Borderliners- Peter Hoeg

Borderliners, or De måske egnede in Danish, is a book by Peter Hoeg centered around 3 damaged schoolchildren who don’t fit into their highly regimented school system. The blurb states that is is an experimental school, and there is much made of this by the kids; they are certain that there is something off going on, that there is a greater plan behind the school that they need to understand, that even time itself is not self evident, but something that has been created and needs to be examined from the outside.

I couldn’t help feeling as I read through the book, that there was much made of not much. Yes the school was oppressive, and noone in government knew if taking in the damaged kids and trying to set them straight in the mainstream schools would have good outcomes, but that seems to me a very common scenario. Almost every boarding school movie and novel has an element of the strict, overbearing teachers and regimented timetable as the background to the school kids bid for creativity, independence and exploration. It is in someways one of the main elements of growing up- as children parents and teachers run our lives, until there comes a time when we push against it. And there have been hundreds of social programs tried over the years- as much as people in power would like to know it will work before they fund it, they never really know until afterwards.

I think what we read in this book, is less of an expose of a dodgy system, and more of an exploration of a different view of what it is like to be in that system. Peter, the protagonist, has a somewhat fractured mind- he loses sense of time, has difficulty remembering facts, and seems to find it harder to sort and classify information- the only way he knows what pieces of information are important from a class is to not when the teacher puts a certain emphasis on the words, rather than seeing the importance in it. He lives with a sense of fear, and over analyses moments. Although he talks about the fear, and understanding of certain things being portents of coming trouble from the teachers, as though all the students feel this way, I get the sense these things are a much larger part of his world than of the other students. The other students are ‘insiders’ as opposed to people on the outside, or borderline like him. And being on the inside is described as quite a different experience than what he lives, even if they have the same situation.

“You spend your whole life believing that you will always be on the outside or on the borderline. You struggle and struggle, and yet it all seems to be in vain. And then, suddenly, you are allowed inside and lifted up into the light.”

The book is written in a disjointed fashion. It constantly switches between pronouns: One, I & You may all appear on the same page, all, I think, meaning Peter. While most of it is set during the middle/high school years, there are flashes forwards to the present, and memories of the earlier past. There are diversions into philosophical rants about the nature of time. It is not the easiest book to read, and for much of it there isn’t a driving story line. Slowly, through dribs and drabs we get a string of events which lead up to a climax, and then just near the end small slice of redemption. I read this book less as a story, and more as a bit of time spent walking along side and listening to the mind of a small, troubled boy.

 

The Many Conditions of Love- Farahad Zama

Next stop on my journey around the world is India. It surprise me how easy it was to find a book; for many countries you will see countless books set in them by Englishmen or Americans who have traveled there, rather than books by people actually from the country. Before starting this blog I hadn’t really thought about how much better it could be to get the local insight into a place, rather than the outsider, or tourist, viewpoint.

Just going to one second hand book sale I found multiple options for India. A quick google search tells me that this is likely because India has a huge publishing industry- with various sites/years ranking it as the 2-3rd largest English language book market, and the 5-6th largest overall.

I have actually bought a few Indian books, so you may hear about a few more in the future, but the first one I read was The Many Conditions of Love, by Farahad Zama. It is actually the second in the Marriage Bureau for Rich People series, which follows the lives of several couple and families which loosely intersect around the Marriage Bureau Mr Ali set up in his retirement. Although the title of the series makes you think a Hollywood romance is likely, the book is more like a reflection of various aspects of relationships. It follows the difficulties in a newly married couple, and those of a blossoming romance between two people of different religious, cultural and economic backgrounds. You are never sure until the end if things will work out for either couple.

The most interesting parts of this book for me, were the cultural factors that were woven into every page. We hear about the dhotis and saris the people wear, and the pakodi, muruku, samosa, boorulu and any number of other Indian foods that they eat. There are comments about the weather, the plants, the ceremonies, the different types of people who make up the fabric of the city, and of course throughout you see the views people have on what their role is in society and in different relationships. The characters learn lessons about life and relationships, which are not quite what would happen in a Hollywood version, but do make sense in their own way. And that, I suppose is the whole point of this exercise.