Some voices are so distant and forbidden, to hear then is nearly miraculous. Add to that an unexpected source for this connection. But most surprising and disarming are the qualities of these voices: beautiful, witty and piercing.
The book “Landays” by Eliza Griswold provides all these surprises: published by Poetry as their June 2013 issue, it is a book that features short poetry from Afghan women. Quotes below are from the text.
It is a work of many voices, with context carefully crafted by the author. The text is beautifully augmented with photographs by Seamus Murphy, too. But mainly it is the Afgan women who speak through Landays, an art form of short poetry. Landays are couplets, often sung aloud among women, sometimes to the beat of a hand drum. It is a form of expression for women, from behind a burqa-like cloak of secrecy from the public, and in particular the men.
“Usually in a village or a family one woman is more skilled at singing landays than others, yet men have no idea who she is. Much of an Afghan woman’s life involves a cloak-and-dagger dance around honor — a gap between who she seems to be and who she is.”
Sometimes gentle sounding, the Landays can strike like sledgehammer blows. They have a “beauty, bawdiness, and wit’ as well as “a piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love.”
This book made me think about these people and their lives and what they wake up to. such passion they have, and I feel their passion is the alternative to being immobilized by all the harshness in their lives. It connects with their circumstances and culture. it is an affirmation of the strongest kind.
And the history of the art for is interesting, too.
“One leading theory of the landays’ origin traces back to the Bronze Age arrival of Indo-Aryan caravans to Afganistan, Pakistan, and India around 1700 BCE. These poems could have evolved out of communication through call and response back and forth over a long caravan train. Many of the poems refer back to this nomadic way of life, as well as to the moon, flowers, nature. As ancient songs, they are thought to be related to the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures at least five thousand years old and comprised of couplets called slokas, not unlike landays, except that they are 16 rather than 22 syllables long.”
Again, the archaeology of language and culture. Fascinating, this world.
I read this as a part of the 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books Reading Challenge 2013.
Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift is book with many charms. The road trip is an unhurried ramble with her new husband around northwestern France. Two Americans on a honeymoon, on one level. But there are many levels to this book. It is personal, and includes her thoughtful insights on the delights and demands of the country from her long experience with it. And she weaves in some uncommonly wise tips and advice about travel and wry comparisons of journeys with relationships. “Whatever doesn’t make you go home makes you stronger,” she says. Which gives a hint that there are low points to this journey, not just high points. “Travel, as we all know, is a heightened experience,” she says. “That’s why we love it so. But that intensity also has a down side.” She illustrates this with a side trip with her new husband to visit megaliths of Brittany, and all the mishaps and missteps and misunderstandings and misconceptions that can converge on a journey day to make the mood turn negative. Yet there is a sense of joy that permeates the pages of this book, including in her many watercolor illustrations, samples of which appear on the cover. There is a lightheartedness here that I found completely disarming.
História, História, by Eleanor Stanford is a contrast. It is a soul bearing unlike any I have read before. Another American couple, she and her boyfriend join the Peace Corps and are sent to work in the Cape Verde islands off western Africa. They teach school there and gradually get to know local people and learn the culture. It is a fascinating glimpse, connecting language and history and place and what they see happening around them. But all of this is a backdrop to darkness gathering, something happening to her, and affecting the relationship between them. It is such a naked honest account, and completely real.
História, História is one of those books that make it hard to find a next book. It stays with me. I see myself there in some ways, in a situation that is adventurous but stressful. And she makes me understand how there could be kind of high in it for her as things unraveled. Confounding, paradoxical, yet tangible, despite all the obvious negatives. This naked honesty, so uncomfortable that it is painful, also is refreshing. It is a very special book that lets you into her life in ways that most books on true life experiences never do. And the way things work out will surprise you.
História, História can be downloaded here
I read these as a part of the 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books Reading Challenge 2013.
‘The Tao of Travel’ is a sampler of travel writing from different authors and times, collected by Paul Theroux. It is also, in part, an appreciation by one travel writer of many others. And it seems like an exercise in self promotion as well, in my opinion. The many excerpts are gathered into short chapter themes with the author framing the context and providing his own quotes and comments. The book introduced me to writers of whom I was not aware. And from them there are so many memorable excerpts. For example, from Freya Stark, a line that reveals an essential theme of this book’s Tao: “One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it inot a healthy private pattern of one’s own…”
As a part of the 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books Reading Challenge 2013, this is a read that includes every continent and provides some excellent possibilites for the next book.
Ways of Going Home is about many things. Things that depend upon and influence one another, like in life itseslf. Ways of Gong Home is deceptively small and easy to read. He includes little observations that have a very special, playful yet thoughtful quality. You get a feel for Chile in times of earthquakes, both political and the other kind. Among other things, it is a story concerning relationships within families, and with lovers and others. And there are his observations about writing, about being a writer. I was surprised after finishing it to see how young he is. It seems like he would have to be older to have such insight. It is another aspect of the sleight of pen characterizing this work, which seems at times like a collection of fragments, but somehow turns out to be more that the sum of those pieces.
I read this book in part to devote some focus to other cultures and continents. If you are interested, details here.
Getting a jump on the reading challenge, and also exploring graphic storytelling, I read a Japanese book, “Fallen Words” by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It is a remarkable dunk in another culture, which I know is one of the objectives of the challenge. To me it was a perfect start to exploring other cultures through books. Fallen Words is a graphic book of stories that draw on (forgive the pun) traditional forms of storytelling. Even to begin puts you into mild culture shock. Like a text in Japanese, the book is read what we would consider backwards, starting with the cover, which is what we would consider the back cover. and each page is the same. You start at the top right of the right page and read the panels right to left and down, then go to the left page. It is something that would not work on an e-reader, so I am glad to have the paper book here. The stories depicted in Fallen Words give interesting glimpses into Japanese culture. In one poetic story, there is an innkeeper who lets a traveler stay there after the traveler claims to be wealthy. But he turns out to have no money. so in payment the guest paints some sparrows on a screen in the inn. After the traveler has gone, the innkeeper and his wife are shocked and delighted to find that each morning the birds leave the painting and fly outside, and after feeding they return to the screen. These amazing birds become a draw to others who then want to stay at the inn. but there is more woven into this magical theme.
There are eight stories in this book, each with a moral. The stories are surprising, often funny, and rich in cultural history. A good beginning to a challenge to deovte some time and focus to the other cultures and continents among the seven billion others sharing this planet.