Saturday, July 12, 2014

{Return to Reading}: 1914 by Jean Echenoz

"Sometimes this absent arm became more present than the other one, insistent, vigilant, as mocking as a guilty conscience" (Echenoz 104).

Anthime finds himself in war-torn France, hunkered down in putrid trenches and dodging scraps of shrapnel blazing toward him and his comrades. What I enjoy about Jean Echenoz's little novel is that it doesn't pretend to be the only war-novel around. Echenoz is clear that he is dropping us readers into trenches we've seen before, although they are no less terrifying. Some scenes are described so beautifully and matter-of-factly that it seems I'm seeing a photo of World War I more than I am experiencing it as a reader

But 1914, in being only a slice of WWI accounts, reminds me that the past continually haunts us. We carry things no longer visible and swear they cause us just as much pain as when we could stare them in the face. And, if we let them, they will nag and irritate and loom over us. Just as a severed arm can deliver a soldier from out of the frontlines, trauma (even an accident or chance of mishap) can yank us from where we were, transplanting us elsewhere. But why, no matter how thankful we are to be removed, do we insist on looking back? Why can't we forget? 

Should we even forget?

I doubt I'm alone when I say that things (namely, people and places) that are lost cause the most pain. Nostalgia, though sweet, is bitterly painful. Etymologically, it's a "painful homecoming" (OED). It's not so simple to avoid nostalgia or remembering what has passed. It's simply what makes us human, vulnerable little energies that live out our lives and disappear, causing the same void in someone else's heart. 

So, feel. What else is there to do?

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