Daily Archives: December 3, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: from the Snow Child to….

As usual, I haven’t read the starting book that Kate has chosen for the Six Degrees of Separation at her Books Are My Favourite and Best blog. This meme involves Kate choosing the starting book (in this case The Snow Child by Eowin Ivey) and then you associating book titles by whatever obscure link you want: by title, time read, theme….whatever.

I haven’t read The Snow Child but I have read Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country. In it, a disillusioned and cynical writer returns to a hot spring resort in the off-season, where he meets a geisha. She falls in love with him but he never reciprocates: instead he observes her and her decline quite dispassionately. The setting is very evocative with huge snow drifts making the resort seem quite isolated and her frenetic workload,with several parties in one night, contrasts with his ennui and rootlessness.

Speaking of snow, there’s also Palden Gyatso’s Fire Under the Snow but the two books are very different. This is the book that aroused my commitment to Amnesty International, as it tells the story of a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned for 33 years by the Chinese authorities. As the son of a landowner, he was particularly targeted and moved from prison to prison, where he was tortured and subjected to many beatings by his cell-mates as a form of institutionalized humiliation. If anything, he became even more radical during his second period of imprisonment and when he was finally released, he became aware of the strength of resistance within Tibet generally. It is gently told, without rancour, and it made me realize the importance for political prisoners to know that people ‘outside’ are aware of their plight and that they will not die without trace.

Still more snow and another Japanese writer. Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow is the first in his Sea of Fertility tetraology. A controversial right wing figure, the author ended up committing suicide after an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1970. I don’t think I knew that when I started reading the book. Set in 1912, the main character Kiyoaki Matsugae’s family is part of the provincial elite which needs to tie itself in with the aristocracy, and as such his family encourages him to develop his gentility through the neighbours, the Ayakuras, who have adopted Western Ways. Kiyoaki is at first dismissive of the flirtations of Satoko, but when she becomes engaged to an Imperial Price, he becomes infatuated and embarks on an affair with her.

Leaving the snow behind, let’s launch into another season -in this case, autumn- with Gabriel Garciá Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch. Actually, I didn’t really enjoy this book, and I found it very difficult to read, made even worse because my e-reader kept crashing as I bought it as part of an omnibus edition of GGM’s works. The story is about an unnamed dictator in an unnamed Caribbean island, who just does not die. Well – he does, ostensibly, in the first chapter where he engages a double to deflect any assassination attempts, and the double dies as a result. But in the succeeding chapters, his death is foreshadowed, but he just doesn’t die. In a decrepit palace that is invaded with creepy-crawlies during the night, the Patriarch wanders from room to room, locking up the house, playing dominoes with other old dictators that he has imprisoned, raping the young women in the women’s quarters until he finally falls asleep on the floor, his arms cradling his head, only to wake up again the next morning and do it all again. You can read my bad-tempered review here.

There’s definitely a killing in Kate Holden’s The Winter Road and the victim certainly does die. This non-fiction book tells the story of the murder of Glen Turner, a ranger employed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage by Ian Turnbull, a landholder at Croppa Creek who felt that his rights were being infringed by government regulations against landclearing. The author shuttles between reportage and reflection on a real-life crime which extends beyond a cold dirt road in Croppa Creek to a broader meditation on land, legacy and its meaning not just for Ian Turnbull and Glen Turner, but for both black and white Australians more generally. It’s excellent. Read my review here https://residentjudge.com/2022/04/09/the-winter-road-by-kate-holden/

Now, I must say that the UK is not the first place that I think of when I say the word “heatwave”, although as recent summers have shown us, they are becoming more common that we could ever have imagined. Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave is set against the 1976 heatwave that roasted London with sixteen consecutive days over 30 degrees. English houses are not built for heat, and water restrictions were imposed. On a hot July morning in 1976, recently retired Robert Riordan gets up from the breakfast table and announces that he’ll pop out to get the newspaper. He doesn’t come back. His wife of 40 years, Gretta waits a little while, then calls her children. All three children come home to help find their father, trailing their disappointments, anxieties, tensions and resentments behind them. Just as oppressive as the heat was the venom of their family arguments and the burden of secrets and pain that family brings. (My review here https://residentjudge.com/2014/11/28/instructions-for-a-heatwave-by-maggie-ofarrell/)

So my six degrees has crunched around in the snow before launching into a sequence of books related to the different seasons of the year. I’ve been to Japan, Tibet, the Caribbean, outback NSW and London. All without leaving my desk.