Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

I got this book from my son who had to read it in school for his English class. I say had to read, because for him it is almost a punishment to read a book. Unfortunately, he is not so fond of reading as I am myself. This is really an easy read, a very thin book but it says it all. I remember the film when it came in 1979 starring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine and I always wanted to see it but never got around. Well, it is not too late to watch the movie yet.

The book is about a gardener named Chance. He has lived his whole life in a room adjacent to a closed in garden in a big house in New York. It is owned by the Old Man as Chance calls him. We don't get to know too much about him only that he has 'taken care of' Chance and given him this position. Chance has never left the house. It is hinted that he might be the son of the Old Man but it is not for sure. He has been given a room, a TV and a job as a gardener and this is his whole life. When his work with the garden is finished he goes to his room and spends the evening watching TV.

Then one day the Old Man dies. The lawyers who take care of the estate are somewhat puzzled since there is not track on paper that Chance has been employed. There are neither any birth certificate, no passport, no id whatsoever. He has to leave the house with his suitcase. Difficult to say his age but I would guess around 40. This is the first time he is outside the house. The first time he tries to cross the street he has a small accident and is slightly hit by a limousine owned by another rich guy called Rand. Mrs Rand is in the car and feel obliged to take him home to be nursed. That is how he ends up in this house of an important business person who is also close to the president.

Mr Rand takes a liking to him and thinks he is something of a genius. Chance only speaks in metaphors connected to the garden since this is the only reference he has. However, everybody thinks he has a insight in the presently bad economic situation and he becomes the hero of the day. He meets the President, makes TV interviews and are popular on all kinds of gatherings in the political elite.

Here an extract when he meets the President first time in a private meeting with Mr Rand. The President asks him what he thinks about the bad season in The Street.

'Finally, he spoke: 'In a garden,' he said, 'growth has its season. There are spring and summer, but there are also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again. As long as the roots are not severd, all is well and all will be well.' He raised his eyes. Rand was looking at him, nodding. The President seemed quite pleased.
'I must admit, Mr Gardiner,' the President said, 'that what you've just said is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.' He rose and stood erect, with his back to the fireplace. 'Many of us forget that nature and society are one! Yes, though we have tried to cut ourselves off from nature, we are still part of it. Like nature, our economic system remains, in the long run, stable and rational and that's why we must not fear to be at its mercy. 'The President hesitated for a moment, then turned to Rand. 'We welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, yet we are upset by the seasons of our economy! How foolish of us!' He smiled at Chance. 'I envy Mr. Gardiner his good solid sense. This is just what we lack on Capital Hill.' 

A wonderfully written, rather short book.  The language is as simple, beautiful and straightforward as the mind of Chance. A refreshing book in this complicated world of today. I can highly recommend this book.

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