This is Macdonald’s first novel and I must say for a novice he did pretty well. The literary style reminds me of the German authors Hermann Hesse and Gunter Grass. The Mind Game is a book written with the sole intention of messing with the reader’s mind.
It documents in rather vengeful detail the perils of a young Oxford undergraduate student (Ben Ashurst) as he is used as a guinea pig in an elaborate experiment designed by a hot-shot scientist on a quest to design an algorithm that detects and manipulates emotions. To make things interesting a hot dame (Cara) is thrown into the plot and given the role of propelling the story forward through her depiction as a mirage Ben is meant to view as reality. The entire book reeks of deception and betrayal. Expectations and paranoia drive the plot to a point of madness. Over and over again it appears Ben continues to lose everything; love, sanity, friends and everything in between.
Unlike Hesse and Grass who made this genre great, The Mind Game falls far short in its attempt at justifying every vector taken in the voyage of the inner workings of the human mind. In other words it is just too ludicrous. I got the feeling of reading a succession of short stories with no happy endings that were pieced together to form an amalgamation of narratives that barely pass as a collective work commonly termed as a ‘a novel’.
It makes for a good beginner’s taste of the larger and most accomplished works of this genre. It was certainly a good effort and not giving its author due credit for this work is just plain malice which I choose not to be a part of.
This witty poem written by William Cowper sometime in the later decades of the 18th Century AD is one of my favourites. It is a disturbing tragedy with heavy Biblical references which makes it a difficult read for anyone with a less-than-par didactic knowledge of the Christian go-to book.
Judas was one of Jesus Christ’s disciples who sold out his ‘Master’ to the Jewish High Priests for a paltry thirty pieces of silver. It takes no great imagination to conceive that Judas was and still is disliked by Christians hence the line “Damned below Judas: more abhorred than he was.” This line is the pivot of the entire poem. In actual fact the entire poem sounds like a suicide note. The fact that Judas killed himself gives credence to my assertion.
The other character that needs unmasking is Abiram who is described in the book of Numbers as the leader of a group of dissidents who rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron. The poet laments that he deserves “to receive a sentence/ Worse than Abiram’s“. Self-pity is heightened when the narrator claims that even Hell will refuse to receive him after his death for his sins are so great than hell will actually feel like a sanctuary for a sinner of that stature – a sinner worse than a traitor and a rebel against the ‘Master’ himself.
When all these nuances are factored in it becomes somewhat more apparent that there is a tinge of madness in it all. We are left wondering, “how on earth can someone think they are that evil?”. The form of madness alluded to in this poem is not the psychotic Schizophrenia-type but the deep depression type. Depression was considered a form of madness in that era and the poet himself suffered from serious bouts of depression. It is believed that William Cowper wrote this poem around 1773 when he was in the middle of one of his dark days.
Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion,
Scarce can endure delay of execution,
Wait with impatient readiness to seize my
Soul in a moment.
Damned below Judas:more abhorred than he was,
Who for a few pence sold his holy Master.
Twice-betrayed Jesus me, the last delinquent,
Deems the profanest.
Man disavows, and Deity disowns me;
Hell might afford my miseries a shelter;
Therefore Hell keeps her ever-hungry mouths all
Bolted against me.
Hard lot! encompassed with a thousand dangers,
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors,
I'm called, if vanquished, to receive a sentence
Worse than Abiram's
Him the vindictive rod of angry Justice
Sent quick and howling to the centre headlong;
I, fed with judgement, in a fleshy tomb, am
Buried above ground.
This is by far the most intense scientific work of fiction I have ever read. The genius and prolific Professor of Biochemistry Isaac Asimov outdid himself in this book. It exudes a nostalgic aura of missing one’s future even before one has lived out his present.
The book is set in the third century of this millennium, in a world where technology is only limited by the depths of astrological exploration. Man has set up colonies in space. The ultimate drive of humanity is a way out of Earth or rather OFF it. Our planet has become a cesspit of disease, poverty and anarchy. Only the colonies offer some modicum of peace and order. Societies are once again divided along racial lines with the best of them setting up base in their own ‘world’. Among these many colonies strewn all over the galaxy is Rotor a community of mostly scientists ruled by an astute political visionary by the name of Commissioner Julius Pitt. He sets the ball rolling when his chief Physicist Dr Insigna discovers a planet that can possibly sustain life. He launches a campaign to convince the citizens of Rotor to pack up and go to the dwarf star Nemesis. They agree and they move. The book is essentially about the effects of that move.
The way this simple story is interwoven and well-thought out is outright astounding. It left me asking myself, “Did all this come from just one brain?”. To make things even more interesting if one were to read a good number of Isaac Asimov’s books an obvious trend of dabbling in the prophetic. This book proves just that. It was ahead of its time. In fact I can say, with a heavy helping of imagination, that Isaac Asimov deserves a place right next to George Orwell in the Literature Hall of Fame.
He cannot escape from the fear. The fear of making a fatal mistake; the fear of exposing his own ignorance; the fear of being personally held accountable for the smallest of mistakes and ultimately the fear of turning out to be a bad doctor. The life of a medical intern is hell on earth with glimpses of heavenly beauty: the beauty of delivering a newborn baby in distress, the beauty of repairing God’s anatomy back to functionality and the beauty of life itself.
Almost all medical schools on the entire planet set aside a protracted period of trial after one acquires a medical degree. The ultimate outcome of that process is the validation, mostly by certification, that one is SAFE to be a caretaker of human life. Note the main requirement is SAFETY not COMPETENCE. Competence can essentially be easily faked (for example by cramming textbook paragraphs) but safety is much more measurable and consequently difficult to imitate. Safety is expected to exude from a doctor, it is supposed to be a lifestyle rather than a choice. Ever since the days of Hippocrates (and probably earlier) the doctrine of primum non nocere – first of all do no harm – has been placed as the cardinal requirement for one to be called a medical doctor.
When one graduates from medical school he/she is either timid or over-confident. Those who fall within the interim spectrum can tentatively be termed the ‘born doctors’. These are the young doctors who seem to have everything under control. Nothing seems to faze them; they feel and act well-equipped right from the beginning of their internship. Academic success in medical school is not in itself a guarantee for entry into this esteemed group. If anything good grades in medical school put one at risk of falling into the over-confident group just as much as poor grades demote the other outliers to the fringes of the ‘timid’ category.
There is however a unique set of medical interns that deserves special mention. These are the over-confident, narcissistic but ignorant young doctors who think going to medical school in itself sets them apart from and above their “lesser intelligent” counterparts in all other fields (they do not even recognise the prowess of physicists, mathematicians and the lot). They hold their heads up high, look down upon nurses and other ancillary hospital staff and absolutely loathe counsel or correction from the whole gamut of the “lesser intelligent”. They stubbornly carry this attitude throughout their internship and come out as half-baked but seemingly ‘safe’ doctors.
When the novice doctor sets foot inside a hospital for the first time after the gruelling years as a medical student he/she cannot help but try to identify themselves. The question in their heads is “what kind of doctor am I going to be?”.
This country has always been governed by emotions rather than practicality. Both civil wars (the First and Second Chimurenga) were triggered by sensationalism over the land issue. The reality was that those who fought for the land did not know how to exploit it. The dilapidation of once productive farms we have seen since the land invasion validates this point.
It is rather unfortunate that greedy, selfish and ambitious politicians have time and time again vandalized this emotive vulnerability. They promise to give land to the masses but they loot all the best land and plunder it right in front of the electorate. It baffles the mind that Zimbabwean voters have continued to be this gullible to the extent of regressing to pre-colonial politico-religious beliefs of a sacred land run by the wise and old till their death. This is a dangerous precedence.
What Zimbabweans seem to forget is that religion has always been and will continue to be the most powerful political force in this country. The First Chimurenga was started and led by spirit mediums. Similarly the Second Chimurenga was largely propelled by a baseline belief in supernatural backing in the form of Nehanda Nyakasikana, one of the spiritual mediums who led the Shona people south of the continent from the kingdom of Ethiopia. Most people do not even have a modicum of comprehension of the later fact.
Religious influence in Zimbabwean politics somewhat died out with the exit of the first President of Zimbabwe, the Reverend Canaan Sodindo Banana. From then on Mugabe shifted to the stirring of people’s emotions with his oratory on “certain enemies who need to be kicked out.” The enemy has continued to change since independence from the British capitalists. First it was the ‘Ndebele dissidents’, then it was the Commonwealth, the West, the ‘traitors’ MDC and so on. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF cabal have now come to a point where they have run out of ‘enemies’. I am almost certain there is an adage out there which goes, ‘When hyenas run out of carcasses to eat they kill each other till only one remains.’ ZANU-PF cannot survive without fighting; it is in their DNA.
Since they have now seemingly run of prey to kill they have turned against each other. The hunter has become the hunted. The hunted however has made a fatal error: they thought they had totally destroyed opposition politics and quickly returned to their own squabbles without bothering to check whether the enemy was truly dead and buried. Their blow was powerful but only maimed the prey not kill them. Over the past four years the opposition has silently re-grouped and re-strategized and is now reasonably prepared for an all out war.
Only one presidential candidate was needed and they now have him. The most powerful arm of the electorate, the war veterans, have seen the light and are ready to talk business. The largest group of the electorate, the youth, are all riled up thanks to Pastor Evan Mawarire who played to the tune of the well-tested fallacy of sentimentality to effect political change. It appears almost all conditions are now conducive for true democratic change. All the fuss about voter registration and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is just an issue of technicality. It represents a welcome shift in Zimbabwe politics. A transformation from putting emotions first to relying on good old facts as the dictum of governance.
The sheer number of opposition political parties which are converging to put practical matters over and above matters of self-interest and sensationalism gives credence to the preparedness of Zimbabwe for authentic democracy. Communism is on its way out.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps it is because he tried to pursue a career in Medicine and fell in love with letters along the way. I can relate with that. His work Up At The Villa however left me worried about this icon. I found the book heavily disturbing. I was as shocked with the book as the New York editor who commissioned the book. It left me wondering, ‘what on earth was Somerset thinking?”.
The book is about the immoral fling a beautiful and young widow has with a broke refugee who turns out to be mortally mentally unwell. The young man is so distraught with the inevitable after-the-one-night-stand rejection that he takes his own life right in front of his ephemeral lover, using her own gun. What is sad about the whole fiasco is that this was the widow’s first one-one stand in her entire life. It is as if the gods were telling the young lass ‘this is not your thing.’ To make matters more complicated she seeks the aid of a common playboy to cover up her mess. As if this was not enough she is tentatively bethroned to a highly successful but much older English diplomat who has a paedophile-type crush on her. Her chance at financial reprieve is brutally crushed after her confession to the the older suitor. In the end she settles for the roughshod Casanova.
Considering that the book was written in early 20th Century England it is entirely plausible that the novella was met with utter disdain upon its publication. It is highly probable that the book’s reception was somewhat similar to the initial reviews Fifty Shades of Grey received upon its release. Both works are an affront to the timeless values of morality that continue to simmer in the psyche of alert readers who open a book for its intrinsic value and nothing more.
My reading of Up At The Villa left me with a feeling of despair for the future of romance in the 21st Century. If such abhorrent ideas could be conceived and well-received in the ‘innocent’ decades of the 20th Century what hope remains for 21st Century literature? As I endured to the end of the book I kept asking myself, ‘is chivalry really dead?’
If one were to start from the assumption that the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe is as dire as the environment in Second Chimurenga Rhodesia it becomes easier to compare and comprehend the virtues and strengths of the hugely disadvantaged black Rhodesians in the 70’s as compared to the equally disadvantaged youths living in modern Zimbabwe. The youth of the former have become the fathers and mothers of the youth of the latter. It is natural for parents to compare their own youth with that of their children and at some point the children will also compare their young selves with their parents’ younger selves.
A convincing argument can be made that the odds the modern day parents had to fight against in their younger selves (70’s teens and young adults) are far much fewer than the hurdles of the present day teen and young adult. In the 1970’s there was a clearer political objective; defeat the whites. In the 2010’s the political objectives are more confusing and outright psychotic; the enemy has no direction. The pre-independence economy was far much more stable and comfortable than the 21st Century Zimbabwe economy. They were even more jobs per capita in Rhodesia than they are in black Zimbabwe. In hindsight, considering all the above, it seems the 70’s youths (who are now the millennials’ parents) were spoiled as compared to their children. They had the chance to succeed if only they worked hard enough. Today’s youths do not have that pleasure. Even if they work hard they will not succeed. There is no hope for their future because the older generations have stolen their past.
A plea from the 70’s youth can be tabled to the effect that they had to fight very hard to gain their independence and today’s youth should do the same if they are also to attain their own independence. Of course this is a credible argument but it is insufficient to offer a solution to a problem without working out the formula. In fact the formula to be employed in solving the myriad perils bedevilling the contemporary youths can never be the same as that invoked in the form of a civil war. A civil war in modern Zimbabwe is not an option. Not even close.
Young Zimbabweans crawling in the dusty streets of the ghettos do not have any other choice but to run away from the fight. Their only source of solace is in the arms of foreign aides since their own kith and kin have taken up arms and tortured democracy into submission. They have been silenced even before they speak. They have been made the enemy by their own parents. No heritage has been set aside for them. Everything has been plundered by those who have unilaterally assumed the throne of ‘custodians of Zimbabwe’ and protectors of the land. Where then can their drive and hope come from? They were born with nothing and do not even know what they do not have. There is no hope for them because they were and will continue to be betrayed by those to took arms and never let those guns go.