Kill One in Ten.

Originally from the Latin: decimatio (decem – ten). Historically decimation was a form of military discipline used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as cowardice, mutiny, desertion, and insubordination, and for pacification of rebellious legions.

It has since come to mean to kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of, as “the project would decimate the fragile wetland wilderness.” Or more recently, “the hurricane decimated everything in its path.”


Graham Greene wrote about this concept, in the historical sense, in his novel, The Tenth Man.

A group of Frenchmen were being held hostage in a Gestapo camp. A German officer enters the cell one afternoon and announces that there were three murders in the town last night. He is ordered to shoot one in ten of them in the morning. There are thirty men in the camp, therefore three men must be shot. He doesn’t care who. They choose. They chose by lot. Louis Chavel was the tenth man.

Things get tricky from there, but Greene supplies a heavy dose of irony as the plot unfolds.



With the passing of Philip Roth the world has lost a lion of literature.

All my favorite writers are dying off. John Updike, Saul Bellow, Edward Albee, and now Philip Roth. Who will take their place? No one. There is literally no one who can  fill the shoes of theses giants.  With the passing of Philip Roth follows the death of the Great American Novel.

No more….

Islands in the Stream

Islands in the stream


Ernest Hemingways’s novel, Islands in the Stream, published posthumously, is the perfect counterpoint to his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was of course published during his lifetime. Hemingway takes his title, For Whom the Bell Tolls, from the poem of the same name by John Donne. The first line reads, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent a part of the main.”In both novels the protagonists die fighting for a cause larger than themselves that each believed in and that each felt he had a duty to fulfill. This is the Hemingway code of action that has lived with me so many years, ever since the first short story I read by him many years ago, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Hemingway comes full circle with this novel. From no man is a island to every many is an island. An island in a stream.

In the first case Robert Jordan is fighting fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War . In the other, Thomas Hudson is fighting fascism in Cuba during WWII. A German submarine has been damaged and the crew has come ashore and massacred a village of Indians and commandeered their turtle boat. The German crew are hiding out in the mangroves on the Cuban island. It is the duty of Thomas Hudson and his crew to hunt them down. This brilliantly written action sequence takes place in act three of the novel.

The novel is divided into three sections but the reads like three acts in a play. The first section is entitled Bimini. Here we are introduced to the isolated main character Thomas Hudson  who is a painter and lives in a house on the island of Bimini which is part of the Bahamas. It is summer and his three children, two by one wife and one by his first wife, come to visit him for the summer.  This is the happiest section of the book as the happy family interact and reminiscence with one another and go deep sea fishing together.

After the children leave, Hudson learns of a tragic car accident that has taken the lives of his two youngest children and their mother. This section ends with Hudson on a boat trip to Europe to attend their funeral. The tragic accident had a profound impact on Hudson driving him deeper and deeper into himself.

The next section of the book is entitled, Cuba. Most of the action in this section takes place in a bar in Havana called the Floridita. Hudson is knocking back frozen Margaritas (without sugar) and talking to a variety of motley characters who inhabit this world including an aging prostitute called Honest Lil. The conversations are often hilarious and the characters are well drawn and fascinating. Lil asks Hudson when was his happiest day? Hudson replies: “The happiest day I ever had was any when I woke in the morning when I was a boy and I did not have to go to school or work.” In this section Hudson learns of the death of his eldest son who was killed in action while flying over Germany. This was just about the last straw that does him in and he retreats further into himself. He soon receives his orders and goes once more back out to sea. He traded in his remorse for another horse that he was riding now.

The only thing Tom now has left is his duty. “Get it straight. Your boy you lose. Love you lose. Honor has been gone a long time. Duty you do. Sure and what’s your duty? What I said I’d do. And all the things you said you’d do.”

In this last section called, At Sea, Thomas Hudson does is duty. He is in pursuit of a German submarine crew whose submarine has been destroyed. They are hiding out in the mangroves of a Cuban island. The writing in this section is some of the best action writing I have ever read. At the climax there is a showdown between Hudson’s crew and the German crew. Hudson’s crew wins but Hudson gets shot it the process. As his ship cruises back to home port he realizes he is going to die. He thinks about sorrow. If it is cured by anything other than death, chances are that it was not true sorrow.












One Hundred Years of Solitude


One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is unlike any novel I have ever read. This is the third novel I have read by this author. From the very first line one is enchanted by the magical realism the writer imposes on the material. It is said that Garcia Marquez found his voice as a result of being raised by his grandmother in Aracataca, a small village in Colombia. This village is the basis for the mythical town of Macondo from the novel. His grandmother would tell him tell him the most fantastic stories in the most off hand way as if they were true. He adopted this style while telling the tale of the Buendia family. Marquez was also greatly influenced by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Traces of surrealism can be found throughout the novel.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is not an easy novel to read. It is about the Buendia family dynasty that began with the founding of the small mythical town of Macondo. Marquez chronicles the rise and fall of the town and the family over a one hundred year period. Some of the characters actually live to be over 100 years old. What is so confusing is that each character’s name is a variation of the family name Buendia: Jose Arcadio Buendia, Aureliano Buendia, Jose Arcadio, Aurliano Jose, Ursula, Remedios, and Amaranta. Well, you get the idea. These names repeat over six generations. You really couldn’t keep them straight. My approach to reading the novel was not to even try keep all the characters and events straight in my mind as I was reading, but rather to let the words wash over me and by the end a tapestry was woven from them wherein I could make sense of the whole. The idea, I think was to represent the repetition and the cyclic nature of life. In fact the whole novel could be described as a metaphor for human society and a running commentary on human nature.

The novel is biblical in nature and scope. It mimics many characters and events from the Bible such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Moses in the bulrushes, and the great flood. One character even ascends to heaven.

The famous opening line of the novel is a good example of the style of the entire novel: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aurliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” This story is not revisited again until much later in the novel and in fact is two stories; one where Aurliano Buendia discovers ice and the other where he faces the firing squad. The novel careens back and forth between past, present, and future at will and with great ease, interweaving personal narratives of the characters and the epic sweep of the history of the town and the country. This includes a civil war between the liberals and conservatives, a banana company (United Fruit) exploiting the town, and a labor war resulting in the massacre of 3,000 workers.


I wondered as I was reading the novel just what Marquez meant by the one hundred years was and what did the solitude represent? By the time I got to end I knew. As previously mentioned some of the characters actually lived 100 years. The sweep of history regarding the town and its inhabitants was roughly 100 years. Throughout the novel Marquez make numerous references to the solitude of the characters, from each other and from society at large. And, as John Leonard said in his 1970 review: “Solitude is one’s admission of one’s own mortality and one’s discovery that the terrible apprehension is itself mortal, dies with you, and must be rediscovered and forgotten again endlessly.” I am also reminded of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”

I highly recommend this acclaimed novel written in 1967. In my opinion it is one of the best written in the 20th century and one that put Marquez firmly on the road to winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.