By Ivorn Summing
Key Themes: autobiography, bipolar disorder, manic depression, empowerment
The story is based on true events and as such, it is not simply fictional, though the writing style may appear to indicate otherwise as names and certain places have been altered. I see this short novel as more than a piece of literature; it is at one and the same time a work that deals with religion, psychiatry and psychology.
The story is told of a young man in Cape Town living an observant Jewish life who is enamored with a young religious woman, who is also Jewish. The difference is she has always been religious, while the young man is a Ba’al Teshuvah (master of repentance) or one who has returned to an observant Jewish life later in life.
When he asks the young woman whom he hardly knows to marry him, she expresses that she is not interested. Eventually she leaves Cape Town to return to her hometown, Toronto, Canada. But the young man, Vladamir so named, continues to read signs that he is meant to be married to Yana Goldenberg, his perfect young Jewish woman.
So he travels overseas with the express purpose of declaring his love for her and eventually marrying her. But things go wrong: his actions are interpreted as dangerous, the Jewish community rejects his desire for Yana and when Yana lies about his following her, he is incarcerated. There, in jail, Vladamir believes he is on a mission to save the Jews of North America and South Africa (and possibly the world) if only he and Yana were to be married.
He believes that Yana is aware of this Messianic vision and that eventually, through his travails in prison, the truth will be revealed and the world set right.
As it happens, we learn that Yana did not think that way. We learn, in fact that Vladamir suffers from bi-polar and this illness would explain his delusions and warped perceptions.
The book thus makes for compelling reading for sufferers of bi-polar and those who are close to such sufferers. The work also exposes the dangers of religion, the psychological and philosophical dimension of religion and the personal battle for wholeness and peace.
About the Author
Ivorn Summing was born in Witbank, South Africa on the 13th July 1974. One of his primary areas of interest is art, both theoretical (academic) and practical (painting). He is currently reading for a doctorate in Art History through the University of South Africa and has exhibited his paintings at various galleries in Cape Town, South Africa. “A Trip to the Palace” is Summing’s first literary work, but its images and experiences inform both his art-making and his desire to individuate as a husband and father as well.
The great fog hovered and lingered torturing the man to the extent that he could barely function during the course of the day. Pain ate into him. He had become the object of madness, a thing, a victim; it was as if he had no volition of his own, a mere pawn in a sadistic game of chance. Neither philosophy nor art could save him for he did not have the luxury of either: they had spat him out and thrown him to the ground declaring “we shall not be your muse; life will do with you what it wills.”
Is he still in prison? Deluded, paranoid, confused? Aware of few but himself while all the while wishing to transcend himself. Religion only complicated this labyrinth. Or perhaps he is exaggerating – what is his suffering compared to so many others? But he could only really be inside himself. What of his woman? Did she not offer an escape route; is she not the soul mate he has yearned for all these years? Yes, she offers him a new world. She offers him a path of golden light. He is no longer a lonely young man crying for warmth and life and security. He is no longer on a path of self-destruction, trying to obliterate the self he felt had stooped to such low moral depravity. Yet still, life finds holes in him to salt his wounds and the agony of that inarticulate sense of not knowing….not knowing.
His name is Vladamir. Vladamir Petrovic Nastarovia. The year is 2008. He remembers eight years ago when it all began. Or did it begin a few years earlier in 1996 or 1997?
He had just graduated from University where he did an undergraduate in art, specifically painting, art history and philosophy. Vladamir enjoyed the university. Not in the sense that he had many friends and certainly not because he had many woman. He enjoyed the intellectual growth, the freedom of exploration and the on going development as a painter – an artist. He did not really fit in, whether at the art school or the university in general. But that had never phased him. He was self-assured, intelligent and strong enough to argue with the lecturers during art crits. He did find one woman particularly attractive. She was in Vladamir’s philosophy class. They would exchange notes during lectures and discuss philosophy together. He found her intriguing. She once came to stay with him at his parent’s house. He tried to sleep with her. He pleaded that she give him a chance. She said “it is not about a chance”. He felt defeated at this rejection. He burned wax for many hours into the night after that.
Some time later, he went to University and he felt as if the walls, the facades of the campus were falling in on him and that people were talking about him and staring at him. The rejection started to warp his perceptions. But this feeling did not last long and her memory faded.
Vladamir began trying marijuana at this stage, mainly with a friend of his in art school. He enjoyed these experiences. His friend suggested he seek out a prostitute when Vladamir insisted that he needed sex. Vladamir, always the seeker of truth, sought advice before making such a decision. He went to a psychology lecturer and explained his dilemma, to which he got the response: “Do it if that is what you want.” The psychologist, in true liberal style, saw nothing wrong with it. So he did it! He went to a street corner near his parent’s home at a time his parents were away, and brought the Black Woman home. He sketched her first and then fucked her. At the moment of climax, he saw the vision of his geometric Mandela-like painting. It was bliss. He paid her R50 and dropped her where he had picked her up. That was June/July 1996. He was no longer a virgin. He was about 22 years old.
After graduating, he thought a trip to the art centers of Europe may be a good idea. But then a cheap tour to Israel came up and he thought to himself that it may be a good proposition and a cheap way to get to Europe. He had always had strong feeling for Judaism. But these were, in the main, negative. He went to a Jewish day school but was repulsed by the lack of spirituality, the materialism and the herd mentality both in terms of career choice and the superficiality of the religious or spiritual aspect. He thought that he would go to Israel, prove the Rabbis wrong, then promptly go to London, stay at his uncle and aunt, see the art galleries there and do the same at the other art centers of Europe. Curiously though in 1995, he had painted many Judaic images. These images were inspired by Rabbis and Vladamir had actually done a bit of searching there. But always as an outsider, an artist. It was like his research into the mentally insane that he did for his final art project in 1996. In both cases, he felt something in him akin to both the mystical and the insane spirit, and yet would not fully surrender himself to either.
Off Vladamir went to Israel. There he was bombarded with lectures on Judaism, interspersed with a bit of touring. At first, it did not make sense. He ran out of a lecture on the basis of it being racist and argued with some of the Rabbis. But, as time went, and a few friendships were forged, he took a liking to the Yeshiva. He was particularly convinced by the work done on the codes of the Torah, the Hebrew bible. It indicates with mathematical precision the beyond-human brilliance of the Book, an uncanny numerical sequence that defied logic unless one purports that the Book is of Divine origin. “I am wrong!” Vladamir would say at the yeshiva, perhaps the Book was more profound than he had given it credit for. He was also impressed by the argument that Judaism is the only religion where it is claimed that G-d was revealed to a multitude, whereas other religions claim to have started with one prophet or the like, and this is a difficult claim to fabricate as you would have to begin by convincing a whole nation that they experienced G-d – unless that indeed occurred at Sinai (besides many of the other Great Religions do nor refute this revelation to Israel, in the first place some 3000 or more years ago). So, the truth seeker that he is, Vladamir decided to stay on and learn at the yeshiva. He stayed for seven months.
The yeshiva was beautiful. It overlooked the Western wall from atop a balcony. This is owing to the fact that there are many donors involved, including famous Hollywood stars such as Michael Douglass. It was like being in the womb: ones meals were taken care of and how scrumptious they were, while ones umbilical cord was connected to this constant supply of Torah insights. There was a great buzz in the Beis Midrash or study hall as the ancient wisdom was studied, unraveled and dissected. The Rabbis were generally very nice and Vladamir felt an unusual connection to his brethren. Oddly, it was here that he learned that the Sabbath was not just a Friday night dinner but extended to Saturday and included all sorts of prohibitions on top of specific rituals. So much for his education at the Jewish day school. In essence, the yeshiva, aish or fire hatorah (of the Torah) is a kiruv (drawing estranged Jews closer to the faith) organization, apparently rehabilitating secular Jews back to their origins. Vladamir experienced the Sabbath as it is supposed to be and took a liking to the experience.
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