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I finished reading “The Fixer” last night.
The book won Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1967 and the National Book Award in the same year.
It was the sort of book I wish I had read at University and would have enthusiastically attended lectures and tutorials about.
I could easily read it again to with the benefit of hindsight to re-examine the themes presented throughout the book
Before the book starts, the reader reads the following;
What is your name?
Yakov Shepsovitch Bok
Did you murder this unfortunate child ?
Never. Why should I kill an innocent ?
Yakov could not understand why they were asking such a question. He knew he had broken the law by living and working in a part of Kiev forbidden to Jews.
But even so, why should he, a poor fixer, a mere handyman, be accused of murder?
So even before beginning to read the book which starts in Yakov’s village as he sets out for better things, the reader knows disaster will befall him.
The Book is set in Tzarist Russian. It takes a while to find out when but halfway through the book the date of 1911 of the crime is given. Interesting to me because of the historical context.
The book explores and touches on a myriad of themes. Anti-semitism in obviously key. Yakov is innocent but imprisoned as a social, political and religious scapegoat because he is “Jewish”. However the author is not obsessed with it, perhaps because of my bias in reading I make that statement, but there is a wider issue of a minority being denied justice, victimized, persecuted and demonized through vindictive invention which a rational mind must reject, as indeed some characters do only to themselves fall victim to corruption. To me as a reader in a Western Democracy in 2011, Yakov’s ‘Jewishness” is there as a prism to explore wider universal issues of the suffering of humans, especially at the hands of others foe (and friend), but also supported by the historical reality that persecution of Jews in Russia was a fact, culminating in the 20th Century in the Holocaust. On just looking something up on the author, I find a quote from him ““All men are Jews, though few men know it’ which is self evident in his writing of “The Fixer”.
There are many other strong themes in the book such as self, *freedom*, honour, redemption, death, corruption, injustice and the weak (and just) being victimized by the corrupt and pathological strong. The author allows the reader to see Yakov struggle in harsh captivity and at certain points become insane, but even then clinging onto his innocence.
Corruption and vilification for political power are central themes in the book, as is the used of irrational hysteria to provide a scapegoat for problems divorced from the victims of this calumniation.
Failed Marriage is a sub theme, as is parenthood, law, relativity, absolute power, Russia, ambition and the man’s awareness of the world around him through simplistic philosophy influenced by rudimentary attempts at self education of a strong character, fearful but true to himself.. Yakov has a fatalism about him, perhaps stereotypically ‘Jewish” but for me it transcends that stereotype. As I reader I saw him more as ‘a man” rather than “a Jew” if that makes sense.
However to call the above ‘subthemes” sells them short. They are powerful themes and the author deals with them well and they could easily become the focus of discussion on the book.
The novel is readily accessible to the reader, but has deeper layers to contemplate. One quote from it I will remember is “The purpose of freedom is to create it for others”. The author helps the reader by subtly posing questions in the form of such observations.
I have put it back into my “to read” pile and certainly plan to revisit it in the near future. I am positive is will deserves a second read.
I just started a thread on it here
That just because two people argue,
It doesn't mean they don't love each other.
And just because they don't argue,
It doesn't mean they do love each other.
That we don't have to change friends if
We understand that friends change.
That no matter how good a friend is, they're going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.
That true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance.
Same goes for true love.
That you can do something in an instant
That will give you heartache for life..
That it's taking me a long time
To become the person I want to be.
That you should always leave loved ones with
Loving words. It may be the last time you see them..
That you can keep going long after you think you can't.
That we are responsible for what
We do, no matter how we feel.
That either you control your attitude or it controls you.
That heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.
That money is a lousy way of keeping score.
That my best friend and I, can do anything, or nothing and have the best time.
That sometimes the people you expect to kick you When you're down, will be the ones to help you get back up.
That sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry,
But that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.
That maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had
And what you've learned from them and less to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated.
That it isn't always enough, to be forgiven by others.
Sometimes, you have to learn to forgive yourself.
That no matter how bad your heart is broken the world doesn't stop for your grief.
That our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are,
But, we are responsible for who we become.
That you shouldn't be so eager to find
Out a secret. It could change your life Forever.
Two people can look at the exact same
Thing and see something totally different.
That your life can be changed in a matter of
Hours by people who don't even know you.
That even when you think you have no more to give, when
A friend cries out to you - you will find the strength to help.
That credentials on the wall do not make you a decent human being.
That the people you care about most in life are taken from you too soon.
That you should send this to all of the people that you believe in, I just did.
'The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything;
They just make the most of everything.
A lecturer when explaining stress management to an audience,
Raised a glass of water and asked
'How heavy is this glass of water?'
Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.
The lecturer replied, 'The absolute weight doesn't matter.
It depends on how long you try to hold it.
If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem..
If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm.
If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance.
In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.'
'And that's the way it is with stress management.
If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later,
As the burden becomes increasingly heavy,
We won't be able to carry on. '
'As with the glass of water,
You have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again..
When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.'
'So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don't carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow.
Whatever burdens you're carrying now,
Let them down for a moment if you can.'
So, my friend, Put down anything that may be a burden to you right now. Don't pick it up again until after you've rested a while.
(and nope.. not stressed.. I just liked it :)
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her struggles in life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting for survival and struggling. It seemed that as soon as one problem was overcome, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to the boil.
In the first pot the mother placed some carrots. In the second pot she placed an egg and in the third pot she placed some ground coffee beans. She let them sit on the fire, without saying a word.
Fifteen minutes later she turned off the burners. She fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the egg out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter she said, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, egg and coffee,” said the girl.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft.
The mother then asked the daughter to take the egg and break it. After pulling off the shell she noted the hard boiled egg.
Finally the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted the rich flavour and aroma of the coffee.
“What does it all mean, mother?” she asked.
Her mother explained that each of these things had faced the same adversity, that is, the boiling water. Each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile, but after being subjected to the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
However, the ground coffee beans were different. After they were in the boiling water, they changed the water.
“Which are you?” the mother asked the daughter. “When adversity knocks at your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Ask yourself, Am I the carrot that seems so strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a major loss, a break-up, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same but on the inside am I bitter with a hardened heart and an unyielding spirit?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases its flavour and fragrance. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and the trials are at their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level?”
How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong enough sorrow to keep you human, and enough hope to sustain you.
The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes their way.
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