Phil, Queen's Square | April 1, 2019
“Who cares about history? …What’s the point of remembering stuff that happened before you were born?” It’s a question, Tariq, a nineteen-year-old Moroccan, asks in politics class, in the novel Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks.
Paris Echo attempts to answer that question by telling Tariq’s story entwined with the story of Hannah, a postdoc student studying the library archives, trying to uncover the personal accounts of Parisian women who lived under Nazi occupation during WWII.
Michael Ondaatje asks the question in Warlight, through Nathaniel, a young boy abandoned by his parents at the end of WWII, and spends most of the book piecing together the fragments of his youth:
“Is this how we discover truth, evolve? By gathering together such unconfirmed fragments?”
Similarly, in Jessie Greengrass' Sight, the unnamed narrator notes “Without reflection we do little more than drift upon the surface of things and self-determination is an illusion. We lay ourselves open to unbalance.”
Her novel tells the story of a woman who is dealing with a dying mother, and trying to decide if she wants to bring a child into the world. Looking into the past she threads together the ways we have tried to understand the world in the past. From Freud’s psychoanalysis, to William Rontgen’s discovery of X-Rays and beyond, it’s a meditative book on the ways we make sense of the world.
Love is Blind: the Rapture of Brody Moncur reflects less on the role of history and uses the past to provide a character study of Brody Moncur; gifted piano tuner. It is also, as the title alludes to, the story of a doomed love played over the European continent. In Love is Blind the past exists more as a set piece, not a meditative template to reflect upon the nature of remembering.
Perhaps, it is Nathaniel in Warlight who best answers how history is irrevocably tied to the present: “…You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be reliving, but a rewitnessing.”
Well, where do we go next month?