Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Revolutions

This past week I finished Brit writer Hari Kunzru's novel, My Revolutions, a story about a 60's radical whose past comes back to haunt him. Though some reviewers called it a letdown after his first two novels, I found it's story compelling enough to keep the pages turning (if you can use that lingo for audio books) but also a sharp farm implement for turning over the soil of my own memories from that period of my life. (Some might call it a manure pile.)Interestingly enough, Kunzru was born in 1969 and wrote only about what he researched. Though never there, you would think he had been a journalist on the scene with camera and notepad at the ready.

The story begins with Michael Frame living a quiet life in the suburbs with his wife Miranda... quiet, that is, until an acquaintance from his radical past shows up in his life, appropriately named Miles Bridgeman. (Bridge between past and present.) Miles keeps calling him Chris, because Michael indeed used to be Chris Carver. Michael/Chris goes on the run, but with his story told in flashbacks that reveal a whole other life that he ultimately left behind.

Is it really possible for people to put such a wall between past and present lives that the former life would be completely unknown to a spouse? It seems so improbable to me, but the truth is it happens all the time.

I found it interesting that the title of the book comes from a sentence that refers not to his revolutionary anti-war activism, but rather to a stint in prison where he is walking with other prisoners in the yard, a description that reminded me of Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Of My Revolutions, a NYTimes reviewer wrote, "Kunzru... gives an amazingly convincing account of a period he never witnessed. And by treating the millenarian aspirations of his characters with respect, he rejects the popular view of such revolutionaries as delusional adolescents, playing at revolt. He reveals the yearning behind the dreadful agitprop, the abiding message inside the Molotov cocktail bottle."

Last night, while working on some paperwork, I watched a History Channel documentary about Richard Nixon. His failed presidency had roots in his own paranoid reaction to the reactionary campus radicals. The images of student protesters in the streets of Washington, footage from the Kent State massacre and police beating unarmed young people with extreme vengeance brought up from my own inner soil a host of recollections which at that time were difficult to process.

I had a friend from Ohio U who used to say, "Eddie, the artist is the vanguard of the revolution." He'd been valedictorian at Kent High School in 1970, and I wonder where he might be today. A quiet life in the suburbs somewhere under an assumed name? Or swallowed up in the carnage of his own revolutions.
Photo bottom right, taken during he campus protest in UCLA, evokes for me the line from John Lennon's Revolution, "And if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."

1 comment:

LEWagner said...

>>>>>>>"And if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."

Not in the US, that's for darned sure.
He's somewhat more popular in the People's Republic of China, however, with his picture being carried on every bill of that country's currency, the Renminbi.
And actually, Chinese currency does seem to be swinging a lot of weight, lately, as the US is the world's largest debtor, and the PRC is the US's largest creditor.
According to Wikipedia, China contains 1,338,500,000 people, or 19.59% of the world's population, (compared to the US's 4.53%).
That many people can hardly be called "not anyone", at least in my opinion.