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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

something to read

I was looking for something to read after work, when I was too tired to do anything serious like Ajax. Having read all the Tony Hillerman detective stories more than once I was yearning for something with a different worldview. I found two books by two authors who were not-American, Arnaldur IndriĆ°ason Jar city, Henning Mankell Depths.

Tony Hillerman writes with a secular voice, a perennial anthropology graduate student, looking on the paganism of the Native Americans with a mixture of respect and disbelief but showing no such favors to Christianity for which has nothing but disdain.

I find it amusing that in a secular culture a secular author still feels the need to tell us his main character is secular, like Joe Leaphorn in Tony Hillerman's mysteries. Jim Chee is more complex, he is a traditional Navajo who is training to be a Singer (a.k.a shaman). Chee, yet another former anthropology student, struggles with the conflict between secularism and the traditional Navajo worldview. The tension between paganism and secularism is a constant in Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels.

Moving to the Scandinavian world of Henning Mankell we encounter a different sort of secularism from Tony Hillerman. Mankell reads a little like an late blooming existentialist. There is a strong undercurrent of despair in his worldview that you don't find in Hillerman. Hillerman's world is bleak, but there is a sort muted optimism in his atheistic materialism. Mankell's world doesn't hold out any sort of hope. It is despair from start to finish. His heroes are empty men acting out their meaningless roles in a world which is filled with powerful forces of "evil".

Mankell, like some of the atheistic existentialists of the mid 20th century, occasionally launches into a moralistic sort storytelling where his preachy style gets somewhat annoying. Mankell doesn't appear to have read Nietzsche. He doesn't seem to understand that his worldview doesn't give him any platform for preaching. He has no framework for even defining what is "evil".

I have just started reading Arnaldur IndriĆ°ason, finished Jar City yesterday. Once again, Arnaldur tells us that his main character is secular. Why does this need to be pointed out, in a culture where empty church buildings are preserved as artifacts from a distant past? Arnaldur is every bit as bleak as Mankell, but different. The English version of Jar City is marketed as a "thriller" which it certainly is not. There is very little suspense in Jar City. It reads more like a tragedy of the modern sort. A long day's journey into night.

more on this later.


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