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August 24, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

Blood Fugue, Shirley Eskapa (Academy Chicago: $4.95). In 1984, Shirley Eskapa ventured into nonfiction with "Woman Versus Woman," which pits husband against wife against other woman, arguing that any marriage is vulnerable to attack from the outside, regardless of the quality of the attachment. Defined in this way, a "blood fugue" knows no borders, an important thought to keep in mind when reading this politically charged novel, for, otherwise, one is tempted to blame the protagonists' personal tragedies solely on attitudes of the state, letting setting become subject. That setting is South Africa, Shirley Eskapa's native country. Specifically, it is a college campus, where Ceza Steele, rich, spoiled and bored, stumbles into a political protest and soon develops an erotic attraction to Indra, an East Indian and one of the protest's leaders. His touch, his voice and "the space between his words" seduce her, but by mid-novel, she still hasn't considered the consequences of their involvement together. That realization comes instead after Sarah, the mother of Ceza's former boyfriend, reveals their trysting place in a letter to the "immorality squad." One does get the impression that fate has stacked the deck against Sarah and Indra, but, as Eskapa sees it, the blame lies with the protagonists, for political divisions spring largely from selfishness: When Ceza flees the country after Sarah's letter, for instance, Indra is arrested: "That white liberal," he says to the officer. "That passionate Jewish liberal." "You're all the same, you people," responds the officer. "Savage to begin with, extra savage when betrayed."

The Nazi Years: A Documentary History, edited by Joachim Remak (Simon & Schuster: $6.95). Literature recounting Holocaust horrors is more abundant than literature about Holocaust causes. Yet, without the latter, we cannot direct our indignation toward a practical goal, such as trying to prevent future holocausts by avoiding past mistakes. In the author's view, the trends that "converged to create National Socialism" ranged from anti-Liberalism to anti-Marxism and anti-rationalism. Anti-rationalism emerges most definitively in the letters, speeches, commentaries and advertisements collected here, for then (as today), most political decisions were prompted by emotions rather than intellect. As a young Nazi explains in a post-war autobiography excerpted by the editor, "Our hearts compelled us to think, Hitler, you're our man." Appeals forwarded in billboards of the time can only be called idiotic: "Are you blond? Are you a man? If so, read the Ostara library of those who are blond and support masculine rights." Rallying cries, moreover, were rife with inherent contradictions: "What do we National Socialists want for ourselves? Nothing! . . . What is the National Socialist password to freedom? God helps those who help themselves!!!" The commentary by Joachim Remak, a professor of history at UC Santa Barbara, is informative but understated--he apparently assumes that readers will realize the documents' absurdity on their own. History, however, has suggested this isn't always the case.

The Discovery of Being, Rollo May (Norton: $5.95). His writing is more accessible than Freud's, and the fears he addresses (annihilation by nuclear war, dehumanization by technology) are more contemporary, but Rollo May's ideas are as foreign to many American psychotherapists as Eastern medicine is to Western doctors. Our reluctance to embrace Existentialism as rejuvenating is not entirely surprising, however, for while May's basic idea seems simple--personalize therapy according to patients' needs, he exhorts, so they can discover their own, unique "pattern of potentialities"--it in effect leaves therapists without a specific plan of action. Methodologies, in May's eyes, disrupt the individual's "pattern," leading to "nonbeing," the basis of modern anxiety. May encountered the specter of "nonbeing" in a literal sense while battling a near-fatal case of tuberculosis. His broader definition of "nonbeing" as the death of individual ideas and feelings will appeal primarily to those who agree with his view that technology can stifle the human spirit.

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