Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (1982). I am writing this review a week after I finished reading the book because I was both angry and depressed after finishing reading it. I wonder if Bukowski knew he would have this impact on his readers. This author is one of those with this tremendous power of transcending time and space to get involved with the reader in something that resembles a lot to a private conversation. In any case I have to say it: this is a very good book. A disturbing, provoking and depressing book, but fun and worthwhile to read nonetheless.

It appears  to be based on Bukowski’s own life growing up during the Great depression in the 1930’s  in the USA when H. Chinaski was in school and his family was having a bad time with his unemployed father. The book ends with  the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor starting  WWII.

From Chinaski’s childhood the two main themes that seem to come up more often are Chisnski’s father beatings with the razor strap and at school the recurrent  themes are  fights and playing sports with other kids and the discovery of wine, which would play a role throughout his life. The first time  he tries alcohol is when he and his friend go to the neighbor’s cellar to steal wine.

Chinaski likes sports but I feel that this  excitement does not really come from the sportsmanship of the game but is the violence and the harshness of the physical contact  what attracts him. Since he has lived in a violent house with an unloving and abusive father, he goes to the world to project this violence. Sometimes playing football or fist fighting, Chginsaki often goes back home with a black eye or a skinned elbow.

Chinaski finishes high school and he then gets a job from which he is fired within a week. Eventually he goes to a tuition-free college where he meets some people that would be his friends later in life.

At some point he realizes college is not for him. A friend of his suggests joining the army but Chinaski sees no point in doing that. His reasoning is that the people who want to send him to the war are people that have no personal interest in him whatsoever. Loneliness and alienation are a constant in this book. He believes people just make no sense, talk no sense, and to some extent he is right. He is just brutally honest. People and their normal lives are boring. The only things that give life a little meaning are sex and alcohol.

The front cover of the edition that I read has a drawing of a kid in a fighting position, similar to the figure on Charles Bukoski’s grave. This image of the fighting kid is a really good visual understanding of the entire novel. H. Chinaski has to live a hard and violent life , which even he does not quite understand why he has to fight but he feels that he has to win nonetheless.

I am still reading more works from Bukowski, in particular ‘Post Office’ and ‘Women’. I like both so far, but I am not so sure if I will write a review. Yes I like Bukowski, but I realized his books are packed with a variety of emotions and it takes quite a lot of time to untangle all the thoughts that I have after reading him. Probably someday I will review Bukowski again.

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