It has happened three times to my recollection, and twice this past weekend, that I have begun and finished a book exactly within the bounds of my journey from when I arrived in the airport to when I walked out of it.
After reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I now understand Stockholm Syndrome. While the phenomenon of forming an attachment with one’s captor still disturbs me, it is now easier to see how it can develop, and as I read Bel Canto, how one can even encourage it to happen. As terrorists interrupt an overblown birthday party in the Vice President’s home of an unnamed Latin American country—easily imagined as Guatemala or Colombia—Patchett unfolds the captivity, and each character, with such subtle grace that the relationships built between characters are entirely believable. Music and language serve not only as the backdrop to Bel Canto, but are intimately intwined with the siege. Without either the opera singer Roxanne Coss or the translator Gen Watanabe, the captivity would have been unimaginably different. And it is with this realization that the epilogue—one of the few epilogues of which I actually approve—clicks into place. My mind will definitely be turning on Bel Canto for days to come. Many thanks to Kelly, for sending me a copy.
For some months now, actually about a year, I have had a growing latent interest in the history of Australia. When Chris said I should read Remembering Babylon, which she had brought with her on our trip to Lisbon, I readily agreed. David Malouf is a Booker prize nominee, and authors associated with the Booker prize have yet to disappoint me. Set in the early years of British colonization of Australia, Remembering Babylon is about the events set in motion when Gemmy Fairley, a “white black man,” returns to white civilization after living with aborigines for 16 years. Gemmy disturbs the status quo with his presence, and his very existence disturbs further the settlers’ concept of inherent ‘civility’ in whites. Less a story about Gemmy, and more about the community as a whole, Remembering Babylon explores the community’s reaction to Gemmy, and in the process reveals how each of them came to be in Australia. It was especially enjoyable to read as the family Gemmy stayed with was Scottish, and their reminisces of Scotland most poignant.
The dystopia presented in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was closer to our world than I had expected it to be; indeed it could have happened today. I was intrigued by the mental intertextuality that occurred as I read: Earth’s history in Le Guin’s Ekumen cycle, 1984, V for Vendetta, “Sexy” by Jhumpa Lahiri, and as of yet unpublished short stories “The Initiate” (Kelly) and “The Six Days of Creation” (Laura). I was both intrigued and horrified at the society ultra-fundamentalist Christians made in Gilead; I knew all of the passages they used to justify themselves, taken out of context, overlooking others… I’m not sure what they would have done with me. I have mixed feelings about the concluding “Historical Notes.” The fictional notes forced me away from the narrative and to take a critical eye not unlike what I do with medieval texts, and to think of the narrative in past tense. While the investigation as to whether the Commander was Frederick R. Waterford or B. Frederick Judd is fascinating—a form of mental acrobatics similar to “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” by Le Guin—it was enough, for me, that he was simply the Commander. I did not need the “Historical Notes” to appreciate and analyze The Handmaid’s Tale. Regardless of the “Historical Notes,” however, I thoroughly enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, and, as perhaps my lack of a coherent synopsis gives evidence to, my mind is still processing all that Offred experienced.
Pictures and summary of Lisbon are forthcoming.