Twelve months ago, I was invited to comment on the first tentative words looking for a story. Across the Atlantic — crossed by more than 30 million Europeans but never by me — the artist and writer Joshua Kent Bookman had begun the exploration of the migrant experience as represented in literature. By borrowing moments and trajectories from Swedish-, Bengali-, Italian- and American writers and their take on the translocational experience, he gave them new life and relevance. Paths were crossed, glances exchanged, recipes re-invented. Like me, Bookman was reminded of his own past, his colonist American origin, that is, migrary per definition, entitled by policy.
Integrating accounts, characters and conditions from these literary pieces, he frames the contemporary in the atemporal, mapping fragments of narratives that repeat and mirror themselves, across continents, over centuries. But this is no geographical cartography, but one of relationships and memory. Like Nils in The Wonderful Adventures (Selma Lagerlöf, 1906), we are invited to explore the concept of scale, through the vantage point of fiction. Parallel to this tale of family and land, Bookman has devised a legend that should not be overlooked; it holds clues on how to read terrain also elsewhere.
Food is a central theme to Bookman and his characters. Whereas the traveller seeks the new and exotic, the migrant chases ingredients that cannot be found. She tracks down substitutes, invents variants and grieves compromise. There is a celebration of the new, coupled with the resignation to availability. She adapts and re-invents her recipes, as per local conditions and climate. With that, there is a strong spatial dimension to nutrition, being perhaps the most intimate relationship between the human body and its immediate environment. The animalistic nature of this condition for life is perhaps the trigger for elaboration, turning ingestion into art, something human. Recipes, hacks and traditions are all passed down generations, secrets are kept and shared, seasonings discussed and dissected. As the traveller and migrant both know, flavour and smell are closely associated with place and time.
His book close to elsewhere was, like the main character’s Thomi’s memories, drafted between geographies, with Bookman intermittently based in Los Angeles, Boston and a French vineyard. We were not only collaborating across time zones but also according to different measures of time. Behind Bookman’s screen were the blazing wildfires of California, the echoes of French church bells, reports from a sleepy art gallery, children’s distant voices from a tennis court. That is a world spinning faster than mine, that is accessible to me only in the his writings: red mud on tennis shoes, the dark swirls of wine being thrown out an open door, cracked leather on a bus, going somewhere.
I never met Josh in person. Still his face, although sometimes pixelated, is familiar to me. His voice, although often delayed or with an echo, is that of a friend. His dedication to flavours, smells and textures is uncannily intimate. Any remaining gaps are trivial. These are blanks that I can fill in on my own, making him part invented, fully real. Now, as of today, these words put together beyond place have become ink and paper. Technology, language, fiction!