I had a beatific smile on my face when I started reading it. It must have been the effect of Saramago’s beautiful writing style all the way.
If you think your job is boring, read this novel which takes you into the life of a clerk at the Central Registry. Senhor Jose, a lonely civil servant, dutiful during the day and bored at night, challenges his own boredom with the task of finding out what he can about an unknown woman, whose card got attached to the cards of famous people he collected clippings on to fill his evenings. He goes through a great deal of pain in the process, exhausts himself mentally and physically, to just realize how equally unimportant are the lives and deaths.
Saramago serves the readers some of his philosophical takes on life, as his characters see it: “Strictly speaking, we do not make decisions, decisions make us. The proof can be found in the fact that, though life leads us to carry out the most diverse actions one after the other, we do not prelude each one with a period of reflection, evaluation and calculation, and only then declare ourselves able to decide if we will go out to lunch or buy a newspaper or look for the unknown woman.” Or here: “a cemetery like this is a kind of library which contains not books but buried people, it really doesn’t matter, you can learn as much from people as from books.”
The Ariana Museum brings under one roof the City of Geneva’s collections of ceramics and glass. It is the only museum in Switzerland – and one of the most important in Europe – devoted entirely to kilncraft. With over 27’000 objects, the collections illustrate seven centuries of ceramics in Geneva, Switzerland, Europe and the East. All the main techniques are represented: pottery, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, and china. The islamic collection and an important series of oriental porcelains for export reveal the interactions between East and West which constitute a fundamental truth in the universal history of ceramics. The museum also has examples of work from the 20th century. Built on the initiative of Gustave Revilliod (1817- 1890), the Ariana Museum, with its neo-classical and neo-baroque features, immediately set itself apart from the local architectural style. Source: https://www.museums.ch/org/en/Mus–e-Ariana
If you are looking for a 40 minute read on a train ride, this might do. I read it in one go.
It’s a play combined with some narrative in between. I did not arrive to appreciate it and it might be a question of personal preference. The story line brings two main characters together on a street in Paris: a young Jewish and an elderly Sufi. Their relationship evolves into a camaraderie of some sorts, filling respective voids in their lives. I did not fully get it if the author tried to make a point about religion and intergenerational relationships. The characters seemed infantile and perhaps they were supposed to mature during the actual play. I found the finale a bit cliché, again perhaps there was no other point to make.
I started reading it couple of years ago. I abandoned it 20%in. It seemed discouraging to learn that humans react rather than they actually think. This year, I decided to give it another go. And I appreciated all the wealth of perspectives about how we can improve our decision-making once we are aware about our biases and the shortcuts our brains take. Kahneman puts it this way: “So this is my aim for watercooler conversations: improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgement and choice, in others and eventually ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgements and choices often cause”.
At times the book is theory heavy, yet I found many useful things for my project management work. I learned more about how the human brain works, so that I improve my interactions with others. It can serve us in preparations for the project’s board or in negotiations with the project’s sponsor. Especially, if we remember that “We can be blind to the obvious. And we are also blind to our blindness.”
For teams management, I found it useful to note that “Too much concern about how well one is doing in a task sometimes disrupts performance by loading short-term memory with pointless anxious thoughts. … self-control requires attention and effort”. Or that for some of us, “cognition is embodied; you think with your body, not only with your brain”. And the concept of affect heuristics – the tendency to base our decisions on our emotions; “the emotional tail wags the emotional dog”.
When we do risk management in projects, it is useful to remember that “risk” does not exist “out there”, independent of our minds and culture, waiting to be measured. Human beings have invented the concept of “risk” to help them understand and cope with the dangers and uncertainties of life. Although these dangers are real, there is no such thing as “real risk” or “objective risk” (see Slovic’s theory for more).
For a drop of intellectual humility it is useful to be aware that “Expertise is not a single skill; it is a collection of skills, and the same professional may be highly expert in some tasks in her domain while remaining a novice in others”.
These are just a few of my takeaways. You are welcome to share yours if you read the book.
It was not a light reading, so be prepared to face it. I am in awe about Seierstad’s ability to tell us the story of a massacre in the heart of Norway committed by one of them. It takes maturity to take responsibility. It takes true compassion to pay all due respects to the victims and their families.
The story of this massacre is furthermost the story of young people who shared views of a better society, regardless of the background they came from. Until 22 July there was no sign they or their parents could see of an iminent danger of the being sacrificed to the “cause” a man created for himself. Unlike those he killed, “for Anders, dreams were not achieved through community. He wanted to shine out above the grey mass.”
How does one arrive at that? The testimony of the psychiatric doctor sheds some light: “‘The first time I saw Breivik enter this courtroom – and as psychiatrists first two or three milliseconds – it is important to note. I did not see a monster, I saw a deeply lonely man… Deeply lonely… Then quick as a flash he was inside his shell, making himself hard… But… At his core there is just a deeply lonely man. We have with us here not only a right-wing extremist bastard, but also a fellow human being who, regardless of what he has done to the rest of us, is suffering. We must try to put ourselves inside his brain, make his world comprehensible. His personality and extreme right-wing ideology are combined in an effort to get out of his own prison. He ends up ruining not only his own life but that of many others. We have with us here a fellow human being who will be left not only in his own prison but also in an actual prison. It is important for us to appreciate that this is something much more than a pure right-wing extremist. This is a tragedy for Norway and for us. I think it is also a tragedy for Breivik.”
Seierstad is equidistant to the tragedy of parents of the perpetrator and of the victims. And that is very noble in a society based on blaming the other. She let parents on both sides decide how much they wanted to be written about their children in the book. Because above all, this is a story of Simon, Anders and Viljar, Bano and Lara.
‘That’s where I wrote the song “Russian Mothers”. I was washing clothes and weeping, and suddenly I thought: our tears are the same, the Chechen mothers’ and the Russian mothers’. (Singer Liza Umarova)
I was speechless when I finished the book. It made me remember that we know nothing. And to never judge anyone, under no circumstances. I admire how Seierstad treats all people with utmost respect for their dignity. Talking to and presenting the story of abused children requires such a compassion and ethics that very few are capable of in her line of work. Same goes for victims of torture, and so many more victims of a merciless system. This should be in a manual of journalism schools, I think.
Much is written about this book. I will not describe it here. I would only mention what I found insightful.
When you talk with people who share different views, try to grasp how much propaganda they have absorbed. “Rizvan would not discuss whether the struggle was worth the countless innocent victims. ‘Svoboda ili Smert,’ he replied again. ‘We’ll fight to the last man and the last drop of blood. But don’t look on us as fanatics; we want a secular state, like Norway, for example.’”
Before we embark on a judgement journey, we should ask ourselves what did we do, what is our responsibility and how it is seen by others. “The West, with its so-called humanitarianism, could have helped us, but you don’t say a word!’” “No one trusts anyone else any more, because Putin had a stroke of genius: he let Ramzan Kadyrov do the dirty work. Now it’s Chechen against Chechen.’ It’s called ‘chechenising’ the conflict. Whereas before, Russian forces committed the worst abuses, now the Chechen militia maintains control in a society maimed by fear.” “Religion is the only real way to get rid of crime, to teach people, improve them, purify them.” Only then perhaps we will start to understand. “Something about Chechen men gives the impression that they are always prepared. Ready to attack or to defend themselves. It’s as if they are filled with a perpetual, unreleased tension.”
Always remember the ones who are behind, in the shadow or totally invisible: “Vladimir Putin is only the latest in the line of conquerors. The latest to try to tame the wolves. Myself, I am more interested in the wolf cubs. Zaira knew where I could find them, and had promised to take me to a woman they called the Angel of Grozny.” Seierstad made us see the orpahns we pretend do not exist.
You must be logged in to post a comment.