Sunday, February 8, 2009

The naan alone deserves a paragraph or two.

Current book: Kim
Pages read: None

Well, I didn't get around to reading today, but I did do some more thinking about Rudyard Kipling and Indian literature in general. There's something slightly cold about Kipling's description of Kim's India, and I'm having trouble putting my finger on it. It's as though he's so focused on giving us an accurate portrait of the different classes and races and their attendant lifestyles that he misses some of the things I want the most out of a book about a place I've never been. While there's some visual description of the countryside and the people in it, I feel like it could easily be the description of a thousand places I've been to. (Maybe he's making a point about the universalism of the world and the human experience, but I don't think it's too much to ask to combine that with an understanding of the details that set a particular place apart.)

After thinking about it for some time, I also determined the other main type of description that I felt was missing: food. Am I the only one who loves descriptions of food in books? Maybe it's because I'm kind of a gourmet at heart, or just that I love to eat, but I used to live for the feast scenes in fantasy novels and the descriptions of fabulous meals in fancy restaurants in narratives about the upper class. Even the moments in realist literature when authors describe things like burned goat and bitter fried plantains (The Poisonwood Bible, in case you were wondering) are important. It's not that it necessarily has to turn into a restaurant review, but if I don't know what my characters are eating, I feel like I'm missing out on an important and viscerally compelling set of details. So, that said, Kipling denying me the knowledge of turn-of-the-century Indian food is just outrageous.

That wasn't a particularly deep literary discussion, but what are you gonna do? (Also, I'd like to take this moment to point out the fact that I was deeply disappointed to taste red wine for the first time after all the descriptions in books that made it sound rich and sweet and delicious. If by rich and sweet and delicious they actually meant woody and vinegary, then sure. I solved this problem by discovering sangria.)

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