Sunday, February 10, 2008
Sunday Salon: People of the Book
"Well, from what you've told me, the book has survived the same human disaster over and over again. Think about it. You've got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything's humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize 'the other'--it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists. . . same old, same old. It seems to me the book, at this point, bears witness to all that."
Of course, a book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artifact of the human mind and hand. The gold beaters, the stone grinders, the binders, those are the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes, in the quiet, these people speak to me. They let me see what their intentions were, and it helps me do my work. I worried that the kustos, with his well-meaning scrutiny, or the cops, with the low chatter of their radios, would keep my friendly ghosts at bay. And I needed their help. There were so many questions.
Judah fell to his knees and kissed the priest's cassock. "Do what you will to me," he cried. "But save the book!"
For four days, Renato moved in and out of consciousness. He woke with his cheek pressed to a stone floor strewn with urine-soaked straw and rat feces. When he coughed, there were clots of blood, but also long ribbons of clear tissue that fell apart in his fingers. It was as if his insides were sloughing off; his body falling apart from the inside. He was thirsty, but at first he could not reach the water jar. Later, when he was able to grasp it between shaking hands and pour a trickle into his mouth, the pain of swallowing made him pass out again. In his dreams, he was once again bound on the sloping ladder, the water cascading into his mouth, his own involuntary swallowing pulling the narrow length of linen farther and farther into his gut.
It's incriminating," I said. "Dangerous for you."
"I know. But there have been too many books burned in this city."
"Too many books burned in the world."
--Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book
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