Sunday, August 18, 2013

Learning about Humanity

Last week was Chosen by a Horse. I think I've mentioned before that I was always a horse crazy kid; starting when I was age four and I begging to take riding lessons and when my friend and I played horsey on a regular basis. Add that to the fact that I love my cat, and it is not surprising that Chosen by a Horse made me cry. See, as per usual on any book with an animal, it featured a sweet horse who came unexpectedly into the author's life, taking care of her made the author learn valuable lessons about life, and the ending was not a happy one. I finished the book, sobbing, telling Cassie that she was not allowed to die. (I blame this book for why I freaked out when Cassie got sick this past week, although that's probably not fair, since I've done that before. The vet thinks that she's fine, just has a bug that is upsetting her stomach.)

The book was a bit trite, which is hard to say, since it's a memoir. You read about the author's horrible family life, about her struggles with alcoholism, and her awful marriage that wound up in divorce, and while it was horrible, she minimized it to such a point that it seemed almost unreal. She would drop in references to how her family abused her or describe a low point between her and her husband, but they were so casual that they were almost background noise. You never saw how that really affected her, or forced her to become the person she was when writing the story. She made references to having closed herself off, which was understandable, but all I was really concerned with was the horse she adopted. She never even says what is wrong with her back, something she mentions throughout the book as an ongoing health issue that stopped her from riding and forced her to always carry a cell phone in case it went out.

What you do see, though, is how much she cares about her horses, and how much joy they bring her. Spending time with horses helps her regain some of her humanity, and it is only once she experiences the pain of loving and losing one of them that she is comfortable risking her heart with humans again.

The week before was The Golem and the Jinni, recommended by my mom who was surprised that I knew what a golem was. She clearly has not read any Pratchett, nor watched Going Postal, a bbc version I recommended to her months ago. The Golem and the Jinni actually dealt with some very heavy issues, including what it means to be alive, what makes a person a person, and what role religion can play. It was well-written, interesting, and utterly satisfying and I read it in one day. (Partly because I hadn't planned, and didn't start reading it until Saturday, but partly because it was that good.)

The characters were flat, but you expected them to be, and the non-supernatural characters were nice foils to the depth of the characters you expected to be the flattest. After all, a golem's personality is defined by the words in its head and its relationship to a master, but the book asks what happens when the golem moves beyond that. What if a golem is its own master? This narrative was contrasted with that of the jinni, who was free but became bonded. The jinni should be able to fly, change form, perform acts of magic, but had been trapped and forced to stay in the same form by iron bracelets.

These two, each in a role that comes unnaturally to them (freedom for the golem and captivity for the jinni) struggle to figure out who and what they are, and how to manage in a world that was not meant for them. The golem craves stability and fears losing control of herself, while the jinni is anxious and restless and spends much of the novel exploring. Yet they both find something in creating. The golem is a baker, and through creating food (which she cannot eat), she stabilizes herself. The jinni is an artist, and loses himself in creating sculptures of gold, frequently sculpting birds that have the freedom he craves.

It is only through being together that either of them finds any comfort and can see any reason for living in their current state. Both contemplate suicide, but ultimately, choose life, refusing to kill others as well as themselves, while the humans in the story are the ones who commit the least humane actions. The non-humans are, in fact, the most human.