Review Blog

Feb 17 2020

Spinoza's overcoat: Travels with writers and poets by Subhash Jaireth

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Transit Lounge, 2020. ISBN: 9781925760460.
(Age: Adult) Non-fiction. This collection of essays by Jaireth explores the poetry and lives of some of his personally selected writers and poets, some probably not well known to many readers. However his book also includes poems that are the subject of his study, so the reader is able to read the original words and also follow his explorations of meaning and place. Jaireth is intrigued to actually visit some of the scenes described, or the places where the words were written, seeking to understand more fully the experience of the poets he is curious about. Thus he travels to hidden places in Prague, Paris, Leiden, Amsterdam, Moscow and other cities, to trace the paths of Kafka's sister, Paul Celan, Bulgakov, Spinoza, Pasternak, and Hiromi Ito, among others. And in sharing his explorations, and his search to understand more of the written words that fascinate him, he also shares some snippets of his own life, his personal travails and search for self-expression.
I was most interested in his discoveries of the ancient city of Baghdad, the City of Peace, a circular city built within a circle of fire, setting for many of the stories of The Thousand and One Nights, the original city now replaced and overbuilt by a sprawling new city, following wars, terrorism and looting. Jaireth hopes that the tales of Baghdad may be rediscovered in sculptures by Ghani Hikmar and new monuments dedicated to the rebirth of Iraqi culture.
For Jaireth, the writer's choice of particular scenes, particular words, the rhythmic meter, the form and shape of poems, and especially the choices made in translation, are a constant source of interest and he shares with us some of the history and the art of the poet, the writer and the translator, an insight that can only enrich our appreciation of the written works he wants us to understand better.
Helen Eddy

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