“Returning to Carthage” is a collection of six linked short stories which explore the many different forms of love. The stories traverse the globe, but the reader realizes that no matter where you are on this planet love and loss visit us all.
Passionate white-hot love, deceitful secret love, filial love.
The first story “Love and Lies in Laos”, love that title, explores the deceitful, secret love. The protagonist takes a holiday in Laos and engages in an affair almost immediately. However, is this love or lust?
The third story “Returning to Carthage” is about another type of love. The love of collecting. The protagonist ponders why we love collecting objects, ephemera, books. His passion is Carthaginian coins, and this collection leads to an interesting point. Historians believe that the Carthaginians sacrificed children, particularly in times of war. Archaeological evidence found seems to prove these rituals did take place, but how can we be truly sure. So, this short story also questions the accuracy of history. History, again especially in times of war, is recorded by the victorious nation or culture. So, were these sacrifices simply Roman propaganda? A reason to wipe Carthage off the map.
The next story “On Childcare and the Human Condition” looks at life, and life after death. Is religion just a crutch to assuage our fear of the possibility that there is nothing at all after we die? Is reincarnation what happens, an endless circle of life that is continually renewed after death like a phoenix rising from the ashes. A daughter questions her father, trying to answer a question that none of us know the answer to.
The last story “Waiting” may be a hard read for those who have lost loved ones to a slow inexorable death. This story is very close to the bone for me. I have had two loved ones pass away slowly, in pain, losing their dignity. It raised the question why we try with all our might to preserve life simply for the point of keeping that life aflame. We love our pets enough to end their pain and suffering and yet we keep our loved ones alive at all costs. This story although devastatingly sad is my favourite. For me it represents the most powerful form of love in the book. A love powerful enough to let that loved one go. Yes, preserve life at all costs, but when that life is not living, but existing, existing in pain and misery, we need to help that loved one.