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Saturday, February 07, 2009


A Novel from 1917 and Two Recent Ones

South Wind * Out Stealing Horses * The Reader

More than a year ago, on Dec 16, 2007, I posted an entry titled "South to North". Nothing very special about it except that I wrote about my search for a book, "To the North" ,written by Robert Graves. It turned out that I was wrong on both counts. The title was not correct, and Robert Graves didn't write the book I was thinking about.

Suddenly, one day last week from somewhere in the back of my head the name "South Wind" surfaced. Bingo! Written by Norman Douglas, that was the book I was searching for, a book that I read decades ago. Somehow it left a mark and I wanted to read it again. Los Altos Library, my favorite in the San Francisco Peninsula, didn't have it but I located a copy in the San Mateo County Library; the Menlo Park branch had it. The copy is a Modern Library edition published in 1924! Still in surprisingly good condition.

©Random House, The Modern Library

The book was first published in 1917. Many readers thought that Nepenthe, the island where the story took place, was Capri. In the preface to the Modern Library edition, Norman Douglas wrote:
A visitor to my December 16, 2007, post had left this comment:


I wonder if the book you mean is Graves's WATCH THE NORTH WIND RISE (1949. published in the UK as SEVEN DAYS IN NEW CRETE). To quote from Amazon, it tells of a poet who imagines the world a thousand years from now. Clocks, money and machinery have disappeared. Magicians are important and so are rituals, handicrafts and love. Everyone worships a Mother Goddess. And as in the Middle Ages, life is local and personal. Villages war against each other in dramatic fashion - but only on Tuesdays, and no one gets hurt. Graves's future world, as explored by a young poet from our time, has history, reality and stunning inner logic.

"WATCH THE NORTH WIND RISE is a book so rich in style and plot, so profoundly mythic and at the same time so lightly comic, that there is simply no way to communicate its full flavor." - Washington Post.


My response:

Thank you, Notarius

But no, "Watch the North Wind Rise" was not the the book I read. "To the North" was fiction but almost like a memoir of the author's stay in a certain part of France. After my research I'm not even sure if I have the title right. Did I dream it up?

Memory plays strange tricks, especially when one gets to my age.

I wish I could get in touch with Notarius and say that I found the book I was thinking of.

These days I do not read too many novels but two that I have recently read and enjoyed are Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses, and Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. The Reader has been made into a film with Kate Winslet in the leading role. My Scandinavian friends who recommended Per Petterson's book said they felt that the English translation was better than the original in Norwegian. That is high compliment for Anne Born, translator of Per Petterson's book.

Schlink's story is about the Holocaust and post-war Germany. The Holocaust left deep scars. I wonder how history would judge the atrocities committed by Israelis in Palestine.

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