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No Coffee Please,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Memoir from Antproof Case (Taschenbuch)
Mark Helprin has the uncanny ability to move with power and grace through the entire range of reality, both human and divine. His previous works, the majestic A Soldier of the Great War and the visionary Winter's Tale show this most aptly. Even more amazing is Helprin's ability to juxtapose the holy and the profane, not as literary device, but as something directly perceived.
Memoir From Antproof Case, while not the masterpiece of A Soldier of the Great War or the genius of Winter's Tale, is still artistry and fun of the highest order. The book's protagonist introduces himself in the opening sentence with a parody of Moby Dick: Call me Oscar Progresso.
Oscar Progresso is, in fact, the pseudonym of an eighty year old American, hiding in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil and consigning his memoirs to an antproof case so that his wife's young son (conceived with another man but loved by Progresso) will someday be able to read his "father's" complete history as well as having a chance at finding the millions in gold bullion that Oscar stole from an immortal investment banking firm in New York years earlier, thus forcing him into hiding in Brazil.
Although Progresso is now living in one of the world's premiere coffee-growing regions, he ironically possesses a fanatical and pathological loathing for coffee...anything. Moreover, he blames any number of physical, emotional and spiritual degradations in the world around him on the evils of caffeine. Cruelly, he says, "every child in the Western World is pressured to accept this drug." And, since Progresso has not been able to convince even one person to give up what he considers to be one of the world's greatest vices, he has come to consider the addiction to coffee to be stronger and more powerful than all the world's religions, than love, and even "perhaps stronger than the human soul itself." Progresso in exile, a person who is nauseated by even the smell of brewing coffee, is amusing, to be sure, but he is definitely not a happy man.
Progresso, though, has lived a wonderful life and he knows it. His early childhood on a farm in the Hudson Valley was magical; he lived through physical and spiritual adventures as a fighter pilot in WWII; he married a billionairess, with whom he was immensely happy...until she, herself, succumbed to the coffee habit. As a highly successful, though somewhat eccentric, investment banker, Progresso romps through exotic episodes that are woven into the story in meandering folds that loop back on one another and are nothing if they are not spirited.
The one blot in Progresso's seemingly carefree existence was a murder to which he, himself, holds the clue. Although he finds no salvation in revenge, Progresso does manage to take it when he snaps a bank president's neck.
Childhood and children play an important role in this Helprin tale, not only Progresso's "son," Funio, and the millions of children hooked on caffeine, but the spiritual energy of children and of childhood, which is often invoked in characteristically original scenes.
When Progresso is sent by his bank to greet the Pope, Helprin wastes no time on more moral subjects that preoccupy lesser authors. Instead, Progresso immediately forms a bond with the pontiff because, as he puts it, he can see directly into his soul. After a simple dinner together, Progresso asks the Pope about his parents and the pontiff is moved: "In all these years, no one has ever asked me about my father and my mother, and yet I think of them every day. Why did you ask?" Progresso's answer is simple, brilliant and thoroughly Helprin: "God puts more of Himself in the love of parent and child than in anything else, including all the wonders of nature. It is the prime analogy, the foremost revelation, the shield of His presence upon earth. As you don't have your own children, you must refer to that holy relation in memories dredged deep with great love."
These words carry even greater weight when we consider that Progresso is a man who could be described as a wag or an eccentric; a man in whom good and evil, sanity and madness are deeply and irrevocably intertwined, but who is always uplifted by the sheer joy of simply being alive.
Helprin's wizardry as a storyteller is proven again in this book by his ability to maintain suspense until the very last page. He takes many chances along the way, because, since it is Progresso who is telling the tale, we know he survived the threats described during the telling. Yet Helprin is so masterful that you will still find yourself wondering how, or even if, Progresso will manage to handle the bandits and the bullets, the storms and the failures. Most lesser authors couldn't keep a reader that enthralled if they were telling the story in chronological order; that Helprin manages to do so when we already know the outcome is nothing less than sheer magic.
There is magic, too, in Helprin's variety and steadiness of vision. He seems to know all there is to know about warfare, finance, engineering, history and several other fields. Yet his writing becomes tender and lyrical when Progresso relates his childhood memories of the Hudson Valley and later, New York City.
After spending time with a Helprin novel, the reader comes to believe that life really does contain all the magic the heart intuits: tragedy, pain and horror, but also glory and love beyond all expression.