Hitch 22: A great memoir

On December 15th, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died in Houston Texas from pneumonia, a complication of his battle with cancer. Sadly, this review written by Pat Conroy weeks ago, is being placed posthumously today in honor of Hitchens and his contribution to the world of letters.

Hey, out there,

Last night, I finished a splendid memoir written by the irascible and charming Christopher Hitchens.  It is called Hitch 22, and the title reminded me of the time I found myself talking to a fascinating man at the deep end of a swimming pool in New Orleans.  He turned out to be Joseph Heller.  I always get a cheap literary thrill whenever I have these chance encounters on the road.  I first started admiring Mr. Hitchens when he began writing his bristling, fire-eating essays in Vanity Fair.  Over the years he began displaying that rarest of intellectual gifts – the ability and willingness to change his mind and do it in an orderly, well-reasoned way.  He writes with a prose style that has teeth and venom and beauty.  Hitchens is one of those uncommon writers who seems incapable of writing a boring sentence or thinking a banal thought.

There are surprises galore in this feast of a book, which is an intellectual treasure house and a reader’s delight.  He is tender-hearted and clear-eyed in his portraits of his family and friends.  I have always been attracted to male writers who can demonstrate their love and affection for women with ease yet not draw attention to themselves.  In a chapter of admirable clarity, he finally reveals what goes on in those infamous British public schools that have tortured every male writer who ever wrote a novel or memoir about the English path to enlightenment.  He clears up the mysteries of that charged, homoerotic environment and does it in a way that is explanatory and not a bit sensational or exploitative.

Mr. Hitchens writes about the importance of friendships as well as any writer I’ve ever read.  In his chapter on his long friendship with Martin Amis, he creates a masterly portrait that made me want to be friends with both men and regret that I had once had that possibility in my life, but had failed to make the right move in that direction.  Once, a lifetime away, I had been part of the creation of a movie development company, and the first book we bought for our first film was The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis.  I had read the book in galleys and knew a hot shot when I saw one.  Mr. Amis was a young gun fresh out of the box and he wrote with verve, precision and cunning.  I could have met him, and Hitch 22 made me think not doing so was one of the great errors of my life.  The choices I didn’t make are almost as ruinous as the ones I did.

Mr. Hitchens’ portraits of Salman Rushdie, James Fenton, Edward Said and Susan Sontag are all superb and enlightening.  His intellectual life and his curiosity are insatiable.  As a political figure, he reminds me of the great George Orwell, and he sprinkles accolades to Orwell all throughout the book.  He takes you on journeys to Sarajevo, Kurd territory in Northern Iraq, to uprising and wars in sorrowful countries around the world.  Often he places himself in grave danger and he never equivocates about whose side he’s on.  I didn’t agree with President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but Mr. Hitchens makes the best case for that war I ever encountered.  His portrait of Saddam Hussein is nothing short of satanic.  If you can read what Hitchens has to say about Hussein and not, at least, re-consider your views on Iraq, I question your capacity to read.

He is the happiest of atheists and a heretic of charming godliness.  I know Southerners who have Hitch on their prayer chains after hearing about (not reading) his homage to atheism, God is Not Great.  For some reason, I think these prayer chains will never succeed in leading Hitch to the steps of the Church of God.  He sees that the intellectual life of the mind is the only sensible place on earth to be. When the idiot pastor Terry Jones burned the Koran, and the resulting protests among the Muslims of Afghanistan resulted in eleven killed, Christopher Hitchens was certainly not ambushed by surprise.  A hell of a book.

Great love, Pat Conroy

11 Responses to Hitch 22: A great memoir

  • Carol says:

    The outpouring of love for Hitchens as a friend have been moving. Men having passionate literary friendships seems so, well, nineteenth century! Almost decadent . . . and so not Puritan. Needed. Was heartened by his willingness to engage with others’ cosmologies with curiosity and gusto. Would be a miracle if that civilized, vigorous, compassionate way entered our political discourse. Ha?!

  • John RIchbourg says:

    As a Citadel graduate of 1974 (Delta Co, 1st Btn), I have followed your career through your writings for quite some time and greatly enjoyed the journey. I am currently a native of San Antonio, Texas (long story) and am wondering if you will be making any more appearances on the road in the near future. Your itinerary has not been updated for over a year. It would be great to see you in person west of the Mississippi.

  • I had a knee-jerk reaction to the Hitchens title, God is Not Great, and I’m a skeptical believer (if there is such a thing). I do believe in God, though I’m not all that wild about religion; lapsed Irish-Roman Catholic that I am. But now I wish to read the book. Most of my atheist friends have a defensive, angry reaction to talk of God that I’m always a bit startled by. Then there is the intellectual conceit that emanates from academia, whereby deus ex machina is slowly being relegated as a rail against any use of spiritual intervention into the lives of characters in literature. That is really a prejudice posing as a literary construct.

  • Lindsey warren says:

    I have read Mr. Conroy my whole life. I have purchased his books & given them to friends & loved ones. I have never been disappointed. Ever!! Love, love, love him!!!

  • gayle steinmeyer says:

    I began reading “South of Broad” today based on the recommendation of a friend. I had stopped reading your book after “Prince of Tides” b/c the cruelty of the father was so much like the cruely of my “then” husband and I could not bear to live w/it as well as read about it. I was happy to read today that he changed after retiring from the Marines. My former spouse was the son of an Army Sgt and was himself a career Army Officer. Although “South of Broad” is beautifully written; your use of the English language is a thing of beauty, I find the premise… suicide of an 11-year old boy… impossible to believe in. The boy was the son of a former nun, not only a Catholic boy, but an alter boy. The Catholic church, as you know, strictly forbids suicide. I am 63 years old and have never read an account of, heard a news story of, or known of any 11 year old boy commiting suicide. He was a boy who watched over his younger brother “like a hawk circling the school yard.” To imagine that such a boy would cut his wrists in the bathtub he shared with his little brother… for him to find… is impossible to believe. He regularly made his mother laugh, and was adored by everyone; how totally unlikely that such a young man would have intentionally caused his mother grief. The premise is just impossible; as unlikely as the sky opening up and raining down fish.

    • Nancy Beckmann says:

      Gayle, Did you actually read South of Broad, or did you quit soon after you identified the “premise”? I just finished reading it, and when I got to “yes” I burst into a smile. Mr. Conroy is a masterful writer! Nothing short of masterful. I loved every paragraph of the book.

    • Cindy Fine says:

      I think the older brother was the kind of person who wants to please everyone, do everything right. He could not handle dissappointing his “very Catholic” parents by telling them what their spiritual mentor had done to him. Not being able to confide in his parents, he felt no way out.

  • Ted Westmoreland says:

    I have only just recently been introduced/exposed to CHRISTopher Hitchens by the short posts on F/B by my sister. Both fascinating & stimulating, his words have given me a chance to think & grow philosophically. In spite of being 66 years old, I just started reading seriously. Last year, The Prince of Tides gave me new insight into my own dysfunctional life. About an hour ago I finished Beach Music and I knew I had to find out more about Pat Conroy. Amazing parallels: by chance I graduated high school in Columbia, SC; attended USC; I was born one day later in 1945; and character descriptions of the military brats fit my sisters & me to a T….. Now I’ve got to read My Reading Life to see what else this cosmic brother of mine has been up to.

  • Stephen H. Goldstein says:

    Some years ago, I attended a C-SPAN panel discussion in Timonium, Md., tht featured Stanley Karnow, David Maraniss, Elsa Walsh and … Christopher Hitchens.

    Just last week, I watched online the BBC version of “Intelligence Squared” from 2009, featuring Christopher Hitchens, an archbishop from Africa, a member of Parliament who left the Church of England for the Church of Rome, and Stephen Fry.

    As always, Hitchens was masterful in presenting his arguments — logical and articulate, even if one doesn’t agree with him. Listening to him and considering his presentation, I would not be able to challenge his logic. His opponents in the debate were unable to challenge him and Fry, who won the debate. His death saddened me, not only for what he endured but also for the mind and person we lost.

  • cindy knoke says:

    Hitch 22 is almost as remarkable as the man himself. I miss his mind and provoking oratory, but am glad he is no longer suffering. Sad ending of a most remarkable life.
    And you sir, I am reading ‘The Death of Santini.’ I retired early after 27 years as a therapist, almost 20 of which were spent treating active duty military, enlisted and officers. For 10 years I worked for the DOD treating abusive husbands and fathers. We used The Great Santini in all of our groups to break down resistance and it was of course instrumental in our success in helping violent men (and later women) learn new ways of dealing with their rage and pain. You helped thousands of military personnel in this way.
    Besides, I have been reading your books for 30 some odd years and am a sincere admirer.
    My husband just read his first, ‘Beach Music,’ and was seriously moved and impressed.
    The Death of Santini is a tour de force and a wonderful summation of your father’s story.
    Bravo for you life’s work and thank you!
    If your bored, which I doubt, pop by cindyknoke.com at wordpress and say hello.
    Cheers to you~

  • Deb Reilly says:

    Lovely words about the late, great Christopher Hitchens.

    It saddens me when people use religion as proof that God does not exist. Because really, God has very little to do with religion.

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