Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano, the Chilean poet and writer was asked before he died in 2003 where he felt he belonged. After being born and raised in Chile until the age of 15, his family went into voluntary exile in 1968, moving to Mexico City. From there he lived (and disappearred for two years) in El Salvador before spending many years in Barcelona. He returned to the country of his birth only once. Ariel Dorfman stated Bolano simpy didn’t ‘fit in’ in an authoritarian regime. Bolano always felt like an outsider. He referred to himself as Latin American and later clarified it by saying “my only country is my two children and perhaps, though in second place, some moments, streets, faces or books.” I can relate wholly to the last sentence.

I called lost property at Bristol Temple Meads Station today. On Sunday, mild distracted by tiredness and my hangover, I walked out of the cafe without picking up the book resting on the table. The book was by Arthur C Clarke and entitled Childhood Ends. I’d read it before while travelling sometime, somewhere. It’s a simple, well-written and thought-provoking account of the arrival of a superior species over the Earth, the relations with the growing humans and the task they have been set. There is a large philosophical element to the final chapters.

The book itself is interesting but no classic for me. However it was significant for single reason that someone gave it to me in a simple act of thought, generosity and kindness. That man was Wada-San, a 75 year-old Japanese scientist who I used to teach one-one-one 8 years ago. Wada would specifically ask for me and arrive with a topic he wanted to debate or simply talk to me about. He took a liking to the 24 year-old boy, wide-eyed in as foreign a culture as the Western world has to offer.

Wada talked ever-so-slowly, with the voice, manner and face of Henry Kissinger. Many avoided him for those same reasons. His long sentences and drawn-out delivery bored them. But never me. I wanted to learn and believed he had something to offer. He was also a highly respected man in his profession and I was proud he took the time to talk to me. It was clear he was the teacher here.

Before I left Japan, he came in especially to say goodbye and with the book as a present. He asked me to read it and think about it. I thanked him and read it while in South America. Without an email address for Wada, I had no way to convey my thoughts about the book, in particularly the philosophical elements. Still fairly fresh out of university, expansive thinking was still a normal activity.

The overly-polite staff member at lost property checked the left-behind book collection but failed to find Wada’s book. For it always will be Wada’s book. A book he gave me and asked me to think about. A memory, a face, a moment in my life. A small brick of me.


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