Schumann’s eyes redden and fill with tears.
“Somebody had to do it,” he says.
This is what I see from the back seat.
In the after-war, this is what any of us can see if we take the time.
David Finkel is the author of Thank You for Your Service, to be published in October.
When I was writing David and Goliath, I ran across a remarkable man named Konrad Kellen. His family was friends with Renoir. His cousin was Einstein. He worked for Thomas Mann and Ben Graham and smuggled Marc Chagall’s paintings out of Paris after the war. He grew up in Berlin but left Germany in a hurry when an eccentric little man with a moustache came to power, because he sensed – in 1933 – that nothing good lay ahead.
And that was just the prelude. He then went on to play a remarkable role in the Vietnam War: he was the man who tried to warn the U.S. government – way back in the mid-sixties – that it really wasn’t going to work.
I spent months tracking down people who remembered him. I fell in love with his story. Alas, none of that made it into my book. It just didn’t fit. That happens sometimes.
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, to be published in October.
Adam Leith Gollner
As the book neared completion, I attended an “Elixir of Life” ceremony at a Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre. The V-like collars on the nuns’ saffron vests represented the jaws of death, a reminder that they, like all of us, could die any time.
Buddhists believe in impermanence – that everything is fleeting. The Dalai Lama visualizes his own death daily. The nun spoke of how bodies all grow older every moment. Rather than hide from aging, she suggested we celebrate it. We then meditated on the idea of illness as a companion who follows us everywhere.
“Death is my friend,” explained the handout, “the truest of friends, a true friend that never abandons me. Death is always waiting for me.”
So this was the elixir of life? Sitting there, I could feel it: Life. I was a person now alive who knew, as we all do, even if we try not to, that one day I must die.
Adam Leith Gollner is the author of The Book of Immortality, published in August.
Newspapers from a century ago, now preserved on microfilm, are tiring to read: As I plodded through issues of Toronto’s Evening Telegram for February, 1915, I felt my eyes blurring. I had already spent weeks in the National Library, following the murder trial of Carrie Davies, an 18-year-old who had shot her employer dead.
Then suddenly, I was wide awake. Carrie’s lawyer had called a medical witness: Dr. A.J. Harrington. I, in common with everybody in court that day 98 years ago, expected Dr. Harrington to pronounce on Carrie’s mental, not her physical, condition. There was speculation in the press that she would be declared insane. Instead, Dr. Harrington announced: “She is a virgin.”
Images exploded in my head as I realized what Dr. Harrington’s blunt statement entailed. The physician must have visited Carrie in the Don Jail, the filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested jail in Riverdale, where she was being kept in the hospital wing. He must have told the frightened girl to lie on her back with her knees bent and feet apart. Did he tell her what he was doing? Probably not: Respected Toronto physicians didn’t have to explain themselves to domestic servants back then. Then he had stuck his fingers inside her to check her hymen.
I recoiled from the microfilm machine, imagining this violation of a terrified and helpless girl.
Charlotte Gray is the author of The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country, to be published this month.
Some word scholars refer to a place called “the asterisk reality.” I discovered it (in the Christopher Columbus sense of finding something other people already knew about) when I read a book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s notes. He worked at the Oxford English Dictionary for two years, and part of his job was to “asterisk” the histories of words.