Welcome back, read-a-longers! We finally get to talk about the actual book. Share your thoughts in the comments, or better yet, link to your own post.
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Etymology and Excerpts
The book starts with the origin of the word “whale” and a collection of whale-related excerpts from literature, philosophy, and scripture. This section reminded me of when Homer Simpson tries to teach himself about marketing by reading an advanced marketing book, and trades down to simpler and simpler books until he’s reading the dictionary.
The excerpts are great. They show the huge variety of ways in which people deify and demonize whales. Of course, the excerpts only go up to the mid 1800s, and I couldn’t help but think about the modern ones I would add:
- Blubber by Judy Blume: Talking about bullying before it was cool. She didn’t even have to wear a pink shirt.
- She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb: Just your basic girl meets dying whale, girl goes batshit crazy story.
- Free Willy: Charming children’s movie and popular euphemism for taking one’s dick out.
Okay, onto the actual story!
- Lots of lead up: Chapters 1-15 take us up to page 83 in my paper copy, and we haven’t even got on the boat yet. This section is all about setting the scene, introducing our narrator (call him Ishmael) and his BFF, the heavily-tattooed “Feegeean” Queequeg. We follow Ishmael from New York City to New Bedford to Nantucket as he prepares to go on his first whaling voyage.
- Lots of funny: The tone of this first section is surprisingly light and funny. Hilarious, actually. Ishmael’s roundabout logic as he explains why he decides to take part in Queequeg’s “pagan rituals” made me LOL:
I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolater in worshiping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth – pagans and all included – can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? – to do the will of God? that is worship. And what is the will of God? – to do to my fellow-man what I would have my fellow-man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow-man. ANd what do I wish that this Queequeg woudl do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolater.
- Heart of Darkness: I can’t help but compare the way Queequeg is introduced to the way Conrad talks about the “savages” in Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s European characters are half thrilled, half disgusted by the thought that they have anything in common with the “savages” they encounter in The Congo. Queequeg is certainly seen as “other,” and Ishmael is terrified of him at first, but Ishmael accepts him so quickly, and so readily, and not just as a shipmate but as a friend (or perhaps more, see below,) despite the fact that he sells shrunken heads and is casually described as a cannibal.
For all this tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.
- HoYay!: For those not familiar with this television-fandom term, HoYay! is short for “Homoeroticism, Yay!” and refers to situations, dialogue, etc. that could be interpreted to have homoerotic undertones, and suggests that fans of the show are generally in favour of this interpretation, usually in a somewhat ironic way. Exhibit A:
Ishmael and Queequeg meet in the bedroom and things just get cozier from there. I was most definitely NOT expecting this element of the story, and I think I finally get the “HoYay!” concept, because it is indeed delightful.
Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg – a cosy, loving pair.
Tune in Next Week:
Chapter 16 is called “The Ship” so things are about to get nautical.
- Fashion inspired by Moby Dick: Elizabeth Alice Crum’s woven fashions are inspired by the book and “the theme of chance, how the narrative is woven and broken, how tension is created, and where fate takes you.”
- The BBC is producing a documentary about the events that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.
Heather of Between the Covers has the distinction of the first person to giggle about the Dick in Moby Dick. I am shocked it took this long.
@ebookclassicsand I are reading neck and neck!
My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Thank you Brie of Eat Books for giving me a copy of this book.
The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal’s journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood–mysteries compounded by the fact that Kamal is the son of an absent Indian father from a well-to-do family and a Swahili African mother of slave ancestry. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch Kamal’s early years in the ancient coastal town of Kilwa, where he grows up in a world of poverty but also of poetry, sustained by his friendship with the magical Saida.
This world abruptly ends when Kamal is sent away by his mother to live with his father’s family in the city. There, the academically gifted boy grows up as a “dark Indian,” eventually going to university and departing for Canada. Left behind to her traditional fate is Saida, now a beautiful young woman. Decades later, Kamal’s guilt pulls him back to Kilwa . . . where we discovers what happened to Saida during a harrowing night of sinister rites. This complex, revelatory, sweeping and shocking book, is a towering testament to the magical literary powers of M.G. Vassanji.
This book humbled me, repeatedly.
When I read the blurb and saw “East Africa,” I thought, great! I just did a bunch of research on East African culture (for work,) so I am gonna get ALL the cultural references. I was hardly past the first page when I realized that, um, no. First of all, my research was on Somalia and Ethiopia, and East Africa encompasses way more than just those countries. Continue reading