Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Reading a Nobel Laureate February 18, 2018

Shame on me, I thought when I read that Kazuo Ishiguro had been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in literature. I couldn’t name a single of his titles, which made it obvious that I hadn’t read any of his books. To my relief, I recognised a film title; ‘The Remains of the Day’, which I saw when it was released in 1993, but I had no idea it was based on Ishiguro’s novel by the same title.

One should, shouldn’t one, read a Nobel Prize winner. ‘Never let me go’ seemed like a passable start, it’s not a very voluminous book and much acclaimed. It takes quite a few pages before one understands the full extent of the story. The ‘what’s it all about’ is both unexpected and unpleasant. So I wouldn’t in any way reveal the plot, that is Ishiguro’s job – only that I found the book profoundly sad. Some people label ‘Never let me go’ science fiction, but I don’t. To me, it’s a novel about identity, fate and choice. Although it’s a very disturbing book, it left me with a serious book hangover and stayed with me for a very long time.

The movie was released in 2010. It’s a general opinion that ‘the book is always better than the film’. In this case, I disagree. The film is by no means better than the book, but I appreciated it much in the same way. The film is very true to the book, and the subdued colour scheme underlines the story. And yes, it’s just as heart-breaking as the book.

My next Ishiguro was ‘When we were Orphans’ (2000). It is elegant, entertaining, at times it almost reads like an old-fashioned crime novel. Set in the 1930s, in England and Shanghai, it tells the story about a renowned detective, Christopher Banks, who goes back to Shanghai to track down his parents who disappeared when he was a child. A vast part of the book is a flashback where Banks’ childhood is told in a very enjoyable way although the book has its sad and dark undercurrents.

‘The Unconsoled’ (1995) is told to be “advanced Ishiguro”. I read somewhere that the book is “either a masterpiece or an incomprehensible wreck”. The number of pages of the books I was reading were steadily increasing, and since I had enjoyed the latter two so much, I thought The Unconsoled’s 500 + pages would be share joy! After 50 pages, I thought I’d either leave it with that, or promise myself to finish it. The only reason the book didn’t put me off completely, was the writer’s language. More of that later.

‘The Unconsoled’ has neither head nor tale. The book jacket reveals that, “Ryder, a renowned pianist, arrives in a Central European city he cannot identify for a concert he cannot remember agreeing to give.” So, it might have a head (slightly unsettling though), but certainly no tale. As the story unfolds, confusion arises and steadily increases. People seem to float around in a world where all normal perceptions of time and place have ceased to exist. Mr. Ryder is surrounded by an absurd bunch of people, and as they move around there is nothing else to do than go with the flow. The book is simply bizarre. (And what’s more, I tried to read a review in The Guardian, and realised I would simply need a review to understand the review …).

Back to his language; I also read somewhere that you never need a dictionary while reading Ishiguro. True. Not that his language is simple (yet it is, in a way), but words and sentences are floating seamlessly from page to page. It’s like reading velvet. So, no matter how odd the book is, how long the monologues are, how irksome the story is – one cannot remain unaffected.

I went to the library in order to pick up the rest of his work, not quite put off by Mr. Ryder and his quirky crowd. The librarian admitted to have given up ‘The Unconsoled’ only after one chapter – which makes her one of the many drop-outs this novel seems to produce – and subsequently admired my stamina.

I’m not at all able to decide if it is a masterpiece or not. But it is without doubt the most original peace of writing I have ever read.


A streetcar named Desire (or A troubled tram) February 3, 2018

Filed under: Travels — benjamuna @ 3:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

They brighten up the postcard racks in the streets of Lisbon; the many cards of the egg yolk coloured Tram No. 28. Always captured in beautiful morning or evening light while meandering the narrow streets of Alfama. The yellow tram has become the very symbol of Lisbon, and blends perfectly with the charming cityscape of narrow cobblestoned streets, beautiful tiles and flapping laundry.
If you walk along the tram tracks from Alfama to Bairro Alto, you’ll meet ‘No. 28’ sooner more than later. Sadly, most of the Lisbon trams are almost covered with advertising and not as dazzling yellow as shown on the cards. For a long time, Jameson’s whiskey came to mind whenever I thought of Lisbon.

The trams of Lisbon were imported from the United States in 1901 in order to replace the old carthorses. The route 28 was inaugurated in 1914. In 1959, there were altogether 27 tram lines in Lisbon, but the construction of the metro and the expansion of the bus lines eventually sent the trams into decline. Today, Lisbon has five remaining tramlines.

No. 28 is meant to be the jewel of Lisbon’s streets. It takes the passengers on a 40-minute ride through old neighbourhoods such as Graça, Alfama and Baixa, along many historical highlights, including the cathedral and the castle. At the same time, it’s part of the city’s public transport network, but may seem as transportation for the city’s many tourists only. Whenever you catch a glimpse of it, it seems to burst and the passengers do not look like ordinary residents. They have rucksacks on their backs and a camera on their fronts, they fan themselves with maps and keep travel books tightly under their arms. Nobody pretends to be anything but what they are; a tourist who does what the travel guides claims to be “an absolute must.” Passengers are hardly on their way from A to B, it is the journey itself that matters.

And yes, the journey has a certain charm. The tram is coughing and creeping slowly up the steep slopes. And when you thought it was full, it still halts at every stop where an expectant cluster of Japanese, French or Danes are more than ready to squeeze in. So when you stand there like a herring in a barrel, more passengers pour in. And nobody gets off …

Those who have been lucky enough to get a seat can make the most of it since they don’t have to worry about losing their balance. The large windows are mostly open, a virtue of necessity since the air is thick, but the open windows also give the passengers some photo opportunities. With cameras at arm’s lengths, they capture the view as the tram harks up and down the narrow streets. Surely, they must also be capturing other tourists doing exactly the same but in reverse; taking pictures of the brimming No. 28 from the sidewalk.

Lisbon has numerous beautiful tiled facades, often including flapping laundry …

It is a dark and quiet evening, the rainfall makes the air a little cool. Tired, we’re waiting for No. 28, a tram seemingly without a fixed timetable, but supposed to run every ten minutes. And then, after the longest wait, we can hear it in the distance. There, it slips around the bend just before the small hill and wearily creeps towards us. We triumph, now we’ll sit all the way up to Graca and enjoy a quiet ride home. At this hour, the tram is bound to be empty. It was not!

What could possibly Lisbon and Calcutta in far-away India have in common?
Lisbon is not the only city with an egg yolk colored vehicle running up and down the streets:

From my room with a view!