Excerpt from Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Lost Paradise

A Novel

By Cees Nooteboom

Lost Paradise
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2007,
    208 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2008,
    160 pages.

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Print Excerpt

PROLOGUE

‘The pronoun I is better because more direct.’

From ‘The Secretaries’ Guide’, in the section ‘The Writer’, New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1952


Dash 8-300. heaven knows, I’ve flown in all types of aircraft, but this is the first time I have ever been in a Dash. It’s a small, compact plane, though it feels bigger because there are very few passengers. The seat next to me is empty. Apparently not many people are interested in flying from Friedrichshafen to Berlin-Tempelhof. Our forlorn little group of passengers walked from the no-frills terminal to the plane – you can still do that here – and is now waiting for take-off. The sun is shining, there is a stiff breeze. The pilot, already up front, fiddles with the knobs. I hear the co-pilot talking to the control tower. Empty moments like these are familiar to anyone who does a lot of flying.

The engines have not been switched on yet. Some people have already started reading, others are staring out of the window, though there is not a great deal to see. I have taken out the in-flight magazine, but am not in the mood to do more than leaf through it: the usual airline propaganda, a few facts about the small number of cities this small company flies to – Bern, Vienna, Zurich – then a couple of freelance articles, one on Australia and the Aborigines, with pictures of rock drawings, brightly painted bark, all the latest trends. And another on São Paulo: a horizon lined with skyscrapers, the mansions of the rich and, of course, the ever so picturesque shanty towns – the slums or favelas or whatever you call the things. Corrugated-iron roofs, ramshackle wooden constructions, people who look as if they like living there. I have seen it all. I’d better not stare at the pictures too long, or they will make me feel a hundred years old. Maybe I am a hundred years old. All you have to do is multiply your real age by a magic number – a secret formula that includes every journey you have ever made and the unreal sense of déjà vu that goes with them – and you will find yourself in your dotage. I am not usually troubled by such thoughts, if only because they are hardly worth thinking about, but last night in Lindau I had three Obstlers too many, and at my age a strong schnapps like that takes its toll. The flight attendant looks outside, evidently expecting someone, and when she comes through the door, that someone turns out to be a woman – the kind of woman you hope will be seated next to you. Apparently I am not that old. But I am out of luck: she has been assigned a window seat in the row ahead of me, on the left-hand side of the plane. Actually, it is better this way, since now I can look at her as much as I want.

She has long legs in khaki trousers – a manly attribute that enhances her femininity – and her big, strong hands are trying to get at a book that has been carefully done up in crimson wrapping paper with Sellotape. Those big hands are impatient. When the tape does not immediately come off, she tears the parcel open. I am a voyeur. One of the great delights of travel is looking at people who do not know you are looking at them. She opens the book too rapidly for me to see the title.

I always want to know what people are reading, though in this case ‘people’ usually means ‘women’, since men no longer read. I have learned that women, whether they are on a train, on a park bench or at a beach, tend to hold their books in such a way that it is impossible to read the title. Look for yourself, and you will see what I mean.

I rarely summon up the nerve to ask them what they are reading, even when I am dying of curiosity. On the title page of this book, someone has written a long inscription. She scans it quickly, then puts the book on the empty seat beside her and stares out of the window. The engines are revving, which makes the small plane shake, and the sight of her breasts trembling gently in her tight-fitting T-shirt is exciting. Her left knee is slightly raised. The light falls on her chestnut hair, giving it a golden sheen. The book is upside down, so I still cannot make out the title. It is a thin volume. I like that. Calvino says that books ought to be short, and for the most part he follows his own advice. The plane starts racing down the runway. Especially in smaller aircraft, there is always a sensual moment during take-off, when the plane finds a thermal and seems to get an extra lift, a kind of caress, similar to the feeling you had on swings when you were a child.

Lost Paradise © 2004 by Cees Nooteboom, English Translation copyright © 2007 by Susan Massotty, and reprinted with permission of Grove Press, and imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

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