Monday, June 26, 2017

Brief Thoughts 22

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

During the 1936 election, a demagogue named "Buzz" Windrip becomes the Democratic candidate for President instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt. With his populist platform; promising a universal basic income, strong law enforcement, and a suppression of the rights of troublesome blacks and Jews, he handily defeats his Republican opponent, Walt Trowbridge. Once in power, he quickly concentrates power into the executive office and reorganizes the United States into a fascist state.

A liberal editor of a small-town newspaper named Doremus Jessup opposes Windrip from the beginning. He finds himself forced to crank up his opposition after hearing about Windrip's advisors murdering a pair of Jewish men in cold blood. His harsh words towards the administration earns him the negative attention of Windrip's brownshirts, called the Minute Men, but he continues his opposition even has the administration becomes more and more tyrannical.

The book that came to mind the most while I read It Can't Happen Here was Jack London's The Iron Heel. I couldn't help but compare and contrast them. They were very similar in plot, but very different in their philosophies, their protagonists, and their intentions. London was a Marxist and The Iron Heel was written mostly to push this philosophy. Lewis is a liberal and It Can't Happen Here was written in response to the rise of fascism in Europe. Ernest Everhard of The Iron Heel is basically a Marty Stu, but Doremus Jessup is far more three dimensional.

Both move towards being an adventure story focused on rebellion to a totalitarian state, but It Can't Happen Here is more of a slow burn and gives a far more realistic story on how a fascist state could come to be in the United States. London's Iron Heel is basically a shadowy cabal of capitalists who manipulate everything from behind the scenes. Buzz Windrip was based on Huey Long, a Louisiana politician who almost ran in the 1936 Presidential election, but was assassinated before he could. Windrip's closest advisors, Lee Sarason and Dewey Haik, seem to be based on Nazi figures like Ernst Rohm, Josef Goebbels, and Hermann Goering. Overall, It Can't Happen Here is just more grounded in reality.

Some may find the beginning of this book a bit dull because it's very topical and dated. There are several figures here, both actual figures and stand-ins for actual ones, who probably won't be recognized by most. Despite that, it still remains entertaining and engaging to read, especially when Windrip takes office. There's a dry sense of humor in recounting Windrip's horseshit speeches and the atrocities committed by his regime. So even 80 years later it remains very readable. Somewhat relevant too. Sales of this book increased after Donald Trump was elected President. Comparing and contrasting Buzz Windrip with Trump could be an essay unto itself, so could my own thoughts on how a totalitarian government would happen in America if it did.

This is a classic for good reason. It's funny, insightful, thought-provoking, very readable, and as relevant as ever. Even its title is evocative. Highly recommended

Buy It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis here.

Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers by Pierre Guyotat  

Where do I even start with this one?

This novel recounts a war between the fictional country of Ectabane and what's implied, but not explicitly stated to be, France. It follows many different characters from both sides. There are battles, slavery, a lot of rape, torture, and churches being destroyed. 

Reading this book is like crawling through mud made of dirt, blood, piss, and semen. There's very little plot. It's more a barrage of horrible vignettes and images. One part that sticks out the most to me is a scene where a young boy in a brothel is forced to have sex with a dog for the entertainment of the brothel's patrons. This was very difficult to get through. 

Guyotat apparently based this novel on his experiences during the Algerian War for Independence. He was a French soldier but ended up siding with the Algerians for which he was imprisoned. A large chunk of this novel apparently came from the hallucinations he experienced while he was in prison. It shows. 

I'm making it sound like I didn't like this novel, and I'm not sure saying I "like" it is the correct way to put it. It's one of the most intense things I've ever read the prose is amazingly crafted, even in the French to English translation.  That's why it was such a mentally exhausting experience to read. I've heard that Guyotat's Eden Eden Eden is even more intense. I'll read that at some point, but I need sometime to recover from this one. 

This is an incredible book, and it's a shame the English translation is out of print. I hope either a new translation or a re-release of this one will be done in the near future. 

Buy Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers by Pierre Guyotat here.

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