in transit | patricia j. mclean at elohi gadugi

Covert Purple

You drop that lit­tle piece of some­thing out the win­dow of the car, covertly, as if to hide it from the dri­ver or any­one who might be watch­ing. As if I were an under­cover bicy­cle cop and the fine for lit­ter­ing might sud­denly be enforced and the price too much to pay, but the risk is one you’ll take, carefully.

What impels you to decide that this bit, this small strip of pur­ple noth­ing, should flut­ter to the street here instead of to the floor of the car in which you are a passenger?

What bird will find some­thing other than death by eat­ing it? Why should I, or this world, this earth, this street be less impor­tant than the inte­rior of that car?

I know noth­ing about you. Why you were so furtive when you dropped that bit. It might have been a bandaid, or a pur­ple strip of paper with a secret inscribed. You’ve been kid­napped and you are leav­ing a trail in the des­per­ate hope that some­one will fol­low and find you. You work for the CIA, you’re a spy and you thought I was your con­tact. The sig­nal con­veyed, I should go to the drop site and pick up the lat­est code, I will deci­pher the mes­sage, uncover betrayal.

I think of this too late. You’re already far down the road. I’ll never be able to give you a sign, to let you know that I am not your con­fed­er­ate. It was a dropped sig­nal in the dark any­way. One you never expected to complete.

Milepost 5

Mon­day, July 25th

Sleep past five am eludes me. I sit in the old white wing­back watch­ing the sky glow a lighter shade of grey as the moments slip past. Objects in the room take form, stacks of boxes, so many fewer now than yes­ter­day. We worked non­stop on Sun­day and my bones feel it, my knees and feet ache.

The loft is find­ing a shape under­neath the bur­den of our belong­ings. There is not quite yet a space for the couch com­ing tomor­row. So glad we didn’t get it last week.

Phone line is not con­nected yet so we don’t have the net. This is good. Instead of play­ing stu­pid games, I’m writ­ing. I need to write so bad and I have the draw­ing ache again. Some­times I need to have a pen­cil in my hand and be slop­ing across the page, lay­ing down lines as if there were a pur­pose to it.

On Sat­ur­day night with our refrig­er­a­tor still basi­cally bar­ren, we went urban for­ag­ing and found a Chi­nese restau­rant half a block away. Some of the best Chi­nese food I have had in Portland.

In the court­yard of the Stu­dios, a painter was busy at his easel as the light dimmed from after­noon to evening.

Rain this morn­ing loud enough to hear. I am happy that we will be able to hear it rain. Wind pushes at the leaves of the maple tree. It feels good to be home.

Bless You?

I think we should be mind­ful with lan­guage, to know what we are say­ing before we speak. Every­body knows that words are more pow­er­ful than sticks and stones despite the school­yard litany to the con­trary. Bones mend, and if you think that words can­not kill you, then the lessons of his­tory have been lost on you.

Leav­ing aside the deadly uses of lan­guage, what do we know about the words we use daily with­out think­ing? Words of greet­ing: Good Morn­ing, How are you, Have a nice day, Bless you.

Greet­ings and salu­ta­tions. Hello and to your health. Friendly, with mean­ing only so far as to say, I’m not going to pull out a knife and kill you actu­ally or metaphor­i­cally, and whether or not we mean to be friendly when we make the greet­ing is not the point. How often are we think­ing about  how much we would like the stranger or friend we are greet­ing to have a good morn­ing? How would we know what a good morn­ing would look like to them? How often do we really want to hear a report of someone’s con­di­tion when we query, how are you? Have a nice day– nice, not spec­tac­u­lar, nice as if that is the best we can hope for or are will­ing to con­fer upon another.

Bless you? Ah, now there’s a greet­ing, a salu­ta­tion that car­ries a lot of bag­gage. This one is doing more than say­ing, “I’m not going to kill you”. This one is an iden­ti­fier. It says, “I’m Chris­t­ian”. The per­son offer­ing the greet­ing may indeed want to con­fer the bless­ings of God upon the friend or stranger or they may just want to make a state­ment about their own identity.

I’m think­ing there are very many folk out there bring­ing down the bless­ings of God upon their fel­low human beings who have not really exam­ined the mean­ing of the word bless.  Lately, I’ve been study­ing French and read­ing French news on the net. Lots of these news sto­ries involve, as one would expect, events wherein per­sons meet with unex­pected death or are wounded, injured as a result of some calamity. Tuer, to kill. Mort, death. Blessé, injured. Interesting.

Look up the ety­mol­ogy of  that word, bless and you find that it is san­guine. All about blood and sac­ri­fice. To be blessed is to bleed in the cause of some­thing. A word like this is beau­ti­fully ambigu­ous. To be blessed by God could mean to be wounded by con­tact and that wound could be the sign of your state of grace. Holy wounds. Like the Mora­vians who became obsses­sively focused on the wounds of Jesus. Like stigmata.

But over time, as the expe­ri­ence of being human in the Eng­lish speak­ing world  becomes ever more removed from dan­ger, as death with­draws to a safer dis­tance, we lose con­tact with the san­guine ele­ment of blessing.

To invoke bless­ing becomes less about the blood of Jesus and the life of the spirit and more about remov­ing obsta­cles that stand between our­selves and what we want. And also about reveal­ing our own sanc­ti­mony.  Who stops to con­sider whether or not the recip­i­ent of the invo­ca­tion has any inter­est in the bless­ing? Like a spell being cast, an unso­licited prayer may be per­ceived as unau­tho­rized interference.

Violence

A man with a gun walks into a town hall ses­sion in a park­ing lot in Tuc­son, Ari­zona. He kills six peo­ple among them a judge, a child, a politician’s staffer, an elderly man, he seri­ously wounds a US Con­gress­woman. He is dri­ven by some ter­ri­ble cer­tainty,  or some incom­pre­hen­si­ble logic, or cog­ni­tive dys­func­tion, or insan­ity. Within hours, as the inves­ti­ga­tion unfolds, it becomes known that his behav­ior grew increas­ingly bizarre over the months pre­ced­ing this action. It is also appa­rant that he planned to kill the rep­re­sen­ta­tive. He took time to buy a gun, to buy ammu­ni­tion, to say good­bye on Facebook.

Will we find out that he was an unhappy child, that he suf­fered bul­ly­ing or other abuse? Or will we find out that he was quiet, a loner, or that he was pop­u­lar and out­go­ing? Will we find out that he was indis­tin­guish­able from thou­sands of other chil­dren and only grew into unrea­son as an adult? I’m not sure it mat­ters what we find out about him.

What we find out about our­selves is more impor­tant and has more poten­tial to impact our world, our coun­try, our com­mu­ni­ties. The man with the gun will be tried, judged, and sen­tenced. His power is spent, his day is done.

Has the event fright­ened peo­ple? Is that why we hear peo­ple voic­ing so much vio­lence as they describe what should be done to the shooter? Fear is often masked by bravado, hatred, vio­lence. So maybe that is what it is. Mil­lions of ter­ri­fied peo­ple. But I don’t think so. I really don’t. What I hear in their words is that they have iden­ti­fied their tar­get, just as the shooter iden­ti­fied his. There was some­thing wrong he thought he could make right by killing a par­tic­u­lar per­son in a very pub­lic and delib­er­ate way. He had his tar­get. Now he is the tar­get. He is the thing that can be destroyed in order to make things right again. There is some­thing pri­mal about this. A sac­ri­fice must be made.

We scent the air for blood. Our noses twitch­ing our hands reach­ing for the stones. Except that the rule of law stands between us and our blood­lust. All we can do, the most we can do is envi­sion the hor­ri­ble things that ought to be done to the shooter and seize the oppor­tu­nity to broad­cast our ulti­mate solu­tion. And for some, for many, the vision and the chant will elicit glee, for some the plea­sure will arouse.

A few, too few, will wit­ness this mob mad­ness with dis­may, despair­ing that human­ity will not ever rise above its baser instincts, that as a species, we will never learn how to rea­son. We hear Gandhi say, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” and then we pluck out eyes with greedy aban­don. Gandhi was wrong. The whole world is already blind. We are blind peo­ple grasp­ing at the blind eyes of our neigh­bors, grop­ing in dark­ness afraid of the intol­er­a­ble light just beyond our cave.

Wordstock — Portland, Oregon

We went to Word­stock today walk­ing the mile and a half there in a steady driz­zle. One umbrella between us, which I used because Duane has a hat. Just the one umbrella. I’ve lost too many of them to be trusted with one of my own. It really didn’t seem like that much of a rain, but we were damp by the time we got to the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. There were not many attend­ing Word­stock. Not like in years past. Some­thing a lit­tle depress­ing about it this year. I don’t know when they started charg­ing for the event, but I think that has some­thing to do with the lower turnout.

We cruised the booths. I had a nice chat with a cou­ple of ven­dors. Duane and I went to our friend’s read­ing and there really wasn’t any­one else we were inter­ested in hear­ing until much later in the after­noon and even though we paid $7 to get in, we left to find some­thing to eat and go home. We talked about why Word­stock seemed so unsat­is­fy­ing this year. We fig­ured that most of the atten­dees were writ­ers or peo­ple involved in the pub­lish­ing indus­try in some way. The exhibitors were much the same–writers and pub­lish­ers. Noth­ing wrong with that. Except that some­thing is miss­ing. It isn’t cre­ative or excit­ing. It’s restric­tive, tra­di­tional, stodgy.

Port­land has a ten­dency to be stodgy in spite of all the young cre­atives every­one claims have moved here in droves, in spite all the tat­too par­lors and micro-brew pubs, at heart Port­land has always been the sort of city a lit­tle afraid to color out­side the lines. At least on the sur­face and it is on the sur­face where Word­stock takes place. What Port­land needs is an under­ground lit­er­ary fes­ti­val for all the fringe dwellers and mar­gin­alised folk, the ones who can’t afford the Writer’s Dojo or writ­ing jaunts to Prague with their favorite author. It should take place on the streets and in the cof­fee houses and small book­stores. It should take place in the tat­too par­lors and brew-pubs.

A proper lit­er­ary fes­ti­val would be a cel­e­bra­tion. It would be a recog­ni­tion of lan­guage as the pri­mary medium of cul­ture. It would explore the his­tory of story, the pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics of lit­er­a­ture, the state of the pub­lish­ing indus­try, how lit­er­a­ture has been shaped by invention–the print­ing press, the inter­net. There would be dis­cus­sions on the impact of film on lit­er­a­ture, the search for authen­tic voice, and trans­la­tion. It would involve the­ater and mean­ing­ful workshops.

Peo­ple would read their work, sell it, trade it, give it away. We might come to under­stand that the tra­di­tion of word is an end­lessly evolv­ing cre­ative stream and we could walk away daz­zled by our own dreams, which is how it should be.

even the dandelions are beautiful

The cherry tree across the street is thickly bloom­ing. Heavy pink clus­ters wave in the slight breeze and con­trast against the lush green lawn dot­ted with dan­de­lions. Grape hyacinths edge along the base of the house. Trees all around are push­ing out new leaves. Tulips of red, yel­low, pink, pump­kin, pur­ple, black, white, striped and spot­ted, abundant–Spring in Portland.

In Powell’s the thin white girl, in a thin white dress, with thin brown hair sits bent over her work. Her right arm forms a tri­an­gle, bent at the elbow back toward her body and her back bent the way it is forms another tri­an­gle with her legs. In her pale skin the blue veins glow. On her shoul­der blade a tat­too is vis­i­ble through the gauzy mate­r­ial of her white cot­ton dress. She is all angles and transparency.

Book Review: The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl

Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Baci­galupi
ISBN: 978–1-59780–157-7
Pub­lisher: Night Shade Books

Paolo Baci­galupi presents us with a dev­as­tat­ing vision of the world that could be should we allow the cor­po­ra­tions with their pro­duc­tion of GMOs to con­trol our food sup­ply as they seem dis­turbingly intent upon doing. He also reminds us that change and suf­fer­ing are con­stants in human existence.

Every­thing is under extreme ten­sion in Bacigalupi’s Thai­land city of Krung Thep. Sea­gates guard the city from inun­da­tion, but dur­ing the mon­soons must be aug­mented with coal-fired pumps, which add to the envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, which in turn has led to ris­ing ocean lev­els. Star­va­tion is held at bay with genet­i­cally mod­i­fied foods, which are sus­cep­ti­ble to toxic dis­eases. Every­thing cre­ated to solve one prob­lem cre­ates another.

So many mil­lions have died since the dis­ap­pear­ance of cheap energy and safe food crops that the departed must wait and wait and wait for suit­able bod­ies to rein­car­nate. They hang about wait­ing, some­times engag­ing in con­ver­sa­tion with the living.

And the ten­sion spring is the pri­mary power sup­ply for almost every­thing. Trains are pow­ered by them, but the vast major­ity of peo­ple travel no faster than a bicy­cle. A vehi­cle from the “expan­sion” era trav­els at speeds almost incom­pre­hen­si­ble for the peo­ple of Krung Thep and are as rare as snow leopards.

There are new beings in this world. Cheshire cats, genet­i­cally engi­neered as a birth­day gift to a mod­ern Alice, have sup­planted the domes­tic feline. There are new peo­ple, too. Peo­ple made of recom­bined DNA of ani­mals and humans to exhibit the obe­di­ence of dogs and the strength and speed of the swiftest and strongest of ani­mals. There are also flaws delib­er­ately engi­neered into these peo­ple. They can­not repro­duce and their cool­ing sys­tem is defi­cient caus­ing them to over­heat quickly.

But they are human in shape and thought and feel­ings. Most every­one regards them as less than human, with­out souls. It is the old argu­ment. That which has no soul is less than and can be cre­ated, exploited and dis­posed of with­out con­sid­er­a­tion, with­out karmic consequence.

Is this a story about the ten­sion between good and evil? It could be, but The Windup Girl is not that sim­ple. It is a story about choices and about the con­se­quence of choice. Ulti­mately, the char­ac­ters must make choices they can live with and in that way are all, includ­ing the windup girl her­self, exactly like the rest of us.

My rat­ing: 5.0 stars
*****

Review: The Fourth Century

The Fourth Century

Title: The Fourth Cen­tury
Author: Édouard Glis­sant
Trans­la­tion: Betsy Wing.
ISBN: 0–8032-7083–6
Pub­lisher: Uni­ver­sity of Nebraska Press, 2001

All this wind…”

These are Papa Longoué’s first words in The Fourth Cen­tury by Édouard Glis­sant. The wind is a con­stant theme in the novel. It is a wind of enor­mous force, a hur­ri­cane which car­ries off his silent wife, Edmée, to her death. It is the wind of his­tory, of our own his­to­ries which if not known blows us all to our deaths, asleep. The Fourth Cen­tury awak­ens the dead and gives them voice. This is the African descen­dants’ his­tory of Mar­tinique. A his­tory not writ­ten, not exam­ined, triv­i­al­ized by the French colo­nial­ists who, as the con­querors, the ones in power, anni­hi­late the peo­ple they must con­trol by anni­hi­lat­ing their lan­guages and histories.

His­tory is writ­ten by the dom­i­nant cul­ture and is pri­mar­ily con­cerned with the bat­tles and vic­to­ries of the most pow­er­ful and wealthy in that cul­ture. The Fourth Cen­tury departs from that par­a­digm and presents the oral his­tory of the African descen­dants’ expe­ri­ence as slave, as maroon, as freed men and women, as toil­ers in the soil, as indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies seek­ing mean­ing and life on the island, while never quite able to for­get or remem­ber the “infi­nite coun­try” from which they were torn.

Glissant’s stream of con­scious­ness approach cre­ates a prose poem of a novel, beau­ti­ful from the begin­ning to the end. In many ways it is incom­pre­hen­si­ble for the non-African, non-Martinican, but what is glean­able, what is know­able, is so worth know­ing that what is unknow­able can only be mourned, not ignored. To read Glis­sant is to begin to scratch the back of the mir­ror, to see through the sliv­ers to another world.

My rat­ing: 5.0 stars
*****

Book Review: Snow

[abp:0375406972:c:book-image]

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Title: Snow
Author: Orhan Pamuk
ISBN: 0–375-40697–2
Pub­lisher: Alfred A. Knopf
A novel about Turkey

Ka is a man on a jour­ney who does not know where his next step will take him. He is a poet who can no longer write poetry, an athe­ist no longer cer­tain of the absence of God, an observer inca­pable of see­ing. He has out­lived the rea­son for his exile, but has been so long away from Turkey that its cul­tural nuances escape him. Yet he has never learned the lan­guage of his adopted coun­try and has spent his years in exile recit­ing old poetry to small audi­ences of ex-patriots.

It is his mother’s funeral that brings him back to Turkey, but it is on an errand for a news­pa­per edi­tor that he trav­els to Kars. That, and love.

Kars is in East­ern Turkey, sit­u­ated at a height of 1750 feet. Its win­ters are harsh and long and it is often iso­lated by snow. In fact Kars is snow in Turk­ish and is a short­ened ver­sion of its orig­i­nal name, which meant snow-water for the ponds of water left by melt­ing snow. It is an ancient city on the path between Arme­nia and the rest of Turkey, For more than 900 years, it has been an inter­mit­tent bat­tle­ground for con­quer­ing armies of Kurds, Arme­ni­ans, Rus­sians and Turks. Pamuk fre­quently refers to the beau­ti­ful, empty, decay­ing Armen­ian build­ings, vis­i­ble reminders of one con­quer­ing wave. Men­tion­ing these build­ings is a con­tro­ver­sial act as Pamuk is one of those who main­tain the unpop­u­lar asser­tion that Armen­ian Turks met with geno­cide dur­ing the Crimean War at the hands of their Turk­ish countrymen.

West­ern­ers have a ten­dency to view the east as mys­te­ri­ous, as if there is a veil of cul­ture we can­not pen­e­trate. Par­muk uses the sub­stance of snow to sym­bol­ize that veil.

The snow of Kars enshrouds, iso­lates, mutes, silences. The veil at its most com­plete is a shroud that Islamic women wear to pro­tect them. But the impov­er­ished dead also wear shrouds to pro­tect them from gazes they can­not return, and from the earth which sur­rounds them. We refer to things we do not under­stand or mis­un­der­stand as being shrouded in mys­tery. The great­est, most shrouded mys­tery is that of God by what­ever name you use. The never-ending jour­ney is the one toward under­stand­ing. The agnos­tic / athe­ist mis­trusts the reli­gious who claim to have knowl­edge of the nature of deity.

Snow enshrouds Ka on his jour­ney to Kars and through­out his visit. The bus bring­ing Ka to Kars is the last one to arrive before the roads are closed due to the storm and though iso­la­tion due to storm may be an annual event in this remote city, it nev­er­the­less has the effect of sus­pend­ing the nor­mal cul­ture dur­ing Ka’s visit. Things hap­pen when daily life is inter­rupted, when travel is restricted and work slows or halts alto­gether, when peo­ple with time on their hands look for ways to fill the time. There is a kind of con­stant snow in Kars and the coun­try­side where unem­ploy­ment is high. Rest­less men sit in tea shops, sit at the feet of holy men, join the mil­i­tary, pon­der their unhappy plight and con­sider who is to blame.

In Turkey, the east meets the west and Islam meets Chris­tian­ity. Urban­ized Turks seem to have one foot in Europe while those fur­ther from Istan­bul are inclined to fear that Europe will erase their culture.

Ka had escaped to the west (Ger­many) as a young man flee­ing a crack­down on left­ist rad­i­cals. While at uni­ver­sity, he became an athe­ist which, in the eyes of many of his coun­try­men, marked him as an intel­lec­tual who has adopted the European/Western cul­ture and, more impor­tantly, as one who has rejected the Turkish/Middle East­ern culture.

The poet left his cre­ative well in Turkey and can­not be a poet in another land. In all his years of exile he has not been able to write a sin­gle poem.

Ka is a name the poet chose for him­self as a child. It is the pri­mary ini­tials of both his first and last names, which Ka dis­liked so much that he chose to use just the ini­tials. Ka rep­re­sents the life-force in ancient Egypt­ian reli­gion and whether or not Pamuk named his main char­ac­ter for this rea­son, I am left with the sense that he is describ­ing the life-force of Turkey as that of a flawed poet.

Pamuk’s Turkey is as ambiva­lent as Ka. Civi­cally sec­u­lar, it is also very much Islamic. Ele­ments in Turkey have tried to main­tain the sep­a­ra­tion between reli­gion and state that Atatürk insti­tuted as the first Pres­i­dent of Turkey. But a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tion in Turkey is not com­fort­able with this and con­stantly agi­tates for theo­cratic rule.

Ka’s reli­gious ambiva­lence is revealed as he weeps in the pres­ence of a holy man. He feels a yearn­ing for Allah, but only in the holy man’s pres­ence. Once out­side of the apart­ment, where the faith­ful and the trou­bled come to unbur­den their hearts, he returns to his nor­mal state of mind, re-entering, with some relief, the sec­u­lar civic struc­ture of Turkey. Though he is most com­fort­able in that sec­u­lar envi­ron­ment, he remains wist­ful. Not only does a part of him exist on a spir­i­tual level and his poetry flows out of that level, but it is pos­si­ble that even as he is puz­zled by them, he envies those who have no doubts.

Cen­tral to the plot is a the­atre of the absurd. A coup lit­er­ally staged by an aging itin­er­ant actor and the local mil­i­tary corps aided by the police and the ever-present and dis­trusted secret police. He rec­og­nizes that Ka, as a poet and erst­while reporter, is his best hope of immor­tal­ity. He orders the poet brought into audi­ence with him and uses him in his manip­u­la­tion of events.

Snow is dialec­tic and the cen­tral dia­logue occurs in a con­ver­sa­tion at the Hotel Asia arranged by Ka, from which he is absent. Blue, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary accom­pa­nied by a cho­rus of Islamic rad­i­cals, argues with an adamant athe­ist, and the Islamic fem­i­nist daugh­ter of the athe­ist. It is an Asian dia­logue: Does com­merce (social and eco­nomic) with the west con­tain the seeds of destruc­tion of Asian cul­ture. Does Turkey, by open­ing itself up to the ideas of the west, by embrac­ing what the west offers, risk los­ing its cul­ture, its unique iden­tity? Will it lose God in the process? If it does not embrace the West and the EU, will it become irrel­e­vant in the mod­ern world? Will Turkey sink deeper into poverty? These are ques­tions that burn under the sur­face, around which the dia­logue dances.

Though Ka is not in the Hotel Asia, he does become entan­gled in this con­ver­sa­tion because of the nature of the jour­nal­is­tic errand, which has brought him to Kars. It is a story of sui­cides of Islamic school­girls who have been for­bid­den to wear the scarf of the devout Mus­lim to school. What is the con­nec­tion between these sui­cides and the edict which has banned them from wear­ing the scarf? An edi­tor friend has asked Ka to make the jour­ney to Kars and report on the phenomenon.

No one seems to know the truth about the sui­cides and no one seems to want to know. The young women appear to be unknow­able. Their motives are hid­den by the bar­rier of death and the lack of knowl­edge even their fam­i­lies appear to have about them, as if they are ciphers. At least one of the girls has become idealized.

Con­versely, every­one in Kars knows why Ka is there. His every step, every inter­view is known. Peo­ple seek him out and tell him that he must not believe this one or that one.

Blue is a rebel, an Islamist, fiercely opposed to sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment. He is the lover of Kad­ife, a young woman whose actions may have inspired the sui­cides. A man like Blue helps the dis­af­fected to name who is at fault, what is at fault: the West, those who want to join the Euro­pean Union and the sec­u­lar state which orders that Mus­lim girls can­not wear scarves to school. Like every­one else with a point to make, Blue exploits the sui­cides. Though he is a wanted man in hid­ing, sus­pected of being behind ter­ror­ist attacks and assas­si­na­tions, he demands an audi­ence with Ka. Blue, in par­tic­u­lar, wants to set Ka straight about the rea­son for the sui­cides, though it becomes appar­ent that he, him­self, does not know.

Ka is also seek­ing love. He agrees to go to Kars not because he is intrigued by the story, but because he knows there is a recently divorced woman liv­ing there whom he knew at Uni­ver­sity. He remem­bers that she was very beau­ti­ful and although he was not inter­ested in her as a youth, he becomes obsessed with her almost before he even sees her again. He pur­sues his obses­sion through­out the story. He believes that she rep­re­sents his last chance at love, his last chance to avoid a lonely old age. He wants to bring her back to Ger­many to live with him. Ipek may sym­bol­ize Turkey and the hope­less­ness of a love affair with a coun­try you can no longer call home. Ka makes love to her, believes he does love her, is almost con­vinced that she will love him and that she will leave with him. Ipek is nom­i­nally west­ern­ized. Her sis­ter is Kad­ife (Blue’s lover). If Ipek sym­bol­izes Turkey lean­ing west­ward, Kad­ife sym­bol­izes Turkey lean­ing east­ward. Both women appear ratio­nal and thoughtful.

In Kars, Ka writes poem after poem. Thir­teen poems pour out of him almost whole. He is so focused on writ­ing these poems down that he is dis­tracted even occa­sion­ally from pur­su­ing the object of his desire. Ka is removed, he is the jour­nal­ist, the reporter, the observer. As an observer he is never com­pletely involved in the scene around him. This makes him the ulti­mate go-between, the medi­a­tor and nego­tia­tor for the actor who is pulling the strings of the coup. But no mat­ter how removed an observer believes him­self to be, he impacts what he observes, and this Ka does in tragic ways.

Parmuk’s prose as trans­lated by Mau­reen Freely is flaw­less, beau­ti­ful, hyp­notic. He ignites a desire to know more about Turkey, to know what can be unveiled while under­stand­ing that lan­guage itself is the ulti­mate shroud, the guardian and con­tainer of culture.

My rat­ing: 5.0 stars
*****

Book Review

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Title: The Space Between Us
Author: Thrity Umri­gar
ISBN: 073946986X
William Mor­row
A novel of priv­i­lege and poverty, of love and betrayal.

I was on the MAX, where I spend a good bit of my time, near­ing my sta­tion, and I still had about five pages to go. I briefly con­sid­ered stay­ing on the train until I’d read those last few pages. I aban­doned that in favor of sit­ting on a bench in Hol­la­day Park, in the shade. There was no way I could wait until I got home. Break­ing the spell with the bike ride and din­ner just wasn’t an option. I had to know what choice Bhima would make.

Umri­gar sets her story of love and betrayal in Bom­bay (Mum­bai), India, a vast coastal city, in a coun­try that has been a cul­tural cross­roads for thou­sands of years. This por­trait of two Indian women is evoca­tive and mov­ing; writ­ten with grace, humil­ity, and com­pas­sion. Sera is a Parsi, descended from Per­sians who immi­grated to India a thou­sand years ago and have become a wealthy and pow­er­ful class. What mat­ters about her ser­vant, Bhima, is that she is not Parsi. She is a lower-caste Hindu woman whose cir­cum­stances have gone from poor to mis­er­able. Bhima is clearly the more sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter even though she often reacts to tur­moil by phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally attack­ing those she loves the most. She fears for them, and her fear causes her to pun­ish them, because she truly doesn’t know what else to do. She reacts like a trapped ani­mal, chew­ing at her own flesh to obtain freedom.

Umrigar’s novel deep­ened my under­tand­ing of oppres­sion and how very much prej­u­dice is a vehi­cle for cru­elty; an excuse for it. Deeply inter­nal­ized prej­u­dice dis­tances the abuser from the object of abuse and this is the case with the antag­o­nists in The Space Between Us. They can­not help know­ing that they are being cruel, but they believe it doesn’t mat­ter. And it doesn’t because they are the “rul­ing” class. Rul­ing in the sense that their priv­i­lege gives them power over the classes beneath them. A power so nearly absolute that it may as well be such. Cer­tainly the classes beneath them have a part in sup­port­ing the illu­sion of rel­a­tive intrin­sic worth. But their col­lu­sion is hardly vol­un­tary. It is how they sur­vive. They cling to the edge of life and any­thing can sever their hold.

Soci­etal taboos are among the tools the rul­ing classes use to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from oth­ers and sub­ju­gate the work­ers. Since being a poor sub­ject is gen­er­ally a mis­er­able way to live, poor sub­jects try to con­form to the osten­si­ble behav­ior of the rul­ing classes. But these efforts only suc­ceed in the poor bind­ing them­selves more cer­tainly into vir­tual slav­ery. Reject­ing the social taboo and refus­ing to define one­self by the terms of the rul­ing classes is a step sel­dom taken with­out edu­ca­tion. Igno­rance has a dead­en­ing effect on the accom­plish­ment of freedom.

Sera, the Parsi woman, wants to believe that she regards Bhima as no less human than her­self, but finds her­self unable to allow the ser­vant to sit on her fur­ni­ture or use her uten­sils to eat or drink. Yet, she does not see the con­tra­dic­tion in the fact that Bhima is the one who pre­pares the food the Parsi fam­ily eats and washes the uten­sils they eat it with. Nor does Sera fully rec­og­nize that pay­ing Bhima is not an act of generosity.

Though deves­tat­ing in its por­trayal of oppres­sion and exploita­tion, this is a story, not a dia­tribe. The Space Between Us is skill­fully and vividly ren­dered. Sim­ply, quite powerful.

My rat­ing: 5.0 stars
*****

Featuring WPMU Bloglist Widget by YD WordPress Developer

 

Essentials