Evil Editor was accused of lacking class, and as penance, I've decided to class up today's Old Beginnings. We can all use a little culture every month or so. So, put on your best dress or your tux, pour yourself a cup of tea, and appreciate these five beginnings to novels by authors who've won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the 2000's. Sources are posted at the bottom.
1. For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point. Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is Soraya. He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and softly lit, and undresses. Soraya emerges from the bathroom, drops her robe, slides into bed beside him. "Have you missed me?" she asks. "I miss you all the time," he replies. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love.
Soraya is tall and slim, with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes. Technically he is old enough to be her father; but then, technically, one can be a father at twelve. He has been on her books for over a year; he finds her entirely satisfactory. In the desert of the week Thursday has become an oasis of luxe et volupté.
2. Let us call our man, the hero of this story, Kingbitter. We imagine a man, and a name to go with him. Or conversely, let us imagine the name, and the man to go with it. Though this may all be avoided anyway since our man, the hero of this story, really is called Kingbitter.
Even his father was already called that.
His grandfather too.
Kingbitter was accordingly registered on his birth certificate under the name Kingbitter: that, therefore, is the reality, on which--reality, that is to say--Kingbitter did not set too much store nowadays. Nowadays--a late year of the passing millennium, in the early spring of, let us say, 1999, on a sunny morning at that--reality had become a problematic concept for Kingbitter, but, more serious still, a problematic state. A state from which, on the report of Kingbitter's most private feelings, it was reality above all that was lacking. If he were in some way compelled to make use of the word, Kingbitter invariably added "so-called reality." That, however, was a very meager satisfaction; nor indeed did it satisfy Kingbitter.
3. Shortly before he was born there had been another quarrel between Mr. Biswas's mother Bipti and his father Raghu, and Bipti had taken her three children and walked all the way in the hot sun to the village where her mother Bissoondaye lived. There Bipti had cried and told the old story of Raghu's miserliness: how he kept a check on every cent he gave her, counted every biscuit in the tin, and how he would walk ten miles rather than pay a cart a penny.
Bipti's father, futile with asthma, propped himself up on his string bed and said, as he always did on unhappy occasions, "Fate. There is nothing we can do about it."
No one paid him any attention. Fate had brought him from India to the sugar-estate, aged him quickly and left him to die in a crumbling mud hut in the swamplands; yet he spoke of Fate often and affectionately, as though, merely by surviving, he had been particularly favoured.
4. The old bus is a city reject. After shaking in it for twelve hours on the potholed highway since early morning, you arrive in this mountain county town in the South.
In the bus station, which is littered with ice-block wrappers and sugar cane scraps, you stand with your backpack and a bag and look around for a while. People are getting off the bus or walking past, men humping sacks and women carrying babies. A crowd of youths, unhampered by sacks or baskets, have their hands free. They take sunflower seeds out of their pockets, toss them one at a time into their mouths and spit out the shells. With a loud crack the kernels are expertly eaten. To be leisurely and carefree is endemic to the place. They are locals and life has made them like this, they have been here for many generations and you wouldn't need to go looking anywhere else for them. The earliest to leave the place traveled by river in black canopy boats and overland in hired carts, or by foot if they didn't have the money. Of course at that time there were no buses and no bus stations.
5. The piano teacher, Erika Kohut, bursts like a whirlwind into the apartment she shares with her mother. Mama likes calling Erika her little whirlwind, for the child can be an absolute speed demon. She is trying to escape her mother. Erika is in her late thirties. Her mother is old enough to be her grandmother. The baby was born after long and difficult years of marriage. Her father promptly left, passing the torch to his daughter. Erika entered, her father exited. Eventually, Erika learned how to move swiftly. She had to. Now she bursts into the apartment like a swarm of autumn leaves, hoping to get to her room without being seen. But her mother looms before her, confronts her. She puts Erika against the wall, under interrogation – inquisitor and executioner in one, unanimously recognized as Mother by the State and by the Family. She investigates: Why has Erika come home so late?
Old Beginnings 8
1. Disgrace....J.M. Coetzee
2. Liquidation....Imre Kertesz
3. A House for Mr. Biswas....V.S. Naipaul
4. Soul Mountain....Gao Xingjian
5. The Piano Teacher....Elfriede Jelinek