Robert W. Norris, |
Looking for the Summer
Robin Williams once said, "If you remember the sixties, then you weren't there!" Thus, those of you who remember the '60s (and you know who you are) -- its music, colors, attitudes, styles and potpourri of happenings -- cannot help thinking that culture is cyclic. You also know that momentum is a physical reality, and the wheel keeps turning in spite of itself. Thus, Robert Norris's book, Looking for Summer, can be characterized as a story that is also cyclic in that it echoes themes that exist today, just as they did back in the 1960s. Just as when we fought in Vietnam, the Gulf War of 1991 or other wars in recent memory, so are we at war in a culture nearly unknown to us that is difficult to understand. The difference between the Vietnam conflict, the first Gulf War and the current war is that we do not have a draft in place, and if we were to start one, the stakes are different, and it is very possible that the rules about who can or will go have changed. Even so, this book resonates with themes that are similar to issues faced today.
This book is not an easy read. At 113 pages, it is relatively short. It is not a page-turner. However, when I started reading it again and again, the story revealed itself as one that explores the issues of a young man caught in a time where he could not fight a war in which he did not believe. Although he was drafted and eventually sent to fight, Norris chose to be a conscientious objector and was subjected to a military tribunal for punishment.
Along the way, Norris has a screaming conversation with his father about honor and duty. The phone call ends with Norris cursing his father, hanging up and ultimately never speaking to his father again. However, the book is more than one about a boy and his issues. Instead, it is a book that follows the long journey to self. Eventually, Norris ends up traveling to Paris, ostensibly to find the book he believes he can write. Along the way, he meets a variety of people from such places as Afghanistan, monarchial Iran under the last Shah, India, and other places that are teeming with lives of quiet desperation.
During President Jimmy Carter's administration, "draft dodgers" and other expatriates were pardoned and allowed to return to the United States. Although we had a hostage crisis that lasted some 444 days, and backed Iraq in its war against Iran, the irony of the current situation, as well as the rumblings within the book of another war down the road, are all limned as part of a bigger picture. As Norris drifts through his journey to self, meets people who are radically against Western culture, its mores, people and so on, it is interesting to read about his comparisons of his own life to those living in the streets of Calcutta. As he lies in a fever-induced stupor, he reflects on his good times as a boy in Middle America, his relatively carefree summers picking strawberries and playing baseball and finally decides what his destination will be.
This book is worth reading, but not something to be read lightly. The saddest part of all is that we are still at war, even though I started reading the book some time ago.