Sunday, 5 June 2011

Reviews Of Books I've Never Read

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy, showing his lighter side in a rare moment playing with his cat, Yosef. It's said he wrote such big books because he was such a small man. Later, he grew an enormous beard that increased his stature two-fold but he was never really able to cover up his short legs.
I so much enjoyed not reading Tolstoy's other great work, Anna Karenina, about a stewardess during the Napoleonic Wars (few people know they had airplanes back then and although it took a little effort to get them off the ground, once in the air they were much safer than today's flying machines), I couldn't wait to settle into my wing-back lawn chair, plop the old dogs up on my ottoman milk crate (I like to mix classical and contemporary furnishings), and put my peepers to the pages of this intellectual masterpiece. Firing up my pipe, well stoked with fine tobacco I scoured from the ashtrays surrounding my local community centre, I was ready to plunge into the pleasures of this enormous work. I must say, before continuing with the review, if it's squashing silverfish that you're after, the Russian novelists are your go-to guys for sheer heft and fire power. Most of the time. Chekhov and Gogol were lightweights in this department, but the majority of these gentlemen thought nothing of taking three hundred pages just to describe the light bouncing off the balding pate of a retired general having tea with the Czar's wife, and then taking another thirty pages to talk about the breadcrumbs speckling his vest.
So you can imagine the mileage these guys got out of heavy themes like war and peace. Well, Tolstoy was no slouch in this area, as evidenced by the hernia-inducing physical and intellectual weight of this book. Can the brain get a hernia, you ask? You bet. I have come across this strange phenomenon many times in my years as a psychoanalyst. A bit of brain pops through the gelatinous hypotenuse and the next thing you know you're on a gurney in a white room having your prostate probed by a nurse with arm hair like an orangutan while the doctor fishes around in a tool box for the right  Black and Decker drill bit to bore a small hole and let some of the poisoned brain jelly out. I have ordered this procedure many times myself for more problematic patients in my years as a psychiatrist, although so experimental are some of my theories and techniques, many hospitals have banned me from working in their wards. Anyway, let's get down to the book. War. Peace. What does it all mean? And is there anything in between? Like, say, brunch. On a brunch note, as I was sitting down to write this review, my good friend, Cloudy Opongo, from the beautiful country of Senegal, dropped over for a visit. I met him a few months back at the local library where he was using the computer to launch a new and daring business venture. Cloudy's deceased father, you see, has a fortune tied up with the Senegalese government, being held in trust at a bank, but which Cloudy is not allowed access to for reasons that are still a little cloudy to me. He needs some money to unlock the other money (again, I'm not sure of the reasoning but investors should not fear because any money they pay out of pocket will be returned to them one hundred times over, or something to that effect), but seeing as I have no money to help him kick-start his business plan, he has enlisted me to help him in other aspects of the organization. Not being a businessman, I'm learning a lot, starting from the ground up, so to speak, as Cloudy puts my nose to the electronic grindstone, emailing all his prospective clients. While this most important task is left to me, Cloudy keeps busy attending to other business matters that his entrepreneurial spirit demands, mostly in the company of his secretary, a fetching young woman named Lardine, who I must say, fills out a pair of stretch hot pants like a sausage bursting from its casing. But I am a man of the mind, not the body, so I try not to notice these things. Anyway, to cut to the chase, Cloudy brought over a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for brunch (I still don't know why the Colonel has never been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as his poultry has brought countries together in harmony for decades), and we got to talking about literary heroes and their works.
The Colonel hand-feeding a Bulgarian refugee seeking asylum in the United States. The Colonel took it upon himself to feed thousands, perhaps millions of refugees around the world, one by one, holding the chicken in his own hand for the weakened refugees to nibble at and tear upon.
"Have you ever read this?" I asked Cloudy, tapping my copy of War and Peace.
"No, man, I don't read that crap," Cloudy replied, ripping into a chicken leg. "But here, take a look at this," he said, pulling an over-sized periodical from his knapsack. It was called Devil in a D-Cup, in 3-D no less and lavishly illustrated throughout. Unfortunately, many of the pages were stuck together so I wasn't able to give the edition a proper perusal. Additionally, the supposedly supplied 3-D glasses were missing so the full effect of the few pages I could read in this esoteric publication was lost on me.
"So, what d'ya think, man?" Cloudy asked me, smiling, a sizeable fragment of chicken meat jutting out from between the large gap between his two front teeth.
"Well, Cloudy, " I ventured. "It's no War and Peace but men have gone to war over smaller things and as for peace, I believe this publication speaks for itself."
"You're a crazy sonofabitch," Cloudy grinned. "Now eat up your chicken. We gotta go to work ." 
I'd like to say Cloudy and I then had a long, deep discussion about War and Peace and Leo Tolstoy and the effects of D-Cups in both popular culture, political history and the male psyche, but unfortunately we didn't have time as our work at the library computer terminal beckoned and now, Cloudy, was also in a rush to marry his sister, back in Senegal, off, which was news to me, and we had more emailing to do to find a prospective groom. Oddly, the images he was planning to use to bewitch future husbands were of his secretary, Lardine, in all her hot pants glory, and some with no hot pants at all, which I found neutralized her more demure and innocent side, but just as with the money operations, I am also ignorant in the marriage business and the ways of the flesh for that matter, and so left it all up to Cloudy's better judgement.
Cloudy's sister, aka Lardine, and some of her bridesmaids, performing a traditional Senegalese/Detroit Conga Line for prospective husbands to illustrate the happiness that awaits them once joined in holy matrimony.
I promised Cloudy I'd meet him promptly at the library while I hastily finished my review of this Russian masterpiece. Firstly, the amazing thing about War and Peace is that Tolstoy set it in the future. Well, 1989, but for Tolstoy, that was really pushing it as far as the future was concerned back in his day. For us today, that would be something like 4011 or 5001 or 6000 or something in that range. It's amazing Tolstoy could even envision a novel of the future, since previously he'd dealt mainly with domestic issues and animals that pertained to the period of his time and few think of Tolstoy and science-fiction as bedfellows sharing the same narrow cot in the Gulag. But Tolstoy never ceases to amaze with his forward thinking and ability to project the most human of problems into a futuristic world gone awry. The Czar makes allies with the Gorgonians, an invertebrate race from Planet Slorvon, three billion light years away. The Gorgonians arrive in their flying gunships and proceed to laser beam earthlings indiscriminately, from Medicine Hat to Madagascar, although there, an army of lemurs, puts up a valiant fight but alas, Madagascar is blown to smithereens.
Meanwhile, back in Moscow, Leonid Buzakavorovich, esteemed general and husband to the alluring but given to fainting, Natasha Nikolayaskonavia Buzakavorovich, is planning with Prince Vasily Andrei Molotov, son to the Czar himself, the reforming of a new government after the Gorgonians destroy the rest of the world's infrastructures, as well as drawing up blueprints for renovations to his palatial drawing room in order to entertain Count Sneltzer, heir to the Bavarian throne. It is during this time he meets the ravishing Gorgonian queen, Q-6-Phalanx-Orgon-9, and they begin an affair. Her invertebrate structure offers them a few problems physically (it's hard to snuggle and smooch on the settee when you have no bone structure), but love conquers all, which I think is one of Tolstoy's main underlying themes.
Here is Q-6-Phalanx-Orgon-9 in her preserved and dismantled state, currently on display at the Moscow Museum of Natural History, Invertebrates, Alien Beings and Mummified Cream Cakes Favoured by Catherine the Great.
 Anyway, while the cat's away the mice will play (in Russian it's weasels and ermine), so while King Torvox-2-Ropoxicide is battling the many different earth armies, he has no clue that his beloved Queen is making the beast with one back, one slime sac, a pocket watch, tentacles, lavender-scented hair oil and a feeding tube, with his dear and trusted ally. Well, that takes care of the war part of the novel, but where, you might ask, is the peace? It's waiting right around the corner, in the newly renovated drawing room, under the sofa where Natasha Nikolayaskonavia Buzakavorovich has fainted for the umpteenth time, although you'd be hard pressed to see it, hidden beneath all the dust bunnies. This is truly where Tolstoy shines. By keeping this major theme entangled in the dirt and filth of the time, its locality defining and yet trapping it simultaneously, the full human parade of human nature's ways, can be felt stomping on the intellect (minus the trombone of course-Tolstoy loathed trombones), and then banging its pedagogical drum on the outside of the brain cavity (remember the brain hernias I discussed previously, well, a simple misreading of the text can cause this predicament so tread carefully, especially on page 426). Eventually, Natasha Nikolayaskonavia Buzakavorovich, finds out about her husband's affair, notifies Torvox-2-Ropoxicide of the goings-ons, and, phew, I don't want to say too much here and ruin the plot for you but rotating pulsar beams and pus-filled destinies await some people needing corrective behavioral therapy. Also, some cheese blintzes are made that anger the Czar and the course of history is changed. And let's not forget Count Sneltzer. He returns to Bavaria, gives up his royal life, retires to the Black Forest to repair cuckoo clocks and spends the rest of his life trying to come up with a formula to turn bratwurst into gold. Or wine. I can't remember, as I was still hungover from Litvack's wine I'd drank a few days earlier. Actually, I got off easy with a hangover because Litvack rang me up to say he was blind for a day. Anyway, perhaps Count Sneltzer is the wisest character in the novel, but who is to know for sure, because Tolstoy certainly doesn't tell us and he wrote the damn thing for God's sake and as for Sneltzer, he meets his demise when a cuckoo clock explodes and the tiny bird with sharpened beak pierces his heart at a velocity you wouldn't think an exploding cuckoo clock could attain.
Is this the peace Tolstoy means? A peace that comes upon you suddenly, when the tiny beak of a wooden bird sends you through the heavenly gates. Or is it the peace Natasha Nikolayaskonavia Buzakavorovich feels as she faints on the settee, knowing that Torvox-2-Ropoxicide is going to pull her husband's intestines from his body and decorate his Christmas tree with them back on Planet Slorvon? Who is to know? Not me, not you, probably not even Tolstoy, because with a beard like his that needs all that trimming, who has time to think of such things.

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