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You Shall Know Our Velocity

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My first encounter with Dave Eggers' writing was his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I was an easy sell: A bold title, an old-fashioned cover, the strange fact that it has an appendix printed so you have to read the book the wrong way round to read it and, most importantly, that it was eligible for the 3-for-2 as were the other two books I already wanted to get.

It was a somewhat random buy that I didn't regret: While it started off overly self-conscious at the beginning for my taste it contained a very engaging story about the narrator and his little brother Toph, the single best short name for Christopher I've ever seen, later on. And it's packed with little observations of the kind we all make every day but always fail to spell out or put down. Good enough anyway, for me to want to read his next book, You Shall Know Our Velocity which was published a few months ago.

Book cover The new book is a good read as well. About two friends, Will and Hand – funny name again. Their common friend Jack had died and Will's mind plays tricks on him in the form of neverending conversations since. He had also earned some random money and decided they have to go across the world to give it to the poor.

Very good intentions and very hard to accomplish. Not only because with only one week to do this you won't get all over the world as a matter of time but also because giving away money is hard. Not the giving away per se but the act of doing so without looking like a complete moron, a condescending tourist or a child molester. If your aim in doing all this is to be nice that makes giving away money a hard thing. Money always seems closely related to embarrassment.

Because of bad planning and less-than-perfect knowledge of the world on behalf of the protagonists, many of their plans fail and they tend to perceive things a little differently than they really are:

To the right, across the aisle, the Pacific appeared, rough and dark, whitecaps rushing at the walls of Casablanca.
While their ignorance means they miss out on a few hours
Three hours from New York to St. Louis
Two for the hours los = five hours gone
Eleven hours between New York and Cairo
Eight hours in time zone loss
Twenty four hours right there [...]
it doesn't keep them from much. And although they are aware that they don't have the full background from visiting a few internet pages, and that some of the places they visited weren't quite as they imagined them, they went on and did what they felt compelled to do.
Estonia could look like Nebraska and Nebraska could look like Kansas. Kansas like Morocco. Morocco like Arles. On and on. Growing up I though all countries looked, were required to look, completely different – Congo was all jungle, robust and wet and green, Germany was all black forests, Russia was white, all of it Siberian. But every country now seemed to offer a little of every other country, and every given landscape, I finally realized, existed somewhere in the U.S.
Which took some of the fun out of it. it made little sense to leave one's country is all you#re looking for is scenery and poor people, just as it wouldn't make sense, really, to cheat on someone you're cheating with.
I wonder whether the book will be turned into a road-movie, or plane-movie, rather, as they do a lot of flying. A propos flying – a fact they learn in the book is that asking at the airport for the next flight is futile. Travel agents always want to know your destination first. I didn't get that bit – while travel agent software may require the entry of a destination first, airports tend to be full of boards listing the departing flights.

Bookmark: 05-03-2003 flight LH4354 Frankfurt to Lisbon.


Extra reading: An interview of The New Yorker with Dave, concerning the book.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

August 3, 2003, 23:21

Tagged as book, dave eggers.

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