I’m skipping the traditional “hello”, because that word is so upset due to your lack of response, it is about to initiate a petition in protest. Demonstrators will overflow Times Square.
We’ll start with “Hi”.
I think this is the first time I’m writing you about a book, before I have finished reading it. A few days ago, I received a harsh “advance notice” from the library, stating that King Solomon is (again) over due. It says (rightfully) that I have had the book since July and therefore, if I do not return it, I will forfeit the deposit. Laugh as much as you like – I find it nerve-racking.
It’s not that I have a problem reading King Solomon. It is just that I am focusing on the “heavier” and “longer” books, which one has to make time to read. I’m not like my friend’s husband, who read Lonesome dove, one page a day, so the book would not end (by the way – have you read it? Yeh, right. As if you would ever answer that). On the other hand, I’m also not like Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry met Sally. I don’t start reading a book and then turn to the last page to see how it ends. Fine, I sometimes glance to check how many pages I have left, but when the book is really good, I don’t.
It’s not that I don’t like Romain Gary, either. On the contrary: he is the writer I decidedly have liked the most, for years now. I don’t remember how old I was, when I made that decision, but somewhere along the line it hit me that everyone has his or her favorite something – book, movie, novelist (color is too childish). I don’t know why we have his tendency, to arrange everything in neat, well-organized boxes. But we do.
Anyway, let’s return to me. I was all stressed out: I wanted to find my book – writer – movie that I liked the most, so that I could be like everyone else. And then I read Les Cerfs-volants, which was really good, and the bookseller told me that the same author had written The life before us using an alias (Émile Ajar). So I read The life before us and loved it. It was wonderful. How I enjoyed the writing!
All at once, Émile Ajar – A.K.A Romain Gary – had become my all time favorite author.
There is something in his writing – something so pure, so accurate, so sharp and yet not painful. He talks about the world, about its greatest hardships, but he tells it so lightly that one can’t help but smile.
He is insightful and moving at the same time.
King Solomon, on the surface, seems like a comic book. Its narrator, Jean, a 24-year-old man has a constant “potential criminal expression” on his face, but nothing could be further from the truth.
He has this habit, of looking up words in dictionaries. He understands that words are powerful and when one understands what a word means, one can understand the world.
Actually, King Solomon is a story about getting old, about the fear and anxiety it evokes. A story about what people will do in order not to feel old. The 24-year-old man is telling us this, whilst he is helping a 65-year-old woman not to feel the way a 65-year-old woman should feel. Let me tell you, he has an unconventional way of reaching out, but his heart is in the right place and his intentions are honorable. He understands her soul remains young, or – to be more exact – the soul that lingers on in her memory, when life was once beautiful. A soul that simply can’t accept the fact that those times are over.
When I write these things now, I realize that the struggle to fight aging has nothing to do with age. For some people, being 16 or being 20 is a nightmare. On the other hand, all those women who sing the praises of re-inventing themselves at 40 – 50 – 60?!!! What do you expect them to say? That they’re sad? (How come we never hear about men crying over lost youth? Is it easier for them?)
Putting cynicism aside for a moment (when did we become obsessed with cynicism anyway?) one has to ask: why do we immediately assume that these women are miserable? Who said that 15 should be the highlight of one’s life? What is so fantastic about 24? It’s seems as if one doesn’t have wrinkles – one doesn’t have problems. What a pile of nonsense! When you’re a teenager, you have pimples and overall – a very bad attitude. When you are at your twenties, you have pressure wounds, from everybody pressuring you to get married.
Not that it’s so great, to get wrinkled, but why should we dwell on it? Seriously – aren’t there more important things in life? We have done something with our lives. Sure, times goes by – but didn’t it go by when we were younger? Why are we so eager to accept wretchedness as the only reality? If things are over, must we add insult to injury and wallow in it?
I don’t want to go on about it, especially not now. Now I want to focus on Romain Gary. He is enough for me, because he is honest and he doesn’t sugarcoat things. He tells us exactly how hard it is for King Solomon, who helps everyone else in order to avoid the anxiety of his inevitable death. The man who survived the Nazis, endured an unrealized love of his life, who made millions, is now living in solitude. Of course, you wouldn’t know that, just by looking at him. He has the beauty routine of a glamour girl motivated to find herself a rich husband.
Romain Gary also tells us about Mademoiselle Cora, who holds on to the past, so that she can ignore the present.
And of course there is Jean, who wanders from here to there, admiring King Solomon and appreciating him for what he is. Jean is motivated by his desire to help everyone, very much like his mentor, and by his longing to settle down in a place of his own, where there is no confusion and no broken hearts.
King Solomon is not a sob story. Romain Gary’s words are alive, deceptively simple because they come from Jean – the uneducated, the potential ruffian, an angel in disguise. Little pearls of wisdom served on a refined crystal tray.
Today I’m in love with O. Henry. Honestly! It’s effortless. It’s not only that he is a genius. It’s the way he uses his genius – in the most kind, smart, funny, witty and gifted way. Yes, I’m completely smitten. Chekhov is more of a “required taste”. As I work to decipher him, love is born. It’s not so easy to love him. It’s hard to love someone who only shows how awful we are. But you have to overcome the sadness he immortalizes in his stories and realize he writes so intentionally in order that the unbearable pain of the characters will not be taken into our own lives.
I love him for that. Every time, a little bit more.
Many people know Chekhov, but… you know that feeling you get, when you hear the name of someone you know, someone close to you? You jump as though they have called your name. That’s the way it is for me. He’s mine, only mine. I don’t care that other people know him. They don’t know him like I do.
Today, after King Solomon, I remembered why I chose Romain Gary to be the writer I love the most. I’m sticking to that decision.
I love the way he sees the world.
He speaks to my heart.
O. Henry and Anton Chekhov get that.
I know they do.