ON GOING DEEP TO KNOW OURSELVES

Books lead to other books. Read one and you’re reminded of another. New publications refer to past ones, famous and obscure. Genres cross over, involving similar concepts, tropes, devices. Writers lift, pay tribute, re-imagine, claim as their own and take it a step further in their effort to tell gripping, original stories. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.

Welcome to Connection Degree Three …

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is the story of a respectable public servant in pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia. The story examines Ilyich’s life on the backdrop of a progressive malady that forces the man to put into question everything he took for granted, including his dignity, his morality, and the right(eous)ness of his life choices.

In retrospect, as Ivan Ilyich looks back on his life including his childhood, he realizes that the years have taken their toll. He’s not the man he used to be. It’s not as if he’s looking back at a younger version of himself; he’s an altogether different person than the one on whom he reflects, and the process scares him, forcing him into a number of grave assessments of both himself and his surroundings. Redemption is hard to come by.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami is the story of a self-sufficient engineer staring back at his life-changing conflict with four formerly close high-school friends, with whom he no longer has contact. The incident took place sixteen years prior and the event had been forgotten, until now.

Tsukuru Tazaki goes in search for answers, but they’re hard to come by, some of them unexpected. The past, he realizes, isn’t something he can sideswipe with ease and be done with. ‘You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.’ It’s an uphill journey, full of question marks and doubt. It takes effort to reconcile himself with what happened, and even then things can never be fully mended, though new beginnings can always be made, if he so chooses.

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage (a memoir) by Dani Shapiro is the story of two authors, Dani and her husband, M., whose eighteen-year-long marriage has led them to examine every aspect of their intertwined lives. Written by – and narrated from – the perspective of Dani, Hourglass offers insight on the effects of time spent in wedlock. Her voice is poignant and elegiac, through which she pieces together her sense of self, her choices, perhaps even her destiny. Dani realizes in bittersweet fashion that life has a way of working out even when it doesn’t quite work out. By exploring the formative power of memories, she comes to a fresh understanding of herself and her family. What we call life turns out to be a non-linear assortment of experiences we keep track of as best we can in order to give meaning to what we, and others, including loved ones, do, or did once upon a time, or keep doing throughout the years.

At the same time, Dani realizes that the person doing the reminiscing, the pondering, the self-reflection, is not the same person as the one being reflected on, and that this entails a learning curve that represents the process of growing up, in which a person engages for as long as he or she (or ze) lives.

And there we have it. The Death of Ivan Ilyich; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage; Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage: three compelling tales centered around the arduous but rewarding power of self-reflection, stories that explore the impact of the past, shedding light on the process of digging deep to truly know oneself and one’s loved ones, coming to terms with our life choices in our ongoing effort to redeem ourselves.

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