I haven’t read for pure pleasure in a long time. I’d almost forgotten the feeling, the thrilling joy of the gullible trip. This means I’ve lately been reading with alloyed delight, having all kinds of intentions in mind: discovery, study, theory, criticism…
This week I found myself with the right amount of time and mood to indulge. I delved into Beauty Is a Wound by the Indonesian author, Eka Kurniawan, translated by Annie Tucker. I was easily transported to the world of magic and myth-making. Who wouldn’t with this opening sentence of the novel:
One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years. A shepherd boy, awakened from his nap under a frangipani tree, peed in his shorts and screamed, and his four sheep ran off haphazardly in between stones and wooden grave markers as if a tiger had been thrown into their midst.
The overall impression of fantastic wackiness is sustained throughout the epic book, 470 pages, never a dull moment.
Not entirely divorced from analytical reading–old habits die hard–there’re moments when I would question some of the narrative choices, for instance, when a character was having a particular thought, unuttered, and another character acted on it. How would this other character know when the narrative point of view wasn’t facilitating that? But then in a book where people are rising from the grave and also determining the exact time to die, certain expectations fly out of the window and that’s the joyful part I’d rather dwell on.
I was so impressed with the way Kurniawan sustained the magical realism and incredible characters that I wanted to read his other works. I realized Man Tiger had been long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize, so I decided to read it. I must say it didn’t enthrall me the way Beauty Is a Wound did.
Then I decided to revisit Toni Morrison. I last read her as an undergrad many years ago. I put aside the idea of tracking her artistic development by picking the books at random. I’ve read some writers chronologically, the ones who make my heart sing, beginning with their first book to their last. This method gives one a clear understanding of the author’s own progress in narrative, what they’re complicating, their challenges, strengths, and what they are getting away with. Of course you also discover the unprogress. In fact, I’m beginning to think that the best writers for me might be those who don’t follow a linear pattern but disguise their own journey by taking you through circles. Very clever.
So anyway, it was after reading The Bluest Eye that it occurred to me I hadn’t paid attention to the narrator. I was amazed. Who was the narrator? I chuckled, went back to the book, skimmed through and of course, the girl, Claudia, as a child and then as an adult, with occasional third-person viewpoint thrown in. I was overjoyed to have missed all of this, to have been carried away by the story without pausing to break apart and then pierce together what makes it so.
I don’t know how long this approach to reading will last before theory and criticism kick in, but for now I’m glad to return to what got me reading in the first place, the simple deliciousness of it, always surprising me no matter how many times I do it.
Can I hear recommendations?