Its more than 3 weeks since the last post, and so you can see that 4321 by Paul Aster (book no 8) has not been an easy read. Since I read it on my Kindle, I am not sure how long the actual book is – but it seemed to go on forever. Since I am not one who likes to give up on a book – and am an eternal optimist that the next page, the next chapter will change things, I persisted. In this case I did anticipate a disappointment half way through…….however, persistence is the name of the game!! This is the story of young Jewish boy Archie Ferguson, born in 1947, through his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. In that sense it is a coming of age tale, a true blood American novel with all things American – baseball, boys only summer camps, high school romances, college life – all dealt with in great detail. It envisages 4 parallel courses in the life for Archie, and for each of the 7 parts, his life is divided into, there are four sections for the 4 trajectories!
Aster, who I am reading for the first time, writes with fluidity and at many a place the prose is delightful. He also gets into the head of Archie with what seems to be a deep understanding of young people. But, the progress is slow and the exhausting detailing of each and every, every day event, locale, occasion becomes tedious and finally, all you can do is skip large sections of the prose. The political events of the 50s and 60s, are detailed 4 times over and innumerable lists are rattled of – of Greek writers when Archie is taking a course, of the great composers when he is initiated into music, American writers, lists of great poets etc. etc……Aster seems to be impressing the reader with his vast reading ouvre and giving out his opinion on this or that writer. It becomes tedious and frankly boring. Unfortunately, only after ploughing through the book, towards the end the meaning of the title is revealed!! I shall wait with bated breath for the choice of the winner…..
As I was struggling through Aster’s book, I also read Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn‘ in parallel (no 9) and in hard copy. What a contrast – the physical feel of a book (after 3 ebooks), its lovely cover and a great type face. I have read and enjoyed her earlier books (The Accidental and How to be both ) and this one did not disappoint – an absorbing and enjoyable book. I understand that it is the stand alone first book of a planned quartet – one for each season. It recounts the friendship between Elisabeth (with an ‘s’) a, 30 something college lecturer and her 101 year old friend Daniel who lives in a care facility. The friendship is a few decades old, and started when the 9 year girl Elisabeth and the then 70+ Daniel were neighbors, and her single mother often left her in Daniel’s company. The friendship transcends the difference in age and through a series of flash backs, we learn in bits and pieces of Daniel’s early life, Elisabeth’s mother and her world view all in the context of contemporary brexiting England. As always, the prose is fluid, as time itself………
And book no 10, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, I read in one long session, interrupted briefly for food and other essentials. Hamid is well known for The Reluctant fundamentalist, which was made into a fairly successful movie. But it is a classic case of the movie doing little justice to the mood created in the book! His earlier book Moth Smoke was also very good. Exit West is the love story of our times, global, contemporary with the mix of the reality of the present and the magic possibilities of the alternative!! Saeed and Nadia, meet and fall in love in a crumbling city, which could be any city in South Asia? Middle East? And as life becomes more intolerable, they opt to exit to the west – to Mykonos, then London and finally to San Francisco. The horrors of every day life, the killings, destructions and torture in their home town are dealt with a calmness that accentuates it all – Saeed’s grieving father while returning from the mosque watches some young boys playing football and smiles to himself – but as he approaches closer, he sees that the ball is a head and a few meters closer he realizes it is a human head!! But the actual movement happens through this magic door – “Rumours had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.”
And each move westward consolidates the community of migrants, in loose camps on the Greek island, much like the one we see on TV to comfortable squatter’s accommodation in London, to more organized settlement in San Francisco. And we experience the travails and troubles of these new global citizens, through the every day survival of the protagonists – the luxury of a shower, the smell of food etc.. There are very few other characters in the book, but you never feel their absence – and as Hamid draws you into their world, and you grow to understand and love them, they drift apart. I have not read a love story where the falling out of love is more poignant than the falling in! (I hope this is not a spoiler)
I just started Elmet (no 11) on my Kindle, while History of wolves (No 12) waits! In the week remaining before the winner is announced, I should get through these – leaving only Lincoln in the Bardos which I started it a long time ago. I have not been enthused to pursue it – let me see how that goes, especially since it seems to be the bookmaker’s favorite to win!