Today’s haul from the library.
I have to confess something, I am terrified – I honestly don’t think it’s an exaggeration to use that word – to read Room. When I saw it on the shelf my heart dropped because I knew I couldn’t walk away. I knew I would have to read it. But at the same time I know that I can’t. I have an immediate, visceral sense of revulsion about this book.
Well, not just this book. Many books. And some movies. Basically anything that deals with a heart-breakingly unjust subject, something that I know bears deep relevance and needs to be heard, screams to be heard (and rightly so) but I know that I will be awake for days after reading it. After watching it.
It’s worse if the author is a good writer, because a good writer can get inside your head, twist your conscience and crush your morals and leave you battered and gasping for breath. Heartbroken for a fictional character living out an all-too common reality.
I have never read Romeo Dallaire’s “Shake Hands with the Devil” for this reason. Same with “A Long Way Gone”, and the movie Precious. I just can’t. It took me a year to see Hotel Rwanda and I cried all night. Once I have seen or read or heard about these things, once I have committed myself to knowing them I can never un-know them. And I feel that because I know, I am somehow culpable. That now that have heard their story I am in some way beholden to the characters or the actual people living the lives fictionalized in the novel. It’s a crushing weight. It keeps me up at night and I can’t escape it.
I have an Uncle who calls me a pinko commie when I say things like this, but it overwhelms me that we live in a world where such atrocities happen. And I truly feel that I, in not doing anything, in passively standing by even as I KNOW that these things occur -have occurred, are occurring – it’s as though I am perpetrating these acts myself.
So. I don’t subscribe to the “ignorance is bliss” school of thought but neither do I want to immerse myself in it, open that box and give two or five or twenty hours to being bludgeoned with the crushing weight of inequity. How with a simple roll of the dice, fate delivered me here, a middle-class white girl sitting in her living room here eating homemade salsa while a different roll halfway across the world or just down the street delivered a captive boy who has grown up seeing nothing beyond the four walls of his room.
There really are people being beaten and raped and starved for no reason other than a simple power inequality, for being in the wrong place, being the wrong colour, religion, gender.
I can’t handle it. I can’t stomach it. But I also can’t justify turning away, it feels too much like stepping over homeless people sleeping on sidewalks, “They are THERE” I want to scream, “That is a PERSON. They were a child once. They were loved.”
But. Room. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do it. I just finished “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”, the story of two best friends and the span of their lives in China, it reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha and it was gripping and well-written yet for two chapters I could barely bring myself to read the next word. Two chapters are devoted to the Chinese practice of foot binding. How each toe is broken, how the skin rots and the muscles atrophy and the arch bends and bends and bends until the foot is curved like the letter “n” and fits into a shoe seven centimetres long.
I felt like I was going to vomit through those entire two chapters. I kept closing the book and dry heaving, but at the same time I needed to go back. I needed to know, to understand, because (caution these images are EXTREMELY graphic and I almost vomited again) LOOK, this DID happen .
Thousands upon thousands of Chinese girls suffered this torture. How can I not read about it? How can I not bear witness? And how can I live with this knowledge now that I did?
So. Room. And then Douglas Coupland. Coupland is the chaser for Room.
I’ll let you know how it goes.