Survival in Auschwitz (or If This Is a Man), was first published in 1947. It is a work by the Italian-Jewish writer and chemist Primo Levi. It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War and his subsequent incarceration in an extermination camp. Levi's haunting memoir in the German death camp Auschwitz is an unforgettable chronicle of systematic cruelty and miraculous survival.
As a serious student of WWII, I have read more than 50 books on the subject of the Holocaust, and in my opinion Primo Levi's insights are superior in the delivery of content. His descriptions into what happened, human nature, the luck of the draw, and the tragedy of his experiences are nothing short of brilliant and by far the most articulate I've read. I think his scientific mind gave him an advantage describing his observations. Levi was able to maintain his awareness through an experience that is utterly beyond the scope of imagination. He somehow emerges from the ashes of this horrific period in time to write this unforgettable memoir. He doesn't dwell on the inhuman acts and suffering, although he has earned every right to do so, but instead offers his account almost from an omniscient perspective. This book contains the best of Primo Levi, his other writings demand to be read as well.
The holocaust proved that morality is adaptable in extreme circumstances. Traditional morality ceased to be so within the barbed wire of the concentration camps. Within the camps, prisoners were not treated like humans and therefore adapted animal-like behavior necessary to survive. The “ordinary moral world” (86) Primo Levi cites in Survival in Auschwitz, ceases to exist; the meanings and applications of words like “good,” “evil,” “just,” and “unjust” begin to fuse and the differences between these polar opposites become unclear. This was the 2nd time I've read this book. I think I shall retain it on my shelf of books to keep and read it again someday. . . you should read it too, lest we forget.
“Christ’s promise is, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’
If you ask only for temporal mercies, and can be satisfied with them, you may get what you ask. There are gushing springs from which you might drink if you would, but the muddy waters of Sihor are evidently good enough for you.
But if you ask the Lord for spiritual blessings, He is sure to give them to you. It is more natural for God to give great things than little things; they are more in His line,—more in His way.
You know that certain men have certain ways. There are men whom you can get to do anything if it is in their way, but they will not act in another way. Well, now, the Lord’s ways are as high above our ways as the heavens are above the earth; yet David knew what God’s ways were, for he said, ‘Then will I teach transgressors thy ways.’
One of the ways of God is to do great things for His people. Some of them sang, ‘The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.’ So you are more sure of getting blessings from God if you ask him for great things.
Therefore, be sure to ask for very great things. When you do get to the mercy-seat, do not begin asking for littles, and go home with trifles; but ask for as big things as ever your soul can desire, and as big things as the promises of God cover.
There you have a task before you that will tax your greatest powers, but give your heart and soul to it, and you will find it to be a very pleasant and profitable one.
Ask great things for yourselves, brethren.
Ask to know all the truth of God.
Ask to know the fullness of God.
Ask to know the riches of his grace.
Ask to know ‘the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.
And when you have asked for all that, ask for holiness, and do not ask for anything less than perfect holiness.
Continue to open your mouth wide, that every grace may be given to you, adding ‘to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love.’
And do not rest satisfied until you have all these Christian virtues.
You may ask also for joy. And, oh, what an ocean of bliss is before you in the joy of the Lord! In ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,’ what a wondrous depth of joy there is laid up in store for you!
Our Lord Jesus said to his disciples, ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’ It may be the same with you; therefore, ask for great things.
Do not be satisfied with being little Christians. Seek to come to the full stature of men in Christ Jesus. I will be thankful to get just inside the gate of heaven.
But if I can sing more sweetly, and if I can have more fellowship with Christ, nearer His throne, why should I not get there? God grant that we may all have that high privilege!
Once more, I think that this exhortation, ‘Open thy mouth wide,’ means attempt great things for God as well as ask great things from God.
Brethren, go in for something great.
Go in for saving one soul; that is something great.
Go in for preaching the whole truth of God; that is something great.
Go in to be faithful to the teaching of the whole Word of God; that is something great. It is not sufficient if you have filled your own place;—a good many of you have not done that yet.
Go in to preach the gospel somewhere else as well. Open some other building for worship; penetrate into some region where the gospel is not yet known.
I wish that our College would open its mouth so wide as to include the whole world in the sphere of its operations. Brother Wigstone tells us that, if we open our mouth wide, we shall swallow up the whole of Spain and Portugal.
Other brethren want us to open our mouth wide enough to absorb France, and Germany, and Russia, and all Europe. Some of our brethren have gone to India; there is a mouthful for us.
If we open our mouth wide, India may be evangelized, and China, and the new world of America, and the far-distant world of Australia, will feel the power of the gospel that we take there in the name of the Lord.
Let us pray, as David did, long ago, that the whole earth may be filled with God’s glory.
What is the whole earth, after all, compared with the greatness of God, and with the infinite sacrifice that Christ has offered? Well may the Lord say to each one of us, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Wide-Open Mouth Filled,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 50; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1904), 50: 186–188.
I finished this book yesterday. This particular Shakespeare play is set in 44 BC starting at the time of the great Feast of Lupercal. A festivity in Rome conducted annually on February 15. The origins of the festival are obscure, although the name is possibly derived from lupus (Latin: “wolf”) - It is further suggested there is a connection or correlation with an ancient deity who protected herds from wolves and with the legendary she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus. As a fertility rite, the festival is also said to be associated with the god Faunus.
The play concludes shortly after the Battle of Phillipi. The source of the play is most likely the histories written by Plutarch. Shakespeare has dramatized many elements and added such memorable lines as: "Et tu Brute?" The play was written c1599, a time when the aging ruler of England, Queen Elizabeth had not yet named her successor and the nation was on the verge of civil war. The drama and emotions noted in the play actually reflect much of the tensions of the time. It was at once a success with the audiences.
Here is the abbreviated plot summary: Julius Caesar is a highly successful leader of Rome whose popularity seems to model that of a king's. Although Caesar is loved and supported by his citizens, some begin to grow concerned of his increase in power. Soon, these suspicious citizens conspire to assassinate Caesar before he becomes king thereby turning their republic into a monarchy. Cassius, the leader of the conspirators, convinces Marcus Brutus, Caesar's most trusted friend, to join the conspiracy. During a celebration, Caesar is warned by the Soothsayer that he must "beware the Ides of March". The next morning, despite his wife Calpurnia's appeals, Caesar travels to the Senate House where the conspirators stab him to death. Caesar's friend Mark Antony provides the famous funeral oration and incites the crowd to riot leading to a civil war. Antony and Octavius, Caesar's heirs, join the fight against the conspirators. Antony and Octavius defeat the conspirators avenging Caesar's death and restoring order back to Rome.
Notable quotes for me were: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings". – Gaius Cassius (Act I, Scene II)
"Cowards die many times before their deaths, The valiant never taste of death but once".
– Julius Caesar (Act II, Scene 2)
"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones". – Mark Antony (Act III, Scene 2)
26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica. Lupercalia. Nov, 8 2018. Oct, 27 2020
For the final book of this challenge I read the 1818 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I would think everyone knows the plot by now, but here's the short version; Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein creates a simple creature from various body parts. The creature turns into a monster when Dr. Frankenstein rejects him. Let me say this before I continue. I have no interest in modern-day horror stories and somehow thought this book similar. I stand completely corrected and admit my error in judgement. Not only was it much better than expected, but it has become my favorite read thus far in 2020!
Having never read Shelley before, I thought perhaps her prose would reflect that of her late Mother and her best known work (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792). I was wrong again. Frankenstein was simply gorgeous to me. I was so surprised by how exceptional and pleasing to the ear her prose remained throughout the novel. The eloquent descriptions of the human condition really captured my interest.
I noticed immediately the many references to the Bible, and it's worth noting that many of those are references to the early chapters of Genesis and particular the events of creation as told in this Old Testament Book. The Old Testament story is relevant to Frankenstein on several levels:
The novel was structured in an epistolary framework...which I dearly love! Shelley's writing really resonated with me. I enjoyed her ability to weave emotion, I enjoyed the plot momentum, and my heart shattered often for the 'monster'. The monster was so well described and portrayed that he became for me the emotional strand for the entire novel. This is just my opinion, but the 'Wretch' is among the finest literary creations ever penned. Victor Frankenstein was of course the villain of the work. His treatment of the monster was detestable, and despite this, I still found myself irresolute and vacillating over Frankenstein. Shelley masterfully helped me see past my disgust and disdain for him. In fact, I came to understand and appreciate Frankenstein’s very human position - though not enough for me to disregard his lack of compassion, but I did find him a very tragic though egotistical figure.
You should most certainly take the time to read this classic novel. It will forever be on my all time favorite list. The excellent prose, the imagery, the emotion and the characters are all supremely extraordinary. I'll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes:
“Solitude was my only consolation — deep, dark, deathlike solitude.”
“My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.”
“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851
Somers Town, London
As stated in the previous blog post, I took up the R.I.P. challenge (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril) - The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle was first. A legendary curse has claimed one more victim. Sherlock Holmes is called in to examine.
Sir Henry Baskerville is the heir of his late Uncle Charles' Estate in Dartmoor. Sir Charles Baskerville is dead with no signs of violence; notwithstanding the terrified face displayed on his lifeless body. Dr. James Mortimer, the uncle's personal physician comes to Holmes to ask for assistance. Local legend is that Sir Charles was killed by a ghostly hound that haunts the moor to avenge the sins of one of the Baskerville ancestors. That ancestor was Hugo Baskerville, and the rumor is that a hideous and devilish hound-like beast had torn out the throat of Hugo many years before. Mortimer confides to Holmes that he found a hound’s footprint at the scene of Charles death. Has the ghostly demon attacked again? More importantly, is Sir Henry Baskerville now in imminent danger?
Intrigued, Holmes takes the case, and it becomes more interesting when Holmes spots a man following them in London and someone steals one of Sir Henry’s boots. Surprisingly, Holmes doesn’t go to Dartmoor, instead he sends Watson to investigate and report his findings. Watson indeed finds strange occurrences: suspicious-acting servants, a dangerous convict loose on the moor, and of course, the legend of the hound.
Doyle marvelously manages all of the intricate relationships in this story. I especially enjoyed the dynamics of the partnership between Holmes and Watson. I was ceaselessly amused by the two detective's dialogue and their quirky interactions. The characters of Holmes and Watson are truly iconic in this tale. The creepy plot was also brilliant and the atmosphere was quite suspenseful. It may be my favorite of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I'll leave you with a few memorable quotes.
"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." (p. 31)
"The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?" (p. 32)
"The setting is a worthy one, if the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men." (p. 32)
"There's a light in a woman's eyes that speaks louder than words." (p. 94)
"Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him." (p. 143)
Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle
22 May 1859 - 7 July 1930
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
I don't often participate in the reading challenges I come across on the internet. I'm an eclectic reader, and as such, I have to be in the mood for a certain genre/type of book, and usually, I'm not in the mood for whatever book challenge is making the rounds. Also, I'm diligently attempting to finish all of the books I own without ascertaining any new material. This year however, I am of the inclination to participate in a spooky, scary, super-natural event. I happened upon this affair while visiting my friend's blog yesterday, so I owe her a big 'Thank You' and the credit for my attendance in the R.I.P. challenge. You can visit her site here: Dolce Bellezza - It also conveniently happens that I own both of the books I'll be reading for this perilous and precarious challenge. They will be in this order; The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Happy Reading!
Still chugging along with my resolution not to buy, borrow, or bum anymore books until I've read those I currently own. I've recently begun a book I've been meaning to read for three decades. The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor. I selected this next book to read as I'm trying to read more writers of faith, and O'Connor certainly qualifies. Thus far I've enjoyed everything I've read. Her stories are oozing with peculiar seeming and haloed saints. There is also danger and awkwardness galore. In fact, the word grotesque has been used quite often in my research to describe some of O'Connor's stories and characterizations. O'Connor herself describes the use of the grotesque as "the good under construction," a description that I rather like - even as a metaphor for my own life! Her stories thus far dramatize moments of crisis that can catch people off-guard, leaving them in perilous and clumsy positions...moments when grace can intervene.
Being a man born and raised in the tobacco belt of the Deep South during the civil rights movement; her characterizations, syntax, and vocabulary were all very familiar to me and my southern senses. The subjects of racism, religion, and violent reality leak through her works like water through a sieve. She once said of her stories that, "I've found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moments of grace." O'Connor may not be for those who are hyper-sensitive in this day and age of absurd political correctness and identity politics. Her writing, word choices, and subject matter are startling and disturbing in their movements toward grace and conversion, but I also found them strangely comforting as they inject absolute love into a sinful, fallen, and distorted world.
Mary Flannery O'Connor.
March 25, 1925 - August 3, 1964.
In my ongoing effort not to buy, borrow, or bum any more books until I read all of those I currently own, I finished this little gem Saturday. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot is a play in verse about the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral. Caught up in one of the perennial conflicts between priest and king, this narrative opens in the Archbishop's Hall on December 2nd, 1170. A chorus, consisting of the women of Canterbury gather at the cathedral with some premonition of a dreadful event to come. They reminisce on their suffering as they reflect upon their Archbishop, Thomas Becket. He has been in exile from England for seven years after a disastrous clash with King Henry II. The women worry that Becket's return from France could make their lives more difficult by angering the King further. Upon his return to England, four persuasive tempters try to prevent Thomas Becket from re-assuming his role as Archbishop. They remind him of the power and influence he held as Lord Chancellor to Henry II prior to his religious ordination.
Archbishop Thomas Becket was honored and venerated as saint and martyr by both the Catholic and Anglican church for defending the church against the encroachments and infringements of the State. Eliot explores Becket's murder from this perspective. In this short play Eliot shows his mastery of the British form of Church and State. In so doing, he sends a message that those who do not practice justice shall some day receive vengeance. This book was totally different than those I normally read. At first with all of the chanting, I was out of my comfort zone, but in the end, I really enjoyed this short work. It provoked me to think deeply and honestly about my faith. Eliot is indeed a master wordsmith, and I enjoyed the style, the language, and the imagery. I know that most will not enjoy a dramatization in verse, but I found it teeming with. . . well... drama. A few of my favorite quotes from the play:
"Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen."
"The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right thing for the wrong reason."
"The servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater cause
May make the cause serve them,
Still doing right: and striving with political men
May make that cause political, not by what they do
But by what the are."
Although I found the demeanor of Thomas Becket's martyrdom in this narration to be courageous- regretfully, I found it to also be self serving and prideful. The Apostles of Christ; Paul, John, Peter, etc... were put to death (martyred) because of their refusal to deny Jesus as Savior and King. In my opinion, this is a completely different animal that we see in Murder in the Cathedral - but you be the judge and read it for free here at INTERNET ARCHIVE
Publisher: Mariner Books, March 1964.
Page Count: 96
Thomas Stearns Eliot
26 September 1888 - 4 January 1965
St. Louis, Missouri, US
Although I've read Lolita and Anna Karenina, my desultory efforts continue with regard to reading a big swath of the great Russian novels. When I do manage to pull something out of the cobwebs, it's by Anton Chekhov. The Duel is one such title. I'm not quite sure if it was while I was attending Saint Leo University or shortly thereafter that I came to adore the works of Chekhov. His Russian prose is astonishingly simple for a novice to read, but his writing is far from simplistic. The Duel reminded me once again why I enjoy his work.
Chekhov is not your stereotypical Russian classic author. It's for this very reason I'd recommend him to you. Especially those of you who love classic literature, but like me, are a bit subdued when it comes to the Russian novels affectionately referred to as doorstops. Chekhov is really a superb master of shorter forms, (The Duel is 128 pages in my edition) - He's much more focused on the everyday life of his characters. He leaves the philosophical and the interpretations in the background for the reader to mull over and devise. He describes his characters with such precise detail that it's easy to forget they're fictitious - for instance, there's this line:
"the young zoologist Von Koren, who came to the Black Sea in the summers to study the embryology of jellyfish."
How can you not resist getting to know Von Koren? What I savored most about The Duel is the way the main characters were all too intellectual for their own good. Laevsky continually sees his life and every emotion through the lens of literature, and not at all as it really is. He's recently become disenchanted with Natasha, his mistress (who left her husband by the way to live with him), and thus references Tolstoy and Anna Karenina when he's with her or talking about her. The story opens with him deciding whether he even has a moral obligation to stay with her, or if he can leave her like he wishes too, and one chapter ends with:
"In my indecision I am reminiscent of Hamlet," Laevsky thought on the way. "How rightly Shakespeare observed it! Ah, how rightly!"
Von Koren, meanwhile, has been seduced by evolution theory and its darker counterpoint, social Darwinism. He sees the world in black and white with an uncompromising and unflinching perspective. His ideas include the notion that those who are morally weak should be eliminated before they have the chance to reproduce.
Chekhov also manages to weave wonderful humor throughout the story. There's a lot of Pushkin tributes too, and the subtle respect to Chekhov's predecessors are admirable. Chekhov's willingness to suppress expectations are astonishing as well, and I challenge any reader to guess how things will inevitably conclude.
With the Governor's stay-at-home orders in place and my home filled to capacity for hours on end, it often feels and sounds like Camp Hiawatha meets Fight Club. The tensions are sometimes palpable, and as an essential worker, I humbly confess that on occasion, I'm all too happy when Monday's roll around and I have to go back to work. On the weekends there is very little peace and quiet except when everyone's asleep, so The Duel was a captivating and ironic (in title only) way to spend two hours of quiet time before anyone was awake. As usual, I plan to read more Russian literature in the coming year, but truth is, I'll probably only read more Chekhov.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
January 29 1860 - July 15 1904
Taganrog, Ekaterinoslav Governorate, Russian Empire
Have you ever read a passage from a book and suddenly catapulted to thoughts unrelated to the story? In Chapter 40 of Moby Dick I read these lines:
OLD MANX SAILOR: I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink them of what they are dancing over. I'll dance over your grave, I will- that's the bitterest threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round corners. O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews! Well, well; belike the whole world's a ball, as you scholars have it; and so 'tis right to make one ballroom of it. Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once
• The Old Manx sailor wonders if these young men ever think about the fact that they’re dancing over other sailors’ ocean graves, but he figures they might as well dance anyway.
With my mind enraptured with tall masts, billowing sails, titanic creatures and the salty deep, I began to ponder the line "Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once." Without warning I was contemplating the state of our world. I wondered at the dysfunction, the insanity of the current culture: Drag queen story hour, transgender bathrooms, human trafficking, and mass shootings. I wondered why a troubled person could legally walk up to any number of dispensing stations, remove a new hypodermic needle and inject themselves with heroine while it is prohibited and/or frowned upon to use a plastic straw or buy a sugar-laden Slurpee over the prescribed volume of 16oz. I wondered why we are more concerned with saving baby sea turtles than the untold thousands of precious baby children aborted every day.
Moby-Dick is not a new novel, it was written some 168 years ago. New isn't always better though, there's much to be said for those books in classic literature whose phraseology, inflection, and syntax stir and disquiet the soul in a way that gives us pause. They utter revelations with extraordinary nuance and subtlety. They remain forever true while all else seems to be expeditiously changing and unsure.
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
–C.S. Lewis, “Introduction” in St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1944/1993),