Travelling Man

Lost Luggageby Jordi Punti, translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark.

lost luggage

This is the story of Gabriel Delacruz, orphan, international furniture remover and father to four sons. Four boys – born in four different countries to four different mothers; one German, one English, one French and one Spanish, and all christened the local equivalent of the name Christopher. They are not aware of each other’s existence, and none of them have seen their father for a couple of decades.

The ‘Four Christophers’ finally meet when the youngest, Cristòfol is contacted by the police when his father goes missing. He finds a piece of paper with the details of his brothers on.  The Christophers meet to learn each others stories, and also to research their father – they don’t believe he’s dead.

In fact, disappeared isn’t the correct verb, and if we’ve decided to find him, it’s to make sense of the word.  Give it a body. Only somebody who’s previously appeared can disappear and that’s not the case with our father. We haven’t seen him for more than thirty years and the sum of our memories presents us with only a blurry image of him. It’s not as if he was a timid man, or naturally reserved, but he always seemed to have an escape route. He wasn’t edgy, anxious or mistrustful either. Sigrun says she fell in love with both his presence and his absence. Mireille recalls that as soon as he arrived it was as if he was leaving again. The brevity of his visits helped, of course. …
This vanishing act can even be seen in the letters he used to send us. He wrote them from all over Europe, wherever he was moving furniture, telling us stories about the trip. Sometimes they were postcards, scribbled by the roadside. … In the letters he wrote us he sometimes enclosed photos of himself, alone or posing with his trucker friends. The words accompanying these images revealed real tenderness and longing, which made our mothers cry if they were feeling fragile, but they never went beyond two sides of a single sheet of paper. Just when it seemed he was getting into his stride, the writing would abruptly end. See you soon, kisses, and so on and so forth, his name, and that was that. As if he was afraid to give all of himself.

The brothers take their turns to tell their stories. How their mothers met Gabriel, their births, and those rare visits throughout their childhood.  Although they are very different, they all get on well, making up for lost time.  Their mothers were all independent women and despite the lack of a permanent father figure in their lives, they have made the most of things. They start meeting regularly to talk, and search out Gabriel’s friends and acquaintances to help fill in the gaps.

Alongside Gabriel’s unfolding story was that of his fellow orphan and colleague Bundo. Together since their days in the ophanage, their undying friendship was the most touching part of this story. Whereas Gabriel had a woman in each port so to speak, there was only ever one girl for Bundo but he had to share her, for Carolina was a prostitute in a roadhouse outside Lyon.

One of the naughty but interesting things that Gabriel and Bundo did together along with fellow removers was to always remove one random box from the contents of each move. They’d share out the contents, and Gabriel catalogued them – over 200 boxes in total over their career. One of those boxes had contained a ventriloquist’s dummy, which Gabriel passed on to his German son, Christof, who called it Christofini. The dummy kept butting into Christof’s part of the narrative, which did give a slightly surreal edge to things.

I particularly loved reading about Gabriel and Bundo and their exploits through the years, lovable rogues both, always up for a chance to make a bit on the side or a game of cards. The sons’ stories weren’t as exciting in comparison, and as I read on, I did hope that they’d make progress on finding Gabriel, for at 473 pages, this is rather a long book. I won’t let on what finally happens, for this was a charming story told with humour, and you may want to find it out for yourself.  Despite its length, Punti has created some memorable characters in this debut novel and I enjoyed the travels and travails of Gabriel, his friends and extended family a great deal. (8.5/10)

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I received a copy from the publisher – thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Lost Luggage by Jordi Punti, pub 25th April by Short Books, Trade paperback, 473 pages.

Australian Literature Month – Just about made it!

This January has been Australian Literature Month, hosted by Kim at Reading Matters, and the interweb has been alive with Aussie Lit.

Before I give my thoughts on the book I read for the month, I’d like to recall my very first experience of Australian books…

It was the early 1970s I think, and my Dad acquired a little volume by a chap called Afferbeck Lauder.  It was called Let’s Stalk Strine and was about Australian language and culture, but written phonetically in an Aussie accent, and thus was very funny indeed. I remember reading it rather perplexedly, then as realisation dawned falling about with laughter.  Afferbeck Lauder (Alphabetical Order) was, of course, a pen-name – for a chap from the Sydney Morning Herald who wrote a Strine column, and half a dozen or so Strine books in the mid 1960s.  Sadly they’re all out of print, and none available for under a tenner anywhere, else I’d have been able to see if it’s as funny as I remember, (unless you still have yours Dad?).  Enough of detours though, and on to the book I read…

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

This book was in my TBR for so long, I got rid of it. It was the original hardback too (left), although I don’t think it was a first edition.  Then a few years later, I had a yen to read it and bought another paperback copy (right, dislike that cover though), and put it in the TBR again, where it has stayed until I was given the nudge to read it, spurred on by Lizzy.  We had a vague plan to do a shared post, but in the end were too busy to get it together!  So here are my thoughts…

My first reaction to the book was it’s so dense!  There is so much packed into O&L’s 500+ pages, that it reads like a book that is far longer. That’s not a bad thing though in a really good novel, and this is one.  The density is in the dazzling detail which has a Dickensian quality to it, making it a book to be savoured and not rushed.  I read it more slowly than I usually do taking nearly the full month, reading several short chapters, of which it has 111,  most mornings.

The story was not at all what I expected.  The playing cards on the front of the original cover would have you think that O&L are an Australian Bonnie & Clyde conning their way through the bush, however, the later cover with its church and praying hands is ultimately much closer to the heart of the story.  I’m not going to outline the plot in detail as Lizzy’s post captures its essence admirably.

Needless to say it’s epic in scope. We alternate between Oscar and Lucinda’s stories in the first half of the book.  Both are parentless as young adults, Oscar through estrangement and Lucinda’s mother died leaving her a small fortune. Despite having developed a flair for winning on the horse, Oscar decides to emigrate to Australia on a whim, and must overcome his phobia of crossing water for the long voyage. Lucinda meanwhile buys a glassworks and, while trying to integrate into Sydney society, gets addicted to playing cards for money.

So it’s chapter 46 before they are on the same page of the book, and several chapters later before they say a word to each other on board the ocean liner taking Oscar to Oz.

There were two doors. She chose the right-hand one. Ahead of her was a red-headed clergyman sitting on a plush red settee. It was the second-class promenade. She felt herself ‘nabbed’, ‘caught in the act’. She thought it undignified to turn back. She held up her head and straightened her shoulders. She came forward. She walked directly towards him. She introduced herself to him, and when he said his name, she did not hold it.
‘I am in the habit’, she said, ‘of making a confession.’
‘Quite,’ he said.
‘Perhaps this is not a practice you approve of.’
‘No, no,’ he said, ‘of course not.’
‘I wonder then, she blurted, ‘if you might not oblige me at a time convenient to you.’ And then, not quite knowing what she had done, and certainly not why, she fled to those regions of the ship where Oscar dare not follow.

There’s an instant attraction, but neither are capable of acting upon it. Hidebound by society rules, theirs is a relationship that will be two steps forward, and mostly two steps back, as misunderstandings and the inability to speak their minds always get in the way, until Oscar gets his chance, but what will he do?

This is a slow-burning book that, until the last fifty or so pages, plots a leisurely course through the lives of its protagonists. I can imagine getting very frustrated with both of them if I had read it faster – I still wanted to knock their heads together.  Having been on their own since they were teenagers, with few friends of their own age, Oscar and Lucinda are innocents in the ways of romance, and it was this hope that they would actually realise their love that kept me mesmerised from start to finish.

My first experience of Peter Carey was a good one – I hope to have many more. (9/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey