Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two Poems

Haven't had much time to read anything. My Name is Red in starts and stops and last week, Agha Shahid Ali and Faiz. This week has been a mix of Darwish and Hikmet. Two poems I love very much here. Falstaff, still no Darwish on Poitre ... you really should have some ...

And We Have a Land

And we have a land without borders, like our idea
of the unknown, narrow and wide. A land …
when we walk in its map it becomes narrow with us,
and takes us to an ashen tunnel, so we shout
in its labyrinth: And we still love you, our love
is a hereditary illness. A land … when
it banishes us to the unknown … it grows. And
the willows and adjectives grow. And its grass grows
and its blue mountains. The lake widens
in the soul’s north. Wheat rises in the soul’s
south. The lemon fruit gleams like a lantern
in the emigrant’s night. Geography glistens
like a holy book. And the chain of hills
becomes an ascension place to higher … to higher.
“If I were a bird I would have burned my wings,” someone says
to his exiled self. The scent of autumn becomes
the image of what I love … The light rain leaks
into the heart’s drought, and the imagination opens up
to its sources, and becomes place, the only
real one. And everything from the faraway
returns as a primitive countryside, as if earth
were still creating itself to meet Adam, descending
to the ground floor from his paradise. Then I say:
That’s our land over there pregnant with us … When was it
that we were born? Did Adam get married twice? Or will we
be born a second time
to forget sin?

- Mahmoud Darwish, The Butterfly’s Burden
(Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah)


The Strangest Creature on Earth

You're like a scorpion, my brother,
you live in cowardly darkness
like a scorpion.
You're like a sparrow, my brother,
always in a sparrow's flutter.
You're like a clam, my brother,
closed like a clam, content,
And you're frightening, my brother,
like the mouth of an extinct volcano.

Not one,
not five --
unfortunately, you number millions.
You're like a sheep, my brother:
when the cloaked drover raises his stick,
you quickly join the flock
and run, almost proudly, to the slaughterhouse.
I mean you're strangest creature on earth --
even stranger than the fish
that couldn't see the ocean for the water.
And the oppression in this world
is thanks to you.
And if we're hungry, tired, covered with blood,
and still being crushed like grapes for our wine,
the fault is yours --
I can hardly bring myself to say it,
but most of the fault, my dear brother, is yours.

- Nazim Hikmet, 1947
(Translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Amusingly enough, Borders seemed to be aware of my birthday – they had Orhan Effendi’s books on their three for two offer. Now I do own a copy of My Name is Red, after gifting away countless numbers of the book, telling people they have to read Pamuk. I am excited about rereading it; it has been a while. So, the birthday was brought in reading the beloved author [1], till the people at Borders decided to shut shop and kick me out. Bookshops should be open 24x7. And so should libraries.

The day was exhausting if only because my Saturdays are usually terribly hectic and I need all of Sunday to recuperate – usually by sleeping straight through the day. It was also emotionally tiring – a terrible mix of happy moments and ridiculously bizarre ones. I need to read happier things because breaking out into tears for most of the train ride is not good. Later on, I had copious amounts of delicious fatty Malay food for lunch, and had a box of the best lokum in the world all the way from Istanbul awaiting me at Turkish class. And then I was gifted this lovely book by friends over dinner of very good Indian food (and also very good wine). As I told my friend, I am probably the most obvious person in the world to buy gifts for. Also a shout out to the person who called in the middle of the night after getting my number from god only knows where - thank you.

Birthday wish that has been constant since forever is to have a house full of books. (And to have them magically clean and arrange themselves, too). I am convinced though, that I am going to turn into one of those old people who live all alone in a house full of books and it takes weeks for people to even find out that they have died [2]. Really, I can even see it happening. Oh well, there’s a lot to be done next year and the thought of a lot of it scares me. I just hope everything works out.

[1]No, really, I think Pamuk is the closest I actually come to being in love with someone. I KNOW I need help, but what to do?
[2]Might be a side effect of reading A.B. Yehoshua’s
A Woman in Jerusalem, but I doubt it. It’s called falling in between the cracks, no? The book is excellent. No, beyond excellent.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Book Covers

Via Alok.
My favourite book cover of the year – Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers.

I know, it’s a bit clichéd but I really love it. (I remember reading in the introduction that Aslam had to ask for permission from some acquaintance to use this picture). The book is very nice too.

In the history category I really liked the cover of Mark Mazower’s brilliant The Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century. Mazower is a brilliant historian and I have been so impressed by every book of his that I have read. Dark Continent is an excellent (and slightly revisionist) history of the Europe since after WWI.

Also, a mention for La Vie en Bleu: France and the French since 1900. I haven’t actually read the book yet but its been lying on my table for eons now and I keep meaning to start but its just so darned fat and I don’t have time. Gah! I love the quote by de Gaulle on the back cover of the book as well – “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” Ah, the French are so amusing.

Book cover that has been making my head want to explode (which is not good because I’m reading it at the moment) – Zulfu Livaneli’s Bliss (Mutluluk in Turkish). Apparently Turkey and Afghanistan are one and the same place. The other cover for the book isn’t bad though. Too bad I couldn’t find it. The book itself is so-so; easy reading on the train.

Previous post on book covers here. The only reason Other Colours didn’t make an appearance here is because I didn’t buy the Faber version. I think they usually do wonderful covers. Knopf’s aren’t bad either.

Anyway, so, what are your favourite book covers of the year?