In these books you may discover . . .not the kind of lesson you receive in school, but the kind you get when the torrents of history, and a current of love, get a hold of you.
Smoke takes place in Europe, in 1937. Here's a sample of the story: In chapter 12 of "Smoke", the young American, Philip Morrow, is on a night train in France, traveling from Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast, up to Strasbourg, by the German border. In the middle of a long night he overhears a conversation between two nearby passengers, one a Russian and the other a Frenchman:
But Pierre Geras held his poker face. He had questions of his own. "What has happened to Zinovyev and Kamenev?" Now the Frenchman's riposte came forth, with spunk.
"You know, comrade. Why do you ask such questions? This is for the Party to decide."
"Ha!" Pierre, surprised at himself, looked around. His feigned amusement was unexpectedly loud.
Philip was napping, of course, a fly on the wall. No matter. Two men were talking three seats ahead. That's all. Still, his ears were tuned on their frequency, for some reason he could not surmise, dialed in like the RGD radio to BBC that Nathan had shown him back in London. But he could not understand; the night was dim, and the speech was French. The rumble of the wheels beneath their feet was a hypnotic cover of gray noise, a small subterfuge rattle beneath the narrowly careening railway of a vast, disjointing Continental rift. He could not comprehend the words of the two men, but the subdued urgency of their tone was vibrant, like the air before a thunderstorm.
"The Party. . ." continued Pierre. "The Party of uncle Joe? No longer the party of revolution. The party of Stalin. Where three were . . .now there is one!" Pierre's voice had morphed to a hoarse whisper. "And Bukharin? What of Nikolai? Where does the purging stop?"
Here's an exchange of ideas that takes place in chapter 20 of Glass half-Full:
"The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr," said Shapur. "The jihadists do not represent true Islam."
"Well, where are they getting their theology of violence from?" asked Morris.
"Every religion has its extremists--fanatics on both ends--who become so zealous for their own view of holy writ that they think they're doing god a favor by killing others who are not as pure as they. Look at Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, or Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. But, true religion doesn't shed blood in order to make its point." As he finished his discourse, Shapur looked up at Kaneesha, who had just walked up to their table.
Having overheard their discussion, she tossed in her two cents worth. "In my religion, the holy blood was shed once and for all at Calvary. And there is no longer any need to be fighting about such things."
"I do wish, Kaneesha, that that event had settled the issue," remarked Morris. "Apparently, though, it didn't settle the issue, because people are still fighting about these things."
"Yeah, well, anyway...what are you guys having for dinner tonight?"
The two men ordered food.
Catch a glimpse into chapter 6 of Glass half-Full, when Marcus and Bridgit spend their first day together walking on the Mall in Washington:
They walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
When they reached the top, Bridget was gazing, like most everyone else who ascends here, with rapt interest at the seated statue. But Marcus, holding Bridget's hand, gently prodded her to keep moving, slowly to the left, through the myriad of ambling visitors.
They came to an inner sanctum. Carved on the white marble wall in front of them were the words of the slain President's Gettysburg address. Marcus stopped, taking in the enormity of it, both physically and philosophically. He was looking at the speech intently. Bridget was looking at him. After a few moments: "Isn't that amazing?"
"Yes." She could see that he was thinking hard about something. The great chamber echoed a murmur of humankind.
"Supreme irony." The longing of a nation's soul reverberated through the memorial... in the soundings of children, the whisperings of passersby. Deep within Marcus' soul, something sacred was stirring, and she could see it coming forth.
"'The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.'" He was reading aloud Lincoln's words on the white wall.
But for the echoes of a million people who had passed through this place, there was silence. After a moment, Bridget responded. ". . .and yet, there it is carved on the wall, for all to see: 'the world will little note what we say here...'"
"Right, Bridget. Isn't it amazing?"
Suddenly, amid the noise was a loud shouting.
From chapter 8 of Glass half-Full, Hilda is telling some friends in her restaurant about an expericence she had in Germany.
"Hitler and his thugs tried to take advantage of the situation; they launched a coup d'etat, called a putsch in German. But it failed, and they ended up getting arrested. The event has been named the beer hall putsch of 1923. Well, I was reading about these police officers who were killed by the Nazis that night. And I was reading in my guide book some information about the incident. I kept hearing this beautiful music, really spirited music. We walked in the direction of the music. We turned a corner...and there they were, five musicians playing five instruments: clarinet, violin, accordion, cello, a drummer. I could tell they were Jewish right away. I considered their courage: to stand there at the Odeonsplatz where the Nazis had made their first move to try and take over the world, and declare, with their music, that Jewish people, along with their music, were alive and well in the 21st century. They inspired me. We must have listened to them for an hour...the Bridge Ensemble."
From chapter 19, "Atrocities," of Glass half-Full
Marcus opened a can of turpentine. He tipped it slightly so that its upper contents would spill onto a rag that lay on the parking lot next to his car. With the rag partially soaked, he began rubbing on the driver's-side door. Someone had painted a black swastika on it while he was working late. His cell phone rang.
He opened it, looked at the mini-screen, saw "Grille," which stood for Jesse James Gang Grille. In the last few days, however, whenever he would see "Grille" displayed as the caller ID, it registered in his mind as "Girl," meaning Bridget, because she would often call from there.
"Marcus, have you heard about the explosion?"
"At the Belmont Hotel, about 20 minutes ago."