An older couple told me they were from Botswana and urged me to read all of the books by Alexander McCall Smith. He said: especially do not miss the one about the sausage dogs – because it is NOT about sausage dogs at all. Then he brayed with laughter.
He said they are astounded at all of the water around and that they did not know that South Australia was so prone to flooding. I said: well…..
But he continued with a story about a young girl they saw who nearly overturned her car through a sheet of water on the road. All three of us said: she will tumble over in her car going at that speed. His wife said, no there were only the two of us watching, Ken.
Outside a cattle truck stopped near the bakery and from inside the shop we heard a cow give fabulous deep bellow. Two children rushed for the window and held their breath. One said: did you hear that horse?
Two men passed by and one said: The Book Keeper. The other said: I wonder what that means…
I come back from Woolworths where the young workers are rushing, focussed, managing fiscal health and the new displays of tinned pineapple. When I go back, Chris is waiting. He tells me that Pepys was an arsehole. He said that if you are a literary arsehole then it is ok. I think about this for a long time. Then I think that my fiscal health is unreliable but my swelling literature collections are gaining monumental strength.. I tell this to Chris and he says: maybe. He said that new brand of pineapple over there is shit anyway and that I should read The Sugar Book.
I finish Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.
In Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress, two poor Chinese youths are sent to the mountains to be re-educated during the Cultural Revolution. They live in diabolical poverty. They have come across an old copy of Ursule Mirouet by Honore De Balzac and it is a western work, banned. They read this little romance over and over and copy fragments of it onto the inside of a sheepskin coat (they have no paper). The book changes their lives. It does not change the circumstances of their lives; it is too powerful for that, it just changes their lives.
There is reading and there is reading.
David came for two hours. He told me about Picasso and then about a failed relationship from his own past. The thing was that she was a virago. Then he told me about Picasso and ordered a volume of poetry by Clive James. He recommended that I read some Greek Mythology which is the beginning of all things.
I am thinking about the Greek Mythology when a man carries in his groceries and stacks them in a neat pile. He said that the thing about D. H. Lawrence is that he was the first one to illustrate that men are attracted to two types of women at the same time. He bought a copy of Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary.
A young man tells his girlfriend about his Star Trek books and does not realise that she is annoyed. She is reading the back cover of Women Who Run With the Wolves and does not want to discuss Star Trek. She tells him dismissively to ring his mum and ask her if he has the books. He goes outside and I can see him on the phone: he comes back inside triumphant and his girlfriend continues to be annoyed.
The little Chinese seamstress wears the sheepskin coat with the forbidden literature written inside and she is changed, she feels more, she is more. We wear the books we read and she was wearing that book.
The girlfriend of the young man brings me Women Who run with the Wolves. She says: I am going to read this. He wants to pay for it but she says: no.
He goes back to the Star Trek shelf.
A smiling lady has laid out dozens of children’s picture books on the floor. She is telling her dad about them one by one, tapping each title while he, in the chair, is nodding but I can see that his eyes are closed…he is nodding off. She is telling him about The Velveteen Rabbit. He continues to doze. There is a child in there who is not with them. She has on only one shoe and holds a plastic spoon. She squats down to also look at The Velveteen Rabbit.
People are cheerful, coming in and mentioning the sun.
The Little Chinese Seamstress is written by Dai Sijie who was born in China in 1954.
The books Luo read to me always made me want to dive into the cool water of the mountain torrent…at the bottom of the pool there was a bluish blur, a swathe of murkiness where you couldn’t make out the details of the underwater scenery. As if there was a veil before your eyes…
Photography by Eli Samuelu