My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
This in an extract from a novel I’m still writing. The first draft was completed some years ago. I’ve been mulling ever since how best to fix its structural faults and waiting for the opportunity to rewrite the story.
Mr. Sütterlin’s Ambition
“Do you know why I make books?” Mr. Sütterlin spoke slowly, in a dense voice still struggling with the English words.
“When I was a boy, my father took me into the streets one night. My mother didn’t want me to go. I suppose she was afraid. He wouldn’t say where we were going but he gripped my hand and pulled me on and I went with him half afraid and half curious. I’d never been out so late at night before and the streets were full of people.
“We went to a big plaza I had never seen before. Already there were many people and vehicles and we stood and we watched lines of men throwing books onto big fires in front of the university. And in the light of the flames I saw the faces of the people watching them and they were so happy.
“Poppa, why are they doing this?” How could he explain to a boy what they were doing? Only he insisted I must see it for myself. And later, burning books did not seem so important compared to murdering people.
“I was so angry when we came to Canada in 1947. You can’t imagine how angry I was. I asked my wife, what can I do against what these people have done? And then I remembered the night of the book-burning in Leedemeyer Plaza. At first I wanted to become a poet or a playwright or novelist, to replace those books with my own, but what is one man against such a monstrous destruction? Then I thought to be a publisher. If they burned 10,000 books I vowed to publish 10 million books, to fill every school, every library and every home with new books! Because if books do not occupy these spaces, what takes their place? There is much worse in the world than a bad book. And to live in a house with no books and television talking in every room. I think that must be hell.
“My wife said I should do something to help people in this country understand what is a book. She said people don’t understand what is a book-burning. They can’t imagine what it means. May God protect such innocence! The book is the most important object created by the human mind. The idea of the book, not what one book might contain.
“So I started to make books. Making the papers, designing and cutting pages, and binding them. Creating books with nothing in them with my own hands! People said we were mad to open a shop for handmade books. But as you see, Montréal and Canada have been good to us and we are still here.”
Mr. Sütterlin finished wrapping the package and laid it on the counter. “I believe when we are able to see with our own eyes the thoughts of others, and to hold them physically in our own hands, then we are protecting ourselves from those who would make us less than human.”
© Dennison Berwick 2004. This short story may be republished for noncommercial purposes, with full copyright attribution and notification to the author. Any other use is a violation of copyright.