Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty, Avram Davidon and Grania Davis
--normally I like Avram Davidson in an 'old reliable' way. Not likely to knock my socks off anymore, but still. This ought to have been more fun than it was-- the Polos, père, oncle et fils, travelling along the Silk Road and down into Indochina, through India and Tibet and home on the Grand Canal to Kublai Khan's city, meeting sea dragons and guardian generals and men with dog's heads and the odd stray Norse berserker on the way, with a guest appearance by The Great Sage Equal to Heaven. Would have made a good manga, probably, but had no high points or (oddly for Davidson) felicities of style to carry it. And so many '--'s and '...'s it read like a beginner's fanfic.
"It is this," said Hua T'o, gesturing with his ivory-handled walking stick... and eyeing their bulging ration-bags with equal interest.Lud-in-the-Mist
His bold horsemen nipped and bit at Kublai's western flanks-- like the howling wolves of the steppes.
"If you do not feed me at once, I will tell the Lady you were cruel to me... and I will pout and refuse to muse her with my banter."
--rather fun, and no I haven't seen the movie, and now I certainly won't
Afternoon Raag by Amit Chaudhury
--Sidewalk book, meaning I picked it off someone's sidewalk where it had been put out as an offering to passersby, in the pleasant habit of my neighbourhood. Odd funhouse mirror effect, where Indians in Oxford become me in Tokyo:
Because, for a foreigner and a student, the room one wakes and sleeps in becomes one's first friend, the only thing with which one establishes a relationship that is natural and unthinking, its air and light what one shares with one's thoughts, its deep, unambiguous space, whether in daytime, or in darkness when the light has been switched off, what gives one back to oneself.The narrator's pre-Oxford Indian life is told mostly in present tense, his Oxford life in past, and the two interleave without transition. The effect is to make India real and Oxford something long ago and far away, which is exactly what Oxford is for me, the time or two I was there and, rather more, the concept of Oxford for a classics student in the '70s who'd grown up reading biographies of men who'd been to Oxford. I had an account at Blackwell's so I could get texts I needed, and Oxford for me was the dry dusty scholarly smell of Tutti i verbi grecci.
The Oxford sections held, evanescently and now untraceable, another moment of instant timetravel, back to the university world and its plethora of people, a lavishness of population not found anywhere since university until the net. The net of course doesn't present you with them face to face; but missing also is the flexibility of being young, when you can in fact become good friends with people you wouldn't take the time to talk to if you were both forty.
The Fifth Elephant (reread)
The Last Continent