Being There

Why did I read this book?

I was deeply amused after reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and was on the lookout for more satire / allegory based novels. Being There, a 1971 classic by Jerzy Kosinski, fit the bill correctly. It’s a satirical take on modern day American media and politics, of how a nonentity rises to become one of the most influential celebrities in international diplomacy, Wall Street and the business world

It’s a 83 page book, fluid language and can be covered in 90 minutes flat.

The Plot Summary

A man with no documented existence, who spent his entire life within the four walls of a garden, has a chance encounter with an elite industrialist which led to his entree into the highest echelons of American society.

How is it that an illiterate TV obsessed man of humble backgrounds succeeds to become a potential Vice Presidential candidate?

What are my views on the book?

Ironically, the most amusing and most sarcastic scenes of the book are the same : Of how they interpret Chauncey’s real life tales about gardening as metaphors to business and administration. He ascends from house guest to presidential confidant to media superstar in hardly a span of a week.

Let me illustrate this with an example – autumn and shredding of leaves from the trees interpreted as economic cycles and , pruning of shrubs as austerity measures. The man’s silence on globally important subjects – world economy, Soviet diplomacy, Wall Street acquisitions – arising due to plain ignorance as strategic thinking and ‘wise man of few words’. And to top it all, silence on matters of love is taken as consent for sexual advancement and prowess of the protagonist! His ambiguous responses are interpreted as restrained elisions. Till, the very end, you will be amused at how face-value statements of a man with no background is  reported as ‘latest insight’ on business, politics and bureaucracy by largest media houses of USA.

What’s the underlying objective – are we insinuating that mammoth organisations are being run by naive people who fail to admit the simplicity of statements despite facts pointing to it? Or does it imply that the masses are so oblivious to the truth, that they can be conned into believing any form of baseless news? Or are we saying that, the world has reached to such a situation, that we are powerless against such an infiltration of our society by an outsider – An outsider, not in the conventional sense, but due to lack of data on his background and the inability to designate him to a social strata? Is Chance’s acceptance into the coterie of wealth and power bolstered by his wealthy appearance of finely tailored suits – Clothes maketh a man?

Kosinski does a fine job in questioning our perception of reality – of the making of a celebrity. We start idolising and glamourising every aspect of the celebrity’s life without much thought to the subject matter. We judge people on external appearances or attire and form a favourable perception.(http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1975/08/30/page/50/article/an-interview-with-jerzy-kosinski)

I believe however, that the book ends very abruptly, making it a tad bit disappointing. Almost as if, you were beginning to have fun, and someone cancelled the party. Nevertheless, the irony will keep you engaged and amused throughout.

BottomlineA slender gem that can be read!

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Name: Being There

Author: Jerzy Kosinski (Published in 1971)

Genre: Satire, Fiction

What are some of the best lines from the book?

“What about the war?’ the young woman sitting on Chance’s left said, leaning close to him.

‘The war? Which war?’ said Chance. ‘I’ve seen many wars on TV.’

‘Alas,’ the woman said, ‘in this country, when we dream of reality television wakes us. To millions the war, I suppose, is just another TV program. But out there, at the front, real men are giving their lives.”

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