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The Alphabet of Hope

R I T E R S

F O R

I T E R A C Y

The Alphabet of Hope

R I T E R S

F O R

I T E R A C Y

The authors are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts contained in this book and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

Published in 2007 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 7, Place de Fontenoy F-75352 Paris 07 SP, Paris Coordination : Martina Simeti Graphic design : Grald Sanspoux Photographs : Franois Gaudier Printed by UNESCO Aknowledgments: Namtip Aksornkool Linda Tinio ISBN 978-92-3-104071-9 UNESCO 2007 www.unesco.org/publishing All rights reserved Printed in France

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WRITERS

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A poor woman learns to write Margaret Atwood, 2007, excerpt from The Door, McClelland & Stewart. Somebodys daughter Margaret Atwood, 2007, O.W. Toad Ltd,. Reading with Flaubert Paul Auster, 2004, excerpt from Moon Palace, Faber & Faber. The moment when the hand opens Paulo Coelho, 2005. Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. The image and the word Nadine Gordimer, 2005. To the young writer Francisco Sionil Jose 2006. The testimony of my grandfathers bookcase Amitav Gosh, 1998. First appeared in Kunapipi, A Journal of Post-Colonial Writing (UK.), Vol. XIX, n. 3. The value of literacy N. Scott Momaday, 2007. The signature Toni Morrison, 1977, Excerpt from Song of Salomon, Alfred Knopf. I am going to school Wole Soyinka, 1981, excerpt from Ake: The years of childhood, Rex Collings. Mother tongue Amy Tan, 1990. First appeared in The Threepenny review. Reprinted by permission of the author and the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Chekhov on the bench Mikls Vmos, 2007. The power of words Banana Yoshimoto, 2007. Translated by Michael Emmerich.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Margaret Atwood

Paul Auster

Paulo Coelho

Nadine Gordimer

Amitav Gosh

N. Scott Momaday

Toni Morrison

Franceso Sionil Jos

Wole Soyinka

Amy Tan

Mikls Vams

Banana Yoshimoto

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FOREWORD

D R O W E R O F
a sustainable literate environment.

This volume, part of a new series produced by UNESCO, brings together a collection of short texts in English by a number of internationally acclaimed writers. The Alphabet of Hope: Writers for Literacy is published by UNESCO to advocate for Literacy for All and the promotion of

These texts capture the unlimited and surprising possibilities of the use of literacy by living masters of the written word.

Conceived as a powerful advocacy tool on literacy and its benefits in terms of achieving the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy, this book is also about the joys offered by literacy and the act of reading as such.

A variety of literacy practices employed by female and male authors is expressed in this inspiring collection of writings. Taken together, these texts reflect the plurality of the notion of literacy in todays complex world, where people acquire and apply literacy for different purposes in a range of contexts, all of which are shaped by culture, history, language, religion and socio-economic conditions.

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The book is offered by UNESCO on the occasion of International Literacy Day 2007. As the leading agency and international coordinator of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), UNESCO is grateful to the authors who joined their voices to raise awareness about the literacy challenges in the world today:

Some 774 million adults lack minimum literacy skills; One in five of the worlds adults are still not literate; Two-thirds of them are women; 72.1 million children are out of school; Access to reading material through appropriate publications

and libraries is lacking and does not allow neo-literates to sustain their skills.

Let us act now, together, to build a literate world, sharing both the benefits and the pleasure provided by what Scott Momaday calls the gift of literacy.

Kochiro Matsuura

Director-General of UNESCO

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Margaret Atwood

CA N A D A

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her books include the 2000 Booker Prize winner, The Blind Assassin, Alias

Grace, which also won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, The Robber Bride, Cats Eye, and The Handmaids Tale. Her most recent book, Curious Pursuits, a collection of essays, reviews and personal prose, was published in 2005. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

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A poor woman learns to write


She squats, bare feet splayed out, not graceful; skirt tucked around ankles. Her face is lined and cracked. She looks old, older than anything. Shes probably thirty. Her hands also are lined and cracked and awkward. Her hair concealed. She prints with a stick, laboriously in the wet grey dirt, frowning with anxiety. Great big letters. There. Its finished. Her first word so far. She never thought she could do this, Not her. This was for others, She looks up, smiles as if apologizing, but shes not. Not this time. She did it right. What does the mud say? Her name. We cant read it. But we can guess. Look at her face: Joyful Flower? A Radiant One? Sun On Water?

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S o m e b o d y s d a u g h t e r
Few remember that to learn to read and write is one of the great victories in life. - Bryher, The Heart to Artemis (p.14) Akluniq ajuqsarniqangilaq: In times of scarcity, there is much opportunity for innovative thinking. - Inuit saying, from Nunavut, Canada. Some time ago, I received a message from UNESCO asking me to write something to advocate for Literacy. By a great coincidence, I was already involved in a Literacy programme Somebodys Daughter, a two-week camp that takes place in Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. So, as reading and writing are never learned in outer space but under specific local conditions, I will tell you a little about that programme. Life has never been easy for the people of the far north. For many centuries they lived in one of the most unforgiving climates on earth: no trees, no agriculture, extreme cold and darkness for many months of the year. Using tools made of stone and bone, wearing clothing made of skins, relying largely on fish and on the meat of seal, caribou, polar bear, walrus, and whales, they had a culture finely tuned to their environment. In this culture, men and women were interdependent: hunters provided most of the food, but their clothing was made by the women, and unless it was made very well the hunter could die: a leaky kamik could mean a frozen foot. Each set of skills was known to be necessary to the survival of all, and each was respected. Then came the Europeans, and the gathering of a nomadic people into settlements, and exposure to many of the more negative aspects of white culture, including excessive drinking and violence towards women; there was a break with traditional ways, and a sharp increase in suicides. Children were forced into residential schools in an effort to wrench them into the twentieth century, and two generations have undergone extreme culture shock. One of the worst effects of this has been the fracturing of families. In the old culture, sons were taught their hunting skills by fathers and uncles, daughters their sewing skills by mothers and aunts, but now many younger people are cultural orphans. There are still a number of elders-living treasures who remember the old ways and Somebodys Daughter aims at a reconnection of the generations. Somebodys Daughter is run by Bernadette Dean, the Social Development Coordinator for her district of Nunavut. Bernadettes Inuit name, Miqqusaaq mica, or sparkling
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rock describes her well: scintillating and clear, but tough underneath. Like many who confront similar social problems, Bernadette knows that to improve the overall health of a community and its families you must improve the well-being and confidence of the women. Somebodys Daughter is a two-week camp for women in their twenties, thirties and forties who never had a chance to learn traditional Inuit sewing. Most of them have experienced tragedy, violence, or separation from their families. Bernadette explained the programmes name to me: Not everyone is a wife, not everyone is a mother, not everyone is a grandmother; but every woman is somebodys daughter. Immediately the participants are given a sense of belonging. The daughters go out on the land with a group of elders and teachers. They live in tents, and make an article of clothing the old way, scraping, stretching, and softening the animal skin first, then cutting the pattern with a womens curved knife or ulu, and sewing it with sinew the best thread, as it expands in water and makes a garment watertight. Its hard to describe the joy that learning this skill can give. But an improvement in literacy is also part of the plan, because Nunavut exists in the same twenty-first century we all do. Computers and office jobs are now common, and for these and the money they can bring, literacy is needed. That is why two writers were invited to join the group: myself and childrens writer Sheree Fitch, who had been there the two previous summers. We both felt very lucky to be there. But how to teach writing to women whose experience of it at school may well have been negative? Sheree told me that it could prove very difficult to get these women to set pen to paper: they might be shy, or afraid of writing; or they might not see the use of doing it at all. The campsite this year was on the shore of Southampton Island, which is situated at the top of Hudsons Bay and is as large as the land mass of Switzerland. It has one settlement, Coral Harbour, with less than a thousand people. It also has two hundred thousand caribou and a lively population of polar bears. We traveled from Coral Harbour to the site on a 30-foot long-liner a trip of sixty miles that took over five hours because of the large waves. We set up our tents at a spectacular location austere and beautiful, with the sea on one side and the land rising up behind us in a series of earlier shores. On the top ridge were some Dorset Culture dwellings many centuries old rocks set into the ground in a circle,
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with a tunnel entrance and some fox traps and graves nearby. The ground at our site was smooth white limestone rocks, so our tents could not be pegged; instead their ropes were tied to large boulders, a good plan in view of the 80-mile-an-hour winds we soon experienced. We had three expert hunters with us, to help with the site, to provide food, and to defend our camp. They immediately bagged a caribou, which was skinned and cut up immediately; some of it became caribou stew, some was soon to be turned into mittens and kamiks; nothing would be wasted. We werent the only hungry ones around, however: through the twilight came a large healthy male polar bear, intent on dinner. The hunters chased it off on their Honda ATVs, then took turns standing guard all night just as well, because the bear came back four times. Next time its dinner, said one hunter. The bear must have heard him. The elders tell us to be alert at all times, we were instructed. The next day the women met with the elders and teachers in a large round communal tent, where they received the skins they would work on. What do you want to make? they were asked by the elders, in Inuktituk. Then, Who is it for? (Sizes vary according to age, patterns according to gender.) This question Who is it for? gave Sheree and myself a thread to follow. During our first writing session, we said that writing, like sewing, took one thing and made it into another; and that writing, like sewing, was always for someone, even if that someone was yourself in a future form. It was a way of putting your voice on paper and sending it to someone you might know, or else to someone you might never meet, but who would be able to hear you anyway. Then I explained that I was going to write a piece for UNESCO. Somebodys Daughter, I said, was part of a much larger movement a movement to improve the lives of women all over the world. Some of these women unlike themselves might not even be able to write their own names yet. So for their first writing assignment, I would like them to send a message to these other women. I would be their post-person, I said: I would deliver their message. Every single woman wrote a message. Every message was positive and encouraging. Here is a sampling:

Whoever you are. I am a woman. I am proud of being me. You can be proud of who you are and be proud of yourself. Dont ever think that were nothing. But we the women are the most pretty inside and out because we are always helpful to our families and other people. Just think of yourself that you can do everything.

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This message is coming from the North. To the women all over the world, take good care of yourself because you are the most needed in a family, you are a home to them so take good care of yourself. We women are all the same and we are as one. Remember, everyone is created equally and that means if he cannot handle abuse neither should you, but please remember that we have to help and love our neighbours. Id love to teach when I learn more. A message to the ladies in the world. Remember that you are loved very much and that you are not alone. Please let your life be good and dont forget youre strong and a helper. To all the women in the world from someone in the north no matter what you look like you are very special. Always keep this in your mind.
And finally:

Learning begins when the learner feels safe and comfortable, provide an atmosphere of safety and comfort. And keep trying!
Writing messages of encouragement was in itself encouraging to the writers. The big round tent became a place of safety and comfort and healing for the women in it, and their writing also became for most, I think a place of safety and comfort and healing. In the tent, and also in the writing, the women laughed and joked and told stories, and also grieved: in this culture, grieving should be done it is said out loud, and with other people. Grieving in this way leads to healing, it is said. Each of the women, with the help of her individual elder or teacher, completed the sewing project she had set out to do. Each continued to write to expand their handling of the written word through daily journals, letters, and small poems. Confidence came through identity and achievement, and on the final day, at the suggestion of one of the women, the daughters wrote a communal poem, each of them contributing a line. Ill use the last line of this poem to show how the sewing, the writing, and the healing all came together through this inspired programme: After I finished sewing the hard part of the kamik I feel like an eagle, so free and fly wherever I may go.

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Margaret Atwood

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Paul Auster

USA
Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, on 3 February 1947. A poet, translator and film director, he is the author of numerous novels, screenplays and works of non-fiction. Through his rich and unexpectedly dream-like prose, Paul Auster is widely regarded by critics as one of Americas greatest living writers. He is best known for his three experimental detective stories, The New York Trilogy (City of Glass, 1985; Ghosts, 1986; The Locked Room, 1986). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, the author Siri Hustvedt.

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Reading with Flaubert


It didnt take me long to get the hang of the wheelchair. There were a few bumps on the first day, but once I learned how to tilt the chair at the proper angle when we went up and down curbs, things went fairly smoothly. Effing was exceedingly light, and pushing him around caused little strain on my arms. In other respects, however, our excursions were rather difficult for me. As soon as we got outside, Effing would begin jabbing his stick into the air, asking in a loud voice what object he was pointing at. As soon as I told him, he would insist that I describe it for him. Garbage cans, shop windows, doorways: he wanted me to give him a precise account of these things, and if I couldnt muster the phrases swiftly enough to satisfy him, he would explode in anger. Dammit, boy, he would say, use the eyes in your head! I cant see a bloody thing, and here youre spouting drivel about your average lamppost and perfectly ordinary manhole covers. No two things are alike, you fool, any bumpkin knows that. I want to see what were looking at, goddamit, I want you to make things stand out for me! It was humiliating to be scolded like that in the middle of the street, standing there as the old man lashed out at me, having to take it as people turned their heads to watch the uproar. Once or twice, I was tempted just to walk away and leave him there, but the fact was that Effing was not entirely wrong. I was not doing a very good job. I realized that I had never acquired the habit of looking closely at things, and now that I was being asked to do it, the results were dreadfully inadequate. Until then, I had always had a penchant for generalizing, for seeing the similarities between things rather than their differences. Now I was being plunged into a world of particulars, and the struggle to evoke them in words, to summon up the immediate sensual data, presented a challenge I was ill prepared for. To get what he wanted, Effing should have hired Flaubert to push him around the streets but even Flaubert worked slowly, sometimes laboring for hours just to get a single sentence right. I not only had to describe things accurately, I had to do it within a matter of seconds. More than anything else, I hated the inevitable comparisons with Pavel Shum. Once, when I was having a particularly rough time of it, Effing went on about his departed friend for several minutes, describing him as a master of the poetic phrase, a peerless inventor of apt and stunning images, a stylist whose words could miraculously reveal the palpable truth of objects. And to think, Effing said, English wasnt even his first language. That was the only time I ever talked back to him on the subject, but I felt so wounded by his remark that I couldnt resist. If you want another language, I said, Ill be happy to oblige you. How about Latin? Ill talk to you in Latin from now on if you like. Better yet, Ill talk to you in Pig Latin. You shouldnt have any trouble under19

standing that. It was a stupid thing to say, and Effing quickly put me in my place. Shut up and talk, boy, he said. Tell me what the clouds look like. Give me every cloud in the western sky, every one as far as you can see. In order to do what Effing asked, I had to learn how to keep myself separate from him. The essential thing was not to feel burdened by his commands, but to transform them into something I wanted to do for myself. There was nothing inherently wrong with the activity, after all. If regarded in the proper way, the effort to describe things accurately was precisely the kind of discipline that could teach me what I most wanted to learn: humility, patience, rigor. Instead of doing it merely to discharge an obligation, I began to consider it as a spiritual exercise, a process of training myself how to look at the world as if I were discovering it for the first time. What do you see? And if you see, how do you put it into words? The world enters us through our eyes, but we cannot make sense of it until it descends into our mouths. I began to appreciate how great that distance was, to understand how far a thing must travel in order to get from the one place to the other. In actual terms, it was no more than two or three inches, but considering how many accidents and losses could occur along the way, it might just as well have been a journey from the earth to the moon. My first attempts with Effing were dismally vague, mere shadows flitting across a blurred background. I had seen these things before, I told myself, and how could there be any difficulty in describing them? A fire hydrant, a taxi cab, a rush of steam pouring up from the pavement they were deeply familiar to me, and I felt I knew them by heart. But that did not take into account the mutability of those things, the way they changed according to the force and angle of the light, the way their aspect would be altered by what was happening around them: a person walking by, a sudden gust of wind, an odd reflection. Everything was constantly in flux, and though two bricks in a wall might strongly resemble each other, they could never be construed as identical. More to the point, the same brick was never really the same. It was wearing out, imperceptibly crumbling under the effects of the atmosphere, the cold, the heat, the storms that attacked it, and eventually, if one could watch it over the course of centuries, it would no longer be there. All inanimate things were disintegrating, all living things were dying. My head would start to throb whenever I thought of this, imagining the furious and hectic motions of molecules, the unceasing explosions of matter, the collisions, the chaos boiling under the surface of all things. As Effing had warned me at our first meeting: take nothing for granted. From casual indifference, I passed through a stage of intense alarm. My descriptions became overly exact, desperately trying to capture every possible nuance of what I was seeing, jumbling up details in a mad scramble to leave nothing out. The words burst from my mouth like machine-gun bullets, a staccato of rapid-fire
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assault. Effing constantly had to tell me to slow down, complaining that he couldnt keep up with me. The problem was less in my delivery than in my general approach. I was piling too many words on top of each other, and rather than reveal the thing before us, they were in fact obscuring it, burying it under an avalanche of subtleties and geometric abstractions. The important thing to remember was that Effing was blind. My job was not to exhaust him with lengthy catalogues, but to help him see things for himself. In the end, the words didnt matter. Their task was to enable him to apprehend the objects as quickly as possible, and in order to do that, I had to make them disappear the moment they were pronounced. It took me weeks of hard work to simplify my sentences, to learn how to separate the extraneous from the essential. I discovered that the more air I left around a thing, the happier the results, for that allowed Effing to do the crucial work on his own: to construct an image on the basis of a few hints, to feel his own mind traveling toward the thing I was describing for him. Disgusted by my early performances, I took to practicing when I was alone, lying in bed at night, for example, and going around the objects in the room, seeing if I couldnt get any better at it. The harder I worked, the more serious I became about what I was doing. I no longer saw it as an aesthetic activity but as a moral one, and I began to be less irritated by Effings criticisms, wondering if his impatience and dissatisfaction could not eventually serve some higher purpose. I was a monk seeking illumination, and Effing was my hair shirt, the whip I flayed myself with. I dont think there was any question that I improved, but that does not mean I was ever entirely satisfied with my efforts. The demands of words are too great for that; one meets with failure too often to exult in the occasional success. As time went on, Effing became more tolerant of my descriptions, but I cant say whether that meant they were really any closer to what he wanted. Perhaps he had given up hope, or perhaps he was beginning to lose interest. It was difficult for me to know. In the end, it could be that he was simply getting used to me.

Paul Auster

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Paulo Coelho

B R AZ I L

Paulo Coelho was born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the city where he currently lives. He worked as a theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist. His own life has been as varied and unusual as the protagonists of his novels. His books include The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, The Fifth Mountain, Eleven Minutes and The Zahir. Translated into over sixty languages, his novels have not only topped the bestseller lists but have also received numerous awards.

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The moment when the hand opens


The right hand starts to pull slowly on the string, while the left keeps a firm grip on the bow. This takes an enormous effort the equivalent of lifting a suitcase weighing 35 kilos along a horizontal plane but I must not shake, I must keep both eyes open, my feet must be firmly planted on the ground. I go into a kind of trance: I am, at one and the same time, the bow, the arrow and the target in front of me, 28 meters away. And then, when I feel the moment has come, my hand opens and the arrow sets off towards its goal. From that point on, all that remains for the archer is to contemplate its flight, knowing that he has given of his best, that he remained in control and felt joy throughout the whole process of shooting the arrow. There is an obvious paradox: I put all that effort into bringing close to my chest, close to my face, something that I must let go the following moment and whose course I cannot then modify in the slightest. I can hear the phone ringing, but it can wait. I am accompanying the arrow in its flight, and that flight is similar to the moment I am living through now in my career: my new book is coming out on Monday, 21st March, in four days time. What does the archer feel after he has released the bowstring, but before the target has been reached? What does the writer feel when he knows that very shortly his work will be in the hands of those people for whom it was intended the readers, those who will plunge into its pages and understand (or not) the emotions I have tried to share? If I could sum it up in two words, those words would be excitement and joy. The old Zen archers used to say that each arrow is a life, and that a man must respect this. Each book is an arrow, a little of my life that is revealed, first to me, and then to my readers. Obviously, I have published books before, and each has provoked in me a different emotion, but there is something different about The Zahir: it is more about myself than any of my other books, apart, perhaps, from The Pilgrimage. In that book, I followed the road to Santiago, searching with longing and persistence for my sword. Now I am sharing with other people what I have done with that sword. The arrow is the archers intention: it is the arrow that brings together the strength of the bow and the sweetness of the target. This intention, therefore, must be crystal-clear, straight and balanced. Once the arrow has gone, it will not come back, it is, therefore, better to interrupt the shot because the movements leading up to it were not sufficiently

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precise or correct than to act carelessly simply because the bow was fully drawn and the target was waiting. Ive done this many times: I have erased whole drafts of books from my computer because in them I was failing to give clear expression to my ideas and feelings. But I have never not released my arrows, my books, simply because I was afraid of making a mistake. If the movements I have made are correct, then I open my hand and let go of the bowstring. If I am fully part of every word I have written, then the words no longer belong to me, the target becomes a mirror, I see myself reflected in my readers eyes. The telephone rings again, my private number. Only five people know that number, and so this time I answer. It is Mnica Antunes, my friend and agent, who has just arrived back from the London Book Fair. She had met my various publishers there, who are very excited; after all, there is to be a first print run of 8 million copies worldwide. She says they have all agreed that I will give only one interview per country (the exception being my own country, Brazil). She starts telling me that the British are producing an advertisement to be shown in cinemas, and that the Japanese publisher will be placing posters in the Tokyo metro. That gave me a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, Paulo. Those advertisements in the metro cost a fortune. I prefer to end the conversation there. After what she said about Tokyo, I dont want to hear any more details. I add another expression to the two previous words: excitement, joy and a cold feeling in the pit of the stomach. Best to go back to my bow and arrow. There are two types of shot. The first is the shot made with great precision, but without any soul. In this case, although the archer may have a great mastery of technique, he has concentrated solely on the target and because of this he has not evolved, he has become stale, he has not managed to grow, and, one day, he will abandon the way of the bow because he finds that everything has become mere routine. The second type of shot is the one made with the soul. When the intention of the archer is transformed into the flight of the arrow, his hand opens at the right moment, the sound of the string makes the birds sing, and the gesture of shooting something over a distance provokes paradoxically enough a return to and an encounter with oneself. For this
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to happen, you must be aware of the effort it took to draw the bow, to breathe correctly, to concentrate on the target, to be clear about your intention, to maintain elegance of posture, to respect the work involved. The arrow cannot leave before the archer is ready to shoot, because its flight would be too brief; it cannot leave after the exact posture and concentration have been achieved because the body would be unable to withstand the effort and the hand would begin to shake. It must leave at the moment when bow, archer and target are at the same point in the universe: this is called inspiration. I ponder this word in The Zahir, because the main character is a writer. Now writing is one of the most solitary activities in the world. Once every two years, I sit down in front of the computer, gaze out on the unknown sea of my soul, and see a few islands ideas that have developed and which are ripe to be explored. Then I climb into my boat - called The Word - and set out for the nearest island. On the way, I meet strong currents, winds and storms, but I keep rowing, exhausted, knowing that I have drifted away from my chosen course and that the island I was trying to reach is no longer on my horizon. I can't turn back, though, I have to continue somehow or else I'll be lost in the middle of the ocean; at that point, a series of terrifying scenarios flash through my mind, such as spending the rest of my life talking about past successes, or bitterly criticising new writers, simply because I no longer have the courage to publish new books. Wasn't my dream to be a writer? Then I must continue creating sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and go on writing until I die, and not allow myself to get caught in such traps as success or failure. Otherwise, what meaning does my life have: going to live in a mill in the south of France and simply cultivating my garden? Giving lectures, because it's easier to talk than to write? Withdrawing from the world in a calculated, mysterious way, in order to create a legend that will deprive me of many pleasures? Shaken by these alarming thoughts, I find a strength and a courage I didn't know I had: they help me to venture into an unknown part of my soul. I let myself be swept along by the current, and finally anchor my boat at the island I was being carried towards. I spend days and nights describing what I see, wondering why I'm doing this, telling myself that it's really not worth the effort, that I don't need to prove anything to anyone, that I've got what I wanted and far more than I ever dreamed of having.
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I notice that I go through the same process as I did when writing my first book: I wake at nine o'clock in the morning, ready to sit down at my computer immediately after breakfast; then I read the newspapers, go for a walk, visit the nearest bar for a chat, come home, look at the computer, discover that I need to make several phone calls, look at the computer again, by which time lunch is ready, and I sit eating and thinking that I really ought to have started writing at eleven o'clock, but that now there are various things I need to do: I go to check my e-mails and realise that there is something wrong with the connection, Ill have to go to a place ten minutes away where I can get on-line; but couldn't I, just to free my conscience from these feelings of guilt, couldn't I at least write for half an hour? I begin, then, out of a feeling of duty, but suddenly 'the thing' takes hold of me and I can't stop. The maid calls me for supper and I ask her not to interrupt me; an hour later, she calls me again; I'm hungry, but I must write just one more line, one more sentence, one more page. By the time I sit down at the table, the food is cold, I gobble it down and go back to the computer I am no longer in control of where I place my feet, the island is being revealed to me, I am being propelled along its paths, finding things I have never even thought or dreamed of. I drink a cup of coffee, and another, and at two o'clock in the morning I finally stop writing, because my eyes are tired. In The Zahir, the main character has exactly these same thoughts: to write is to reveal the untold story to yourself, to travel to the unknown island, and try and share it with your fellows. And it is a constant source of surprise to me to discover that other people were also in search of that very island and that they find it in my book. From then on, I am no longer the man lost in the storm: I find myself through my readers, I understand what I wrote when I see that others understand it too, but never before. I am watching with admiration the flight of the arrow: with it goes my heart, and I am sure, absolutely sure, that despite the joy, the excitement and the cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, I will sleep peacefully tonight: with that arrow flies my heart.

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Paulo Coelho

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Nadine Gordimer

A C I R F A SOUTH

Nadine Gordimer was born and lives in South Africa. She is the author of fourteen novels, numerous short story collections and works of nonfiction. Three of her books were

banned in South Africa during the Apartheid regime. She has received numerous awards, culminating in the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1991. She is a Goodwill Ambassador of UNDP. She recently edited an anthology of stories featuring twenty-one international authors, all profits in aid of HIV/AIDS victims, now published in fifteen languages worldwide.

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The image and the word


In the beginning was the Word. The Word that was Creation. Its transformation into the written word came to us when it was first scratched as a hieroglyph or ideogram on a stone or traced on papyrus, and when it travelled from parchment to print in Gutenberg. That was the next genesis: of literacy. It was and is the miraculous ability that humans alone possess within the miracle of creation. (We have devised the means to take to the air.) Our new millennium, stated as dedicated to defining and upholding human rights, surely should list literacy as an inalienable one? Yet UNESCO reports that over 700 million adults in our era cannot read or write and more than a 72 million children do not go to school, deprived of their rightful heritage, literacy. In South Africa, where I write these words, illiteracy is almost 50% in certain rural areas. What are the reasons, world-wide or nearer wherever ones home may be? Poverty and lack of educational facilities are the obvious ones in poor and developing countries. The disastrous economic effect is seen from the humble levels at an automobile assembly plant in South Africa, research found that many workers on the line could follow only spoken orders, unable to read any written notification. At the level of higher education for the professions, universities are faced with the problem of students ostensibly qualified for entry who do not have the vocabulary or skilled use of the written word necessarily assumed for university courses. The shortage of suitably competent candidates for positions essential in development of governance, social services, industry and commerce, is thus evident. President Mbeki recently said that in order to serve the needs of South Africas fast-growing economy the leading one on the African continent in terms of resources and infrastructure he believes we shall have to import qualified individuals from other countries to fill the vacancies while assisting to raise the capabilities of South Africans to fulfill such positions, particularly in industry. An upgraded version of the adage, each-one-teach-one. But we come back to the absolute. It shouldnt need to be stated, but has to be, it seems. Literacy is the basis of all learning. Even if one goes on to the differently profound numero-ideogrammatic knowledges of science. And on the way back to the source that is the written word we arrive at a presently prevalent intermediate condition of literacy: semi-literacy. This is no doubt exacerbated in multilingual countries where as a result of long colonisation a foreign language became and

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remains a lingua franca, the second language, not the mother tongue, the natal Word of the inhabitant. One would accept that you are unlikely to be able to read and write the lingua franca as confidently, precisely, as, once master of the alphabet, you surely could read and write your own. But a distinguished writer and academic, Professor Eskia Mphahlele, tells me that black South Africans emerge from their schooling semi-literate in the reading and writing of their own mother tongues just as white South Africans and those of other ethnolinguistic backgrounds are semi-literate in theirs. To be able to read the legend on a billboard and the bubble-enclosed dialogue of Spacemen in a comic book, while unable to understand the vocabulary of a poem or follow in prose literature the meaningful variations of syntax, the use of words in ways that open up new depths of self-comprehension that is not literacy. It is not what every individual should have by human right. The developing countries, although with more reasons for producing only the halfway to literacy, are not alone in this cultural state. Colleges in the USA report the same result of their educational system, reflection of current cultural values of their society. In Britain there is the same dismay at young men and women, born and educated in the country of the birth of the English language, who cannot read or write using the great resources of their mother tongue. So while poverty and lack of educational opportunity are responsible for the great void in our world that is illiteracy, this tragic situation is not the prime cause, let alone the justification for the widespread phenomenon of semi-literacy. The fact is that we are conjoined, all countries long developed or struggling to develop across the abyss between rich nations and poor, under threat of the Image against the Written Word. From the first third of the 20th Century the image has been challenging the power of the written word as the stimulation of the imagination, the opening of human receptivity. The bedtime story of middleclass childhood has been replaced by the hour in front of the TV screen; in shack settlements all over the poor countries of the globe the TV aerial signifies the battery-run screen where no book is to be found. School and community libraries dont exist in villages and towns where video cassettes are for hire. Yes, TV images are accompanied by the spoken word, sometimes by text, but it is the picture that decides how secondary the Words role shall be. The American writer William Gass defines best the Written Word, in its home, the book: We shall not understand what a book is, and why a book has the value many persons have if we forget how important to it is its body, the building that has been built to hold

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its lines of language safely together Words on a screen have virtual qualities, to be sure but they have no materiality, they are only shadows, and when the light shifts theyll be gone. Off the screen they do not exist as words. They do not wait to be reseen, reread; they only wait to be remade, relit. Yes, the Image of text, of the Word, disappears off the screen; to recall it, along with the other visuals, you have to have an apparatus, a cell, a battery, access to an electric power connection. The book needs none of these. Simply held in the hand it can be read, turned to again and again, on a bus, in the subway, in the bath, on a mountain top, in a queue. This is no fuddy-duddy turning away from progress. The vast advances in communications technology are an information revolution that has great possibilities for social development if well used, which means made economically available to the millions in the world whose lives will otherwise be bulldozed by the financial oligarchy of globalisation. But information does not, it cannot, ever replace, outmode illumination searching knowledge of the human intellect and spirit that, all readers know, comes in communication with the Word in its infinitely portable, available home between hard or paperback covers. First it became the book of the movie. Now it is the book of the website. Dont let it happen.

Nadine Gordimer

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Amitav Gosh

INDIA
Amitav Gosh is one of the most widely known Indians writing in English today. He was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria, Egypt. He worked for The Indian Express in New Delhi and he earned his doctorate at Oxford before he wrote his first novel. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, The Calcutta Chromosome and most recently, The Glass Palace. Amitav Gosh lives with his wife, Deborah Baker, and their children, in Brooklyn, USA.

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T h e t e s t i m o n y o f m y g r a n d f a t h e r s b o o k c a s e
As a child I spent my holidays in my grandfathers house in Calcutta and it was there that I began to read. My grandfathers house was a chaotic and noisy place, populated by a large number of uncles, aunts, cousins and dependents, some of them bizarre, some merely eccentric, but almost all excitable in the extreme. Yet I learned much more about reading in this house than I ever did in school. The walls of my grandfathers house were lined with rows of books, neatly stacked in glass-fronted bookcases. The bookcases were prominently displayed in a large hall that served, amongst innumerable other functions, also those of playground, sitting-room and hallway. The bookcases towered above us, looking down, eavesdropping on every conversation, keeping track of family gossip, glowering upon quarreling children. Very rarely were the bookcases stirred out of their silent vigil: I was perhaps the only person in the house who raided them regularly, and I was in Calcutta for no more than a couple of months every year. When the bookcases were disturbed in my absence, it was usually not for their contents but because some special occasion required their cleaning. If the impending event happened to concern a weighty matter, like a delicate marital negotiation, the bookcases got a very thorough scrubbing indeed. And well they deserved it, for at such times they were important props in the little plays that were enacted in their presence. They let the visitor know that this was a house in which books were valued; in other words that we were cultivated people. This is always important in Calcutta, for Calcutta is a bookish city. Were we indeed cultivated people? I wonder. On the whole I dont think so. In my memory my grandfathers house is always full of aunts, uncles, cousins. I am astonished sometimes when I think of how many people it housed, fed, entertained, educated. But my uncles were busy, practical, and on the whole successful professionals, with little time to spend on books. Only one of my uncles was a real reader. He was a shy and rather retiring man; not the kind of person who takes it upon himself to educate his siblings or improve his relatives taste. The books in the bookcases were almost all his. He was too quiet a man to carry much weight in family matters, and his views never counted for much when the elders sought each others council. Yet despite the fullness of the house and the fierce competition for space, it was taken for granted that his bookcases would occupy the place of honour in the hall. Eventually, tiring of his noisy relatives, my book-loving uncle decided to move to a house of his own in a distant and uncharacteristically quiet part of the city. But oddly enough the
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bookcases stayed; by this time the family was so attached to them that they were less dispensable than my uncle. In the years that followed, the house passed into the hands of a branch of the family that was definitely very far from bookish. Yet their attachment to the bookcases seemed to increase inversely to their love of reading. I had been engaged in a secret pillaging of the bookcases for a very long time. Under the new regime my depredations came to a sudden halt; at the slightest squeak of an hinge, hordes of cousins would materialize suddenly around my ankles, snapping dire threats. It served no purpose to tell them that the books were being consumed by maggots and mildew; that books rotted when they were not read. Arguments such as these interested them not at all: as far as they were concerned the bookcases and their contents were a species of property and were subject to the same laws. This attitude made me impatient, even contemptuous at the time. Books were meant to be read, I thought, by people who valued and understood them: I felt not the slightest remorse for my long years of thievery. It seemed to me a terrible waste, an injustice that non-readers should succeed in appropriating my uncles library. Today I am not so sure. Perhaps those cousins were teaching me a lesson that was important on its own terms: they were teaching me respect, they were teaching me to value the printed word. Would anyone who had not learned these lessons be foolhardy enough to imagine that a living could be made from words? I doubt it. In another way they were also teaching me what a book is, a proper book that is, not just printed paper gathered between covers. However much I may have chafed against the regime that stood between me and the bookcases, I have not forgotten those lessons. For me, to this day, a book, a proper book, is and always will be the kind of book that was on those bookshelves. And what exactly was this kind of book? Although no one had ever articulated any guidelines about them, so far as I know, there were in fact some fairly strict rules about the books that were allowed on to those shelves. Textbooks and schoolbooks were never allowed; nor were books of a technical or professional nature nothing to do with engineering, or medicine or law, or indeed any of the callings that afforded my uncles their livings. In fact the great majority of the books were of a single kind; they were novels. There was some poetry too but novels were definitely the

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mainstay. There were a few works of anthropology and psychology; books that had in some way filtered into the literary consciousness of the time: The Golden Bough for example, as well as the Collected Works of Sigmund Freud, Marx and Engels Manifesto, Havelock Ellis and Malinowski on sexual behavior and so on. But without a doubt it was the novel that weighed most heavily on the floors of my grandfathers house. To this day I am unable to place a textbook or a computer manual upon a bookshelf without a twinge of embarrassment. This is how Nirad Chaudhuri, that erstwhile Calcuttan, accounts for the position that novels occupy in Bengali cultural life: It has to be pointed out that in the latter half of the nineteenth century Bengali life and Bengali literature had become very closely connected and literature was bringing into the life of educated Bengalis something which they could not get from any other source. Whether in the cities and towns or in the villages, where the Bengali gentry still had the permanent base of their life, it was the mainstay of their life of feeling, sentiment and passion. Both emotional capacity and idealism were sustained by it... when my sister was married in 1916, a college friend of mine presented her with fifteen of the latest novels by the foremost writers and my sister certainly did not prize them less that her far more costly clothes and jewelry. In fact, sales of fiction and poetry as wedding presents were a sure standby of their publishers. (1) About a quarter of the novels in my uncles bookcases were in Bengali a representative selection of the mainstream tradition of Bengali literature. Prominent among these were the works of Bankim Chandra, Sarat Chandra, Tagore, Bibhuti Bhushan, Bonophul & Syed Mustafa Ali. The rest were in English. But of these only a small proportion consisted of books that had been originally written in English. The others were translations from a number of other languages, most of them European: Russian had pride of place, followed by French, Italian, German and Danish. The great masterpieces of the 19th century were dutifully represented: the novels of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev, of Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Stendhal, Maupassant and others. But these were the dustiest books of all, placed on shelves that were lofty but remote. The books that were prominently displayed were an oddly disparate lot or so they seem today. Some of those titles can still be seen on bookshelves everywhere: Joyce, Faulkner and so on. But many others have long since been forgotten. Marie Corelli and Grazia Deledda for instance, names that are so little known today, even in Italy, that they have become a kind of secret incantation for me, a password that allows entry into the

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brotherhood of remembered bookcases. Knut Hamsun, too, was once a part of this incantation, but unlike the others his reputation has since had an immense revival and with good reason. Other names from those shelves have become, in this age of resurgent capitalism, symbols of a certain kind of embarrassment or unease the social realists for example. But on my uncles shelves they stood tall and proud, Russians and Americans alike: Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Sholokov, John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair. There were many others too, whose places next to each other seem hard to account for at first glance: Sienkiewicz (of Quo Vadis), Maurice Maeterlinck, Bergson. Recently, looking through the mildewed remnants of those shelves I came upon what must have been the last addition to that collection. It was Ivo Andrics Bridge on the Drina, published in the sixties. For a long time I was at a loss to account for my uncles odd assortment of books. I knew their eclecticism couldnt really be ascribed to personal idiosyncrasies of taste. My uncle was a keen reader but he was not, I suspect, the kind of person who allows his own taste to steer him through libraries and bookshops. On the contrary he was a reader of the kind whose taste is guided largely by prevalent opinion. This uncle I might add was a writer himself, in a modest way. He wrote plays in an epic vein with characters borrowed from the Sanskrit classics. He never left India and indeed rarely ventured out of his home state of West Bengal. The principles that guided my uncles taste would have been much clearer to me had I ever had an interest in trivia. To the quiz-show adept the link between Grazia Deledda, Gorky, Hamsun, Sholokov, Sienkiewicz and Andric will be clear at once: it is the Nobel Prize for Literature. Writing about the Calcutta of the twenties and thirties Nirad Chaudhuri writes: To be up to date about literary fashions was a greater craze among us that to be up to date in clothes is with society women, and this desire became keener with the introduction of the Nobel Prize for literature. Not to be able to show at least one book by a Nobel Laureate was regarded almost as being illiterate. (2) But of course the Nobel Prize was itself both symptom and catalyst of a wider condition: the emergence of a notion of a universal literature, a form of artistic expression that embodies differences in place and culture, emotion and aspiration, but in such a way as to render them communicable. This idea may well have had its birth in Europe but I suspect it

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met with a much more enthusiastic reception outside. I spent a couple of years studying in England in the late seventies and early eighties. I dont remember ever having come across a bookshelf like my uncles: one that had been largely formed by this vision of literature, by a deliberate search for books from a wide array of other countries.
1 Nirad Chaudhuri, Thy Hand Great Anarch, Addison-Wesley, New York, 1987, pp. 155. 2 Ibid.

Amitav Gosh

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N. Scott Momaday

USA
N. Scott Momadays work as a novelist, scholar, painter, print-maker and poet, combines modern AngloAmerican literary methods with Native American traditions of poetry and story telling. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969 for his first novel House Made of Dawn. He founded the Buffalo Trust, a non-profit foundation, to preserve, protect and restitute Native cultural heritage. In 2004 he was appointed UNESCO Artist for Peace.

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On the value of literacy


As a poet, I cannot imagine a life without words. Language is the element in which the mind lives, and it is the very basis of human being. It is that which distinguishes Man from all other creatures. To speak, to read and write, to encounter the power and beauty and magic of words these are gifts that enrich and ennoble our existence. It seems almost miraculous to me that a child, only two or three years of age, can learn the complexities of language. But children take possession of language naturally, as a birthright. And it should be by birthright also that the child learns to read and write, and is therefore enabled to discover the riches of the world and to share those riches with others. I believe with all my heart that every person in the world is entitled to the gift of literacy. We must provide that gift to the best of our ability, for doing so ensures our humanity and makes possible the realization of a more nearly perfect world.

N. Scott Momaday

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Toni Morrison

USA
Toni Morrison is the first AfricanAmerican woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993). In her novels, she focuses on the experience of black Americans in an unjust society and the search for cultural identity. Born in 1931, in Ohio, Morrison is considered one of the best contemporary novelists. Her works include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, which won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Along with her novels Paradise and Love, Morrison wrote several children's books, including The Book of Mean People, and The Ant or the Grasshopper?, with her son Slade. Retired from her professional post at Princeton University in 2006, she lives in Princeton and upstate New York.

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The signature
At fifty-two, Macon Dead was as imposing a man as he had been at forty-two, when Milkman thought he was the biggest thing in the world. Bigger even than the house they lived in. But today he had seen a woman who was just as tall and who had made him feel tall too. I know Im the youngest one in this family, but I aint no baby. You treat me like I was a baby. You keep saying you dont have to explain nothing to me. How do you think that makes me feel? Like a baby, thats what. Like a twelve-year-old baby! Dont you raise your voice to me. Is that the way you treat your father treated you when you were twelve? Watch your mouth! Macon roared. He took his hands out of his pocket but didnt know what to do with them. He was momentarily confused. His sons question had shifted the scenery. He was seeing himself at twelve, standing in Milkmans shoes and feeling what he himself had felt for his own father. The numbness that had settled on him when he saw the man he loved and admired fall off the fence; something wild ran through him when he watched the body twitching in the dirt. His father had sat for five nights on a split-rail fence cradling a shotgun and in the end died protecting his property. Was that what this boy felt for him? Maybe it was time to tell him things. Well, did he? I worked right alongside my father. Right alongside him. From the time I was four or five we worked together. Just the two of us. Our mother was dead. Died when Pilate was born. Pilate was just a baby. She stayed over at another farm in the daytime. I carried her over there myself in my arms every morning. Then Id go back across the fields and meet my father. Wed hitch President Lincoln to the plow and Thats what we called her: President Lincoln. Papa said Lincoln was a good plow hand before he was President and you shouldnt take a good plow hand away from his work. He called our farm Lincolns Heaven. It was a little bit a place. But it looked big to me then. I know now it must a been a little bit a place, maybe a hundred and fifty acres. We tilled fifty. About eighty of it was woods. Must of been a fortune in oak and pine. We had a pond that was four acres. And a stream, full of fish. Right down in the heart of a valley. Prettiest mountain you ever saw, Montour Ridge. We lived in Montour Country. Just north of the Susquehanna. We had a four-stall hog pen. The big barn was forty feet by a hundred and forty hip-roofed too. And all around in the mountains was
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deer and wild turkey. You aint tasted nothing till you taste wild turkey the way Papa cooked it. Hed burn it real fast in the fire. Burn it black all over. That sealed it. Sealed the juices in. Then hed let it roast on a spit for twenty-four hours. When you cut the black burnt part off, the meat underneath was tender, sweet, juicy. And we had fruit trees. Apple, cherry. Pilate tried to make me a cherry pie once. Macon paused and let the smile come on. He had not said any of this for years. Had not even reminisced much about it recently. When he was first married he used to talk about Lincolns Heaven to Ruth. Sitting on the porch swing in the dark, he would recreate the land that was to have been his. Or when he was just starting out in the business of buying houses, he would lounge around the barbershop and swap stories with the men there. But for years he hadnt had that kind of time, or interest. But now he was doing it again, with his son, and every detail of that land was clear in his mind: the well, the apple orchard, President Lincoln; her foal, Mary Todd; Ulysses S. Grant, their cow, General Lee, their hog. That was the way he knew what history he remembered. His father couldnt read, couldnt write; knew only what he saw and hard tell of. But he had etched in Macons mind certain historical figures, and as a boy in school, Macon thought of the personalities of his horse, his hog, when he read about these people. His father may have called their plow horse President Lincoln as a joke, but Macon always thought of Lincoln with fondness since he had loved him first as a strong, steady, gentle, and obedient horse. He even liked General Lee, for one spring they slaughtered him and ate the best pork outside Virginia, from the butt to the smoked ham to the ribs to the sausage to the jowl to the feet to the tail to the head cheese for eight months. And there was cracklin in November. General Lee was alright by me, he told Milkman, smiling. Finest general I ever knew. Even his balls was tasty. Circe made up the best pot of maws she ever cooked. Huh! Id forgotten that womans name. That was it, Circe. Worked at a big farm some white people owned in Danville, Pennsylvania. Funny how things get away from you. For years you cant remember nothing. Then just like that, it all comes back to you. Had a dog run, they did. That was the big sport back then. Dog races. White people did love their dogs. Kill a nigger and comb their hair at the same time. But Ive seen grown white men cry about their dogs. His voice sounded different to Milkman. Less hard, and his speech was different. More southern and comfortable and soft. Milkman spoke softly too. Pilate said somebody shot your father. Five feet into the air. Took him sixteen years to get that farm to where it was paying. Its all dairy country up there now. Then it wasnt. Then it was nice.
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Who shot him, Daddy? Macon focused his eyes on his son. Papa couldnt read, couldnt even sign his name. Had a mark he used. They tricked him. He signed something, I dont know what, and they told him they owned his property. He never read nothing. I tried to teach him, but he said he couldnt remember those little marks from one day to the next. Wrote one word in his life Pilates name; copied it out of the Bible. Thats what she got folded up in that earring. He should have let me teach him. Everything bad that ever happened to him happened because he couldnt read. Got his name messed up cause he couldnt read. His name? How? When freedom came. All the colored people in the state had to register with the Freedmens Bureau. Your father was a slave? What kind of foolish question is that? Course he was. Who hadnt been in 1869? They all had to register. Free and not free. Free and used-to-be slaves. Papa was in his teens and went to sign up, but the man behind the desk was drunk. He asked Papa where he was born. Papa said Macon. Then he asked him who his father was. Papa said, Hes dead. Asked him who owned him, Papa said, Im free. Well, the Yankee wrote it all down, but in the wrong spaces. Had him born in Dunfrie, wherever the hell that is, and in the space for his name the fool wrote, Dead comma Macon. But Papa couldnt read so he never found out what he was registered as till Mama told him. They met on a wagon going North. Started talking about one thing and another, told her about being a freedman and showed off his papers to her. When she looked at his paper she read him out what it said. He didnt have to keep the name, did he? He could have used his real name, couldnt he? Mama liked it. Like the name. Said it was new and would wipe out the past. Wipe it all out.

To n i M o r r i s o n

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Franceso Sionil Jos

S E N I P P I L I PH

Francisco Sionil Jose has been called a Philippine national treasure. Born in 1924, he is one of the most widely-read Filipino writers. His series of novels and short stories depict the social underpinnings of class struggles and colonialism. He attended the University of Santo Tomas after World War II, but dropped out and plunged into writing and journalism in Manila. In subsequent years, he edited various literary and journalistic publications and started a publishing house. The Pretenders is his most popular novel.

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HOPE

To t h e y o u n g w r i t e r
In a moral crisis such as what grips the country today when a handful of Congressmen betray the peoples trust in obedience to their powerful leader, what can the ordinary Filipino do? What can a writer do? The German writer Stefan Heym who lived through Nazism and East Germanys communist regime had this advice: the writers duty is to survive. What I asked, if survival means acquiescence or surrender? Then, he replied, survival is also a test of his moral strength. Do our writers today have that strength? Every so often, when I am asked by young writers for advice, this is what I tell them: Memory and sentiment are never enough. You must master the craft of writing and use the language you know best respect the word and know the rules before you break them. Having mastered the word, use it then as one would create a window polished, untarnished, so that you can see clearly beyond the crystal. Dont cover the frame with frills and fancy drapes for it is these decorations that will attract, and hide the view. Review, revise, rewrite till it hurts, till the hand that holds the pen is numb, till every sentence reads easily, every word in place and you know by then that the window is made. You are a storyteller, a singer so learn rhythm, music, resonance, narrative technique, until these are in your marrow. You can learn all these by writing letters, notes, exercises, journals. That concert pianist, that prima ballerina everyday they practise and limber up before they go on stage. Do not be waylaid by the latest literary fads, by fashionable ideologies. They will surely pass as unremembered seasons and what will remain are those verities love and death, faith and forbearance, which you have made permanent in prose. Look at your craft with humility, and be your own severest critic. Do not for once believe that ancient panegyric that the pen is mightier than the sword. Nunca! It is always naked power which triumphs and rules, against which you must always rail till your voice hoarsens. Beware, too, of early praise for it can destroy, and remember again that only time will tell if your work will prevail. Write with all your senses, and some of your ulcers working, so that what you write will throb with life. Live, be observant, be the eternal child aglow with awe and wonder of
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the world, amass memories for they will all be retrieved as dialogue, color, plot, action. Ask yourself, what is literature, who is your audience. Literature is the noblest of the arts and writers should, therefore, be of noble bearing, affirming in their very lives the Socratic precepts of virtue and excellence. This is difficult to achieve; perhaps, it is enough that you strive to be able to look at every man straight in the eye and to sleep soundly at night without the nightmares of a bad conscience. Be an honest witness to your time, and be strong when they revile you for telling the truth. Your vocation will also condemn you to solitude, but remember he who stands alone is the strongest. Even in your shattering loneliness, remember you are writing, not for critics, academics, or other writers, but for your own people who, in their silence and perhaps poverty, cannot express their aspirations and anguish. You are their voice but only if you have not deserted or betrayed them. Whatever suffering might be heaped upon you, never, never lose your equanimity, your humor. Much of what you will write be bleak just the same, learn to laugh at yourself first, and your critics, and certainly at the antics of the wretched among your countrymen. Nurture in yourself that abiding sense of urgency, of passion deep and volcanic but always keep it in control and with it, that profound melancholy wrought by our history, by our own leaders no matter how effulgent our fiestas and how bright our smiles. This passion, this melancholy, must surface as literature if you are to be an artist. So Lenin said all art is propaganda, but remember, not all propaganda is art. I make writing seem difficult because it really is. Worse, it may not even make you live comfortably, and you will grow old like so many of us who tried without ever being appreciated in your own country. Just look at all those books piled in bargain counters nobody buys them for though we have a novelist as a national hero, we do not read novels. Why then must you write at all? Do it because there is so much hypocrisy and cussedness in us and, who knows, you may be able to exorcise a bit of these. Do it because many of us have lost our moorings, and it is in literature where history lives, where we can know best ourselves so that we can then live ourselves and be rooted again in native soil. Do it because it is a vocation which will give you such pleasure, so lasting and so deep it transcends anything those sybarites and sensualists covet. I assure you, this old man knows. What, after all, is literature but pain remembered. In remembering, we adorn it with our imagination, our craftsmanship, ennobling it perhaps, imbuing it with permanence; it
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then exists beyond our puny lives, a testament to our humanity for all the world to witness. And having witnessed it, it is our hope that what we have written will evoke compassion, for it the end, this is what draws all men together. One final word: write wherever you can do it best, in exile perhaps, but never, never leave your village, your town, your beginning. Enshrine it in the heart, sanctify it in your mind for your beginning gives you your soul, your humanity. In remembering with passion, you will be writing about a particular place and a particular people but you shall have given them also what all men will recognize, the universality of man and of art itself.

Franceso Sionil Jos

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Wole Soyinka

NIGERIA
Wole Soyinka is a Nobel prize-winning playwright, poet, and novelist, Born in Nigeria, Soyinka is considered by many to be Africas finest writer. His work serves as a record of twentieth-century Africas political turmoil and struggle to reconcile tradition with modern culture. Soyinka has published over forty works in a career that spans five decades including most recently Ake: The Years of Childhood and You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir (2006). He was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1994.

THE ALPHABET

OF

HOPE

I am going to school
I am going to school, I announced one day. It became a joke to be passed from mouth to mouth, producing instant guffaws. Mother appeasingly said. Wait till you are as old as your sister. The hum of voices, once the pupils were within the buildings, took mysterious overtones. Through the open windows of the schoolroom I saw heads in concentration, the majestic figure of a teacher who passed in and out of vision, mumbling incantations over the heads of his attentive audience. Different chants broke out from different parts of the building, sometimes there was even direct singing, accompanied by a harmonium. When the indoor rites were over, they came out in different groups, played games, ran races, they spread over the compound picking up litter, sweeping the paths, clipping lawns and weeding flower-beds. They roamed about with hoes, cutlasses, brooms and sticks, retired into open workshop shed where they wove baskets, carved bits of wood and bamboo, kneaded clay and transformed them into odd-shaped objects. Under the anxious eyes of Auntie Lawanle, I played by myself on the pavement of our house and observed these varied activities. The tools of the open air were again transformed into books, exercise books, slates, books under armpits, in little tin or wooden boxes, books in raffia bags, tied together with string and carried on the head, slung over shoulders in cloth pouches. Directly in front of our home was the lawn which was used exclusively by girls from the other school. They formed circles, chased one another in and out of the circles, struggled for a ball and tossed it through an iron hoop stuck on a board. Then they also vanished into classrooms, books were produced and they commenced their own observances of the mystery rites. Tinu became even more smug. My erstwhile playmate had entered a new world and, though we still played together, she now had a new terrain to draw upon. Every morning she was woken earlier than I, scrubbed, fed and led to school by one of the older children of the house. My toys and games soon palled but the laughter still rankled, so I no longer demanded that I join Tinu in school. Instead, I got up one morning as she was being woken up, demanded my bath at the same time, ate, selected the clothing which I thought came closest to the uniforms I had seen, and insisted on being dressed in them. I had marked down a number of books on fathers table but did not yet remove them. I waited in the front room. When Tinu passed
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through with her escort, I let them leave the house, waited a few moments, then seized the books I had earlier selected and followed them. Both parents were still in the dining room. I followed at a discreet distance, so I was not noticed until we arrived at the infant school. I waited at the door, watched where Tinu was seated, then went and climbed on to the bench beside her. Only then did Lawanle, Tinus escort that day, see me. She let out a cry of alarm and asked me what I thought I was doing. I ignored her. The teachers heard the commotion and came into the room. I appeared to be everybodys object of fun. They looked at me, pointed and they held their sides, rocked forwards and backwards with laughter. A man who appeared to be in charge of the infant section next came in, he was also our fathers friend and came often to the house. I recognized him, and I was pleased that he was not laughing with the others. Instead he stood in front of me and asked, Have you come to keep your sister company? No. I have come to school. Then he looked down at the books I had plucked from fathers table. Arent these your fathers books? Yes, I want to learn them. But you are not old enough, Wole. I am three years old. Lawanle cut in. Three years old wo? Dont mind him sir, he wont be three until July. I am nearly three. Anyway, I have come to school. I have books. He turned to the class-teacher and said, Enter his name in the register. He then turned to me and said, Of course you neednt come to school every day come only when you feel like it. You may wake up tomorrow morning and feel that you would prefer to play at home I looked at him in some astonishment. Not feel like coming to school! The coloured maps, markers, slates, inkwells in neat round holes, crayons and drawing books, a shelf laden with modelled objects animals, human beings, implements raffia and basket-work in various stages of completion, even the blackboards, chalk and duster I had yet to see a more inviting playroom! In addition, I had made some vague, intuitive connection between

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school and the piles of books with which my father appeared to commune so religiously in the front room, and which had constantly to be snatched from me as soon as my hands grew long enough to reach them on the table. I shall come every day. I confidently declared.

Wole Soyinka

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Amy Tan

CH I N A
Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, a bestselling novel which explores the relationships between Chinese women and their ChineseAmerican daughters. One of her books, Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat, was developed into a popular childrens television series on PBS. In her off-hours, she is the lead singer for the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band made up of fellow writers, including Stephen King and Dave Barry they make select appearances in support of literacy programmes for children.

THE ALPHABET

OF

HOPE

Mother tongue
In 1989, I was invited to speak at a conference, The State of the English Language. Upon learning that I would be on a panel with noted academicians and writers, I wrote this apologia the night before. Wendy Laser of The Threepenny Review later asked to publish it, and subsequently it was included in The Best American Essay 1991. I am not a scholar of English or literature. I cannot give you much more than personal opinions on the English language and its variations in this country or others. I am a writer. And by that definition, I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated by language in daily life. I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth. Language is the tool of my trade. And I use them all all the Englishes I grew up with. Recently, I was made keenly aware of the different Englishes I do use. I was giving a talk to a large group of people, the same talk I had already given to half a dozen others groups. The talk was about my writing, my life, and my book The Joy Luck Club, and it was going along well enough, until I remembered one major difference that made the whole talk sound wrong. My mother was in the room. And it was perhaps the first time she had heard me give a lengthy speech, using the kind of English I have never used with her. I was saying things like the intersection of memory and imagination and There is an aspect of my fiction that relates to thus-and-thus a speech filled with carefully wrought grammatical phrases, burdened, it suddenly seemed to me, with nominalized forms, past perfect tenses, conditional phrases, forms of standard English that I had learned in school and through books, the forms of English I did not use at home with my mother. Just last week, as I was walking down the street with her, I again found myself conscious of the English I was using, the English I do use with her. We were talking about the price of new and used furniture, and I heard myself saying this: Not waste money that way. My husband was with us as well, and he didnt notice any switch in my English. And then I realized why. Its because over the twenty years we have been together I have often used the same kind of English with him, and sometimes he even uses it with me. It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family that, the language I grew up with.

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So that youll have some idea of what this family talk sounds like, Ill quote what my mother said during a conversation that I videotaped and then transcribed. During this conversation, she was talking about a political gangster in Shanghai who had the same last name as her familys, Du, and how in his early years the gangster wanted to be adopted by her family, who were rich by comparison. Later, the gangster became more powerful, far richer than my mothers family, and he showed up at my mothers wedding to pay his respects. Heres what she said in part: Du Yusong having business like fruit stand. Like off-the-street kind. He is Du like Du Zong but not Tsung-ming Island people. The local people call putong. The river east side, he belong to that side local people. That man want to ask Du Zong father take him in like become own family. Du Zong father wasnt look down on him, but didnt take seriously, until that man big like become a mafia. Now important person, very hard to inviting him. Chinese way, came only to show respect, dont stay for dinner. Respect for making big celebration, he shows up. Mean gives lots of respect. Chinese custom. Chinese social life that way. If too important wont have to stay too long. He come to my wedding. I didnt see, I heard it. I gone to boys side, they have YMCA dinner. Chinese age I was nineteen. You should know that my mothers expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands. She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads Shirley MacLaines books with ease all kinds of things I cant begin to understand. Yet some of my friends tell me they understand fifty percent of what my mother says. Some say they understand eighty to ninety percent. Some say they understand none of it, as if she were speaking pure Chinese. But to me, my mothers English is perfectly clear, perfectly natural. Its my mother tongue. Her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things made sense of the world. Lately Ive been giving more thought to the kind of English my mother speaks. Like others, I have described it to people as broken or fractured English. But I wince when I say that. It has always bothered me that I can think of no way to describe it other than broken, as if it were damaged and needed to be fixed, as if it lacked a certain wholeness and soundness. Ive heard other terms used, limited English, for example. But they seem just as bad, as if everything is limited, including peoples perceptions of the limited-English speaker. I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mothers limited English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflec54

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ted the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly, her thoughts were imperfect. And I had plenty of empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and in restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her. My mother has long realized the limitations of her English as well. When I was a teenager, she used to have me call people on the phone and pretended I was she. In this guise, I was forced to ask for information or even to complain and yell at people who had been rude to her. One time it was a call to her stockbroker in New York. She had cashed out her small portfolio, and it just so happened we were going to New York the week, our first trip outside California. I had to get on the phone and say in an adolescent voice that was not very convincing, This is Mrs. Tan. My mother was standing in the back whispering loudly, Why he dont send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing my money. And then I said in perfect English on the phone, Yes, Im getting rather concerned. You had agreed to send the check two weeks ago, but it hasnt arrived. Then she began to talk more loudly. What he want, I come to New York tell him front of his boss, you cheating me? And I was trying to calm her down, make her be quiet, while telling the stockbroker, I cant tolerate any more excuses. If I dont receive the check immediately, I am going to have to speak to your manager when Im in New York next week. And sure enough, the following week, there we were in front of this astonished stockbroker, and I was sitting there red-faced and quiet, and my mother, the real Mrs. Tan, was shouting at his boss in her impeccable broken English. We used a similar routine more recently, for a situation that was far less humorous. My mother had gone to the hospital for an appointment to find out about a CAT scan she had had a month earlier. She said she had spoken very good English, her best English, no mistakes. Still, she said, the hospital staff did not apologize when they informed her they had lost the CAT scan and she had come for nothing. She said they did not seem to have any sympathy when she told them she was anxious to know the exact diagnosis, since both her husband and her son had died of brain tumors. She said they would not give her any more information until the next time and she would have to make another appointment for that. So she said she would not leave until the doctor called her daughter. She wouldnt budge. And when the doctor finally called her daughter, me, who spoke in perfect English lo and
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behold we had assurances the CAT scan would be found, promises that a conference call on Monday would be held, and apologies for any suffering my mother had gone through for a most regrettable mistake. I think my mothers English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well. Sociologists and linguists probably will tell you that a persons developing language skills are more influenced by peers than by family. But I do think that the language spoken in the family, especially in immigrant families which are more insular, plays a large role in shaping the language of the child. And I believe that it affected my results on achievement tests, IQ tests, and the SAT. While my English skills were never judged poor, compared with math, English could not be considered my strong suit. In grade school I did moderately well, getting perhaps Bs, sometimes B-pluses, in English and scoring perhaps in the sixtieth or seventieth percentile on achievement tests. But those scores were not good enough to override the opinion that my true abilities lay in math and science, because in those areas I achieved As and scored in the ninetieth percentile or higher. This was understandable. Math is precise; there is only one correct answer. Whereas, for me at least, the answers on English tests were always a judgment call, a matter of opinion and personal experience. Those tests were constructed around items like fill-in-theblank sentence completion, such as Even though Tom was ___ Mary thought he was ___. And the correct answer always seemed to be the most bland combinations, for example, Even though Tom was shy, Mary thought he was charming, with the grammatical structure even though limiting the correct answer to some sort of semantic opposites, so you wouldnt get answers like Even though Tom was foolish, Mary thought he was ridiculous. Well, according to my mother, there were very few limitations as to what Tom could have been and what Mary might have thought of him. So I never did well on tests like that. The same was true with word analogies, pairs of words for which you were supposed to find some logical semantic relationship, for instance, Sunset is to nightfall as ___ is to ___. And here you would be presented with a list of four possible pairs, one of which showed the same kind of relationship: red is stoplight, bus is to arrival, chills is to fever, yawn is to boring. Well, I could never think that way. I knew what the tests were asking, but I could not block out of my mind the images already created by the first pair, sunset is to nightfall and I would see a burst of colors against a darkening sky, the moon rising, the lowering of a curtain of stars. And all the other pairs of words red, bus, stoplight, boring just threw up a mass of confusing images, making it impossible for me to see that saying A sunset

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precedes nightfall was as logical as saying A chill precedes a fever. The only way I would have gotten that answer right was to imagine an associative situation, such as my being disobedient and staying out past sunset, catching a chill at night, which turned into a feverish pneumonia as punishment which indeed did happen to me. I have been thinking about all this lately, about my mothers English, about achievement tests. Because lately Ive been asked, as a writer, why there are not more AsianAmericans represented in American literature. Why are there few Asian-Americans enrolled in creative writing programs? Why do so many Chinese students go into engineering? Well, these are broad sociological questions I cant begin to answer. But I have noticed in surveys in fact, just last week that Asian-American students, as a whole, do significantly better on math achievement tests that on English tests. And this makes me think that there are other Asian-American students whose English spoken in the home might also be described as broken or limited. And perhaps they also have teachers who are steering them away from writing and into math and science, which is what happened to me. Fortunately, I happen to be rebellious and enjoy the challenge of disproving assumptions made about me. I became an English major my first year in college, after being enrolled as pre-med. I started writing nonfiction as a freelancer the week after I was told by my boss at the time that writing was my worst skill and I should hone my talents towards account management. But it wasnt until 1985 that I began to write fiction. At first I wrote what I thought to be wittily crafted sentences, sentences that would finally prove I had mastery over the English language. Heres an example from the first draft of a story that later made its way into The Joy Luck Club, but without this line: That was my mental quandary in its nascent state. A terrible line, which I can barely pronounce. Fortunately, for reasons I wont get into here, I later decided I should envision a reader for the stories I would write. And the reader I decided on was my mother, because these were stories about mothers. So with this reader in mind and in fact she did read my early drafts I began to write stories using all the Englishes I grew up with: the English I spoke to my mother, which for lack of a better term might be described as simple; the English she used with me, which for lack of a better term might be described as broken; my translation of her Chinese, which could certainly be described as watered down; and what I imagined to be her translation of her Chinese if she could speak in perfect English, her internal language, and for that I sought to preserve the essence, but neither an English nor a Chinese

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structure. I wanted to capture what language ability tests could never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts. Apart from what any critic had to say about my writing, I knew I had succeeded where it counted when my mother finished reading my book and gave me her verdict: So easy to read.

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A m y Ta n

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Mikls Vams

Y R A G N HU

Mikls Vmos is one of the most respected writers in his native Hungary. He has taught at Yale University, served as The Nations East

European correspondent, and presented Hungarys most-watched cultural television show. Vmos has received numerous awards for his plays, screenplays, novels and short stories, including the Hungarian Merit Award for lifetime achievement. The Book of Fathers is considered his most accomplished novel.

THE ALPHABET

OF

HOPE

Chekhov on the bench


He was standing around at the edge of the court, till night fell on him. His flat feet were hurting a lot, so he sat on an umpire chair. Around nine he started to shiver, climbed off the chair; from his pocket he pulled out the brightly-polished, double-edged key, closed the metal gate he once painted blue, exactly like he did at the end of each and every day for many-many years. This time unnecessarily though. Why? He opened it again. Then closed it after all. Everything must be in order. Or should be... The brick-red quadrangles of the urged three hard courts were glowing in the twilight. Well, come on, lets go! Vello himself. Yet he was unable to start for a long time. It was not easy to grasp that there was not going to be a tennis court there any more. The whole zone was being sold, the sports centre was going to be closed down, the deserted and desolate colossal concrete buildings of the screw factory were to be pulled down, just like the blocks of one-room flats of the neighbouring streets. It was said that a shopping centre or as the majority was going to be built here, as if there were not enough of them. Vello call him, Velo was an old-age pensioner from the following day. His father was mocked even more than him for his name, because he was called Vellschaer, an ethnic German Schwabian, who then Hungarianised his name in patriotic zeal, whereupon his parents disowned him.
(1)

learned of this only by hearsay. His father disappeared (they say he Vello

tottered off to America) when he was on mothers milk in a miserable house in Kispest, like the ones waiting to be bulldozed here. was already working at the age of ten. He took the washed and ironed clothes Vello to his mothers customers, first balancing the wicker basket on the top of his head otherwise he was not able to carry it. He was over thirteen when he became a ballboy at the tennis courts of DAC, the Detective Athletics Club, near the bridgehead on the Pest side of the Margaret bridge, on the banks of the Danube. After the war he became the warden. When the DAC was liquidated, he went to the jpesti Dzsa, and then came here to the distillery sports centre in Budafoki street it is hard to say almost fifty years ago. Every day he rose at dawn to arrive at the courts by quarter to six. He watered the hard courts, carefully raked and netted the evening before. He pushed the wheelbarrow around, he scattered a shovelful of new red clay here and there in the small holes hollowed out by shoe heels, and trod the clay in. As long as it depended on him, they ordered the best quality Champion clay. Then with chalk powder he filled up the machine which rolled on

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little wheels and drew the lines. By the time it was ready the players were already drifting in. The team of the distillery was competing in the first league for a while; in the mid-fifties they fell back to the second. By now they had dropped even behind the third and could only take part in district competitions. However, Vellos clay and lines stayed first class. Nothing else is like it used to be. Nets now are black, balls are yellowish-green, competitors clothes are gaudy and flashy, wooden rackets and strings made of intestines went out of fashion, instead of having sprinkled lines the stripes are made of small white plastic cards fixed into the ground Gentlemans sport is a thing of the past, swearing is common and rackets are flung everywhere. On Vellos courts it was only flies that flew around; it is all over now. He might as well work somewhere else. They sent word to him from a private tennis club, they would take him on as a tennis-court worker, paid by the hour, under the counter to save social insurance and VAT. It is also possible, explained the messenger, a young could ask man with a briefcase (he played in the distillerys group before), that uncle Vello for a entrepreneurs certificate at the local authority, possibly for a secondary occupation, depending on what worked out better. Then, of course, he would have to pay social insurance and VAT. In this case, if he opted for an activity involving VAT, he would need a good bookkeeper, who knew his way round the system he kept winking. Vello was shaking his head, thanks, he thought, but thats the last thing I need a bookkeeper and VAT if my pension is enough to make ends meet, I would rather sit on my bum and do nothing. Its a crazy world they would send me to a bookkeeper, only to become an unskilled worker, everyones dogsbody. Im too old for that sort of thing. During the last working days he was sorely tempted to take the old and worthless Slazenger racket that somebody had forgotten on Court 3 some twenty years ago, and serve a few balls on Court 1, pretentiously named the Centre Court. Balls, he had plenty of. Kids kept throwing them away and he collected them in a wooden case. Not all were dead, there gave out most of were some quite stringy ones among them. Every now and then Vello them on playgrounds to kindergarten children who still welcomed gifts like this. As a farewell gesture, it might have been nice to hit a dozen balls precisely into the corner of the serving area, as it has to be. I could also practise against the wall, he thought. In his minds eye, past champions he once saw playing tennis popped up. He wondered which one he would prefer to have a game with and what the result would be of a three-set game. In the end he opted for Little Gulys, Hungarys eternal champion. spent all his life serving the white sport without having played once. As a child Vello he never thought he would pursue this high-society pastime. Later he felt ashamed to admit
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that he had never played. Newer and newer generations followed on the courts bordered even at the age of thirty. Some tennis veteby white lines, and they called him Uncle Velo He was last called by his rans much older than him adressed him as Sports comrade Velo. first name probably at the DAC (not counting the Boy Scouts
(2),

by the caretaker there

who preceded him Mister Jnos, would you be kind enough to level Court 2 urgently was still at primary school. The dashing young boys were disappearing at that time Vello one after the other from the field, the war was going on, and they were receiving their callup papers. had failed to fill his life The first day of his retirement passed painfully slowly. Vello with children, objects or passions. He had been married for not more than fourteen months, at the end of the fifties. In those days the Board of Directors of the tennis section had allocated a one-room council flat to him in the Vasplya street where he had lived ever since. At the time they got acquainted, Anna, his wife, was working as a secretary in the club I love someone else, forget me! forget-mehouse. She left a brief farewell letter: Vello, could hardly remember her face; only her not was the plump womans favourite flower. Vello clear blue eyes shone in his memory. took his time to wash, iron and clean up. For lunch he prepared a lecs. (3) After Vello eating he took a nap, tried to sleep, but sleep eluded him. Later he went for a walk. At the third corner he found himself short of breath. Of course, because I am hurrying he did not wander around aimlessly like this. Even though his working time had also been fixed at eight hours, he spent at least twelve at the sportsground. After work he drank a frccs (4) in the run-down pub on the corner. During dinner he would watch TV. He often fell asleep with his head lying on the edge of the table. At weekends sometimes he went to see a film at the old cinema. Now the idea flashed through his mind to buy something for himself. But he could not think out what it should be. He had one thousand forints on him. Up to that day he felt that a green Hungarian banknote was a sizable sum of money. However for a long time one thousand notes had replaced one hundred notes in the pay packets. He decided to pop into the first shop he found on his way. He was unlucky. He came across a second-hand bookshop with a worn sign. Its all the same to me... He went down the steep, creaking wooden stair into the rectangular basement. The tinkling of the bell above the door recalled childhood memories: his mother used to serve customers in a grocers shop for a few years in Magld with the same tinkling bell. In that shop the oiled strip flooring used to creak welcomingly, and the unavoidable smell of the chemicals weighed heavily on the air. In the second-hand
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bookshop his sandals shuffled noisily on the rusty brown linoleum, the grains of dust were visible floating in the beams of light filtering in through the two small windows. Can I help you? asked the shop assistant, a man of Vellos age, looking at him from above the half moon glasses sliding down to the tip of his nose. I am just looking around, mumbled Vello disgruntedly, ready to leave. As you wish, and the shop assistant went on reading the book lying on the counter. He envied the man for the attention that kept him absorbed in his text I might as well read too, he thought. He was deciphering the names and titles on the spines of the volumes. He discovered the Low-price Library series. He knew this one; his mother collected it while she was still alive. Thinner ones cost three forints, thicker ones were four. scolded her. She would smile Mother, are you reading again? Why strain your eyes? Vello to herself: I have found a thick, boring book; it helps to pass the time. He could never understand this. What pleasure can you find in something that is boring? Forget it, my son, said his mother, I do not want any more excitement. Vello tried to remember where those yellowish uniform volumes had gone after having buried his mother. Obviously he had given them away as a present to the two neighbours with red-rimmed eyes, just like the rest of the jumble. He took the small books, which felt old and dusty in his hand, he even remembered the title page of a few. Suddenly a kind of dizziness came over him. Mother had this book, thats for sure! At that time the simple drawing on the cover looking at him was engraved on his mind: the idiotic portrait of an ugly fat old woman with a cross-shaped medallion hanging around her neck on a red ribbon, a lamenting woman figure in the background, her dress of the same red colour as the ribbon. Chekhov: Anna on her Husbands Neck.

Short stories. (5)


He hardly ever read, at the most he browsed Peoples Sport or the weekly illustrated magazines left on the field. The stream of letters in this book barely made complete words. Translated from Russian, a collected edition of twenty volumes published in Moscow bet ween 1946-1951, by Erzsbet Devecseri Guthi, Sarolta Lnyi, Klra Szollosy. Editor Etel Gordon. Published by the Director of New Hungarian Publisher. Editing Director: Irn Leszev. Technical Director: Bla Sikls. Number of copies: 48.000, 14,1 (A/5) sheet size Wow! He was soaking in sweat. He was surprised that the bespectacled seller asked not more than twenty-two forints for the Chekhov. If it is such an inexpensive form of entertainment, in the end I will get into

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the habit of reading. An age-old advert came into his head, but slightly changed: Tell me,

cow, what makes you grieve? Books are even cheaper than meat.
He settled down on a bench at the playground. Now, its reading time. The late afternoon sun was shining encouragingly, it painted the pages brightly. After the wedding

they had not even light refreshments; the happy pair simply drank a glass of champagne, changed into their traveling things, and drove to the station. (6) This is how the book title
of his own Anna. I could story started, Anna on her Husbands Neck. This reminded Vello not actually say that she was hanging around me too long he closed the book. Once again he looked closely at the drawing on the book cover. He realized that it was not an old woman but the husband and the medallion hanging from his neck was certainly portraying his wife, Anna. This is how the title should be understood, he thought. He only kept one photo of Anna, the one of the wedding, in which the newly married woman squinted into space gloomily, leaning her head with her elaborate hairdo on the husbands shoulder. Come on, old man, stop daydreaming, and start reading! he forced himself to return to the text Instead of a gay wedding ball and supper, instead of music and dancing, they took a break at went on a journey to pray at a shrine a hundred and fifty miles away. Vello the full stop. He laid the open volume flat on his knees, closed his eyes. Circles of light were sparkling in his head. They even put an epilogue printed in italics in the Chekhov book, written by Irn Leszev. Maybe I will understand the whole thing better if I start with this. The son of the

grocer from Taganrog was twenty years old when he arrived in Moscow in the autumn of 1879 to enrol at university. A grocers that must be the same in Tangawhatever as here
Mother was bustling about behind the counter which was covered by chipped glass. Son, come on, greet Uncle Nirts, properly! Mother was continually afraid of bringing the owners wrath down on her and she would lose her good job. For Uncle Nirts was a gentle soul with a pince-nez, he was hardly ever angry at mother, or anyone else. He used to bounce him on his knees: Ride a cock horse! Uncle Nirts children died, one after the other. heard this apologetic statement at least a Poor things, their lungs were too weak Vello hundred times from the old grocer. Well thats it one has to accept it you at least are what are you going thriving like cabbages from Zala, isnt that so then, tell me, Little Velo, to do when you grow up? Professor of medicine, he replied, knowing this was what Mother wanted to hear. In reality he wanted to be a high-ranking army officer with countless decorations, with a tasselled sword, a white horse. Thats right, approved Uncle Nirts, a clever child like you should go to university if only I had strived for that myself.

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Uncle Nirts went bankrupt unexpectedly, just before his shop and he himself were did not aspire to an Army career. swept away by the war without a trace. After that Vello University was totally out of the question, as first he should have completed secondary school. What was in the past of the young man who was quietly looking around?

Troublesome years, a childhood without ever really being a child, misery, humiliation. They
could just as well have written this about me, thought Vello. At this moment he felt Anton Pavlovics Chekhov to be a close friend who only lived forty-four years in this world (1860 1904), because as it turned out from the meticulous paragraphs of Irn Leszev his lungs were at least as weak as those of the Nirts children. He used to like the natural sciences, thus he became a medical student. His mother must have been delighted, thought Vello. All that Irn Leszev revealed about Chekhovs mother was that she earned a modest living by sewing after the fathers bankruptcy of his grocers shop. So father Chekhov was exactly the same as Uncle Nirts still they could not have been as extremely poor as us Bankrupt or not, a grocer can always make ends meet hairline cracks were appearing in his sympathy.

Chekhovs plays met with tumultuous success in the theatre world. His beloved Olga Knipper, one of the most famous actresses of the age at this point the mild but gradually recognizable antipathy changed into hatred mixed with sorrow. Since his wife left him, Vello barely considered womankind worthy of attention. But an actress after all Vello stuck alluring front page images of the magazine Theatre and Cinema (later to be Film,

Theatre, Music) all over his kitchen walls. Margit Bara. Violetta Ferrari. Mariann Krencsey.
Well, these were real women! Not only a medical degree, money, but as Irn Leszev wrote: fame and immor envied him the most. tality, Chekhov also had one of these buxom actresses. For her, Vello My Anna, lets admit it, was not pretty Not even she wanted me. Of course, I too am somewhat ugly, and apart from my two hands I dont have anything else never have I had he was sweating a lot, grief overcame him. His life ended in a strange country

at a German spa but he lies buried at home, in Moscow, the capital of his country.
mused about what kind of woman that Irn Leszev could be. Bespectacled. With a bun. Vello Ink-blot and lump on her finger from writing. The sun was still glowing above the roofs, the playground packed with children, their noise fused in one monotone melody. Vello sighed. He turned the pages back to the beginning to continue Anna on her Husbands Neck where he had stopped. People said, too, that

Modest Alexeitch, being a man of principle, had arranged this visit to the monastery
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expressly in order to make his young bride realize that even in marriage he put religion and
got lost in this longwinded and complicated sentence, he morality above everything. Vello got to the end only after a second reading. He remembered his mother. Would she find Chekhov boring enough? As for the thickness of the book, not so bad.

When the train started, Anna saw her father run a little way after the train, staggering and spilling his wine, and what a kind, guilty, pitiful face he had. Vello was sighing heavily.
His interest cooled, his eyes got tired too. The letters are too small he would hardly read this book all the way through, nor another one, he was too old to begin reading, it was beyond him, too complicated, like almost everything else in this life. He left the Chekhov on the bench, he was about to leave for home. A shrill childrens voice rang out behind him: Hey mister! He stopped short. A tiny young boy in dungarees was running after him: Youve forgotten this! holding out the book to him, his took it, thank you, grimy fingers covering the husbands head on the book cover. Vello youre a nice boy whats your name? Saj. Hacsek and Saj, said Vello spontaneously. Then you are the knyvello! The little boy nodded: And you? Vello. Kny-vel-lo! then he sang cheekily: Knyv-ello! would dearly have loved to give him a slap across the face. But he was only a Vello child He felt ashamed, and placed the volume in the little boys hand: Take this, its yours! The child grasped it contentedly: OK but I cannot read yet. Neither can I, said The little boy laughed, he thought the old man was joking. Vello.
1 2 3 4 5 Velo means bone marrow in Hungarian. In the original: Levente, a military youth organisation in Hungary, 1928-44. Lecs is a vegetable dish made from red, yellow or green peppers, tomatoes and onions. Frccs is a popular summer drink made from wine and soda water. The Hungarian translation reads Anna on her Husbands Neck. The order of St. Anna: Russian decorations came in different grades; lower grades would be placed in a buttonhole, while higher grades were pinned on the chest or hung around the neck. 6 In the above text, quotations from the short story come from Constance Garnetts translation of Anna on the Neck. She translated and published 13 volumes of Chekhov stories between 1916 and 1922. 7 Vello, a play on words in Hungarian: knyv means book, and knyvelo is bookkeeper. Knyvello (7)

he grinned,

M i k l s Va m s

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Banana Yoshimoto

JAPAN

Banana Yoshimoto was born in 1964. She is the author of Kitchen, N.P., Amrita, Asleep, Goodbye, Tsugumi, and Hardboiled & Hard Luck. Her works have been translated and published in more than twenty countries. Her writing has been awarded numerous literary prizes around the world. She lives in Tokyo with her family.

THE ALPHABET

OF

HOPE

The power of words


Once I went on a trip with a friend whose mother had just died. She cried every night in our cottage there, on one of the southern islands. Of course I would comfort her, and then Id get to see her smile. But there was nothing I could do for her. I was powerless. When we left our cottage during the day to walk on the beach, a Japanese mother and daughter were always out there walking. Their timing was terrible. The woman, who was just entering old age, and her daughter, who was in her late twenties, strolled along the shoreline like the best of friends. Each time my friend saw them, her eyes filled with tears. Until a few years earlier, she and her mother had been like that, too: they had taken trips abroad together, and quarreled, and shared delicious food, and gone shopping. Seeing her so sad was all the more heart-wrenching for me because I knew that. But still there was nothing I could do for her. One evening when I was starting to give way under the pressure of being unable to help, after my friend had fallen asleep having exhausted herself crying, or maybe having struggled successfully to keep from crying I found myself unable to drift off, and so I was reading a mystery I had borrowed from my friend. The story, which revolved around a rather lackluster detective, was incredibly dark. And yet I doubt any other book could have comforted me at that moment as perfectly as that one did. The world created by that book was able to make room for my worn out, lonely heart, which had nowhere else to go to take it in and give it pleasure. I have another story like that. When youre traveling in a group, someone always gets into an argument. Once, when I was riding a claustrophobically small boat in Egypt and there was nowhere to escape and the atmosphere just got to be too much, I got totally wrapped up in a popular fiction sort of novel by Ryu Murakami that a friend had lent me, and before I knew it the suffocating closed-in feeling was gone. That book, which hardly seems likely to be counted among the best works of that writer, had saved me. I dont know, maybe if Id been in Japan I wouldnt have read it with as much attention as I did. But I remember that there, during those travels, the breathtaking Japanese prose Ryu Murakami writes seemed to sink right into me. Its possible that the ability to read something thats been written down, to read a book, say, is only able to open up the world that much more to do the little things it did for me on the occasions Ive described. Maybe the ability to read isnt something one absolutely needs to get by in this world. Still, if there are people who have the desire to read or

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write but are never given the chance, thats not right. The world matured long enough ago that it ought to be able to give that chance to everyone. Theres no need to insist that people read masterpieces or communicate important information, or that they study, or even contribute to the future by learning to read and write. It seems to me they really ought to be given that opportunity solely for their own pleasure, and to broaden the horizons of their own individual lives.

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Graphic design Grald Sanspoux Belgium

Margaret Atwood

Paul Auster

Paulo Coelho

Nadine Gordimer

Amitav Gosh

N. Scott Momaday

Toni Morrison

Franceso Sionil Jos

Wole Soyinka

Amy Tan

Mikls Vams

Banana Yoshimoto

This volume features texts published on the occasion of International Literacy Day 2007. It is presented by UNESCO and is not for sale.