Saturday, July 4, 2009

a time to sew

Almost a year ago, when I was in Mongolia, my coworker Bolormaa asked me to do an impromptu book exchange. I gave her The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen (of The Corrections fame); she handed me The Zahir by Paulo Coehlo.

I think Bolormaa got the book exchange idea because while she was studying for her advanced law degree in an Indian university, she lived in a hostel where students frequently swapped books. I liked the idea that her copy of The Zahir had traveled from far away, falling into different hands and minds along the way.

Anyway, I read the book in my little room in Ulanbataar and reread it again while camping near Khusvgal Lake, near the Russian border. For me, it was the right book at the right time. The book is about a writer who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his wife and who eventually travels to Kazakhstan, a country that barely grazes western Mongolia. I drew more than a few parallels from the novel - I myself had traveled to Mongolia because I was consumed by a recent failed relationship.

There's a passage where the lovelorn writer in The Zahir makes a speech about relationships. He says,

"... I had lunch with a friend who had just got divorced and she said to me: 'Now I can enjoy the freedom I've always dreamed of having.' But that's a lie. No one wants that kind of freedom: we all want commitment, we all want someone to be beside us to enjoy the beauties of Geneva, to discuss books, interviews, films, or even to share a sandwich with because there isn't enough money to buy one each. Better to eat half a sandwich than a whole one...

I'm telling you all this because, although in Ecclesiastes it says there is a time to rend and a time to sew, sometimes the time to rend leaves deep scars. Being with someone else and making that person feel as if they were of no importance in our life is far worse than feeling alone and miserable in the streets of Geneva."

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