“A labyrinth, ” writes Rebecca Solnit, “is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains a beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return.” In wandering about the labyrinth, Solnit goes on, you “may learn that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it, become lost, spin about, and then only after the way has become overwhelming and absorbing, arriving, having gone the great journey without having gone far on the ground.”
In a book that is a single story—no, countless stories within a single beautifully told story—The Faraway Nearby wanders that labyrinth only to reverse and find its way back to the beginning. Solnit weaves separate and distinct stories that could be one and the same; stories about herself that could as easily be about you. I was quite sure at times that the stories were about me.
The publisher’s description says this:
What she made of the apricots, of her mother’s disintegrating memory, of an invitation to Iceland, and of an illness are the raw materials, but The Faraway Nearby goes beyond her own life, as Solnit spirals out into the stories she heard and read that helped her navigate her difficult passage. She takes us into the lives of others—an arctic cannibal, the young Che Guevara among the leprosy afflicted, an Icelandic artist and her labyrinth, a blues musician who cures himself of drinking by the stories he tells himself—to understand warmth and coldness, kindness and imagination, distance and empathy, making art and making self.
Not to spoil the story(ies), of course, but Solnit made it out of the labyrinth (there were watchers on hand to ensure this). She observes that a labyrinth “is the opposite of a maze, which has not one convoluted way but many ways and often no center, so that wandering has no cease or at least no definitive conclusion. A maze is a conversation; a labyrinth is an incantation or perhaps a prayer. In a labyrinth you’re lost in that you don’t know the twists and turns, but if you follow them you get there; and then you reverse your course. The end of the journey through the labyrinth is not at the center, as is commonly supposed, but back at the threshold again: the beginning is also the real end.”
Join us beginning February 19 for our next book club, in which we’ll be discussing The Faraway Nearby. We’ll can apricots, wear shoes made of ice, follow Frankenstein’s journey, fly with the swan man, and wander the labyrinth only to reach our center and return to our beginnings.
We’ll read together on the following schedule. I’ll post some thoughts each Wednesday, and we can share some conversation in the comment box. And of course, if you have a blog and wish to post about the reading, we welcome your links as well.
Wednesday, February 19: Chapters 1-4
Wednesday, February 26: Chapters 5-7
Wednesday, March 5: Chapters 8-10
Wednesday, March 12: Chapters 11-13
Buy The Faraway Nearby now