Image Credit: Amazon
Bangalore skies these days have been stupendous. Cloudy with a tinge of sun in the afternoon. Just the right temperature where you don’t need a cardigan but at the same time you can’t wear shorts. Oh and the wind. It’s been blustery; that lovely wind that plays with your hair each time you look out the window or walk on the street. Perfectly conducive weather for curling up with a book and a coffee don’t you think? That’s exactly how I finished Moths by Karl Manders, a quasi magical tale about a boy who runs and his father who ends up in the gulag. A short summary from the book jacket first:
From rural Holland in World War II to the Soviet labour camps by way of a curious jazz band in Minks and Moscow, Moths tells the parallel stories of a father and son who live through interesting times. A self-indulgent Dutch businessman finds himself caught up in the liberation of Auschwitz by the Russian army, and playing piano for an unusual band at a time when jazz is a risky business in Stalinist Russia. Meanwhile, the boy, who has barely known his father, is brought up by his doting, childless aunt in the flat farmlands of eat Holland. Wherever Dolboy goes, he runs. One day he comes upon an old moated castle with a summerhouse full of moths, and meets the curious young girl who breeds and keeps the creatures captive there.
Quite a strong summary, strong enough to make me buy the book. It starts with Cornelius, the businessman traveling to another country on business, meeting a lace maker and having a relationship with her. Dolboy is born soon after but the lace maker plunges into despair in the belief that his father is not going to return. When Cornelius does return, he is greeted with a scene of misery –
She sat like an anthropoid survival from a brutish era, barefoot in the mud, her demented eyes twitching behind a ragged skein of hair. They regarded each other for a long time, she trying to recall what she had been, he remembering…Dolboy tottered to her side, his naked legs caked with mud, his bare belly blown big from the raw things which he gnawed.
So Cornelius makes arrangements for the mother for a comfortable life but takes Dolboy with him. Dolboy is brought up by his aunt and he leads a comfortable life, tucked away in a palatial house in the woods of Holland. He discovers that he likes to run wherever he goes and on one such jaunt while he explores the landscape near his house, he discovers a little shed. Peeping inside he discovers a variety of moths belonging to Miriam, a budding lepidopterist. Thus begins his long friendship with Miriam and her brothers. But even as Dolboy spends luminous summer days running and spending time with his friends, his father’s life veers away into a totally unexpected direction.
What I liked about Moths is the way the stories of the 2 individuals symbolically run parallel. While Dolboy runs for fun, his father is running to save his life. While Dolboy and his friends go to the forest for a picnic, Cornelius is in the forest making friends and trying not to get killed. While Dolboy goes to a party with his friends to have fun, Cornelius attends a party commissioned as a jazz pianist by the ruling military forces. What I also liked about Moths is the setting, which changes along with the stories. Not only do we know what is happening with Dolboy and Cornelius, but through them we see the unnervingly disparate situations they are in even though they both live in a time of war. Dolboy’s life is sheltered, decadent and rich with not a word of war-related information tainting his idyllic existence. On the other hand, Cornelius lives a frugal life that is increasingly at risk, especially after his capture.
So, read Moths for these beautiful stories. The writing definitely will not disappoint.
Verdict: Lush and delightful reading