You probably know that on last September there was a HUGE earthquake in Mexico. There were actually two, one on the 7th and another one on the 19th. I was asleep on the 7th (it was after 11 pm) and the rocking movement woke me up. I remember sitting on my bed, looking through the window to some crazy blue lights that looked like lightning or explosions. The earthquake was so long that I was sure the whole Mexico City was in ruins. Fortunately, nothing happened in the city; unfortunately, one of the poorest states in Mexico was devastated.
Then, on September 19th we were commemorating the 32nd anniversary of Mexico’s deadliest earthquake when another superpowerful one hit. Everything was chaos. To reunite my family and get back home took me more than six hours (with a total journey of less than 10 miles). A lot of buildings collapsed and hundreds more were severely damaged. I had always been afraid of earthquakes, but the truth is I had never felt anything like that before.
For a few days I barely slept or did anything really. And after a couple of weeks, I started reading again. The city was still mostly paralyzed, no one was working nor in school, everyone was helping the best they could. I wasn’t pushing myself too much, I didn’t want to read +200 pages a day, but anything I read seemed so superfluous and unimportant… A building next block from my apartment had collapsed, I had been helping to look for survivors and then I would come home and read about two teenage superheroes? Ugh… no… It just didn’t feel right. I’m not sure why I decided to read anything I could about earthquakes. I already had in my shelf a book by Juan Villoro (you might remember that I already mentioned him in my first post) called: 8.8: el miedo en el espejo, it’s a chronicle about his experience in one of the most horrifying earthquakes in the history of the planet… An 8.8 earthquake in Chile that lasted SEVEN minutes. It had been in my TBR for ages… and when I opened it, it didn’t make me feel like I shouldn’t be reading it, which was the most important thing for me. Then, I read a chronicle of that other earthquake that hit my city on September 19th 1985, by one of the most important chroniclers of the city: No sin nosotros. Los días del terremoto 1985-2005, by Carlos Monsiváis. It was a harrowing read because it talked about some of the places that were hit AGAIN exactly thirty two years later… there was a story about a boy created by the media, that supposedly was under the rubble, that echoed EXACTLY a story about a little girl that supposedly was under the rubble of a school. I spent EIGHT hours in front of the TV hoping, waiting, expecting for this little girl to come out, and she didn’t even exist… Imagine how I felt reading that it had happened before…
And finally, I read Murakami’s After the Quake…
It was absolutely the best order I could have chosen to read those books, because the first was about something even worse than what I had lived, but far away… a reintroduction to reading something important, but also remote. Then as I had picked up my pace I did read something hard, something close, something that talked exactly of what I was living. And finally, something almost soothing, a series of short stories that mentioned a devastating earthquake so subtly, and were so beautifully written and just plainly exquisite…
There was one that hit me the most powerfully: “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo”. It is the fucking best allegory of survivor guilt. It’s amazing. And I think that little cutesy short story was one of the fundamental things that made me start living my life normally again, going back to routine… And in it Murakami mentions lots of books. But there was one that I was definitely was going to read: White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Frog (one of the main characters), who is going to fight Worm says: “Fyodor Dostoevsky, with unparalleled tenderness, depicted those who have been forsaken by God. He discovered the precious quality of human existence in the ghastly paradox whereby men who have invented God were forsaken by that very God.” (“Fiódor Dostoievski describió con una ternura infinita a los hombres abandonados por Dios. Él descubrió el valor de la vida humana en la terrible paradoja según la cual el hombre que ha creado a Dios es abandonado por ese mismo Dios”, OMFG :o). I just HAD to read that book.
And when I saw the prompt for a classic with a color in the title in the Back to the Classics 2018, I knew this was it.
I’m so glad, really, I can’t put it in words how happy I am about this challenge.
White Nights is an amazing novella. Published in 1848, it’s an early Dostoyevsky where you can already see what he’ll become.
The story is divided in “nights” and a “morning”. It takes place during a time of the year known as “white nights”. Here’s what Wikipedia says about them:
Locations where the sun remains less than 6 (or 7) degrees below the horizon—above 60° 34’ (or 59° 34’) latitude south of the Arctic Circle or north of the Antarctic Circle—experience midnight twilight instead of midnight sun, so that daytime activities, such as reading, are still possible without artificial light on a clear night.
White Nights have become a common symbol of Saint Petersburg, Russia, where they occur from about 11 June to 2 July, and the last 10 days of June are celebrated with cultural events known as the White Nights Festival.
White Nights tells the story of a “dreamer” (“The dreamer—if you want an exact definition—is not a human being, but a creature of an intermediate sort”, oh, Dostoyevsky, how much I love you… ) who observes everything and everyone so minutely that has no real contact with people, until one night he finds Nastenka, who seems to be the person he has been waiting for all his life. Unfortunately, Nastenka, who at first seems willing to share this feeling with our beloved narrator, leaves him in the end. The morning part of the story, the end, is a masterful exposition of the most sincere feelings all of us (the readers of Dostoyevsky, who I reckon are a sensible bunch) have felt at least once, so pure, honest, and unselfish. White Nights is a life-changing literary experience.
On a side note, and I don’t know if I’m stretching it, I couldn’t help but think about Noches tristes y día alegre, a novel by José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi published in 1818, which is also divided by days, but unlike Dostoyevsky’s has a happy ending.
White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1848, is the book I read for the prompt “A classic with a color in the title” in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018. I’ll also use it for the prompt “A book mentioned in another book” in the PopSugar Reading Challenge, as it was mentioned in After the Quake by Haruki Murakami.