Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Surviving the wars. . .

On Remembrance Day I give a thought not only to those who died, but also to those who survived, particularly the ones who came home in pain or with horrible memories, and the families that had to deal with either grief, or the depression and violence of their loved ones. Nothing makes me angrier than reading stories about veterns who can't get access to either the medical care or counselling that they need. The long-term effects of war were brought home to me in two plays I saw this weekend. No Good Reason by Stephen Baetz was set during the last year of WWI at a convalescent home for wounded soldiers and detailed the growing friendship between a shellshocked Canadian soldier and an American soldier trying to learn how to walk again. Both have very different reasons for wanting to avoid going home. (Incidentally, the play used some wonderful Canadian WWI songs that have been recently recorded on a CD, along with actors such as R.H. Thomson, David Ferry and Gina Wilkinson reading Canadian war poetry - you can buy this lovely CD called Waiting There for Me here.) Then I saw East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch. This was a terrific play about a man trying to deal with the knowledge that his father was a Nazi war criminal - a doctor who performed medical experiments at Auschwitz - and the implications it has on his life, especially when he falls in love with a Jewish woman whose mother survived the camps.

This survivor theme has also been ever-present in two upcoming books I've been reading. I'll blog more about them closer to their publication date, but Bernhard Schlink's complex but beautiful new novel The Homecoming also features a young German who has to deal with his father's actions in WWII and is very much a meditation on the nature of evil and its role in society. And I'm almost finished Patrick McGrath's engrossing new novel Trauma, about a psychiatrist who helps Vietnam veterans deal with their post-traumatic stress and the guilt he feels when one of his patients - his brother-in-law no less - commits suicide. While these are two completely different novels, I find their cover treatments of vandalized books quite fascinating and thought-provoking. What does it say about the role of books and stories in dealing and interpreting (or creating afresh) a version of the past? What is missing? What ultimately can't be written down? The precision of the cut-out text in the Schlink novel is completely different from the violence that unleashed the ripping of the book on the McGrath cover, but I find both images to be extremely troubling and very powerful. Oh, and did I mention that the set of East of Berlin was dominated by a wall of dark, forboding, floor-to-ceiling bookcases?
Next up on my theatre schedule is a post 9-11 verison of Antigone that I'm seeing tonight. Yes, yet another story about survivors.

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