Friday, January 13, 2012
Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. And my wife. Alexandra Battery, Sandy Bay. January 2012.
Friday Book Club sees me with just the two books finished this week, but what a two!
First up is The Painter of Signs a novel from 1976 by Indian author R. K. Narayan. This one is a lovely little book that follows the rather unusual courtship of a proud sign painter in an ordinary Indian town and Daisy, a career-oriented feminist fanatical in her mission to make family planning available to all of India.
Narayan has a keen sense of capturing the subtitles of human relationships and the rhythms and sounds of the city, the taste and smells of food, the colour and movement of the crowds. It’s clear that the city is growing and changing as the locals try to find some personal purpose within the juggernaut of “progress.”
Torn between the traditional and the modern, the ‘hero’ of the tale represents the Indian everyman in a nation on the cusp of something far greater than the individual. This is a beautiful work, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Second up is Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, another novel whose theme transcends the individual story. Tracking the final voyage of an illegal American slave ship in 1830, the novel presents a personal and historical perspective of the illegal slave trade in the United States through the personage of Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who unknowingly boards a slave ship bound for Africa in order to escape a forced marriage.
I don’t want to say too much about the story (which is a fair dinkum ripping yarn), other than it is a fine blend of melodrama, mysticism and historical realism. Any book that can mix buggery on the high seas, a dangerous love triangle, an exploration of black identity in America and a treatise on the work of G.W.F. Hegel is offering something different.
Middle Passage is at the same time an easy and challenging read. The central story is gripping, but the narrative itself is intellectually demanding and purposefully complex. Johnson doesn’t present a black and white exposition on the slave trade, but one very much that inhabits the greys. There is not so much “good guys” and “bad guys” as “guys”. Conflict does not easily cleave between races, but transcends it.
This book might not be for everybody, but it could be for you! I heartily recommend it to all comers.