Sunday Book Review: "Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist"

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. In Toronto, a few hundred protestors took to the streets. I can remember when it was thousands. Four years after the start of the war, the resistance, unlike the conflict, is dead. It's important to ask why.

Perhaps without intending to, "Loyal to the Sky" by Marisa Handler asks that question. It is the globe-spanning memoir of an activist, starting in apartheid South Africa, where she grew up, moving through Israel, Asia and South America, finally winding up in the United States.

She finds much common ground and many differences between these varied cultures. Reading it, I was often struck by the depressing commonality of our vices. It is our virtues that make us different and, ironically, unite us in a deeper form.

"Loyal to the Sky" is both personal odyssey and adventure story. Its structure actually reminded me of the monomyth that Joseph Campbell described as "the hero's journey". This book could be read and enjoyed for its interesting environs, its likeable writer, the political insight it offers or its striking and elegant prose.

I enjoyed it for the all of these but primarily for the questions Handler is brave enough to ask. While her answers to humanity's problems are not entirely satisfactory, it is hard to blame her for falling short. In the full course of human history, far too many people have claimed to have solved these conundrums, while no one actually has.

But Handler has the courage to look within and without, attempting to find a resolution and admitting what she does not know. The best passages are when she gropes for and is eluded by answers. For example, she writes of a New York protest:

"I watch my friends walking and chanting. They are good people, so good that they care about men and women and children they do not know and will never know. They are the conscience of this nation; they will not let these delegates forget what this administration is perpetrating. But this, what we are doing right now - is it helping? Or is it pushing us further apart? We didn't come here to convince the delegates to change their minds, or to win their esteem. But I can see what they are thinking. Faced with hatred, they hate us right back. That's what we've all learned to do. What would we risk if we tried something different?"

I wonder the same thing. Four years ago, thousands failed to prevent a war of naked aggression and dubious legality; based on blatant lies told by a man totally lacking in oratorical skill. Yesterday a few hundred tried the same approach and hoped for a better result. I don't think we'd be risking very much by trying something different.

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