Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Doris Lessing

I have at last read The Grass is Singing which is brilliant and impactante, epoch making for many reasons. Of all books mentioned in this post, this is the one most worth discussing. I will therefore discuss it least.

I have also been reading The Poisonwood Bible, which is a good book although Kingsolver is not Lessing. The morbid reason I enjoyed it is that it is about the Congo, which is poorer than Peru.

By chance I read a large part of the Cuba Diaries, which was interesting, in part because I also went to Cuba while the author was there.


The Cuba Diaries, however, were most fascinating because I am currently located in another really poor country. When I came back from Havana, people who had also been there wanted to commiserate with me about how terrible it was. I said, have you been to Lima or San Salvador?

That was some time ago. Now, typing with one hand because I must use the other to hold the computer’s plug into the wall (bathroom plugs are typically the only ones which work easily, but I fear water droplets and shorting the machine out, electrocuting myself or starting a fire), I say that although I cannot say it to most of my Peruvian friends, who are upbeat and hopeful about the current economy, Peru currently reminds me not of Cuba but of Nicaragua.


Think wartorn-ness, capitalism, ruins, smoke, neoliberalism, garbage, foreign investment, grime, more smoke, hunger, and lots of poets and much culture buried, yet still growing in the pile, and very charming people who are also far more resilient than I can imagine being.

I do not want to say it but I think both of these countries have been ruined for the foreseeable future. I think everyone not engaged in subsistence farming should be removed except for some caretakers and engineers, so that the land can heal itself.

Update: Of course, I wrote this days ago on the coast and now I have been in beautiful, uncongested, unpolluted Huamachuco for a week and I don’t feel the same way – even about development, which they seem to be doing in a smart way here. 


17 thoughts on “Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Doris Lessing

  1. I LOVED The Poisonwood Bible. I read it while bedridden, recovering from back surgery.

    There’s a scene in there that completely freaked me out – I won’t mention it because I’m not sure how far along you are.

  2. Lessing writes on Africa from a less than African perspective I sometimes feel.

    I don’t like Wilbur Smith, though, a populist African themed writer. All of his plots turn on the cogs of sado-masochism. I remember surprising myself by my ability to read an adult book — one of his — at about the age of 12. It seemed that I could follow the “adult” script line much better than I had anticipated. I even felt it gave me insights into the previously veiled world of adults. However, when I tried more recently, I found his books unreadable. (But he is an immensely popular best-selling author.) Once you can see the cogs of sado-masochistic literary devices moving, and you are thinking, “I don’t at all approve of that kind of behaviour from adults,” the stories start to lose vitality.

  3. I remember reading The Grass is Singing quite vividly. What a contrast with The Cuba Diaries (which I have not read, but which appears to be written without much awareness–am I mistaken?).

    I have read all of Kingsolver, except Poisonwood Bible, because I don’t have the heart.

  4. The Poisonwood Bible is far from the most depressing book I’ve read. Also I think I liked it better than I thought I did when I wrote this post. Which scene, Redstar?

    Cuba Diaries – the author does have some awareness, it’s just that she has a certain class position, ahem. She is not unintelligent, or entirely wrong, just very ensconced in privilege. The interesting contrast is with The Poisonwood Bible since both are in a kind of journal form, giving you slices of daily life in first person. The Poisonwood Bible is far superior.

    But as piece of literature / writing the Lessing novel is the most amazing. Un African, how … I thought she wrote it when she hadn’t been anywhere else?

  5. P.S. for Joanna – re not having the heart – consider that various regional hospitals, including one in Cuzco, are out of operating equipment and are using drills and saws and things from hardware stores? !!! I saw a picture of a Bosch drill, in a quirofano, right in the paper !!!

    (I wonder if these tools come from Ace Hardware … they have it here now and they call it the “Home Center.”))

  6. The stuff of Lessing’s writing that I’ve read have always seemed to have a slightly moaning undertone, as if it were that of an alienated ex-pat. There is a certain distance between her and her subjects — it comes out as a certain coldness and aloofness.

  7. OK, I missed the ants … didn’t read this book in order or very well. Thinking about it I like it better than I did while reading at it, I need to go back.

    Lessing, hmm … this is the only thing of hers I’ve read. I avoided her all these years because she was a book club selection in high school, which I considered a bad sign. Right now though I am extremely unable to take the fourth world – it has been a rough couple of months, culminating in the last eighteen hours – and I can’t fault anyone for moaning.

  8. More like body – I doubt you think it romantic not to have potable water, etc., either – or watch what happens to people who never have it. Get real.

    Other note – on Huamachuco – it’s mine money and it looks nice in the city but not elsewhere. Apparently there’s drug money too.

  9. I don’t know about romantic. Did you ever read alexandra fuller’s memoir, don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight. She has a section in there about drinking rancid water and paying the price. It would surprise you.

  10. Why?

    Re Wilbur Smith, whom I haven’t read – the one I can’t stand is V.S. Naipaul.

    And yes, I do think extreme poverty and infrahuman conditions are limitations to the human spirit – and animal ones too – and that pollution to the point of killing the planet is a bad thing. Nothing I would look back upon with nostalgia once I escaped, or once they were solved.

  11. IN her memory the childhood experience of drinking creek water and perhaps nearly dying from the dehydration that ensued is linked to her love for the land.

    I haven’t read Naipaul. I have just edited a book which may ressemble his writing.

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