Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A certain charm
This is such an unusual book: a pictorial monologue about a year in author/illustrator Maira Kalman's life, in which she tackles issues like life, death, family, history, travel, food and all the big philosophical questions of existence.
It has more than 300 pages, almost all of them with quirky Magritte-style illustrations that are often as humorous and charming as the text.
Maira Kalman's Jewish family fled Russia after the revolution and went to Palestine before settling in America. As I imagine many of those do whose families have endured lives fractured by the events of history, and so closely touched by atrocities like the Holocaust, Kalman seems never to take life for granted — she often expresses her concern about the point of it all, and the mess so many people make of it.
But for all that, this book is imbued with Kalman's overriding and utter joy in being alive. For example, while she's in Israel she writes of her despair about the embattled state of the Middle East, but once back home in New York she finds immediate reassurance and an antidote to her distress simply by observing the life on the streets — the colours, the people, the eccentricities, the humanity of it all.
On other pages she'll share her delight in wonderful hats, bravely-dressed women, old people, the collections of weird objects she keeps at home, and many of the amazing sights she observes and records on her travels at home and abroad.
I'd love to meet her: from my reading I imagine a strong New York humour and an infectious fascination for the cities she loves.

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