This book is impossible to review. It isn't prose, it isn't poetry, it isn't history, it isn't a novel, it isn't a narrative.
It is festooned this small...moreThis book is impossible to review. It isn't prose, it isn't poetry, it isn't history, it isn't a novel, it isn't a narrative.
It is festooned this small book with yellow sticky notes of the interesting bits, of the beautiful bits, of the energizing bits.
It is imagination.
This is imagination on a multiplicity of levels and layers. Imagine, if you can, Marco Polo and Genghis Khan talking about Polo's travel experiences. Then imagine Polo describing the wonders of the things he's seen. Then imagine that Polo has imagined more cities than he's seen, filled them with magical constructs, and eccentric citizenry, architecture, social mores.
It is, perhaps, most like a travel journal, or log, but like none you could have imagined. Polo, or perhaps Khan's biographers, have catalogued the invisible cities as belonging to distinct classifications.
Memory Desire Signs Thin
and several more. Then comes a short description of the city that purports to provide the rationale for the city having been classified as it was.
These descriptions are collected into sets, separated by the narrator's observation of the meeting and conversations between Khan and Polo.
The writing is brilliant. Calvino's imagination appears to be unbounded and endless.
From one of the festooning stickies, picked randomly:
... But with all this, I would not be telling you the city's true essence; for while the description of Anastasia awakens desires one at a time only to force you to stifle them, when you are in the heart of Anastasia one morning your desires waken all at once and surround you. The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and all of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content. Such is the power, sometimes called malignant, sometimes benign, that Anastasia, the treacherous city, possesses; if for eight hours a day you work as a cutter of agate, onyx, chrysoprase, your labour which gives form to desire takes from desire its form, and you believe you are enjoying Anastasia wholly when you are only its slave (from Cities and Desire 2).
And from one the Khan/Polo ruminations:
... As time went by, words began to replace objects and gestures in Marco's tales: first exclamations, isolated nouns, dry verbs, then phrases, rarified and leafy discourses, metaphors and tropes. The foreigner had learned to speak the emperor's language or the emperor to understand the language of the foreigner.
But you would have said communication between them was less happy than in the past: to be sure, words were more useful than objects and gestures in listing the most important things of every province and city — monuments, markets, costumes, fauna and flora — and yet when Polo began to talk about how life must be in those places, day after day, evening after evening, words failed him, and little by little, he went back to relying on gestures, grimaces, glances (from after Trading Cities 1).
**spoiler alert** A donkey, the colour blue but female, is surprised at being privileged to receive from its matriarch a request to be guests of India...more**spoiler alert** A donkey, the colour blue but female, is surprised at being privileged to receive from its matriarch a request to be guests of India's only true matriarchy. She brings as her guest a poet friend who is a sort of militant anti-patriarchy lesbian because the matriarchy is famous for being poetical. Oh frabjous day, callooh callay! It is with great excitement and a feeling of honour that they go and, after a cordial welcome, are befriended by another matriarchal 'foreigner' who had fled the evil of the patriarchies some years earlier. To be in a place where not only women are honoured, but poetry is too! And, above all, where males do not exist meaningfully in the community meant, obviously, that this is going to be utopia.
Or is it? The two protagonists discover the brutal truth. The males, called 'pretty boys' are kept in horrific conditions until their semen can be milked from them as stud animals when they reach puberty. The honour and reward the pretty boys receive for giving the gift of life is their being returned to the earth goddess before their obnoxious puberty could be allowed to create social disorder, decay, depravity and dystopia.
And so the satire starts. And it started well! But in the end Suniti Namjoshi's novel The Mothers of Maya Diip ended far too late in this short book to keep it from moving from an interesting satire into a clunking, plodding, heavy-handed parody that collapses like an undercooked angel food cake.
After an initial optimism that this would be both funny and a real social commentary/criticism, I found I became disenchanted at the flatness of the characters. They all sounded pretty much the same and the narrator's observation felt like a drone. 'Good try,' I thought, 'but not quite.' And up until the final two thirds of the text I thought Mothers was still a positive read.
Alas! In a modern example of a hurried deus ex machina, Namjoshi fell into complete creative collapse and bad writing. Perhaps even very bad writing. The collapse begins with the unbelievable rescue of the foreign matriarchal heretic from prison by self aware male robot soldiers who call their helicopter 'mother' and badly embody every machismo stereotype Namjoshi could cram in. Am I asking too much of a satire that it not be too heavy-handed? Perhaps, but now consider: the helicopter conveniently crashes into the ocean close enough to land to allow the protagonists to escape but have the robots 'drown.' The rationale? The robot's' mother proved to be bad at maintaining herself, despite having had the wherewithal and ability to create the self-aware robots in the first place.
The penultimate section, that of the gallants, suffered from what I can only describe as a circumscribed creativity. That the 'pretty boys' who managed to somehow not die and somehow managed to get to an island where they were allowed by another renegade matriarch to grow up without responsibilities and who would choose suicide before taking them on was just too much for my limited brain to accept. Not even in what I had hoped would be a satire. Perhaps if the writing had felt less like this was a slap dash tack-on, a hurried-up my book's deadline is due jumble, I would have accepted it. I have accepted very bizarre things, but the writing was just way too weak to sustain my credibility to accept the satirical nature of this part of plot.
And the final wrap up, which was to see the 'proper' matriarchy restored after its early overthrow by the matriarch's daughter, displayed to me that Namjoshi was in this effort an empty critic: she poked fun at matriarchy, and poked fun at the feminazies' version of patriarchy, but when it came to an alternative, which is how the book closes, she proffered nothing but the restoration of an autocracy, but this time by someone who didn't want the position. Sigh! I hesitate to suggest that I would have liked this better if Namjoshi hadn't tried suggesting a solution to the problem of patriarchy, but it may have helped.
At the beginning I loved that this was poking fun at how easily feminist political ideology can fall into patriarchal practices, and I so wanted to like this book. But it fell from a five star beginning and premise, all the way down to just two stars, meaning, in this case, read only as a curiosity or perhaps as inspiration to create your own satire.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is a beautiful read. It is told as a reflection to a childhood, and from the point of view of that childhood, of a murder. The...more**spoiler alert** This is a beautiful read. It is told as a reflection to a childhood, and from the point of view of that childhood, of a murder. The language that describes the brutality of children in childhood is soft and exquisite. I found myself savouring the language as if it were a fine chocolate or spirit. I'd re-read passages, and pause to enjoy the language and the irony of its beauty in contrast to the events being remembered.
This book isn't filled with histrionics or melodramatic angst. It is about a person's quiet but persistent quest for some kind of spiritual redemption after discovering while a child the evil that man can do because she was that evil.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough to people in love with language and quiet reflective reading on the psychology of spiritual redemption.