Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Confessions of an Original Sinner by John Lukacs

You will notice I write my reviews well in advance.
It is March first, Ash Wednesday.  I am sitting outside in only slightly nippy weather. Hercule Parrot is on my hand as I type. Luckily he is light as a feather (ha!).   My piggies are nibbling grass a few yards away.  My dogs are patrolling the backyard.  I'm grateful for them because they keep the Red-Tailed Hawks away from my pigs, although they do occasionally sit in the upper branches of my Oak tree (the hawks, not my dogs) and peer down like a couple of old men with their arms clasped behind their back. My pigs are well-fed.  Could a hawk lift them?

By the way, I am listening to Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto, 2nd movement as I write.  It is simply one of the most beautiful, poignant pieces of music ever.  I hope you will find a recording and enjoy it.

Confessions of an Original SinnerConfessions of an Original Sinner by John Lukacs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lukacs was born in Hungary and as a young man went to live in England because his mother was an Anglophile and thought it was the only place for her son to become educated. He stayed there for school and college but returned to Hungary in time for WWII. His father was Roman Catholic (the religion he embraced) but his mother was Jewish and he was forced to fight in a Jewish battalion during the war.

After Germany's defeat, he realized that his country was going to become part of the Soviet "Iron Curtain" so he fled to America where he got a job teaching at a college. He has some interesting opinions about the responsibility Churchill and FDR had in letting Stalin have so much of Europe.

This book is filled with his memories but also his observations of Americans and comparing them to his own upbringing and also the culture prevalent in Europe at the time.

He has a habit of making some rather sweeping generalizations about American citizens, some of which I agree, others which I'm not sure it is completely accurate to make so broad a conclusion about so many people. But I think his is the perspective of an outsider who spent many years as a foreigner, feeling like a foreigner, being viewed as a foreigner, even though his goal was to assimilate into American culture.

He noticed that the average American was parochial in that they possess little interest beyond the scope of their immediate environment or culture. Little to no interest was shown him about his own background or history, even though it is very interesting and unusual.

Another observation was that over eighty percent of college educators are liberal and teach their classes accordingly. They filter every subject through the lens of socialist ideologies.

I thought this interesting as well as surprising since he made these observations back in the fifties and sixties. Lukacs remarks that there is a population of progressive elitists that believe the socialist model is the only experiment that can be successful and that America should look to Europe as a blueprint on which to construct our own society.

Never mind that the majority of immigrants in the world, including Europe, were (and are) applying for Visas to the United States. Lukacs considers these "elitists" to be out of touch with reality and can only preserve their vision by living in their self-made bubbles in the world of academia.

He notes that people out in the real world just want jobs and to pay their bills have a more pragmatic outlook.

I did not find much of his personal history interesting, except when he described his extreme loneliness for some years after immigrating because it was so hard to access people already entrenched in family and communities of which he had no part. As someone who has moved around a lot, I appreciated this because I experienced the same alienation.

He did finally marry and it was to a woman whose family could trace their ancestry back to the original settlers. His father-in-law was part of the "Old Money Aristocracy." When his wife died he married another woman belonging to the old Aristocracy, this time from the Old South. Lukacs does not say but I wonder if marrying these women was an unconscious effort on his part to finally belong to his chosen country. If his roots did not go deep, at least his children's did.

The information Lukacs presented was very interesting but his writing could be a bit dry. I hope that was not how he lectured to his class at University. There were certain musings, recollections and details that could have been eliminated to produce a more fluid content.

Nevertheless, this book is worthwhile and I recommend it.

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  1. The book looks interesting, but it's your parrot I can't get over. Such a cutie! He (she?) looks like a great blogging buddy. :)

    1. Hi Kate. I think it's a she but we won't know for a couple of years. Only the male Indian Ring necks develop red rings around the neck and the girls have a light green ring. Hercaloo looks like she has a light green ring. The vet says it's too early to tell, though.

  2. I'm interested in what you think were his accuracies and inaccuracies when judging Americans. :-)

    1. Hi Cleopatra

      I think he was right when he said that many Americans, most Americans frankly, are entrenched in their communities. They have their family and friends whom they have known all their life and there simply isn't room for anyone else. Neither is there any interest in anyone outside that community. There are rare exceptions, but I found that to be the norm.

      That hits home for me because of my own peripatetic life. I found it extremely hard to access friends when I worked as a teacher and also at church.

      How much of that was my fault, I'm not sure. I was a newly divorced single mom and highly fearful of rejection so it's possible I did not try hard enough. Looking back, there were people who did extend a hand of friendship to me but I probably did not pursue it on my end as I should.

      I also think his assessments of our universities and their liberal slant is right on.

      As far as inaccuracies, I felt he was a little to general in his sweep of American culture. Yes, overall Americans can act or think a certain way, but there are great exceptions to the rule.

      He thought we were much more narrow minded than Europeans and also not as forward looking. At the same time he wholly embraced the American model of Private Capital and rejected the Socialist model of Europe. I think because he experienced it first hand and saw it as a failed experiment. More and more Europeans seem to be agreeing if Brexit and Sweden are any indication. (Sweden and Norway began to privatize their businesses in the nineties.)

      I probably need to go back to the book and reread that section; I wrote this review over a month ago. :)

  3. Great commentary as always Sharon.

    I find that I really like reading and hearing the views of people who were not born in America as they relate to America. Such folks often provide unique perspectives. In his criticism of American parochialism as well as liberal bias in universities at sounds like Lukacs was critical of both ends of the spectrum.

    Have a great week!

    1. Hi Brian, Lukacs was critical of both of these aspects of what he perceived in America, although I'm not sure he considered them at odds with each other.

      Take care!

  4. I find, in opening my own copy of the book, that Lukacs's English schooling lasted for two terms, and that he as back in Hungary in the fall of 1939. He does not allude to his university studies much, but he clearly was in Hungary then, and he writes a bit about his Gymnasium studies. He served in a labor battalion for those unsatisfactory to the regime, it is true, but also later in the Hungarian army.

    I think the book would repay your rereading. It is possible that I have found it more absorbing simply because I know something of the American Catholic world that Lukacs writes of here and there. But there is much more on the book that does not touch on this, and which I think worth considering.

    1. Hi George. Unfortunately, I've been too lazy to take notes as I read and I don't have 100% recall, hence the errors on some of Lukac's timeline. Mostly I was trying to give a brief summation of his life and his impression of American life. He did go more into some of his philosophy of what he called American Reactionism over Eastern European Communism, but I think I would have to read his other books to more fully understand what he was talking about. Hence I bypassed it altogether.

      Thanks for the reminder that I need to tighten up my details when reviewing a book.

      Have a good day.

  5. The book looks intriguing, however it's your parrot I can't get over. Such a cutie...

  6. sounds like it would be an interesting book but due to literary constraints(a polite way of saying laziness) i most likely won't read it...

    the last 24 hours have been a pain in the neck... yesterday i heard the Dvorak cello concerto on the radio and the theme of the last movement has been drowning everything else out of my brain; don't know why it happens, it just does... even when i was asleep it was repeating over and over... finally got rid of it by listening to some Vivaldi which isn't nearly as irritating...

    give my regards to Hercool...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle. Actually it wasn't the most interesting book I read so don't feel guilty about not reading it (if you're the type to feel guilty about not reading books).

      2nd movement of Dvorak Cello Concerto; the dialogue between the cello and flute takes me to tears every time, it is so beautiful. The third movement is wonderful. I used to listen to it as a college student while making dinner at midnight-only very quietly in the kitchen so as not to wake my room mates.

      I am also afflicted with musical reloop when I try to sleep. I hadn't thought of redirecting it with other music. Must try it.

      Hercool. I like it.

    2. i wonder if any studies have been done on "musical reloop"(nice term)... you're the first person in sixty years i've heard mention it... mostly i never talked about it because i didn't want to get put away, but i have music running in my head 24/7 and always have had, since i remember, anyway; usually i don't pay attention to it, but it's always there...

      what are you rehearsing with the euphoniumist?

    3. I think that would be a fascinating study. I often play whole songs by Bach or others (or at least quite a bit of the work) in my head while doing mundane things like washing the dishes or other housecleaning.

      But there is a default "holding pattern" music that my mind always goes to when I'm trying to do something tedious (like get a necklace on etc.) it is the song that played on a teddy bear I used to own. I don't know why I still remember the song after all these years.

      Antoine and I are currently working on a very nice piece by Alexander Tcherepnnn called Andante. It's usually performed on tuba or trombone but it has a very nice silver tone quality played on the Euphonium.

      Andante has been playing through my mind a lot, which is normal when I am working on particular pieces. I am also mentally listening to an original composition written by a tubist I'm playing with. He wrote a solo for piano and I'll be performing it next Friday on his recital. If he puts it on youtube I'll send you the address.

    4. hearing Andante would be a treat... tx; but don't go to a lot of extra trouble; i remember how busy people are when they are working...

      i can't do complete works, except a few Vivaldi's; impressive that you can do Bach... my tedious/occupied elsewhere piece is one of V's concerti for diverse instruments; also a couple of his oboe concerti... but almost anything is apt to get captured in there...

      almost forgot V's bassoon concerti; some of them used to be common; come to think of it, i don't hear them much any more... wonder where they went... Sherman Walt had some recordings that were phenomenally good...

    5. Hi Mudpuddle! I am currently listening to Sherman Walt perform Vivaldi's Bassoon Concerto no. 13. I love it. I really like the bassoon. I have performed with one in a long time. Thanks for telling me about Vivaldi and Sherman Walt. Hope you're having a good weekend.

  7. Always fun to see what you're reading. I don't think I could type with a parrot on my hand, but he sure is a beauty!

    1. Hi Marcia! I can write for a little bit but after a while he has to go onto his stoop. He usually likes to sit in the window as I write, luckily for me!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.