Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Favorite Quotes from Amis' House of Meetings

Below are a few favorite quotes from Martin Amis' House of Meetings.

You are as well-prepared as any young Westerner could hope to be, equipped with good diet, lavish health insurance, two degrees, foreign travel and languages, orthodonture, psychotherapy, property, and capital;  and your skin is a beautiful color.  Look at you--look at the burnish of you.

..this is a love story.  All right, Russian love.  But still love.

Given Russian distances, and the general arduousness of Russian life, you'd expect a verst to be the equivalent of--I don't know--thirty-nine miles.  It's barely more than a kilometer.

Moscow is impressive--grimly fantastic in its pelf.

The Siberian expanse, the olive-green immensity--it would frighten you, I think;  but it makes Russians feel important.

All the money has been divided up between the felons and the state.

My story would be even worse in Russian.  For it is truly a tale of gutterals and nasals and whistling sibilants.

It's not the USSR I don't like.  What I don't like is the northern Eurasian plain.  I don't like the "directed democracy," and I don't like Soviet power, and I don't like tsars, and I don't like Mongol overlords, and I don't like the theocratic dynasts of old Moscow and Kiev.

There is in front of me on the screen of my computer, the graph with its two crinkly lines intersecting, one pink, one blue.  The birth rate, the death rate.  They call it the Russian cross.

By now the five-week Arctic summer was under way.  It was as if nature woke up in July and realized how badly she had neglected her guests;  and then of course she completely overdid it. There was something gushing and hysterical in the show she put on...

There were in fact enormous quantities of thwarted love, of trapped love, in the slave archipelago.

The Secret Speech caused a planetary sensation.  It was "the first time" a Russian leader had ever acknowledged the transgressions of the state.  It was the first time.  It was the last time too, more or less...

Joseph Vissarionovich:  I knew his face better than I knew my own mother's.

You must try to imagine it, the disgusting proximity of the state, its body odor, its breath on your neck, its stupidly expectant stare.

But at the time we had no idea what was going on.  We never had any idea what was going on.

You have consumed your share of Russian novels:  every time a new character appears, there is a chapter break and you are suddenly reading about his grandparents.  This too is a digression.  And its import is sexual.

That's how a "love triangle" could be wonderfully simplified.  An anonymous phone call, an unsigned letter, to the secret police.

...the shortage of housing was slightly eased by the shortage of people...

Universal dissatisfaction took the following form:  everyone everywhere complained about everything.

Come over here to participate in the Soviet experiment, he told the CP man who issued his passport that he was fully prepared to take the big cut in his standard of living.  That same day he got the quarter--twenty-five years. And were you praising America?

I remember the convocations of the Komsomol:  try to imagine something halfway between a temperance meetings and a Nurenberg Rally.

Something strange was happening in the Soviet Union, after the war against fascism:  fascism.

Over here, now, there's no angling around for your male midlife crisis.  It is brought to you and it is always the same.  It is death.

The train rocks and knocks across the simplified land forms of the tundra: Russia's great white page, awaiting the characters and sentences of history.

In the Gulag, it was not the case that people died like flies.  Rather, flies died like people.

At the moment of arrest you already feel halfway vanished.  In prison you're a former person and already dead.  In camp you're almost sure you've never been.

The sound seemed to trumpet the dawn of a new dominion (more savage, more stupid, more certain) and to repudiate the laxity and amateurism of the day before.

"...if God really cared about us, he would never have given us religion." But this loose syllogism is easily exploded, and all questions of theodicy simply dissappear--if God is a Russian.

I became convinced, around then, that boredom was the second pillar of the system--the first being terror.

Now [Stalin] was nowhere.  But he used to be everywhere. 

I knew then that massacres want to happen.  Massacres want there to be massacres. 

The center--I could feel it tugging at me, with its women and its money.  And in the late summer of 1958 I started orbiting Moscow. 

Between 1946 and 1957 I ate two apples, one in 1949 and one in 1955. 

He despised my appetite.  I had drive, and all Russians hate that. 

We were both subject to the centuries-old momentum of Russian drunkenness

Now, smoking (like drinking) allays anxiety.  So try not smoking in Russia and see how far you get.

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