One simple couplet by Faiz was my first poetic introduction to death somewhere in the early late 80’s, when I knew little about death or poetry.
This was followed by Joeseph Heller’s Catch 22 that more or less rewired my brain. Catch 22 made irreverent fun of almost everything that was important to me at the age of eighteen; everything I thought would be significant to the inhabitants of my world and was the only funny work of fiction that left me unexplainably sad and depressed. As if something, somewhere, deep inside my soul had passed away. Perhaps because everything I thought should be important in a life was now meaningless and cheap.
But the one thing that Mr. Heller did get right was death. There was no other book except for Faiz’s earlier couplet that got death so right.
In the next eighteen years I read a lot of trash. Fiction, non-fiction, prose and every now then some poetry. In 1997 I discovered Amazon; In 2000 I fell in love with my local Borders store in Southern California. A year later I picked up my first dollar denominated paycheck and the floodgates to books opened. But after discovering Faiz and Joeseph Heller, the only other Merchant of death and in some cases life, that I found was John LeCarre. Two decades of five hundred pages a week and all I could show for it were a dead poet, a terrible book for eighteen year olds and a retired MI6 agent.
LeCarre’s biggest sin is that he only writes one book once every two years. And if you are a LeCarrer fan you are in a desperate state of consumption every time one of his new works is announced. In the mean time I have to read something…
Which is how I first found Robert Ferrigno, then Richard Morgan and Alastair Reynolds . You must understand if you need to read five hundred pages a week in order to breathe, you need to find at least one new author every month. Both Ferrigno (Prayers for an Assassin) and Morgan (Thirteen aka Blackman) did exceedingly well with Prayers and Thirteen. Even though some would call reading a thousand pages of fiction on the art of assassination a far cry from Faiz’s How will she come, the day death comes or from LeCarre’s the little drummer girl, Prayers as well as Thirteen have their own charm for LeCarre starved readers. For one both were just as disturbing and just as expressive as the man who wrote absolute friends; for another the two books are just as well researched and are certainly worthy of multiple reads. Neither is meant for the faint hearted and certainly not for dreamy eyed eighteen year olds.
So what does one do when you run out of everything that Ferrigno, Morgan and Reynolds wrote? Is there any other merchant of death, who does justice to the day death comes?
Fortunately there is Martin Cruz Smith. While LeCarre adds espionage, Morgan uses hard science fiction and Ferrigno mixes in alternate history or future as their favored measures of spice, Mr. Smith take a touch of Russia and a shot of vodka to balance things out. And he does it with such elegance and poise that you can’t help put the book down and say, “wow, now that is what I call writing…”
In the end it really doesn’t matter where you are or who you read, whether it is the past, present or an alternate future on a planet far away, because as Faiz put it, when death comes, there will be the same words of farewell to the heart.