Tuesday, July 14, 2009
An Indelible Picture of Human tragedy
by Adelbert Von Chamisso (Author), Peter Wortsman (Translator)
Reviewed By Ezzat Goushegir
It began with my exploration of the word "Schlemiel"! For its personification of human identity and for its designation of those who are unfortunate and succeed nothing in life. That's how I came across to read Peter Schlemiel. But the book gave me a broader perspective of the place of a human being in this world.
Dreaming of self improvement Peter Schemiel sells his shadow to a mysterious stranger in a gray coat in exchange for a purse that contains boundless wealth. Lacking a shadow he has no place in society. Helplessly he wanders around the world in search of knowledge and spiritual sanctuary to give meaning to his life.
Adelbert Von Chamisso has profoundly experienced dualism in his life as a displaced person and had a tireless wrestling identifying himself within two countries, two cultures and two languages. Peter Schlemiel is the creative result of his deep understanding of fractured lives.
Peter Schlemiel can be equivalent to Georg Buchner's Woyzeck, Kafka's Gregor in Metamorphosis and Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. This is a timeless book for its illustration of a society in which wealth, power and torture governs. The mysterious man in gray coat symbolizes Evil which suggests those decadent forces who for the sake of power, use their greedy cynicism to terrorize people and ultimately conquer their souls and ruin them for the rest of their lives.
Chamisso portrays the quality of elite society of his time from one of his character's point of view:
"Frankly," he maintained, "anyone who isn't worth at least a million is nothing but- if you forgive the term- a sniveling worm." (P2)
The theme of this book is immensely relevant to today's world politics. The interpersonal structure that Chamisso explains, illuminates a wide range of human interaction from social relation to Geo-politics in which new colonialism degrades developing nation. The result is isolation, marginalization, exile and misery.
Although it is a novel, it has certain qualities of dark allegory similar to Brothers Grimm's folktales. It presents an unforgettable picture of displacement, estrangement, incongruity and human misery.