Saturday, July 16, 2005


While browsing through the bookshelves at D's Books the other day I came across an old paperback copy of Chekhov's plays that bore the handwritten inscription on the title page: "Julie Otsuka -- New Haven -- 1980".

And, because I'm weird, and find myself with a little more time on my hands than usual, I decided to google that information.

To my surprise, I realized that the 'Julie Otsuka' who had neatly written her name on that page is the same 'Julie Otsuka' who is a Japanese=American novelist, and recently published a popular novel entitled When The Emperor Was Divine. From an interview, I learned that she waitressed in New Haven, Connecticut for a few years after graduation. So there you go.

( haven't read her novel, though I did see it a copy of it in another bookshop here a few weeks ago.)

I love weird little moments in time, moments in life like this. All those years ago, when I was, what, only five years old, she sat down in her bedroom or kitchen in New Haven, and opened that Chekhov book, and wrote her name on the front page. She didn't know she would, one day, be a successful novelist; she might have hoped that that would happen, sure, but she didn't know it.

And exactly how did that book end up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, twenty-five years later? How many hands did it pass through? How many people turned its pages? (Judging by its' rather pristine condition, I would guess: not that many.)

I feel sorry for the book. I do. In that intervening space in time, its' one-time owner, Ms.Otsuka, has gone on to live a life, to write a novel, to do a book-tour. While the book itself, the Chekhov book, has been sitting on a shelf. Maybe for months. Possibly for years. Dusty. Surrounded by other lonely, unread tomes. Waiting.

I want to go back to the shop and buy that book. I would like to wait until Ms.Otsuka's next book tour, and go to one of her readings, one of her signings, and present that book to her, the book that she owned a quarter of a century ago, when the world was young. I think it would mean something to her. Because when you write your name on the title page of a book, you are not merely claiming a possession; if that were the case, we would label our TVs and couches and chesterfields in a similar manner. No. When you write your name in a book, along with the place, along with the date, you are saying: "This is who I am, at this point in time, in this place. This is what I was interested in. I was here and I mattered and I had this book in my hands."

To return it to her hands, all these years later, all this life later, would result in a certain synchronicity. It would prove that that which is lost can sometimes be found. It would show that sometimes life has a way of rebounding in on itself. It would prove that the young woman who read Chekhov and dreamed of being a writer had had her dreams fulfilled. It would do all and probably none of those things. But it would be cool.

Or I could let the book sit, on those shelves, in this city. Allow it to run its due course. Perhaps it was not meant to return to Ms.Otsuka's hands; perhaps it was meant for other hands, other inscriptions.

And who knows? If I choose not to intervene, it could, still, somehow, end up with Ms.Otsuka. Maybe not next year, or the year after, but in five, ten years time. As she browses through a bookshop in San Diego. Or scans the used-books at her local library.

For some reason, I so want to believe that the cycle of life has an innate, revolving sense of symmetry. That that book should, eventually, return to the lady who owned it so very long ago. That the marking of a book with your own name, using your own pen, gives you a kind of cosmic, eternal claim on it.

It could happen. It might happen. It should happen.

1 comment:

Urban Barbara said...

it's exciting to see where this leads and how it unfolds