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Book Nook - 18-09-2017

Monday, September 18, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Unpredictable Lives
Paul Auster’s mind-boggling 880-page tome 4321 is an extraordinary piece of work, that has made it to the Man Booker Award shortlist this year; if it did not, readers would have been surprised.

The novel is about Archibald ‘Archie’ Ferguson,  born to the Jewish Stanley Ferguson and Rose Adler, in 1947 (around the time Auster was born), but it follows four different paths his destiny would take, and how his life would play out with each different turn.  To quote from the synopsis, “Identical but different, meaning four boys with the same parents, the same bodies, and the same genetic material, but each one living in a different house in a different town with his own set of circumstances."

Auster writes about Archie’s growing up, his friendships and passions, but if there is one major event in one of his life it affects the outcome of the story, and Auster weaves in and out of four parallel narratives (actually three and a bit, because in one, Archie dies at thirteen).  And the scope of the sprawling novel/s covers contemporary American social history (notably the Vietnam War, the Cold War,  the race riots, students movements, sports highlights and historical figures like J.F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King) with great astuteness. The book that reportedly took Auster over three years to write is a near masterpiece, never mind the repetition and some confusion (for the reader).

The destinies of the characters in Archie’s life also alter according to his; in one his father’s home appliances business is ruined, in another it thrives, in a third his father is killed, in all of them his uncles turn out to be greedy and manipulative. His mother remains a photographer, but marries either Gilbert or Dan Schneiderman and depending on that his relationship with Dan’s daughter Amy develops; and depending on which man his Aunt Mildred marries, his best friend Noah Marx (the husband’s son from a divorced wife) enters his life or does not meet him.

As the stories progress, readers can only shake their heads in admiration and fascination, as Auster keeps pulling out rabbits out of this marvelous literary hat in this novel of such structural complexity—how did he keep track of the four Archies and give them all clear graphs?

Over so many pages, it may not be possible to remember which Archie lost his fingers in an accident, which one spent months in Paris, which one had a gay affair, which one took up with his former teacher, and so on, but the stories are so absorbing that it does not matter. Whichever life Archie leads, it is fulfilling for him in its own way; he is lucky to get love, loyalty, good looks and talent, along with the usual amount of grief, loss, angst and disappointment.  But in all his lives, he is fond of sports, movies, music, reading and writing.

Auster does not give Archie wildly different destinies, so it is an act of writerly dexterity to juggle four lives and make them all interesting while keeping within a particular suburban socio-economic circle, with the sophistications of New York and Paris tantalizing within reach. And, much to the delight of fans, Laurel & Hardy play an important part in Archie’s life.

4321
By Paul Auster
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pages: 880

 

Excerpt of 4321
According to family legend, Ferguson’s grandfather departed on foot from his native city of Minsk with one hundred rubles sewn into the lining of his jacket, traveled west to Hamburg through Warsaw and Berlin, and then booked passage on a ship called the Empress of China, which crossed the Atlantic in rough winter storms and sailed into New York Harbor on the first day of the twentieth century. While waiting to be interviewed by an immigration official at Ellis Island, he struck up a conversation with a fellow Russian Jew. The man said to him: Forget the name Reznikoff. It won’t do you any good here. You need an American name for your new life in America, something with a good American ring to it. Since English was still an alien tongue to Isaac Reznikoff in 1900, he asked his older, more experienced compatriot for a suggestion. Tell them you’re Rockefeller, the man said. You can’t go wrong with that. An hour passed, then another hour, and by the time the nineteen-year-old Reznikoff sat down to be questioned by the immigration official, he had forgotten the name the man had told him to give. Your name? the official asked. Slapping his head in frustration, the weary immigrant blurted out in Yiddish, Ikh hob fargessen (I’ve forgotten)!And so it was that Isaac Reznikoff began his new life in America as Ichabod Ferguson.

He had a hard time of it, especially in the beginning, but even after it was no longer the beginning, nothing ever went as he had imagined it would in his adopted country. It was true that he managed to find a wife for himself just after his twenty-sixth birthday, and it was also true that this wife, Fanny, née Grossman, bore him three robust and healthy sons, but life in America remained a struggle for Ferguson’s grandfather from the day he walked off the boat until the night of March 7, 1923, when he met an early, unexpected death at the age of forty-two—gunned down in a holdup at the leather-goods warehouse in Chicago where he had been employed as a night watchman.

No photographs survive of him, but by all accounts he was a large man with a strong back and enormous hands, uneducated, unskilled, the quintessential greenhorn know-nothing. On his first afternoon in New York, he chanced upon a street peddler hawking the reddest, roundest, most perfect apples he had ever seen. Unable to resist, he bought one and eagerly bit into it. Instead of the sweetness he had been anticipating, the taste was bitter and strange. Even worse, the apple was sickeningly soft, and once his teeth had pierced the skin, the insides of the fruit came pouring down the front of his coat in a shower of pale red liquid dotted with scores of pellet-like seeds.

Not a Rockefeller, then, but a broad-shouldered roustabout, a Hebrew giant with an absurd name and a pair of restless feet who tried his luck in Manhattan and Brooklyn, in Baltimore and Charleston, in Duluth and Chicago, employed variously as a dockhand, an ordinary seaman on a Great Lakes tanker, an animal handler for a traveling circus, an assembly-line worker in a tin-can factory, a truck driver, a ditchdigger, a night watchman. For all his efforts, he never earned more than nickels and dimes, and therefore the only things poor Ike Ferguson bequeathed to his wife and three boys were the stories he had told them about the vagabond adventures of his youth. In the long run, stories are probably no less valuable than money, but in the short run they have their decided limitations.

The leather-goods company made a small settlement with Fanny to compensate her for her loss, and then she left Chicago with the boys, moving to Newark, New Jersey, at the invitation of her husband’s relatives, who gave her the top-floor apartment in their house in the Central Ward for a nominal monthly rent.

Her sons were fourteen, twelve, and nine. Louis, the oldest, had long since evolved into Lew. Aaron, the middle child, had taken to calling himself Arnold after one too many schoolyard beatings in Chicago, and Stanley, the nine-year-old, was commonly known as Sonny.

mother took in laundry and mended clothes, but before long the boys were contributing to the household finances as well, each one with an after-school job, each one turning over every penny he earned to his mother. Times were tough, and the threat of destitution filled the rooms of the apartment like a dense, blinding fog.
There was no escape from fear, and bit by bit all three boys absorbed their mother’s dark ontological conclusions about the purpose of life. Either work or starve. Either work or lose the roof over your head. Either work or die. For the Fergusons, the weak-minded notion of All-For-One-And-One-For-All did not exist. In their little world, it was All-For-All—or nothing.

 

ALSO RECEIVED
With so many career options available to young people today, it could be tough to choose.  Which is where Richa Dwivedi’s book, The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers comes in handy.  Says the synopsis, “ Looking for the career of your choice and don’t want to take the beaten path? Then pick up this book and get ready for your dream career!

The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers is designed to provide you with all the information you need about new careers in a range of fields. Specially designed for the modern Indian student, it is the first book in years to give detailed overviews of job profiles under each field it covers, as well as offer a roadmap to students on how to get these jobs.

In its pages you will find:
Detailed information about the roles you can pursue in every field.

Exercises that will help you assess your skill sets and interests, and correlate them to specific career paths.

A comprehensive list of colleges, both in India and abroad, that offer courses in each field.

Estimates of the salaries you could expect to earn in every profession and role.

Testimonies from experts in different areas, providing a peek into their daily work lives.

The fields covered in the book include: Data science and analytics, advertising, film-making, entrepreneurship, art, writing, photography, acting and modelling, music, dance, sales and marketing, human resources, psychology, education and teaching, social work, graphic design, fashion, industrial design, web design, interior design, journalism, social sciences, law, architecture, information technology, finance, analytics, bioinformatics, engineering, scientific research, biotechnology, medicine, hospitality, chef, Indian armed forces, sports, genetics, and many more!

Whether you are interested in problem-solving or ideating, creating something new or working with people, this book is your one-stop compendium to finding your niche and excelling in it.”

The Ultimate Guide to
21st Century Careers
By Richa Dwivedi
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 440

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