The writer died yesterday, November 17. She lived a long life, 94 years. And during all those years she never stopped writing. Writing was her life. She wrote novels and essays and stories. As a young man with young children I read some of her stories to our own children. In particular I remember well her Through the Tunnel that I read aloud to the students in our school.
Two pictures of the writer stick with me. The first as a young women living in London, having arrived in that city in 1945 from her home in Africa just at the end of WWII:And a good bit later, in 2006, the year before she won the Nobel Literature Prize: Now I’m reading her again. This time around, her books for adults, in particular her 1971 Preface to her most famous book, The Golden Notebook, and I’ve just downloaded onto my iPhone and begun to read her Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. And in “Prisons” I read this,— just a few of her words among the many that I’m sure I won’t want to forget.
“This is a time when it is frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures. Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that—a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. But I think that while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening we become hypnotized, and don’t notice—of if we notice, belittle—equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short, of reason, sanity and civilization.”
I ask myself is this no less true of our situation today than when she wrote these words in 1987, and as in brutal answer to my question I read in today’s NYTimes:
On the Way to Genocide?
Shelling in the village of Douri in Syria’s Latakia province, allegedly by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, August 17, 2013
The commander is thirty-six years old. A few strands of white in his dark, curly hair make him seem older, as do his words. He points to six young men, posed like football players in a team photograph on a wall of his forward command post, and says, “Two are martyrs, two are prisoners, and two are still working.” By working, he means fighting. Those recruits under his command were friends in their twenties. Of the two who died, he explains, “He was twenty-two years old when he was killed. And this one was martyred in June this year here in Tadamon.”