The Island of the Day Before

  • Fri May 14th, 2010 11:14pm
  • Life
The Island of the Day Before

Oh Umberto Eco, you shadow of an echo, how you tease us island dwellers!

Lavishly colored by the detailed listings of an antiquarian, encyclopaedic mind, “The Island of the Day Before” purports to be a romance novel concerning Roberto, scion of a 17th century minor Italian baron. Wandering from his rural manor after the death of his father, Roberto becomes enmeshed in the courtly intrigues of Cardinal Mazzarin and is sent on a spy mission relating to the geo-political contest to accurately compute longitude. The navies and explorers of the century were more or less lost while out of sight of land. I was not until about 1770 that navigational computations achieved reliability with improved clocks. That physical location (or being) on the globe is thus linked to the perception of the passage of time becomes the real subject of rumination.

The narrative and structure of the novel is freely pirated in an increasingly ironic manner from the classics of Defoe, Dumas, Melville, and Victor Hugo. Tattered fragments of the storyline are frequently eclipsed by philosophical musings on a manic magnitude. Eco’s atavistic chapter headings plot us a course across a dark sea of cogitative speculation:

• Horologium Oscillatorium

• Anatomy of Erotic Melancholy

• Monologue on the Plurality of Worlds and best of all,

• Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the Thinking of Stones

The fact that Roberto is frozen in time – he is shipwrecked on a reef facing East across the 180th meridian, hence contemplating an inaccessible island which is yesterday, because it is on the other side of the International Date Line – this fact only aggravates his mental deterioration. As he abandons ship, both he and the novelistic narrative itself drift off in a rather vague, timeless, perhaps ecstatic way; trapped as it were between today and yesterday.

We can sense that this is a book written by an author intoxicated with the nostalgia of old books, old science, and old lore.

In real life signore Eco is a Professor of Semiotics (signs and symbols) at the University of Bologna. That practically defines him as the living incarnation of Il Dottore, the rambling, pendant-clown role from Commedia dell’ Arte, which is the influential Italian Comedy dating from the 16th century. Umberto surely recognizes this in himself. He employs the learned Latinate tirades in the character of a Jesuit philosopher to comic effect. Professor Eco is also, in real life, a board member of the International Puppet Museum in Palermo, Sicily. That famous puppet character, Pulcinella, puts in an appearance in Chapter 31. For these reasons it is easy for me to believe that Umberto wrote this book especially for me.

The book I read this last week was “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. This book was completely captivating. It is not often that I read a book and want to discuss it with everyone in my life, but this is definitely in that category.

This book is about a woman who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. Her doctors in Johns Hopkins hospital took cells from her cervix, and sent them away to a lab for research without her consent or consent from her family. In fact, her family found out about her cells by accident 20 years after she died by accident. Henrietta Lacks’ cells are immortal cells. They float on the air and get stuck on your clothes if you come into contact with them, and have caused billions of dollars of damage to research.

They have also aided in creating a polio vaccine, and helped doctors learn how to grow new corneas for folks that need them.

I reccommend this book to anyone. There is a big controversy about tissue research that I had no idea about until I read this book. This book touches on Henrietta’s life, her family’s life, the doctor’s lives, tissue research, and more. Read this book. You won’t regret it.

“It’s Istanbul

Not Constantinople

Why its Istanbul

It’s nobody’s business

But theTurks”

So goes the song. But Pamuk is Turkish, so he seems qualified to explain it to us. In so doing he intersperses a memoir of his childhood in the 1950s with a melancholic review of Istanbul’s history, its writers, and the loss of traditional neighborhoods and architecture.

Clearly Orhan has suffered from depression throughout his life, something which concerned his mother and father. But he transmutes his personal sadness into something bigger, something shared and collective which he calls by the Turkish world “Hœãzœãn.”

“Hœãzœãn,” he says is the feeling a child has staring through a misted window pane. In Sufi tradition it is the pain caused by insufficient unity with God.

To Orhan it is the collapse and burning of the old wooden mansions which

once lined the Bosphorus, the vague sense of the literati that they belong

neither to the East or to the West, and to his frustrations in realizing artistic

and personal visions.

The city itself becomes a mirror to Turkish identity, to the loss of Ottoman

Empire and culture, and through which Orhan wistfully looks for clues to

himself.