Thursday, December 6, 2012

Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy
translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Marissa Volokhonsky

It seems fitting that a new film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s stunningly beautiful novel, Anna Karenina, debuted at the same time that retired General David Petraeus crashed his high horse and fell from grace.  Both stories involve military officers and notable married women who fare less well in the court of public opinion than their paramours.  The essential difference between these two stories is that the former is one of the great works of fiction while the latter is fodder for the tabloids, with elements of Greek tragedy thrown in to prove that humanity hasn’t changed much across the millennia of our documented existence. 

Anna Karenina, one of two main characters in Tolstoy’s novel, is a high-born aristocrat, married to an older man with whom she shares little other than their son.  In the opening scene two things happen:  she witnesses a man fall in front of a train and she meets the man who will become her lover.  At her brother’s home later that day, Anna’s sister-in-law is aggrieved over Stiva’s affair with their children’s governess.  Anna begs Dolly to forgive Stiva and stay with him because that is the best choice for herself, her children, and her husband.  Women in that place and time – pre-Soviet Russia – depended on marriage for their survival both economically and socially. 

Anna’s marriage to Alexei Karenin, an important and painfully uninteresting government official, is slowly killing her soul, but she accepts her lot in life until she becomes involved with the young and dynamic Alexei Vronsky.  Count Vronsky, a military officer and man about town, is under pressure from his mother to marry a woman of high birth.  When he meets the beautiful and quietly passionate Anna he falls for her and loses all interest in other women.  Anna tries to ignore the passion that Vronsky stirs in her to no avail, and soon the two are the talk of the town.  Anna’s husband warns her to stay away from Vronsky, not so much because he is jealous but because of what the talk is doing to their/his reputation.  She abandons the marriage without regard to the consequences so that she and Vronsky can be together, sending shock waves throughout society.  Karenin offers to divorce her but this is not an option because she would lose her son whom she loves dearly;  and so the three live in an increasingly uncomfortable limbo. 

Tolstoy paints a photorealistic picture of the double standard applied to women:  while Stiva suffers no serious consequences for his infidelities, Anna’s choice sends her into social exile.  No longer welcome at soirees and shunned in public, Anna’s mental health begins to deteriorate.  Her total dependence on Vronsky devolves into possessiveness and jealousy which eventually drive him away.   His passion spent, Vronsky heeds his mother’s advice that he needs a “proper” wife in order to advance his career.  He abandons Anna, leaving her bereft and at the mercy of her husband, who has a surprisingly forgiving aspect to his character.  Unable to resolve her internal conflicts and tormented by guilt, Anna makes a devastating choice which echoes the opening scene.

This story line is but one of many in Tolstoy’s book, each of which is rich in descriptions of life in Czarist Russia.  Konstantin Levin,  the other protagonist, is a philosophical character who leaves his government job to return to his rural roots.  He personifies Russia on the cusp of industrialization and sweeping social change, fascinated by the possibilities of mechanized farming and free serfs while afraid of losing generations of tradition and economic stability.  Like Anna, Levin lives outside of social convention, but unlike her he is free to do so.  His story of love and marriage is a contrast to Anna’s and heightens the unfolding tragedy of hers. 

Tolstoy was not a proponent of equal rights for women, but he was sympathetic to the inequities they faced.  Previous translations of Anna Karenina into English have failed to capture the nuances of Tolstoy’s writing and as a result have left many readers to conclude that he was misogynistic.  Richard Pevear and Marissa Volokhonsky succeed in keeping Tolstoy’s words alive across the two languages where the old school standards have left many student readers cold.  These two scholars respect Tolstoy’s original text and attempt to capture both the letter and the spirit of his words.  Thus their translation goes beyond literal and into psychological, cultural, and personal understanding of what Anna Karenina was about.  According to a New Yorker article by David Remnick (“Translation Wars”, November 7, 2005), Volokhonsky – a native Russian speaker – takes the first pass through the text, making notes on the author’s choice of words and idioms as well as analyzing the author’s intent, based on how he used the language, as she goes along.  Then her husband, Pevear, translates her translation into a first English draft.  After that, the two go through as many iterations as necessary until they are both happy with the result.  It takes them years but their technique has yielded numerous prizes and awards for breathing new life into classic works of Russian literature by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

Translation of even the simplest piece of writing from one language to another is nicely described in Vladimir Nabokov’s poem on the subject, lifted from that same New Yorker article:

What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasites you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O Pushkin, for my stratagem.
I travelled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza, patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose—
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

Anna Karenina, so beautifully translated and so true to Leo Tolstoy’s original words, takes the reader deep inside Russian high society.  I hope that before you run out to see Keira Knightley attempt to capture the essence of one of literature’s most beloved tragic heroines, you do yourself a favor and buy or borrow the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, published in 2000 by the Penguin Press.  Anna Karenina is an intricately woven tapestry of Russian society and history in the period leading up to the Russian Revolution.  It reveals the living and working conditions of serfs and their growing discontent and it exposes the decadence of the aristocracy which will soon fall to the Soviets.  Finally, and most important, Anna Karenina – the book – explains the plight of women in a way that is timeless and universal, and relevant to the Petraeus scandal.

David Petraeus’ lover, Paula Broadwell, is highly intelligent, a graduate of West Point and Harvard, a competitive athlete, and is described by those who know her as an over-achiever.  In other words, she is no bimbo.   And yet, the media have slapped the label “mistress” on her as if she does nothing but sit around in her negligee waiting for her general to rescue her from boredom.   It would be nice if the media either neutralized the female label or used something similarly pejorative such as “gigolo” or “Narcissus” or “playboy” when describing Petraeus.  Moreover, the assumption is that she seduced him and not the other way around, and therefore she is responsible for the shame he brought to his wife and family, the CIA staff he directed, the Army he represented, the nation he served, the president he failed, the soldiers he commanded, and the citizens whose lives he was supposed to be protecting.  The only people she hurt were her husband and children.   Petraeus will likely rehabilitate his image by becoming a news commentator for one of the cable news channels.  Broadwell’s future is less certain. We can only hope, for the sake of her family that she does not do as Anna Karenina did. 

The Petraeus/Broadwell episode highlights a subtle misogyny which continues to pervade our culture.  While much has changed for women in the 135 years since Tolstoy published Anna Karenina, women are still thought of as the temptresses who lead men to ruin.  It might be worth considering the possibility that after Eve picked the apple, Adam took it by force and then blamed Eve because she was naked.  The Bible has been translated so many times and in so many ways, there is no way to know for sure.   In the interest of humanity, we would all do well to question our assumptions and choose our words carefully, especially when labeling others.

Copyright 2012 Teresa Friedlander all rights reserved

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas

There is something deliciously satisfying about a revenge story, which is why we still talk about TV series such as Dallas and Dynasty with their twisted characters who made life miserable for everyone around them, especially those who tried to play along.  We watched week after week being teased along by the possibility of the evil ones getting theirs in the end, but JR and Alexis always managed to stay one step ahead of their avengers.  Revenge stories are as ancient as human society, as if we are as troubled by this need for blood as we are fascinated by it.  When someone does us a great wrong, we often desire revenge with a hunger bordering on obsession.  

Before the rule of law, revenge was handled by the injured parties through duels, which were considered honorable, or by some other means requiring a visit to the confession booth for absolution.  Today, our system of laws and justice takes on the role that eye-for-an-eye vigilantism did in times past.  While this enables us to live in peace, for the most part, there is something a little bit too sanitary for some of us about delegating the function of revenge to a government body.  For these folks, even the death penalty is too humane. 

Revenge is a theme for many of literature’s great and enduring classics.  Ahab seeks to avenge the loss of his leg by killing Moby Dick.  Medea defeats her faithless husband by murdering their sons.   Don Giovanni is undone by his own unwillingness to repent for the harm he has caused countless women.   In The Count of Monte Cristo, like most of these other stories, revenge comes at a high cost and we have to ask was it worth it? 

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) was a prolific writer of historical fiction in a highly romantic style.  The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo were wildly successful and remain in print a century and a half later.  Both tales involve protagonists seeking revenge for injustices, but The Three Musketeers is more light hearted fun.  The Count of Monte Cristo, on the other hand, is about revenge taken to its ultimate conclusion.  In this book, the main character – a good natured and genuinely honest merchant sailor named Edmond Dantés – falls prey to the ambitions of people he had trusted as friends.  A self-serving politician, whose father’s loyalty to Napoleon could doom his own future, sentences the innocent Dantés to prison for treason in order to prevent his father’s identity from becoming known.  Dantés’ strength of character saves him during his fourteen years in prison because he befriends an ailing priest who imparts a lifetime of education and culture upon this loyal and generous young man.  Dantés’ reward for putting the wellbeing of the priest ahead of his own escape is to learn of a treasure hidden by the priest on a tiny island called Monte Cristo, not far from Elba where the deposed Napolean was sent to exile.

Time, imprisonment, and new-found riches so transform Edmond Dantés that no one recognizes him when he returns to seek revenge against those who had wronged him.  It is only after his escape from prison that he discovers the treachery of people he had trusted and the faithlessness of the woman he still loved.   The once guileless and innocent Dantés is reborn as the Count of Monte Cristo, a compelling and opaque figure with so much money that no one questions who he really is.  The Count studies his enemies to learn their weaknesses in order to ruin them without their knowledge and in the most painful way possible. 

The historical backdrop for The Count of Monte Cristo is the period after Napoleon’s exile, in accordance with the 1814 Treaty of Fountainebleau, leading up to his final defeat at Waterloo.  Napoleon had come to power by exploiting the instability created by the French Revolution.  As emperor, he became an aggressive conqueror and at the height of his power ruled over most of Europe and nearly brought down Russia.  His defeat at Leipzig, in October of 1813, allowed a coalition of nations to install a government in France headed by the long deposed French King.  With the Revolution still fresh in the national memory, many French citizens considered Louis XVIII to be illegitimate.  Napoleon loyalists met in secret to find a way to bring him back from exile and succeeded – for one hundred days until he was overwhelmed at the Battle of Waterloo and banished to the island of Saint Helena off the coast of Africa where he eventually died of cancer.

The betrayal of Edmond Dantés was the result of a conspiracy on the part of two of his friends and the paranoia of a government official whose father had killed a Royalist in a duel.  Dantés could have born all of that had his fiancée, Valentine, remained faithful.  Instead, she married one of the conspirators believing her beloved to be dead and with him had a son whom she loved dearly.  When Dantés, in the person of the Count of Monte Cristo, exacts his revenge there is no way for the story to have a happy ending for the protagonist.  That is the most important lesson from the book.  Revenge may be sweet but it leaves a bitter aftertaste and in the end fails to satisfy.

Copyright 2012 Teresa Friedlander all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yours in Truth - A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee

(image from

by Jeff Himmelman

Ben Bradlee comes as close to a god as you will find in Washington, DC.  Presidents enter and exit on schedule, but for nearly three decades Bradlee and The Post identified who was important, where Americans should focus our attention, and why we should care.  He was, by all reports, handsome, charismatic, and loved and feared by those who worked for him.   Most important was his commitment to ferreting out the news and explaining it with as little bias as possible, without concern for how the subject of the reporting might feel about it.  Anyone who lived in Washington, DC, from the late 1960s through the early 1980s knows what happened to The Washington Post during that tumultuous period.  The city’s second best newspaper, after The Washington Star, made history under Bradlee’s transformational leadership putting news reporting ahead of politics, friendship, personal freedom, and even money. 

In 2009, on the recommendation of Bob Woodward of “Watergate” fame,  Jeff Himmelman began the daunting task of writing about the life of Ben Bradlee.  In his own words:

In the permission letter that both Ben and Sally (Ben’s wife)signed when I undertook my book, Ben wrote, “I have given Jeff full access to my archives ... he has our permission to use what he deems necessary for the successful completion of the project.” Ben explicitly instructed me not to pull punches, and he never once told me not to use something I had found, including personal correspondence. When I brought a ( possibly troubling) memo to him (from his files) in March 2011, he said, “Don’t feel that you have to protect me. You and I have a great relationship, and there’s nothing you can do in this book that’s going to change it. So just follow your nose.”

Bradlee, to those who worked with him, was heroic, even mythic, an almost perfect example of leadership and certainly the standard bearer for what journalists aspire to be:  arbiters of unvarnished, unqualified truth.  Just the same he is and was human and made mistakes and misjudgments, some with damaging consequences.  There was no attempt on Bradlee’s part ever to hide or cover up any part of his career.  In his files, Himmelman found volumes of notes and copies of correspondence covering decades of Bradlee’s professional and personal life, as if Bradlee had prepared his whole life for someone to write about him.

Ben Bradlee was a man who seemed to have it all:  good looks, a blue-blood pedigree, some family money, charm, intelligence, and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.  In the late 1950s, Ben and his second wife, Tony, were walking down their street in Georgetown, DC, and introduced themselves to the young senator and his wife who had just moved in a few doors down.  The Bradlees and the Kennedys remained close friends until President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963.  Ben Bradlee, journalist first and friend second, kept detailed notes of his contacts with President and Mrs. Kennedy.  When the President died, Ben Bradlee wrote a heartfelt tribute to him which ran in Newsweek, a magazine which Bradlee had convinced Phil Graham, publisher of The Washington Post to purchase.  Later, Bradlee turned his record of the friendship into a book which was poorly received, most especially so by Mrs. Kennedy.

By the time that Richard Nixon was in the White House, Ben Bradlee had risen in the ranks of the Post to executive editor and this is when his life began to get really interesting.  In 1972, two of his local reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, connected a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel to a secret fund controlled by President Nixon’s re-election committee.  The ensuing investigation and elaborate cover-up led to Nixon resigning in order to avoid impeachment.  During this period, The Washington Post took great risks, essentially betting the company, to bring the facts to light.  Before Watergate, most Americans believed that the President of the United States, and the Federal Government, told the truth.  After Watergate, that innocence was lost forever.

Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of the Watergate story made them famous;  and in 1974 they published an account of the story behind the story called All the President’s Men, which was made into a film in 1976, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, respectively.  The part of Ben Bradlee was played by the brilliantly cast actor Jason Robards, who turned Bradlee from a local hero into a national celebrity.  The story of Watergate, in addition to the scandal inside the White House, was also about the responsibility of journalists to unearth the truth and bring it to light.  Inside the paper, there were conflicts over whether to let the two local reporters continue with the story or whether to turn it over to the national news reporting team.  In the movie, it is the Ben Bradlee character who decreed that “the boys” should keep the story.  The truth, uncovered by Jeff Himmelman, was somewhat different. 

The Washington Post has been owned by the same family since 1933 when Eugene Meyer bought it out of bankruptcy.  Meyer gave the paper to his son-in-law, Philip Graham, in 1946, who ran the company until his death in 1963.  Katharine Meyer Graham, with the support of the Post’s editorial staff, took over as publisher and it was she who stood by Ben Bradlee when the Nixon administration attempted to crush the release of the “Pentagon Papers” (detailing the horrors of the Viet Nam war) as well as the story of Watergate.  Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee were the ultimate power couple in Washington, except that their relationship was entirely platonic.  Just the same, Graham was the most important woman in Bradlee’s life, his closest and most constant friend.  Many in Washington suspected that the two were lovers, but Himmelman found no evidence of that even though Graham was clearly in love with Bradlee, according to almost everyone who knew her.

Following the Watergate era, the Post entered a period of heyday when it rivaled the New York Times in terms of news reporting.  Bradlee’s management style was to trust his reporters and their editors, after all it was only by trusting Bob Woodward’s information from a secret inside source known as “Deep Throat” that the paper was able to crack the Watergate scandal wide open.  In the late 1980s, a young African-American journalist named Janet Cooke joined the staff and she brought the Post a different kind of fame.  Like so many professions, journalism had long been dominated by Caucasian men.  While white women had begun to make inroads, there were very few African Americans on the reporting staff of the Post.  Bradlee began to make a concerted effort to change that and Cooke was one of his most promising hires.  Unfortunately, she was also a pathological liar who fabricated a news story about an eight-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy.  Her series on “Jimmy’s World” earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 which Bradlee had to give back when fact-checkers could not verify any part of Cooke’s story.  This was a shameful episode for Bradlee and The Washington Post, but Katharine Graham refused his resignation when he offered it.  

Yours in Truth not only tells the life story of Ben Bradlee, it also examines the nature of truth and how to tell it.  Bradlee’s good friend John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”  That statement gets at the essence of Bradlee’s approach to journalism as well as his instructions to his young biographer, Jeff Himmelman.  The love that Himmelman has for his subject comes through on every page even when the truth as he discovered it was uncomfortable, even embarrassing.  Any dilution or veiling of the facts would not have done justice to the legacy of Ben Bradlee.

It was Bradlee’s wife, Sally Quinn, who instigated the biography and brought Jeff Himmelman into their lives.  Bradlee was not enamored of the idea, but eventually agreed to go along after a lot of pushing by Quinn.  According to Himmelman, Sally Quinn is an extremely talented and complicated person who is often surrounded by drama of her own making.  Writing about her and the marriage was clearly akin to walking through a minefield because she is often difficult to be around and apparently has a fragile ego.  Just the same, Himmelman accepted Quinn’s extremely gracious hospitality on many occasions as he sifted through thousands of pages from Ben Bradlee’s archives.  A less courageous biographer might have edited Quinn out to the extent possible or hidden behind superficialities when writing about her, but her relationship to Bradlee is so integral to the story that doing so would have probably have upset her more than what Himmelman wrote.  Himmelman understood that his job was to write the truth as he saw it without regard to how his subjects might react, after all, he was writing about the Master, himself.

Biographers tend to fall in love with their subjects, obsessively, defensively, and blindly, and this is why theirs is one of the most difficult writing tasks, especially when the subject and many of the important people in his or her life are still living. Given Bradlee’s iconic stature, it is easy to imagine Himmelman being a bit intimidated as well as awestruck, but Yours in Truth reveals neither of these weaknesses.  Himmelman took Bradlee at his word and pulled no punches with the result being a fine example of journalism in the great Ben Bradlee tradition.  He may have done his work too well, however, because ever since publication, no one in the Bradlee household will take Himmelman’s calls.  In time I expect that Ben Bradlee will reach out to his young biographer and thank him for this book, because if anyone can handle the truth it is Ben Bradlee.  

Copyright 2012 Teresa Friedlander all rights reserved

Monday, September 17, 2012


By Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s life shattered into a thousand tiny pieces when her mother died unexpectedly, at a young age, from aggressive lung cancer.  She left her marriage, fell into a relationship with a heroin addict, and began medicating her pain with this highly addictive drug.  Her once secure family of origin also fell apart in the wake of her mother’s death, compounding her grief by leaving her essentially alone in the world.  The heroin removed her pain, if only temporarily, and Ms. Strayed could easily have succumbed to addiction, but something deep inside her wouldn’t give up on life and this something sent her on a journey of tremendous hardship to retrieve the tiny pieces of herself so that she could put them back together into someone capable of happiness.

My initial apprehension that Wild would be another Eat, Pray, Love (by Elizabeth Gilbert), fell away within the first few words of the prologue.  Where  Eat, Pray, Love begins with an embarrassingly endless self-pity party, Wild begins with the sudden loss of Ms. Strayed’s left hiking boot in the middle of a rocky trail many miles from the next human being.  I can just imagine Elizabeth Gilbert throwing a tantrum at the loss of the boot and how unfair life is.  Cheryl Strayed did not have energy to waste in crying about a lost boot; it was just one more crisis in a series to be managed.  So she kept walking, on her already ruined feet, because her life depended on it.   From the beginning, pain – both physical and spiritual – had been her constant companion.  By the end, the spiritual pain was gone and the physical pain had become bearable.  Walking barefoot over rough terrain while carrying a heavy weight on her shoulders was a metaphor for how Cheryl Strayed lived her life until she learned the art of letting go.

When a person’s life is in ruins one of three things happens:  she gives up, she tries to heal but eventually fails, or she emerges like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  The first outcome is a waste, the second, a tragedy, but the third is a miracle of the spirit.  When people succeed in recovery from addiction, abuse, or trauma it takes an heroic effort to climb out of the hole they have found themselves in.  As Janis Joplin so famously said, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and that is what it means to hit bottom.  Cheryl Strayed knew that she was dangerously close to that point and decided to do something impossible in order to stay alive.  Her story reminded me of the Labors of Hercules but nothing in her memoir suggests that she felt like a hero.  She was a lost and lonely soul who needed to shed twenty something years of baggage before she could find her way in the world.

Wild takes us on Cheryl Strayed’s ill-conceived journey to walk the Pacific Crest Trail from just north of Los Angeles to the Oregon-Washington state line.  From start to finish, Ms. Strayed covered more than 1,100 miles, mostly on foot, wearing a backpack and tent.  Unlike Ms. Gilbert, Ms. Strayed had no lucrative book deal to finance her journey.  Cheryl Strayed worked as a waitress and saved a few dollars here and there until she had what she thought would be enough to keep her in freeze-dried food for the duration of her trek.  Even the shortest backpacking trip requires planning and organization to ensure sufficient quantities of food and water.  When planning a weeks- or months-long trek preparation can mean the difference between life and death or, at a minimum, success and failure.  At 22 years of age, having never backpacked, Ms. Strayed was completely unprepared in every possible way.  And yet, she never turned back once she took her first step on the Pacific Crest Trail for what would either kill her or make her stronger. 

Lots of people (mostly women) liked Eat, Pray, Love because it enabled them to “feast, fast, and f(ornicate)” vicariously through Elizabeth Gilbert’s self-obsessed writing.  Who wouldn’t enjoy eating her way through Italy, slimming down at an ashram (OK, there were some “hardships” in this part), and finding amor caliente with a wealthy, world-traveling, and not too demanding second husband, all the while getting paid to write about it?  Best of all, for Ms. Gilbert, was imagining her ex-husband and ex-lover eating their hearts out over her success which their shortcomings and misdeeds made possible.

Wild, by contrast, is so honest it is painful to read at times.  Ms. Strayed shares her worst self and her worst moments without apology or qualification.  She describes the abuse of her father, the abandonment of her step father , the disintegration of her family, and the mercy killing of her mother’s beloved horse without flinching, anger, or blame.  There is a powerful acceptance of formative events in her life that transcends the book and leaves the reader elevated, even though there is very little of Ms. Strayed's story that is enjoyable other than her descriptions of spiritual gifts from fellow travelers and the natural beauty she encountered on the trail. 
In addition to sharing her story, Ms. Strayed’s memoir pays homage to the people who conceived of and eventually built the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile footpath from Mexico to Canada parallel to the West Coast of the United States of America.  The process began in the 1930s with YMCA volunteers marking the trail but didn’t receive Federal designation and Park Service protection until 1993.  According to the PCT website, thousands of hikers and equestrians enjoy the trail each year, a surprising number of whom hike the entire length.  Given the many degrees of latitude the trail encompasses, as well as changes in elevation, conditions on a given day can range from 110˚ in desert valleys up to 20˚ or colder on mountain tops, with everything in between.  Packing for such extreme conditions would be a challenge for anyone, but for those who must carry their world in a backpack, every ounce requires a decision.  Cheryl Strayed did not know this until well into her trek when the trail humbled her enough to accept help from an experienced hiker.  The author's humility is what makes Wild worth reading and sharing because it holds the key to her transformation.

If, like me, you tossed Eat, Pray, Love the minute you finished, you owe it to yourself to read  Wild.  On the other hand, if you liked Eat, Pray, Love, you might find Wild a bit too “real” for you, although Oprah liked them both, for whatever that’s worth.  Wild could easily have been clichéd and sugar-coated, after all the author did some shameful things before deciding to walk for her life.  Ms. Strayed could also have left out a lot of details about life on the trail but chose to love her unwashed and foul-smelling self.  There is nothing like a hot shower after weeks in the wild to make you appreciate what a gift cleanliness is.  Some people never experience true hardship nor face insurmountable objects in life.  While I wouldn’t wish pain on anyone, I know from personal experience that tragedy and suffering give depth and meaning to life, and can foster an appreciation for the difficulties faced by others.  It takes courage to share a painful life story but only a whole and healthy person can do so without self-pity or narcissism.  

Copyright 2012 Teresa Friedlander, all rights reserved