Taking a break from my own writing I decided to do something I have not done in a very long time, read and comment on another person’s work. I’m not a critic so don’t go getting your knickers in a twist! Anyone who really knows me will tell you I don’t have a mean bone in my body. I might think I want to be mean at times but when it comes down to it, it is just not in me, that state of being is not part of my place in this world. However, that does not mean I will gush all over someone’s writing. It means I have found something within the work that I wish to share. It could be an idea, a feeling, a character or some other aspect.
Being an unpublished writer I have a great deal of respect for those who have managed to take the first of many steps into the world of publishing, regardless of whether it is the regular path or the independent variety. It is a big step to hand your baby over to others and let the feeding frenzy, good or bad, begin. Of course that is if you are lucky enough to get any frenzy at all.
Normally I refrain from writing about other works as I am always wary of influencing people. I feel everyone should read a work for themselves. Form your own opinions. What I may find poorly edited, boring or just poorly written, others will invariably find interesting or enlightening in its unusual approach. We are all different to some degree and as such there is a story out there for everyone, thank goodness for that!
Over the years I have tried to read books people raved about only to find myself reading the first page ten times in an attempt to wrap my head around the scenario, language or some other issue. In the end it soured the joy of reading and I left the book unread.
Recently I have found books or stories with minor to major faults ranging from poor editing, if any editing at all, to some shocking jumps in font size and type etc. Was there a gremlin attack just before printing? What were the people in charge doing that day and how could they not see that gaping error? I feel especially bad for the authors who have paid for editing and publishing only to have such glaring faults remain.
When it comes down to it though, down to the work itself, minus the annoying errors, the older I get the more I want something simple and uncomplicated. I don’t want spoon fed but I want to relax within a story, feel I can relate to the writer or the character and see something of their story within my own life. I want to connect on some level whether it be the sense of falling in love, overcoming a struggle or one or more of a million other things humans face. In this story however, it was the dead being forgotten.
Cristian Mihai’s short story “Memento Mori” hit home. Not in the way he meant it to perhaps but that is the joy of writing and reading, just like in painting, each person takes something different away from the experience. That is the joy of art, unlike the concrete oneness of mathematics, not that there is a lack of joy in oneness but I prefer the more infinite, more plural joy of art I suppose.
I could write a proper critique of Mihai’s work but anyone can do that. Suffice it to say his writing is very good, held my interest and made me think. Read it for yourself. I highly recommend it as a well written piece. If I was still teaching high school kids I would use it as an example of a short story and discuss its many excellent aspects as a lead in to talking about mortality. However, I’m not going to critique it or teach again.
Anyway, we are all going to die. Well, we are all mortal and we are all bound together by the fact we are all going to die… Get over it. Perhaps I have run too far ahead…
What do I see in “Memento Mori”? It is not the excellent description or feeling of dying that he achieves. It is easy to see the young man’s awakening realisation of his own mortality as the concrete wall of the church crumbles and is replaced with iron fencing, allowing a stark view into the realities of death. No, that great depiction is not what I identified with, at least not at my age, um many years beyond the author’s age. I learned the concept of death very early in life so for me something else stood out.
It was the vast number of graves with the same date that captured my heart. Not in the sense of a group of people in general life from one town as is suggested in the story. I took it a step farther because of my own writing, my own experience and immediately identified it with war graves instead. Several lines from Mihai’s short story struck me.
I had similar feelings as the character while researching and writing my own story about seven dead men, men who when I started researching I knew nothing about. As in Memento Mori, “I wanted to know the truth; I needed to find out what had happened…People had died…and there was no proof of their death…”
So many war graves, so far from home and loved ones, had the same stark appearance. “There were no flowers or candles lying close to any of the graves. No one missed those poor souls; no one felt pity or remorse.” My fly boys had flowers but many war graves stood unloved. Yes, the grass had been trimmed but respect does not have the depth of memory or love.
I too felt “The past, with its demons and ghosts, should never be forgotten.”
I struggled with the worry that “That was their tragedy. Their death had meant nothing. They hadn’t been heroes or martyrs. They hadn’t been saints or sinners or villains. Their lives had been of no importance to the world and so, in death, they had been reserved the cruelest of fates, they had been casted into the most insidious of hells. They had been forgotten.”
That was my fear for them. I could not let that happen.
To me the real message in this story is not that we are mortal and will die or that we will be forgotten. It is the unspoken message that screams at me, as it did when I walked in my fly boys’ footsteps.
Don’t let them be forgotten.
Don’t give up when you hit a roadblock and no information comes. Keep searching. The answers are there if you just persist. Memory may be fragile, as with the character’s grandfather, but there are always several roads to the same destination.
Only the living can unearth the stories of the dead. Search them out, write them down and share them. Only then will they have a chance at being remembered.
Cristian Mihai, thanks for the story; thanks for the ability to awaken and transport me back to many moments in a recent past that will continue to shape the rest of my life. That is the gift of an artist.
You can visit Crisitian’s blog and get access to his books via http://cristianmihai.net/category/blog/