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 …
Margaret Atwood, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Graham Greene: three writers who love to explore the exalting highs and crushing lows of the human condition, paying tribute to an unlikely power.
In The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen explores the psyche of a Vietnamese double agent who, in a crucial part of the story, and while under tremendous stress, is crushed by the screams of a child, and wonders how ‘a creature so vulnerable can be so powerful.’ He then proceeds to apologize mentally to his mother for all the torment he must have caused her with his screaming when he was a baby, which brings us to
Surfacing, the story of a young woman coming to terms with the loss of her parents. Margaret Atwood paints a vivid landscape (Canadian wilderness) populated by vivid memories, the majority of which – alongside the various objects and landmarks the protagonist encounters – take on new meaning as the days pass, and new information comes to light. The unnamed young woman undergoes an excruciating metamorphosis, which, at one point is punctuated by the vision of children as little barbarians, vandals capable of devastating life without batting an eyelid, their ignorance so complete and their power over life so total, their existence interwoven with such anguish and angst, it brings us to
The Fallen Idol, a short story about a boy left at home with the ‘help’ while his parents go away for a while. Graham Greene weaves a haunting tale from the POV of the little boy who, try as he may to escape the confines of his childish life while foregoing none of the perks of childhood, is drawn into an adult world of passion and repercussions that scares him so profusely, he cannot but retreat back inside his childish nature, a nature that ends up commanding the fate of the help, and of the world at large, at least by implication. The boy pays a price when all is said and done, but it’s obvious that his was the most powerful voice in the story, which brings us back to
The Sympathizer and its tremendous insight on how babies, vulnerable as they are, wield the most formidable cry in the world.
And here we are. Three astounding insights by three exceptional writers on the innate and universal – and, at times, complicated – power of the child.