The OF Blog: Quotations from books nominated for recent awards

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quotations from books nominated for recent awards

I'll post the names out of order at the end of this post, but I wonder who could identify a DeLillo, Millhauser, Yoshimoto, or Otsuka by the quote alone (and without searching for it online).  For those who want to play along, the quotes:

The first time Nakajima stayed over, I dreamed of my dead mom.

Maybe it was having him in the room that did it, after having been alone so long.

The runner took the turn slowly, watching ducks collect near the footbridge where a girl was scattering bread.  The path roughly followed the outline of the pond, meandering through stands of trees.  The runner listened to his even breathing.  He was young and knew he could go harder but didn't want to spoil the sense of easy effort in the dying light, all the day's voices and noises drained out in steady sweat.

We had driven for never-ending miles along what seemed to be more a mudbank than a road between fields of virulent green – jute?  rice?  what was it this benighted hinterland produced?  I ought to have known, but my head was pounded into too much of a daze by the heat and the sun and the fatigue to take in what my driver was telling me in answer to my listless questions.
Walter Lasher.  One September evening when Walter Lasher returned from the city after a hard day's work and was walking to his car in the station parking lot, a man stepped out from between two cars, walked up to him, and slapped him hard in the face.  Lasher was so startled that he did not move.  The man turned and walked briskly away.  Lasher was a big man, six one, with broad shoulders and a powerful neck.  No one had dared to hit him since the sixth grade.  He remembered it still:  Jimmy Kubec had pushed him in the chest, and Lasher had swung so hard that he broke Kubec's nose.  Lasher looked around.  The man was gone, a few commuters were strolling to their cars.  For a moment he had the sensation that he'd dreamed the whole thing:  the sudden appearance of the stranger, the slap, the vanishing.  his cheek stung:  the man has slapped him hard.  Lasher entered his car and started home.

The dusk settles over a day in late autumn.  The sun sets above the East Henan plain, a blood-red ball turning the earth and sky a deep shade of crimson.  As red unfurls, slowly the dusk turns to evening.  Autumn grows deeper; the cold more intense.  The village streets are all empty and silent.

Dogs are in their dens.

Chickens at roost in their coops.

The cows have returned early from the fields and are snug in their sheds.
The family is gathered at your eldest brother Hyong-chol's house, bouncing ideas off each other.  You decide to make flyers and hand them out where Mom was last seen.  The first thing to do, everyone agrees, is to draft a flyer.  Of course, a flyer is an old-fashioned response to a crisis like this.  But there are few things a missing person's family can do, and the missing person is none other than your mom.  All you can do is file a missing-person report, search the area, ask passersby if they have seen anyone who looks like her.  Your younger brother, who owns an online clothing store, says he posted something about your mother's disappearance, describing where she went missing; he uploaded her picture and asked people to contact the family if they'd seen her.  You want to go look for her in places where you think she might be, but you know how she is:  she can't go anywhere by herself in this city.  Hyong-chol designates you to write up the flyer, since you write for a living.  You blush, as if you were caught doing something you shouldn't.  You aren't sure how helpful your words will be in finding mom.

Deeti's shrine was hidden in a cliff, in a far corner of Mauritius, where the island's western and southern shorelines collide to form the wind-whipped dome of the Morne Brabant.  The site was a geological anomaly – a cave within a spur of limestone, hollowed out by wind and water – and there was nothing like it anywhere else on the mountain.  Later Deeti would insist that it wasn't chance but destiny that led her to it – for the very existence of the place was unimaginable until you had actually stepped inside it.

Life, as we know, is a living, shrinking affair, and somewhere down the line I became taken with the idea that man and his world should be renewed on a daily basis.  Those days I liked thinking in absolutes – life, man, the world – but people like to be specific about things.  Hence, my actions were a little difficult to explain.  To be a slow ramblin' stranger!  It made perfect sense to me.

Lonely, as all such posts are, this one is particularly frightening.  No habitation for miles around, and no vegetation except for a few wasted and barren date trees leaning crazily against one another, and no water other than a trickle among some salt-encrusted boulders, while also dries out occasionally, manifesting a degree of hostility. 

Nature has not remained content merely at this.  In this land, she has also created the dreaded bad-e-sad-o-bist-roz, the wind of a hundred and twenty days.  This wind rages almost continuously during the four winter months, blowing clouds of alkali-laden dust and sand so thick that men can barely breathe or open their eyes when they happen to get caught in it.

He wasn't talking.  He was looking from the window of the car all the way.  Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath.  He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn't.  For a while, at the section of the road where the river sometimes flooded, he could hear the spray of water at the wheels.  They entered the Fort and the car slipped silently past the post office building and the clock tower.  At this hour of the night there was barely any traffic in Colombo.  They drove out along Reclamation Road, passed St. Anthony's Church, and after that he saw the last of the food stalls, each lit with a single bulb.  Then they entered a vast open space that was the harbour, with only a string of lights in the distance along the pier.  He got out and stood by the warmth of the car.

In the top floor room of the dilapidated town house across the Terrace, a light has been on all night.  From your bed it was visible whenever you turned towards the window, which you had to do in order to fetch your bottle from the floor.  Most nights, the same.  The bulb is lighted at dusk.  In the mornings, a couple of moments after the street lamps flicker out, it dies, and the ragged curtain is closed.

And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city.  The path that drops down from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and crosses Morningside Park is only fifteen minutes from Central Park.  In the other direction, going west, it is some ten minutes to Sakura Park, and walking northward from there brings you toward Harlem, along the Hudson, though traffic makes the river on the other side of the trees inaudible.  These walks, a counterpoint to my busy days at the hospital, steadily lengthened, taking me father and father afield each time, so that I often found myself at quite a distance from home late at night, and was compelled to return home by subway.  In this way, at the beginning of the final year of my psychiatry fellowship, New York City worked itself into my life at walking pace.

She'd been lying in the hammock reading poetry for over an hour.  It wasn't easy:  she was thinking all the while about George coming back with Cecil, and she kept sliding down, in small half-willing surrenders, till she was in a heap, which the book held tiringly above her face.  Now the light was going, and the words began to hide among themselves on the page.  She wanted to get a look at Cecil, to drink him in for a minute before he saw her, and was introduced, and asked her what she was reading.  But he must have missed his train, or at least his connection:  she saw him pacing the long platform at Harrow and Wealdstone, and rather regretting he'd come.  Five minutes later, as the sunset sky turned pink above the rockery, it began to seem possible that something worse had happened.  With sudden grave excitement she pictured the arrival of a telegram, and the news being passed round; imagined weeping pretty wildly; then saw herself describing the occasion to someone, many years later, though still without quite deciding what the news had been.

To start with, look at all the books.  There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Brontë sisters.  There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov.  There were the Colette novels she read on the sly.  There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot.  There was, in short, this mid-size but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn't trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth.  And then you waited for the result, hoping for "Artistic," or "Passionate," thinking you could live with "Sensitive," secretly fearing "Narcissistic" and "Domestic," but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating:  "Incurably Romantic."

The Authors (out of order):

Joseph O'Connor, Ghost Light
Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table
Teju Cole, Open City
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot
Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon
Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake
Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village
Kyung-Sook Shin, Please Look After Mom
Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke
Rahul Bhattacharya, The Sly Company of People Who Care
Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda:  Nine Stories
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Steven Millhauser, We Others:  New and Selected Stories

Which ones appealed to you the most and why?

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