I’m enjoying the sort of “how to live your life” vibe of graduation speeches that are floating around in the ether these days. An acquaintance of mine from college posted this one of Robert Pinksy at Concord Academy on facebook, and it’s very good. The key here seems to be: chose a worthy difficulty.
I keep wanting to write about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which I finished on the plane to Maine, but I can’t quite remember it now. After liking the beginning, then finding it a bit tedious before being sucked in entirely, in the end I loved it, but now I’m trying to remember exactly why. I think I liked how the author doesn’t really give you anything — you have to puzzle out what is happening, and where the characters are, and who the characters are, and what’s the point of it. You are like Jacob de Zoet, thrown into a place you don’t understand — you don’t understand the Europeans, which ones are fundamentally decent and which ones are not, and you don’t understand the Japanese at all. It’s kind of extrapolating meaning from a few quick sketches, like Orito extrapolates Jacob’s meaning from the sketch he pastes to the fan. I think the use of the present tense helps this.
It also seems to be about the complicated workings of fate — Jacob’s love for Anna sends him to Japan to earn the money to marry her, but his fate is to end the terrible cult Orito is captured by. He’s powerless to either stay with his son in Japan, or bring his son out of Japan with him, just like the slaves are powerless to return to their own islands. No one really makes their own destiny, although people’s behavior does matter. It’s kind of about the largeness of history, and the smallness of humans against that bigger picture.
I liked it.
I read it for Claudia’s Imaginary friends book club. The next book is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.