[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 26, Issue 5

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Thu May 7 02:47:32 PDT 2009


An interesting collection. 

Except that Lawrence Durrell seems to have made the Alexandria where he lived into so mythical a place, that the Alexandria Quartet acquires a complexity and size quite different from the "expatriate" themes of Greene and Maugham in the Far East, whose creations seem sparse in comparison. The characters of the Quartet are also of mythical proportions when compared to those of Greene whose writing is almost austere even while dealing with the bleakness of a person's condition. I read The Quiet American many years ago.   

There is a correspondence between Darley and Melissa (an impoverished dancer in an Alexandrian night club), on the one hand and the two situations in "A Woman of Bangkok" (which I havn't read) or "The Quiet American", a book I read many years ago. 

Incidentally I seem to remember that Somerset Maugham's novel "The Moon and Sixpence" contains the story of a brilliant doctor travelling on a ship, who is so enthralled by the sight of Alexandria when the ship docks there, that he decides to disembark then and there and settle in the city. The tale is related by a successful English doctor (possibly knighted as aresult of his distinction). The brilliant doctor who leaves the ship is intrigued by the cosmopolitan population he sees on the harbour and feels a strong affinity for Alexandria, as if he had lived there all his life. The narrator of the story - representing hardy English character - bemoans the fact that the brilliant doctor ultimately took up a "tuppenny-ha'penny" job in an Alexandrian hospital and married "a Greek hag" by whom he had many children. (I am using the phrases which I recall from memory - I don't have the book which I read many years ago.) I later remembered this story after reading the AQ, and the doctor disembarking at Alexandria seemed to suggest someone like Balthazar in the AQ!! 

It might be interesting to locate this episode from Somerset Maugham's books  - I think it is part of "The Moon and Sixpence" - and compare the setting and the situations with those represented in the AQ. 



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Subject: ILDS Digest, Vol 26, Issue 5

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> Today's Topics:
>   1. the real protagonist is the city herself (Charles Sligh)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 06 May 2009 07:48:57 -0400
> From: Charles Sligh <Charles-Sligh at utc.edu>
> Subject: [ilds] the real protagonist is the city herself
> To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
> Message-ID: <4A017929.7050703 at utc.edu>
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> *
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/06/best-books-expatriate-top-10
> Malcolm Pryce's top 10 expatriate tales
> From Graham Greene's novels to Thomas Cook's timetables, the novelist 
> settles on the best rootless reads
> Malcolm Pryce
> guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 May 2009 11.59 BST *
>> Malcolm Pryce finished his first novel on a cargo ship off the coast 
>> of South America and has spent much of the past 10 years abroad 
>> somewhere, writing a series of comic private detective novels set in 
>> Aberystwyth. His latest novel, From Aberystwyth With Love, documents 
>> the search for Hughesovka, a legendary replica Aberystwyth built in 
>> the Ukraine in the last century.
>> "All my life I have been fascinated by tales of those vagabond souls 
>> who go off searching for promised lands and Shangri-las. People who 
>> sailed beyond the dawn driven by the belief that the other man's grass 
>> skirt was always greener. It's probably why I have devoted my life to 
>> chronicling those spiritual misfits, the people of Aberystwyth."
>> 1. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
>> Ostensibly it is about the eponymous quiet American ? a naive and 
>> idealistic CIA agent in Saigon during the French colonial war of the 
>> 50s. But what lingers is the relationship between the world-weary 
>> newspaper correspondent, Fowler, and his beautiful girl Phuong. Greene 
>> perfectly skewers the superfluity of western notions of love that 
>> invariably inform such situations. Undermining the idyll is the 
>> mercenary elder sister, painfully aware of the need to use Phuong's 
>> beauty to secure a provider for the family while her beauty still has 
>> currency.
>> 2. A Woman of Bangkok by Jack Reynolds
>> One night in Bangkok, so the song goes, makes a hard man humble. The 
>> city is, in fact, a combine harvester for the ex-pat male heart. Jack 
>> Reynolds captures the ethos perfectly in this, the definitive account, 
>> written 50 years ago. A young and unworldly Englishman is posted to 
>> Bangkok and falls for a beautiful dancing girl in the Bolero 
>> nightclub. The girl requites his love by spit-roasting him with scorn, 
>> and turning him into a chump. Reynolds chronicles the various stages 
>> of his downfall, without mercy. Read it before you get posted, but 
>> don't expect it to save you.
>> 3. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
>> After reading this many years ago I vowed never to visit the city. How 
>> could it possibly live up to its fictional portrayal? An unnamed 
>> English teacher on a Greek island looks back on his sojourn in 
>> Alexandria between the wars. He considers the intertwined fates of the 
>> people he met there; they are numerous, but the real protagonist is 
>> the city herself, exquisitely presented in all her shifting moods and 
>> lemon-tinged light. Some tastes might find the relentlessly extended 
>> languor a touch too much, in which case John Crace's satirical 
>> digested read 
>> [http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/nov/29/digested-classics-justine-lawrence-durrell] 
>> of the first book, Justine, is a perfect antidote.
>> 4. The Discovery of Tahiti; a journal of the second voyage of HMS 
>> Dolphin round the world under the command of Captain Wallis, RN, in 
>> the years 1766, 1767, and 1768, written by her master George Robertson
>> He didn't actually settle there but his description of the island set 
>> the tone for the innumerable vagabonds, beachcombers, castaways, 
>> mutineers, buccaneers, poets, lovers, dreamers, romantics, and 
>> novelists from Aberystwyth who have since fetched up on those 
>> parakeet-coloured shores. The salt-rimed tars who had spent six months 
>> in the foetid wooden hold of the HMS Dolphin suddenly found themselves 
>> in a land where sex was offered to weary travellers as naturally as 
>> food. Each one found a sweetheart and all she asked in return was a 
>> ship's nail. All was bliss until the ship fell apart. I went there 
>> with a ship full of nails but the price had gone up.
>> 5. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
>> "Mum, I'm nineteen and I've decided it's time I sought my fortune. I 
>> will walk to Spain. I'll land in Vigo and walk the breadth of the 
>> land, playing my violin, getting drunk on sherry and sleeping under 
>> the stars with a sloe-eyed sweetheart in my arms.
>> "Sounds like a good plan, son, I'll make you some treacle biscuits."
>> And off he went. That's it in a nutshell, but it's well worth reading 
>> the whole thing.
>> 6. The Gentleman in the Parlour by Somerset Maugham
>> You stand in a sun-dappled, bee-throbbing English churchyard, reading 
>> the graves. Curiously, everyone in this town seems to have died in 
>> their thirties. The dark-skinned priest waves and you remember with a 
>> start you are in Sri Lanka. The headstones were made in Glasgow and 
>> shipped out, like the lives they commemorate. I always picture 
>> Somerset Maugham as the eponymous gentleman in the parlour. He sits on 
>> the verandah at Raffles, chronicling the desolate fates of the broken 
>> souls washed up on the remoter shores of Empire; their lives pickled 
>> in gin and quinine.
>> 7. Thomas Cook European Railway Timetable
>> You shouldn't travel without a book of poetry, and this is mine. 
>> Foreign railway stations are a spiritual 'home' for the exile. Trams 
>> glide round equestrian statues outside; food kiosks, information and 
>> cambio booths rub shoulders in dusty cathedrals smelling of salami and 
>> Czech beer. Most of the romance has gone, but some still survives 
>> fossilised in the pages of the Thomas Cook timetable.
>> 8. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
>> Nabokov writes an elegy to his lost childhood in pre-revolutionary St 
>> Petersburg; the backward lens of time imparting a particularly golden 
>> hue to such remembered exotica as Pears soap, Golden Syrup and 
>> countless other marvels shipped out from London. The prose is 
>> wonderful and occasionally sublime, especially in the child's eye view 
>> of the five-day train journey each summer to Biarritz.
>> 9. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
>> Another dissolute ex-pat drinking himself methodically to death in a 
>> sun-blanched land. Mexico on the Day of the Dead, his ex-wife turns up 
>> to shake some sense into him but he's not in the market for sense. 
>> Instead he drinks. It's hot; there's an incident with a whore; he has 
>> an argument with a police captain, never a good idea but that's 
>> probably why he does it. Then the Day of the Dead comes to an end, and 
>> so does he. Someone throws a dead dog into the ravine after him. I've 
>> read it countless times and am still not sure quite why I like it so 
>> much. But I've ordered the dog for my funeral.
>> 10. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
>> Hemingway in Paris in the 20s. Starving, living in a garret with his 
>> wife, but somehow able to write in the morning and go to the races 
>> every afternoon. It all seems so achingly romantic that it comes as a 
>> shock in later years to find out it was mostly bollocks - he wasn't 
>> really starving but had loads of money. Ah well. The bits about 
>> sharing the place with Ezra Pound, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox 
>> Ford, John Dos Passos, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein are true. As is 
>> the sage advice he gave, that when writing one should always leave a 
>> bit over for the next day; stop before one has finished what one was ...
> -- 
> ********************************************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
> charles-sligh at utc.edu
> ********************************************
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