“mortals … building their bilious cities in order, it seemed, to name and rename and incinerate them and do it again.”
Boundless As The Sky, by Dawn Raffel, is structured in two parts. The first is a series of vignettes, a response to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – I have not read this book. I can’t claim to understand precisely what the author is trying to convey in many of the entries. Nevertheless, I can appreciate how beautifully written they are. Reading this section was akin to reading a poetry collection. There are many clever, ironic and humorous asides within the insightful observations of man’s behaviour and mistaken belief in the wider importance of his actions.
The second section in set in Chicago on Saturday 15 July 1933. The city was then hosting a World Fair, ‘The Century of Progress’, and preparing to welcome a flight of 24 seaplanes ending a 7000 mile flight from Rome, at the time under the rule of Mussolini. Through the experiences of a varied cast of characters the day unfolds. Once again the author offers clever pockets in the narrative to demonstrate the human condition and how short lived anything man does generally is in the wider scheme of things, despite the import granted at the time.
Several series of photographs are also included, an atmospheric touch that helps ground the reader in the time being written of. They provide a reminder of how much has changed – borders moved, buildings destroyed, acceptable dress and behaviour redefined. Yet within are people going about their day.
Much that was once regarded with awe is now forgotten. The once venerated dead lie beneath soil that has now been repurposed.
“There once was a man who lived in a county of a kingdom that no longer exists. At the center of the county was a castle which was ruined several centuries before the man was born …
The remains of the castle, which now belongs to another country, continues to be a tourist destination.”
Both sections of the book are worth reading. The first may be picked up and dipped into at will, the short entries enjoyed for their evocative yet playful discourse. The second section is a novella written from several unusual and interesting perspectives. These include: politicians, a variety of young people, a nurse, a reporter, so called freaks who are working at the fair. Several come from families displaced by war, the older generation fearing for what is now brewing in Europe. Despite this the crowds gather, milling in excited anticipation of the spectacle expected, however much some may claim little interest.
Historical Notes at the end provide insight into the author’s inspiration. Many of the characters are based on real people, events actually happened if not exactly as depicted.
An imaginative and engaging short read. A reminder of how hindsight too often rewrites history.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Sagging Meniscus Press.