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As Above, So Below

Last night I finished reading a recent novel by Rudy Rucker called ‘As Above, So Below‘, a fictional account of the life of 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel The Elder. I absolutely love this novel! It was an amazing story that I can’t get out of my soul. Rucker, who is known for wild and wacky science fiction (and one of the fathers of Cyberpunk), has done an incredible job of bringing Bruegel and his milieu to life. This novel is nothing like his previous works. It’s a detailed look into the culture and daily life of the peasants of the Low Lands. And it’s about food, fashion, farmers, nobles, businessmen and artists, politics and religion, the horror of the Spanish Inquisition, life under foreign occupation, and ultimately about the resilience of the human spirit. It’s amazingly inspirational the way the people in this story can still take joy in the little pleasures of life in a time of horrific uncertainty and fear.

This is the story of an artist and the way his perception of the Divine within all of nature fired his passionate obsession to paint, following Pieter Bruegel through the joys and disappointments, longings and triumph of his relatively brief life. He’s portrayed as a flawed being, sometimes rude and manipulative, but also humorous, intelligent, and filled with wonder at the intricacy and beauty of God’s creation. And the numerous other characters and relationships that were part of Bruegel’s life are wonderfully fleshed-out as well. The way he writes the story is so well-rounded! It’s like Bruegel’s paintings come to life in words. And each chapter deals with a particular painting and the life experience that inspired and shaped it.

I always liked Bruegel’s paintings we studied back in Art History, but this book has given me a whole new appreciation of the social, political and philosophical allegories that are expressed through his art, and of what a bizarre time and place he lived in.

When I finished the book last night I cried! The ending was so profoundly sad and beautifully eloquent. It evoked all the fullness of creativity and family, passion and mortality; a story of a spirit that encompassed all of the human condition, really. I won’t soon (ever?) forget it!

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