Tag-Archive for ◊ objects ◊

• Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Amitav Ghosh was born in 1956 into a middle-class Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, India, to a lieutenant colonel father and a housewife mother. He grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He received a B.A. degree in 1976 and an M.A. degree in 1978 from the University of Delhi followed by a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1982. As well as working as a newspaper reporter and editor, Ghosh also taught at the University of Delhi, the American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City and Queens College in New York.

Amitav Ghosh is a novelist, an essayist and a non-fiction writer. He has received prestigious awards including the Prix Médicis étranger, The Padma Shri, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Frankfurt International e-Book Award and he has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and for the Man Asian Literary Prize. The Shadow Lines, Ghosh’s second novel, published in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.

Ghosh is now a full-time writer. He lives between the USA and India with his wife Deborah Baker,
who is a biographer, an essayist and a senior editor at Little Brown and Company, a publishing house in the USA. The couple have two children.

The Shadow Lines is set against a historical background that moves back and forth from the second world war in England to the nineteen-sixties in India, leading to the eighties and interwoven with the fictitious lives of the characters. The author tackles a specific theme: the power of memory, the art of remembering almost everything and how one can travel, virtually, to various places through one’s memories. The writer brings together, through the main nameless character, various periods of time and series of events experienced by generations of the family and friends in Calcutta, Dhaka and London.

Events start decades before the narrator’s birth and end on the eve of his return from London to Delhi. After becoming a mature young man and after studying in London for one year, he comes to terms with the fact that there is no longer hope of having his beautiful cousin, Ila, share his love now that she is married to Nick and madly in love with him despite their misfitted marriage. Before leaving London the narrator also finds out from May, Tridib’s lover and Mrs Price’s daughter, the truth about the mysterious death of his elder cousin and mentor, Tridib, while visiting Dhaka during the Bangladeshi revolt.

Tridib is a great story-teller, through his tales of London and various other topics like “Mesopotamian stelae, East European jazz, the habits of arboreal apes, the plays of Garcia Lorca, there seem to be no end to things he could talk about”, make everything real for his younger cousin. Both cousins are gifted with vivid memories, an acute sense of perception of the past as well as a strong desire to learn new things to feed their imagination. Additionally, the narrator’s grandmother, through her many stories about Dhaka, where she was born before settling in Calcutta, has “no home but in her memory” and she makes the narrator feel as if he was there with her.

The narrator realises, while sitting on the edge of a camp bed in the cellar back in Raibajar with his beloved cousin, Ila, surrounded by objects that carry a lot of memories, like ghosts of time, that “they were not ghosts at all: the ghostliness was merely the absence of time and distance – for that is all that a ghost is, a presence displaced in time”.

The Shadow Lines is a compassionate, powerfully moving novel in many ways. Ghosh masterfully expresses his thoughts in his eloquent writing. His characters are well depicted in an interesting, vast array of individuality. The narrator is a passionately imaginative recorder of the events and lives of people around him. The young Tridib is an idle, avid, multifarious intellectual. Ila is portrayed as a spoiled, beautiful young bohemian seeking complete freedom in her new world and although born an upper-class Indian, feels devoid of identity. Tha’mma’s husband dies when she is thirty two years old and in order to survive, she works for twenty seven years as a schoolmistress in Calcutta. She is hard working and authoritarian unlike her only sister, Mayadebi, who is richly married and referred to ironically as “Queen Victoria” by her elder sister. There is also the very old friends of Tridib’s family, Mrs Price, and her two children, May and Nick.

The violence in Dhaka and Calcutta described subtly by Ghosh and shown as incomprehensible and aberrant brutality, as in the violent death of the innocent Tridib, sadly still exists today in many other places of the world, e.g. in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Israel, Yemen and Bahrain. In his novel, Ghosh describes shadow lines that create a seemingly unbridgeable gap producing bloodshed. These lines leave their shadows wherever they happen to be. They are irrationally man-made in order to divide people and separate countries artificially. While wars, religions, partitions and violence alienate people and nations, at least the power of memory combined with imagination keeps them united.

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• Friday, May 27th, 2011

Allison Hoover Bartlett was born in Toronto Canada. She is a journalist with a B.A. Degree in English literature from the University of Santa Barbara in the USA and is a member of North 24th Writer’s group and Word of Mouth Bay Area.

She has written articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and other publications about travel, art, science and education. A. H. Bartlett lives with her husband and two children in San Francisco.

Bartlett’s original article on John Gilkey, the obsessed book lover thief, was published in the Best American Crime Reporting of 2007.

Her book, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, published in 2009, is about book theft and book collectors. It’s non-fiction, written in novel form and the two main characters are: an obsessed book lover-collector, the bibliomaniac, John Gilkey and Ken Sanders, his sworn enemy and tracker.

Sanders, is an antiquarian book collector and dealer and in addition to that, a self-assigned dilettante “book detective”. He owns “Ken Sanders Books” in Salt Lake City and is accredited the security chairmanship of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. After receiving several complaints from book dealers about thefts, Sanders becomes obsessed with the arrest of John Gilkey and is determined to have him put behind bars.

Gilkey loves books as objects, as artistic items, regardless of their content. He doesn’t read the books he steals – he collects them in order to attain a certain stature in society with his pricey rare books. He thinks that by assembling an impressive library, he will forge himself a prestigious identity, which he desperately needs as he wants to appear a refined intellectual gentleman. He never steals a book from a shelf, it’s always by credit card fraud – that way he is under the delusion that he isn’t really stealing the books and consequently isn’t a thief.

According to Gilkey’s way of thinking, “all rare book dealers are crooks and fraudsters” so stealing from them is justified by someone like him who insanely loves books and feels the urge to acquire them but can’t afford them. This shows how much Gilkey lives in his own world and has completely lost touch with reality. The fact that he also wants these valuable books as a source of pecuniary wealth is hidden in his subconscious.

Bartlett questioned Gilkey, his family, Sanders and other book dealer victims of Gilkey’s thefts for three years about their involvement in this whole affair. In an interview, she mentioned the reasons that attracted her to write this book: “ I love books, not just for their content, but the ”thingness” of them and I wanted to explore what that was about”. In other words, how an obsession can turn into a glorified crime.

Perhaps the idea of touching and smelling a book has a rewarding feeling that an audio or electronic book can’t equal, at least for book lovers. As for handling rare, valuable books, it can be an unparalleled, magical experience for an enthusiastic connoisseur to the extent of having a clamshell box made to keep this old printed treasure in. As Gilkey told Bartlett: “when he holds a rare book, he smells its age, feels its crispness, makes sure there’s nothing wrong with it, and opens it up very gently”.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a fascinating story because of its authenticity. An interesting read, which would have been more intense in its impact if the character of the main protagonists were more searched, psychoanalysed and developed. The book would thus have gained more depth.

Gilkey and Sanders psychological behaviour is portrayed briefly by Bartlett as being inconsistent. Gilkey at times appears to be reasonable and sane and at other times seems deranged or irrational in his reasoning. As for Sanders, he appears friendly with Bartlett at the start, before turning hostile and irritated when speaking to her on the phone.

Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable easy read, specially that Bartlett provides a valuable and interesting insight into the world of books and its aficionados, whether it’s book collectors, book dealers, or book kleptomaniacs.