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Author Keith Oatley reads from Therefore Choose as part of Lorenzo Reading Series

Author: Communications

Posted on Jan 5, 2011

Category: myUNB , UNB Saint John

Author Keith Oatley will read from his novel, Therefore Choose on Monday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. in the Ganong Hall Lecture Theatre at UNB Saint John. A professor emeritus of cognitive psychology (University of Toronto), Oatley has published two earlier novels – The Case of Emily V (1993), which won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the UK “Mind” Prize, and A Natural History (1998). He has published seven books on the psychology of emotions, and currently teaches a course on creativity at Humber College. The reading is hosted by the Lorenzo Reading Series and the UNB Saint John Bookstore, and supported by The Canada Council for the Arts. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend. For more information contact The University Bookstore at (506) 648-5540, inprint at (506) 648-2315, or email sjbooks@unbsj.ca.

About the novel, Therefore Choose

Having completed a degree in Natural Science at Cambridge, medical student George Smith travels with his fellow student Werner Vohn, a philosophy scholar, to Berlin in the summer of 1936, a summer that transforms George’s life. Busy with preparations for the August Olympics, Berlin is a city swarming with soldiers. Before leaving Berlin to visit his parents in Konstanz, Werner introduces George to his friend Anna von Kleist, an aristocratic beauty, who will be able to find George a flat. Neither overly confident nor particularly committed to his field of study, George is smitten by Anna, an intense and dedicated editor of a literary magazine, international in scope. Although Werner believes that Germany only wants to be strong again, and Anna seems immune to what’s going on, George is alienated by the shunning of the Jews, their loss of livelihood, and the “ghastly” strutting and shouting of German soldiers. Towards the end of George’s stay, Anna asks him to remain with her in Berlin, however, George returns to London and his clinical studies. As the situation in Europe worsens, George second-guesses his decision, wonders what he’s left Anna to endure on her own. In 1940, when a German invasion of England seems likely, George joins up, an officer in the artillery, the one who “ordered the guns to fire.” Therefore Choose follows him through his war experiences, including his regiment’s arrival, in April 1945, at the Belsen concentration camp. Back in rubble-strewn London, unwilling to take up medical practice and uneasy about his role in the war, the only thing George is sure about, as he tells his sometime-lover Bernardette McGohern, is that “When you see some of the things the Nazis did,” you can see that our war was “the right thing,” but in our methods, we were “scarcely better than them.” Eventually joining the civil service, George returns to Berlin as part of the Allied reconstruction effort. With some effort, he finds Werner – in an asylum in Geneva – and Anna, a copyeditor at a newspaper in Berlin. Although George hopes for a second chance with her, for Anna all has changed. They have traveled from innocence to experience, where experience means brokenness. They are all as damaged as the once-beautiful buildings of the ravaged city. Their tragedy exists, according to Anna, not in their individual ends (and those are tragic) but rather in their failure to see what was really going on not just in ’36 but as far back as 1933. Informed by Jean-Paul Sartre’s ideas about choice and contingency, Oatley’s novel of ideas examines moments of choice and the alternative to making choices, those periods in life when a person just goes along with things, or as Anna puts it, in her relentless self-questioning, “Why didn’t I see… and do something?” “[Oatley] writes in the tradition of such literary minded medical men as Chekhov, Conan Doyle, and Somerset Maugham… clinical clarity and precision are the hallmarks of his prose.”  - The Walrus Contact: Pat Joas, University Bookstore, UNB Saint John (506) 648-5637, joas@unb.ca