I picked this little splat of a book up because it was lonely and unreviewed on Kindle Unlimited. Despite the joy of a free book, I’m candid below.
The snapshot on this one is that it’s the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers as they meet for a long weekend together. The action only covers a few days and is about a 20-minute read if you’re leisurely about it.
To the positive side, the author paints a good picture of how these two characters are feeling and the situation that brought them to these straits. The man meets the woman with great anticipation and frankly, lust, and the story unfolds as they both realize the price they’ll have to pay for this time together. I wouldn’t call it emotional but it is a very emotionally deep piece.
The only real negative, and it’s a negative which depends to great extent what it is you’re looking for in a 20-minute read, is that anything which can be called is action is entirely internal. There’s no excitement or dramatic event, it’s just a rather slow dawning of realization.
In summary, this is a solid bit of writing but you have to be in the right mindset for it. It’s the sort of tidbit you might suggest to your mate as a “let’s read and then discuss” piece on a quiet night staying in when the kids are away at grandmas.
This evening I perused a couple of books on Indian culture and jotted down a few notes. This are far from detailed but they are the tidbits that leapt out at me as I read. Note that these are VERY quick notes and I’m sure they’re completely overgeneralized in many cases so correct me if I’m wrong but be gentle, please!
- Gained independence from the British Empire in 1947 becoming, eventually, three different countries:
- West Pakistan; primarily Muslim
- East Pakistan, became Bangladesh in 1971
- India; primarily Hindu
- Interpersonally, Indians like to invest time in others, really getting to know them. In some cases it’s not unusual for an Indian person to want to spend a week or more with someone who is a new business contact
- Indians tend to be intensely curious about Westerners and often gather in crowds around them. They also tend to have much more conversation about family and personal matters than Westerners
- Hinduism or Sanatana dharma, the eternal way of life
- One God – Brahman with three aspects
- Brahma – the creator
- Vishnu – the preserver/sustainer
- Shiva – the completer/destroyer
- Indians do not tend to use toilet paper and are, in fact, rather disgusted by the Western habit of doing so. They wipe with their left hand and wash afterwards. As a result, the left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to touch food.
- Morning tea: 6:30-7:00am, tends to be sweets, eggs, biscuits
- Lunch: 1:00-2:00pm, rice and curries
- Dinner: 8:30pm
- If invited to an Indian’s house for dinner, it tends to be expected that you will be 15-30 minutes late in arriving
- Body Language
- The head and ears are considered sacred, never touch the head of a child
- Pointing with the fingers is considered rude, instead Indians point with a jerk of their chin in the desired direction
- Grasping the ears is considered a sign of sincerity
- A point of confusion is the typical Indian style of head shaking. Shaking back and forth with a bit of sinusoidal tilt is often taken as meaning ‘no’ but in reality indicates fervent agreement
- Traditional Indian greeting is the namaskar with palms together with fingers extended and a slight bow.
- Most Hindus married by walking seven times around a ceremonial fire; this is just part of the ceremony but this seems to be a repeated theme
- It is vitally important for a wife to bear a son; only a son can perform the necessary ceremonies required to save the parents from “put” or hell.
- Daughters are viewed as less desirable because they often require payment of a crippling dowry
- Indian proverb:
- Children from 0-5 should be treated as princes
- Children from 6-16 should be treated as slaves
- Children 16 and older should be treated as friends
- Family groups are very tightly knit and children are always in the presence of many relatives.
- Babies are not allowed to cry but are fed on demand whenever needed. Diapers are not typically worn and children can pee freely wherever
- The bond between mother and son is the strongest in most families
- The bond between wife and husband is next to weakest with only the bond between sisters being weaker
Passage of Time
A little over a week ago I passed the ripe old age of forty years of age. In honor of the non-event I have a few observations to make which I will enumerate below.
- On my fortieth birthday, people that I like, who I can honestly call friends, showed up to have dinner with me as arranged by my fiancee without my knowledge. If I look back on my life five years ago… ten years ago… twenty years ago… I would have considered this impossible. I am not, traditionally, a person who has been able to accumulate connections with other people. I’ve desperately WANTED to do so but somehow lacked the ability. I like people but in the past they have always gravitated away from me. For the first time ever, I don’t feel completely alone in the world.
- On my fortieth birthday, all the people that I’m related to completely failed to so much as speak to me. My mother, who long ago asked me to leave her alone, didn’t say a word. My father, who is busy in his own world, didn’t whisper a syllable. It goes without saying that all the people to whom they are connected were similarly silent. When it comes to family it would seem I am utterly disconnected. I’m not sure I understand why exactly but it is clearly so. Every time someone uses the phrase, “he has a face that only a mother could love” part of me thinks quietly that my face is worse even than that since my mother refuses even to speak to me.
- On my fortieth birthday, I realize that my life has passed any conception that I would have had of it when I was young. I remember as a teenager thinking about the transit of Venus in 2012. To me, that was an event inconceivably far in the future. As of my 40th birthday, I have passed that milestone. There was nothing beyond it. With the passage of 2012 we enter truly the undiscovered country.
- On my fortieth birthday, I may remember my age without counting. In every year before this one when someone has asked me how old I am it required an exercise in mathematics to determine the answer. Now at 40 I think that I might just be able to remember.
The world today is much different than it was in 1972 or 1982 or 1992. I believe personally that it’s better with easy passing decade and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us.
From my younger days as a much older person in a younger person’s body I had some familiarity with the old Topper movies though if the reading of this book is any judge of such things my concept of what the movies were actually ABOUT might be more than a tad askew of reality.
Cosmo Topper is an average American bank executive on holiday in the French Riveria. He’s utterly normal in his generally loose moral fibre and unexceptional in most ways that are worth noting except that he happens to be plagued by the most curious company in the form of four ghosts which haunt his every step and send him on no end of random misadventures. One of the phantom quartet is bent on using Topper solely to supply a good time. Another of the foursome is Cosmo’s mistress and she’s bent on killing him so that they need not be bound by their differing status in the afterlife. The other two simply seem to go in whichever way the wind blows them (as the wispy and non-corporeal are wont to do anyway.)
The most noteable thing about Smith’s novel, aside from its utterly bizarre and original concept (it spawned several movies) is the twisted and writhing manner in which he writes. I realize, of course, that such a phrase coming from me is, at the least, a bit shocking. I look at my own prolix prose and see tendrils that are convoluted far beyond easy human comprehension but Smith makes me look like a grunting Neanderthal by comparison. Smith’s long and sometimes fruitless journeys into metaphor, combined with his copious use of French terms that are unknown to me makes him a real chore to sift through. This combined with the unfamiliar vernacular of the 1930s makes this one a tough nut. That said, if you can grind his prose down to its meaning, you have a good nut, but my attitude going into this was of a book to be easily tossed off in a couple of nights. It came to span four and not without some fair amount of dread when it came time to sit down and read. As example I give you the early description of Cosmo Topper:
Topper, it is to be learned with some relief, was virginal more through circumstance than choice. This does not imply that his was a low and lecherous nature. Nor does it necessarily follow that he was epicurean in such matters. But he did like things nice that way. Most men do, when and if possible.
Topper had been a banker by profession. He still was a husband–an original error of judgement unrectified by time. Habit is a dreadful thing. Once he had commuted without realizing the error of his ways. Most men commute through necessity. Topper had done so ritualistically. In Glendale, USA, the Toppers had been socially solid. All that was changed, but not through Mrs. Topper.
I’ll admit that even after having read the entire book and that exact passage several times, I’m still not EXACTLY sure I understand what he’s saying. At any rate, to the studious and focused reader, this book would no doubt be at least a small riot. Smith’s verbal wit is good though would have benefited from anything even remotely approaching a plot. Like an episode of The Stooges, one is left with the idea that something odd might have happened (one falls short of using the word ‘funny’) but without a common thread to bind events together the result is a handful of milkweed fluff. If nothing else, I suppose, I was amused to hear again the phrase “mon petit chou.” One can never have enough cabbage in one’s life.