21 October 2008

in spite of my impatience

:: It's been a long time and I must move on, no time to stop, so this is in note form ::

-I've never read Nabokov before, but often thought I should.
-This book reminds me of Cees Nooteboom
-The narrator appears self assured.
-Too self assured for my liking.
-He made me anxious
-He speaks directly to me (the reader), maybe this is my problem?
-He speaks in tongues, at times.
-And then I seem to get to know him better
-I read the prose like a letter from an old friend.
-And I quite like his style.
-Nabokov compares a pen nib to a beak of a bird of prey, and for that alone, the book is a winner.
-I don't feel I have really 'seen' Russia.

the navigator

17 July 2008

faces of the people we don't know

I'm going North for the summer, leaving this part of the continent for while.
I'm swapping hot for cold and map reading for naval gazing. And my tour guide for my Russian trip is the unlikely sounding Hermann Hermann. It should be interesting.

the navigator

12 January 2008

you can stare all day at the sky

No-one clipped my wings, but it seems I forgot how to fly for a while. But now I’m taking to the sky, setting my bearings due north-west. I’m drawing a line that cuts a continent in two.

I’m on my way to Singapore. A name that reads like a sentence - a ditty dedicated to the little holes in your skin. In truth its name means ‘lion city’ - although lions have never lived there.

I know an old man who lives in Singapore but he is not the host who will great me when I land. Instead a band of shadowy ladies are waiting with open arms. They promise ‘ghosts, vampires and other phantoms’ - I think I’m going to enjoy my stay.

the circumnavigator

01 November 2007

indistinct figures

Karim and Raheen are blissfully naive. Karim is obsessed with maps and wants to be a mapmaker when he grows up. He studies atlases and sees no reason why he cannot walk along the seabed from Pakistan to England. To him, it is obvious, he can trace the route with his finger.

Raheen's naivety is just as simplistic but sadder, still. She recalls a conversation with a friend. After watching a video showing what Raheen referred to as
"thousands and thousands of lights strung beneath a velvet-black starry sky"
She tells the friend it is a beautiful sight, on;y to be told that the lights are the lights of refugee camps.

Despite their childlike oblivion, they are bright and intuitive. Raheen and Karim speak in anagrams, their way of keeping others out. As a reader I find myself becoming familiar with their 'language' and soon I know what they mean by 'vole' (love) and 'oh me' (home).

Despite the descriptions of Karachi and the surrounding sunstruck farmland, I don't feel that I have got to know Pakistan. I don't seem any more knowledgeable about the place. But, Kamilla Shamsie created such deep characters in Raheen and Karim that I haven't had time to stop and take in the sights. I shall miss their insights and a small part of me is sad that I cannot be part of their tight and closed friendship.

the navigator

too near the surface

Kartography is a novel about violence and politics, corruption and inequality. But most of all it is about love. Raheen loves Zia. Zia loves himself and nobody really understands Karim enough to know what or who he loves. Set against a backdrop of a terrible hot summer, the teenage characters try to understand the mistakes of their parents and the confusion of their government.

In the beginning of the book, Karim and Rahhen - best friends since birth, are thirteen. It is the late 1980's but references are made to 1971 when as Raheen's father puts it "the music changed". 1971 is an important date for the characters of Kartography. It is the year when their parents met and crucially when the civil war between East and West Pakistan took place. A subject which is gently alluded to throughout the book.

the navigator

28 July 2007

turn the sign to the street

Leaving dusty melodies and this particular soil beneath my feet. It's a change of continents once again. This time I am headed for Pakistan. Karachi is my destination and Kamila Shamsie is my guide. The book is Kartography, perhaps this will be of some help - an apt title maybe?

the navigator

28 May 2007

words melt into arrangements of blue and black

Touch is my least developed sense, my least favoured style of experience. Surprising then that my visit to New Zealand was so enjoyable. As this is a tactile world - leaving traces on people as people leave traces on the land.

Motifs of flora and fauna are the pins on which the story is wound. Pillowcases are embroidered with flowers so that

‘Etta sleeps with her cheek on the stitching, and when she wakes there is an impression of flowers on her skin.’

But marks are erased just as surely as they are laid. Significant parts of the novel feature extracts from Clifford’s diary, inherited and read by his son Gene as his own death looms.

‘Gene thinks of it now, decomposing in the mud, slowly covered over by thirty years of refuse. He doubts that any part of it remains; paper and cloth, he imagines, would be broken down fairly rapidly, like the soft flesh of creatures without bones.’

Moments of gentleness,

‘Thorsten tells her she has mermaid hair. He held it over her face once, and kissed her through it, and she felt like she was drowning.’

fall between recollections of exquisite destruction,

‘Mrs Hoffman is back in Dresden. Buildings are cracking like bone china. She must run to avoid the falling shards. A library smashes to the ground; pages flutter around her, shuffling themselves to form stories nobody would ever believe. She looks again, and people are cracking. Life-size, bone-china people. A man on a bicycle shatters. A girl with a dog smashes to dust. A woman in a floral dress explodes, showering Mrs Hoffman with sharp flowers.’

A character tries to write a survival guide, to help people lost in the wild. I felt like I needed a guide, to help me filter through all that New Zealand offered me, to enable me to organise my experiences and catagorise my questions in hope of matching them to answers. But that was not Chidgey’s intention, instead she immersed me into the family and their country and I am left a little awed, a little speechless - much like one of her characters.

‘The woman is waiting for an answer, but Christina’s mouth is empty. Leaves are falling onto the tables and she hears every one as it lands like a dry breath. One falls into her lap.’

the circumnavigator

a stitch in time

My visit to New Zealand (care of In A Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey) left me with a backpack full of questions, a pocket full of ponderings.

- Can you enjoy a view so much that you forget where you are or what you are looking at?
- Can you fall in love so deeply that you forget who you are?
- Do we travel more than we think we do? Do we move less than we appear to?
- Can we swim through memories of the past as if through still waters?
- Can we be too busy living to see what surrounds us? Too busy dusting off fossils to give thought to our future?

Once I get my snapshots developed and my thoughts in order I shall return with a clearer impression of my visit.

the circumnavigator

07 May 2007

its only water and sand

I’m off. To New Zealand. Place names that begin with the word ‘new’ always make me a little sad - sad that I missed the chance to see the old. Perhaps I would have preferred that?

I hope that reading this book will help to clarify the fuzzy indistinctions between New Zealand and Australia. But the back of the book rumours ‘the story of three generations… spanning continents and decades’ - so perhaps I will merely become more confused.

I often fall for books based on their covers, and I like titles that tempt me in. I will tease you a little longer, but believe me when I say this one draws me in, and leaves me to set sail within the skeletal ship of a long dead whale. I’m off.

the circumnavigator