And it is of ‘The Sons of Ishmael’ by George Berguño (Ex Occidente Press MMX).
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem and any ideas would be welcome. (I am also conducting a simultaneous real-time review of another book that will worsen any delays.)
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/
My edition of this book has two very stiff Dustjackets one on top of the other, the inner one (shown above) slightly less stiff than the outer one which has a different design but roughly the same background colour. The hardback cover beneath the stiff DJs has yet a third design. (7 Dec 10)
The pages themselves are stiff paper and highly aesthetic to read upon or from. In honour of ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, I shall now real-time review the stories (if stories they are) without first reading the Author’s Introduction or “About the Stories.”
Night Sea Journey to Turku
“In his sixty-fifth year he retired, and not long after he began to lose his memory.”
Nearly 63, as I am, I must not let this story slip away before I’ve recorded my reading of it. About a month or two ago, I travelled from UK to St Petersburg by coach, touching upon Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen on the return journey (including overnight on a ship). ‘Touching upon’ being the operative words. I briefly cheated those cities. As perhaps I cheat life itself. The young protangonist (now since grown only slightly older than me) cheated, too, but I felt for him and the red-haired woman he met briefly so many years before. This story is my own touching of base before I can no longer touch any base. A story that affected me deeply. The prose pitch perfect. (7 Dec 10 – three hours later)
Into the Atacama 1899
“Suddenly the girl sprang to her feet and sang a beautiful-eerie song in a strange tongue.”
A fabulous fable in fable-plain, yet beautiful-eerie, tongue itself, about a discovering of more than just a doll in a pile of toys for a detached man of Spain who lives in God’s Land as opposed to No Man’s Land. As in the first story, at first an unrequited love, but here to be requited, eventually requieted. Touching if not a mere touching upon each other by not-quite-souls within bodies. Redemption or something even worse than non-redemption? Each reader must answer this for each reader.
[1899 is an important year for me: the birth year of my beloved Grandmother Alice and of Elizabeth Bowen, each who looks like the other.] (8 Dec 10)
The Devil Only Visits (Chile, circa 1900)
“I tried to speak, but my tongue lay inert in my mouth like a desiccated slug.”
An ingenious tale with a möbius section view of the Devil via a crab-haunted foundling who tried too hard at religion or religion tried too hard at him: not a mere whim or a fancy or a tentative touch but an eventual battle, a thorough-going Temptation of a St Antony manqué. Thankfully, we readers are somewhat insulated from the dire repercussions by means of this being a story within a story on a train journey to Valparaiso, another city cheated by a mere touch. [My own apocryphal or Biblical exegesis of speculation: The Narrator was perhaps insulated, too, by his own perverse gullibility or propensity to tell tall tales, after his narration of the-storyteller’s-story-inside-of-his own story finished, but, later, being not a slug at all, “his tongue turned heavy as stone“]. (8 Dec 10 – another 5 hours later)
Colonel Redl’s Knife Sheath
” ‘… since no two days bring with them events that are exactly the same, it follows that human life is entirely determined by chance.’ “
Even verified wars and loyalties are subject to the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction that for me equate to ‘chance’ itself. This story of espionage, intrigue, reputation and chaos theory makes me think that World War One is a fiction, always was. I have the unspent bullet to prove it. Human fallibility (eg a body’s sex reflexes) comprises truth as well as fiction and seems to prove that one never wastes time changing the world by reading fiction to optimise its ‘mix’ with truth – or living it. Confirmation that the worst things in history could have been even worse without our intervention of reading fiction. A brainstorming, a fiction’s fiction. The story itself is memorable and you may brainstorm quite different things as a result of reading it! The world waits. (8 Dec 10 – another 5 hours later)
” ‘He merely swallowed his tongue’ “
And I, too, am speechless. Possessed as I am by this powerful story. Not now a möbius section so much as a core of possession wrenched and then sampled from my body-soul and then vintage-measured or ‘tree-ringed’ with all those demons who made me what makes me. (9 Dec 10)
” ‘Oh yes, I’ve been to London, and it’s a wonder I didn’t bump into the Anti-Christ himself.’ “
Here, London has been brushed against or cheated, as we readers now concentrate on a Rite of Passage in 1979 – seemingly fore-ordained yet also paradoxically with the story evolving without an apparent intentional audit-trail – as the male protagonist deceives himself as well as others – and he goes where we all go eventually, we are told, i.e to the North, even to the Back of the North Wind, reaching a cave system “in the belly of the Orkney Dragon” –
I am now (temporarily?) at a loss to connect these stories so far, as if my own attempt at ‘audit-trailing’ the book is as arbitrary as this story’s. Foreordained to belch smoke through the funnel of my tongue in frustration? Indeed ” ‘…if you’re running from yourself, well, then, I’d say your best bet is to turn around and look yourself in the eyes.’ ” (9 Dec 10 – another 4 hours later)
I have just read this story as if I’ve never read it before. It echoes the ‘chance’ in history of Redl’s Knife Sheath. It is as if I’ve grown older than the period between first reading it and reading it now, while insulated by its story within story within story, in the same way as the book itself has two stiff dustjackets, two chancejackets – and my father is more than just a possession away. A possession’s possession whereby I am my own knight’s sacrifice. To topple from my proud horse of criticism to allow this book to drown me. To drag me down beyond any surface audit-trail I can manage to wreak from its chance-beyond-chance or from its two lifejackets or the belt-and-braces that most old-fashioned fathers wore, including mine. (9 Dec 10 – another 3 hours later).
Doña Ariana’s Glass Foot
“…she felt ashamed of the freckles that smeared her arms and shoulders like a galaxy of dark stars, and she had never understood how I, who had been born without physical imperfections, had remained unmarried.”
Or unmarred? This short well-textured fable (already memorable, I sense, despite having just now first encountered it in this book’s own regime of matching stories with the unpredictable, non-auditable rhythms of my need to read them) of a sister’s matchmaking to attain a ‘certain lady’ for her brother – gives us pause for thought as to what is more evil, those who try too hard to hide their own imperfections or motivations. Or those who write about them for we innocents to read and then impel us, by such well-crafted fiction-as-reality, to seek out our own true love’s flesh-padded slipper wthout discovering it other than by eventually removing it, unmarrying it from the rest of the body, disconnecting it from reality altogether to match our indistinguishability of despair from evil intent. An act of pure gratuitousness as a means to tempt us on towards this book’s last stand, unashamed at our own en-pointe-lessness.
In a brush with yet another cheating city. (10 Dec 10)
A Master Class with Joseph Roth
“Roma, December 10 / There is something else that has begun to preoccupy me.”
Up to page 98 and I wonder if something will stop me reading this story, as we continue to brush against several cities, even in the course of a few pages, as we pursue an author, an author’s book, even to memorise it before it slips away, along with the sons or grandsons of Father Literature or Father Ecumenic: call him, Ishmael. (10 Dec 10 – another 30 minutes later)
But now we reach Venice, the scene of my favourite film. Death in Venice. But also a city which I only briefly visited on a too too rapid coach tour about 10 years ago. 1999, I think. Also mention of one of my greatest passions to memorise the fiction of: Aickman. But each time I encounter him, the words remain too slippery to remember. As do his ‘plots’, too heavy for the faint freckles upon thin pages. (10 Dec 10 – another 15 minutes later)
The story leaves Venice too soon, too. Following a wonderful passage on chess templates and writing or memorising books. It takes time, I say, to know whether any book is memorable. And judging by thoughts I’ve just had, ‘memorable’ is too easy for books that are or should remain ‘unmemorable’. Another coincidence? Another gambit? (10 Dec 10 – another 30 minutes later)
But we remain long enough in Venice for it to make its stamp on this book. (10 Dec 10 – another 10 minutes later)
Yet, tellingly, Berlin is where we end up – with its bigger stamp, its heavier impress on thicker pages and heavy-duty jackets. 1933. But off to Paris by the end of the book…
Call me Ishmael, or, rather, Call me George Berguño.
This is a book of which I am very proud. I kept its audit trail even from myself. Cheating the stops on the track. Or speaking in tongues.
I shall now read the Introduction and Story Notes, in the expectation that they will give me further food for thought about my intentions. But I shall not be back here again to tell you about them. I want you to experience the book before you’ve even read or written my crazy notes above about my own reading or writing of the book. (10 Dec 10 – another hour later)