Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn
The Parade by Dave Eggers
On a cozy March snow day, the bomb cyclone to be precise… I curled up with this book that is totally not something I would usually read but it came highly recommended and so I wanted to check it out. Why would I not read this book? Well, because it’s mostly a man and a gorilla having a conversation. But, why was this book so awesome? Because the conversation they had is SO important and relevant, and this is from a book that was written 25 years ago!
“”In your cultural prison what inmates wield the power?”
“Ah,” I said. “The male inmates. Especially the white male inmates.”
“Yes, that’s right. But you understand that these white male inmates are indeed inmates and not wardens. For all their power and privilege- for all that they lord it over everyone else in the prison- not one of them has a key that will unlock the gate.”
“Yes, that’s true. Donald Trump can do a lot of things I can’t, but he can no more get out of the prison than I can. But what does this have to do with justice?”
“Justice demands that people other than white males have power in the prison.”
“Yes, I see. But what are you saying? That this isn’t true?”
“True? Of course it’s true that males- and, as you say, especially white males-have called the shots inside the prison for thousands of years, perhaps even from the beginning. Of course it’s true that this is unjust. And of course it’s true that power and wealth within the prison should be equitably redistributed. But it should be noted that what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself.”
“Yes, I see that. But I’m not sure many other people would.”
“No. Among the politically active, the redistribution of wealth and power is...I don’t know what to call it that would be strong enough. An idea whose time has come. The Holy Grail.”
“Nonetheless, breaking out of the Taker prison is a common cause to which all humanity can subscribe.”
I shook my head. “I’m afraid it’s a cause to which almost none of humanity will subscribe. White or colored, male or female, what the people of this culture want is to have as much wealth and power in the Taker prison as they can get. They don’t give a damn that it’s a prison and they don’t give a damn that it’s destroying the world.”
Ishmael shrugged. “As always, you’re a pessimist. Perhaps you’re right. I hope you’re wrong.”
“I hope so too, believe me.””
Isn’t that astounding? I hope you are just as baffled by this as I was!
Anyway… the next book that I read was Dave Eggers’ latest. And per usual, it was a good read that makes us ponder a modern day issue, it is so simple in its telling that it almost reads like a parable. In this book two contractors from an undisclosed country are paving a road in another undisclosed country, even the two characters names are never given and instead they go by Four and Nine, the premise being that they would be less likely to be kidnapped and held for ransom if the locals can’t figure out who they are. Many reviewers have criticized the book for all the anonymity and claim that the book doesn’t go into all of the real issues that it is asking us to think about, I disagree.
In the book Four & Nine are both in this country to do one thing: pave a road that will connect two parts of a war torn nation. They both have extremely different personalities. Four is all business and keep your eyes on the goal, he toes the party line and really thinks of nothing besides doing what’s best for the company that sent them there. Nine on the other hand wants to mingle with the locals, eat their cuisine, sleep with their women. He is there to celebrate their culture and live it up. Through their story we are brought to think about the role of the western world in non-developed nations- do we do more harm than good? Is money a motivating factor? Can we make a difference? And if so, what kind of difference do we make?
Some have said that Eggers’ is answering these questions with a hopeless demeanor. But I think rarely is foreign policy black or white. There are always shades of grey and things can rarely be answered definitively. I think all Eggers is doing is asking us to think about these things. I really liked his interview with the publisher which was posted on McSweeney’s. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-interview-with-dave-eggers-about-his-new-novel-the-parade