Sunday, 14 May 2017

Briefly, two readathon books

I picked up '38 Bahadurabad' by Zeeba Sadiq completely at random at E.J. Morton in Didsbury and was utterly entranced by it. It tells the story of a young girl, Zeebande, growing up in Pakistan in the 1960s. Much of it concerns her relationship with her beloved father, though the cast of family and friends is quite extensive. What is so engaging is the everydayness of the incidents that she recounts, you get such a vivid picture of what their life is like; there is a wonderful contrast of closely observed details and naive childlike impressions and thoughts. Here Bashi Mamoo comes around to take tea with the ladies:

"Bashi moved towards the doctor, hand outstretched, as Zeebande fell into line behind him, aping his curious gait, his spine arched backwards like a pregnant woman, his two huge feet set at a permanent ten to two angle. Lax, who had been alerted by the child's shrieks of delight, pretended not to notice and scuttled to the kitchen to make tea. The doctor chuckled.
Bashi was in every way an enigma to Zeebande, a story-book character. He wasn't family that she was aware of, and he had no family of his own. She didn't know where he lived, though she knew that there was an open invitation for him to join them at Bahadurabad, and she could never place the strange idiom in which he spoke, part Urdu, part Persian, and part a language that appeared to be of his own invention.
He was odd-looking, of indeterminate age, though his permanent grey five o'clock shadow suggested that he was nearer her father's age than her mother's. His nose started orthodoxly at the eyeline before flowering into a bulbous tip that very nearly reached to his upper lip. At a 45 degree angle to this nose a biri would invariably be perched between his lips, though seldom lit, and an antique pair of glasses balanced improbably on the nose, one arm long since broken and replaced by a sturdy elastic band that he somehow managed to manoeuvre round his right ear. Bashi Mamoo always wore pyjamas, ill-fitting and hoisted a good four inches above his ankles, and a long white shirt guarded by two sturdy waistcoats. It is entirely conceivable that Bashi's unorthodox walk was a counter to the weight contained in the pockets and lining of those waistcoats, for they accommodated a veritable warehouse of watches, lighters, pens, cigarette holders and rings that he hawked around the streets of the city each day. An additional array of watches was always hidden under the long loose sleeves of his shirt. 'These are my bread and butter,' he used to tell Zeebande as she gazed wide-eyes at this mobile market stall.
'Can I have tea too?' Zeebande asked ten minutes later as Laxmi poured from the delicate china pot.
'You don't like tea, beti,' her Nani interrupted as she stirred sugar into her own cup.
'I do today,' the child countered cussedly, knowing that she would get her way." (p.82-3)


I am not sure, like with 'Good Omens', that there is much to say about 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman that has not be opined elsewhere. Two very unpleasant murderers are on the trail of a young woman called Door, and when she falls on the pavement at Richard Mayhew's feet he obeys his first instinct which is to help her. He comes to regret this in more ways that you can at first imagine. He finds his life rapidly spiralling out of control, or rather just disappearing, and he is obliged in his turn take refuge in a world below the streets of London of which he was hitherto unaware. While there is a dastardly plot afoot I felt it takes second place to the sheer inventiveness of the environment that he has created, peopled with a cast of characters that are quite literally London's landmarks brought to life.

Here is Richard, finding something to eat at the Floating Market:

"Another whiff of cooking food wafted across the floor, and Richard, who had managed to forget how hungry he was ever since he had declined the prime cut of roast cat - he could not think how many hours before - now found his mouth watering, and his thinking processes beginning to grind to a halt.
The iron-haired woman running the next food stall he came to did not reach to Richard's waist. When Richard tried to talk to her, she shook her head, drew a finger across her lips. she could no talk, or did not talk, or did not want to talk. Richard found himself conducting the negotiations for a cottage-cheese and lettuce sandwich, and a cup of what looked and smelled like a form of home-brewed lemonade, in dumb show. His food cost him a ballpoint pen, and a book of matches he had forgotten he had. The little woman must have felt that she had got by far the better of the deal, for, as he took his food, she threw in a couple of small nutty biscuits.
Richard stood in the middle of the throng, listening to the music - someone was, for no reason that Richard could easily discern, singing the lyrics of 'Greensleeves' to the tune of 'Yakkety-Yak' - watching the bizarre bazaar unfold around him, and eating his sandwiches." (p.112-3)

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