Monday, June 20, 2011

A Boating Tale

June 30 is an anniversary of sorts. On that day twenty one years ago we had a challenging boating experience, one of many in retrospect, but I had written something about this particular one at the time so there are details I had completely forgotten until coming across the article in my files. Much of it happened at our favorite anchorage in the Norwalk Islands, long before the advent of the GPS and boats that can be handled with bow thrusters and joysticks. That same anchorage today is even more crowded as the GPS has diminished "local knowledge" as a factor and joysticks and chart plotters have reduced the entry level barrier to handling a larger power boat without previous experience. It makes me want to stay at the dock nowadays.

Ironically, the article makes reference to friend's boat, a 39' Chris Craft which now is the boat we live on during the summer, having bought that classic from a friend he sold it to. And we are still good friends with Ray and Sue who figure prominently in the story so there are threads of continuity between then and now. Our boat at the time of the article was a 37' 1986 Silverton, one we had taken all over the Long Island and Block Island Sounds, Buzzards Bay, and the Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds. We were more adventuresome then.

So here is what happened on that day in 1990:

It was a Saturday like so many others we experienced at our customary anchorage in the Norwalk Islands, but what would evolve that night was like no other we have ever lived through. We arrived as the sun was setting the night before. Our friends, Ray and Sue, on their 38' Ocean, 'Rascel', had already arrived, and as ideal weather was forecasted for the weekend, we were reassured that rafting with their boat would be secure and tranquil.

Although we had the anchorage nearly to ourselves that Friday evening, by late Saturday morning, with the tide nearly at high, thus allowing easy passage into the anchorage, other boats began to join us. Our friends Tony and Betty on their 39' Chris Craft dropped their hook nearby and other boats, unknown to us, made their way into the spot between Copps and Chimon. A stately, classic, two-masted schooner set their anchor somewhat to our starboard, while smaller powerboats were spotted here and there. A 30' catamaran skimmed in on the surface like a water bug, anchoring well behind our stern, and a descending plow anchor and chain announced the arrival of a 42' Grand Banks to our port.

The anchorage began to take on a party atmosphere, anticipating the evening, as the late afternoon sun shimmered over the Long Island Sound. A sea breeze had picked up and small white caps could be seen in the haze towards Eaton's Neck. I turned on the weather radio as we were expecting guests for dinner, and it would be far easier to run into the Norwalk harbor in my new Achilles dingy than to take our boat in. There, in the harbor, I could pick up our son's Boston Whaler, meet our guests and then, as the sun sets, bring them back to the dock, and return to the anchorage in the Achilles raft.

The weather radio announced complete cooperation for this plan: some thunderstorms to the north, with little chance one might drift over the Sound and a 10 to 15 knot breeze out of the southwest overnight. Since our anchorage is well protected from all directions except east, I lowered our Achilles and its new 4HP engine, and prepared to run into our marina, only about a mile away.

The new dingy and engine performed flawlessly and the 4HP engine even enabled me to effortlessly plane, making my time back to Norwalk less than expected. I tied up the new dingy at our slip and went to the one in which my son's 13' Whaler was berthed, Its 40 HP engine started without much coaching and I awaited our guests.

The run back to our anchorage was uneventful, and my wife's usual culinary feast was appreciated by all. So, the waning hours of the hazy sun were consumed by good food and talk. As the sun began to slip below the horizon, I readied the Whaler for the return trip. The southwest breeze had now picked up to 15 -20 knots.

After tying up the Whaler I got into the rubber dingy and started up her engine. The sky had changed from its usual sunset red and amber to a foreboding autumnal and stormy gray, laced with red. Worse, the wind had changed to the east so I tried to hurry back, getting up on plane well before the 5 MPH marker to return to our boat, on which my wife was on alone, still tied up to the boat of our friends, Ray and Sue.

Before completely exiting the harbor I was stopped by the Norwalk marine police. Although I assumed I was being stopped because of my speed, they said "where are you going, haven't you heard that there is a storm that is supposed to hit this area?" The increasing wind and the prematurely black sky in the west gave credence to their warning. So much for the promised tranquil weather as announced on the weather band.

I explained my predicament to the police. "You better get out there fast," cautioned the police. I resumed my flight on plane, with difficulty as the easterly wind now easily surpassed 20 knots.

Many years of experience at the same anchorage told me that within a short time it would become a maelstrom where we are anchored. In a westerly flow, it was a paradise. Out of the east, our pond became the ocean. It was important to get back to my vessel soon. Approaching the northern end of Chimon Island, in the gyrating water of the easterly wind, the outboard engine died. Repeated attempts to coax the engine to life were fruitless. With no anchor, my only hope was to make some headway by rowing to a sailboat anchored about 100 yards upwind. The time seemed to be interminable, but eventually I was able secure the dingy to the sailboat's stern. In the distance in the west the lightening lit up the descending night.

No one was on the deck of the sailboat so I knocked on her hull. A very inebriated women stumbled to the deck, entreating me to climb on board. Luckily, a more sober gentleman followed and I explained my predicament to him. I needed a few minutes to work on the engine and to get back to my boat.

As I had a handheld in my bag, I decided to call my wife or Ray on 72, our unofficial station for communication. As I suspected, the weather conditions, combined with my long absence, resulted in my near hysterical wife standing by.

Ray got on the radio offered to get into his dingy and come around the island to possibly tow me. I asked him to standby 72 and let me work on the engine for a few minutes. I thought that even if I couldn't start the engine, at least I was safely ensconced and the most important thing is that our boats do not go unattended.

So, as the storm meandered its way towards Norwalk, I tried to diagnose the problem. I went through every possible way of starting the engine, but without success. Maybe salt through the air vent had clogged the fuel line. Disconnecting the fuel line, I pumped some fuel overboard, and reconnected the line. Once primed, I pulled the cord again, and it started. At the same time Ray came around the sailboat in his dingy. "I said I would call if I needed help," I cried over the rising wind. "Why did you leave the boats?" This was a rhetorical question, knowing Ray would not miss an opportunity for an adventure.

We began to make our way in the dark around the island, knowing, from the muffled thunder, rising wind and flashes of light, that we had little time to return to our vessels. Finally, we arrived. As I suspected, the unrelenting easterly wind had churned up the anchorage and the, now, low tide had made us and the remaining vessels captives of the anchorage. We would all have to ride out whatever nature intended to deliver.

We dodged a bullet this time as the threatened blow never fully materialized. Thunder and lightning was followed by a brief, intense shower, but the fireworks we had sometimes the misfortune to experience at this very same spot were absent. While the storm passed, the east wind refused to abate. It foreboded an uncomfortable evening as our rafted vessels lurched and pitched in response to the seas. But we were tied well and had plenty of fenders out, and we felt sufficiently exhausted to sleep through anything so we bedded down for the night. At least our intention was to sleep for no sooner than our heads had touched their pillows the uncompromising sound of fiberglass clashing with fiberglass filled our ears. The scraping and the gashing sound said this was not a simple problem of a fender popping out between our boats.

From the cockpit I made my way in the darkness along the gunnels to the bow to witness the enmeshing of our bow pulpit between the railings and gunnels of the 30' catamaran which I had remembered setting its anchor well to our stern in the, then, more cordial westerly breeze. Now that the wind had shifted nearly 180 degrees, it had broken anchor and was now totally impaled by our bow pulpit.

It was that night when I learned how imperfectly matched a catamaran, broadside to the wind, was with a powerboat at anchor, our boat rising as the cat fell. Remarkably, in spite of the smashing and scraping of the mismatched fiberglass, my wife and I were the only ones on the bow witnessing this spectacle. I speculated that the boat was unattended. We were calling out for our friends who, later I learned, were busing watching a movie, their generator contributing to drowning out all other sound.

Their anchor line kept the stern of the cat in abeyance from their own boat. I pounded on the side of our friends' boat, who finally heard our clarion call for help and joined us on their bow. Since the cat seemed to be abandoned, Ray was preparing to board their boat off my pulpit between the pitching of the sea when, suddenly, a dazed woman emerged from the cat's cabin. She made the leap to hysteria in a few short moments. Her impulse was to fend off our bow by planting herself on her gunnels and pushing off with her legs, failing to realize that the windage of the cat's pontoons was acting like a sail to the strong easterly wind abeam.

The force was beyond the ability of even a small army to extricate the boat that way. The lurching and pitching of the bow, the anchor hanging from the pulpit and smashing the gunnel of the cat created the danger of breaking this poor women's legs but screaming warnings to that effect went unheeded. Ray hollered "lady if you don't get out of there I'm going to get over there somehow and drag you away." She retreated.

Finally, a man emerged from the cabin and perhaps, now, we had enough hands on deck to figure something out -- if nature gave us enough time before serious damage was done to our vessels. The anchor line was caught by the tiller of the cat so we thought that if we could release their vessel by raising the tiller, we might be able to make some headway in untangling the boats. Meanwhile, the incessant pitching and crashing of the vessels reminded us that time was of the essence.

"Raise the tiller" we shouted to the new deck hand who was stunned, trying to take the picture in which his vessel was a prominent co-star. "I can't, I don't think I have the strength with all the pressure on it from the anchor line," he cried back. Now, it was our turn for hysteria.

In a voice that I last seem to remember coming from 'Rosemary's Baby,' our friend Susan growled, "Mister, get your ass over the tiller and pull!" Ray jumped on to their boat and was able to disentwine the line from the tiller. By this time, our bow and their railing had become such good friends, they still refused to part. It was now apparent that the only way we are going to break was for us to untie from our friends and to try to drop back. This was going to be very difficult for with an easterly wind, our stern was not more than 15 feet from a rock which was very much apparent at low tide. I fired up our 350 crusaders; no time to run the blowers or check the bilge, I thought.

We began to untie our lines and I realized that as soon as I dropped back, we would be abeam of the wind and immediately would have to get the bow into the wind. Thankfully, we disengaged from the cat which looked like a locus predator as it slipped away from my bow. As expected, we rapidly progressed toward the rock while abeam of the wind. With port engine forward and starboard in reverse, I steadily increased the throttle on the port.

The vessel pitched in the rolling seas and began to slowly respond. Too slow, I thought, and I continued increase the port throttle. We cleared the rock by less than 5 feet as our bow turned into the wind and began to make our way through the anchorage while the cat also was free.

Now our enemy was the dark night and the crowded anchorage. We threaded our way upwind, seeking a spot to drop our own hook; it would be dangerous to try to retie to our friends downwind, so close to the rock. We had never fully appreciated our windless, one that could be operated from the bridge, until that night. The choppy seas, combined with the darkness of night, made going on the bow dangerous, so dropping the hook from the bridge was not a luxury, it was a necessity.

The anchor was successfully lowered, letting out as much scope out as feasible, given the wind and the room in which we had to swing. Finally, we were able to rest. In the clear light of morning, it seemed as if we were on a different planet. The east wind had departed in favor of the more friendly, westerly flow. There was no sign of the commotion of the night before, other than our exhaustion.

I dingied to the bow of my boat and inspected the damage. The bow pulpit took most of the hit but there were some gelcoat scratches on the bow. The catamaran was now anchored, again, to our stern, perhaps by 100 yards. At 7: 30 AM there was no one awake. I circled the boat, 'Gull Wind,' and saw that my anchor had bent their bow rail and had done some damage to their port gunnel. Later, by 9: 00 AM, the owner aroused and, once again, I went over to discuss the incident. We exchanged names and address. He agreed to pay for the repairs which surprisingly turned out not to be extensive given what we experienced.

Boating is a inexplicable way of life. In how many other recreational activities can a leisurely pleasure turn into tumult without warning? The day and night of June 30 showed that while we might be able to take what the seas might dish out, there is no way to prepare for all contingencies.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Substance and Talking Points

I try to set aside Sunday mornings for catching up on some newspaper reading and to watch political shows such as Meet the Press, keeping my eyes on the page/computer and my ears on the TV, drifting back and forth depending on what I'm reading or hearing. This week's Barrons', which I've read forever it seems (now online, having forsaken the print version), had a remarkably to the point article by Doug Kass, founder and President of Seabreeze Partners, and well-known "short-seller" which echoes some of what I've written about the subject of the growing abyss between the haves and the have not's and its impact on the misery of the middle class. Kass' term for this misery is "Screwflation" (combing inflation with the screwing of the middle class). Here are some of his bullet points although its best to read the entire article:

* While...corporate profits will soon attain a new peak, median real wages have made little recent unprecedented four years of declining home prices have further weakened the confidence and purchasing power of the middle-class screwees.

* Unemployment has exacerbated screwflation's impact on all but the wealthiest Americans.

* Because there are few areas of the domestic economy that can replace the prerecession strength in real estate, a recovery in jobs will be more difficult than in previous cycles. Work related to real estate accounted for nearly 40% of U.S. job growth in 2001-06–almost all of it middle-class.

* Back in 1980, the richest 1% of Americans captured 9% of national income. Today, the richest 1% receive about a quarter of national income.

* [The] rise [ of commodity prices] falls more heavily on low- and middle-income families, who spend most of their money on the necessities of life. Add rising health care, education and other costs to commodity prices, and the result is a poor foundation for growth.

* Difficult fiscal decision...must be made this summer in Washington. The needs to accelerate job growth and to control the federal deficit seem irreconcilable.

* A shallow and fragile domestic economic recovery may be exposed to and be vulnerable to the need to cut spending–but drastic spending cuts will jeopardize the shallow recovery in jobs. Not moving on deficit reduction holds its own risks, of U.S. dollar weakness, soaring interest rates and higher unemployment....Partisanship already makes a real solution less likely.

Kass concludes with some excellent suggestions, but with Washington in gridlock, even on such major issues of raising the debt ceiling, and in the throes of pre-Presidential election rhetoric (see Meet the Press discussion below), one can't be terribly optimistic about implementing them:

* Policies that could help quickly include: extending the payroll-tax cut initiated by the Obama administration; reducing income taxes for the middle class; providing federal funds for infrastructure spending; creating incentives for businesses to make new capital investments; allowing tax-free repatriation of U.S. corporate earnings made abroad, if they are earmarked for the creation of American jobs; the launch of an energy plan that taps domestic resources; and the use of federal-housing financing to slow foreclosures and distressed sales.

While reading that article of substance, I was watching Meet the Press, particularly David Gregory's interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chair and Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chair. Talk about talking points galore. Here is the entire transcript.

Gregory immediately baits the debate with so called "facts:"

MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, let's talk more, let's talk more about the economy in some more detail. This is the president's standing in terms of handling the economy in the public's eye, and it's pretty negative right now. Sixty percent almost, 59 percent, disapprove of the president's handling of the economy . And there are facts that back that up that are difficult for this administration and for the Democrats: unemployment's up 25 percent since Inauguration Day for President Obama ; the debt's up 35 percent, over $14 trillion; a gallon of gas up over 100 percent, with gas $3.75, higher than that in certain parts of the country . Why should Americans trust Democratic governance right now on the economy , and particularly the president's?

The numbers might be correct but one has to wonder about the "cause" of the "effect." Naturally, both Schultz and Priebus jump on their talking points:

REP. SCHULTZ: ...when President Obama took office, the month before he was inaugurated, the economy was bleeding 750,000 jobs a month, David , and we were not headed in the right direction. Now, I know we -- and President Obama has said we have a long way to go . We'd like the pace of recovery to, to, to be picked up. But we have definitely begun to turn the economy around. You, you fast-forward two and a half years later now, and the economy has created 2.1 million private sector jobs, a million of those jobs just in the last six months. We've had 15 straight months of job growth .

Priebus has his talking points:

MR. PRIEBUS: David , the chairwoman's living in fantasyland. We know that the facts are the facts, and we can't get away from that. And Barack Obama is defenseless to the truth on what's going on in the American economy . We have lost as -- two and a half million jobs since Barack Obama 's been president. And of that two and half million jobs, almost 45 percent of those people have been out of work for six months. That number, that number rivals the Great Depression .

Back and forth, your talking points vs. mine. It is a sign of the silly season of an impending election, with the danger that the increasing polarity will result in a stalemate that leaves our economy on the edge of a cliff once again.

But, can they both be "right?" The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National) 2001 -- 2011 confirm that, indeed, we've lost about 2.5 million jobs since Obama was inaugurated, and we've gained almost 1 million jobs in the last six months. But the BLS also shows about 4.4 million non-farm jobs lost in the 12 months before Obama took office. How's that for a talking point?

One can play with all these statistics any which way to "prove" a point of view. The fact of the matter is we had tremendous job growth in the three plus years before the collapse of the economy (and almost the collapse of our entire economic system) in 2008, but those jobs "created" were heavily real estate and construction related during a housing run-up which we now know was merely a chimera. These are jobs that would not have come into existence without the frothy, nothing-down, exotic mortgage real estate market and the complicity of the investment banks and Washington to get those deals done. We simply "borrowed" from the future. Now, those jobs our out of the system with no prospects of returning soon. It is going to be very difficult to have robust job creation if, as Doug Kass suggests, real estate represents 40% job growth without solving our foreclosure and distressed sales issues which is now on such an enormous scale.

And how fair is it to "mark" a President's starting point for job creation as the date of his inauguration? The economy is a leviathan which cannot be turned on a dime. And, by the time Obama was making some headway, he lost control of Congress. Now we have such a polarized government, it is a wonder that any jobs are being created.

And, really, what control does the President have on world oil prices? We could have an army of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and it wouldn't make much difference in prices as it is a world market for oil. The US cannot effect prices much by creating marginally more supply. Now, controlling the speculative aspect of prices may be a different matter, but financial regulation is habitually resisted by Obama's adversaries.

Agreed, we should have a national energy policy, but for it to have any teeth it will mean some hardship. In Europe, gas is twice the price as it is here. People learn to drive smaller cars, take mass transit, etc. No one would agree to that here so a national energy policy is simply kicked down the road, by both parties.

Finally, the deficit. Does anyone really think that if McCain was elected it would be much different today? President George Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts have been big contributors as well as funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Granted, President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill is also in the mix. But that was enacted when the Federal Reserve no longer could cut interest rates (they were already effectively at zero) and there was general agreement that the economy was still in crisis and without a stimulus, it would slip off the cliff again. And one one argues the bill failed to create jobs as intended. No Republicans voted for the act and now that they control Congress, one has to wonder what they will vote for or block. We know the talking points, and Kass makes substantive suggestions, but can Congress even function any longer?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Financial Crisis Reaches Out to the Arts

The tentacles of the Great Recession and financial malfeasance run deep, as evidenced by the demise of one of the great theaters in the area, Florida Stage. While their move to the Kravis Center this year was a positive development, everything else seemed to be a negative for this local, but well-established theater company, its revenues shrinking because of declining contributions (partly due to the aftershock of the Madoff scandal which hit this geographic area particularly hard), reduced interest income, and changing demographics as well. When we first began subscribing to Florida Stage, more than ten years ago, I remember remarking about the average age of the audience, wondering whether succeeding generations will appear to take their (now our) place. It seems like great theater has taken a back seat to Twitter and Facebook in that regard, Florida Stage's subscription base declining from a peak of 7,000 to now only 2,000 (including our prepaid subscription for next season which now will not be).

Florida State was daring enough to put on many original plays and musicals, not content to take the "easy way" as many theaters do in Florida, serving up the pabulum of Broadway revivals or touring companies as a staple. Of course, it is one thing to be daring during good economic times and strong subscriptions, and another to steer that course when the tide is running against you. I thought this season's offerings could have been stronger, maybe they should have served up a classic play or two to appeal to its audience. Ghost-Writer, I thought, was their best play of the season, with their opening play, Cane , the weakest.

All in all, there have been stronger seasons at Florida Stage, but it is doubtful whether that would have saved the company in face of all its other macro adversities. A really tragic moment for the arts and for the West Palm Beach area.

And this eliminates, still, another venue for new plays, one that I've learned firsthand from experience is fraught with difficulties to produce. More than a year ago I began an adaption of four Raymond Carver short stories into a theatrical work, When We Talk About Carver. Florida Stage was very much on my mind as a possible venue but it took me most of the year to negotiate and secure a formal permission for non-commercial, non-exclusive stage rights (just to show the work) with the Carver estate.

I had thought the success of "Gatz" which is a six hour acted reading of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was an encouraging sign that unabridged adaptations of great literature could make great theatre. As Fitzgerald is to the American novel in the 20th century, Carver is to the American short story, and it is time HIS story and magical power of writing should be dramatically told. Also, interestingly, the new film, Everything Must Go with Will Ferrell was based on Carver's short story “Why Don’t You Dance.” The timing might be right for something more significant by and about Carver.

But without a local theatre that would consider a new work, even one which was essentially written by an established writer of Carver's stature, I now begin a search for a company that is willing to take chances as was Florida Stage.

One can only hope that other such companies can survive these hard economic times, one of the many unintended consequences of putting Wall Street ahead of Main Street (jobs) and failing to address a decade of deficit spending. The closing of Florida Stage is not only a loss for our area, it is a tragedy on a larger scale for the Arts in general.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


It is rare to read literature outside of my "comfort zone" of Contemporary American, and rarer still to read novels approaching 1,000 pages, so it was with some trepidation that I picked up Shantaram, recommended to me by my son, Jonathan, but within a few pages I was hooked. Really, a remarkable first novel, given its author, Gregory David Roberts, an Australian, was a convicted bank robber and heroin addict who spent ten years in an Australian prison before escaping and then fleeing to India. The novel is largely autobiographical. As he says in the Acknowledgements, it took him 13 years to write the novel and the first two drafts, "six years' work and six hundred pages were destroyed in prison."

He has a unique perspective on India, in particular Bombay which was to become Mumbai, but most people in India still call it Bombay, one of the most populous urban regions in the world. Dickens' London was such a city in the 19th century and in many ways Roberts' focus on the underbelly of the city reminds me of Dickens' concern with poverty, crime and imprisonment, and slum life. In fact, that is where real life can be found, in Oliver Twist, Bleak House and in Shantaram. They are also similar because of the multiplicity of characters. If you read Shantaram, develop a character list.

During many of my publishing years I worked through an agent for sales in India. Our business was not substantial enough to go there, but each year I met with our agent, Vinod, at the Frankfurt Bookfair, and we developed a good relationship. He was a tough negotiator, but he had a winning smile and in spite of other publishers' complaints about getting paid for sales to India, we shipped on open account and Vinod's word was always good. In reading this novel, Vinod kept coming to mind. Like Vinod, the first Indian, Prabaker, to befriend the novel's main character was a man with a winning smile. As another character in the novel says: "This is India, man. This is India. This is the land of the heart. This is where the heart is king, man. The fuckin' heart!

And at the heart of this novel, is India and its power of redemption for our main character, Lindsay Ford, who escapes from an Australian prison and stops in Bombay on his way to another destination. But Bombay becomes his home and he plunges into the nadir of society, becoming a resident in its slums through his friendship with Prabaker. It is Prabaker's mother, Rukhmabai Kharre, who gives him the name, Shantaram: "Man of Peace, or man of God's peace" "I don't know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow. Whatever the case, whether they discovered that peace or created it, the truth is that the man I was born in those moments, as I stood near the flood sticks with my face lifted to the chrismal rain. Shantaram. The better man that, slowly, and much too late I began to be." But for much of the novel Shantaram is an ironic name as "Lin" or "Linbaba" as Prabaker names him, descends into familiar ways of violence and crime as the novel unfolds.

But there is a difference between his crimes in Australia and those in Bombay. He becomes a member of a mafia "family" and indeed, friendship, loyalty, and search for a spiritual father are also prevailing themes in the novel. There is honor among these thieves. As Abdel Khader Khan, his mafia boss and surrogate father says: "We concentrate our laws, investigations, prosecutions, and punishments on how much crime is in the sin, rather than how much sin is in the crime....It is for this reason that I will not sell children, or women, or pornography, or drugs....In all of these things, the sin in the crime is so great that a man must give up his soul for the profit he makes."

He adopts a "brother," Abdullah. "I learned that only one man in hundreds will stand with you, to the end, in friendship's name...Prison also taught me how to recognise those rare men when I met them. I knew that Abdullah was such a man. In my hunted exile, biting back the fear, ready to fight and die every haunted day, the strength and wildness and will that I found in him were more, and better than all the truth and goodness in the world."

And the novel is about love, unrequited and requited, particularly his undying love for Karla, a Swiss-American woman who lives in the shadows. "One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you."

Also central to this novel is the exile in society and literature. "When I'd climbed the wall of the prison all those years before, it was as if I'd climbed a wall on the rim of the world. When I slid down to freedom I lost the whole world that I knew, and all the love it held. In Bombay I'd tried, without realizing it, to make a new world of loving that could resemble the lost one, and even replace it."

And in that "new world" he meets others like himself and those became his family. "They were all, we were all, strangers to the city. None of us was born there. All of us were refugees, survivors, pitched up on the shores of the island city. If there was a bond between us, it was the bond exiles, the kinship of the lost, the lonely, and the dispossessed."

There is a dancing bear in the novel, Kano, which Abdullah arranges to hug Linbaba and some 800 pages later Linbaba finds himself helping the bear to leave the same prison in Bombay where he also has spent some tortuous time. Then he helps the giant bear to escape the city disguised as a Genesha, on a trolley, at the end of a an annual festival. "The elephant-headed god was known as the Lord of Obstacles and the Great Solver of Problems. People in trouble appealed to him with prayers....He was also the divine ministrant of writers." Throughout the novel people turn to Linbaba. He served as ministrant to all, from learning to treat illness in the slums to helping friends, to serving his mafia family. Redemption and loyalty. That is the essence of the novel.

As a literary work, it labors at times and I thought it really was two novels, the main one in Bombay and the one in Afghanistan. Apparently, there is a sequel in the works which takes Linbaba to Sri Lanka. Also, not surprisingly, the movie rights to this epic novel were sold because of Johnny Depp's interest in the book and in starring in the movie. Ideal casting methinks, but the novel is sprawling and wrestling it into a manageable screenplay and Depp's schedule has delayed filming. One hopes it will see the light of day, even if the movie has to be truncated to include only the Bombay experience. By the way, part of the novel covers the Bollywood scene, as it does nearly everything else!