How Literature Speaks Through the Ages

I cannot recommend the novel Stoner by John Williams enough; not a single word is wasted in creating a life and exploring the passions, loves and failures of an individual throughout that life.  These are the moments that history does not record:

Five days before the marriage took place the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour; and William Stoner watched the ceremony with a mixture of feeling that he had not had before.  Like many others who went through that time, he was gripped by what he could think of only as a numbness, though he knew it was a feeling compounded of emotions so deep and intense that they could not be acknowledged because they could not be lived with.  It was the force of a public tragedy he felt, a horror and a woe so all-pervasive that private tragedies and personal misfortunes were removed to another state of being, yet were intensified by the very vastness in which they took place, as the poignancy of a lone grave might be intensified by a great desert surrounding it.  With a pity that was almost impersonal he watched the sad little ritual of the marriage and was oddly moved by the passive, indifferent beauty of his daughter’s face and by the sullen desperation on the face of the young man.

– From the novel Stoner by John Williams. Published by Vintage, 2012.

On the Nature of Public Service

In Kazan and Poltava provinces, the governors had nervous breakdowns. Others lost their head. “You risk your life, you wear out your nerves maintaining order so that people can live like human beings, and what do you encounter everywhere?” complained Governor Ivan Blok of Samara. “Hate-filled glances as if you were some kind of monster, a drinker of human blood.” Moments later Blok was decapitated by a bomb. Placed in a traditional open casket, his twisted body was stuffed into his dress uniform, a ball of batting substituted for his missing head.

– Stephen Kotkin’s 2014 publication Stalin: Paradoxes of Power 1878 – 1928, volume I of III.