Allende and then stepped aside for elections, it might not have been such a terrible thing. But the excesses of the security state during and after Pinochet and the Chilean military seized power went above and beyond anything that was truly necessary. In some ways, I think Constable and Valenzuela go a bit too far to make it appear "balanced," discounting certain details and horrors of the rightwing 'vengance' meeted out to ordinary Chileans. Or maybe I'm being too hard. The book was written in 1990, after all...shortly after Pinochet's handover of power to an elected government, and before the truth commission and all the details on the coup that have since come out, revealing a much larger and uglier United States role in what happened there.

Still...an interesting book and certainly one that has piqued my interest in Latin American history.

Prior to that, I finished Prague, by Arthur Phillips. Set in Budapest in 1990-91, there isn't a single bit of the action that takes place in the actual city of Prague. Instead, Prague is an idea. Phillips explores the concept that "happiness is just over the horizon" for some people. In another time, another place, with another person, etc. Each of the characters has their own "Prague" to come to terms with. And hovering over them all is the actual city of Prague itself, which they all suspect is a better life than in Budapest.

This novel brought back all kinds of personal memories. Not just of life in Vienna and Eastern Europe when I lived there in 1994, but of being an American in Central Europe at that time in history. I can certainly relate to the feelings about Prague - it was a place everybody talked about, even if I found it far less interesting than Budapest, or even Krakow, Vienna, etc. It was where "the good life" really was. All the Americans knew it. In Vienna...you had bizarre Austrians and a conservative society. In Prague...anything was possible!

Even if it wasn't true...we were sure that it was.

Indeed...this concept of longing for something 'over the rainbow' or whatever has often been a motif in my own life. How many times (growing up) did I say to myself: "If I could only get out of Topeka...everything would be fine!"

"If I could only get out of Kansas...out of the United States...out of the midwest...out of college..."

I ran from Topeka to San Antonio...to Vienna, Austria...back to San Antonio...back to Topeka...to Lawrence...back to Topeka...to Washington, DC... Always in search of "the good life" that was never where I was, that I always suspected people of enjoying "somewhere else." Despite the fact that they were probably looking for somewhere else than where they were. Never trying to tackle the root causes of my unhappiness and whatnot. Longing to be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else, etc.

The reality is that the mirror needs to turn inwards sometimes. That isn't to say that I wish I was back in Kansas. Leaving KS has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. But...looking back, I probably could have been happy there if I'd only made an effort to do so. Sometimes these things take time. It did for me. It took until I was 29 to realize that I was miserable and to do something about it - something other than running away.

Anyway...a very good book and one that I highly recommend.

I've finally started on the latest Alan Furst novel - going quickly. Interesting. Different from his others in some ways. In some ways the same. *shrug*


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