From the long, long river, a world of struggle
From falling deep into the bitterest insomnia my words all muddled
Empty was the hazy night and the water in one long line
Empty of all life, the biting pain of the metal was all mine
In my palm was the skeleton key
In earshot was the rhyme of honeybees
Why would they call so deep into the night
Why did I not know to ask, as I walked into the archaic rite
Upon me befell the lurking beast common to all labyrinths
Upon me feel the fate of all tragedies, heroic strength
Caste aside by fate’s many threads
Caste blind into the silence of the many pathway’s of the afterlife – dead.
I recently found an old copy of the book “Sepia Leaves” in my office and was pleasantly surprised by what a great read it was.
The back of the book invokes a onerous atmosphere with a few references to the “Nehruvian” ideal of India, which I thought was a little disconnected from the topic of mental illness. The book is an autobiographyical retelling of the authors experiences growing up with his Schizophrenic mother.
However both the author and his mother are not the most intriguing characters though they drive much of what is described. The book lives up to this great expectation set by it’s back cover, by being a potrait of an newly independent country with it’s setting in factory towns and amongst a great range of people from the lower and middle classes.
His father in many ways is a deeply fascinating, meek and private man who is a perfect recipient for the nation’s propaganda about itself. He lionises Gandhi and struggles to live up to the ideal as the many strains and limits of what the middle classes of the day can aspire to rein him in. I am also tempted to call him a memeber of the labouring classes not merely because of his back breaking employment in the mining industry but because of his work ethos and the way his progress is stimied by unscrupulous middlemen native to all third world projects who so callously oversee exploitation in service of the national project and their own advancement.
You’ll have to read between the lines for this of course, because his father’s main labour that occupies him is to raise a child and look after his unwell wife with the limits and lack of understanding that everyone of the that time seems to embody. He is rather masterfully exposed in his weaknesses, his ambitions and limits. Yet he is also shockingly adacious, with his many acts of defiance and toughness. He is also unusually open minded for that day and age and for this day and age.
The friends and their families the author describes along the retelling of his childhood are also deeply fascinating. In a private age where most recollections are about as colourful as black and white photos, the authors memories give a silent generation very human colours of anger, lust, ignorance and discontent. He even manages to reach further back and hints in a grasping but effective way at the effect that the world wars and service to the British crown had on his mother’s father.
This frozen shell shock embodied in his grandfather’s anger, his tough and inaccessible exterior is in many ways what forges his mother’s condition; with the rest of the patriarch’s family embodying the unfortunate discretion or indifferent attitude towards the mother leaving her with very little in the way of help when she might have needed it the most.
His father is admirably kind in certain ways. The kindest and most patient of them all however is his maid, who becomes a substitute mother, sister and at one point an object of desire. Remember, this is after all a mining town, which employes in it’s official registers the middle classes but is permitted only by the labour of the lower classes. His maid embodies another cruel fact of our national project since she is among the many displaced tribal peoples of the region who regularly lose the most and gain the littlest.
Her story has many tragedies and many exploiters which I shall refrain from detailing because I think it would be a little distasteful to summarise it without context and also because I hate reviews that bother with discription. If you want to know what happens read the dam book. The book is most like a key-hole into the private lives of people in the past when reading about the maids and newspaper man. The stories the author mentions capture the rough open mindedness and kindness you don’t usually see. It’s rather different from bourgeois sensibilities.
There are many other aspects worth mentioning, such as the overt political dissatisfaction that captures the mining town since the book is set duringthe emergency or the nature of the boarding schools of yore but since they’re a bit more obvious I shall refrain from describing them.
I also found that the writing and narrative really came into it’s own towards the end of the book. It was a rewarding read that I’d recommend to anyone who wants a truthful potrait of mental illness and the struggles of caring for a mentally ill person.
I woke up two mornings with a poem and it was perfect
Line after line without defect
Last night it was because I was upset
But this time the poem was set
And it would hit you with a magic spell effect
My stupid expectations met as only sorcery can let
But out the window it went
I feel like we fought even though we’ve not
And I get that you’re the one I got
But it still hurts a lot when I want a lot and you’re just not
I wish we had fought so I could say I deserved what I got
I guess I gotta let these things wait till we’ve actually met
So maybe this fracture can set and I can stop feeling so adolescent
I wanna scream that’s not what I meant
This really does feel a lot like embarrassment
Can I tell you that I don’t know you but I want you even if you’re a stranger I’ve only just met
It’s not charming or disarming to meet a pretty girl and to look for a outlet
But I’m going to tell you the truth that I like you in the pure stupid way of an adolescent
That’s what I meant even if this poem isn’t perfect
what a misty day, my reflection the only one
who I can console, shining in my soup bowl
still sweet, though I’ve lost my way
my siesta with an old photograph
a stone face, was the flower blossoming
your warm breath, under snow
from flower to moss, a chilling moon
what did you drink?
round and round…
went the glass bottle
windblown in the grove
soft drizzle and still alone
A red dragonfly
on the port facing Buddha
resting on his heart
when problems arise
it grows warm-hearted
The temple doors shut
But oil lamps dancing
A Jackdaw sings
Too deep into the night
Crow, call again!
Hellfire on the streets
Far beyond what we can see
Over the smoke and moonlight
Past the Temple door
Crow, call again!
summer wind, summer wind
a silent eagle great over the clouds
winter quilt thick and deep over the future
A friend of mine remarked that Italy hasn’t produced many great authors. I asked “What about Umberto Eco” he answered “I said great”
Eco is an author of formidable repute. His fascination with Semiotics and Medieval Scholastism often find their way into his novels. Sadly he’s not much of a novelist, a fact that not enough people seem to take notice of.
In the “Island of the day after tomorrow” Eco takes us through his fascination with Renaissance era theories that stood in for the yet undiscovered germ theory and how people figured out Meridians -which is about as tedious as you would expect.
The excuse he uses to subject readers to this tedium is unfortunately filled with great potential. A member of the Italy gentry who finds himself called to war, learns over the course of a siege that chivalry no longer entails the prestige it once did and that battle lines are not as clear cut as they were during the high Medieval era.
A young gentleman finding his way through France during the emergence of a new mercantile class, in the age of discovery and prosperity in Europe has everything it needs for a fascinating story and this is a surprisingly under examined setting in litrature.
Even more neglected is the early days of colonialism and the spice trade. There’s a wealth of material to build stories about Europeans first setting foot on distant and alien lands, struggling to understand or conquer them.
In this book however our young gentleman goes to a siege to do nothing interesting for most of it. This should have been an early warning sign but I foolishly decided to finish reading this book. He goes all the way to Australia and save for the few pages where the flora and fauna are described he finds himself in contest with his literal evil twin. I’m not even faulting the Euro-centrism it’s the lack of imagination we should object to.
Why make your story global if you’re never going to actually explore your setting? Young Roberto could have stayed in a library or could just have argued with a Jesuit while standing in front of a globe without us losing too much from the story. A few kangaroos and stuff birds really don’t make much of a difference.
In our post modernist epoch the author is dead and the novel no longer needs to tie itself to strict guidelines but why do readers have to put themselves through something so boring? With a little effort this 513 page sloth could have actually included battles, drama, romance, interesting charcters and not to mention interesting European and non European cultures. Unfortunately this novel is just wasted potential and a monumental lack of effort on the part of its author who does little to ever exert any control over the many ideas he introduces. The voice of the narrator only turns up occasionally to introduce worthless clarifications that bring to light the ignorance of the very characters the narrator has invented. While the story flounders the narrator only wants to share clever but uninteresting details.
A majority of the book is taken up by the main character lost at sea and the only thing the book does well is to convey how boring that experience must be. I would not recommend this book. I think the rather lovely cover art had more structure and artistic coherence than the story.
Like weak moonlight
night after night
dancing smoke of embers
and now the scent punishes me!
the leaves rustling
in the night-wind
tombstones for your voice
Under the shallow stream
On that vacant riverbed
I remember red seeds in the clay
Who spilled these rubies
Like the light on a starry night
Among the snails on the pebbles
Where snakes take to water
But fish do not swim
Upon that empty bank
My heart is trapped
Oh Village of my ancestors
Whose fables are still sung
When I am with my people
I am alone in elephant grass
Dusty breezes folding them
My family a rainstorm
But in the shaky soil
My heart is strung
In the shallow mirror of water
My reflection looks back
Though I live far away
In the rituals of this land
Ancestors are called
Around a bonfire in the night
I, a tree alone, in grassland
Over the mountains tall
Have heard a siren call