Reflections on Kidd’s Biography of a Founding Father

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This week I read a history of one of the most influential men in American history, a Founding Father, printer, author, autodidact, aphorist, statesman, scientist, friend of Calvinist George Whitefield, and inveterate ambassador of discovery, education, and self-improvement. Biographies are among my favorite areas in which to read deeply, and Thomas Kidd’s bio of Ben Franklin did not disappoint.

Following is a form to provide a brief book review:

1. Overview

2 Quotation

3. Main idea

4. Questions raised/reflections

Overview:

 Kidd divides the book into nine chapters: 1) Child of the Puritans; 2) Exodus to Philadelphia, Sojourn to London; 3) Philadelphia Printer; 4) Poor Richard; 5) Ben Franklin’s Closest Evangelical Friend; 6) Electrical Man; 7) Tribune of the People; 8) Diplomat; and 9) The Pillar of Fire.

Kidd provides a clear overview of Franklin’s Calvinist upbringing and deep knowledge of the Bible; his prodigious work ethic and self-discipline; his staggering output of pamphlets, articles, ads and booklets as a printer; his deftness with proverbs; his lifelong friendship and theological foil with Christian evangelist George Whitefield; his discoveries in electricity; his educational and political honors and appointments; his government service; and his final days wrestling with the question of the exclusivity of the Christian gospel.

Quotation:

 Consider the following commentary by Kidd re Franklin’s self-help moralism:

If Whitefield preached transformation by God, Franklin advocated gradual reformation by daily effort, with biblical precepts as a guide. No internal change or divine regeneration was needed. Whatever the lingering influence of his Puritan heritage, this was a point on which Franklin clearly departed from the Puritans, and from their evangelical successors like Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. In this focus on harnessing daily habits, Franklin was setting foundational precedents for that distinctively American, quasi-religious genre, the self-help movement. Franklin’s “The way to Wealth” and his Autobiography were ur-texts of that movement. (161)

Kidd excels in demonstrating the rich theological culture that existed in America in the middle of the 1700s due mostly to the robust evangelism of Calvinists like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield amidst the literacy rate of the nation seeking to separate from George and English dominion.

Main Idea:

 Kidd maintains his focus throughout the book on Franklin’s internal struggles. He (Franklin) was saturated with biblical knowledge but he never would concede the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, or that salvation was by grace alone. Franklin sifted the Bible for moral precepts, acknowledging Jesus’ incomparable greatness, but would not, as far as historians can tell, ever trust in Christ and the gospel completely. Whitefield and Franklin corresponded for decades, and all the while, Whitefield pleaded for Franklin to trust in Christ alone, but Franklin persisted to trust in his own deeds as meriting favor with God, a clear indicator he had not embraced the gospel.

Questions raised/reflections:

 It is interesting to study a man as brilliant and gifted as Benjamin Franklin, one who was largely self-taught, one who explored the Greek and Roman classics, the Bible, philosophers like Locke, Hume, and Kant, theologians and pastors like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, and never seemed to lose his zeal for discovery and learning. Yet when his experiences of man’s butchery in the American Revolution, the slaughter of Indians by misguided zealots, and firsthand experiences of America’s birth pangs, he continued as a rebel soul, up until his end in this life. I wish he has listened more to his friend Whitefield and believed the Scriptures, rather than just quoting them when they suited his rhetorical purposes.

Lastly, if you wish to learn of this Founding Father, this contradictory man, this gifted writer and satirist, read Kidd’s bio of Franklin. Kidd writes so well that you may wish the book had been even longer.

 

 

Thank You

Ever have a day or two in a row where everything falls into place, days when you say to yourself, “I don’t want this to end. Can’t we just keep this going, please?” Let me explain. 

 

Recently I was able to spend a couple of days with some of my family after a long absence due to my military obligations that often keep me away from home. My wife and I drove down to the lake where we live. We loaded our dogs in my truck, drove down to the water, leashed the dogs and walked some. It was evening. Some boats were on the water. We watched a girl on a float being pulled across the lake’s surface by her family in their boat. The girl laughed and then screamed seemingly simultaneously, as her father circled the boat and made his daughter jump the boat’s wake over and over. Then we watched the inevitable: the girl bounced, the ski rope was ripped free, and we saw the girl laughing and bobbing in her orange life jacket, waiting for her dad to swing the ski rope by her again for another tug. 

 

My wife had our King Charles Cavalier on a green leash by the rocks. My wife had her hair down. The sun’s last gold of the afternoon was at the western edge of the lake. Except for wake from the boats, the lake was smooth. I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture of my wife when she was unaware of my watching her. She was in one of the expressions I adore. (There’s something about her in spring/summer, when her skin has turned brown, her eyes shine as if she’s got a funny joke she wants to tell, her sandals reveal her pretty toes, and she’s unaware I’m watching … but these moments I wish I could freeze, bottle them for future openings, and so I snap a picture.)

 

The light was just right off the water. The girl out on the lake was up and on the float again, way out now on the far end of the lake, and being pulled across the water. A kayaker, nearer us, eased by silently, searching for hungry fish at dusk. I glimpsed one of the man’s rods as he paddled. Aflorescent green curly tail of a plastic worm swayed in rhythm to the man’s paddle strokes.

 

My wife comes over to me and takes our German shepherd from me so I can cast a few times. The water is crystal clear. I can see the lures I use, even several feet down. Cast, retrieve, cast. No bites, yet I see fish just below the dock on which I stand. It’s okay. This is not an evening for complaint, I can tell, but for thanksgiving. 

 

After several minutes, I pack up my rod and tackle boxes, and rejoin my wife who has been standing with the dogs on up the shoreline, and we walk back to my truck for the drive home. 

 

The next day, we go to a local restaurant where we eat raw oysters and talk and people-watch in an artsy section of a nearby town replete with great restaurants and nightlife. We go home later and watch a movie that causes us both to weep and laugh together. 

 

We talk of the kids. Our son is with friends for the weekend. Our daughter will be home tomorrow, too. We are thankful. My wife speaks of what she is singing tomorrow at church. It grows late. I take the dogs outside for a bit and hear the cicadas thrumming. 

 

And it bears upon me—that my times like these cannot be manufactured, but they unfurl as if by providence. It is enough to make me, as our dogs rustle through the dry oak leaves in front of the house, say aloud, “Yes, thank you,” and know I have been heard. 

 

Suffering, John Updike, and Doctors’ Offices

 

“We walk through volumes of the unexpressed and like snails leave behind a faint thread excreted out of ourselves.” That is a line from American fiction writer John Updike’s short story “The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother’s Thimble, and Fanning Island.” I read that story, along with many other Updike stories, and even an excellent biography of John Updike, over recent days and weeks.

 

That line sounds deep chords within me because I am in a place where I have never been, at least to this degree, before—on the receiving end of medical treatment. Heretofore I have been healthy. I’ve never broken a bone, never had major surgery. My mom tells me I had tubes in my ears when I was a baby and I know my tonsils were removed when a child, but that’s it. I have been fortunate in the field of physical health.

 

But on 2 April 2019 in Iraq, that changed. My right shoulder and bicep ripped during physical training, the right shoulder dislocated, the dumbbells fell, and I collapsed onto the mat.

 

Now I am back in the States undergoing physical therapy, spending a lot of time in medical appointments and waiting rooms (where Updike’s fiction has been my companion), and I am likely looking at surgery.

 

I have been forced to slow down. It has, to return to Updike’s image, felt like a snail’s pace. But I have been able to read carefully, not just in the various doctors’ offices, but also in my room at night when the shoulder pain keeps me up. 

 

Doctors’ offices are not my preferred environments. Sitting in the cold plastic chairs, removing my uniform top, having my blood pressure taken, being asked my height and weight, being told to wait (“The doctor will be with you shortly, sir”), flusters me. I do not do well in this environment; I want to return to work. 

 

I look around these waiting rooms filled with soldiers (current and veteran) and family members. Some have black hats on advertising their wars: VIETNAM VET; KOREAN VET; and a few, WWII VET. Of course, these waiting rooms are filled with soldiers from my generation’s conflicts and wars: IFOR/SFOR in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

 

I watch the people. The young ones have their phones out. The viewers are hunched over them, streaming videos, scrolling social media, or playing inane games that keep their thumbs and index fingers twitching. 

 

Overhead hang TV monitors. Daytime entertainers don perfect smiles, show tanned skin, and speak through teeth white as Chiclets. They blather about an Elton John movie and politics in the Middle East. They smile, give hugs to each other, clap like penguins, and smile again.

 

On cue, their audiences transition from subject to subject unawares. Yesterday, Kathy Lee and Ryan talked about dangers to dogs in the summertime, an Elton John movie, and Robert Mueller. They and their guests all smile, they hug a lot, and there are lots of ooos and ahhhs. They smile, sip coffee from giant porcelain cups, emote. The TV audience smiles, applauds, and seems so happy they are on the verge of erupting into hallelujahs. 

 

And I have lots of questions: Why this injury? Why did it occur less than two weeks before I was slated to return to the States with my unit?

 

But I know it would make more sense to ask different questions: Why not me? Why not this injury or even worse? What makes me think I get a pass? Why should I think I get a pass on suffering or hardship?

 

I return to my reading. Later in the same Updike story referenced above, the main character describes the prayers of his local pastor come to visit a family whose grandfather had just died, and Updike writes: “His prayers seemed to chip pieces from our hearts and float them away.” Yes and amen.  

 

To be snail-like and “leave behind a faint thread excreted out of ourselves” is a beautiful line, I believe. Some find their callings there—to call attention to our own and others’ plights, by expressing them through writing or ministry.

 

Paul phrased it this way: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor1:1-4). 

 

I admire Updike’s fiction. He does indeed “give the mundane its beautiful due.” But does not that desire need an ought, a reason, a justification? If it does, could it be that we desire to “leave behind a faint thread excreted out of ourselves” because we sense we are here as part of a greater design, one ordained even, where not even a sparrow falls to the ground except by way of the will of God?

SITREP

SITREP is Army jargon for “situation report.” It is a snapshot of current events. For those interested, what follows is a SITREP of my status since injuring my shoulder in Iraq.

 

What: Multiple labrum tears, bicep tears, dislocation, edema, and arthritis in right shoulder.

Where: Iraq

When: 2 April 2019

Options A and B: Physical therapy (A) and surgery (B)

 

I injured my right shoulder in Iraq on 2 April 2019. I have been sent to Fort Benning, GA for medical treatment.

 

I met with the orthopedic surgeon this morning at Fort Benning. The bottom line is that surgery is one of two options. The other option is physical therapy to see if I can strengthen my shoulder enough that I can soldier through. Because I’m 49, he wanted me to be aware of the risks of the surgery, if and when I opt for that. (Insert old man jokes here.)

 

I chose to try to gut it out via physical therapy, at least for now. The doctor said that if he does not see improvement over the next six weeks, surgery is then the better option. 

 

In the meantime, I am having injections in my right shoulder aimed at reducing the pain, putting fluid in the damaged areas, reducing swelling, and working with the physical therapist to strengthen my damaged right shoulder.

 

My thanks to family, friends, church, peers, and fellow soldiers for prayers and encouragement.

Thoughts on Orwell’s 1984

IMG_1995This week I read George Orwell’s 1984. Published in 1949, the close of WWII was less than four years prior. Unimaginable horrors were replete: Hitler and the Third Reich; Nazis; the slaughter of 6,000,000 Jews; President Truman’s authorizing the dropping of atomic bombs upon Japan four years after Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by Japanese kamikazes; Mussolini’s fellow fascists in Italy; Franco’s fellow fascists in Spain; Lenin and later Stalin in the USSR; Mao in China … the list of totalitarian/socialist/communist tyrants in the 20th century alone staggers the mind. And Orwell’s 1984 still retains cogent warnings.

Published in the middle of the 20th century, 1984 imaginatively concretizes the horrors of tyranny, big government, and totalitarianism/socialism/communism by focusing on an ordinary man (Winston Smith).

How will Winston (a type of Everyman) endure when oligarchy replaces republicanism? Can the human soul endure when God is jettisoned and secular power replaces him? And what of beauty? Is literature possible in a world when bureaucrats determine the curricula? Will Shakespeare and Dickens survive in 1984’s world of Telescreens and Newspeak? Short answer: no.

Governments don’t stir the soul; reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, however, does. When the media are merely arms of the government, and the masses (what Orwell terms the “proles” for proletariat) know only what government wants them to know, wisdom goes underground. And so do truth, goodness, and beauty.

The terms Orwell coined in 1984 endure. Big Brother, Thought Police, and Newspeak are just some of the examples. If you control the language, you control the message. And today, look at college and university campuses where Leftists demand “safe spaces,” and being called by pronouns that are in contradiction to their gender. Professing themselves to be wise, they’re fools. And it is shameful.

These examples from our day illustrate what happens when a culture abandons God, abandons reason, and abandons self-discipline. Orwell’s 1984 is still important.

First, are you paying attention to phrases en vogue today? Ever heard the phrase “safe spaces”? A couple of years ago, I was at military training with my unit and a female officer asked me if I would step out of the auditorium because she wished to speak to only female soldiers. That seemed understandable to me. But what caught my attention was when she said, “We are creating a safe space.” Huh? A space is now safe when any and all potentially dissenting views are prohibited. Verboten. Forbidden. Not tolerated. What is demanded is conformity.

Second, there is a loud and mean push in contemporary politics and discourse that demands—instead of reasons. Leftists demand a Christian baker, for example, go against his deeply held religious beliefs. If he won’t, they smear him as a bigoted moral monster. If he won’t contradict biblical morality, they set out to destroy him. So much for their so-called tolerance. In 1984, the individual is crushed by Big Brother and oligarchy. Power is stolen from the individual and reserved only for the all-powerful State. If the individual dissents, he/she is crushed via torture and/or indoctrination.

Third, Orwell dramatizes in 1984 what happens when people don’t know history. What they know is what the media have force-fed them. Instead of wisdom with regard to historical understanding, they have platitudes and bromides: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, for example. Clichés are not arguments; assertions are not arguments; platitudes are not arguments. But if the masses only parrot the media they ingest, shibboleths and slogans are what we get.

In 1984, a novel now 70 years old, I encountered a warning we should heed. We are drowning in information rather than standing upon wisdom.

We would do well to read deeply, to think through Orwell’s warnings from decades ago. We would do well to actually know and understand history. We might discover how we got to such a sorry place with regard to our conversations with one another. We might rediscover that masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet, David Copperfield, and 1984 were not produced by bureaucrats or governmental committees.

A Reading Log

IMG_1886We all have our struggles. One of mine is sleeplessness. But I’ve found at least some benefit: I can read during the nights. I’ve begun maintaining a reading log. Nothing fancy, but it helps in at least three ways. First, it helps me maintain a ledger of what I’m reading. Second, I am better able to see patterns among books and thinkers. (Some writers are worth more of my time; others have already consumed too much of it and I move on.) Third, a reading log provides a means of evaluating ideas.

Over the last several months, I have not written much blog-wise due to my current location with the military, but here is a list of some of my recent reading. In the left column is the book; the middle column lists the book’s author; and the third column is my response–usually just a fragment, phrase, or sentence or two. At the bottom are some of the volumes I’m still reading due to their length and/or weightiness. Hope you profit. My thanks to fellow readers who have pointed books and writers out to me that would have otherwise escaped my attention.

Book: Author: Response:
Suttree McCarthy Among the saddest books I have ever read. It may also be the richest book I read in terms of its delight in language and the fecundity of words. McCarthy is—his dark vision aside—a wordsmith on par with Joyce and Shakespeare.
Cormac McCarthy’s Nomads Andersen & Kristoffer A master’s thesis that was large on jargon and intellectual posturing and short on coherence and clarity.
Resolutions: Advice to Young Converts Edwards My only complaint is that I waited this long to read it. Edwards was certainly a theologian/philosopher, but in this volume, you also see he was a pastor with a love of discipling God’s people.
On Reading Well Prior A reminder that some of the world’s greatest literary pieces are explorations of the biblical worldview. A truly good book about books.
The Battle for the Beginning MacArthur I know of no other living Christian writer who is as biblical and clear as John MacArthur. In this volume, he tackles head on the mutually exclusive worldviews of biblical creation vs. macroevolution and materialism. An important book.
The Stranger Camus When I read it as an 18-year old, I thought it masterful. Now, er, hardly. A sad book about life without God, life without hope, and life without redemption.
In the Year of Our Lord Ferguson One of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. The bottom line up front: the true Christian church must always keep her focus on the truth, the gospel, Christ, and purity. Today’s pagan headlines are merely tomorrow’s fertilizer. Keep a biblical perspective.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Diaz Reminded me why I don’t enjoy postmodernism or post-postmodernism. With its trendy style of blending genuine pity with trendy pop-culture and profanity and gender politics, this is just what literary committees adore, but it makes for poor literature. Who will want to read this modish stuff in a few years? Egads.
Killing Jesus O’Reilly This could be helpful for skeptics of the Christian worldview.
Killing Lincoln O’Reilly Very enjoyable. I learned even more to appreciate Lincoln and to pity him.
Killing Patton O’Reilly Leadership for Patton was what he seemed born for. He was a patriot, a very fallen and cruel man, but also courageous like few others. When hell stared him in the face, he spat and kept right on marching. And I thank him and those he led.
Animal Farm Orwell Communism/Progressivism/Socialism fails—everywhere and always. But dogs return to the vomit. And people often act like animals.
The Catcher in the Rye Salinger Hard for me not to gush here. In my view, one of the best novels ever, esp. with regard to narrative voice, point of view, and tone. A masterpiece.
Exit West Hamid People are not reducible to religion, ethnicity, and politics. The human heart is the problem; we are sinners and we need a savior—and government is not the savior. Ever.
Kidnapped by the Taliban Joseph There are good and bad folks everywhere. Sometimes good intentions lead you into bad situations. But grace can still appear and even endure.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Angelou An anthem to the artist to sing—if for no else than himself/herself. Some will listen.
Tom Sawyer Twain I preferred Huck Finn. But similar episodes and themes are here—innocence vs. experience; corruption; escape vs. responsibility.
Blood Meridian McCarthy Perhaps the most violent book I’ve ever read (again). Horrific and beautiful. McCarthy descends into the pits of evil and reprobation, and takes us with him. There he writes in graphic detail. But it is so heartbreakingly beautiful in its expression that you endure the rapacity and cruelty and cannot see life the same way.
The Sun Also Rises Hemingway Immature adults taking themselves way too seriously and drinking way too much alcohol get mad at the state of the world, but refuse to take responsibility. This was a much better book when I read it as a 19-year old, if that helps. Probably the last time I’ll do this one.
The Sound and the Fury Faulkner A watershed book in terms of its use of interior monologue, non-linear time, flashbacks, stream of consciousness, etc.
Books Are Made Out of Books Crews A book about the books that have shaped Cormac McCarthy. Appreciative of this book.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction Peterson Beautifully written by a man gifted with discernment, biblical maturity, and a pastor’s temperament.
Facing the Music Brown A book of Larry Brown’s short stories. Kind of like Harry Crews’ fiction, these are stories of down-on-their-luck southerners who ain’t got no quit in ‘em. Excellent fiction.
Larry Brown: A Writer’s Life Cash A biography of Larry Brown, of his determination, struggles, literary triumphs, and isolation necessary to create.
Everything that Rises Must Converge O’Connor It’s Flannery O’Connor. Read it. Then read it again.
Hitler’s Religion Weikhart Excellent, readable, researched book of Hitler’s worldview (pantheism).
Hillbilly Elegy Vance No matter how successful we are in the world’s eyes, we never really leave behind the boy or girl we were at 12. Our childhood affects us till we die.
A Wrinkle in Time L’Engle Childhood imagination sometimes portends divinity.
Desperadoes Hansen Literary western genre. Beautiful language. A bit slow going, at least for me.
Light in August Faulkner Rich in interior monologue. A slow read for me. The preacher was my favorite character.
Killing the SS O’Reilly There is no bottom to man’s evil.
Love Thy Body Pearcey Read Nancy Pearcey’s books. You do yourself a disservice if you don’t. Logical, persuasive, and clear. Excellent.
Go Set a Watchman Lee Even the folks we think of as ‘good’ are sinners.

 

Currently I’m reading Don Quixote and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Both are excellent. Maybe this helps encourage you. It at least helps me to keep track of some of my reading life and helps me plot my future reading goals. “Take up and read.”

Thoughts on Hamid’s “Exit West”

Ever discovered a book that dramatized a world you thought only you noticed? Last week I was unpacking boxes sent to us American military members deployed in the Middle East. Nothing unusual about that for me. But then I noticed a novel that was literary fiction, not the pulp fiction that most groups send. Exit West was the novel. It was written by Pakistani novelist and essayist Mohsi Hamid. Something about it intrigued me. I read the back cover whereon one reviewer commented: “Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines.”

Oftentimes I have wondered if reviewers have a shallow well from which they draw platitudes to serve as book reviews, but this reviewer nailed it when he wrote that Hamid captured “the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines.”

I’m not one who has a high view of modern news media. It has degenerated into name-calling, sound bites, and showmanship. It’s entertainment designed to appeal to the lowest common denominators and/or logical flaws—stereotyping, red herrings, and ad hominem attacks. The West has almost completely replaced reasoned and respectful debate with inanity and invective. I prefer to read. There at least one may weigh arguments writers have put forth, and evaluate ideas. Instead of yelling at each other, often mischaracterizing each other’s views, etc. Reading thoughtfully engenders—hopefully—discernment.

So after I read the reviews on the back cover of Hamid’s novel, I put the Vietnam memoir I had been reading this week aside, and started on Exit West. That was three days ago. Now I’m done with the novel. Not done in a cynical sense, but done reading it through for the first time. It was that readable. To be a novel with relatively little dialogue, it moved quickly. Why? Below are some of my thoughts as to why it succeeded as a story and why I concur with the reviewer I cited, and why you might want to read it.

Our world in 2018 is characterized by the constant deluge of information; cultural  flotsam pervades most people’s lives more than wisdom does. Novel reading is out (except, perhaps, by some introverts, intellectuals, and retirees). If you want to be a 21st century man, just post, tweet, and emote via social media; that’s where the bang is.

Think of these things for a moment: we can purchase drones online; smart phones put the world in our palms (if you imagine it, you can browse for it); cross-cultural pollination is a reality of 21st century life (homogeneity is largely receding in many parts of the world); terrorism is not localized to the Islamic Middle East but it is likely in your zip code; we are networked through smart phones but are falling apart at the spiritual seams.

The 25-year-old in 2018 lives in a very different world than a 25-year-old lived in during 1948 or even 1988. He texts more than he converses face-to-face. She may have 2,000 Facebook friends but no one with whom she spends a Friday evening with at a coffee shop or café. The world, in short, has changed.

Technology has shrunk the globe and brought us both closer together and farther apart. We’ve constant information but little wisdom.

Hamid has captured this conglomeration in his novel. Listen to the following episode. The main characters, Pakistani lovers Saeed and Nadia, are urged by Saeed’s father to flee Pakistan, which is being destroyed by Islamic terrorists:

SAEED’S FATHER then summoned Nadia into his room and spoke to her without Saeed and said that he was entrusting her with his son’s life, and she, whom he called daughter, must, like a daughter, not fail him, whom, she called father, and she must see Saeed through to safety, and he hoped she would one day marry his son and be called mother by his grandchildren, but this was up to them to decide, and all he asked was that she remain by Saeed’s side until Saeed was out of danger, and he asked her to promise this to him, and she said she would promise only if Saeed’s father came with them, and he said again that he could not, but that they must go, he said it softly, like a prayer, and she sat there with him in silence and the minutes passed, and in the end she promised, and it was an easy promise to make because she had at that time no thoughts of leaving Saeed, but it was also a difficult one because in making it she felt she was abandoning the old man, and even if he did have his siblings and his cousins, and might now go live with them or have them come live with him, they could not protect him as Saeed and Nadia could, and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” (p. 98)

What do you see here? In short, here is a family in crisis. Terrorism is destroying a nation (sound familiar?). The father figure, sacrificial and loving, seeks to send off those whom he loves so that they may find a better life. (It’s somewhat akin to Naomi telling Ruth and Orpah to go back to their people in Moab, if you know the reference.) Terror. Cross-cultural pollination. And yet the three people in this scene from Hamid’s novel are almost completely alone. The father is a recent widower, and his only life, really, is trying to protect his son and the son’s girlfriend, Nadia. The young lovers, Saeed and Nadia, have smart phones, which bring the terror of the world to their palms, but the irony is that the human connection is being severed because of terror and sin.

This is a different world. We have become numb, I think Hamid suggests, to the human … because the human looks more like the bestial.

The two protagonists flee terror looking for connection—human connection, love, trust, etc. in a world bedraggled by information deluges, rapacity, and murder. They are both types of the “everyman,” if you will.

I won’t spoil the novel for you. Read it yourself. Think about the issues Hamid raised. Ask yourself if he has not captured accurately our world. Brace yourself: there are some unpleasant scenes in the book. But they are necessary to portray modern life as it is. Ask yourself if the ending gives you reason to hope. I appreciate very much writers who spur us to explore difficult questions, and Hamid has succeeded in doing that in Exit West.