Do you feel that, smell that, hear the sound of your lungs filling? Take it all in, all of that air filled with icicles or sunshine or cut grass and lilacs – fill every corner of your lungs – that’s it, breathe in, keep going, those miraculous balloons have a lot of space.
Now: All that is inside you, from every corner of your soul, let it go! Send it winging to its next destination. Share who you are and what you are and make the world a better place. You have so much to to offer us; you have an entire universe of life to share that never was before and never will be again once you’re gone.
The first book I’ve read that was recommended by Haunted Bookshop owner Roger Mifflin, Men in War by Andreas Latzko is a scream of rage and unimaginable pain, a primal scream against the inhumanity that Latzko endured as a soldier of Austria-Hungary on the River Isonzo front against Italy in 1916. If I didn’t understand what men in war have been through, now I have an inkling. The book is a powerful, life-changing experience that I must force myself to read again soon.
Men in War is a novel with six chapters, more accurately described as six short stories, linked mainly by the front and by the unrelenting despair and senselessness of the situation. This is a book that should shake the reader to the core. No wonder the Hitler regime had it burned – it exposes far too much of what the war machine is all about.
“My Comrade (A Diary),” the fourth chapter, is a bomb – a rant of common sense from a man diagnosed as mentally ill because he carries the memories of the men he has seen destroyed by war and he cannot fathom the insanity that did them such harm. It’s a clear peek behind the haunted eyes of those who have seen the same: We see that such memories cannot possibly be compartmentalized or tucked away forgotten. I would guess they can only be endured a best as one can.
Latzko wrote Men in War (Menschen im Krieg) during his rehabilitation from physical and psychic injuries sustained during his service; he served on the Isonzo front during 1916, suffering malaria and then severe shock from a heavy Italian artillery barrage. After eight months in the hospital, he moved to Davos, Switzerland, for further recuperation and rehab, where he wrote the book in 1917.
This is the book that Christopher Morley, through Mifflin, says “was so damned true that the government suppressed it.” One prays Latzko got some relief by letting the words pour out of his fingers. He does a service to humanity by sharing the inhumanity he witnessed and by letting us see and feel the damage done to his heart and soul.
Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.
(Photo: © Andrew Emptage | Dreamstime.com Preserved trench network at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres on the Western Front battlefields of the first world war. Photo taken on March 10, 2010)
It’s been a long time since I was as charmed by a reading experience as I was by Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop. Released in 1919, this book is filled (through bookseller Roger Mifflin) with Morley’s passionate hope that the lessons from the recently completed Great Was would be learned and that humanity would never turn to such senseless brutality to solve its differences again.
Seen through the lens of nearly 100 more years of history, Mifflin seems a trifle naive, especially when he puts his faith in Woodrow Wilson, who is about to embark on a peace conference, but Morley also inject elements that suggest he, too, knows that peace is an elusive goal.
The Haunted Bookshop is a wondrous ode to books and literature. a tremendous manifesto against the silliness and futility of war, and an adequate little mystery and love story. There are dozens of good suggestions for future reading and plenty of sound philosophy and observations about life, living, and what the weary world had just experienced.
I finished this book reluctantly, wanting the story to continue and wishing to have more of the loquacious Roger Mifflin – the good news is there is one previous book in Morley’s quiver about the bookseller who so loved books and peace.
Morley peppers the book with references to other 1919-era books, some familiar to me and many not, so I could spend quite a bit of time tracking them down and seeing for myself what delighted Morley/Mifflin so.
I can’t recommend The Haunted Bookshop enthusiastically enough.
Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.
“Like everything else, (Truth) was rationed by the governments. I taught myself to disbelieve half of what I read in the papers. I saw the world clawing itself to shreds in blind rage. I saw hardly any one brave enough to face the brutalizing absurdity as it really was, and describe it. I saw the glutton, the idler, and the fool applauding, while brave and simple men walked in the horrors of hell. The stay-at-home poets turned it to pretty lyrics of glory and sacrifice. Perhaps half a dozen of them have told the truth. Have you read Sassoon? Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it? Humph! Putting Truth on rations!”
“You see those children going down the street to school? Peace lies in their hands. When they are taught in school that war is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future. But I’d like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.”
Those are two excerpts from a book called The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which was not written last year but in 1919, just after the Great War to End All Wars. We’ve seen how that turned out.
Read more about Morley and an extended excerpt at this link:
Roger Mifflin reflects on the Great War
Senator Padme Amidala’s line during Emperor Palpatine’s speech, above, is the most chillingly effective moment in all of the Star Wars prequel movies. It’s also as true an observation as in any 21st century work of art.
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 around the same concept: Tyranny often happens by popular demand. Bradbury’s society that banned and burned books evolved because books made people uncomfortable enough to want them gone. The government didn’t impose book burning; the public demanded it.
It’s fascinating to watch, whenever Something Happens, as discussion emerges around what laws could be instituted to prevent a similar Something from Happening again. These proposed new laws are always even more restrictive than the laws that failed to prevent the Something that Happened. The underlying proposition is that the solution to evil acts is further shrinking freedom for those who are not inclined to commit evil acts.
Talking heads with nothing to say repeat the mantras that have accomplished nothing to date, in an endless insane kabuki dance. The laws are enacted to thunderous applause, which ends the next time Something Happens, and then the dance begins again.
One day, people stop talking about liberty altogether. Freedom is just too uncomfortable, too dangerous to be allowed.
And soon, Something Happens anyway.