Monday, August 30, 2010

Pleasure of discovering little known writers

I miss the Housing Works Thrift shops in NYC because readers of serious books gave their extras to these shops and I found wonderful books I can't find in the local second hand shops which are far too heavy in Danielle Steel and Barbara Cartland as if people read only "beach books" all year round. One of my happiest pleasures is finding a book with an interesting blub by some author I never heard of, putting it in my to-read bookcase and then one day finally saying, Maybe I'll try that one. Once in a while it's a looser and goes in the give-away pile after 25 pages. Mostly it's a winner.

Chingas [there are various spellings] Aitmatov was a Russian writer, well respected even during the dark Stalin and post-Stalin years. If his best known book which I've just read, A Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, is representative, he walked a tightrope brilliantly. The protagonist is a hard working Kazakh who lives at a tiny railroad switching station town, a be-medalled ex-soldier with a steadfast wife and a grand camel. In the one day the man undertakes to bury is longtime friend and mentor - a 30 kilometer journey across the steppe desert. But the novel includes much of the man's history at this lonely outpost and that of other residents too; it also includes a couple or three myths from the area and incidentally some of the happenings at a super secret space station in the desert [which has a cooperative twin in the US in Nevada].

On one level I simply enjoy a believable look at a place, it's people, in a society I know nothing about although I have stereotypes in mind about all of Russia during those years -- they are partly broken down by my involvement with the Kazakh, his family and friends and by seeing what Aitmatov was able to pull off as he told his story. It seems to be translated with simplicity and good sense. I assume that is Aitmatov's style in writing about these people who also have simplicity and good sense.

For my next reading, I've just picked up an American book from my to-read shelf and I am sure I am going to like it. However I have always taken a special pleasure in reading the work of writers from other countries and cultures who tell me stories with an insider's point of view and selection of careful details. I will long remember the major image from the book: a old man on a big, fine camel, a scrubby rust-colored dog trotting along, behind them the body wrapped in a shroud and a rug lying in a trailer, accompanied by a son-in-law and a son riding in the tractor pulling the trailer, plus behind them a digging machine ... moving across a flat, gray desert while an eagle circles above ... and while my mind is full of myth and also the futuristic story of the cosmonauts who have found life elsewhere in the universe which the powers on earth [Russian AND American] decide to keep secret lest the delicate balance on earth is disturbed ... for the better.

1 comment:


June -- a very interesting title --A Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years. Your review and recommendation were convincing -- I am going to read the book. thanks -- barbara