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Song of George: Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man Paperback – July 20, 2010
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About the Author
Jesse S. Hanson is a North Dakota native, writer/musician. jesse and his wife, Lilasuka, currently reside in Pennsylvania. He has also lived in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southwest. "I suppose restlessness is part of my nature. I'm never quite at home anywhere in the world, and that is part of why spirituality is the backdrop for all my writing.
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Although they are very different stories, at times the struggles and comradeship of George's disciples reminded me of Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," with its portrayal of just how much anguish humanity can endure despite enormous odds, for "We lay like scattered bones on the floor of her lair, mother earth some, broken splintered things, white against the dirt, the pain is gone."
In "Song of George" much of the suffering comes from in the treatment of the inmates by the guards, but even more comes from their supposed distorted realities. One of the major themes in this nuanced novel is the exploration of how one defines madness (is George mad or is he a visionary? And who is to decide which he is?)
When you pick up this book, expect a challenging read in more ways than one: dense with characters, packed with philosophy and resonating with compassion, "Song of George" forces the reader to examine different realities through the lives, minds and experiences of three students interviewing (mainly) numerous inmates in a prison mental institution.
Despite the need to concentrate hard, the pace of the story is fast and the author's portrayal of his multitude of characters is simply superb. Each character is unique and fascinating, even the less appealing ones such as Jaiden. The author's compassion and understanding for those of us classified as "insane" clearly runs deep.
Throughout the book I felt I was reading profound truths about life. From the suggestion of reincarnation (in Toby's story) to a conversation about "low burning fires" the student Jeff eavesdropped on, the themes of this immense novel are shrouded in a sense of futility and despair at the ugliness of a world that denies ultimate truths in favour of modern commercialisation, materialism and alienation. When George was freed on parole, the collapse of the inmates' fragile serenity at the loss of their holy man, is symbolic of the apocalyptic threat to humanity facing us as we turn away from the universal language of Love and a spiritual path.
And yet this was an uplifting story. The glimpses of hope were there: Harold/Horatio's relationship with his sister Illy, who believed in him against all reason, ultimately becoming his safe haven, almost a "reward" for his innocence despite all that had been done to him. The final scene, despite the ambiguity of the closing paragraphs, also suggests that all hope is not lost when the little girl on the stoop shames the boys tormenting George into helping him.
With its weighty philosophical nature, this novel needs more than one reading to be fully appreciated. Like all good novels that endure, each reading of "Song of George" will, I'm sure, raise more questions and offer new spiritual insights for its readers.
The interviewers (in the story) really play on the senses too. Being an integral "professional" element to the story, and in the way they too were swept up into the illusions proved enigmatically convincing, of which playing on all of this, and at the very heart of this story is the largest mystery--George.
If this all sounds confusing, it was... to the contrary of an engaging tale, hygienically in some respects, being easy to follow.
'What's the price of insanity?' proved to be a staple point of the story. The way that incident played out best explains what I'm describing here. Yes, I did get it, and still this is an illusion best explained by first hand experience. In other words, you must read the story for yourself.
Those engaged in the social sciences especially may want to check out Song of George. And certainly if you're looking for astounding poetry, or evocative philosophical quotes, then this here is your book!
Let me say upfront, it's not your conventional novel. In fact, it breaks about every standard rule of writing there is--which may be one of the reasons it appeals to me. A literary work that's not readily pigeonholed. I won't detail the storyline, that's been covered well in other reviews. I'd rather focus on Mr. Hanson's style, which is most unusual. Almost "experimental."
Consider the characters. There are a plethora of them. So many, the author provides a cast list in the appendix. Then there are nicknames/alternate names applied to some characters. Moreover, Hanson often identifies characters only once at the beginning of a chapter, leaving you to keep track of who's who as you go. Tough unless you're paying close attention. Made worse if you read the story piecemeal, like my haphazard schedule required. (BTW, avoid the eBook edition. It's formatting is seriously awry, muddling things further. The print version is apparently free of glitches). Hanson gives most characters only the barest of physical descriptions. An interesting technique. It forces you to identify them by their psychologies (after all, the story concerns asylum inmates). The reader must envision characters less for what they look like than who they are, placed inside their skins, looking out. The story is also very fragmented, broken into disjointed, seemingly unrelated segments--not unlike the broken minds of the inmates themselves. Another interesting technique. Form follows characterization.
Dialogue is also a treat. Real, natural, rolling along effortlessly, no false notes. Hanson has the soul of a poet, and in fact large chunks of the story cite poetry, either original or borrowing lines both familiar and obscure--from Rock 'n Roll anthems to minor Zen philosophers such as Sant Kirpal Singh Ji. (I suspect that much of the book's inspiration flows from a parable by Sant Kirpal Singh Ji that Hanson references in the appendix--an article called "Out of Bondage" published in the January, 1970 edition of Sat Sandesh Magazine.)
If all this sounds a bit outlandish and esoteric, that's the charm of the book. If you're unsure whether it fits your tastes, I suggest you use Amazon's "Look Inside" option and take the story for a spin. For my tastes, Song of George is a winner.
Most recent customer reviews
victims of civilized...Read more
That quote certainly relates to George, the main character, in Jesse S.Read more
Song of George takes the reader beyond the facade and into the inner realms of the criminally insane. Or are they?Read more