Decades of FriendshipsPosted by artnoose
The plot is thickening, and also quickening. Yarostan’s letter is quite intense this time around, and Sophia’s letter begins to tie up loose ends of the story. Yarostan has heard that foreign armies surround his country, ready to restore order if lawlessness persists. “Freedom inside a cage is still slavery,” he says, and I feel like this might be one of the preliminary themes of the book. How do we navigate as broken people in a world we didn’t choose?
Jasna announces an engagement party with Titus, setting up the grand finale of Yarostan’s half of the story. Meanwhile an extremely wild incest scene happens on the mountain top. Yarostan smacks Yara to quell her sexual advances and is demonized for it by Mirna and Yara. It has been clear that he sees her as a daughter and not a potential sex partner – having monodirectional arguments with Mirna when Yara herself is trying to participate in the conversation, and redirecting her sexual innuendos into playful parental exchanges. Mirna and Yara push the envelope this time and try to force Yarostan into having sex with Yara, to decide which side he’s on: the side of the tanks or of limitless freedom. They bring up a certain hypocrisy, that Yarostan applauded the abolition of social barriers when it was Sophia’s story about the garage, but he maintains the mores precluding incest. This is what I mean when I say that the incestuous angle is one of the most brilliant parts of the story. Yarostan can’t tell if the problem is with him or his family, and any critical reader has to examine this as well. I think one of the strengths of this book is how the question of boundless freedom is pushed to a level found intolerable to most readers. Each of has a line, after all.
It’s hard to move on past the mountaintop scene, but there are so many interesting things to address. The mystery around Titus develops further – Mirna really lays into him when they confront him directly, and yet it’s clear she’s not done with him yet. Sophia later relays information from Luisa that Titus and George Alberts encountered Nachalo “on the front” but it’s also pretty evident that it was not on the same side.
Sophia’s letter really strikes a chord with me and illustrates what I think is one of the books other main strengths – the description of the multitude of ways that different people can tackle the same issue. I sometimes describe this book as “all the paths to failure” which is why I sometimes don’t recommend it to young anarchists. I’ve given up that reservation, though, over the course of this Insurgent Summer project and decided that people get whatever they get out of it according to their experiences, and I should get off my high horse and let them do it.
The way in which Fredy Perlman was able to show the routes that these characters took to failure is the time lapse between the events being described. It’s possible to see what happens to a character in college and then a decade or so that follows, and how characters did such different things – factory work, doctorates, armed rebellions, etc. Another result of the decades of experience delineated in this book is that the characters develop close friendships. The intimacy of the friendships comes out during this letter. The first times I read the book I felt confused about how Sophia maintained friendships with Minnie and Daman that lasted through many years not even on speaking terms. It seemed forced. Maybe I’m just at a different point right now – after all, this time I’m Sophia’s contemporary age – but I’ve been thinking about how despite the ups and downs of friendships over the years, simply having decades of history with people really means something.
Sophia’s continued friendships with Minnie and Daman allow her (and the readers) to gain some insight on what happened to people she had known. We hear the tragic story of Alec and the infoshop. Sophia’s making up with Ted lets his character speak about his own story before and after the garage project, revealing a further tragedy of how Sophia could have befriended him back then and changed the course of each of their lives. Rich-boy activist Art continues his style, letting Sophia pay for his lunch after asking her out to coffee, but on the other hand she gets his perspective on events and tendencies. Daman is fleshed out with more complexity as the horrendous pedagogue in the political realm and yet a thoughtful man who takes housekeeping equality seriously. Luisa and Sophia finally clear the air about Luisa’s history of conflating political and sexual conquests. Gaps in the story begin to fill in as characters are allowed to describe to Sophia their perspectives on shared events.
As I said in my introductory blog post, the first time I read this book I was struck with the idea to write a novel myself because this one was so amazing. What I didn’t reveal was that the person I recorded the audiobook with responded at the time that for him, the book was so all-encompassing that he wasn’t sure that another novel ever needed to be written again. I thought of this conversation when I read Sophia’s ninth letter because again I was struck with the impetus to write a novel. And yet I’ve apparently assimilated the other side of the argument because when I think about the characters of my own life (and psyche) that I would include, I have a hard time not naming them Ted, or Pat, or Lem, or Sabina, or Yarostan.