Monday, October 20, 2014

The Difficult Resolution

Some people do not seem to have difficulties making decisions  as they know their  priorities and they do not think too much about what they do and what they have been told to do. They go about their daily life and execute tasks without much thinking and will carry on their lives doing what everyone else is doing. They are achievement and goal oriented. They are pragmatic people. While some people constantly find themselves in a bind and even if they do not like what they are doing, they will carry on doing what they are doing as they know it is essential to earn a living and they are uncertain about venturing beyond what they deem their limitations. It is therefore inspiring to know that there are always some people  who are brave enough to follow through what they believe is their calling and they are focused in pursuing their dreams as they make unconventional choices. Whatever we wish to do or not to do with our lives, there will be the difficult resolution which usually becomes the necessary resolution.

A cousin of mine once comments that my life is a hundred times better than my mother’s. I love my mother but I used to be angry with her for being weak. On reflection, she was strong in the way she could be given the circumstances she was in. She was a traditional woman and she had given up her job as a needlework teacher  at a secondary school in order to care for the family. When my late dad started his own enterprise, she had cooked meals for his workers and helped around in the workplace. She was a very humble person, definitely an introvert who had imparted in me the passion to read and she used to save up news article about Sanmao 三毛, a travel writer so that I could read them when I was home for my vacation during varsity days. Both my mother and I felt that Sanmao led a  very adventurous and romantic lifestyle. The Taiwanese writer had written about her experiences living in the Sahara desert and we had enjoyed reading them. My mother’s  heart was broken when she  discovered that my dad had another family. She originally came from a neighbouring country  so  when her marriage went terribly wrong, there was nowhere else to run to. After witnessing what my mother had gone through in her lifetime, I am constantly preoccupied with seeking my own personal happiness separate from the role of a wife and mother. I am very often drawn to stories that centre around women’s struggles and success as I find them inspiring.

Stella Bain , a novel written by Anita Shreve is about a woman of exceptionally strong character and stamina. The protagonist, Etna Bliss is extremely courageous as she was determined to go through insurmountable distance to right a wrong that  has been caused by her husband. The story is set in the late 19th Century and early 20th century where Etna has set out to France to serve as a nurse’s aide in the war. She is determined to track down someone who has been sent to war as an ambulance driver with the British Red Cross in France after his reputation and academic career have been ruined as a result of her husband’s manipulation. Etna feels that she owes it to her husband’s rival who has been victimized and sent away from his homeland to France .

Despite her strength, I do not find myself particularly motivated or moved by Etna Bliss while I find the character whom she tries to track down inspiring and endearing.  Even when the going gets tough, Phillip Asher looks for beauty in order to survive the war zone.
‘ Etna is suddenly curious. “What do you do when you’re not driving?”
He sits back and twirls his glass. “ If you mean a pastime, I suppose I’d have to say I look for ….well….beauty. It sounds ridiculous, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is .”
“ It doesn’t sound ridiculous to me at all.”
“ It’s a humble but challenging quest in this place, a bit like a treasure hunt. When I find something, I note it in a small notebook I carry. Keeps me from going mad, I suppose.”
“What have you found?’
He sits back and clears his throat. “I once saw a large flower struggling to poke through the earth. The cracks in the soil caught my attention. I watched the bent stalk pop up as if it were spring-loaded. It was amazing. Let’s see.” He takes a sip of wine. “I saw a beautiful man, an officer.” He pauses, his face somber, perhaps remembering a death. “ A field of snow , lit pink. A tooled navy leather journal a soldier kept inside his uniform. He’d barely made two weeks of entries before he was killed. I once watched a priest take ten years off a man’s simply by calming his nerves. Gunfire is beautiful. If you didn’t know what it signified, you’d think it was beautiful , too.”'

I am not familiar with Anita Shreve’s writings and perhaps this may not be the best book to start.  I somehow cannot fully empathize with the main protagonist in Stella Bain despite the fact that she suffers amnesia after having gone through extraordinary circumstances and is pushed beyond her limits. Anita Shreve is obviously portraying a woman whose courage and noble intentions are intended to be inspiring. While I appreciate that  Etna is definitely a woman struggling to live life on her own terms, due to the complex situation she has landed herself in, I find the character rather contrived.  As a rule, I believe that there is often a lot of truth  in fictions and  fictions can be closer to truth. Despite all the vivid descriptions about the  horror of World War I and the post-trauma stress disorder termed as shell shock that was suffered by many who were involved in the front , I find that the female character, Etna Bliss remains purely fictitious only. Nonetheless the book is absorbing enough to make a compelling read.


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