Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Buzz Poole

By posted at 10:34 am on December 6, 2007 0

Buzz Poole, the managing editor of Mark Batty Publisher, has written for the likes of The Believer, PRINT, Village Voice and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is also the author of Madonna of the Toast, a look at the cultural ramifications of unexpected religious and secular icons. Keep up with his adventures in surprising iconography at his Madonna of the Toast blog.

covercoverIf you were able to introduce the sets of characters from Missing Soluch and The Possibility of an Island, they would not be able to understand one another, and it would have nothing to do with the difference between speaking Persian and French. The vagaries weathered by the two books’ respective characters chart the human continuum as it has unraveled over the past several decades. This first English translation of Missing Soluch (originally published in 1979) by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, an esteemed Iranian writer and activist, depicts a small, poor pre-Revolution village whose inhabitants do little else other than struggle to keep warm and fed. As the pending arrival of the village’s first tractor renders with delicate ferocity the tricky transition from agrarian to industrial ways, a mother, Dowlatabadi’s central character, does the best she can to maintain some semblance of her family.

Where Missing Soluch hints at how technology dilutes cultural traditions, for better or worse, polemicist Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island focuses on the human race and its conversion into the “neo-human” condition. What do deathless humans look like? How do they behave? What motivates the goal of immortality? At the heart of this uncanny allegory, Houellebecq muses on such notions and in doing so denudes religion and love as nothing more than responses to the fear of aging. Most of the reviews of this book couldn’t get past the graphic sex scenes, but that’s because they’re the easiest parts to think about. However, they are but one facet of this fully realized indictment of the human species and its aspirations for an ageless, technological utopia.

Both of these books transcend the cultures that inspired them, making for two truly human stories that remind their readers, in the words of Houellebecq, “of this absurd or sublime determination, present in humans … to bear witness, to leave a trace.”

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