Monday, 5 September 2011

WANDERLUST -- from Simon and Schuster

S&S has done a new sampler themed around books that make you travel. You can order it here

There are extracts in it from An Atlas of Impossible Longing; and a note on armchair travels:

My father’s sister lived in a rambling, many-floored, many-roomed joint family house in the older part of Calcutta and when my brother and I were taken on visits to that house, we entered a different era. Corridors, staircases, terraces, different food smells, caged birds, people, conversations, snatches of songs – we passed all this as we walked up many flights of steep, dark stairs to reach my aunt’s set of rooms. On one of the landings there was a picture of the family’s country home, abandoned because it went permanently under water years ago. This image of a pillared mansion half-submerged by a river kept coming back to me over the years and gradually people—the novel’s  characters— floated up out of its surroundings and An Atlas of Impossible Longing began.

When a novel begins I barely know it myself. Some people have appeared in my head, I’m not quite sure from where, and they demand that their stories be told. In the middle of my daily life — my battle with traffic or my dog demanding her walk — these just-appeared people murmur and sigh somewhere in the back of my head. Slowly their voices acquire tone and timbre, the place defines itself, the people come closer; out of the mist their blurred edges become sharper. Then one day, at a magical point, the world of the book becomes a planet spinning away on its own. It’s left my hands, cut loose. It doesn’t need me any more. Now it’s a place for readers to inhabit.
My brother and I read a book called The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw when we were children. It was about Ranofer, an orphan boy in ancient Egypt. He is a goldsmith’s apprentice who discovers that his evil half-brother, who works at the same shop, is stealing from the tombs in the Valley of Kings. It was a thrilling, tense, atmospheric book and for days after reading it, it seemed imperative to eat whole raw onions instead of real meals – because that was all poor, scrounging Ranofer found to eat some days. I’m sure I’ll steal glances over a shoulder for Ranofer’s goldsmith’s shop if I ever go to Egypt. His Egypt is my Egypt, I’ve already been there, sort of. All readers of fiction carry within themselves sediments of the places they have traveled to in books, the people they’ve met on the way. Therefore the strange déjà vu when you land in a foreign country and wonder if you’ve been there before.

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