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    Dangerous Laughter - The Tower

              The book Dangerous Laughter is a complication of thirteen short stories by Steven Millhauser.   Four of the most extraordinarily imaginative short stories contained in the book are:  Cat N’ Mouse, The Dome, In the Reign of Harad IV, and The Tower.  Scanned below is The Tower, which runs neck and neck with Saki’s The Interlopers as the best short story I’ve ever read.   Like many of his stories, it contains no dialogue or main characters, but is a captivating depiction of the gradual evolution of a structure. Millhauser’s prose is perfect – not a word goes to waste – and the concepts outlined in his Impossible Architectures section ease reader into a realm of beauty and magic.   Try not to die without reading these stories.  (Right-click on the images to view them in full.)



    The Revenant - Historical Note

        The slideshow below features the afterward of Michael Punke's novel The Revenant, which was just released as a movie.  Both are great and you need not be concerned about spoiling the book for yourself by watching the movie first because they are significantly different.   The afterward looks at the true life of Hugh Glass and his relationship to the other characters and events in the fictionalized novel, the title of which means a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.



    Slaughterhouse-Five and the War in Afghanistan 

          Without consulting Congress or the American public, President Obama played his favorite game and quietly backed out on his word to scale-down U.S combat missions in Afghanistan.  Last Friday, Obama signed a classified order which extends the role of U.S troops fighting obscure enemies and increases the bombing and drone campaign in America’s longest war.  This comes at a time when a new report from the human rights group Reprieve finds that U.S drones strikes kill twenty-eight unidentified people for every intended target.  The grave inaccuracy of these “targeted strikes,” – championed by the current administration and military – are part of the reason why terrorists attacks are increasingly common in foreign lands occupied by the United States and serve to generate severe distrust and hatred for Americans here and abroad.  That the United States is choosing to increase such attacks speaks to the incompetence of our government and its lack of imagination when it comes to devising a path toward peace in the Middle East. 

         Such depressing subjects are often best dealt with by fiction writers who make a parody of those men and women who are so fearful of others and utterly arrogant that they feel entitled to destroy the world in order to make it safer for themselves (which doesn’t work anyway).  Along with Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five is a terrific novel which speaks the insanity of war and the power structure, and is a great book to read in this day in age.  One of my favorite parts of Slaughterhouse-Five is when Billy Pilgrim watches a World War II war movie, but only it’s playing backwards.  Vonnegut writes:

          American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England.  Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked the bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen.  They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backs to join the formation… 

    More of the excerpt is feature in the slideshow below (you may need to right-click in order to view the full image).


    The Bridge on the Drina

             Ivo Andrić (1982 – 1975) wrote the historical novel The Bridge on the Drina.  It’s an exceptional fiction, spanning over 400 years, with no main characters save perhaps the perennial Višegrad Bridge.  Born in Travnik, Bosnia, Andrić was a Bosnian-Serb who became a diplomat and the first Yugoslavian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his monumental work at hand.  I’ve scanned some of the most memorable excerpts (including the most detailed, graphic, and disturbing account of a man getting staked that you will ever cringe to read in your life), which are featured in the slideshow below (right-click to see them in full), and have transcribe some of them here.  I think this first quote from Alihodja (whom, if anyone is to be considered the main character, then it is he) is my favorite:

    ‘If you are going to hell, then it is better that you should go slowly,’ he said curtly to a young merchant.  ‘You are an imbecile if you think that the Schwabes have spent their money and brought their machine here only for you to travel quickly and finish you business more conveniently.  All you see is that you can ride, but you do not ask what the machine brings here and takes away other than you yourself and others like you.  That you can’t get into your head.  Ride then, my fine fellow, ride as much as you like, but I greatly fear that all your riding will lead only to a fall one of these fine days.  The time will come when the Schwabes will make you ride where you don’t want to go and where you never even dreamt of going.’ (Pg. 213)


    Jasenova Concentration Camp Stone Flower Memorial; image from:

    Every human generation has its own illusions with regard to civilization; some believe that they are taking part in its upsurge, others that they are witnesses of its extinction.  In fact, it always both flames up and smoulders and is extinguished, according to the place and the angle of view. (Pg. 233)


    ‘There is no need to feel sorry for me.  For all of us die only once, whereas great men die twice, once when they leave this world and a second time when their lifework disappears.’ (Pg. 73.)

    Image from:

    Only then began the real persecution of the Serbs and all those connected with them.  The people were divided into the persecuted and those who persecuted them.  That wild beast, which lives in man and does note dare to show itself until the barriers of law and custom have been removed, was now set free.  The signal was given, the barriers were down.  As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief.     (Pg. 282)

    NATO bombing of Novi Sad in 1999.  Fuck NATO.

    Sometimes there is such a year when the heat of the sun and the moisture of the earth combine, and the whole Višegrad valley trembles from the superabundance of its force and the universal urge toward fecundity.  The earth swells and everything in it bursts vigorously into buds and leaves and blossoms and brings forth fruit a hundredfold.  That bread of fertility could easily be seen quivering like a warm blue cloud over every furrow and every heap of earth.  The cows and goats walked with hindelegs astraddle and moved with difficulty because of swollen and brimming udders.  The fish in the in the river which every year at the beginning of summer came in shoals down the Rzav to spawn at its mouth were in such numbers that the children scooped them out of the shallows in buckets and threw them on to the bank…  (Pg. 266)

    Bojan's Grandpa's farm.


     The Bridge on the Drina excerpts:




    The Princess and the Cave

    The following is a parable and story written by a close friend of mine to his little sister, who is going through some tough times.  The author wishes to remain anonymous, but gave me permission to share his piece here.

            I'm going to tell you a story... a story of a kind heart, big enough for elvish world, sometimes too big for a world of mortals which can often be heartless.

           She was born in a little town on a river, in a troubled land, torn by war. Yet, she was raised to believe in light, love and peace. As a child, she used to watch plants grow in her grandfather's garden, she used to chase turkeys and geese at other grandpa's farm, and every time her and her brother slept over at their grandparent's house they were laughing for hours at silly fairy tales of princesses saved from castles by helicopters and princes without horses – tales that their grandfather used to make up right before bedtime. Sometimes her older cousins and brother used to make fun of her and another younger cousin for their silliness, but mostly because they were younger and older kids wanted to feel special and demonstrate their "maturity" which really stemmed from their own insecurities. (Children often behave in such ignorant ways to establish themselves as important in a group.)  Although this hurt her feelings, she has always had a positive outlook on life and once her older brother grew out of this stage, in the end he was always there to protect her and look out for her. She looked up to him and although he was sometimes too pushy for certain ideas that she would have disagree with, in the end their core values were one and the same – as their parents planted the right seeds in their young hearts. Her brother was proud of her, but would rarely utter those words because he perceived the world around as challenges and this tough way of guidance was all he knew then.

           Her mother, a wise, strong and hard working woman was always preaching those same values to the entire family. She was an alchemist, carrying books of world's knowledge in her mind like a philosopher's stone, a beacon of light when the nights gotten dark, she would always show the right way. And this elvish princess has grown up having these same traits herself. However, she was different. Unlike her older brother who was always more in touch with his books and brain than his heart, she was a free spirit, never afraid to blindly follow her heart, even if it meant climbing the tallest mountain cliffs without a rope, harness or a safety net. 

           Her father, the king of songs, the master of merry times, was a gentle soul and a man who lived his life bravely showing love for all beings, and possessing powers to transform frowns into smiles with just a few words. All the children, women and men loved him for he had the same effect on them as the elixir of youth, nowadays considered a mythical potion. Our princess' soul was of the same cloth, and she inherited those same powers and possessed the same brave heart, never afraid to show love, never afraid to get hurt along the way.

          While growing up in the shadow of her older brother, that little girl kept looking up to him and wishing to match him, to fill the same shoes, to do the same things... However, no matter how hard she tried, she was never satisfied with the results when she tried to make a philosopher's stone, and the world around her often seemed to misunderstand and judge decisions of her heart. As if she was the elixir of youth herself, too potent for the old world, yet welcomed by all green, living and innocent creatures. 

           And so the girl grew up to be a beautiful princess with big blue eyes, seeping light of her souls' greatness and purity, and golden hair glowing with magic of creation she possessed. The time has come for her to venture out into the world and find her destiny. She was often misunderstood in the world of small-hearted men, and often forced to hide her powers and to pretend she is someone else. Often times she would escape to her elvish worlds where forests talk, rivers sing, and all creatures shine with light as pure as freshly fallen snow on mountain tops. And each return to the barren world of stones and sand, where wind cry would be the only music her ears could hear, got her more confused, lost and scared, until one day she found a cave. The cave would protect her from the winds, it would echo her songs, it had walls she could draw on with charcoal sticks of fires that were put out long ago. She felt safe in the cave. The cave enjoyed her songs, her drawings and admired them. 

           As the time passed on by, she became lonely and the emptiness of the cave grew on her. She wondered about continuing the journey but each time she conjured up the courage to leave her safe-haven sooner or later a sandstorm would make her run back for shelter. As the months turned into years, she stopped wondering about the road she has yet to travel and realized that she likes her painted walls that echoed the songs she sung and reflected her inner light. She was getting ready to stay there for good. But with time, the songs of forests, rivers and birds that echoed in her head made her realize that she would never be happy in the shelter of the cave... She realized that she was destined for more, she clenched her teeth and walked on into the cold barren world again...

            Life is a journey that never stops and it is important to have the right company for all hardships and all celebrations along the way. Each elixir of youth needs a philosopher's stone and each philosopher's stone needs the elixir of youth in order to create gold. We must never give up the search but the only way to find what we're looking for is to stop searching, show who we truly are and be ourselves. The universe will always align the stars when time is right, we just need to clear the skies from all clouds of doubt, fear, insecurity and pretending in order to see them.

           So don't worry my princess, you haven't met your prince yet... Just leave the cave behind and he will find you and save you with his helicopter and take you to the magical elvish world of trees, rivers and wild horses :)
    Ilya Repin, Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom