Category Archives: Books

Threats of Pain and Ruin

Once again, we are behind the curve in our efforts to keep up with Dalrymple. New English Review has put together another collection of his essays for that website, and it is now available for purchase (ahem, has been for some time). From their press release:

New English Review Press is pleased to announce the publication of our fourteenth book, Threats of Pain and Ruin by Theodore Dalrymple.

Sparklingly funny, unflinchingly realistic, and profoundly wise, these brilliant meditations on our postmodern predicament by the Montaigne of our age impart urbane pleasure and enlightenment on every page.
Myron Magnet, author of The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817

No one else writes so engagingly and so candidly about the world as it is, not as the politically correct would have it be.
Dr. Charles Murray author of Coming Apart and The Bell Curve

Dr. Dalrymple’s eye alights on a topic; his mind dissects it; his imagination embroiders it; his judgment delivers an appropriate verdict, usually condemnation; and his sensibility ensures that all these activities are conceived, argued, and expressed wittily or sadly but always beautifully.
John O’Sullivan author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister

Another brilliant collection from our age’s answer to Dr. Johnson and George Orwell. A feast of wit, insight, admonition, and plain old common sense.
Roger Kimball, author of The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art

The summary from TD:

What is written without pain, said Doctor Johnson, is rarely read with pleasure. Rarely perhaps, but not, I hope, never: for the little essays in this book were written, I must confess, without much angst. In part this was because, in writing them, I had no thesis to prove, no axe to grind, except that the world is both infinitely interesting and amusing, and provides us with an inexhaustible source of material for philosophical reflection.

Many of the subjects treated of in this book were found by serendipity or came to me in flashes – it would be immodest to call them of inspiration – of previously unsuspected connection and interest. I can only hope that they entertain the reader as they have entertained me. At least they will do no harm, in compliance with the first principle of medical ethics.

— Theodore Dalrymple

Available here

Farewell Fear now available

New English Review Press has just published their second collection of Dalrymple essays. Farewell Fear covers the essays Dalrymple wrote for the website from 2009 to mid-2012. The book is available for sale now in paperback and in Kindle format at’s US website. The cover features Goya’s disturbing Saturn Devouring His Son (which I have seen in the Prado and can hardly believe was painted almost 200 years ago). For many of us, Dalrymple’s monthly New English Review essays have become some of his most profound and enjoyable works, and any collection of them immediately becomes a real treasure.
NER also released Anything Goes last year, which collected Dalrymple’s pieces from 2005 to 2009 and which I am embarrassed to say we still haven’t placed on the website. We have much catching up to do.

The Policeman and the Brothel now available

Monday Books has published the new Dalrymple book The Policeman and the Brothel: A Victorian Murder, the good doctor’s account of the only killing of a police officer ever on the island of Jersey:

Deep in the bleak winter of 1846, Jersey is a very different place from today. It is home to tens of thousands of rough-and-ready sailors, who spend their time drinking, chasing loose women and gambling through the teeming and chaotic streets. The job of keeping order still falls to elected ‘centeniers’ – such as the respected and feared George Le Cronier. There have already been two brutal murders on the island over the last few weeks. Now Le Cronier is on his way to arrest the madame of a notorious brothel. This is the true story of what happened next…

The really interesting point here is that the book appears to be written as a narrative, which would be Dalrymple’s first such work (or second, depending on how one categorizes So Little Done), and it will be fun to read him telling a story.
Buy the book at the bargain price of £8.99 here. Note the request for non-UK readers to contact them at before ordering.

Dalrymple (and Vaclav Havel) on North Korea: The Wilder Shores of Marx, excerpt (1991)

After the recent death of Kim Jong Il, many eyes turned again to North Korea and many heads were scratched as people struggled again to comprehend this strange nation.
Some have noted the irony of Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel passing away within 24 hours of each other. Havel, of course, did just as much to end totalitarianism and the cult of personality (or at least one implementation of them) as Kim did to preserve them.
So we found the following excerpt from The Wilder Shores of Marx relevant. Dalrymple’s description of a mass rally addressed by Kim Il Sung offers a glimpse into the nature of the regime, and it seems particularly ironic that he quoted Havel in the process.
The festival was opened a few days after our arrival, at a ceremony in the huge stadium that had been built for the Olympics but had never witnessed an Olympic event. Attendance at the opening ceremony, we were several times reminded, was compulsory. We had each received official invitation cards, but RSVP was not written on them. Moreover, each delegation was to wear its ‘uniform’. In our case, a special shirt had been designed, and by happy coincidence it was coloured storm-trooper brown. About half of us were to take part in the march past Kim Il Sung, and the idea of doing so appealed to me immensely: I should relish relating how I marched past Kim in twenty years’ time. Alas, I was not selected as a marcher. 
The ceremony was prepared with military precision. The buses taking the delegations to the stadium left at thirty second intervals, an impressive organisational feat. We arrived in the stadium two hours before the Great Leader was due to make his entry, leaving plenty of time for tension to mount: a technique well developed by another great leader, Adolf Hitler. 
On the far side of the stadium were 20,000 children, each with a series of coloured cards which, by means of instantaneous and co-ordinated changes, produced patterns, portraits, landscapes, and slogans (the latter in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Korean). At the very moment the children changed the colours of the cards they exposed to view, they let out a high pitched yell which pierced the sky. The effect was undoubtedly impressive because of its scale and the perfection of its timing; but it made one’s blood run cold.
Even had I not heard from a diplomat that these children were rehearsing for the opening ceremony for five or six months beforehand; that during that time they did not go to school; that often during that period they were to be seen being driven home in army trucks after rehearsals at two and three o’clock in the morning; that such parades and ceremonies were a constant feature of North Korean life; even had I heard none of these things, I should have still concluded from the spectacle itself that its production involved terrible sacrifices. Here was a perfect demonstration of Man as a means and not an end; of people as tiny cogs in an all-embracing machine. I think it true to say that even if there had been a machine available to do the work of those 20,000 children, the regime would still have chosen the children to do it: for what better training could there be for a life of personal insignificance and subordination to orders than participation in such a spectacle? 
The stadium held 150,000 people, of whom only 15,000 were foreigners attending the festival. The rest were North Koreans. As we awaited the arrival of the GL, storms of applause, obviously co-ordinated, would start in the Korean sections of the crowd, and waves of people would stand up and throw their arms in the air, with an effect like wind rushing through wheat. To my horror, the people around me joined in this mindless activity (mindless, but not purposeless). What were they cheering, what were they celebrating, what emotion, or rather pseudo-emotion, were they feeling? I recalled a passage from Vaclav Havel:

Each person somehow succumbs to a profane trivialisation of his or her inherent humanity. . . In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudo-life. This is much more than a simple conflict between two identities. It is something far worse: it is a challenge to the very notion of identity itself. 

How right Havel was! There was no external compulsion for these people to behave as they did, to abandon their critical faculties, to lose their identity, to be united in a pseudo-mystical communion with a hundred thousand people of whom they knew nothing, absolutely nothing. Yet they could not wait to do so; in fact they rejoiced in doing it, and they felt fulfilled afterwards. Here was a profound rejection of individual freedom by people who were free, and who gratefully rejected freedom’s corollary: individual responsibility, with all its uncertainties and torments. 
The playing field area began to fill with what our programme called ‘performers’….Some of the performers were dressed in blue and white gymnasts’ kit; they goose-stepped and gave the special fascist-style Kim Il Sung salute. They kept up the goose-stepping until my legs grew weary: they were the embodiment of Strength Through Joy, or Strength Through Fear, which of course amounts to the same thing. But they were only a small contingent compared with the dancers. I use the words ‘dancers’ because the English language, fortunately, has no word that more accurately conveys the nature of these untold thousands of people. Can robots dance? For this was no mere corps de ballet. The ‘dances’ were military manoeuvres performed to music (3000 musicians, naturally), by male and female soldiers in a variety of garish nylon costumes.
The ‘dances’ they performed bore titles such as Let’s check and frustrate the imperialist moves towards aggression and nuclear war! and Fly, doves of peace! – the latter with the following programme note: 

Doves of peace, fly high up into the blue sky that is clear of the nuclear clouds. Thousands of doves dance as if to cover the sky of the whole world. 

With everyone in place, the moment arrived for which we had all been waiting – the entry of the Great Leader. It was an impossibility that everyone in the huge stadium saw this momentous event; yet a kind of controlled pandemonium broke out instantaneously all around the stadium. The 50,000 performers on the pitch threw up their hands in a gesture of true subservience before their Pharaoh, and the Korean spectators did likewise. They roared and howled in unison, and jumped up and down collectively for minutes on end; the foreigners, caught up in the atmosphere of hysterical self-abasement, stood up and applauded as if to save their lives. 
I am not by nature brave, or even unconventional, yet in the moment of Kim Il Sung’s entry I decided that I would not stand, not if everyone in the stadium should hurl abuse at me, not even if I were to be threatened with torture or death itself. I was so appalled by the sight and sound of 200,000 men and women worshipping a fellow mortal, totally abdicating their humanity, that I do not think I am exaggerating when I say I should rather have died than assent to this monstrous evil by standing (my mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany). There I sat; I could do no other. 
The terrible obedience of the crowd, uncoerced at least in the immediate sense, indicated the power of the regime, a power that seemed absolute and limitless, that had entered the very recesses of minds, that had eradicated any countervailing force. Yet the power that was so strong
was also brittle. It would only have taken 10,000 people not to have stood up for Kim Il Sung when he entered the stadium – the omission of one small act of obedience – and his power and mystique would have snapped like a twig, to remain broken and irrecoverable. My refusal to stand was but a feeble, isolated gesture; but a tiny crystal thrown into a sea of saturated solution can cause an immense precipitate, and one day such a thing will happen in North Korea and everyone, wise after the event, will marvel that it didn’t happen sooner. 
I wondered once again what it must be like to receive such adulation, calmly to watch 200,000 people worshipping oneself. After many years of it, does one become blase? Does one come to believe that the tribute is merited, or worse still, that it is freely offered and expresses some real emotion? It would have been interesting to have a chat with Kim Il Sung. I recalled the only object of a political personality cult whom I had ever met, some two years previously: Jonas Savimbi. In his ‘Free Land of Angola’, that part of Angola where his forces held sway, there was a cult as grotesque as any. His picture and words were everywhere; his was the only poetry permitted; and when his name was mentioned in a private conversation, the speaker had to stand up while saying it. I asked Savimbi about his cult (he was claiming at the time to be a liberal democrat). ‘If the people love me,’ he answered, ‘how can I stop them?’ 
The adulation of the Great Leader ceased as suddenly as it had started, as if on a hidden signal, as if a certain precise length of time had been set aside for it. Then came the march past of the delegations, 140 of them. It was a tedious procession, but the tedium was not pointless. The Koreans, who were not allowed so much as to draw breath without the permission of their government, must have concluded that these delegations were in some way official, and that therefore their country, North Korea, was presently the centre of world attention. Not surprisingly, the delegations from Guatemala and El Salvador were from the URNG and FMLN respectively, that is to say the guerrilla coalitions. At that time the Iraqis still had to be kept away from the Iranians, and the Scandinavians, to my great admiration, unfurled two banners, one asking why Amnesty International was not permitted to investigate conditions in North Korea (not a difficult question to answer), and another expressing solidarity with the Chinese pro­democracy students who had not long before been massacred in Tiananmen Square. Later, when the Scandinavian marchers returned to the body of the stadium, scuffles broke out as security men tried to wrest the banners away. A few of the Scandinavians were punched and kicked…
When these scuffles broke out, I overheard some of my fellow delegates, the hard-faced communists, express a willingness, indeed an anxiety, to join in – on the side of the North Koreans, ‘to beat the shit out of them’. Discussing among themselves the famous scene when the single student (since executed) stood in front of the column of tanks in Peking and held them up by moral force alone, one of them remarked that if he had been the tank driver he would have driven ‘straight over the bastard and squashed him’. And his face showed that he meant what he said. 
It was time for the Great Leader’s speech. The whole ceremony up till now had been so Hitlerian, so megalomanic, that I assumed the Great Leader was a fiery orator, a man able to rouse his listeners to a frenzy of indignation and other enjoyable emotions. I could not have been more mistaken. He spoke like a retired bank manager recalling cheques he had been obliged to bounce. His voice was monotonous, without modulation or intonation: a real bureaucrat’s voice. It was impossible to make out the content of his speech, which was translated simultaneously into English and broadcast over an echoing public address system. I am unable, therefore, to comment on its other qualities, except to say that it seemed not to be a model of concision. 
The rapture with which the GL’s speech was received had nothing to do with what was said: only with who had said it. If he had recited the Pyongyang telephone directory – assuming such a subversive volume exists – the crowd would still have applauded with tears in its eyes. The contrast between the banality of his delivery and the ecstasy of the response was terrifying. 
It was now time for the guest of honour, Comrade Robert Mugabe, to speak. Part of his Zimbabwean army, the brigade used to terrify the Matabele, was trained by the North Koreans. The public address system, which relayed his speech almost simultaneously in English and Korean, rendered it virtually incomprehensible, but such snatches as were heard were purest platitude – education was a good thing, the future of the world belonged to the youth etc. Of course, the fact that he had nothing to say did not prevent him from speaking for a long time. The twentieth century belongs to windbags. 
The applause he received at the end of his speech was polite but without enthusiasm. I suspect that the Great Leader thinks that a clap for somebody else is one less clap for him. 
There was more military dancing, then some lighting effects and fireworks. It was tedious – kitsch on an unimaginable scale. The departure of the Great Leader was accompanied by the same pandemonium as his arrival, and it continued for several minutes after his motorcade must have sped away. 
As we left the stadium, one of the naive communists asked me what I had thought of the opening ceremony.
‘To tell you the truth,’ I said, ‘I’ve never been very keen on fascism.’
Copyright 1991 Anthony Daniels. Reprinted with permission.

Monday Books to republish all Anthony Daniels books

Monday Books has made the following announcement on its blog:

Finally, we’ve just agreed with Theodore Dalrymple that we will republish all of his old work, written as Anthony Daniels, in eBook format. This includes classics such as Monrovia Mon Amour, Zanzibar to Timbuktu and The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World.

There follows an excerpt from Monrovia, Mon Amour of his visit to the murderous dictator Brigadier General Field Marshall Prince Y. Johnson.

Dalrymple on All Saints’ Day

On this Halloween weekend, these comments from pages 67-68 of Sweet Waist of America come to mind:

I like graveyards in general, and Guatemalan graveyards are particularly attractive. Every little pueblo has its cemetery, the plain block-like tombs gaily painted pink, yellow, white, purple, sky-blue or mauve. They are well cared for and not at all dismal. In the large towns, such as Chiquimula, there are also large family vaults with cherubim, seraphim and angels blowing trumpets.
On 1 November, All Saints’ Day, I had been in the little town of Salama, some sixty miles distant from the capital. All Saints’ Day is every cemetery’s day of glory, the day on which Catholic Guatemalans go with their families to the tombs of their dead relatives and spend the day there. Flowers are taken: real flowers, beautiful but ephemeral, or plastic ones, gaudy but permanent. A few days beforehand, the family refreshes the tomb with a coat of paint and renews the inscription. On the day itself, everyone picnics over grandmama, eating a dish called fiambre – rice and twenty different kinds of cold meat – which is prepared only for this day. Even in death, of course, there are class distinctions, no matter that old quarrels are forgotten. Near the entrance to Salama graveyard, where the local gentry lie buried in imposing vaults, I saw coiffured European ladies in fine silk dresses lay elaborate wreaths for their departed, many of whose names had passed from generation to generation from before independence, taking their titles such as General, Colonel, Doctor and Licenciado with them into the grave. A little further into the cemetery, where the tombs were plainer but boasted at least a brass plaque, a local schoolteacher and poet lay buried, who died prematurely and much lamented, though his flowers, planted in an empty tin of Nido, a brand of powdered milk, were but a simple bunch. Deeper still into the cemetery, and at its far edges, were the graves of the poor, mere mounds of earth planted with a wooden or iron cross without a name. But those below were not forgotten: the mounds had been’ scattered with fresh pine needles (such as Indians spread on churchfloors), and the crosses were draped with coloured paper or polythene, each widow or widower remembering which was the grave of their partner. No grave was totally neglected on All Saints’ Day, and even the graves of the dead without descendants were newly painted or strewn with a flower or two.
People from northern latitudes often find the customs of All Saints’ Day morbid. I found them not only charming, but moving and wise. It seemed to me that death as the inevitable end of life was accepted better in Guatemala than in our own culture, where everything possible is done to disguise the fact of death until the last moment, when it comes as a terrible shock. And surely it is some consolation to the dying to know that at least once a year they will be remembered.
Nothing could illustrate better the contrast in our attitudes to death than the behaviour of the North American lady with whom I visited Salama cemetery on All Saints’ Day. It happened that she was a member of the American Association of Graveyard Studies, which has a membership of 300, and as such I supposed she would be interested in the activities in the graveyard on this of all days. On the contrary, she regarded them as a hindrance to the proper study of gravestones as purely physical artifacts. I was rather embarrassed when, wishing to take a photograph of a particular tomb, she asked the family who had decorated it in remembrance to remove their flowers so that the tomb should appear in her photograph in its ‘natural’ state. She preferred her cemeteries dead in every possible sense, so that they were strange and alien places on the edge of town, with no connection to the world of the living. Thus death remained a taboo for her, despite her studies; she belonged to a culture in which death was warded off by facelifts, vitamin tablets, the magical avoidance of ubiquitous substances and even the freezing of corpses at -270°. Which was the wiser attitude?
Copyright 1990 Anthony Daniels. Reprinted with permission.

Flying to Finca La Perla

In this excerpt from Sweet Waist of America (pps. 181-184), Dalrymple takes a rickety aircraft to Finca La Perla, a remote Guatemalan coffee plantation reachable only by air. (Here is an excellent You Tube video of a landing at the airstrip.) Marxist guerillas had singled out the finca for attack, wishing to make it a symbol of oppression, and had shot its owner Don Luis Arenas in front of his workers.
I wanted to go to La Perla to verify or refute those parts of Days of the Jungle that referred to it. If anything would provide me with the golden key to Guatemala, I thought, this investigation would. The light aircraft was waiting at the airport: the other passengers were Mike Shawcross and Don Enrique, the present owner. The pilot was a young man who did not tell me until much later that he crashed the first time he landed at La Perla, broke both his legs and spent several months in hospital. A short time after I departed from the finca, he crashed again, or at least came to the end of the landing strip there without taking off. I remember feeling relief at his air of quiet confidence and technical competence. Another thing he did not tell me until much later was that he had once landed at La Perla to find the guerrillas waiting for him. They burned the aircraft and made off with the workers’ wages he had brought from Guatemala City. For neither of these actions did they earn the gratitude of the people of La Perla, whose wages were already low enough without being made non-existent, and for whom the aircraft was literally a lifeline. This happened in the early eighties.
Our first attempt to reach the finca was abortive. Although a radio link to La Perla had told us the weather was fine when we started out, by the time we reached the highlands there was complete cloud cover, and our little craft could fly only very slightly higher than the mountains themselves. Without navigational aids, we had little alternative but to return to the city.
The next day we tried again, without Don Enrique, in another small aircraft. I had thought the first one rickety enough, but the second was absurdly decrepit, a thing of rags and patches. There were no seats inside, except the pilot’s. We sat on plastic tanks of aviation fuel: it was like flying in a Molotov cocktail. So overladen with cargo was it (no one bothered about weight) that I sat with my face against the cockpit window, my neck craning horribly. The automatic starter did not work, and the pilot, a different one who struck us as somewhat insouciant about life and death, got out to crank the propeller by hand. We took off and wobbled in the crosswind. ‘Oh Lord,’ I prayed, ‘I didn’t mean it when I said You didn’t exist.’ There’s nothing like flying on a gas tank for taking Pascal’s bet.
We climbed slowly. I remembered all those news bulletins about aircraft that crashed five minutes after take-off. Unnoticed by the pilot (the only one of us, of course, with a seat belt) his door opened somewhere over Guatemala City. Mike leaned forward to close it, but the mechanism was faulty, so he held it shut for the rest of the journey.
Again we did not reach our destination. We saw the clouds rolling down the mountainsides like theatrical smoke and returned once more, though not until the pilot had made a couple of kamikaze dives through supposed gaps in the cloud.
The third day we didn’t even set out, but sat at the airport’s aero club awaiting a radio message from La Perla about fine weather. It never came, but it was interesting enough watching the dark windowed station wagons come and go, delivering and collecting finca owners on their way to and from their fincas. Pilots sat in the clubhouse swapping tall stories. It was here that I heard that Don Enrique owned his own aircraft which he used to fly to his finca in the south, where there was no danger of its destruction by guerrillas; he hired aircraft to go to La Perla.
On the fourth day the sky was brilliantly clear and once more we climbed aboard our single-seater Molotov cocktail. Soon we were flying over (or rather through) a magnificent landscape of forested mountains, deep ravines and white water. The mountain peaks were high above us; it was exhilarating to fly in the valleys. How tiny was our aircraft, how small our lives! I thought of the brief but beautiful ball of orange flame we should make against the mountain if the pilot made an error. Would anyone see it? I was surprised that even in the most inaccessible valleys, where there was not so much as a truck, rectangles of forest had been cut down. Was this for the timber (but how could it be transported from so inaccessible a place?), or was it to clear the land for a milpa, a corn field?
If the latter, for whom was the corn destined? Guerillas? Refugees from the war? I could not tell.
We swung left into another valley and ahead of us was La Perla, the Pearl. It was indeed beautiful. The village clung to the dark green hillsides, a small white church dazzling by contrast. The landing strip ran up a small hill and between flights served as a playground for the children of the finca. On our left as we landed was the coffee processing plant of whitewashed wood, built on pillars of cement. In front of it was a large and perfectly flat concrete yard where the coffee beans, having been separated from the red husk of the berry and soaked in tanks beneath the plant, were laid out to dry, raked by workers into patterns resembling those of the pebble gardens of Kyoto. Above the processing plant was the house in which Don Luis used to live, but now it was the headquarters of La Perla’s garrison of 160 men, with a flagpole flying the sky-blue, white and sky-blue flag of Guatemala, and, a little way beyond, a helicopter landing pad on the top of a hillock. On the other side of the valley, atop another hill, was a small graveyard, and it was here that Luis Arenas was buried in a simple tomb among those of his workers, the inscription giving only his name and dates of existence.
Waiting for us at the landing strip was La Perla’s only vehicle, an open and battered jeep that looked and sounded as though it might at any moment disintegrate into a heap of parts. How had it reached La Perla? There were only mule tracks there. The only road went to a distant part of the finca called Santa Delfina, a road which the workers had built by hand in defiance of threats by the guerrillas. The jeep had been flown to La Perla by helicopter, and was therefore a precious vehicle. It drove us the few hundred yards down the muddy track to the processing plant, in the quarters of which we were to live.
The rooms were large and airy and wooden shutters opened on to a view of green hills. Below us we could hear the grinding and slurping of coffee bean extraction. We were served lunch by a motherly servant of the family, Dona Caterina: soup, meat and tortillas, accompanied by a pickle of burnt-tasting chillies, to which I soon grew addicted. While talking to Dona Caterina, she let slip that her husband had been murdered by the guerrillas, for reasons that she did not understand. Not long after we arrived she was called to Guatemala City, where Don Enrique’s mother was ill and needed Dona Caterina as a nurse. The woman who replaced her was short, a ladina who spoke no Indian language yet dressed half in the Indian way. She told me that her husband also had been killed by the guerrillas, and her son. The guerrillas burst into their hut one night and shot them. She had no idea why; we were poor people,
she said.
Were they military commissioners, I asked? No, she replied. After the killings, she had fled to Nebaj, a day or two through the mountains, and there, gracias a Dios, she had heard an evangelist preach and she had ‘accepted Christ’, as she put it.
But why, I asked, had she changed from her ancestral Catholicism?
Por mucha tristeza,’ she replied. Because of much sadness.
When later I recounted this to assorted journalists and solidarity workers, they said it was impossible; the women had mistaken the soldiers for guerrillas, or they were afraid to say it was the army. But when I told them the women were well able to distinguish, and were moreover unafraid to acknowledge the army’s killings in the area, in the course of which whole villages had been destroyed and scores of people murdered, they remained incredulous. No, they insisted, the women were afraid to speak . . . 
Later, the pilot told me the guerrillas would have known of my presence in La Perla. How he knew, I did not inquire; presumably there were guerrilla orejas (ears) in the village.

Copyright 1990 Anthony Daniels. Reprinted with permission.

A mule to La Estrella

Going forward we will be posting more excerpts of Dalrymple’s books, as well as older essays. In the next few weeks this will take the form of several passages from the 1990 book Sweet Waist of America, recounting the seven months he spent in Central America during Guatemala’s brutal civil war. In this excerpt (pps. 186-188), Dalrymple travels into the Guatemalan countryside via foot and mule.
Mike Shawcross had only two or three days to spare, and so we set out to see something of the nearby villages. We had a guide and two mules and a pony, though it was not clear whether these latter made our journey any the easier. Unused to riding, at the end of several hours in the saddle my thighs ached and my buttocks felt like those of a masochist after a good night out. But it was worth the travail a hundred times over, for the steep and muddy mule tracks over which the beasts fastidiously picked their way, at their own pace and no other, passed through scenes of astonishing loveliness, always to the accompaniment of the sound of running water. The dark green coffee bushes on the more accessible slopes were hung with crimson berries. From the sides of ravines grew huge and noble trees, ceibas with hundred foot trunks that suddenly opened up into broad canopies of foliage. All around were wild dahlias, tall as a man standing on another man’s shoulders, bearing mauve flowers; and white trumpet lilies, perfect in form, that seemed to call for the loving work of a Victorian flower painter to capture them on the page of an exquisite volume. Vistas opened up of green mountains against blue sky. I drew my mule up sharply just so that I could drink with my eyes.
And we continued, too, until we reached a mountain meadow of great size and lushness, where horses and cattle grazed. At the far end of the meadow ran a river, of limpid water crushed into foam by rocks. On the banks of the river hosts of brilliant butterflies played in the sun, as if for joy of living. If ever there were an earthly paradise, I thought, this was it. 
Across the river was slung a suspension bridge of wire and wooden slats. Many of the slats were broken or missing, the wire was worn and looked as though it might snap at any moment. When one stepped on to the bridge, it began to oscillate with considerable violence, like a dog shaking off water. To reach our destination, the village of La Estrella (the Star), we had to cross the river, but the animals clearly could not use the bridge and we sent them across what we mistakenly thought was a ford. But the water was deep and the current strong, and within a couple of minutes the terrified animals were struggling for their lives. One of them would neither go forward nor return, and when at last he tried to go up river, it was into deeper water still. His eyes stared wildly, as in a painting by Gericault, and we thought we had lost him, but, with what seemed his very last strength, he managed to drag himself ashore. I watched the drama from the bridge, to the centre of which I had gone to conquer my fear, and so absorbing was the drama that I did not notice until it was over that the bridge swung with almost every breath I took. 
So we did not reach La Estrella, but it happened that we met a few men from there on their way to La Perla. We sat by the riverside and talked to them. Oh yes, they had known disaster: the army had attacked their village, burned their houses, killed scores of people. 
They had gone to live in the mountains until it was safe to return. They were no longer afraid of the army, but before . . . We heard similar stories in other villages. One of them had once consisted of more than 600 households but now there were only 97. It was true that people were still coming down from the mountains, but it would never return to its former size. 
Whenever I heard these stories, what struck me was the great dignity with which they were told. The people were neither self­-pitying, nor asking for pity. Neither were they thirsting for revenge, at least to all outward appearances. Yet they were not apathetic either: there was something about them more positive than that, as though they were in possession of a philosophy that put them above the world of dreadful appearances. Perhaps it was the old Mayan idea that all that happens goes in cycles. At any rate, something must have given them the strength, the desire, to go on living, the ability still to laugh after having witnessed the scenes that their laconic descriptions of events implied. Still they wanted children. And they even took part in village football matches with enthusiasm. I remembered my rage at life when a telephone number I had rung was busy, and was ashamed.
Copyright 1990 Anthony Daniels. Reprinted with permission.

New Dalrymple Books

We are pleased to inform you of three new Dalrymple books on the way.
Litter: How Other People’s Rubbish Shapes Our Lives covers a particular pet peeve of Dalrymple’s and was inspired by the rubbish he saw on a drive from Glasgow to London. It is now available here on Amazon.
The Pleasure of Thinking: A Lifelong Addiction is expected in September. Here is the publisher’s description: 

‘The miseries of a vacant life were never known to a man whose hours were insufficient for the inexhaustible pleasures of study’. Edward Gibson. ‘When we read, we thereby save ourselves the greater part of the trouble of thinking. This explains our obvious sense of relief when we turn from our own thoughts to reading’. Arthur Schopenhauer. Using these quotes as a starting point, journalist and prison psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple writes a light-hearted memoir of his lifelong addiction to thinking and how serendipity led him on a journey of discovery.

Lastly, Anything Goes is scheduled for publication in August or September by Monday Books. A collection of his best pieces from New English Review, this should be an enjoyable read, as he has done some of his best work there.

You’re Not Me

Monday Books blogs another entertaining excerpt from their excellent Dalrymple collection Second Opinion:

Recently while travelling on the London Underground, the opening words of Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte ran through my mind like a refrain:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world historic events and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Why, you might ask, did this passage insinuate itself into my brain on the District Line between West Brompton and Earl’s Court?

Standing opposite me was a young man badly dressed in black, on whose baseball cap was inscribed the word ‘Victim’. On his black T-shirt were the words, ‘I wish I could be you’, which implied self-pity on an industrial scale. On his right forearm (from which, Sherlock Holmes-like, I inferred he was left-handed) were a series of parallel scars from self-inflicted injury. On his right forearm was tattooed a simplified reproduction of a picture by Gustav Klimt. All paintings appear twice: the first time as art, the second time as kitsch.