It is not often that you read books that make you want to read it again the moment you finish it. But this was one such a book: Between the world and me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Addressed to his 15-year old son, Coates talks about what has made him the man he is. Growing up as a black boy, having to survive on the streets and at school, being told he should be twice as good as anybody else, being loved by parents who feared for his well-being. It is not a world I know. I am not American. But I am brought up with the ideas Coates talks about, with the idea of whiteness.
I cannot claim I fully understand every part of it. But I do share some of the experiences he write about. About visiting Paris, feeling free for the first time. Being amazed that there is a world out there that is so completely different, almost unrelated to him. Where he is an outsider as well, but where he doesn’t have to fear for his life. Even though he does, because that is what ideology has done to him.
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Recently I came across a list of ‘incredibly tough books for extreme readers’. One of those lists of books you have to read. Being fed up with the 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die list for some time now, this was a nice new challenge.
Having read nine out of the fifty books mentioned, some of which truly excellent books, I picked out a few to start with. If those also happen to be great books, I can always decide later on to read all fifty of them.
So I’ve just finished book nr 10 of the list.
“The Painted Bird” by Jerzy Kosinski (1965).
I do get why it can be seen as an extreme book. The meticulous description of extensive suffering, pages full of ghastly rapes, torture, etc etc – all against the backdrop of fierce discrimination and stupid peasantry. Horrible. But written so compelling, that it was hard to put down the book, although I did find myself staring into the world perplexed when forcing my eyes away a couple of times.
The beauty of the book, is that there is not a single inch of pity involved. The descriptions are vivid and without meta-story, without overall judgement. There is just a little boy trying to make sense of everything human beings do to each other and particularly to him. Trying to figure out what this so-called ‘God’ has to do with it all, and finally being relieved that there is a truth after all, and it’s hero is called Stalin.
Just a tip for those who think about reading it, don’t read the introduction.