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1901: Pocket Messages

Paris – The “pocket coherer” is said to be a wonder in its ways. One carries it about with him in his clothing – it is not much bigger than a watch – and is enabled by its means to receive wireless telegraphic messages wherever he may happen to be. Wireless telegraphy is in its infancy as yet. Within a few years it is expected to develop marvels, rendering it practicable for a business man to connect his office with other offices, business establishments, and even private houses all over the city.

The International Herald Tribune

“In Our Pages: 100, 75, and 50 Years Ago”

15 May 2001



Friends of Archipelago, themselves distinguished writers, suggest books we might want to read:

John Casey (SPARTINA, winner of the National Book Award; AMERICAN ROMANCE; TESTIMONY AND DEMEANOR; THE HALF-LIFE OF HAPPINESS;  Contributing Editor of Archipelago):

“Negative to positive:

“René Weiss, YELLOW CROSS:THE STORY OF THE LAST CATHARS 1290-1329: what a slog! But it reminded me how much I loved MONTAILLOU: PROMISED LAND OF ERROR, by Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, which tells much the same story more swiftly, elliptically and enchantingly. Many of the Cathars were killed during the XIIIth century but some more remote groups survived, the village of Montaillou for one. The basis of Leroy Ladurie’s book is the surviving text of a decade-long inquisition by a bishop who later became Pope. No torture to extract confessions(some convicted heretics were burned, some got jail terms), but the interrogations went on for so long and were so extensive that the prisoners and witnesses covered every aspect of their lives, not just their beliefs but their jobs, love affairs, travels – how it felt to be a shepherd, a priest, a noblewoman in the Middle Ages. How extraordinary to hear voices that spoke Occitan, which was then translated into Latin, then into French, and now English – still alive.” René Weiss, YELLOW CROSS: THE STORY OF THE LAST CATHARS 1290-1329 (Knopf, 2001). Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, MONTAILLOU: PROMISED LAND OF ERROR tr. Barbara Bray (George Braziller, 1978; Vintage p.b., 1979)

“I’m a fan of Evan S. Connell’s, especially his novel MRS. BRIDGE and his biography of Custer, SON OF THE MORNING STAR. DEUS LO VULT is an historical novel about the Crusades. It is told by a French crusader whose forbears were also crusaders, so family lore and chronicles allow him to be both a first-person narrator and an omniscient one. Neat trick. It is a skillful gallop through a couple of centuries, but I was reminded how much more I like Stephen Runciman’s HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES ( three vols.). Runciman is well known as an historian but he also has the grace to narrate as well as Parkman or Prescott. He does the overview, the battle by battle, the power struggles, the culture shock (and more importantly the culture shift), as well as some small scenes that are like raised ghosts.” Evan S. Connell Jr., MRS. BRIDGE (North Point, 1969; Picador, 1989); SON OF THE MORNING STAR (North Point, 1984); DEUS LO VULT (Counterpoint, 2001).  Stephen Runciman, HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES, Vols. I- III (Cambridge University Press, 1955-62).

“Wladyslaw Szpilman’s obituary (q.v.) gives a good introduction to this memoir. Szpilman was a well known Polish pianist and composer. Also a Jew. How he managed to survive from 1939 to 1945 in Warsaw is a riveting and horrifying story. THE PAINTED BIRD by Jerzy Kosinski and WARTIME LIES by Louis Begley are both fascinating fictions that deal with the same period but are about heroes who are children who can only guess part of the truth ; the authors work indirectly through them. Szpilman’s truth is unguarded. Because he was a grown man, and perhaps because he had a fully realized sensibility as a composer and pianist, Szpilman is able to tell not only his own story but record the lives and deaths of others. He does this with a clear, considered voice that trusts the reader to feel what should be felt.” Wladyslaw Szpilman, THE PIANIST: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 tr. Bell (St. Martins, 1999; Victor Gollanz, 1999; PicadorUSA p.b., 2000). Obituary, The Independent . Jerzy Kosinski, THE PAINTED BIRD (Modern Library, 1970). Louis Begley, WARTIME LIES (Knopf, 1991; Ivy Books p.b., 1992).



“Recently I (more or less) have recovered from an illness that created vision problems and rendered me unable to read anything for about six months. It’s glory to be able to read again, but right away the question was – what to read, now that I can? A regime of masterpieces, the ones I was always going to get around to someday, made some sense, but seemed too much like a . . . well, an assignment. Why not read frivolously, impulsively? After all, in the wake of serious illness, it seems a little late to begin a genuinely serious program of self-improvement.

“Still unable to go out to browse or shop, I was at the mercy of book reviews and so I read one in The Washington Post by Carolyn See, who’s a good and regular reviewer, and ordered, sight unseen, a work of fiction, ANGELICA’S GROTTO, by Russell Hoban. Though I haven’t kept up with Hoban’s work, and there is a lot of it, I had deeply enjoyed and admired (and here recommend) the tour de force RIDLEY WALKER, many years ago.

“I opened GROTTO and read it straight through, front to back. It proved to be good and serious fun and presents a lively picture, and I think an accurate one, of London here and now. Hoban, an American, has lived in that city for years. GROTTO is a fine novel on its own terms, but also seems oddly relevant in a number of ways. For one thing, the protagonist, Harold, is exactly the same age I am. He’s 72, a geezer, definitely geriatric. For good reasons, you just don’t get many books these days featuring geezers. And Harold is not much better off than a lot of us. Truth is, and emerges, Harold has a string of ailments, a regular rosary of dread diseases and conditions, that make him a real challenge to the hard-pressed British National Health Service. Throughout the deftly plotted story he is going into or coming out of his neighborhood Casualty, which is what the Brits call the Emergency Room. His list of drugs and medicines on hand easily dwarfs my own cache of pill bottles.

“I take some genuine comfort in Hoban’s ability to tell a lively tale about a geezer. Harold somehow or other manages to carry on a very busy, interesting and often troubling life, including a complicated, sex-driven, crazy love affair with a very dangerous and gifted young woman. He is a failed painter who has earned a modest, but enviable reputation as an art critic. He is working on a book about the complex relationship of art and pornography; and his interest is larger – the give and take of high art and pop culture (including pornography).

“Meanwhile, Harold is about as horny as man or beast, at any age, can be. More or less impotent, the old guy still has a profound and powerful sex drive. This is the first piece of fiction – except for Philip Roth’s THE HUMAN STAIN – I have yet encountered that deals directly and seriously (though in a highly comic context) with the sexual feelings, habits and appetites of the elderly. In that sense, what Hoban has done here has been to expose the reality behind the smokescreen of jokes and winks and elbow nudges with which we preserve our little secret, that old-timers are as horny or even hornier than teenagers. They are swept away by all the same crazy chemicals – a last call before the body bids us, one and all, a thieves’ farewell.

“Hoban is able to tell this strong and funny story in a wonderfully transparent and accessible (though uncompromising) prose, able to make you care about his characters without false sentiments or sympathy. It is as excellent a novel as I have found out there so far, worth waiting half a year for. Because it is published by a small house, you might miss it. I’m pleased to recommend it strongly.” Russell Hoban, RIDLEY WALKER (Summit, 1980; Jonathan Cape, 1980; Indiana University Press expanded edition, 1998; IUP p.b., 1998); ANGELICA’S GROTTO (Carroll and Graf, 2001).


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