I’ve been taking some detours lately in my travels around the globe. For one, I took a long return-trip to India, reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. The most recent book I read described itself as a bonsai. I seem to be in the midst of a book-as-tree theme because A Suitable Boy describes itself as a banyan tree where the main trunks sprouts branches and those branches themselves take root such that the tree would still stand even if the main trunk were to die. It really is an apt description. About 400 pages into the book I counted 17 open storylines. I thought it might be fun to try to draw them out and show how they connected, but I found that that only hurt my brain. On the other hand, I had no trouble keeping track of them all if I just kept reading.
The novel may be billed as a love story, but it is also so much more. I love the way it liberally satirizes pretty much everyone from politicians and academics to poets and religious figures.
“Dipankar, their middle brother, was a dreamer… [He] was fond of making remarks such as, ‘It is all the Void,’ at breakfast, thus casting a mystical aura over the scrambled eggs.”
The book also addresses more seriously the issues of post-independence India such as the relationship between Hindus and Muslims and how to deal with the essentially feudal system of zamindar land owners. There is so much to love about this book. While reading it, I found myself glad that the book was so long and that there was so much more of it to enjoy. If you’re in the mood for an epic, immersive reading experience, I highly recommend it.
On my way to India, I stopped off in Yemen: The Unknown Arabia by Tim Mackintosh-Smith. (In Britain the title was the much more interesting Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land.) I left that visit unfinished though and will have to return. A blurb on the book jacket refers to Mackintosh-Smith as a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia. The blurb is telling- even though the book was published in 2000, it felt more like it was from 1900. The author is an upper-class British white male who was able to spend decades of his life hanging out in Yemen with no apparent need to support himself, but who seems to have no awareness of how privileged he is.
He acknowledges early in the book that it will be very male-centric, since as a foreign male he has very little opportunity to interact with women. That’s fair enough and I appreciated the explanation. But he then proceeds to tell us that the women in Yemen are perfectly happy with their role in society and have no objection to being isolated at home! Despite the fact that he just made clear he knows nothing about it!
Yemen certainly seems like a fascinating place and I look forward to reading more about it, but I found myself too annoyed by this book to continue.