Friday, July 13, 2012

Homo Faber

Title: Homo Faber
Author: Max Frisch

Publ: Harvest
ISBN: 0-15-642135-6

Walter Faber has a very simple, rational and individualistic view of life. I am so happy to have read this book. The time spent on reading it has been enjoyable. There  are only a few books with that quality. There are books that are great and yet boring. And there are books which are not enjoyable while reading, but gives a good  feeling in retrospect. This book is not one of them. Thanks to Maja, who calls me Faber, as she acknowledges my resemblance to him in character and idiosyncrasies, I  have discovered a great book and a great author. If it had not been for her, perhaps I would never have known Max Frisch or Homo Faber.

The simple and straightforward style of narration is so captivating. The entire story is a report from Faber about things that happened in the past. Which means that  at any point, the protagonist, who is the narrator too, knows beforehand what he is about to say. The central theme is that Faber, while on a voyage, happens to have a brief affair  with a girl much younger to him, who later turns out to be his own daughter from the relationship with his old girlfriend who he left years ago while she was pregnant, on the  understanding that she would abort it. No, this is not a spoiler. Because the narrator himself reveals it at a very early stage! Which means there is no room for suspense in  the plot. And that's the greatness of this book. Any author would have employed to full capacity the element of suspense to thrill the reader with an engaging read. He could  well have narrated the entire story with his having the affair with the girl and all the events taking place and finally described how he discovers at the last moment that  she was his daughter. The author has shockingly abandoned that possibility. Instead at the very beginning of the encounters with the girl, Faber says how could he have  known that this girl was his daughter. He has killed all the possibilities of the plot. And yet he has managed to create a marvel of story-telling. This is his greatness. It reminds of M. T. Vasudevan Nair's comment about  Basheer that 'great words of Malayalam have ran after him crying and imploring him to take them', but he abandoned them mercilessly and created magic with the simplest of words of the 
language, not pretending to be an intellectual, writing very thin books.

Recently one of my Facebook friends had shared a quotation explaining the criterion to tell a good book from a bad one: 'Strip the book of its story/plot if any. And still if there is anything remaining, it is a good book.' That's exactly true about this book. I remember reading about Khaled Hosseini that he taught creative writing. He must have taught great techniques and tricks to students on how to create an 'unputdownable' book. I am sure he has employed the same in his own books which have been international best sellers. But that's all about producing a book. Homo Faber is about creating awesomeness from thin air..

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