Finishing Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved and picking up Herman Wouk’s memoir, The Language God Talks was like gulping fresh air after holding my breath for too long. I admired Morrison’s work. Her characters were moving and I despaired for the anguished lives of her characters, former slaves who were trying to get a footing as free citizens in a nation that wasn’t ready for them. But I found her style cumbersome and I spent too much time piecing together the fragments of her story in the hope of seeing the whole. Too often, I was uncertain about where I was in the history of her characters and uncertain, too, about which one of them was speaking. Eventually the puzzle did come together, but as I said in an earlier blog (11/26/13) the structure of her book got in the way of the plot.
In contrast to Morrison’s work, Herman Wouk, in his memoir The Language God Talks, ventures into the complex world of religion and science without leading his reader astray. His narrative is complex, containing fragments of his conversations with physicist Richard Feyman whom he met while doing research for his novel, War and Remembrance – a book that took 11 years to complete. At the time when Wouk met Feyman, he was searching for the organizing principle of his book, much in the same way that Feyman was searching for the organizing principal of the universe. And so it was natural that when these two men of intellect talked, their conversations took them into arcane places of the mind. What matters here, is that Wouk keeps his readers fascinated. His thoughts are complex but not the writing of them.
Morrison’s novel deals with the aftermath of slavery. Wouk draws his lesson from the holocaust. Both stories are worthy of our attention and our empathy. Both authors can be complimented for their achievement. But if I am to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I prefer a guide who allows me to keep my eyes wide open.
(Courtesy of nocturnal-notions.blogspot.com)