How will Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) be remembered? I just happened to pick up Hitch -22 and the last sentence in this passage may describe any established or aspiring writer. Describing his battle with cancer, he writes in his foreword:
I am forced to make simultaneous preparations to die, and to go on living. Lawyers in the morning, as I once put it, and doctors in the afternoon. One of the happier dimensions of my life, that of travel, has been foreclosed to me: a great misery. But I have found that I still possess the will to write as well as, the indispensable thing for any writer, the avid will to read.
In his battle with cancer, Hitchens wrote in a personal vein and the words resonate. As he wrote in Topic of Cancer for Vanity Fair in September 2010:
My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the esophagus. He was 79. I am 61. In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.
In Hitch 22, he describes his earliest memories. The chapter, Yvonne, about his mother, opens with these words:
I am standing on a ferryboat that is crossing a lovely harbour. I have since learned many versions and variations of the word “blue”, but let’s say that a brilliant if slightly harsh sunshine illuminates a cerulean sky-vault and an azure sea and also limns the way in which these two textures collide and reflect. The resulting tinge of green is in lambent contrast with the darker vegetation and makes an almost blinding combination when, allied with these discrepant yet melding blues, it hits the white buildings that reach down to the edge of water. As a flash of drama and beauty and seascape and landscape, it’s as good an inaugural memory as one could wish.
Since this little voyage is occurring in about 1952 and I have been born in 1949, I have no means of appreciating that this is the Grand Harbour of Valletta, the capital of the tiny island-state of Malta and one of the finest Baroque and Renaissance cities of Europe.
Gerald Durrell describes his first view of the island of Corfu, arriving there by ship with his family, just as vividly in My Family and Other Animals. Look it up on Amazon.
Leave a Reply