IF all goes according to plan, I’ll turn 44 soon after this column appears. So far in my adult life, I’ve never managed to grasp a decade’s main point until long after it was over. It turns out that I wasn’t supposed to spend my 20s frantically looking for a husband; I should have been building my career and enjoying my last gasp of freedom. I then spent my 30s ruminating on grievances accumulated in my 20s.

This time around, I’d like to save time by figuring out the decade while I’m still in it. Entering middle age in Paris — the world’s epicenter of existentialism — isn’t terribly helpful. With their signature blend of subtlety and pessimism, the French carve up midlife into the “crisis of the 40s,” the “crisis of the 50s” and the “noonday demon” (described by one French writer as “when a man in his 50s falls in love with the babysitter”).


The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks. Among my peers there’s a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we’d better get moving on it.

I think the biggest transition of the 40s is realizing that we’ve actually, improbably, managed to learn and grow a bit. In another 10 years, our 40-something revelations will no doubt seem naïve (“Ants can see molecules!” a man told me in college).

But for now, to cement our small gains, here are some things we know today that we didn’t know a decade ago:

• If you worry less about what people think of you, you can pick up an astonishing amount of information about them. You no longer leave conversations wondering what just happened. Other people’s minds and motives are finally revealed.

• People are constantly trying to shape how you view them. In certain extreme cases, they seem to be transmitting a personal motto, such as “I have a relaxed parenting style!”; “I earn in the low six figures!”; “I’m authentic and don’t try to project an image!”

• Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures. Actually, scratch “unmedicated.”

• There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.

• There are no soul mates. Not in the traditional sense, at least. In my 20s someone told me that each person has not one but 30 soul mates walking the earth. (“Yes,” said a colleague, when I informed him of this, “and I’m trying to sleep with all of them.”) In fact, “soul mate” isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.

You will miss out on some near soul mates. This goes for friendships, too. There will be unforgettable people with whom you have shared an excellent evening or a few days. Now they live in Hong Kong, and you will never see them again. That’s just how life is.

• Emotional scenes are tiring and pointless. At a wedding many years ago, an older British gentleman who found me sulking in a corner helpfully explained that I was having a G.E.S. — a Ghastly Emotional Scene. In your 40s, these no longer seem necessary. For starters, you’re not invited to weddings anymore. And you and your partner know your ritual arguments so well, you can have them in a tenth of the time.

• Forgive your exes, even the awful ones. They were just winging it, too.

• When you meet someone extremely charming, be cautious instead of dazzled. By your 40s, you’ve gotten better at spotting narcissists before they ruin your life. You know that “nice” isn’t a sufficient quality for friendship, but it’s a necessary one.

• People’s youthful quirks can harden into adult pathologies. What’s adorable at 20 can be worrisome at 30 and dangerous at 40. Also, at 40, you see the outlines of what your peers will look like when they’re 70.

• More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.

• But you find your tribe. Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview last year that his favorite part of the Emmy Awards was when the comedy writers went onstage to collect their prize. “You see these gnome-like cretins, just kind of all misshapen. And I go, ‘This is me. This is who I am. That’s my group.’ ” By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be withyour people.

• Just say “no.” Never suggest lunch with people you don’t want to have lunch with. They will be much less disappointed than you think.

• You don’t have to decide whether God exists. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. But when you’re already worrying that the National Security Agency is reading your emails (and as a foreigner in France, that you’re constantly breaking unspoken cultural rules), it’s better not to know whether yet another entity is watching you.

Finally, a few more tips gleaned from four decades of experience:

• Do not buy those too-small jeans, on the expectation that you will soon lose weight.

• If you are invited to lunch with someone who works in the fashion industry, do not wear your most “fashionable” outfit. Wear black.

• If you like the outfit on the mannequin, buy exactly what’s on the mannequin. Do not try to recreate the same look by yourself.

• It’s O.K. if you don’t like jazz.

• When you’re wondering whether she’s his daughter or his girlfriend, she’s his girlfriend.

• When you’re unsure if it’s a woman or a man, it’s a woman.

In 2009, my colleague Emily Apter approached me with a highly eccentric proposal: could I help translate a French dictionary of untranslatable words?

I said yes. I like paradoxes, and I’m also interested in how translation works, philosophically as well as practically. I’ve had a long, rich, and vexed relationship with translation—maybe more even than most people who teach Comparative Literature, as I do.

I grew up between Madrid, Tangier, Wheeling and Caracas; my household spoke English, Spanish, French, and some Arabic; Hebrew and Jaquetía, the subdialect of Spanish spoken by the Sephardic community in Tangier.   Nothing was ever just one thing, in just one language. Now I teach literature and political philosophy, and I often teach works in translation—comparing different English versions of, say, a French work, so my students can see how every translation is also an interpretation of the work.


The work that Emily proposed we translate—along with Michael Wood, a friend–was “Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: dictionnaire des intraduisibles,” published in 2004. Its authors (over a hundred contributors from across Europe, Russia, the U.S., Brazil, and Morocco) set out to create an encyclopedia of philosophical, literary, and political concepts that defy easy–or any—translation from one language and culture to another.

It begins (appropriately enough) with “abstraction, abstracta, abstract Entities,” and closes with “Wunsch,” German for “wish,” or désir or souhait in French.

Five years, six translators, countless hours of disagreements and debates and drinks and debacles later, “Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon”appeared from Princeton University Press. It’s more than 1,300 pages.

The project provided me, and my co-editors, with a vivid sense of the history of how people think, and how societies think differently from one another. The “Dictionary” aspires to do the same. For example: spirit is not the same as mind, but both are used to translate the German Geist. Happiness, which retains an old etymological connection tochance and happenstance (in English, at least), is different from bonheur,which doesn’t, and from German Glück and Seligkeit, which split “happiness-as-good-fortune” and “happiness as moral virtue.”

Castilian Spanish has two verb forms to English’s one, and thus two ways of saying “I am silly.” One indicates a passing condition (“Estoy tonto,” “Today, right now, I’m just silly, or foolish, or out of whack”); another a permanent and determinative condition: “Soy tonto,” “I’m a fool (and there’s nothing you or I can ever do about it).”

These may seem trivial examples, but consider the opening and closing of this well-known sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident … the pursuit of happiness.”  Are American “truths” the same as Greece’saletheia or Russians’ pravda? What about “happiness”?  Can I pursue it in America, if what I want to pursue is le bonheur? What do English and French do with the German word Dasein? It’s a word generally left untranslated in philosophy—meaning roughly existence, an existent being, life, a life form; in French it can mean something like “human reality,” the time of existence. In Italian, it’s something closer to being here. It’s a notoriously hard term to think about, and the “Dictionary” entry on it reads like a philosophical throwing-up-of-the-hands: here, this is how other languages have failed, now you try to translate it.

The project has been controversial in at least three ways.  The most obvious one: isn’t it self-defeating to translate a set of self-styled untranslatable terms? If we succeed, won’t we have failed, or at least shown that the original idea, that these terms are untranslatable in some important way, was off base?

This depends on what one means by “untranslatable.” Cassin and her team believe that an “untranslatable” word is not one that cannot be translated, but rather a word we can’t stop trying to translate, aware always that we haven’t quite hit it, that it isn’t right. This isn’t a particularly satisfactory definition, but it gets at the difference between a word like “apple” (which we might say is fantastically translatable, and has been since Eden) and a word like “happiness,” which isn’t, one person’s happiness and good fortune, and one language’s, being another’s tedium or worse.

The second: Cassin’s project began in part as a protest against the dangerous imperial spread of English. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive, if not self-defeating, to translate this very, even excessively European cri de coeur into the very language it seeks to resist?

English—commercial English, the language of tourism, of the Internet, Hollywood—has spread monochrome wings over the globe.  The extreme form of this drift toward world English is probably the pseudo-language that’s come to be called globish, or “decaffeinated English,” a sort of international-boardroom, stripped-down language divested of metaphors and localisms, in which “to chat” can become “speak casually to each other” and a “kitchen,” the “room in which you cook your food,” as the journalist Robert McCrum once noted.

Won’t a “Dictionary of Untranslatables”be a further, perverse weapon in the globalization of English?

Not necessarily. One of the goals of the project is to show English its own oddities—to show the English language, and speakers of that language, that its concepts are often borrowed from abroad. Like many immigrants these English words from abroad within English come bearing unassimilable and surprisingly valuable cultural debris that does not, cannot, or should not get worn or melted away. Rather than globalize English, this “Dictionary of Untranslatables” helps re-provincialize the language. We get a keen sense that “happenstance” lives in “happiness” when we see what happens to the word as it becomes “bonheur” or “Seligkeit.”

But in that direction we run up against the third way in which this “Dictionary of Untranslatables”is controversial. Are the editors really saying that there’s an exclusively French, or Greek or Castilian experience of truth or happiness? Doesn’t this lead to the oldest forms of linguistic nationalism, or to a form of relativism, or to defeatism?

This is not a foolish objection, but it misses the mark. Human institutions are built on terms that are more like the word “happiness” than they are like the word “apple.” Acknowledging that the concepts on which we build these institutions, our expectations, and our forms of life are tied to the languages in which they take shape and are expressed does not mean abandoning the task of making these institutions better, more equitable, more precise, and it doesn’t mean granting privilege to one experience or one identity or one tradition over others. It means agreeing that the project of building these defective institutions is an endless and often a violent one, beset by injustices that need to be expressed and imagined in words we will have to translate again and again, for ourselves and for others.


 July 16, 2014

Jacques Lezra, WP 15Jul.2014 

Jacques Lezra is Professor of Comparative Literature, Spanish, English and German at NYU, and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature.

On Friday Google honored Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo with a ‘doodle’, on what would have been his 120th birthday.

Cesar Vallejo is probably Peru’s most celebrated poet. He was born on March 16, 1892, in La Libertad. He traveled to Europe in 1923, and lived in Paris, and in Madrid, working as a journalist. Vallejo died in Paris on April 15, 1938, at the age of 46.

He published three books of poetry during his lifetime: ‘Los Heraldos Negros’ (‘The Black Messengers’), ‘Trilce’ – a ground-breaking work, which is still considered as one of the most radically avant-garde poetry collections in the Spanish language – and ‘España, Aparta de Mí Este Calíz’ (Spain, Take This Chalice from Me’).

According to El Comercio, last month thousands of Peruvians signed a petition asking Google to honor Vallejo.

Vallejo is drawn with a straight face, wearing a dark suit and sitting on a bench in a park. The ‘doodle’ is very similar to photos of the poet in the Palace of Versailles, in the summer of 1929.

By Manuel Vigo, March 16, 2012

NOT long ago, Yelena S. Chizhova was engaged in what has become a standard winter pastime for Russia’s middle class: taking the sun at a giant resort hotel in Egypt. She and a girlfriend, who also grew up in St. Petersburg, joined the river of people flowing into the warehouse-size dining hall, its tables heaped with steaming meat and pastries.

And then something passed over them like a shadow. The women felt so uneasy that they had to step away for a moment, and Ms. Chizhova asked her friend what she was thinking about. But she did not need to ask. What the two women had in common was relatives who starved in the 872-day siege of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then known, when army engineers set off explosives in the fields and shoveled corpses into the craters.
For a moment, Ms. Chizhova had the strange feeling that she was seeing the piles of food through the eyes of her dying relatives. Born in 1958, she learned the official version of the siege from Soviet textbooks, which cast it as a patriotic triumph. The truly terrible facts sifted down to her when she eavesdropped on her mother and great-grandmother, who lost most of their family in the siege, as they talked quietly over cups of tea.
These snatches of conversation are at the core of her novel, “Time of Women,” which won last year’s Russian Booker Prize, the country’s most prestigious literary award. Ms. Chizhova tells the story of three elderly women raising a small girl in a communal apartment in the early 1960s, where the ordinary business of dishes and laundry is interrupted by memories of purges and famine.

It is an earthbound and frankly emotional novel, especially in a literary scene long dominated by the cerebral trickery of postmodernism. Ms. Chizhova is hoping that Russian artists are ready — finally — to address the good and evil of the Soviet past. Under Brezhnev, people averted their eyes from that past out of fear; under Vladimir V. Putin, she said, it was replaced by apathy. “For the vast majority of people, it simply is not interesting,” said Ms. Chizhova, 52, who smokes and talks with the energy of a coiled spring. “They do not have the feeling that history continues. It seems to them that in the 1990s, we just started over. As if we were all born then.”

But St. Petersburg is a city where blotting out history is difficult. Ms. Chizhova’s mother watched two brothers die of hunger while profiteers were taking fistfuls of gold jewelry in exchange for bread. Her father was forced into a detachment of irregular fighters who were sent against German tanks in groups of five, provided with only one rifle. Neither would have dreamed of explaining this to their daughter. But Ms. Chizhova’s great-grandmother was different; she turned over the memories absently, almost as if she was talking to herself. When Ms. Chizhova, then 5, recited a poem about cannibals in Africa, her great-grandmother explained matter-of-factly how the starving residents of Leningrad resorted to eating bodies.
“I would ask, ‘Where did they get it?’ ” Ms. Chizhova said. “For me it was like a fairy tale. She said some of them bought it in the market, thinking it was just meat. And then she would explain that when she worked in the hospital, they would store the bodies near the hospital gates, and by the time they went home in the evening, some of the soft parts were cut off.
“She would talk about that calmly,” she said. “And I heard it calmly.”

THOUGH the conversations stopped abruptly when Ms. Chizhova turned 6, they had already engraved something on her. When her teachers told her, “All Leningrad, like one person, stood in defense of the city,” her private thought was: It was a crime not to evacuate the children. And 40 years later, the insistent voices of old women began to declaim in Ms. Chizhova’s head, and she sat down to write a novel.
A slender 95 pages, told in a sometimes cryptic stream of conversation, “Time of Women” was not favored to win the Booker Prize, and some critics dripped contempt. Summing up the books of the year for the magazine Literaturnaya Rossiya, Kirill Ankudinov sneered at “literature sitting on grandmother’s trunk and becoming drunk on memories of how well people behaved under Brezhnev,” and Yevgeny Yermolin bemoaned the popularity of “cemetery erotica.”
There is no question that the past is exerting a pull on Russian art. All the novels short-listed for the prize vibrated with the feel of the 20th century, noted Elena Dyakova, a critic at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

“AFTER the period of post-modernism, people are searching for some moral bearings, and it’s easiest to find that in the lives of your own grandmothers,” she said. “Theoretically, we consider that there are no decent people in Russia, but empirically, we can show that they used to exist, in any case.”
So it is with Ms. Chizhova’s fictional grandmothers, hardly dissident types, who find themselves at war with the Soviet system as they struggle to keep the girl, Sonia, who is mute, out of a state home for the handicapped. At a moment of despair, knowing too well the bleak life that awaits Sonia in state custody, one of them tries to prepare her.
“You may be locked up and we may not be allowed to see you,” the grandmother whispers fiercely to the girl. “You will have to manage alone. But you should know — wherever you are locked up — I am with you. Any day I am outside the fence. I will keep walking as long as God gives me life. You may not see me, but you should remember — my granny is there.”

Last month, Ms. Chizhova was still adjusting to her victory, raising her eyebrows when a stranger called to invite her to join his literary circle. (“Now that I have won a prize,” she remarked dryly, “it seems I have changed a great deal.”) As the Soviet Union began to fall, she bounced from an economics department — her thesis was on regulated costs in machine-tool building enterprises — to English instruction to the wobbly business world of the 1990s. The last bounce took place on a burning cruise ship off the coast of Turkey, when she spent six hours shut in her cabin, waiting to see if help would come.
“I sat by myself and tried to answer the question of what would be better — to explode or to throw myself into the sea,” said Ms. Chizhova, who is married and has two grown daughters. “I understood that I had done a lot in my life, but none of it was right. And when we were saved, I decided to throw it all away and sit and write.”

That was 1996. Since then she has written for six hours a day without weekends or vacations, producing five novels, three of them finalists for the Booker Prize. It is not surprising, given this, that she speaks about her work with moral urgency. History repeats itself in Russia, she said, the same evils appear in new guises, and failing to study it means repeating terrible mistakes. But her tone softens and blurs when she is asked whether her novel is political.
“If I am honest, I wrote it for those who died,” she said. “I wrote it for them. I was speaking with them. I always had the feeling that they were listening to me.”

By ELLEN BARRY-NYT (ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, March 5, 2010)

San Francisco writer Cordelia Brown knew she was gambling with death when she stopped taking her epilepsy medications two years ago. But she told her mother she had no choice.

It was for her art, she said. She wanted her head clearer for poetry.
“Sharpen yourself like a knife and plunge into the sky,” Ms. Brown wrote in her 2008 book of poems, “Asylum.” That perfectly fit her approach to life: from overcoming a childhood automobile accident that nearly killed her to later journeying to India to teach English to Tibetan monks and living in a remote artists colony in the Venezuelan Andes mountains.

On May 1, at age 29, Ms. Brown faced her own apparent premonition of the nearing end with a peace beyond her years.
“Starting over – sinking into the night – my slate is clean,” were the last words she posted on her Facebook page before going to sleep.
And then, sometime that night, she died of an epileptic seizure.

The epilepsy was the only holdover effect of the accident in 1994 near Cloverdale, when a car driven by a 13-year-old girl slammed into the Brown family Ford Explorer, injuring six family members on their way to a Christmas vacation. Cordelia, then 14, was the most seriously injured, and was hospitalized in critical condition with head injuries.

Her gentle spirit, which shone through in her probing brown eyes and easy laugh, will be missed by not just her family, but poets and other artists through Northern California, friends and relatives said.
“My daughter was a stunning, beautiful woman, inside and out,” said her mother, Josie Brown of Petrolia (Humboldt County). “After the accident, she had to learn everything all over again – how to walk, how to swallow, how to do her studies. But she did it all.”

What Ms. Brown came away with from the experience, other than the epilepsy from injuries to her brain, her mother said, was “a quickening sense of living. She felt like she had a lot to do.”
And she did.

Ms. Brown was born in Homer, Ala., where her parents, Josie and John Brown, raised cattle and ran a travel guide business. When she was 6, the family moved to Petrolia, where the Browns still raise cattle and organic vegetables – and where Josie Brown runs the nearby Lost Coast Camp summer program for children.

After graduating from Mattole Triple Junction High School in Petrolia one year early, Ms. Brown first went to Spanish language school in Costa Rica and then worked at an orphanage in Nicaragua. She took to traveling and teaching English all over the world, and between jaunts she came back to San Francisco long enough to earn a bachelor’s degree in linguistics at New College of California in 2004.

In 2005, by then fluent in Spanish, she earned a certificate at UC Berkeley for teaching English as a second language. She went from there to the artists colony in the Andes, and when she returned two years ago she devoted herself to producing her only poetry book.

“When she came back, she had such a strong passion to do a lot of writing that she stopped taking the series of epilepsy medications she was taking,” her mother said. “She thought they were clouding her brain and she wanted to concentrate.
“I think she knew her life wasn’t going to go on and on,” because of her condition, Josie Brown said. “Cordelia wasn’t thinking about that accident any more, it was all behind her. She was doing her art.”

David Ulansey, a friend and professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, said he wasn’t sure whether the last words Ms. Brown posted on her Facebook site were “premonition or synchronicity, but they have been very healing for us.”
“Cordelia was a real force of nature,” he said. “She and her poetry radiated sensitivity and insight about the details of things that in the end make all the difference.”

Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

In May 1974, three months after his dramatic expulsion from the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn entered on a search for a place to live in North America. The search ended in Cavendish, Vt., but the first stop was at our summer place on a lake here in Quebec where Solzhenitsyn wanted to continue the long talks he had begun earlier in Zurich with my father, the Rev. Alexander Schmemann, a Russian Orthodox theologian and historian.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author who chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, died on Sunday. He was 89. Left, in 2007, Mr. Solzhenitsyn received the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin at his home outside Moscow. Photo: Ria Novosti/Reuters

I was thrilled to be there. Solzhenitsyn was a giant among the heroic dissidents in the Soviet Union, and his saga was a defining episode in the decline of the Communist tyranny. The appearance of “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in the journal Novy Mir on Nov. 20, 1962, opened the window into the Stalinist camps and demonstrated that the great moral tradition of Russian literature had survived decades of brutal efforts to extirpate it.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn in the 1950s at the Kazakh prison camp that inspired “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

Then came “The First Circle,” “The Cancer Ward,” the 1970 Nobel Prize and the monumental “Gulag Archipelago,” revealing the full evil of Stalinism. Finally, there was the furious Soviet assault and the brusque expulsion.

Now here he was in the flesh.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn at a news conference in Zurich, shortly after he was deported in 1974. In exile, he kept writing and thinking a great deal about Russia. Many in the West didn’t know what to make of the man. He was perceived as an undeniably great writer and hero who had been willing to stand up to the leadership of a totalitarian state. Yet he seemed willing to stand up and lash out at everyone else as well — democrats, secularists, capitalists, liberals and consumers. Photo: Bernard Frye/Associated Press

My function was modest; I came to cook and drive. All Solzhenitsyn wanted were potatoes roasted with onions for his meals and a small, inconspicuous car for transport. But the conversations were electrifying: it was as if what Solzhenitsyn wanted from my father was an instant transfer of all the Russian history and ideas that had been denied him in the Soviet state.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn in Germany in 1974, a few days after being deported and stripped of his citizenship. Since the publication of “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s fame had spread throughout the world as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative novels like “The First Circle” and “The Cancer Ward” and historical works like “The Gulag Archipelago,” his masterpiece which led to his expulsion from his native land. Photo: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The talks were interrupted only for BBC Russian-language news, which Solzhenitsyn would rush outdoors to tune in to on a portable shortwave radio. He had lists of questions and took copious notes in a tiny hand — perhaps another legacy of a lifetime of hiding writings and thoughts from “them” — and the conversations continued even on long treks through the countryside. There was still ice on the lake and, as in Russia, only the first hint of green in the woods. Solzhenitsyn said our fields and forests lacked the songbirds of the Russian countryside. This was not Russia.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm four years late in 1974. Photo: UPI

That was always the reference point: Russia. Everything — the conversation, the setting, the food, the writing, the shortwave broadcasts, even the safari-style jacket and the patriarchal beard he wore — was about Russia.

It was his Russia; one in which speaking truth was dangerous and heroic; a great and holy Russia that had to be rescued from an evil and godless power. Joseph Brodsky, another great literary exile, once told me that writing poetry in Russian became difficult for him in America after the language ceased to surround him.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn waved as he got on a train in 1994 in Vladivostok bound for Khabarovsk. Mr. Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia from two decades in exile in 1994, after the fall of the Soviet Union.Photo: Michael Estafiev/European Pressphoto Agency

Solzhenitsyn seemed to fear a similar fate — that any interest or involvement in his new surroundings would dilute his self-imposed, sacred mission of rescuing Russia. He seemed determined to sustain the spirit of moral resistance. In all his years in Vermont, he rarely ventured into the world, and then it was to inveigh against Western immorality, consumerism and decadence in terms that showed little firsthand knowledge.

The next time I saw Solzhenitsyn was 20 years later, when I covered his return to Russia in Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. He continued to issue moral thunderbolts, now also against the chaotic, new post-Soviet Russia. Perhaps he was right, but his incessant criticism and the naïveté of his exhortations, usually centered on patriotism as the key to Russia’s future, seemed irrelevant to Russians caught up in the post-Communist tumult. The work that he had regarded as the most important of his life, “Red Wheel,” attracted little attention.

At a news conference in Vladivostok in 1994. Upon his return to Russia, Mr. Solzhenitsyn began to voice his pessimism, deploring the crime, corruption, collapsing services, faltering democracy and what he felt to be the spiritual decline of Russia. During his 20 years exile, he never doubted he would be able to return to his homeland. Photo: Michael Estafiev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It was a sad ending, but also typically Russian. As Solzhenitsyn himself noted in “The First Circle,” the writer is like a second government in a dictatorship. The paradox is that the moral authority gained through prophetic and powerful writing undermines the creativity at its source. Like many great Russian writers, Solzhenitsyn achieved immortality before he became conscious of his power, which then turned into pedantry.

None of that detracts from the paean to the human spirit of “Ivan Denisovich,” the great conflicts of his major novels, or the majestic anger of “Gulag.” To his credit, Solzhenitsyn struggled to the end to maintain the power and purity of these great works.

* By SERGE SCHMEMANN (Editorial NYT; August 5, 2008)

BEREA, Ohio — Books are not Nadia Konyk’s thing. Her mother, hoping to entice her, brings them home from the library, but Nadia rarely shows an interest.
Instead, like so many other teenagers, Nadia, 15, is addicted to the Internet. She regularly spends at least six hours a day in front of the computer here in this suburb southwest of Cleveland.
A slender, chatty blonde who wears black-framed plastic glasses, Nadia checks her e-mail and peruses, a social networking site, reading messages or posting updates on her mood. She searches for music videos on YouTube and logs onto Gaia Online, a role-playing site where members fashion alternate identities as cutesy cartoon characters. But she spends most of her time on or, reading and commenting on stories written by other users and based on books, television shows or movies.

Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A’s and B’s at school, read books for a change. But at this point, Ms. Konyk said, “I’m just pleased that she reads something anymore.”
Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among educational policy makers and reading experts around the world, and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.
As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.
But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.
Even accomplished book readers like Zachary Sims, 18, of Old Greenwich, Conn., crave the ability to quickly find different points of view on a subject and converse with others online. Some children with dyslexia or other learning difficulties, like Hunter Gaudet, 16, of Somers, Conn., have found it far more comfortable to search and read online.
At least since the invention of television, critics have warned that electronic media would destroy reading. What is different now, some literacy experts say, is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google or even, entails some engagement with text.

Setting Expectations
Few who believe in the potential of the Web deny the value of books. But they argue that it is unrealistic to expect all children to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Pride and Prejudice” for fun. And those who prefer staring at a television or mashing buttons on a game console, they say, can still benefit from reading on the Internet. In fact, some literacy experts say that online reading skills will help children fare better when they begin looking for digital-age jobs.

Some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on the Internet just as they are tested on their print reading comprehension. Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not.
Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.
Young people “aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that doesn’t go in a line,” said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University who is studying reading practices on the Internet. “That’s a good thing because the world doesn’t go in a line, and the world isn’t organized into separate compartments or chapters.”
Some traditionalists warn that digital reading is the intellectual equivalent of empty calories. Often, they argue, writers on the Internet employ a cryptic argot that vexes teachers and parents. Zigzagging through a cornucopia of words, pictures, video and sounds, they say, distracts more than strengthens readers. And many youths spend most of their time on the Internet playing games or sending instant messages, activities that involve minimal reading at best.
Last fall the National Endowment for the Arts issued a sobering report linking flat or declining national reading test scores among teenagers with the slump in the proportion of adolescents who said they read for fun.
According to Department of Education data cited in the report, just over a fifth of 17-year-olds said they read almost every day for fun in 2004, down from nearly a third in 1984. Nineteen percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun in 2004, up from 9 percent in 1984. (It was unclear whether they thought of what they did on the Internet as “reading.”)
“Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media,” Dana Gioia, the chairman of the N.E.A., wrote in the report’s introduction, “they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”
Children are clearly spending more time on the Internet. In a study of 2,032 representative 8- to 18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half used the Internet on a typical day in 2004, up from just under a quarter in 1999. The average time these children spent online on a typical day rose to one hour and 41 minutes in 2004, from 46 minutes in 1999.
The question of how to value different kinds of reading is complicated because people read for many reasons. There is the level required of daily life — to follow the instructions in a manual or to analyze a mortgage contract. Then there is a more sophisticated level that opens the doors to elite education and professions. And, of course, people read for entertainment, as well as for intellectual or emotional rewards.
It is perhaps that final purpose that book champions emphasize the most.
“Learning is not to be found on a printout,” David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, said in a commencement address at Boston College in May. “It’s not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books.”
What’s Best for Nadia?
Deborah Konyk always believed it was essential for Nadia and her 8-year-old sister, Yashca, to read books. She regularly read aloud to the girls and took them to library story hours.
“Reading opens up doors to places that you probably will never get to visit in your lifetime, to cultures, to worlds, to people,” Ms. Konyk said.
Ms. Konyk, who took a part-time job at a dollar store chain a year and a half ago, said she did not have much time to read books herself. There are few books in the house. But after Yashca was born, Ms. Konyk spent the baby’s nap time reading the Harry Potter novels to Nadia, and she regularly brought home new titles from the library.
Despite these efforts, Nadia never became a big reader. Instead, she became obsessed with Japanese anime cartoons on television and comics like “Sailor Moon.” Then, when she was in the sixth grade, the family bought its first computer. When a friend introduced Nadia to, she turned off the television and started reading online.
Now she regularly reads stories that run as long as 45 Web pages. Many of them have elliptical plots and are sprinkled with spelling and grammatical errors. One of her recent favorites was “My absolutely, perfect normal life … ARE YOU CRAZY? NOT!,” a story based on the anime series “Beyblade.”
In one scene the narrator, Aries, hitches a ride with some masked men and one of them pulls a knife on her. “Just then I notice (Like finally) something sharp right in front of me,” Aries writes. “I gladly took it just like that until something terrible happen ….”
Nadia said she preferred reading stories online because “you could add your own character and twist it the way you want it to be.”
“So like in the book somebody could die,” she continued, “but you could make it so that person doesn’t die or make it so like somebody else dies who you don’t like.”
Nadia also writes her own stories. She posted “Dieing Isn’t Always Bad,” about a girl who comes back to life as half cat, half human, on both and
Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.
The simplest argument for why children should read in their leisure time is that it makes them better readers. According to federal statistics, students who say they read for fun once a day score significantly higher on reading tests than those who say they never do.
Reading skills are also valued by employers. A 2006 survey by the Conference Board, which conducts research for business leaders, found that nearly 90 percent of employers rated “reading comprehension” as “very important” for workers with bachelor’s degrees. Department of Education statistics also show that those who score higher on reading tests tend to earn higher incomes.
Critics of reading on the Internet say they see no evidence that increased Web activity improves reading achievement. “What we are losing in this country and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading,” said Mr. Gioia of the N.E.A. “I would believe people who tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.”
Nicholas Carr sounded a similar note in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the current issue of the Atlantic magazine. Warning that the Web was changing the way he — and others — think, he suggested that the effects of Internet reading extended beyond the falling test scores of adolescence. “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” he wrote, confessing that he now found it difficult to read long books.
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income, mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.
Elizabeth Birr Moje, a professor at the University of Michigan who led the study, said novel reading was similar to what schools demand already. But on the Internet, she said, students are developing new reading skills that are neither taught nor evaluated in school.
One early study showed that giving home Internet access to low-income students appeared to improve standardized reading test scores and school grades. “These were kids who would typically not be reading in their free time,” said Linda A. Jackson, a psychology professor at Michigan State who led the research. “Once they’re on the Internet, they’re reading.”
Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Scientists speculate that reading on the Internet may also affect the brain’s hard wiring in a way that is different from book reading.
“The question is, does it change your brain in some beneficial way?” said Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University. “The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment. Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our brain will try and deal with it.”
Some scientists worry that the fractured experience typical of the Internet could rob developing readers of crucial skills. “Reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode,” said Ken Pugh, a cognitive neuroscientist at Yale who has studied brain scans of children reading.
But This Is Reading Too
Web proponents believe that strong readers on the Web may eventually surpass those who rely on books. Reading five Web sites, an op-ed article and a blog post or two, experts say, can be more enriching than reading one book.
“It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,” said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State. “In a tenth of the time,” he said, the Internet allows a reader to “cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”
Zachary Sims, the Old Greenwich, Conn., teenager, often stays awake until 2 or 3 in the morning reading articles about technology or politics — his current passions — on up to 100 Web sites.
“On the Internet, you can hear from a bunch of people,” said Zachary, who will attend Columbia University this fall. “They may not be pedigreed academics. They may be someone in their shed with a conspiracy theory. But you would weigh that.”
Though he also likes to read books (earlier this year he finished, and loved, “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand), Zachary craves interaction with fellow readers on the Internet. “The Web is more about a conversation,” he said. “Books are more one-way.”
The kinds of skills Zachary has developed — locating information quickly and accurately, corroborating findings on multiple sites — may seem obvious to heavy Web users. But the skills can be cognitively demanding.
Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site ( about a mythical species known as the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus.” Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and deemed the site a reliable source.
Some literacy experts say that reading itself should be redefined. Interpreting videos or pictures, they say, may be as important a skill as analyzing a novel or a poem.
“Kids are using sound and images so they have a world of ideas to put together that aren’t necessarily language oriented,” said Donna E. Alvermann, a professor of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia. “Books aren’t out of the picture, but they’re only one way of experiencing information in the world today.”
A Lifelong Struggle
In the case of Hunter Gaudet, the Internet has helped him feel more comfortable with a new kind of reading. A varsity lacrosse player in Somers, Conn., Hunter has struggled most of his life to read. After learning he was dyslexic in the second grade, he was placed in special education classes and a tutor came to his home three hours a week. When he entered high school, he dropped the special education classes, but he still reads books only when forced, he said.
In a book, “they go through a lot of details that aren’t really needed,” Hunter said. “Online just gives you what you need, nothing more or less.”
When researching the 19th-century Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for one class, he typed Taney’s name into Google and scanned the Wikipedia entry and other biographical sites. Instead of reading an entire page, he would type in a search word like “college” to find Taney’s alma mater, assembling his information nugget by nugget.
Experts on reading difficulties suggest that for struggling readers, the Web may be a better way to glean information. “When you read online there are always graphics,” said Sally Shaywitz, the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” and a Yale professor. “I think it’s just more comfortable and — I hate to say easier — but it more meets the needs of somebody who might not be a fluent reader.”
Karen Gaudet, Hunter’s mother, a regional manager for a retail chain who said she read two or three business books a week, hopes Hunter will eventually discover a love for books. But she is confident that he has the reading skills he needs to succeed.
“Based on where technology is going and the world is going,” she said, “he’s going to be able to leverage it.”
When he was in seventh grade, Hunter was one of 89 students who participated in a study comparing performance on traditional state reading tests with a specially designed Internet reading test. Hunter, who scored in the lowest 10 percent on the traditional test, spent 12 weeks learning how to use the Web for a science class before taking the Internet test. It was composed of three sets of directions asking the students to search for information online, determine which sites were reliable and explain their reasoning.
Hunter scored in the top quartile. In fact, about a third of the students in the study, led by Professor Leu, scored below average on traditional reading tests but did well on the Internet assessment.
The Testing Debate
To date, there have been few large-scale appraisals of Web skills. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, has developed a digital literacy test known as iSkills that requires students to solve informational problems by searching for answers on the Web. About 80 colleges and a handful of high schools have administered the test so far.
But according to Stephen Denis, product manager at ETS, of the more than 20,000 students who have taken the iSkills test since 2006, only 39 percent of four-year college freshmen achieved a score that represented “core functional levels” in Internet literacy.
Now some literacy experts want the federal tests known as the nation’s report card to include a digital reading component. So far, the traditionalists have held sway: The next round, to be administered to fourth and eighth graders in 2009, will test only print reading comprehension.
Mary Crovo of the National Assessment Governing Board, which creates policies for the national tests, said several members of a committee that sets guidelines for the reading tests believed large numbers of low-income and rural students might not have regular Internet access, rendering measurements of their online skills unfair.
Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested — or taught.
“Nobody has taught a single kid to text message,” said Carol Jago of the National Council of Teachers of English and a member of the testing guidelines committee. “Kids are smart. When they want to do something, schools don’t have to get involved.”
Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford who lobbied for an Internet component as chairman of the reading test guidelines committee, disagreed. Students “are going to grow up having to be highly competent on the Internet,” he said. “There’s no reason to make them discover how to be highly competent if we can teach them.”
The United States is diverging from the policies of some other countries. Next year, for the first time, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers reading, math and science tests to a sample of 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries, will add an electronic reading component. The United States, among other countries, will not participate. A spokeswoman for the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education, said an additional test would overburden schools.
Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need it all.”
Web junkies can occasionally be swept up in a book. After Nadia read Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night” in her freshman English class, Ms. Konyk brought home another Holocaust memoir, “I Have Lived a Thousand Years,” by Livia Bitton-Jackson.
Nadia was riveted by heartbreaking details of life in the concentration camps. “I was trying to imagine this and I was like, I can’t do this,” she said. “It was just so — wow.”
Hoping to keep up the momentum, Ms. Konyk brought home another book, “Silverboy,” a fantasy novel. Nadia made it through one chapter before she got engrossed in the Internet fan fiction again.


By MOTOKO RICH (NYT/ July 27, 2008)

Back when I was teaching fiction writing, I used to pitch my students, especially the beginners, on complexity.

They seemed to think that readers would be attracted to their characters’ virtue and would recognize shared humanity in their strength and courage; I argued — perversely they thought — that unrelenting virtue is not just unrealistic but uninteresting.
Gatsby, I reminded them, is a damned fool who falls in love with a woman unworthy of his affection. Because he’s blind, he does everything wrong, and we sympathize because we, too, have been blind and done things wrong.

Granted, Huck Finn is an innocent, uncorrupted (as yet) by a depraved world, but he’s never more interesting than when he’s convinced of his own depravity. We like him right from the start, but when he says, “Okay, I’ll go to hell” — that’s when we fall in love.

For most people, mine is a losing argument, and one night recently, as I stayed up watching television coverage of Eliot Spitzer’s disgrace, I found myself losing it all over again as the media turned a complex drama into a simple story line: Now that he’s no longer their unsullied white knight, Spitzer must be a complete hypocrite. Later, I lay awake in the dark thinking about how a novel about Eliot Spitzer might go and what kind of novel it would be.

My fictional Eliot would be complex, would contain paradoxes. He would not be a hypocrite. My Eliot would believe with his whole heart in his crusades against the corrupt and the powerful and the privileged, even as he worked studiously to undermine his legacy. Fiction can accommodate such paradoxes, provided they’re explained.

But I don’t mean to jigger the facts; fictive Eliot will do exactly what the real Eliot has done, only my guy almost never imagines getting caught. And when he does occasionally consider the possibility, he trusts that there will be ample warning that disaster is imminent.

For the most part, things in his life have happened slowly, especially the good things, and he trusts that bad things will evolve similarly. He will swerve at the last moment. The possibility of a head-on collision, swift and devastating, simply never occurs to him.

Even worse, though he knows that the world doesn’t work this way, he convinces himself that if he’s caught, people will treat him fairly. Sure, he has shamed himself, but he’s done a lot of good things, too, and people will remember that. He has always employed a kind of moral arithmetic, and he’ll expect that same math to be applied to him — all his virtues set up on one side of the ledger, his one weakness on the other.

People will understand that he’s mostly good. By the time my Eliot realizes that he’s wrong about all this, it’s too late. The damage is done. He has betrayed his wife, his children, his best self, and it’s all his fault.

Okay, that’s my thumbnail fictional Eliot; a little thin, and maybe I like him too much. Not giving his nasty, righteous streak enough play. It’s possible I’m giving him more credit than God would, but then God has the advantage of knowing what Eliot and I are still trying to figure out. I’ll learn more as I write, but there are other characters to consider.

First, Eliot’s wife — and here I sense a mystery even deeper than the mystery of Eliot himself. Why does she stand there beside him at the podium when he confesses? Why do they all? I feel uniquely unqualified to look inside her heart, to ferret out her motives. I make a list of what I know (not much) and what I suspect (not much more) and wonder whether imagination will fill in all those blanks.

I’m relatively certain of one thing: It’s not this woman’s fault. I won’t portray her as frigid or otherwise complicit in what has transpired. She hasn’t driven Eliot to any of this. I don’t believe in perfection, but I’ve decided for the time being that she’s been a good wife, a good mother.

What I know about marriage is that identities over time tend to merge. Eliot’s wife was once her own person, but down the years she’s lost some of that individuality, surrendered it willingly, never suspecting she might have further use for it. If she’s not this man’s wife, then who is she? Worse, can she abandon her husband without implying that her daughters should do the same to their father? And what was that promise that she made? For better or for worse? Did she mean that or just say it? How could it be that she was able to imagine the better so vividly, the worse not at all? Was that his fault for leaving so few clues, or hers for ignoring the few there were? The facts of her situation are simple and clear. Why aren’t her emotions?
Why won’t they stand still so she can examine them?
And what of those daughters? This is the hardest part for my Eliot.

What really tears him apart is that when the news breaks, these girls are going to have to go to school. He sees them in his mind’s eye now and can think of little else. Sees them alone and isolated, all the other kids talking about them, growing silent when his girls walk into the room. This won’t go on forever, but to them it will seem like forever.

Eliot also fears that he’s done them long-term damage. Some of it can be repaired. They’re good, smart girls, and they won’t grow up hating all men. But their innocence has fled; they look at him now like a man wearing a partially removed disguise. Never again will they take anything on faith.

They will be cautious in the living of their lives, taking nothing at face value. They’ll brace for impact when there’s no reason. He could have spared them all this, yet managed not to.

The novel’s getting pretty dark, and that worries me. Time for a little comic relief. Real-life Eliot has few friends, we’re told, the natural result of what some people like to call his arrogance, though my Eliot has never thought of it in those terms until now. Arrogant? He’d simply tried to put criminals in jail where they belonged. Wasn’t that his job? Is that any reason he should be friendless now? So I’ll give my Eliot one friend, someone to help him put what he’s done into perspective.

I’ll give this friend some of my own cynical humor. Ah, what the hell, I’ll give him my name. Call him Rick. I can change that later with a keystroke.

Before everything begins to unravel, Eliot confides to Rick that he’s made a mess of things, betrayed everyone he loves, that he isn’t even sure who he is anymore. But Rick will tell him not to be melodramatic.

It’s true that he’s made mistakes, big ones, Rick explains, but they aren’t what Eliot thinks they are. Rick admits he’s outraged that Eliot has spent $80,000 on prostitutes, because it shouldn’t cost that much to get a little action in America.

It’s like one of those $500 Pentagon hammers. Downright wasteful. And why order a hammer from New Jersey and pay the shipping? There are perfectly good hammers in Washington — it’s a damned city of hammers, when you think about it.

Where on earth did Eliot get the idea that New Jersey hammers were superior? All he wanted to do was nail something, right?
Don’t joke, Eliot tells Rick. This isn’t funny; he could go to jail. But to Rick’s way of thinking, that’s the biggest joke of all. Your average CEO can claim millions in salary and stock options in the same year his company is going down the tubes, and it’s all perfectly legal.

You want to know what you’re really guilty of, Eliot? Cluelessness. You didn’t forget who you are, you forgot where you are. This is America, pal, where you can lead the nation into war on false pretenses and be rewarded with a second term in office, but where illicit sex is and has always been an impeachable offense. (Note to self: A little of this Rick character goes a long way.)

How will my Eliot’s story end? Do I wait for real-life events to unfold or make something up? What kind of story will it be? A tragedy? Maybe, but somehow I don’t think so.

My Eliot’s no Gatsby, and there’s no reason he should wind up floating face-down in the pool. What he’s really done is blown it. He’s had a great opportunity, and he’s blown it. There will be both private and public consequences.

He will be punished, and he will punish himself. He will survive. So will his family. People do. What is the basis for such breezy optimism? Well, for one, there’s historical precedent. Hillary Clinton wasn’t done in by her knucklehead husband.

I wouldn’t pretend to know what’s in her heart, but she’s clearly functioning. And Chelsea, God love her, seems to have weathered the effects of her old man’s late-onset adolescence.
Sure, there are other stories I could spin around the skeletal facts as we know them.

For instance, there’s a compelling story in which Eliot isn’t so much a man as a condition common to men, especially middle-aged men, none of whom seems able to keep it in his pants. Eliot just does what they all do.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence, I could make this story work, and it might be more satisfying to female readers, who could draw on personal experience to further enrich the tale.
There’s also a story in which Eliot isn’t even the main character.

Because how believable is it, really, that they came across him by chance on that wiretap? His many enemies are justly famous as the dirtiest of tricksters. Maybe I should be writing a thriller, but I dislike and distrust plot-driven narrative and have grown fond of my own messed-up, untidy Eliot, so American in both his ambition and the disgrace that seems to flow from it so naturally.

I might not know precisely why he’s done what he’s done, but he connects to my long-held conviction that people (in fiction, in life) aren’t meant to be saints, or to be treated like saints. That’s the hard lesson Hawthorne’s Reverend Dimmesdale learned from the pulpit.

For years now, my Eliot (himself no stranger to the pulpit) has been besieged in restaurants, on the street, everywhere, by people telling him to keep fighting the good fight because, Eliot, you’re our best hope in a world that’s as depraved as Huck Finn’s. Even his prostitutes agree — don’t they?

I cannot speak for the real Eliot, but some part of my Eliot has known all along that he’s no saint, that he’s not anybody’s best hope, not even his own. He knows this even as some other part of him believes what people are telling him because, of course, he wants to. This has been his true conflict all along, and finally, explosively, it has been resolved.

* By Richard Russo ;Sunday, March 16, 2008;
(Richard Russo’s most recent novel is “Bridge of Sighs.”)

THOUGH no one talks about them much, Ernest Hemingway wrote two plays. The first, finished in 1926, was “Today Is Friday,” a forgettable one-acter set on the evening of the original Good Friday, when three Roman centurions get together at a tavern to discuss memorable crucifixions they’ve seen, including the one that afternoon. Not surprisingly, they sound a lot like Hemingway’s Nick Adams. “He looked pretty good to me in there today,” one of them says admiring Jesus’ stoicism.

(Photo of Ernest Hemingway, center, during the Spanish Civil War, about 1937.)

His other play, “The Fifth Column,” which the Mint Theater Company in Manhattan is presenting, beginning Feb. 26, is a full-length drama written in 1937, when Hemingway was a correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War.

The play takes its name from Franco’s remark that he had four columns advancing on Madrid and a fifth column of loyalists inside the city ready to attack from the rear.

(Photo of Ernest Hemingway with Martha Gellhorn on their honeymoon in Honolulu in 1940, at Halehulani Hotel)

“The Fifth Column” is not about Franco sympathizers, however, but about an American war correspondent who is a secret agent for the Republicans, and Hemingway worked on it while holed up in the Hotel Florida with all the other war correspondents.

In an unpublished letter just recently discovered he explained, “In those days” Herbert Matthews of The New York Times, Henry T. Gorrell of United Press, “Sefton Delmer of the Daily Express, Martha Gellhorn of Colliers, Virginia Cowles, then for Hearst, now of the London Times, Joris Ivens, who made the ‘Spanish Earth,’ Johnny Ferno, who photographed it, Josephine Herbst for various American weeklies and for humanity in general, Sidney Franklin working for me, all International Brigade men on leave, and the greatest and most varied collection of ladies of the evening I have ever seen all lived at the Hotel Florida.”

In an introduction to “The Fifth Column” Hemingway wrote that the hotel was bombarded numerous times, adding: “So if it is not a good play perhaps that is what is the matter with it. If it is a good play, perhaps those thirty shells helped write it.”

In the letter he goes into more detail: “In the fall of 1937 when I took up playwrighting, there weren’t any top floors to the hotel anymore. Nobody that was not crazy would go up there in a bombardment.

But the two rooms where we lived were in what is called by artillerymen a dead angle. Any place else in the hotel could be hit and was. But unless the position of the batteries on Garabitas hill were changed; or unless they substituted howitzers for guns; rooms 112 and 113 could not be hit because of the position of three different houses across the street and across the square.

“I was absolutely sure of this after being in the hotel during twenty-two heavy bombardments in which other parts of it were struck. It seemed eminently more sensible to live in a part of a hotel which you knew would not be struck by shell fire, because you knew where the shells lit, than to go to some other hotel further from the lines, the angles of which you had no data to figure and where you would maybe have a shell drop through the roof.

“Well, I had great confidence in the Florida and when Franco finally entered Madrid, Rooms 112 and 113 were still intact. There was very little else that was though.”

The Mint Theater Company normally specializes in revivals of neglected plays, but its production of “The Fifth Column” is really a premier of sorts, Jonathan Bank, the company’s artistic director, said recently.

“I want to be precise about this, so maybe I should say this is the first time Hemingway’s play has been done professionally in America,” he explained. “There might have been an amateur production. There was a production in the Soviet Union in 1963. And from a reference I saw in a biography of Michael Powell, I know he directed a production in Scotland in the ’40s.”

What was billed as an “adaptation” of “The Fifth Column” by Benjamin Glazer, directed by Lee Strasberg, was put on by the Theater Guild in 1940, to mostly mixed reviews. Hemingway by that point had washed his hands of it and for good reason, according to Mr. Bank. “I would say that it’s 80 percent Glazer and 10 percent Hemingway out of context,” he said. “It’s completely restructured and, well, awful.”

* By CHARLES McGRATH (NYT/February 10, 2008)

As Peru’s most celebrated writer and a onetime contender for the country’s presidency, you have written a surprisingly sentimental novel, “The Bad Girl” — a love story narrated by a bookish Peruvian who moves to Paris and devotes 40 years to pursuing a woman he first met in high school. Ricardo is a translator, which is a reflection of his temperament. He’s an intermediary. He has not much personality, and in his life there is only one adventure: the bad girl. Without her, his life is very mediocre, curtailed, without much horizon.


Yes, he lacks ambition. Well, his ambition is the bad girl!

Do you admire him? I admire most the bad girl.

Why is that? She is cold and opportunistic, a gold digger who winds up marrying businessmen in France, England and Japan without feeling an ounce of affection for any of them. I think she is more complicated than that. Look where she comes from.

She comes from a social background in which life is a kind of jungle, a place in which if you want to survive, you become an animal. She has been trained to be a kind of fighting animal, and she fights.

Do you know any bad girls? Yes. Several. Absolutely. In Peru, there are many, but also in France and in Spain. There are a lot of bad girls in America too.

No. That’s just wrong. We don’t have bad girls here. You have been secluded in Manhattan all your life, but go to California, and you will see bad girls.

Let’s talk about your brief and futile stint in politics. You ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 and lost to Alberto Fujimori, who just last month was thrown into jail in Lima after being extradited from Chile. I am very happy, of course. It’s an example for the future. He was a horrible dictator. He killed so many people; he stole so much money; he committed the most atrocious human-rights abuses.

You ran against him on a free-market platform styled after the conservatism of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I am in favor of economic freedom, but I am not a conservative.

Did you ever meet President Reagan? Once. I said to him, Mr. President, I admire many things that you do, but I cannot accept that for you the most important American writer is Louis L’Amour. How is this possible?

In addition to fiction, you have written a substantial body of drama and literary criticism, including an appreciation of Gabriel García Márquez, from whom you later became estranged. I don’t talk about that. I don’t talk about García Márquez, that’s all.

Compared with his magic realism, your style is more rooted in sprawling, panoramic narratives of the 19th-century novel. My God! I hope this is true. The apogee of the novel was in the 19th century, with Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Melville and Dickens.

Like a character in a Victorian novel, you’re married to your first cousin. I fell in love with her. The fact that she was my cousin was not taken into consideration.

Your first wife was the sister-in-law of your uncle and supposedly the inspiration for your comic novel “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” What does all this family romance signify? We would need a psychoanalyst to find out, but I am not in favor of psychoanalysis. So the mystery will prevail.

What do you have against psychoanalysis? It’s too close to fiction, and I don’t need more fiction in my life. I love stories, and my life is principally concentrated on stories, but not with a pretense of scientific precision.

Might you ever write your autobiography? Only if I reach 100 years old will I write a very complete autobiography. Not before.

* Questions for Mario Vargas Llosa. Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON (New York Times; Oct. 2007)

Broadway_To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world would be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star _The book was by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion, and music by Mitch Leigh: one song, “The Impossible Dream”, was particularly popular.

Man of La Mancha started its life as a non-musical teleplay written by Dale Wasserman for CBS’s Dupont Show of the Month program. This original staging starred Lee J. Cobb. The Dupont Corporation disliked the title Man of La Mancha, thinking that its viewing audience would not know what La Mancha actually meant, so a new title, I, Don Quixote, was chosen. Upon its telecast, the play won much critical acclaim.

Years after this television broadcast, and after the original teleplay had been unsuccessfully optioned as a non-musical Broadway play, director Albert Marre called Wasserman and suggested that he turn his play into a musical. Mitch Leigh was selected as composer. The original lyricist of the musical was poet W. H. Auden, but his lyrics were discarded, some of them overtly satiric and biting, attacking the bourgeois audience at times.

The musical first opened at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 1964. Rex Harrison was to be the original star of this production, but soon lost interest when he discovered the songs must actually be sung. Michael Redgrave was also considered for the role.

The play finally opened on Broadway on November 22, 1965. Richard Kiley won a Tony Award for his performance as Cervantes/Quixote in the original production, and it made Kiley a bona fide Broadway star, but the role went to Peter O’Toole in the less-successful 1972 film. O’Toole, however, did not really sing his own songs; they were dubbed by tenor Simon Gilbert. All other actors in the film, however, from non-singers such as Sophia Loren, Brian Blessed, Harry Andrews, and Rosalie Crutchley, to Broadway musical stars such as Julie Gregg and Gino Conforti, did do their own singing. The only member of the original cast to reprise his role in the film was Conforti, repeating his hilarious portrayal of the amazed barber, whose shaving basin is mistaken by Don Quixote for the Golden Helmet of Mambrino. Although the bulk of the film was made on two enormous sound stages, the use of locations was much more explicit – Don Quixote is actually shown fighting the windmill, while onstage this had been merely suggested by having Quixote run offstage to agitated music, and then crawl back onstage a few seconds later, with his lance broken and his sword twisted. The film was produced and directed by Arthur Hiller, and photographed by Federico Fellini’s frequent cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno, with musical and fight staging provided by Gillian Lynne.

The play has been run on Broadway five times:

1965 – 1971 original production, opened November 22, 1965 with Richard Kiley as Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote and ran for 2,328 performances. John Cullum, José Ferrer, Hal Holbrook, and Lloyd Bridges also played the roles during this run.
1972 – revival, Richard Kiley as Cervantes and Quixote.
1977 – revival, Richard Kiley as Cervantes and Quixote, Tony Martinez as Sancho Panza and Emily Yancy as Dulcinea.
1992 – revival, Raúl Juliá as Cervantes and Quixote, Sheena Easton as Dulcinea.
2002 – revival, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Cervantes and Quixote, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Dulcinea, Ernie Sabella as Sancho Panza.



There are millions of Blogs that exist, today, and, we can appreciate three general aspects well differentiated, and they are:

1. Blogs financed by businesses of communication. Radios, Television, Newspapers, magazines, etc.
2. Blogs of diverse advertising businesses
3. Blogs Personal of common people.

In the first case, we see that the ones that write are wage-earning people, that are dedicated to write as part of their work and they enjoy a great infrastructure and machinery to make their blogs.

In the second case, we see large, medium or small businesses (including the personals) are dedicated to develop their blog on the base of a group of products or specific services.

In the third case (where I find me), we do not receive money by writing, neither we have greater infrastructure, only our PC and our personal knowledge, which along with our preferences in themes to treat, and to publish.

But, for me, more important in many personal blogs, is, to identify its authors, at least in its basic data, and if we are interested in someone we can go to look in their mind, according to what comments or articles are publishes.

I believe that the personal Blogs will be able to be more efficient, among serious people that want to develop some theme or to share ideas or news that occur in our experiences around the world.

See you later.
CARLOS Tiger without Time


There are about 1,500 different languages spoken in the world today.


In the early 1940’s when it was first being organized, officials (ONU) proposed that all diplomats be required to speak a single language, a restriction that would both facilitate negotiations and symbolize global harmony.

Over the years, there have been no fewer than 300 attempts to invent and promulgate a global language, the most famous being made in 1887 by the polish oculist L.L. Zamenhof. The artificial language he created is called Esperanto, and today more than 100,000 people in twenty-two countries speak it.

United Nations ambassadors are now allowed to speak any one of five languages: Mandarin Chinese, English, Russian, Spanish,  or French.

Today who speak mathematics fluently, as measured by the millions and by the historic consequences of their unified efforts, is arguably the most successful global language even spoken.

Though it has not enabled us to build a tower of Babel, it has made possible achievements that once seemed no less impossible: electricity, airplanes, the nuclear bomb, landing a man on the moon, and understanding the nature of life and death.

Matthe Arnold said: “ Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things.”

In the language of mathematics, equations are like poetry: They state truths with a unique precision, convey volumes of information in rather brief terms, and often are difficult for the initiated to comprehend. And just as conventional poetry helps us to see deep within ourselves, mathematical poetry helps us to see far beyond ourselves – if not all the way up to heaven, then at leapt out to the brink of the visible universe.

In attempting to distinguish between prose and poetry, Robert Frost once suggested that a poem, by definition, is a pithy form of expression that can never be accurately translated. The same can be said about mathematics: It is impossible to understand the true meaning of an equation, or to appreciate its beauty, unless it is read in the delightfully quirky language in which it was penned.

· Summarized and adapted of “Mathematical Poetry” of Dr. Michael Guillen


Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.
Ernest Hemingway

Never mistake motion for action.
Ernest Hemingway

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.
Ernest Hemingway

No weapon has ever settled a moral problem. It can impose a solution but it cannot guarantee it to be a just one.
Ernest Hemingway

Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war.
Ernest Hemingway

Or don’t you like to write letters. I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.
Ernest Hemingway

Personal columnists are jackals and no jackal has been known to live on grass once he had learned about meat – no matter who killed the meat for him.
Ernest Hemingway

Some people show evil as a great racehorse shows breeding. They have the dignity of a hard chancre.
Ernest Hemingway

That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best – make it all up – but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.
Ernest Hemingway

That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.
Ernest Hemingway

The 1st panacea of a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the 2nd is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; a permanent ruin.
Ernest Hemingway

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
Ernest Hemingway

The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.
Ernest Hemingway

The game of golf would lose a great deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green.
Ernest Hemingway

The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without.
Ernest Hemingway

The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.
Ernest Hemingway

The shortest answer is doing the thing.
Ernest Hemingway

The sinews of war are five – men, money, materials, maintenance (food) and morale.
Ernest Hemingway

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.
Ernest Hemingway

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
Ernest Hemingway

The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.
Ernest Hemingway

There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are simple things, and because it takes a man’s life to know them, the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.
Ernest Hemingway

There is no friend as loyal as a book.
Ernest Hemingway

There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.
Ernest Hemingway

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Ernest Hemingway

There’s no one thing that is true. They’re all true.
Ernest Hemingway

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
Ernest Hemingway

To be a successful father… there’s one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for the first two years.
Ernest Hemingway

Wars are caused by undefended wealth.
Ernest Hemingway

What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.
Ernest Hemingway

When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea.
Ernest Hemingway

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
Ernest Hemingway

When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first.
Ernest Hemingway

Why should anybody be interested in some old man who was a failure?
Ernest Hemingway

You can wipe out your opponents. But if you do it unjustly you become eligible for being wiped out yourself.
Ernest Hemingway

You’re beautiful, like a May fly.
Ernest Hemingway


He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.
Oscar Wilde

How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being.
Oscar Wilde

How marriage ruins a man! It is as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.
Oscar Wilde

I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.
Oscar Wilde

I am not young enough to know everything.
Oscar Wilde

I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.
Oscar Wilde

I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly.
Oscar Wilde

I can resist everything except temptation.
Oscar Wilde

I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.
Oscar Wilde

I have nothing to declare except my genuis.
Oscar Wilde

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
Oscar Wilde

I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
Oscar Wilde

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
Oscar Wilde

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
Oscar Wilde

I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.
Oscar Wilde

I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.
Oscar Wilde

I see when men love women. They give them but a little of their lives. But women when they love give everything.
Oscar Wilde

I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability.
Oscar Wilde

I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it is simply a tragedy.
Oscar Wilde

I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.
Oscar Wilde

I want my food dead. Not sick, not dying, dead.
Oscar Wilde

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.
Oscar Wilde

If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite civilized.
Oscar Wilde

If one plays good music, people don’t listen and if one plays bad music people don’t talk.
Oscar Wilde

If there was less sympathy in the world, there would be less trouble in the world.
Oscar Wilde

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.
Oscar Wilde

If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
Oscar Wilde


I never had to choose a subject – my subject rather chose me.
Ernest Hemingway

I’m not going to get into the ring with Tolstoy.
Ernest Hemingway

I’ve tried to reduce profanity but I reduced so much profanity when writing the book that I’m afraid not much could come out. Perhaps we will have to consider it simply as a profane book and hope that the next book will be less profane or perhaps more sacred.
Ernest Hemingway

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.
Ernest Hemingway

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
Ernest Hemingway

If you have a success you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular it is always because of the worst aspects of your work.
Ernest Hemingway

In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.
Ernest Hemingway

In modern war… you will die like a dog for no good reason.
Ernest Hemingway

It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.
Ernest Hemingway

Madame, all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.
Ernest Hemingway

Man is not made for defeat.
Ernest Hemingway

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
Ernest Hemingway

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