Excerpt from My Father's Tears by John Updike, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My Father's Tears

by John Updike

My Father's Tears
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2009, 304 pages
    May 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natasha Vargas-Cooper

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“Baby,” sneered her big sister, who attracted stares from native men everywhere and was feeling a certain power.

“The bus will come,” Daddy promised, looking over their heads to the vanishing point where the road merged in the pink confusion of the new buildings the king was very slowly erecting.

A thin dark man in a dirty caftan materialized and spoke to us in a lengthy nasal language. He held out his palms as if to have them read.

“Dad, the man is talking to you,” Mark, then prepubescent and now a graduate student in computer science, said, very embarrassed.

“I know he is,” I told him, helplessly.

“What’s he saying, Dad?” Genevieve asked.

“He’s asking if this is the bus stop,” I lied.

The man, continuing to speak, came closer, confiding a breath rich in Muslim essences—native spices, tooth decay, pious fasting with its parched membranes. His remarks grew more rapid and urgent, but a light was dying in his bloodshot eyes.

“Tell him to go away.” This suggestion came from Caleb, our silent, stoic, sensible child, now a college junior majoring in zoology.

“I think he will,” I hazarded, and the man did, shaking his skeletal head at our unresponsive idiocy. Our little family clustered closer in relief. Sand blew into our shoes, and the semicircular halls of the abandoned hotel, our only home in this foreign land, howled at our backs like some deep-voiced, clumsy musical instrument.

The bus! The bus to Tangier! We waved—how we waved!—and with an incredulous toot the bus stopped. It was the green of tired grass, and chickens in slatted coops were tied to the top, along with rolled-up rugs. Inside, there were Moroccans: dusty hunched patient unknown people, wearing knit little things on their heads and knit little things on their feet, their bodies mixed in with their bundles, the women wrapped in black, some with veils, all eyes glittering upward in alarmed amazement at this onrush of large, flushed, childish Americans.

The fare, a few dirhams, was taken noncommittally by a driver, who had a Nasseresque mustache and a jaw to match. There was room at the back of the bus. As we wrestled our ponderous suitcases down the aisle, the bus swayed, and I feared we might crush with our bulky innocence this frag- ile vehicle and its delicately balanced freight. Deeper into the bus, an indigenous smell, as of burned rope, intensified.

In Tangier, the swaying bus was exchanged for a single overloaded taxi, whose driver in his desire to unload us came into the Hertz office and tried to help the negotiations along. Allah be praised, his help was not needed: the yellow plastic Hertz card that I produced did it all. Had I been able to produce also the pale green of an American Express card, our suspenseful career down the coast, from Tangier to Rabat to Casablanca and then through the narrower streets of El Jadida and Essaouira and Tafraout, would have been greatly eased, for at each hotel it was necessary to beg the clerk to accept a personal check on a London bank, and none but the most expensive hotels would risk it; hence the odd intervals of luxury that punctuated our penurious flight from the Mediterranean winds.

The avenues of Rabat as we drove into the city were festooned in red. Any thought that we were being welcomed with red banners gave way when we saw hammers and sickles and posters of Lenin. A Soviet high-level delegation, which included Kosygin and Podgorny, was being received by the versatile king, we discovered at the Rabat Hilton, which was booked so solid with Communists that it could not shelter even the most needy children of free enterprise.

But a hotel less in demand by the Soviets took us in, and at dinner, starved, we were sat down in a ring on piled carpets, around what in memory seems an immense brass tray, while a laughing barefoot girl tiptoed at our backs, sprinkling rosewater into our hair. Mark, tickled, made his monkey face.

Excerpted from My Father's Tears and Other Stories by John Updike Copyright © 2009 by John Updike. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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