I am a solitary and voracious reader, and have been for most of my life. By solitary I mean that I had to find my own way thought the world of literature. I don’t come from a background where reading was necessarily high on the “to do” list. As a lonely child I soon escaped into the world of books, the canvass of my imagination, first into Afrikaans, my home language. I soon started reading English as there was simply not enough literature in Afrikaans to feed my need for new adventures and stories.
I have been a solitary reader ever since, believing in serendipity and the philosophy that books find me, at the right time and place to read. I don’t have much time to wander through bookshops, but when I do, it is with no rhyme or reason – A title will attract my attention, a cover will catch my fancy and the adventure will continue.
I’ve also fallen out of the habit of reading newspaper as politics and scandal bore me to tears, most of my news reading I do online nowadays. On occasion I’ll still buy a paper, skim through it and only read the odd article that catches my attention.
I found Bookcrossing in this way, again pure serendipity which expanded my reading horizons with leaps and bounds. What fascinated me is that, in the process, I’ve become a member of a community of world-wide readers. People I stay in contact with through my computer and the internet, never leaving my solitary sanctuaries which suits me just fine; anti-social bastard that I am.
During my time as bookcrosser books that I would never have read before found me.
One of these is one with the unlikely title; “No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew it Cause Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again” by Edgardo Vega Yunquè. The novel is intriguingly subtitled “A Symphonic Novel” because Jazz weaves through the 800 plus pages like a melody. In the Author’s notes at the end of the book Yunguè writes that the book took sixteen years to finish and one can see why.
“No Matter What You Promise” is a novel that refuses to leave anything out, a monster of a book about the whole messy sprawl of living and dying. It’s about jazz, about race, about coming-of-age, and above all, about New York.
The central character is Vidamia Farrell, half Puerto Rican, half Irish, daughter of upwardly mobile Elsa Santiago and Vietnam War veteran Billy Farrell. Vidamia (“My Life” in Spanish - what a beautiful name) is looking for her father, then tries to save him, and along the way, attempts to understand all there is to understand about love, music, and racism. It meanders through characters and stories, stretching from Manhattan's East Village to Puerto Rico and the Appalachians and encompassing cameos from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Darwin. A multitude of secondary characters are developed: Elsa, Vidamia's mother, who struggles to leave her roots behind; Maud, Billy's bar-owning Irish mother and many others.
Vidamia grows up in an affluent New York suburb, but she is powerfully drawn to her father's bohemian household on Manhattan's rough Lower East Side. Her father is a former jazz pianist whose career was cut short by the war, which cost him two fingers and his sanity. Vidamia falls in love with Wyndell Ross, a black saxophonist along the way to her mother’s utter disgust.
The heart of the story, though, is Vidamia and her Irish father, Billy, piano prodigy and Vietnam veteran, tortured by memories of the war and the wound that cost him his jazz career.
It is a absolutely wonderful book, a little too long as it meanders down byways that doesn’t really add to the central storyline which, in my opinion could have been omitted, but I did not dedicate nearly two decades of my life in writing the book so who am I to criticize.
The author passed away in September 2008, and as a piece of useless trivia, was the stepfather of the singer Suzanne Vega.
The copy on my desk has started its journey in Germany in February 2006, has since traveled to Canada, the United States, Greece, and Switzerland. It will continue its journey from sunny South Africa to Canada again and then onward the United Kingdom and Spain.
Travel well Vidamia and if for those who haven’t read it, put it on your wish list or join the book ray. Its really well worth reading.