Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tim Brookes' "Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment"

Tim Brookes is the author of A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow (one of the Top Travel Books of 2000–the New York Times and Booklist) and Guitar: An American Life (one of the Best Books of 2005–Library Journal).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment, and reported the following:
On the face of it, Page 99 isn’t some quintessence of the book.

The book falls into three parts. The first represents what I initially thought was my subject—namely, weather forecasting, the topic of my initial assignment for National Geographic. The second represents the reason why I went to India—namely, the monsoon. It wasn’t until I had been in India long enough for all my original purposes to fail that I realized I was getting close to the truth, and the truth had something to do with the subject of part three: water. So the book is a journey in many senses, external and internal, intentional and unintentional, and as always it’s the unintended journey that takes us where we ought to be going.

Page 99 turns up not quite halfway into the second section. By this point, the three defining points of my trip have taken place: I’ve gone to India, I’ve seen the monsoon come ashore near the southern tip of the subcontinent, and I’ve discovered that I have been banned from every office of the India Meteorological Department, and I can’t possibly do what I was sent to do. Page 99 can’t possibly encompass my subject because I haven’t yet got a clue what it is.

On the other hand, Page 99 is a close-up of a figure who is central to the book: Rajesh, my driver and guide. Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment is a kind of essay, and any essayist is only half a step away from being an asshole. What redeems me and the book is Rajesh’s affection, his studious concern for goodness and his interest in truth. Page 99 sees us on a long journey into the rural Indian night; it’s the transition between the planned and the unplanned, and he is crucial to my making that transition in safety, my good spirits and my curiosity intact.

How did we achieve this? We talked about the subject that every Brit and Indian have in common: cricket. Cricket was the Englishman’s gift to India, and now it was acting as the Indian’s way of making the Brit feel at home.

“When I think back on that drive, it all seems dark, even the three hours or so before nightfall—the darkness of trees, close on both sides of the road, and the darkness between trees, illuminated only by far-off cricketers endlessly playing famous games in the sun.”
Read an excerpt from Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment, and learn more about the book and author at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue