This book frightened me. It’s not a horror story but as I reached the end, I felt a deep visceral reaction towards Giovanni’s fate. One of the things I greatly fear is the idea of a wasted life. A life where, in the pursuit of a goal, we take some heavy opportunity costs, seeing others enjoy their lives, and yet doggedly work towards our own pursuit. Perhaps we’re blinded by our biases. Perhaps continuing with what we’re doing is actually the easy thing to do. Either way, what if our moment never comes? Or worse still, if we flounder our greatest moment?
This is the story of Giovanni. A soldier who is stationed at a fort to guard against a possible future threat, the invasion of the Tartars (A black swan event). From his vantage point in an unchanging, disciplined military life, he sees the world around him change as the years go by. In his regular trips back to the city, he sees his peers grow up, meet new people, start families, and cherish life. All the while he is stationed in a far remote outpost to guard against the threat of attack from the Tartar Steppe. He believes in his goal and does not shirk from duty. Yet after many decades of a dedicated life, when the threat finally arrives, he finds himself a sick old man unable to contribute to the war effort. As he is carried to the city, he dies in an inn reflecting on his life. Truly a frightful picture.