Friday, February 10, 2017

Reflections: The Goldfinch

After a really long time, a book caught me in its throes and wrung me out in the best way possible. 

When the dust settled down after the hype, and after my husband's fervent recommendation, I began reading this tome of a book with its intimidating size and intriguing premise surrounding an orphaned boy and a masterpiece of a painting. A painting plays an important role in the coming of age story of an orphaned boy? I think this apparent absurdity is what pushes one to get past the first few slow moving chapters. The author compels the reader into curiosity and establishes a firm investment in the boy's chaotic life. 

Let the size of the book not intimidate you. Once you get sucked in, you will wade and swim through it fast enough, because there are many questions - practical and philosophical - you want answered. And it's a refreshing bout of relief when nothing is left hanging to the reader's interpretation like most award-winning-cerebral books are wont to do. Everything is wrapped and tied, and concluded in the most practical and philosophical way possible. It left both my heart and mind satisfied and replete. If you are wondering how a book can end on seemingly contradictory notes of practicality and philosophy - that's where the book gets its well-deserved recognition and merit. 

"sometimes bad things need to happen to bring about something good in the end"

"sometimes good things lead to bad things"

We all react to life and its tragedies and triumphs in markedly different ways. But, during each phase, what we are fighting for is the desperate need to establish and find meaning, to attribute meaning to something instead of nothing, and to hold onto an anchor of support, a coping mechanism to help us stay afloat. How we establish meaning, and to what we cling onto as anchors/coping mechanism is up to the individual. Viewed from this basic truth, rights and wrongs, good and bad, have little relevance. Viewed from a detached and high-level perspective, the characterizations of actions/motivations seem insignificant in relation to the picture that emerges; all the numerous deeds and events transform to mere stitches and knots and zigzagging threads of colors when we step back and view the big picture of the tapestry that came together because of them. In the end, it's the forest, never the trees. Does it matter whether we followed an invisible (but existent) pattern, or if a pattern emerged incidentally?

We can try very hard to do the right thing to someone (and to ourselves), but that may not help that person find stability and meaning in their lives, because what "ought to be done" is never objective. Each person finds their own truth, or a version of the truth that they can live with. We weave our own realities, lay down structures with things that provide meaning to us. 

Some striking quotes that pulled together everything for me:

"How can I see so clearly that everything I love or care about is illusion, and yet - for me, anyway - all that's worth living for lies in that charm?"

"...I've come to realize there's no truth beyond illusion. Because, between reality on one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic. And - I would argue as well - all love."

"And just as the music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of colors across the sky - so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime"

"Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair."

Really interesting characters, compelling writing, and universal themes that are cohesively brought together in a unique context. Highly recommended read.