The GATE: Things my Mother told Me: Fictionalized Biography

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Kordos's life as she slowly slips into her own world is a book not to be missed. An intriguing and captivating look at the last sixty years of western culture that holds you even though we all know how her story is going to end. The writing has classical grandeur and poetic beauty, the characters are vividly drawn, especially the nurses' helper, a giant of a man named Raphael whose sensitivities and erudition match the author's. This is a jewel of a piece of writing, with an honesty that makes transcendence and incontinence equally noble a part of the narrative.

If you value the life of the mind, this book is for you. Stanislaw Kapuscinski, aka Stan I. Law an architect, sculptor and prolific writer, was educated in Poland and England. A refugee from Poland at 13, then at 33, having overcome numerous difficulties, he began his search for the secret of life. Now, he is a successful writer, happily married for 30 years, with an assured future.

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His special interests cover a broad spectrum of arts, sciences and philosophy. At times he seeks inspiration in the Peruvian Andes, or solitude under sail. His books articles, short stories, poetry attest to his particular passion for the scope and the development of Human Potential. He authored more than thirty books, eighteen of them novels.

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Generally, if you suspect you are more than flesh and bones, read Stan Law. If you want to be sure, read Stanislaw Kapuscinski. Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? A moving story of the final years of a Polish emigree's life, the Gate draws you in with subtlety, wit, compassion and faith.

It will be of particular interest to people who experienced Alzheimer's or Dementia in their immediate family.

The Autobiography of My Novel | The Sewanee Review

Read more Read less. Save Extra with 1 offer. Review This beautiful nostalgic, sometimes humorous, memoir of Mrs. To get the free app, enter mobile phone number. See all free Kindle reading apps. Things my Mother told Me: Fictionalized Biography on your Kindle in under a minute.

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Write a product review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. I am sure that most of us know or have someone in our lives that has been touched by dementia or Alzheimer's. I know I have and was so thrilled to find this book by Stan I. Law that deals with this issue in such a wonderful manner. I have read many of Law's books and they are all intelligently written and profound. This one is no different as it is the story of a Polish woman reflecting on her life experiences for the benefit of her son.

It is a memoir but so much more as there are some wonderful philosophical discussions here that are equally touching and thought-provoking, which I have found to be a signature of Law's works. A wonderful read that will remain in my consciousness for a long time to come. Law, aka Stanislaw Kapuscinski. They all, without exception, deserved five stars. If it is the case, even only to some extent, I have to admit I envy the author for the family environment in which he grew up. This would have been an environment dominated by love, by a deep sense of mutual acceptance and by stimulating conversations of an intellectual, philosophical and spiritual nature.

As we read this novel we experience initially in an honest and unsentimental way the journey of a man in his nineties towards his end. The old man and his ten year younger wife, Mrs. Kordos, spend their remaining years in the Institute of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But the one I finished, I finished because I asked myself a question. The idea of autobiographical fiction had always rankled me. Even so, most of what I wrote then, if not all of it, was in some way autobiographical.

My central characters were typically a cipher for me—like me but not me, with one-syllable names. Jack Cho, for example, the recurring character in four of my first published stories, all a part of that rejected experimental novel. Even the name, Cho, was like Chee—a name that was Chinese and also Korean. I invented Jack to help me think through my relationship to activism and sex.

Other stories I wrote at the time were investigations of various friendships, relationships, and breakups. Kit Reed, my undergraduate fiction teacher, first identified it. She told me that if I was fast enough, I might be the first Korean American novelist. Younghill Kang was, in fact, that person, but he was, until recently, lost to contemporary literary history.

None of this was inherently interesting to me, however, at age twenty, and it felt strange, even uncomfortable, to aspire to. I was by now used to people being surprised by me and my background, and their surprise offended me. I was always having to be what I was looking for in the world, wishing that the person I would become already existed—some other I before me. I was forever finding even the tiniest way to identify with people in order to escape how empty the world seemed to be of what I was.

My long-standing love for the singer Roland Gift, for example, came partly from finding out he was part Chinese. The same for the model Naomi Campbell. I was still discovering that identities are unreliable precisely because they are self-made. For a fiction writer, this was a double standard: I was supposed to both invent characters from whole cloth and tattoo my biography onto each of them.

The absurdity of casting my every story in half-Korean gay characters alone made me rebel. I think every writer with a noncanonical background, or even a canonical one, faces this at some point. I was fighting with this idea, in any case, when I pulled out a binder I had promised myself I would look at once I got to New York. I had assembled the binder a few months earlier, in the spring, as I was going through my papers, deciding what to save and what to throw away when I left Iowa.

I discovered some pieces of writing that initially seemed to have no common denominator. There was a short story, written in college; several unpublished poems, whose blank verse felt a little too blank, more lyrical prose than prose poem; a fragment of an unfinished novel, with a scene in which a young man kills himself by setting himself on fire; and a fragment of an unfinished autobiographical essay about the lighthouses in my hometown at night.

I think I knew all along that the process of writing a novel was less straightforward than it seemed.

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Perhaps out of a desire not to appear prescriptive, at no point in my education as a writer had my teachers offered specific instruction on the writing of novels and stories. We read novels and stories copiously, argued about what they were constantly, but plot was disdained if it was ever discussed, and in general I went through the MFA feeling as though I had to learn everything via context clues, as if I had wandered into a place where everyone already knew what I did not know, and I had to catch up without letting on. The one conversation I can remember having about the conception of a novel had come indirectly, several years earlier.

In college, when I was at work on my first collection of short stories for a senior creative writing thesis, I had the good fortune to be classmates with the writer Adina Hoffman, who read my collection and delivered this news: The connections between the stories seemed at best remote to me. But over time I understood: Even the enjambments between sections gave the reader the pause you feel as you understand a story is about to unfold. This vision of my own process, and the way it has informed what I do, and even how I teach, continues to this day.

That day when I asked my fragments to tell me what they were when we arrived in New York, before I got into my loaded car and drove there, I knew I was calling out to a novel. I knew these pieces had their own desire to be whole. And as I opened the binder, that summer in New York, and read through the fragments again, I could sense the shadow of something in the links possible between them, and began to write to the shape of it. The first plot I came up with was drawn right from that summer: I had found my own life implausible on several occasions. When I look at that first manuscript, I can see again how the plot was, well, not a plot—it was only a list of things that had happened.

I also see what she felt changed on page ninety. This is how I remember the summer of being twelve to thirteen: My mother works to get recycling made mandatory, sends me off into parking lots with hands full of bottle-bill bumper stickers as she does the grocery shopping. My hair is long and wavy and I am vain about the blond highlights at my temples that my father admires. Summer in Maine starts with the black flies and mosquitoes rising out of the marshes to fill the woods, and they drive the deer mad enough to run in the roads.

The tan French-Canadians arrive in cars, wear bikinis, eat lobsters, glitter in their gold jewelry and suntan oils. The New Yorkers bewilder and are bewildered, a little cranky. The Massachusetts contingent lords around, arrogant, bemused. They are all we have, these visitors. The fisheries industry is dying, the shoe manufacturing industry, the potato farms, all are dying. Our fish are gone, our shoes are too expensive, the potatoes, not big enough.

The shallow-water lobster was made extinct the year I was born, quietly dropped into a pot, and now we serve the deep-water brothers and sisters. The bay no longer freezes in winter and dolphins have not visited us in decades. In a few years, cutbacks will close our naval-yards. Soon a doughnut shop will be a nervous place to be. The sun is hours from setting. I am sunburned, tired, covered in sand. I go into the bathroom, lock the door and lay down on the floor. On my back the cool tiles count themselves. I pull down my trunks, kick them across the floor to the door. The only light a faint stream coming in under the door, a silver gleam.

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I look into it and wait for time to pass. An artist goes home for a retrospective of her work, and memories of the scalding love of her best friend from childhood return and overwhelm her. The novel uses past tense for the sections in the present, and present tense for the sections in the past, and between the two, the reader develops a sense of what the girl experienced that the adult does not remember. I was interested in this idea of the self brought to a confrontation with the past through the structure of the narration. But what I found in writing in the present tense was that it acted like self-hypnosis.

Discussions of the tense often speak of the effect on the reader, but the effect on the writer is just as important. And it is a commonly used spell. It is also the tense victims of trauma use to describe their own assaults. And while it had never felt like love or community, it had almost felt like not being alone.

These autobiographical events were not organized within the novel in any way. I cut those first ninety pages and continued with the remaining forty-five, using them as the new beginning. The college story in the fragments binder had been my first attempt to write about my abuse: The boy wants to kill himself once the crimes are revealed—ashamed of his silence more than anything else—and is prevented by the accidental intervention of a friend, a victim also, one of the boys he was unable to protect. This, I understood, was where that story belonged. I had written my way there, and that was what came next.

As I continued, this happened again and again: I would pause, find a place to insert a section from the binder, and continue, writing it all in the present tense. In an interview with the Iowa Review , Deborah Eisenberg describes learning from Ruth Prahwer Jhabvala that it is possible to write a kind of fake autobiography, and that idea—the one I understood from that quote—guided me next.

He would be a little more unhinged, a little less afraid, a little more angry. These inventions were also ethically necessary: As I began imagining the memories that drew my narrator into the past, I found myself wondering what that boy was looking into, in the light under the crack in the door. There is no attribution and no context.

I think I must have thought I would always remember the speaker—my hubris, and as such, a common omission in my journals. But it succinctly describes many of my early attempts at fiction, what I was reading, even what I thought of as my life, and the primary challenge I faced next with the novel. The boy needed a plot. I wanted to write a novel that would take a reader by the collar and run. And yet I was drawn to writing stories where nothing happened. My stories and early novel starts were often criticized for their lack of plot.

I was imitating the plotless fiction of the s, but also, it seems, lost in a landscape where I unthinkingly reenacted the traumas of my youth. All of my stories lacked action or ended in inaction because that was what my imagination had always done to protect me from my own life: I had believed this without quite knowing I believed it. In light of this insight, I knew I needed a new imagination. I needed to imagine action. These were safe to the person I had been, as all of them were imaginary and impossible problems with imaginary and impossible solutions.

They consoled, but they did not consist of choices, emotions, and consequences, people exchanging the information they needed to live their lives. Finding a magic ring of power that would allow me to face an enemy who had won all our fights before was not the same as mastering myself for the same fight. And these stories rarely required that the hero change.

I needed to learn how plot and causality could be expressed in story—not one I read, but one I wrote. Stories about the most difficult things need to provide catharsis, or the reader will stop reading, or go mad. I examined my favorite myths and operas, searching for plots I loved, ones with explicit action, drama, and catharsis. Tosca , for example, where everyone conceals a motive in their actions, and at the end everyone is dead. Or the stories that made me uncomfortable, but that I never forgot, like the myth of Myrrha, who falls in love with her father, poses as his concubine, becomes pregnant, and is turned into a myrrh tree.

When she gives birth, tree nymphs hear the crying child, cut him loose, and care for him, raising him as their own. The tree weeps myrrh forever after. Forbidden desire, acted upon, results in transformation, paralysis, and then catharsis. I needed to learn how to make something like this, but not this exactly.

I needed to hack a myth, to use the structures of myth to provide some other result. I wanted my novel to be about this thing no one wanted to think about, but to write it in such a way that no one would be able to put the book down, and in a way that would give it authority, and perhaps even longevity. The recognizable emotions in the story did this. As I remembered the way we victims were met with condescension, disgust, and scorn, I knew that if I told our story, or something like it, I would have to construct a machine that moved readers along, anticipating and defeating their possible objections by taking them by another route—one that would surprise them.

They would want to grasp for something familiar amid it all. Plot could do this. The gothic story that led the character into paralysis left me paralyzed and unable to write. Annie Dillard, in my nonfiction class at Wesleyan, had warned us that writing about the past was like submerging yourself in a diving bell: You could get the bends.

I would need a way to descend and return safely. Turning myself into a character, inventing a plot, turning that past into fiction, I hoped, could solve for all of this. Autobiographical fiction requires as much research as any other kind of fiction, in my experience. I bought books about sexual abuse, the predatory patterns of pedophiles, and a self-help book for survivors, which I needed more than I knew. I bought a book about the flora and fauna of Maine in every season. I took out my old sheet music from the choir. While I had no choice except to invent my way forward, I relied on material that contained the facts I needed.

All I know is that at some point, looking to address my need for story, for plot and catharsis, I turned to Aristotle. The book is remarkable for many reasons, including the pleasure to be found in reading Aristotle on tragedy, as if it has just been invented, speaking confidently about how no one knows the origins of comedy, but that probably it is from Sicily. Memorable action is always more important to a story—action can even operate the way rhyme and meter do, as a mnemonic device.


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You remember a story for what people did. Tragedy is a representation of an action of a superior kind—grand, and complete in itself, presented in embellished language, in distinct forms in different parts, performed by actors rather than told by a narrator, effecting, through pity and fear, the purification of such emotions.

Pity and fear and grand action. This was what I was after. I had reached for the right instructions. Reading Aristotle to learn how to structure a novel means reading at an angle, almost at cross purposes, but I understood him all the same.