Sunday Salon: Ox-Tales
Each book has a theme: Earth (Livelihoods), Air (Climate Change), Fire (Conflict) and Water. I think part of the fun of reading the books will be to see how the stories reflect the theme.
I am starting with Volume 1: Earth. Oxfam helps thousands of small-scale farmers and producers to improve their lives through increased production and marketing - from cotton in India, vegetables in Honduras and rice in Tanzania - so I expect the stories to have something to do with this. The poem by Vikram Seth (each volume starts with a poem by Vikram Seth) is pretty wonderful. He describes a pot. In the first stanza it is filled with soil, in the second with clay, in the third with ash. Each time he turns it around and makes it the source of something new. It's a really optimistic poem, I thought, quite joyful.
The first story is by Rose Tremain, 'The Jester of Astapovo'. It is about the death of Leo Tolstoy and the effect it has on the life of the stationmaster of an isolated station called Astapovo. It makes the astute observation that a sense of humour can irritate and actually drive people apart: 'A joke is a contract with another human being.'
The idea of the earth comes in very subtly: Tolstoy is a man of the people, and the people are of the earth; the stationmaster is of the earth too. He has found his destination and it is to provide gladness to the people that pass by. It's a really good story - gripping and provocative.