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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

25 November, 2004

Fruits Of The Earth

That's the title of an extra-ordinary book by the
French philosopher and writer Andre Gide.
This is not a book review -as the response to
my first book review here was negligible, so
I am avodiing it.

However this is all about how the book hit me hard
when I was a struggling university student, with a
bleak future staring me in the face like a wolf with
a week old hunger. Engineers were during those days,
jobless by the millions, and it is a telling sign
that badminton and tennis took up more of my time
then, rather than completing mechanical drafting or
applied maths -two of my pet peeves.

The first chapter begins dramatically, in an unforgettable
manner with a couplet from the great Persian poet Hafiz

" My idle happiness that slept so long
Is now at length awaking "

One can hardly believe that Gide wrote this book in 1897, for I am
a contemporary literature freak -having had no exposure to Shakespeare
not Milton nor Blake due to a science background that looks askance
at classical literature... and the fact that he wrote it whilst he
was staring at death without blinking. He had tubercolisis, completely
without a cure then.

"I will teach you fervour" Gide says addressing the faceless nameless
reader and goes on to sing the praises of body electric like Walt
Whitman did, or even Carl Sandburg did in their own inimitable styles
much later. One can get high on plain water, Gide mentioned, in this
wonderful dialogue between Nathaniel the student and Menacles, a sort
of caricature of good ole Oscar Wilde -one of my perennial favourites,
due to his irrepressible humour and his razor sharp pithy witticisms.

Menacles, goes on narrating his own fantastic story, and there is this
magic realism interwoven in a book predating the later masters like
Gabriel Garcia Marques -antoher favourite of mine- because of this
fable like quality to the tale. Fundamentally, in the hoary tradition
of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarthustra and even Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet
this book also treads the familiar path -though a comparison between
these three would be entirely unfair.

To the serious reader then, Menacles is nothing but Gide himself, as
he used to be before the dreaded disease made him a wraith who allows
the philosopher-writer to stop exalting the ego and embrace physically
and spiritually, pure joy. Easier said than done, I thought then, as I
think now : though there are decades separating the two events.

This then is an amazing book that could leave the reader badly smitten.

cheers !


Blogger Pragya said...


A mad a mad dash straigt to, for I am all for finding someone, even from 1897, who can "teach me fervor".

Thanks for the review.


26 November, 2004 00:33  
Blogger Anil said...

Your post makes me wanna go out and read the book....very nice the way you described your reaction to it. Books that way are more perennial I feel say when compared to music. A book can still have some effect on you if you go back to it after a gap whereas music might not have the samme hard-hitting effect. It would be more like hearing an old friend speak on the phone after a long time. Do you agree?

26 November, 2004 14:47  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Hi Anil,
You hit the nail squarely on the head!
I do go back to books, and what a perfect
analogy you gave -it's like hearing an
almost forgotten friend's voice on the phone!
I love going back to the ditties that I loved
in childhood, and half my jazz writing is
spurred on by jazz I seriously pursued in
my schooldays....grew up listening to the
radio hence the ear became very sensitive
and discerning.
Cheers !

26 November, 2004 20:00  
Blogger raindanseuse said...

The fact that he wrote it when faced with death probably explains why it was so touching. People like that usually lay down all pretentions and say it as it is. However, the beauty in his words has more to do with his creativity.
I have to disagree with Anil on music not being able to hold ground over time in comparison to books. They both have their place. But for me, music is the thought itself; what goes into the book, is a recording.

28 November, 2004 20:16  
Blogger Ubermensch said...

this blog is the icing on a cake.i had almost given up of such blogs in the post modern world.i am mistaken, and how i love to be mistaken once in a while.thanks for this.
gide is fav of all time is nietzsche.
thanks and keep writing

28 November, 2004 22:30  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Hi Nietzsche freak,

When I saw the name Ubermensch,
I thought you gave the game away.
Who else has ever thought of this
superman evolving out of a man?
I gobbled up Schopenhauer and good
ole Nietzsche too during college days
and -suffered soul-crunching depression
for years. Would not really recommend
young ppl to read this stuff.
Tks for the compliment.
Watch this space for more breathtaking
stuff being cooked.
Cheers !

29 November, 2004 00:08  

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