May 09, 2017
The very first English book I remember coming across is “Thorn Birds”. It was high up on the top shelf in the dining room. Both of my parents had read it, I think. It must have been very popular when they were becoming adults. One of those books everybody read. At least everybody from their circle. University students. It might have been one of those books I “fake-read” when I was little, making those ‘English’ sounds. Other books I remember on that shelf are “Ye-hilm Ijat” (which I eventually read when I was old enough), and the sequel, which I forget the title of. I’m sure that eventually, “Fikir-Iske-Meqabir” made it up there too, if it wasn’t already there. What else what else what else.
I wonder what it was about “Thorn Birds” that made it so popular, popular enough to reach Ethiopia. At its core, it is a standard story of star-crossed lovers, lovers who can never be together because the man is a Catholic priest and so he is celibate. That forbidden passion. If I remember from the movie, he did end up sleeping with the woman. They had a son, whom she loved more than the daughter she had by her brutish husband. But then the son drowned. And the daughter grew up unhappy and had a bad relationship with her mother because she knew her mother didn’t love her (or not as much as the son) but she never understood why. I remember the ending when both the man and the woman are old. Very sad ending. So it was a story of a grand passion between an older man and a younger woman in which the obstacle between them is God himself!
Come to think of it, it’s no wonder that it was a hit in Ethiopia. (Maybe it wasn’t such a big hit as I think it was.) We are ones for epic lovers’-separation stories. Think Makeda and King Solomon (technically, she left him, and they were never a couple, and there is no grand love angle to that story, more like coerced sex). But definitely “Fikir Iske Meqabir” is star-crossed lovers.
Where does that expression come from? Star-crossed. It sounds like it should be a good thing.
So that book on the shelf, the traditional songs, Fikir Iske Meqabir, Ye-hilm Ijat and its sequel. I would like to say that these conditioned me from early on to view love and romance, life in general, in a certain way: a bit defeatist, melancholic, etc. Except I didn’t read any of them until much later, and I have yet to read Thorn Birds…
I’m not getting much juice out of this prompt…
The only angle I can think of is how those novels I read in the Kennedy Library made me view love and romance as something secretive, furtive, intense, troubling, irresistible. I never borrowed them. I always returned it to the shelf and picked up where I left off the next time I had to wait for my mom. (That’s interesting. The beginnings of a ‘private’ life secret from my mom?) Maybe I always took a second book from the shelf, so that it would look like I was reading that instead? Did she ever ask me what I read while I was there? It would have been hard for me to hide what I was reading.