This novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.
In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White BoThis novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.
In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White Bone relies the least upon clever and familiar anthropomorphic mannerisms and worlds, relative to other classics of the genre, like the weirdly wonderful Duncton Wood, about moles, or the fantastically creepy Watership Down, (whose portrayal of rabbits left me with a permanent fascination and mild fear of the fluffy creatures). Barbara Gowdy creates, instead, a definite and partly alien culture for her characters, complete with kinship structures, celebrations and rituals, hymns, cosmology, care-giving practices, hierarchies, and time/space measurements, all distinct and largely unrelated to our own. What makes this work so beautifully is the research upon which these speculative systems are based, and the genuine love and wonder she has for the species. The other element that makes it all so powerful is her gentle but pointed interweaving of the destructive influence humans have had upon this culture in the "real" world.
The White Bone serves not only as an excellent example of an alternative fiction, but also as a clear statement of protest against the ivory trade and poaching practices in general. Gorgeous, sad, strange. Very highly recommended....more
My father is an adventurer at heart. He rode a motorcycle through South America a decade before Che; he jumped out of airplanes at night and landed inMy father is an adventurer at heart. He rode a motorcycle through South America a decade before Che; he jumped out of airplanes at night and landed in Southeast Asian jungles; he spent 40 years fishing in Alaska, both off Kodiak and in the Bering Sea. Now, he and my mother are retired, and they spend a good deal of their time traveling still - on a motorcycle. They have a great set-up: a trailer packed with a beautiful tent and an air mattress; picnic goodies, bottles of gin. They tool around Mexico and the continental U.S., camping in the back yards of breweries and hanging out for weekends at bluegrass shows. They've definitely got some things figured out.
They met Ted Simon, and enjoyed an afternoon of story-swapping; my dad said this book made him want to take off across the world again. Knowing my own taste for travel and the edgy, dangerous, or uncomfortable experience, my dad lent me his signed copy of this book as a way of sharing something he cares about.
Most critics say that this book gave them an uncontrollable attack of Wanderlust. Strange - having spent most of my life in the grips of such restlessness, this book actually made me reflect on the temporary contentment I now enjoy after years of being anywhere but here.
Simon was a journalist prior to becoming a self-styled hero, and we are grateful - his writing is adequate, and often even lucid and beautiful. The Journey is strangely bodiless, for the most part. Simon writes like a pair of traveling eyes with an ego attached; rarely do we get saddle sores, headaches, heat rash, or dysentery on this 4-year odyssey. Perhaps he is a remarkably hardy specimen; perhaps he didn't think it necessary to put us through more than the occasional swarm of mosquitoes. Nonetheless, there is a closely observed richness to his writing, and an immediacy that shows he took good notes, and was able to revisit his experiences in sequence as well as through a greater common narrative.
Despite his occasionally inflated sense of self (he is extremely proud of his accomplishments, throughout), Simon makes for a thoughtful and sensitive tour guide. I chalk his accidental chauvinism up to a lack of insight - few informants for the world of women, as he traces his global story through the men he meets, with the occasional entrance of a woman as a beautiful or admirable thing, though rarely world-shaping or responsible for the building of human history.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone with a fondness for things other than the familiar, with a taste for travel, or even for the casual motorcycle fetishist. His trip is worth admiring, and worth using as an example - both of the possibilities that lie before individuals who choose to take the roads less traveled, and of the uncertainty that comes with any spiritual quest....more
"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."
This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Shelt"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."
This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Sheltering Sky with that strange act of framing that so many authors employ, using the words of others to summarize or introduce the feelings that they are about to try to invoke in their readers. Above this quote is another phrase: "Tea in the Sahara," a chapter title, now-familiar but difficult to place. This was taken by none other than the band The Police, to introduce their own work, a song of the same name that recreates a story from The Sheltering Sky. It's an interesting little web - and indicative, I think, of the kind of impact that this book seems to have on people, or at least on those who love it.
I did strange things because of this book. I bought leather-bound antique tomes written by T.E. Lawrence, and read them to a friend while wrapped in blankets and candlelight, hiding from a snowstorm, which we both pretended was sand and not ice. I became obsessed with the notions of breath and spirit that are espoused by the Touareg people of the Sahara desert. I planned films. I devoured the works of Isabelle Eberhardt, an early pioneer of female-gender-bending and exotic adventure. And finally, I bought a one-way ticket to Morocco to see Mr. Bowles, himself.
What happened after that is a long story, and a large part of my psychic history. Bowles died three days before I arrived, although Fate did land me at his wake, and I became friends with many of his, most notably the famous Moroccan novelist, Mohammed Choukri. I also ended up living in North Africa for about two years, and spending a good deal of time in the desert, undergoing indeed what Bowles translates as the baptism of solitude.
This is a long-winded way of saying that there is something special in this book, something that has the ability to get into you and never let you go. It makes you do things, it shakes you up and reminds you of emotions and fears that you had forgotten to give names to. And as the Mallea quote suggests, this book does nothing to you that you haven't already in some way done to yourself, or brings out nothing that wasn't already there, some other, wilder experience, some other collision with the real, and the you that you have forgotten or think you have lost.
For those who have watched or loved the film adaptation, I cannot speak to it as I've never been able to bring myself to see it. I am not a big fan of Bertolucci's work, although he does do some interesting things with silence. Bowles' comment on the film was something to the effect of, "How can you make a movie when all the action takes place inside people's heads?"...more