The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector (Translated by Johnny Lorenz)

I was aware that many before me thought this was a complicated book, a tough one to get through. Although I can see why people would think this to be the case, I actually thought it was easier to read than The Chandelier. It’s definitely different. I found myself not analysing the words being written but more what they made me feel (if that makes any sense, like in a poem), and I loved the use of metaphor. In Chapter 5 for example when the lead protagonist Lucrecia wakes up from her dream its says;

‘She awoke with the military march of the scouts! Drums ruffling among the baskets of fish.

She awoke late, the horses already lining up to go. The large vegetal ears of sleep were shrinking quickly to small sensitive ears-the joy of São Geraldo was also condensed until becoming precise as painstaking bees.’

In the Besieged City we see Clarice produce colourful prose and syntax and put it to good use. As others may have mentioned already, in this book Clarice looks at the ‘mystery of the thing’ with respect to how Lucrecia looks at the world.

This is a book about how things change, how things shift. The Besieged City felt like I was imagining someone else’s dream and their knowledge of it and even more so as the story develops.

The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector here is  a marvelous edition by New Directions from New York.

There are two main characters in the Besieged City, Lucrecia and the city of São Geraldo itself. We see throughout the book how changes both affect both Lucrecia and Sao Geraldo.

In the beginning Lucrecia is young and appears care free if a little shallow, Sao Geraldo is a just a small rural township, there are wild horses nearby the town, as the story develops it becomes more industrialised and gets a viaduct no less whilst the horses slowly disappear.

The choices Lucrecia reflect to a certain degree the ambitions for the city. When deciding between the men who are after her affection she turns down the quiet local boy and the soldier with his expectations to be with Mathieu, the man from out of town. São Geraldo itself is a place where the citizens wants the progression that other places have, for better or for worse. We witness how Lucrecia develops when becoming married as a result from being just a shallow girl with superficial thoughts to striving a certain degree of improvement just like what the citizens of the city expect of São Geraldo.

The Besieged city for me is an improvement on The Chandelier, the world is more fleshed out in this book and we see Clarice’s style of writing improve with each book although as an actual story and piece of work Near to the Wild Heart is still the better of her earlier works, it is a purer, less dense book than the other two.

The Beseiged City however, has some good things going for it, after reading it from cover to cover I have found myself jumping back in reading random sections of the book which I did not expect I would do.

This book probably isn’t for everyone but for the more patient among you, I would definitely give it a chance. You will learn to appreciate the style of writing. Lucrecia may come across as shallow in this but Clarice with her style of writing definitely does not.

Expert Witness by Jesse Prince

When I read Marc Headley’s book about his early time in the Sea Org of the Church of Scientology, he writes about how he stumbled across a man not in uniform sitting back reading a magazine when everybody else was working. This man introduces himself as Jesse Prince and little did Marc know at the time, Jesse Prince was not just any slacking Sea Org member, this was once one of the highest ranking Sea Org members. This is Jesse Prince’s experience with the Church.

The Expert Witness by Jesse Prince

Unlike Marc who spent most of his time in Golden Era Productions the publishing arm of Scientology (with respect to it media and publications), Jesse was also part of the Religious Technology Centre which saw (and still does) the running of Scientology. Unlike Marc, Jesse did not grow up with Scientology (he tells us briefly of his time in growing up in Illinois with the racism he came across and to put it plainly.. that he had a busy sex life). Jesse gets approached by a young lady promoting Scientology, he listens to what she has to say because he fancies her goes down the rabbit hole of Scientology. He should have been joining the US Navy but instead makes a decision that would change his life for ever. (Not quite  related to this here, I wonder if getting attractive people for recruitment is a deliberate thing. I once met a Latter Day Saints/Mormon missionary in town once and my lord was she attractive, I was seconds away from booking a flight to Salt Lake.. Anyway I digress, back to the blog).

What I found interesting was with respect to Scientology courses and auditing, it is mentioned how the courses and auditing did have a way of making you believe it had some positive effect. Which it may well have. Scientology does appear to give a good first impression and to a point it appears to help people (I wouldn’t know myself I’ve never tried but when people see instant results, you can see how people are enthralled by it).

A young Jesse Prince in Sea Org uniform.

Once Jesse joins the Sea Org, encouraged to so by others and goes through the courses offered by Scientology and becomes an expert in dispensing what Scientology calls ‘Technology’ (like a Scientology priest but not quite, no masses for example), he would become an expert witness for Scientology in court cases. Prince was in the Sea Org during the transition period from L. Ron Hubbard’s time as leader to David Miscavige’s. He saw it all happen. What surprised me is that after reading Marc Headley’s book where David Miscavige is the head, the ‘Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center’ and is portrayed as incredibly unforgiving and ruthless, Jesse Prince writes about an earlier time where Hubbard was still leader and David Miscavige was kinder gentler soul if albeit learning all of Hubbard’s method of leadership after being a Commodore’s Messenger (who acted like Hubbard’s extended eyes, ears and voice). Prince saw Miscavige as like being a younger brother. We see Miscavige as loyal to his friends, a bit more vulnerable but still intense when it comes to being loyal to Scientology. As Jesse writes however this would all change, to Jesse Prince’s and many other’s expense.

When Jesse Prince started at the Sea Org, Hubbard is in hiding and didn’t want to be seen as being the leader of Scientology (tax reasons) but is still defacto leader through messages called ‘advices’. Prince writes how the Hubbard of this time isn’t the Hubbard of the books and courses thinking people are out to get him, purging people he didn’t like out of the Church.

Prince’s book is also a confessional of sorts. He tells us of the times when he was implicit in taking on the Church’s enemies, mostly what Hubbard would call the Squirells (like Scientologist who split from the original Church, Scientology protestants if you will). One of the hardest things to read about was when he was sent to convince Hubbard’s daughter to give her child over Scientology when she wanted to leave. That felt like an awful thing to go through and Jesse Prince’s regret is visible and is quite an emotional thing to read.

What I also found hard to believe is when Prince writes about Hubbard’s death, his situation and the negligence around him at the time. This was meant to be the top man, the messiah and yet he was deteriorating slowly both mentally and physically.

Prince tells us also about the time leading to him leaving (I assume this is when Headley met him not knowing who he truly was). Prince also tells us about how helped others after leaving and seeing the tactics used by Scientology he saw when on the other side.

I was genuinely taken aback by the stories in Prince’s book. How far Hubbard and Miscavige would go to achieve their objectives and how unforgiving they could be. Prince also reminds us however, that there are some genuinely nice people in Scientology as well who would do what is expected of them.

I won’t go on too much about his time after leaving Scientology and his association with the Lisa McPherson Trust, I’ll leave that Jesse Prince himself when you read the book for yourself. I will say that it’s beggars belief that people could be like that (I’m not talking about Jesse here obviously) as well as his life afterwords

Expert Witness has been one of my favourite Scientology related books I’ve read. I would like to know what someone who has never heard of Scientology would think of this book, what I read about particular people in it I have come across in other books about Scientology and I already had some sort of knowledge about them. Marty Rathbun in particular who Jesse Prince does have some opinions about, especially how he compares things differently from Marty. Jesse also avoids ‘Scientology speak’ where at all possible. There is also an appendix showing when Jesse Prince was used as expert witness in Scientology related court cases.

Prince should be proud of what he has written. He comes across as a genuine no nonsense guy and I imagine it was hard for him to bring back old memories of his time associated with the Church and to put it in this book. A marvellous achievement.

Bare Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard by Russel Miller

I’m going to look at a number of books related to Scientology. I’ve already looked at Blown For Good by Marc Headley and I have a couple of science fiction books of L. Ron Hubbard’s in my queue which I will get to looking at eventually.

You can divide the history of the Church of Scientology into two sections. During the life of it’s founder and after it which is still on going (Marc Headley writes about the latter in his book) I thought I would do a post on the founder himself by looking at a biography of his life.

Bare-faced Messiah by Russel Miller

Bared-faced Messiah is an overly detailed and very honest look at L. Ron Hubbard’s life (The Church of Scientology itself thought it was too honest and hated the book).

Miller goes into detail about Hubbard’s early life when he was travelling because his father was in the navy, his work as a science fiction author, his time in the Navy during the Second World War, his early interest in the occult, how he created his own religion with the process of doing that along with details of his private life. We also see how far Hubbard would go to get what he wants.

If Miller had not written it backed up with his sources, you would find some of it hard to believe, Hubbard does come across a remarkable individual but also someone with a lot of flaws and alarmingly ruthless. Russell writes how Hubbard was not the most caring man to his wives (his second one in particular) to how he created a book based on a way of thinking and self improvement and finding his own religion. Hubbard comes across as a man who could lie to justify his points and to get ahead. We read about how people were captivated by him, his charisma and we also read about how many saw him as mentally unhinged, towards the end of his life it looked like everything he created to make people ‘clear’ and better, never worked on himself.

L. Ron Hubbard created something that did not just have an affect on his own life but on his family’s lives and that of his follower’s even after his death. Some would say it had a positive affect, others of course would say otherwise.

There is the suggestion and theory (not just by Miller) that Hubbard must have had some mental health problems. These however, were never diagnosed but can definitely be inferred from distant observation (you can say this about a lot people to be fair). Towards the end of his life, he was getting paranoid that his supporters were trying to go against him and everything he created.

As stated above I do think Bare Faced Messiah is an overly detailed in some chapters on Hubbard’s life (which though may leave you thinking is a bit ponderous) it shows how Hubbard shaped himself into the man he became. L. Ron Hubbard clearly had some talent and I think if he had someone who could have pushed him in the right direction he could have been someone completely different. Although unflattering Bare-faced Messiah is a fascinating insight of a twentieth century man who managed create a significant impact on people’s lives and his legacy is still preserved within the Church of Scientology today. 

Why This World : A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser

Good book, love Clarice and Benjamin Moser truly sold her art for writing to me. Clarice Lispector was someone who wrote in her own style and always tried to improve on it. We learn a lot about Clarice’s life. How she was married to a diplomat from Brazil that raised her, how she raised a family and going abroad until being away from Brazil finally got to her. We read about how Clarice adored her friends and sisters and we also read about her struggles looking after her sons an at times, how lonely she was.

My only criticism is that I thought Moser may have got in the way too much with his own opinions etc, but clearly a big fan himself and this isn’t anything on the level of an academic text but an introduction to English speakers to a truly a remarkable woman. This is a love letter from Moser to us about Clarice and definitely took it all in.

We also get to see what the literary and political life of Brazil was like during Clarice’s lifetime and the heartbreaking story of Clarice’s family from how they escaped the awful anti semitism in (what is now) Ukraine of which Clarice’s sister Elisa wrote about herself.

Clarice comes out really well in this. Intelligent and beautiful but Moser isn’t shy of showing the bad side of Clarice as well as the good which for me is fair and despite Clarice at her worse, she’s still someone we can connect with. She is. someone I personally would like to have met.