Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Old man and his sons - Heðin Brú

Faroe Island is a tiny piece of land in the arctics , inhabited by slightly over 38000 people. An island located between Iceland and western Norway, currently under Danish administration. I was more intrigued when I heard about the literature coming out of this land and is widely acclaimed across the world. Feroan language and the writings are pretty new and emerged out of the Danish influence towards the end of 18th century. Interestingly, Faroe had a large oral tradition of story telling. It is said, that, during the long cold winter evenings people gather around and narrate tales to kill time. These traditions continued over the years and resulting in a highly developed written and literary genre.

Ketil and his wife represents the older generation lives their own small and content life. The family have five sons staying in an around their village , except the last one who is with them. The father is not very happy with his own kids.."We have got five great oafs of sons living around us, and here I am in my seventieth year, but I have to reckon myself the only man among the lot"

The book starts with the annual whale hunt in which the men of the village participate irrespective of their age. It is the elders hold the key to the tactics and methods, while the youngsters are the power. Ketil at the age of 70 is active as ever, and after the successful haul , its time for the official to share and auction the catch. Ketil, on an impulsive mood, decide to bid for a large whale and have won the auction. It is now upto him to plan the repayment, once the bill reaches him. Proud of being the owner of such a large chunk of meat , which should see him through the cold winter season and at the same time worried about the mode of payment to the authorities from his meagre means, he returns to his house. Lavishly distributing part of his possession to the lazy sons of his, and securing the rest, he now plans to build his money for the eventful day of payment. As the year passed and the amount of meat reduced, he is further worried about his debt repayment capabilities. Seeking help from his sons unsuccessfully, he had to forego many of his beloved things, including the cattle.

While this form the general outline of the story , it is more to do with the lifestyle of the people in the lay back villages of the island and their way about. Ketil's personal issues are not only to do with the debt fears, but also from his disappointment with his sons, who grew useless to themselves and to the society. Their wives wanted to be progressive in life, do not want to lead a peasant / fishermen life, but want their husbands to do the clerical / white collar job, which they are not qualified to. Their natural skills for fishing/catching sea birds and securing woods from the shore is forgotten as they do not want to be in the sea. The only think they know is to request help from their aging father and steal again from him. Ketil's wife, home bound settling domestic issues of chicken/cattle and growing potatoes during the season, had not been out of her house for over 40 years ( she exclaims a lot of changes happened to the place over the years).

The central theme is the conflict of generations. "I don't know how the world's got this way, The older folk scraped and struggled every day, and tried to get good value out of every penny, and there was nothing to spare. You were reckoned to have done well if you gave every man his due. But now! The young folk spend their working days the whole year round in idle amusement. But they seem to get by somehow."

This is not a work of an intellect and it does not demand high level of analysis and focus. What is attractive about this book is the simplicity and the freshness of the place and people it brings to the world. It is an easy and effortless read. The story line is simple, its the life and cute pleasures and difficulties of simple people. Their activities are limited to their current state of existence. The writing is simple but very warm. Some chapters like the opening whale hunt scene and the funeral are glorious and touchy. Nice little book from an interesting place in up north in the Arctic.
The Old Man and His Sons ( 1940)

Heðin Brú  ( He-yeen-broo) Translated from Feroese by John F West (1970)

Paul S Eriksson Inc, New York

203 Pages
More Read : Markstaniforth , Old Man and his sons in Stamps

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mr Palomar - Italo Calvino

Palomar observatory of San Diego is one of the oldest and popular. The Palomar of Italo Calvino, is turning his telescope into the nature, to its small and insignificant wonders and gives profound thoughts and knowledge to himself and to the readers. Meditating over the natures of universe, Palomar tries to define his own life and existence. Indexed into 3 parts, into 3 thematic groups. The initial part looks the the visual experience, the second on the cultural and anthropological elements and the third to a much higher plane of cosmic, or spiritual dimensions of his life.

Looking at the waves at the shore , the mating tortoises in the garden, the collection of grass and weed in the lawns, observing the the sky, to the stars and planets , visiting the zoo , his keen observation and reflections are beyond compare. The typical reaction of a common man on the sight of naked bosom of a sun bather, one side wanting to be near the sight and the correct side wanting to move away from the place ( glance or move away confusion), causing a minor irritation to the person at the receiving end was fun to read.

Italo Calvino is a brilliant and intelligent writer. That shows in his writing and observation. Towards the end ,especially the chapters "Learning to be dead',"The world looks at the world", and "on being angry with the young" shows some of the original thinking and insights.
"Being dead is less easy than it might seem. First of all, you must not confuse being dead with not being, a condition that occupies the vast expanse of time before birth, apparently symmetrical with the other, equally vast expanse that follows death. In fact before death we are part of the infinite possibilities that may or may not be fulfilled;whereas, once dead, we cannot fulfil ourselves either in the past or in the future.." ( from Learning to be dead)

"The real distance between two generations is created by the elements they have in common, that requires the cyclical repetition of the same experiences, as in the behaviour of animal species, handed down through biological heredity" ( on being angry with the young)

"The giraffe seems a mechanism constructed by putting together pieces from heterogeneous machines, though it functions perfectly all the same. He became aware of the a complicated harmony that commands that unharmonious trampling, an inner proportion that links the most glaring anatomical disproportions, a natural grace that emerges from those ungraceful movements... ... Why is he so interested in Giraffes ? Perhaps because the world around him moves in an unharmonious way, and he hops always to find some pattern in it."

Calvino is able to generate great insights from trivial matters of our common life. While the subject is monotonous and only one character through out the book, at no point the book is dragging or put down. These does not flaunt hyper-intellectual aura thus making them incomprehensible to the reader, not withstanding a small touch of philosophical connection. This book demand multiple read, may be a chapter a day and contemplate.
Mr Palomar ( 1983 )

Italo Calvino ( translated from Italian by William Weaver in 1985)

Vintage Books

117 Pages
Other Reads : NY Times, Wiki

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ransom - David Malouf

"I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before," he says. "I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son."

Taking a clue from Homer's epic, Illiud, David Malouf recreate the scene in a dramatic fashion to the readers. The risk of adaptation of themes from Epics ( you a whole lot in India from Mahabharat and Ramayan), it is already deep rooted in the minds of the reader. You can fail miserably if your take is not conforming with that of the reader. In this case, Malouf, as far as I am concerned pulls up a brilliant effort. Written as an encounter between the Trojan King Prium and Achilles, the tale goes from one side to the other through the twist and turns of the internal reflections and remorse of two of the giant figures of the great Greek tragedy.

Achilles had his revenge, killing Hector, fearless warrior and sun of Trojan King Priam in an epic battle. to avenge the killing of his close friend and associate Patroclus by the hands of Hector. His anger is at such that each day he return to the decapitated body of Hector and drag it through the war fields, bringing insult to the great warrior. It is the duty of Priam to retrieve the body of his son and give him proper burial befitting his stature. After evaluating various options, he decided to venture himself to meet Achilles, request his to return the body and bring back to his country. As expected, there was great rejection and turmoil in the court against such a step. However, his decision was firm and he trusted his ability to convince Achilles and bring back the body of his son. He set forth his journey , in simple white dress, removing all his royal insignia, and choose to ride a mule with a support. He was going as a father and not as a fellow King, negotiating terms. All he had was the 'ransom' he collected and loaded to please Achilles. The encounter itself was dramatic and he had to go through great humiliation and insult before good sene prevailed.
It is not the story that is interesting, but the way David Malouf tried to get into the scheme of things and under the skin of his chosen characters. For Priam, it is realisation of the vulnerability of his position. At the end, he is a father, he is also a fellow citizen, whose life he never encountered sitting in the palace. While he managed to retrieve the lifeless body of his son, he also manages to retrieve the pulse of his countrymen.

It is not the story that matters, but the aspect of story telling. David Malouf, going by this book, is a great story teller. His language and style is delicate and lyrical. I also, think that this is also written as a five act play for theatrical adaption. There is an overwhelming presence of the dramatist in the conversations and in the narration. This short novel is a good introduction for me to this good writer and I look forward to read a full length fiction soon.
Ransom ( 2009 )

David Malouf

Vintage Books

224 Pages

Rs 399
Other Reviews : The independent , Guardinan

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lost Paradise - Cees Nooteboom

Alma, a young Brazilian woman of European origin, travels to Australia with her friend Almut after she recovered from a physical assault and rape at a dark neighbourhood of Sao Paulo. She definitely needed a break before "a hate and rage so deep that they could swallow you up forever"  and sooner they were on the flight to Australia. Since the money is hard to come by, they have equipped themselves with the a qualification in Physical therapy ( that is one profession that can be used in any part of the world and can spare them from the jobs like waitresses etc) , which should fetch them a job and money for their living. Intrigued by the lives of aborigines they set out to explore their mystic world. The images and dreams one created around the way of aborigines soon turns to be a disappointment after a short term living with an aborigine artist and their few attempts to get to their settlement with few tips. It was at this time they were offered a role in the annual literary festival to dress like an Angel for the 'angel spotting tour' attraction.

On a parallel thread, writer and critic Erik Zondag, at the wrong end of middle-age, divorced living with his girlfriend almost half his age, working at a news paper as literary critic known for his in-famous stand against the new generation of writers and for taking 'potshots at few of the literary giants', is on the cross road of his life. His girlfriend tells him that he has no future. On her advise he takes a trip to an Austrian Spa which can rejuvenate himself.

The story converge here as Alma appears at the Spa as a replacement masseuse to Zondag. It is not their first encounter. Zondag, had met her during one of his trips to Perth on a literary event. The 'angel' he met and 'observed' part of the tourist fair at the Perth Festival is now back in his life across the continents at the physical therapy section at Austria. Crossing the paths again at a different continent , circumstances and different roles is no common.

Milton's Paradise lost looms over this in great influence. The quest for lost paradise in one's life, the angelic lives that appear in our earthly existence along with the images of heaven and hell, the quest for spiritual and existential side of the life is explored in a subtle and masterly way by the writer. From a non-existent theme and sparse participants with narrow story line, he creates a unique experience to the reader.

Lost Paradies is not a straight forward novel. It is a riddle and symbolic. May be,I havent been able to get the full of it as it is my first book of Nooteboom. This book might not be an opener to the world of Nooteboom's writing. However, one is left with the strong impression of a writer, with his unique style and imagination. A rather silly and absurd novel at the outset, is crafted into one transcendental and spiritual experience.
Lost Paradise ( 2004)

Cees Nooteboom ( translated from Dutch by Susan Massotty (2007) )

Vintage Books

151 Pages

Rs 475