Exile and the Kingdom – Albert Camus

Albert Camus, the Nobel Award winning author from Algeria, explores isolation and character’s intense revelations  with a series of 6 short stories in Exile and the Kingdom.  Each of the stories have a character who seems to be lost or isolated from a part of their society and each finds a way to connect with themselves or those around them in the muck of what is playing out around them.

The first story is ‘The Adulterous Woman,’ in which a wife accompanies her long-time husband to rebuild his dry-goods business after a war.  She contemplated why they were still together after so many years- was it because he loved her or because she needed to feel loved? A stop in a desert town with so much foreign to the couple, the woman finally finds an answer, but perhaps not the one she had been looking for.

‘The Renegade’ is the second story.  A young man from the outskirts of the Catholic Kingdom joins the church to become the greatest missionary.  His hubris broke himself from order of the church to go to a Christian’s forbidden area.  A desert land of other gods and deities. He believed his strength would hold out, but after torturous days and nights, he falls to the dark side, and makes a decision to defend his god.

The next story, called ‘The Silent Men,’ a shop of coopers return to barrel-making after several weeks of striking for higher wages.  Mixed feelings spread throughout the shop, the boss was sour that his workers walked out on him, the workers were upset that the boss was not so understanding of their situation, and ugly words  from the boss did not help the resolution.  The main character, Yvars, lived each day to come home to his wife and a glass of anisette to enjoy the sunset over the sea.  That was his kingdom.  While at work, he felt undervalued, but could understand the boss’s view.  A tragedy of the boss’s family on the first day back to work still could not overpower the silence in the shop, and Yvars ends up watching the sunset in reflection that night.

The fourth story, ‘The Guest,’ is a tale about a school teacher living alone on the top of a mesa.  As the first big snow fell over the plateau, he knew the small group of students would have their own struggles surviving the winter.  He watched two men ride horses up the mesa and welcomed an old acquaintance, a lawman, transporting a prisoner.  The lawman quickly delivers the prisoner to the objecting teacher and leaves to continue preparing for his duties back in the city.  The teacher was to continue the transport to a city a small distance away.  The prisoner had killed his cousin to help feed his family, the family had hidden the man and it took a while for the law to catch up.  A war was forming at their home and the lawmen could not take care of all of their duties themselves.  The teacher disagreed with the transport and hurt the lawman’s feelings when he said he would take the prisoner but had no intentions of delivering him to the prison in the other city.  The lawman left and the teacher and prisoner spent a night together in the schoolhouse.  Did he need his gun?  Did he lock it up?  Would he continue the transport?  What will happen if he released the prisoner?  Many questions ran through his mind as the sun rose and  dawned on a new day.  What ever happened to that prisoner?  Were the choices the teacher made the best he could have made?

The fifth story was called ‘The Artist At Work.’  A man with special artistic ability was grateful for his abilities and had never asked for more.  Early in his career he knew he had talent and graciously accepted the first contract given to him.  There were no major complaints and he soon found love.  The years passed, the family grew, and the artist’s work also grew, but he remained humble.  Many followers visited the house daily at all hours, and the artist was grateful for friends and critics.  An architect he was friends with from childhood also came often and gave him honest opinions of art, and life. As the years went by the artist’s fame waned and he realized he needed to rekindle the creativity.  Weeks went by and he turned to alcohol, then women, and his work continued to fall behind.  Finally he builds himself a loft to paint in and he believes this will bring everything back, but a change may not be enough to bring an artist back to relevance.

The final story, ‘The Growing Stone,’ is about an engineer who is hired to construct a jetty to protect a small village on a large river delta in South America.  The man is touted as a hero before he even proposes an idea.  The man meets many of the locals and joins in a Christian festival, but it follows many of the local customs and seems to be a mix of the new and old religions.  The following day, he joins the judge and chief of police to watch a parade, in which his new friend, a chef has volunteered to carry a large stone on his head to show his gratitude in Jesus for saving him from a sinking ship.  After the parade has finished, the engineer has not seen the chef, so he runs to the street and finds him struggling to carry the stone.  The engineer takes the stone and quickly walks it to the church himself, but he does not stop there, he continues on to the chef’s hut and drops the stone onto the floor inside.  The struggles between new and old were all around in this story, and as the engineer drops the stone, he shows his respect for the people and their ways instead of taking the stone to the church where it was intended to be taken.

Each of the stories were entertaining alone, but altogether they form a great theme of realization and reverence.  Characters come to respect their own callings and others around them.  Much like his more popular work, The Stranger, the internal struggles of the characters are apparent and central.  A nice read for thinking and personal self-reflection.

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Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story – Paul Aurandt

Hearing ‘The Rest of the Story’ programs by Paul Harvey was always a treat.  It has been several years since I’ve heard one on the radio.  I found this book last year and finally picked it up off the shelf and read it.  Most of the anecdotes are about 2-3 pages, all of them were interesting.  I’ll share a few here that I found especially captivating, without his signature suspense…

Chicago’s O’Hare airport is named for Butch O’Hare, a WWII hero, the Navy’s number-one ace, and the first naval aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The rest of the story centers around Butch’s father.  Artful Eddie worked for Al Capone in the 1920’s Chicago and lived comfortably.  He had no reason to turn on the master crook, but he did.  He made a decision to go straight for his son.  Capone’s men ended up killing Butch’s dad but without going against Capone, Artful Eddie’s son might not have ever had the opportunity to be the war hero he became.

A novel named ‘Futility’ described a gigantic ship which sunk after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic.  The ship’s name was Titan, and along with the name and demise, it also shared similar dimensions to the real-life Titanic. With all of the similarities, ‘Futility’ is still considered a work of non-fiction, with no copyright infringements.  The reason is because the book was written in 1898, fourteen years before the Titanic set off on it’s fateful voyage.

In New Zealand, an old salt known as Pelorus Jack was known for leading vessels through the dangerous Cook Straight.  For years Jack led many boats through the challenging waters for no fee, as a kind of retirement.  After a long time in service, Jack disappeared and many knew that his time had come.  The rest of the story is that the Maori natives had a story that two men fell for the same maiden.  The one who lost the woman went into a rage and killed the other man and woman. The punishment was for the man to forever be reincarnated to be the Pilot of Pelorus Sound.  Jack was a Dolphin, and many of the locals believed he was this reincarnation.

All of the stories had that Paul Harvey signature, a very enjoyable feel of suspense as you read.  As the stories are all short, it makes is so difficult not to glance at the end of the story and reveal the rest of the story too soon!  This was a great read and different twist on history.

Rating: *********9/10

Twitter: @blookworm

Number the Stars – Lois Lowry

“…and I want you all to remember – that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.  That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of – something he can work and fight for.”

-Kim Malthe-Bruun

This excerpt was from a real letter written by a young man who was part of the Denmark resistance of Nazi occupied forces, from his prison cell just before he was executed.  While Lowry’s story was fictional, she explained in the Afterword that stories like this were true and provided this sample to illustrate how the people of Denmark worked together to save the lives of thousands of Jewish citizens.

In her fictional story, Number the Stars, Lowry introduced the readers to the Johansen family.  The main character, Annemarie, her younger sister, Kristi, and her parents.  Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen was a Jewish girl living in the same apartments and the two were nearly inseparable.  During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the time came when the German soldiers attempted to relocate the Jewish citizens.  The bravery of the Johansen family was told as they risked their lives to save their friends from the unknown dangers of the relocations.

Annemarie discovered a secret language of codes used by her family. At first she thought it was strange and was angry that her family would lie to her, but she discovered it made it easier for one to be brave if they don’t know the entire truth.  She found her uncle and father talking of delivering a carton of cigarettes to be strange, but the carton turned out to be the code for her friend, Ellen, who was to be taken to a safe place.  Good weather for fishing came to mean, a good time to take the Jewish friends to a safe place as well.

While the story was fictional, the reader experiences with the characters what it means to be brave and overcome life and death challenges.  I enjoy reading stories of the brave persevering during tough times, who doesn’t?  Lowry is an exceptional writer with other works like The Giver, if you haven’t read any of her work, you are missing out!

Rating: *********9/10