Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hemispheric War

A funny thing happened to me while reading Mario Vargas-Llosa's book, The Storyteller. I fell asleep. This is nothing new. I can often be found in my reclining chair napping with a book on my chest. But this was a more profound sleep; close to a trance.

Vargas-Llosa's book was chosen for our novel group because of his recent selection as Nobel Prize winner in literature. I sometimes have resistance to one book after being transported by a previous one. This time I caught my left brain declaring war on its counterpart. As hemispheres go, I wouldn't lay money down on my defenseless right side. It's Sparta versus Athens.

The Storyteller Is narrated by an academic from Peru who tells of his university friend drawn into the Amazonian jungle culture. He immerses himself in their primitive life and becomes one of them, a storyteller, constantly on the move from one group of Machiguengas to another. He goes not as anthropologist or ethnologist, for whom he has great scorn, but as one of the indigenous people.

The book is largely told by the narrator but interspersed with three or four chapters in the voice of the storyteller. In every case I found myself almost drugged within those pages. Toward the end of the book we are told of an American couple from some institute who lived with these people for 25 years. When asked about the storyteller they, too, had fallen asleep when he spoke for 12 hours at a stretch. I might as well have been a character inside the book.

When I skipped those passages and Llosa's voice resumed his narrative I found myself snapping back to wakefulness. What does this say about me? That I'm hopelessly rational? Not quite. I enjoy getting lost. If my socks match it’s by accident. The morning melon is never cut into four equal quadrants. My preference is for the asymmetrical. I love fairy tales True, I always wondered if the Jack that fell down and broke his crown was the same guy who climbed the beanstalk when he was supposed to be nimble and quick.

But seriously... I discovered that my left brain must have felt the tug of being pulled into the phantasmagoric tales of animism...... men turning into fireflies and back to jaguars then rescued by doves from crocodiles. My North American grip was loosened just a bit as I suspended disbelief and I went off in heavy sedation to the Amazonian rain forest.

Given these two control centers, complementary if not opposing, I would petition for some tunnels, bridges and a decent mass transit system between the two. It's about time they met...possibly over a brew of macerated cassava plant.

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