In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

The Tramp at Piraeus ★★★☆☆

  • Greek civility was something we had left on shore; it belonged perhaps to idleness, unemployment and pastoral despair.
  • But what’s nationality these days? I myself, I think of myself as a citizen of the world.
  • His speech was like this, full of dates, places and numbers, with sometimes a simple opinion drawn from another life. But it was mechanical, without conviction; even the vanity made no impression; those quivering wet eyes remained distant.

One Out of Money ★★★★☆

  • Those evening chats on the pavement, those morning walks: happy times, but they were like the happy times of childhood: I didn’t want them to return.
  • ‘Like me. They have a saying here. If you can’t beat them, join them. I joined them. They are still beating me.’ He sighed and spread his arms on the top of the red wall-seat. ‘Ah, Santosh, why do we do it? Why don’t we renounce and go and meditate on the riverbank?’ He waved about the room. ‘The yemblems of the world, Santosh. Just yemblems.’
  • I liked to feel I had to do things perfectly; I felt I was earning my freedom. Though I was in hiding, and though I worked every day until midnight, I felt I was much more in charge of myself than I had ever been.
  • And it was strange, I thought, that sorrow lasts and can make a man look forward to death, but the mood of victory fills a moment and then is over.
  • I was once part of the flow, never thinking of myself as a presence. Then I looked in the mirror and decided to be free. All that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge that I have a face and have a body, that I must feed this body and clothe this body for a certain number of years. Then it will be over.

Tell Me Who to Kill ★★★★★

  • Just like my brother. He choose a bad morning to get married. Cold and wet, the little country parts between towns white rather than green, mist falling like rain, fields soaking, sometimes a cow standing up just like that. The little streams have a dirty milky colour and some of them are full of empty tins and other rubbish. Water everywhere, just like back home after a heavy shower in the rainy season, only the sky is not showing in the places where the water collect, and the sun is not coming out to heat up everything and steam it dry fast.
  • Then that pass, and it is town again, and town again, and then the whole place is like one big town, everything brown, everything of brick or iron or rusty galvanize, like a big wet rubbish dump. And my heart drop and my stomach feel small.
  • For the rich and the professional the world is not ordinary. I know, I see them. Where you build a hut, they build a mansion; where you have mud and a para-grass field, they have a garden; when you kill time on a Sunday, they have parties. We all come out of the same pot, but some people move ahead and some people get left behind. Some people get left behind so far they don’t know and they stop caring.
  • He feel he win. He do nothing; he just wait and win. But I remember my own hate, the hate that make me sick, and I feel I kill all of them.
  • The mystery land is theirs, the stranger is you. None of those houses in the rain there belong to you. You can’t see yourself walking down those streets set down so flat on that cliff. But that is where you have to go, and as soon as everybody get down in the launch with their luggage the ship hoot. It is white and big and safe, it is saying goodbye, it is in a hurry to get away and to leave you behind. The Technicolor is over, the picture change. Now is only noise and rush and luggage, train and traffic. This is it, and already you are like a man in blinkers.
  • But it is so when you get too happy. You forget too much. That hundred pounds make me forget myself. It give me ideas. It make me forget why I am in London. I want to feel more than safe now. I want to see that money grow, I want to see the clerks writing in my book in their different handwriting every week.
  • How a man could fool himself like that? Look at these streets now. Look at these things and people I never did see. They have their life too; the city is theirs. I don’t know where I thought I was, behaving as though the city was a ghost city, working by itself, and that it is something I discover by myself. Frank will never understand. He will never see the city I see; he will never understand how I work like that.
  • He is my friend, the only friend I have. I alone know how much he help me, from how far he bring me back. But he is digging me all the time because he prefer to see me weak. He like opening up manholes for me to fall in; he is anxious to push me down in the darkness.
  • They only dress up and come to make trouble. Sometimes they eat and don’t pay; sometimes they mash up plates and glasses and bend the cudery. That become like their hobby, a lot of them against me alone. That is their bravery and education. And nobody on my side.
  • But these people come for the day; they are happy, they have buses to take them back to their hotels; they have countries to go back to, they have houses. The sadness I feel make my heart seize.
  • But it is different tonight. I am fighting for nothing here. They are provoking me. But they give me strength. Samson get back his hair, he is strong. Nothing can touch him. He is going back on the ship, and no matter how black the water is at night, in the morning it will be blue. Just for a little bit more he must be strong, and he will leave. He will go away and let the dust fall and the rats come.
  • Frank touch me on the arm. I am glad he touch me, but I shrug his hand away. I know it isn’t true, but I tell myself he is on the other side, with those others, looking at me without looking at me. I know it isn’t true about Frank because, look, he too is nervous. He want to be alone with me; he don’t like being with his own people. It isn’t like being on a bus or in a cafe, where he can be like a man saying: I protect this man with me. It is different here outside the church, with the two of us standing on the pavement on one side, and the other sad people standing on another side, the sun red like an orange, the trees hardly throwing a shadow, the grass wild all around the brick church.
  • I love them. They take my money, they spoil my life, they separate us. But you can’t kill them. O God, show me the enemy. Once you find out who the enemy is, you can kill him. But these people here they confuse me, who hurt me? Who spoil my life? Tell me who to beat back. I work four years to save my money, I work like a donkey night and day. My brother was to be the educated one, the nice one. And this is how it is ending, in this room, eating with these people. Tell me who to kill.

In a Free State ★☆☆☆☆

  • Africa here was decor. Glamour for the white visitor and expatriate; glamour too for the African, the man flushed out from
  • the bush, to whom, in the city, with independence, civilization appeared to have been granted complete. It was still a colonial city, with a colonial glamour. Everyone in it was far from home.
  • And the cloth cap was like part of his elusiveness. The cap made the Zulu appear now as a dandy, now as an exploited labourer from the South African mines, now as an American minstrel, and sometimes even as the revolutionary he had told Bobby he was.
  • At night in every suburb the bush began there, on the highway. Every week men of the forest came to settle in the usurped city. They brought only the skills of the forest; they found no room; and at night they prowled the city’s
  • unenclosed spaces.
  • ‘I always felt I should be enjoying myself, but I never seemed to. The day would go on and on, and I could never find much to do. The summer always made me feel I was missing a lot. I preferred the autumn. I was much more in control then. To me autumn is the great season of renewal. All very girlish, I’m sure.’
  • ‘There’s a splendid thing I read by Somerset Maugham somewhere. He’s not much admired now, I know. But he said that if you wanted only the best and held out for it, really held out, you usually got it. I must say I’ve begun to feel like that. I feel we can always do what we really want to do.’
  • When I was a girl lapping up my Somerset Maugham and learning about the great world I never dreamt that so much of my married life would have been spent anguishing about things like “terms of service”.
  • Bobby and Linda were enclosed by green; the highway was hidden. Not far ahead of them a line of trees, some white and leafless, marked the course of a stream. Beyond that the land sloped up again, parkland. ‘Like England,’ Linda said. ‘Or Africa.’
  • The pullover, rough with little burrs of dirt, fitted; and the shirt, oily and black around the collar, with two or three old tidemarks of sweat, was like a second skin.
  • It was a face as plain as the president’s in the photograph, showing age alone rather than a quality of experience. Liveliness and emotion lay only in the eyes.
  • The wood of a fairy-tale, far from home: what was so recently man-made, after the forests had been cut down and the forest-dwellers flushed out and dismissed, what had perhaps been intended only as an effect of art in a landscape made secure, had become natural. It spoke of an absence of men, danger. Bobby thought of the king, hunted from the sky. He looked up.
  • Carter said, ‘You colonialists did pretty well.’ ‘What a lovely word,’ Linda said. ‘One so seldom hears it in conversation. You make it sound very big and technical.’
  • The car bumped and bumped. The trees dripped. Through black overhanging leaves they had a glimpse beyond far peaks of a small mountain lake, grey, like the sky. A roadside jacaranda had freshly shed its purple flowers, a brushing of delicate colour on the rock and mud of the road: they went over it.
  • This resort hadn’t been built for tourists in Africa; it had been created by people who thought they had come to Africa to stay, and looked in a resort for a version of the things of home: a park, a pier, a waterside promenade. Now, after the troubles across the lake, after independence and the property scare, after the army mutiny, after the white exodus South and the Asian deportations, after all these deaths, the resort no longer had a function.
  • He was in a car with a woman whose identity he couldn’t be sure of. They were quarrelling. Everything she said was accurate; everything was wounding; and though to everything there was a reply, he couldn’t explain himself. He had to shout above her shouts; he was screaming; and as they sped along the empty road, dangerously, the wheel jumping in his hands, she wounded him and wounded him, more and more deeply; and there was rage and ache in his head, which seemed about to explode. He was no longer in the car. He was standing beside a table in a room full of people and chatter; and his exploding head made him collapse and stretch out right there, before them, on the floor.

The Circus at Luxor ★★☆☆☆

  • Perhaps that had been the only pure time, at the beginning, when the ancient artist, knowing no other land, had learned to look at his own and had seen it as complete. But it was hard, travelling back to Cairo, looking with my stranger’s eye at the fields and the people who worked in them, the dusty towns, the agitated peasant crowds at railway stations, it was hard to believe that there had been such innocence. Perhaps that vision of the land, in which the Nile was only water, a blue-green chevron, had always been a fabrication, a cause for yearning, something for the tomb.
  • Seventeen months later these men, or men like them, were to know total defeat in the desert; and news photographs taken from helicopters flying down low were to show them lost, trying to walk back home, casting long shadows on the sand.

 

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Memories are microscopic. Tiny particles that swarm together and apart. Little people, Edison called them. Entities. He had a theory about where they came from and that theory was outer space.
  • Life equals structure plus activity.
  • Just after we married, the cough went away. So what was it, I wonder? Loneliness?
  • The Manicheans believed the world was filled with imprisoned light, fragments of a God who destroyed himself because he no longer wished to exist. This light could be found trapped inside man and animals and plants, and the Manichean mission was to try to release it. Because of this, they abstained from sex, viewing babies as fresh prisons of entrapped light.
  • What did you do today, you’d say when you got home from work, and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote for you out of nothing.
  • I walked up and down the hall, listening to him talk to you about the end of everything. The invention of the ship is also the invention of the shipwreck, he was saying.
  • In the past, we’d talked about books and other people, but now we talked only of our respective babies, hers sweet-faced and docile, mine at war with the world. We applied our muzzy intellects to a theory of light. That all are born radiating light but that this light diminished slowly (if one was lucky) or abruptly (if one was not). The most charismatic people—the poets, the mystics, the explorers—were that way because they had somehow managed to keep a bit of this light that was meant to have dimmed. But the shocking thing, the unbearable thing it seemed, was that the natural order was for this light to vanish. It hung on sometimes through the twenties, a glint here or there in the thirties, and then almost always the eyes went dark.
  • None of this is banal, if only you would attend to it.
  • A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.
  • What Kant said: What causes laughter is the sudden transformation of a tense expectation into nothing.
  • I will leave you, my love. Already I am going. Already I watch you speaking as if from a great height. Already the feel of your hand on my hand, of your lips on my lips, is only curious. It is decided then.
  • But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

Sing to It by Amy Hempel

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • They knew me as one who made their beds less neatly over the course of a difficult evening, who thought of the artist whose young daughter came to visit his studio, pointed to the painting she liked, and asked, “Why didn’t you make them all good?”
  • They knew me as one who asked them stupid questions—“How did you get so cute?”—and answered the questions stupidly, saying on behalf of the giddy dog, “I was born cute and kept getting cuter.”
  • They knew me as one who loved in them what I recoiled from in people: the patent need, the clinging, the appetite. They knew me as one who saw their souls in their faces, who had never seen eyes more expressive than theirs in colors of clover honey, root beer, riverbed,
  • They knew me as one who got jacked up on rage and didn’t know what to do with it, until a dog dug a ball from a corner of his kennel and brought it to my side, as though to ask, “Have you thought of this?”
  • Then she made the classic mistake of taking the exotic out of its element. She took her husband home and turned him into what she could easily have found without leaving Illinois. Macario did not hold it against her, but Lauryn came to blame him for the same things that drew her to him first.
  • I knew I was supposed to be angry with him, not with her. She was not the first. She was the first he would not give up. But I could not summon the feelings pointed in the right direction.
  • Trees take root, and I thought I could too—if I had enough trees to learn from.
  • You adore them for having a hundred percent of something that you have only sixty-five of, but see that most people have even less of, which is why most people don’t interest you much. If the one hundred percent you’re transfixed by will sacrifice a fraction of his endowment and you can add a little bit to yours, you’ll both be at a formidable ninety percent—approximately equally exalted, since you’ll be further than average folks can ever dream of being. You’ll be set then.
  • What if you are someone who does not know when something is over? What if you are the last one standing when others have left the concert, the theater, the crime-addled city, the busted love affair? What if you look for a sign and a sign doesn’t come. Or a sign comes but you miss it.
  • Sometimes I forget why I did not end it. I think that if I could not find a place I felt at home, I was carrying someone who was at home, at least for those months.
  • You must keep your gaze turned outward. Pay attention to others. Don’t fall back on what is waiting to take you down. Or choose to fall back on it, with arms flung out at your sides.
  • I bought a pair of earrings made of green aventurine. I’d hoped a “d” had been left out by accident, but no. Though it’s “adventurine” when anyone asks me.
  • Thank God we can’t yet photograph a conscience, or a crisis of confidence, or a lapse in moral rigor, or the next thing over from regret.
  • I am the one to tell a secret to; I won’t remember it no matter how incendiary.

A Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.
  • He was always off and away; roaming deep in the forest, swimming in the pools of the River Ar that like all Gontish rivers runs very quick and cold, or climbing by cliff and scarp to the heights above the forest, from which he could see the sea, that broad northern ocean where, past Perregal, no islands are.
  • She knew nothing of the Balance and the Pattern which the true wizard knows and serves, and which keep him from using his spells unless real need demands. She had a spell for every circumstance, and was forever wearing charms.
  • The tongue they speak there is not like any spoken in the Archipelago or the other Reaches, and they are a savage people, white-skinned, yellowhaired, and fierce, liking the sight of blood and the smell of burning towns.
  • There had been no weapons in the village but hunting bows and short knives, for the mountain folk of Cont are not warlike; it is not warriors they are famous for, but goat-thieves, sea pirates, and wizards.
  • But need alone is not enough to set power free: there must be knowledge.
  • For to keep dark the mind of the mageborn, that is a dangerous thing.”
  • “When will my apprenticeship begin, Sir?” “It has begun,” said Ogion. There was a silence, as if Ged was keeping back something he had to say. Then he said it: “But I haven’t learned anything yet!” “Because you haven’t found out what I am teaching,” replied the mage,
  • Manhood is patience. Mastery is nine times patience.
  • “The wise don’t need to ask, the fool asks in vain,”
  • But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”
  • Ged sighed sometimes, but he did not complain. He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.
  • In the latter months of his own long sickness the Master Herbal had taught him much of the healer’s lore, and the first lesson and the last of all that lore was this: Heal the wound and cure the illness, but let the dying spirit go.
  • From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.
  • He spoke, as did Ged, in the Old Speech, for that is the tongue of dragons still. Although the use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it, twisting the true words to false ends, catching the unwary hearer in a maze of mirrorwords each of which reflects the truth and none of which leads anywhere.
  • That thing was bodiless, blind to sunlight, a creature of a lightless, placeless, timeless realm. It must grope after him through the days and across the seas of the sunlit world, and could take visible shape only in dream and darkness.
  • The crewmen of Andradean and Gontish ships are partners in the trade, working together for a common profit, whereas traders of Osskil use slaves and bondsmen or hire men to row, paying them with small coins of gold. Gold is a great thing in Osskil. But it is not a source of good fellowship there,
  • It began to seem to him that he had walked forever and would walk forever beside this silent being through a silent darkening land. Caution and intention were dulled in him. He walked as in a long, long dream, going no place.
  • He could not see things plainly. He had come to this tower-keep by chance, and yet the chance was all design; or he had come by design and yet all the design had merely chanced to come about.
  • “He who throws away his power is filled sometimes with a far greater power,”
  • Once his will was captured by the power of the Stone, then they would let the shadow into the walls, for a gebbeth was a better slave even than a man.
  • He had almost yielded, but not quite. He had not consented. It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.
  • And no one knows how many of the dolphins that leap in the waters of the Inmost Sea were men once, wise men, who forgot their wisdom and their name in the joy of the restless sea.
  • A man would know the end he goes to, but he cannot know it if he does not turn, and return to his beginning, and hold that beginning in his being.
  • “Aye,” Ged answered. “Light is a power. A great power, by which we exist, but which exists beyond our needs, in itself. Sunlight and starlight are time, and time is light. In the sunlight, in the days and years, life is.
  • On the dock Yarrow stood and watched them go, as sailor’s wives and sisters stand on all the shores of all Earthsea watching their men go out on the sea, and they do not wave or call aloud, but stand still in hooded cloak of grey or brown, there on the shore that dwindles smaller and smaller from the boat while the water grows wide between.
  • He would talk only of the great serpent that was eating at the foundations of Pelimer so that soon the island must go adrift like a boat cut from her moorings, and slide out over the edge of the world.
  • And he began to see the truth, that Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole: a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark.

The Successor by Ismael Kadare

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • As often happens to people who stave off asking dangerous questions by showing uncommon interest in matters they believe much safer, gossipers kept on circling back to the issue of whether or not what was forbidden to others might be permitted the Successor.
  • But poison would have tasted sweet compared to the true horror of such event! An event that would have plunged Albania into everlasting sorrow. For it would have signified a relaxation of the class struggle, and that would have borne a blow to the very heart of what had been the country’s pride for more than forty years. The country’s very Constitution, the foundation of its victories and its fame, rested solely on the principle of ever greater firmness, of never letting up!
  • The Albania files had come to give their users such troubles that, even if they did not admit it to themselves, their desire to see the short-term upheaval in the country settle down, and to see those files once again gathering dust, became almost noticeable.
  • The only way you can get a grip on a place overcome by paranoia is by becoming a little paranoid yourself.
  • Any other desk would be better, even one with an abysmal reputation, like the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, or some African countries with frontiers that were less a reflection of political changes than of the desert winds, as they had been centuries earlier.
  • It was his third unearthing! Every tack and turn in the political line exercised its primary effect on human remains, not on the national economy.
  • The kind of freedom that humans call “the peace of the grave”, without really appreciating it insofar as they usually experience it only as they die, had, in this particular case, become available to him a little ahead of time.
  • Out of the corner of his eye he studied her wavy auburn hair, as if he was trying to guess what path the thoughts beneath it were taking.
  • He and his comrades had other kinds of pleasures, what with their congresses, their flags, their anthems, and their cemetery of National Martyrs, whereas she only had him…his body…his inexhaustible body…
  • He took the view that crimes moved house with people, until they found walls within which they could hide. If the crimes hadn’t been committed within these walls, then they had taken place elsewhere.
  • His father’s blood was different from blood that had been spilled, it flowed in a different direction, belonged to a different group. Just as their mother’s breasts were different. His father, his mother, his blood, her milk, were ruled by different laws.
  • Everything seemed to her to come down to one blinding, unbearable core: for years, in one way or another, what had been required of her was always one and the same thing – to renounce her love. And they always won.
  • Meanwhile, the cleaners who were clearing up the meeting halls, opening doors and windows to let in some air, were surprised by the odd smell that filled the place. It was different from the odour of feet, sheep-wax, and sour milk they had encountered after the assembly of top-ranking herders. It was another smell, one that had been getting more common recently. It was the smell bodies make when they are afraid.
  • An unhealthy knot made of strands of blind rancour and of unreleased imprecations like: are you standing around so as to get a better view of my fall?
  • The text he finally retrieved was quite brief. According to its author, the brain of a tyrant often worked according to what might be called the “architecture of terror”. Terror was constructed backwards, like dreams, which is to say, starting from the end. Then, in a flash, sometimes in a mere second or even less, the entire part was suddenly filled in.
  • Knowing the secrets of everybody around you was indisputably a blessing, but not knowing them was close to sublime. He’d only recently come to understand that, and it left him in a state of great calm. His blindness had no doubt helped him toward such serenity.
  • First they felt like applauding him, then they fell into silent lamentation, then joy regained the upper hand! Oh Guide, Oh our leader, tell us what irks thee! They pleaded in their minds. Tell us all you know about that Judas, even if it’s hard for you. Feed us the poison with your own hand, watch us writhing in pain like chimeras, watch us fall on one another, tearing our neighbours’ flesh with our teeth; then, as breath leaves us, crawl to your feet and lie there until we die.
  • Pain and entreaty were writ so large on her face that I swore to myself I would never again yield to temptation.
  • Sometimes when I looked over the drawings I said to myself: this is the residence of a Communist sovereign. A private dwelling in a country where collective property is the rule. An androgynous building half build under the monarchy, and built now. That’s why it had such a foreign look, like something from very far away. Like a dream.
  • There is no art without grieving. Which is precisely what constitutes its sombre greatness.
  • Why are we looking to the grave to order current affairs? Was it so exceptional for mortals to die in defiance of the established order?
  • We are but the offspring of a great disorder in the universe. And as we came into the world, by mistake, in accursed cohorts, on each other’s coattails, with one us now in the lead, now in second place, now Guide and now Successor, so we began our long march through blood and ashes toward you.