Travelling down ancient roads – Jamila Gavin’s Blood Stone

I’ve just finished Jamila Gavin‘s wonderful The Blood Stone (Egmont, 2003) which is a really unsettling but rewarding read. I read an interview with her in Wasafiri (Issue 60) which made me pick this up and I’ve made to attempts to read it twice but I’ve aways been too tired and this is certainly not a book to be read lightly.

When Geronimo Veroneo gies missing on trip to Hindustan, his wife and children are left alone in Venice suposedly under the protection of Bernardo Pagliarin. As the years goes on, Pagliarin coerces the daughter Elisabetta into marriage with him to gain control of the diamond, Ocean of the Moon. When news of Geronimo’s imprisonment comes through via a mysterious stranger who claims he was imprisoned with him, Filippo, the youngest son, is sent on the journey to Afghanistan with the diamand trepanned into his skull to free him.

It reminded me that Venice appears to occupy a strange location. As the Levant, it has always struck me as a strange crossing place for Europe and the Orient. It is neither part of the other and perhaps this is why Gavin uses it. Filippo’s journey exposes him to cultures of the Middle East, Hindustan and Afghanistan. Coming across the Dutchman in Basra, he hears tall tales of the sub-continent but he travels to the place and finds it stranger and perhaps more banal than anything his European acquaintance can dream up or repeat.

A salutory reminder of the way that ours, and his, views of other cultures are informed by what we read rather than necessarily experience, a peril of the Internet in that in can make armchair anthropologists of us. Despite our exposure to other culture, we can be reticent in experiencing them and challenging ourselves to find this through travel and exploration.The most extreme (and for some reason this reminds of nineteenth century fiction) example comes when he finds his father, who has been driven insane by his treatment. Holding on to his out of date memories, he does not recognise his own son and dies in Dilhi where he is buried. He is out of place where his son can find his own way through his experiences, his youth allows him to adapt far more readily

When he is the palace of the Shah Jehan, he meets a European lady who crosses cultures. Noor, or Marianne as her father prefers, was born in India, where she wants to stay and dance for the emperor.Her own preferance is for Noor and signifies her own desire to stay and assimilate herself into the rhythms of an adopted country with its cultural. Gavin encourages the reader to consider the notion of names and what they mean as a cultural marker. What is home for Noor / Marianne? Her father favours England although he would have a less wealthy standard of living. It is a cultural choice. Although Noor does get to dance for the Emperor it is not in an exalted position though she manages to make a living for herself.

Fate and the notion of the gods taking control, enters the frame and the most obvious link to Odysseus. Gavin drops in parts of the travels and their reliance on fate and quick thinking to survive. When the diamond is placed into his skull, Filippo sees the metaphysical world and learns to escape his own mental prison. I need to do more reading on the notion of third eyes but the stone functions certianly functions as one as Filippo learns to trust other people around him even if they do not share his own path.

The Blood Stone reflects on the desire for home and she reflects on what it means for the actors whilst updating the Odyssey in a subtle way. I’d heard an adaptation ofthe Corum Boy on the radio years ago and should be kicking myslef for not having followed up so quickly. I see Bali Rai‘s City of Ghosts on my shelf which I’ll be reading shortly as Joan Aiken‘s Stolen Lake (which is a library book and due back in the next couple of days)

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