T.C. Boyle – Das Licht

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T.C. Boyle – Das Licht

Was als Suche nach einem Medikament zur Stabilisation des Kreislaufs beginnt, wird zu einem unvergleichlichen gesellschaftlichen Problem: die Entwicklung von LSD. Der Psychologe Fitz Loney kommt Anfang der 1960er Jahre nach Harvard, um dort seine Dissertation zu verfassen. Er landet am Lehrstuhl von Timothy Leary, den er ehrfurchtsvoll bewundert. Zunächst arbeitet Fitz hart an seinem Vorhaben, bemerkt aber schnell, dass es um Leary einen inneren Kreis gibt, von dem er ausgeschlossen ist. Bald wünscht er sich nichts mehr, als ebenfalls dazuzugehören und an den Wochenendsessions des Professors ebenfalls teilhaben zu dürfen. Es dauert nicht lange, bis Fitz und ebenso seine Frau Joanie in den Bann des charismatischen Gurus gezogen werden – die regelmäßige Dreingabe von LSD tut ebenfalls ihren Teil. Was Leary als psychologisches Experiment deklariert, wird bald von außen angegriffen, was die Gruppe nur noch enger zusammenschweißt, unter der Führung Learys stellen sie sich gemeinsam gegen den Feind.

Wie auch schon in zahlreichen früheren Romane greif T.C. Boyle für seine Erzählung auf reale Personen und Ereignisse zurück: in der kurzen Eröffnungssequenz stellt er Albert Hofmann vor, den Vater des LSD, bevor er sich dann gänzlich der schillernden Figur Timothy Leary und dem Kult um selbigen widmet. Er schildert die Anfänge der Hippiebewegung und vor allem das Wirken Learys, was man heute als mustergültig für die Sektenbildung betrachten kann.

Viele Aspekte in dem Roman könnte man ansprechen: die Figur des Fitz Loney, der einerseits als Doktorand in Harvard durchaus erfolgreich ist, dessen Leben aber genaugenommen nur eine Abfolge von Scheitern darstellt und der wegen seines viel zu geringen Selbstbewusstseins ein gefundenes Opfer für Menschen wie Leary darstellt. Der angesehene Professor, der mit Leichtigkeit die Menschen manipuliert, sich selbst zum Guru eines Kultes macht und dem die Anhänger blind folgen. Es ist schier unglaublich, wie es ihm gelingt, intelligente, hoch gebildete und kritische Studenten und Doktoranden in seinen Bann zu ziehen und jede kritische Distanz verlieren zu lassen. Für mich besonders erschreckend war vor allem die Vernachlässigung der Kinder in der Kommune. Kümmert man sich anfangs noch halbherzig um sie, ist es bald schon egal, wo sie schlafen, wie sie ihre Zeit verbringen, ob sie überhaupt noch in die Schule gehen. Die Auflösung der klassischen Familie enthebt die Eltern jeder Verantwortung und man weiß aus der Geschichte, dass dies nicht allen Kindern bekommen ist.

Obwohl dies im Zentrum steht, bleiben die Drogentrips doch etwas vage und werden meist nur in den berichtend er Figuren als Rückschau rekapituliert. Auch Leary als Person, um die einerseits alles kreist, bleibt doch nur ein Randphänomen, Einblick in seine Gedankenwelt erhält man leider kaum. Dennoch ein souveräner und eingängiger Roman über die Zeit der versuchten Sinneserweiterung, die man heute rückblickend eher als Verirrung bezeichnen mag.

Elif Batuman – The Idiot

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Elif Batuman – The Idiot

1995, Selin, daughter of Turkish immigrants, has just finished high school and can leave New Jersey behind to study in Harvard. She is unsure of what to study, where to begin to understand the miracles of life and the world. It is literature and linguistics that capture her attention first. She studies Russian and tries to understand the mechanism of how language works. She makes friends with Svetlana, a Serbian classmate, and Ivan from Hungary with whom she sits in the Russian classes. She falls in love with the charismatic mathematician who quite often shows strange behaviour. But in writing each other emails, they find a way of expressing their feelings. Selin seizes the chance to go to Ivan’s native country in summer with a programme to teach English in remote villages. This is where she really gets an impression of the world, much more than all her courses in Harvard could ever teach her.

Elif Batuman’s protagonist Selin is a very attention-grabbing character. On the one hand, she is quite intelligent and intellectual, on the other, she is completely incompetent when it comes to dealing with people and analysing her feelings. This makes it difficult for her to understand the relationships she has. At the beginning, she needs the simplistic Russian-for-beginners story about a young woman falling in love to parallel her own feelings, later, when she leaves her English-speaking environment, the misunderstandings due to lack of language knowledge somehow work as a cover for her. She is absolutely ignorant about who is she and who she wants to be. Literature is her way of learning about people.

The novel’s title has been borrowed from Dostoyevsky, yet there are no clear parallels to be found by me. The only one might be in the protagonists’ character, both Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s novel and Selin are open-hearted and innocent-naïve when they enter into contact with the real world.  They are somehow unique and do not have an easy start in adult life. Selin is always afraid that she is not intellectual enough for Harvard, she wants to say meaningful things and starts questioning even single words. Thus, she spirals down to appoint where there is no meaning anymore. From the bottom, she has to create meaning for herself anew.

Apart from the two very noteworthy and fascinating characters of Selin and Ivan, what I appreciated most was the style of writing. Batuman plays with the content, the psychology and philosophy of language is paralleled in her writing, it sometimes breaks down to very plain sentences and then they are full of double meanings. The author is especially strong in finding metaphors and comparisons, in particular with nature which brings the theoretical cogitation back down to earth.

It is not a very typical coming-of-age novel, it is much more intellectual and demanding, but nevertheless I also found it entertaining.

Teddy Wayne – Loner

Review, novel

David Federman has always been ahead of his classmates. Quite logically his nature-given gifts lead him to Harvard where he is supposed to start a completely new life. He finds people there who were outsiders like him, amongst them Sara with whom he starts his first real relationship. But it is Sara’s roommate Veronica Wells for whom he really falls. He offers help for her essays and thus manages to spend more and more time with her and even the IT crowd. The only thing which seems difficult for him to understand is the fact that Veronica does not share the same feelings – and what he does not suspect at all is that there are people out there who do not hesitate to use and exploits others. Apart from the academic learning, David will also learn something for life in his freshman year.
David is the typical outsider – outstanding in his intellectual abilities he has difficulties in socialising with others and in finding peer who share the same ideas and interests. The way he is presented is almost a bit too stereotypical to be authentic. However, as the story moves on we get away from those platitudes and the character becomes more lively and complex. What is convincing is his disability in social affairs and his problems in understanding human behaviour. As good as he is in interpreting literature, as weak he is in interpersonal understanding. Quite unexpectedly, the author has some twists and turns to offer and especially the end comes quite out of nowhere and can surprise.

All in all, a rather atypical coming-of-age novel in a classic Harvard setting.