Sunday, July 8, 2012

Because God is in the detail

I've been trying and trying to scrounge some time for my own self these past few weeks - time to read, time to listen, time to breathe, time to write something that would help me keep these experiences for posterity, time to just reflect on things, atleast for a little while.

I haven't been able to get much recreational reading done these days but one book I finally finished is one I had started to read many, many times but somehow had never got past the third chapter. Something always kept getting in the way - exams, illness, busy-ness. Perhaps, it was in the nature of this book even. It wasn't the kind that had you yearning to turn the page, to go racing to the end. It was more the kind that allowed you to slow yourself down and take your time. You could come back to it any time you wanted, even if you had to leave. You wouldn't be missing anything though you weren't paying attention.

So yeah, it was sort of meandering and ponderous even. And now that I'm at the end of it, I realise although it was barely 400 pages long, it felt like a much bigger book. It even sounds like a big book - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wish I could say it was my first brush with this variety of magic realism - something that seems to be a running theme through some good South American writing - Jorge Luis Borges being another writer I've been told I should read.

Of course, my first brush would have been Salman Rushdie but in his hands, even when he writes multi-generational, blowing-in-the-winds-of-change books like Midnight's Children, there seems to be something artificial about this device - something not organic, something learned and not felt.

Marquez, on the other hand, manages to make his literary creations feel real with all their naked emotions and their incestuous longings and their bloody battles and their general sticky sweatiness. It's really incredible. His world-building is so detailed that it becomes difficult to deny that Macondo - this village where the many generations of the Buendia family live out their sordid little lives is a real place - you almost think you could be watching some Nat Geo historian telling you about it in the afternoons.

When we find out that these people who go exploring through the wilderness leaving their old dying town behind, to establish their own  village in what feels like the middle of nowhere, these people have no idea how time passes in the outside world, or even which year it's supposed to be or how far away from the sea they are, it feels not like a conceit that is supposed to make us believe that Macondo is a kind of fantasy Never-never-land, it feels truthful because the kind of people that they are, the times that they lived in, the education that they were allowed to acquire - that they probably didn't know much about navigation or geography or magnetism - we understand that it is plausible that these people would see a block of ice illuminated by sunlight for the first time and wonder if it's really a giant diamond.

The people themselves are vibrant and passionate - it's exactly how you'd imagine Latin Americans to be, down to the very last stereotype. And in a way that is what they are. You get the feeling that as time passes, the people that belong to this founding family cease to be unique and settle for being approximations of those that came before them. The many daughters and sons and nephews and aunts are all variations of the first two people we meet. Jose Arcadio Buendia who is big, strong, boisterous, extravagant, intelligent and imaginative and his wife Ursula who is tiny, quiet, pious, industrious, and grounded. Their defining characteristics get shuffled into several permutations and combinations as their children and their children's children live and breathe and fight and make love and bear children who grow up to repeat the patterns of their parents' lives.

All this reads as quite mundane, I realise now but that is what life is often like. On the whole, we live out our lives engaged in our passions and in our routines and these are often only significant to us because we live them.

A friend once told me, if there was a God, we'd be like ants to him. Running around in little circles, trying to preserve our precious little lives. When I asked her if she thought that we were gods to ants, she thought the idea was hilarious.

There was this throwaway line in an otherwise average film I saw recently - 'We are, each one of us, the hero of their life.' seeming to suggest that even at its most unremarkable, each life is inherently extraordinary.

And after reading this book, after sifting through these lives, I'd say I agree. All lives end, all hearts are broken. But it matters that we lived and it counts when we loved. 


Kshipra said...

I want to get my hands on the book "Hundred Years of Solitude." Before your review on it, I was more so in love with the name, but now, I have too grab a copy.
Midnight's Children, the book, I don't know,its lead character are grotesque in the details. But maybe that is what is unconventional about them . And the underlying wit of relating the story to politics, its nice, but its just not one of those fiction books that lets your imagination aloof. I guess.

And gods to ants? Hahahhaha.

I love the way you write :)

Aayushi Mehta said...

Yay!! Keep reading, and keep posting, that will be good for your blog readers!

'One Hundred Years of Solitude' just sounds like a book I am never going to read. Just saying. I could end up reading it, I even have it at home, but after reading this post I don't think I will.

And did I just spot you constructively criticizing Rushdie? Haha. Well, I have never read him either, till now, so I don't know. Will read the book someday and then think about what you said.

I laughed out loud and the gods for ants thing :D

About those two closing lines hiding down there, I really like how you were able to say that so affirmatively, and you put it very well.

I have many "What is the purpose of it all?" moments, and I never seem to be happy with these simple answers. Sigh. I am still wondering whether it actually matters and/or counts, as you said?

Maybe you have a psychiatric diagnosis for me? :S

R said...

I've been intending to read this book forever. And I did not like Midnight's Children, much as I wanted to. Haroun and the Sea of Stories will always be one of my favourites so I was Very disappointed when I didn't love Midnight. I feel like he rambled so much and provided so much unnecessary detail, that he lost grasp of the narrative.
Love your last line. I think it's true. At least for each one of us, personally.

Ghata said...

Oh..this one's a marvellous read! Read it and couldn't have said it any better waht you said about Marquez. In a nutshell - birlliant.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Kshipra, the name is what attracted me to the book, too. And it's really perfect for the book as well. Salman Rushdie is an interesting writer but there's something restricted about his characters. It's like he got very close to making them come alive for us, and then just stopped for some reason. It makes them incomplete and unreal somehow. But do read this book. I enjoyed it.

Aayushi, I actually do. It's called existential angst. :D We all have it. It's very prevalent in this age group. ;) I don't get it! Did I put you off the book with my post? I hope not! I'd have loved to hear your opinion about it. And I am always constructively criticizing Rushdie. I really admire his ideas. Which is why something missing with the execution really frustrates me!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Riddhi, thank you! :) I also really wanted to love the book. Maybe that's why I didn't end up enjoying it. High expectations. But do read this one and then, write about it! :)

Ghata, aww, thank you! :)