thirty-six.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979)

“Small things can start us off in new ways of thinking, and I was started off by the postage stamps of our area. The British administration gave us beautiful stamps. These stamps depicted local scenes and local things; there was one called “Arab Dhow”. It was as though, in those stamps, a foreigner had said, ‘This is what is most striking about this place’. Without that stamp of the dhow I might have taken the dhows for granted. As it was, I learned to look at them. Whenever I saw them tied up at the waterfront I thought of them as something peculiar to our region, quaint, something the foreigner would remark on, something not quite modern, and certainly nothing like the liners and cargo ships that berthed in their own modern docks”

Salim grows up on somewhere on the East Coast of Africa, but his ancestors came from India. Looking to get away from the place, he buys a shop in a city by a bend in the river in the heart of Africa. He arrives in the midst of decolonisation. He watches the city growing, first slowly and then very rapidly under the new government. The new president (or Big Man) must be popular, his face and people are everywhere. Salim admires him and ignores the signs that tell him to leave while he still can.

I could quote every passage from this book. It is a marvellous story about post-colonial Africa and feeling out of place. In some ways the writing style and theme reminded me of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but I definitely liked this book better.

sixteen: eco-terrorism

Mengele Zoo by Gert Nygårdshaug (1989)


First of all: why has this book not been translated?
Somewhere in the South American rainforest a young boy is collecting butterflies. He is aware that the indigenous peoples are being treated badly by the men of power and he decides to kill the leader of the military police. One day his whole village is slaughtered because they are opposing an oil company on their land. The boy escapes and runs into the wilderness where he is found by a magician. As they travel around South America he sees that multinational companies are killing the land and he decides to win the land back. A few years later he and three friends scare and amaze the world with the eco-terrorist group Mariposa.

It is beautiful yet a brutal book. Magic realism with amazing descriptions of the environment. Not a bad thing to say about it. Strongly recommended. And the next time I’m near a book store I’m buying the sequel, Himmelblomsttreets muligheter.

It reminded me a lot of another brilliant book with the same theme, the Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) by Edward Abbey. This one is about the damming of the Colorado River and a group of people who start blowing up construction supplies and bridges. Where Mengele Zoo is serious and sad, the Monkey Wrench Gang is a lot of action and also funny. Yet there are a lot of similarities, like the ideologies behind the terrorism and the love for mother nature.