This is a tale with two threads: a Ghosh-like doctoral student traipsing around rural Egypt and west-coast India in the 1980s, and a fictionalised reassembly of the lives of some marginalised characters from the great trading days of about a millenia ago, which appears to be the focus the student's research. Ghosh wonders how much of their lives he can reconstruct, for the figures of history are usually those who have the education, money and power to inscribe themselves on it. Of course what he in fact does is reconstruct their lives through an educated, cashed up and powerful trader who exchanged many letters with his overseas partners and family. The story of how those documents came to be preserved is quite fascinating, but is not teased out enough here. (That would make a great story, the intrigues of colonial times and the tastiest material in the Geniza. Surely someone's done that already.)
There's lots of old Judaic stuff in this book, too much for this non-specialist to really appreciate. There's also a lot of stuff in general that is difficult to appreciate, especially given the apparently low standards and availability of evidence in this scholarly discipline. The present-day stuff is mildly entertaining in the way of all well-told travel stories, but is not spectacularly distinguished. One grows tired of Amitab growing tired of having to be all of India in one man to a provincial community of Egyptians.
Why the interest in the slave anyway? We really only get one detailed event in his life, viz getting turpsed up in Aden.
According to the Smage, the free WiFi at UNSW is being abused something fierce. I especially liked the quote from the MIPI muppet (the local thus-far stealth-mode piracy mafia) to the effect that all the young-uns are one-third unoriginal sin. Missing, I felt, was any mention of that other internet evil, porn, and a statement from the Eros foundation about how their industry is somehow printing money despite large-scale free access. (Don't look at me like that, go tell Conroy (not) to censor Google et al. already.) I'm guessing the general lack of private spaces on the UNSW campus, by design or accident, makes it difficult for the youth to check more boxes on the list of proscribed activities.
Slightly more amusing is the spillover effect that such a decision to cut off the tubes would have on some other groups (coughCSEcough) that took the central admin at their word and began decommissioning their home-grown network access points. I'm sure the university is truly efficient over the long haul, but it must hurt to have to pay those setup and tear-down costs, time and again.
Leavened by some well-used Leonard Cohen songs, especially The Stranger, perhaps the pick of his pre-hoarse years. Altman's western, I guess.
At The Ritz.
Mid-afternoon swim at Little Bay. They're getting serious about building houses in the makeshift carpark, adjacent to the golf course. Pretty soon the beach will be locals-only, due to limited parking. Saw a gazillion fish, including one with a cat-like face and a rippling skirt-like thing for getting around and the old small swordfish-like things. Loads of groper and mobile-seaweed-fish. Some days I wish I had a camera and some clue as to their names.
The water was warm enough in the bay (in a spring suit) but cold-ish past the rocks. The wind would've been painful without the suit, but didn't seem to hamper the best underwater visibility I've had this season.
Fairly poor narrative, even by Bail's low standards. Of course one is reading him for the details, the closely-observed mannerisms, the sparse arid landscape and occasionally slippery punctuation. Characters are somewhat weaker than before, too, and the plot devices, the rising romantic tension, flimsier. A feeling of emptiness (or perhaps an awareness of vacuity) arises on completion. The shadowy central character makes the elementary error of imagining he will find philosophy in the old cities, where the climate is suited to it, little realising that one can only philosophise about what one is born into, it seems to me. Let us quietly ignore the psychoanalytic white elephants.
Reviews were myriad, for Bail is somehow famous despite his laconic output. (Ten years since Eucalyptus? Was anyone holding their breath?) I am glad I read it, but would have preferred a series of short stories, perhaps even meditations, on these themes.
At the Verona with Jen.
I remember Kyle going on about this many years ago... another David Lean, I learnt in retrospect.