Saturday, February 28, 2009


By Paul Gross.

passchedaele2Passchendaele was one of the major battles of The Great War (WW I), one in which the Canadians played a key role.

By all accounts Passchendaele was a bloody affair that became synonymous with the misery and sheer brutality of WW I trench warfare. From Wikipedia:

“More than any other battle, Passchendaele has come to symbolise the horrific nature of the great battles of the First World War.

In terms of the dead, the Germans lost approximately 260,000 men, while the British Empire forces lost about 300,000, including approximately 36,500 Australians, 3,596 New Zealanders and some 16,000 Canadians from 1915 to 1917. 90,000 British and Dominion bodies were never identified, and 42,000 never recovered. Aerial photography showed 1,000,000 shell holes in 1 square mile (2.56 km²).”

It’s against this horrific backdrop that Gross presents the reader with what is, at its core, a love story.

And although it’s a good story, the book suffers from the fact that is was produced from the original movie screenplay. While a screenplay is written such that character development, situational context, etc., can often be provided or enhanced through visual means, a  novel does not have that option and must rely on the written word and turn of phrase to truly engage the reader. And this is where the book failed, in my opinion. While the translation was a decent effort, the book lacked the literary punch one should expect from a well-written novel with such rich and powerful subject matter.

With all its faults, Passchendaele is an “okay” read, but certainly not in the ranks of great WW I novels (eg. Birdsong, Three Day Road, Regeneration).  If you want to read it, pick it up at the library if you can. And while I have yet to see the movie, I expect it will be much more enjoyable than the book. 

Zen and Now

By Mark Richardson

Zen and nowZen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a road story with a twist.

From the cover liner:

Richardson … was struck by [Zen and The Art’s] portrayal of Pirsig’s complex relationship with Chris and struck by the timelessness of its lessons.

So Richardson tuned up his old Suzuki dirt bike and became a “Pirsig pilgrim””.

Richardson neatly blends his own experiences on this trip with those of Pirsig some 36 years earlier. He follows the same route, visits the same places, and meets many of the same people that Pirsig encountered. And in the process comes to better understand himself, the Pirsigs, and Zen and the Art.

But Richardson takes it beyond a simple road story with his extensive research into the lives of the Pirsigs beyond what we learn in Zen and the Art.  The murder of Chris in San Francisco, the marital breakup, the relationship with the other son, Tom, all combine to add an interesting third dimension to Zen and Now.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for something deeply philosophical, read Pirsig’s second book, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. But if you want a book that will keep you turning the pages and perhaps trigger an impulse to become a Pirsig pilgrim yourself, Zen and Now is a worthwhile addition to your motorcycling library.

When walking, just walk.
When sitting, just sit.
Above all, don’t wobble.