Last weekend I invited an old friend and his fiance to have lunch at my parents’ house. I’m still recovering from my colon cancer and they wanted to see me and hear about my health. Before eating, they both stood by my Dad’s library, a collection of nicely bound history books about antiquity, Europe, and the Middle East. I called my Dad over since I know he takes a lot of pride in his library. He showed off a bunch of his stuff, especially a few from his latest kick, Napoleon.
My Dad opened up a drawer to find one of his other Napoleon books. And then I recognized a name just to the right of the Napoleon book. “Hey! Dad! You have a VS Naipaul!” I later wondered if Dad had arranged the books by ascending egoism.
The book was Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, one of Naipaul’s most famous travelogues. Dad reads a lot, but he’s not really into either fiction or creative nonfiction. He likes history books and periodicals. How’d he wind up with a VS Naipaul?
Apparently, his best friend, who died about six years ago in a car accident, gave it to him right when it came out. His friend’s name was Manolo, a man he’d known since he was in Cuba – Manolo was from Cienfuegos I believe – and I am named after him. My name is my Dad’s name, Francisco Izaguirre, with Manolo jammed in between it, then translated to English. Frank Manuel Izaguirre. I thought it was really cool that Manolo had given him this book.
See I’ve been reading a lot of Paul Theroux lately, choo-chooing my way across the planet as I familiarized myself with one of travel writing’s most beloved and yet unlovable heroes. The whole time I’ve been thinking how the next author I dive into must be the other half of the epic literary friendship. It’ll be good for my own writing, and I’m eager to get my own taste of Naipaul’s legendary crankiness. I think I’ll find him quite endearing.
I also recently stumbled upon an article from The Guardian about the two men. Apparently, they’ve made up; they bumped into each other at a literary conference and decided not to be so angry anymore. I made the piece’s accompanying picture, with the two old buddies shaking hands and each emotionally looking at the other, my laptop background.
So by popping up in my Dad’s book drawer to the right of Napoleon, the man who’s been loitering on the periperhy of my attention has finally succeeded in grabbing it. OK, OK, Mr. Naipaul. I’ll read your books.
The next day I took Among the Believers out back with me to my Mother’s garden, put on some shades, and read in the sun. The book chronicles his travels through Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, four countries I’d like to know more about. It starts in Iran. I was excited. Mom was working in the side yard, and suddenly came around back and saw me.
“Well if it isn’t the Prince of Persia,” she said.
To which I responded, “I’m there right now!”