Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How A Book Saved Me

Roy Kesey Week continues over at The Elegant Variation. Be sure and check out the Nothing in the World Contest.

Here's my entry:

You’re on an assignment in Kazakhstan, which you accepted because you’re an Asia specialist and this is supposed to be Asia. (Hah!) It’s mid-winter and Almaty’s Soviet-era central heating doesn’t work because Kazakhstan can’t pay Uzbekistan for fuel. TV programs are in Russian and your college Russky is rusty. (Da!) The internet hasn’t been invented. You don’t drink vodka. Yet.

Fortunately, you brought a book. You brought several, but it is 1066-page Raintree County that keeps you sane. “Yes, sir, here’s the Glorious Fourth again.” The author is a brilliant Indianan (like yourself!), tragic, his Joycean masterpiece made into a sappy movie that doesn’t do justice to the book’s encyclopedic scope, or fundamental American themes.

You’re inside, but your breath hangs frozen in the air. You’re wearing your parka, your feet propped on the space heater you carry from room to room. You read. “Mr. John Wickliff Shawnessy I presume?” You are momentarily distracted by the curtainless couple across Ulitsa Tulabaeva, but you keep reading. “He would pursue awhile his ancient pastime . . .”

Next day at the office, your meeting with the Justice Ministry is cancelled, the class you teach falls flat, you slip on ice and bruise your ass, the greasy lunch mutton threatens to repeat itself. All afternoon.

You skip dinner with colleagues because they’ve found the bar scene. You go home, fire up the heater and read: “And so Johnny Shawnessy passed through the years of his childhood steeping himself in legends old and new.”

2 comments:

Alicia said...

You was robbed ...

Clifford Garstang said...

Thanks, Alicia. I liked yours a lot, too--but then I'm a sucker for China stories. The one time I needed and found cold medicine in China it made me even sicker . . .