ON THE POWER OF DISILLUSIONMENT AND THE LONG WAY HOME

Books lead to more books. Read one and you’re reminded of another. New material refers to past releases, either directly or in roundabout ways. 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 the name of compelling art. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.

Welcome to Connection Degree Three …

Daniel Deronda; The Catcher In The Rye; Going Solo. Three absorbing stories of angst that showcase the epic lengths to which people will go in search of something they may call their own, be it a group of friends, a community, the spirit of life itself, or simply home.

In George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda we have Rex, a minor character, who falls in love with the seductive Gwendolen against his family’s wishes. But Gwendolen turns him down, and Rex, brokenhearted, declares his intention to move to Canada where he’ll build a hut and live out the rest of his days in solitude, which is reminiscent of

J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, a landmark story of teenage disillusionment. Here we encounter Holden Caufield, a bright-yet-self-injurious adolescent whose inability to fit in – at school, at home – renders him an outcast who roams the streets of New York in the days before Christmas. Unable to connect with anyone, Holden contemplates moving to Canada where he’ll build a cabin and live off the land, marry a girl, have kids, and call the place home, which is reminiscent of

Roald Dahl’s Going Solo – the second part of the author’s breezy autobiography – in which a young Dahl, recently graduated from school, takes on a job with Shell in East Africa. From there he finds his way to the Western Desert in Libya where he fights as an RAF pilot against the Axis Powers, and from there he goes to Greece, and from there to the Middle East where he meets a man near a deserted airstrip. The man tells Dahl of his people’s plans to settle down in that arid land in the middle of nowhere to create a home for themselves, one for which they’ve been searching all their lives, which brings us back to

Daniel Deronda, one of the major themes of which is the search of the Jewish people for a home, a theme foreshadowed early on in the story in a passage concerning Gwendolen’s upbringing and her struggle to settle into her own skin.

Says the narrator of Gwendolen’s family’s move to Offendene, their new place in the English countryside:

‘A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amid the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favor of milk with which we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.’

And here we are. Three extraordinary tales by three outstanding authors who deal with the search for purpose and meaning, a sense of belonging, an idea of home and, in the midst of all this, the highs and lows a person goes through to attain it, and more.

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