Master student Pooja Ramakrishnan reviews a book that befits and reflects the season in Delft: new students arriving with their suitcases, anticipation, and anxiety.
As the August winds howl outside my window, I curl up with a book that I recently picked up: Gabriel García Márquez’s Strange Pilgrims. The title befits the current season: new students with their suitcases, anticipation, and anxiety will be landing at Schiphol Airport throughout this week and the next. As TU Delft gently stirs and awakens from its summer stupor, it will find itself in the company of many new faces - strange pilgrims indeed - from all over the world.
I already hold Marquez, a Nobel prize winning author, in high esteem, especially after reading his world-renowned and fabulous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Filled with wry humour that is underscored by continuous melancholia, his bizarre stories launched an entire genre that we know today as ‘magical realism’ which is still inhabited by popular authors such as Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro, the latter being another Nobel laureate himself. Strange Pilgrims is not a novel, however. It is a compilation of 12 short stories tied together by a central theme: Latin Americans who experience various peculiarities as they journey to and through Europe.
We read about a man who travels to meet the Pope just to show him his daughter’s coffin, a woman who earns a living by selling her dreams, a promiscuous wife who gets trapped in a psychiatric hospital by a tricky chain of events, a weather event that causes holiday-goers to lose their minds, and other such confusing but riveting metaphors of what it is like to make a home in an unfamiliar place.
The stories provide a sense of comfort
In essence, Marquez strives to capture the delirium and rootlessness one feels when trying to adapt to a new land. As international students, we are often faced with the two-pronged issue of assimilating into this new lifestyle while at the same trying to preserve our identities. Somewhere along the line, we learn to balance the two with finesse but for those who are just arriving this week, it is and will remain an inevitable and uphill task. Yet, all is not bleak in this book (or in life, for that matter). The stories provide a sense of comfort. Some of the misfortunes that befall the characters are so extraordinary that they’re even funny. And, in comparison, our personal miseries pale and seem manageable.
I do admit that this is not exactly the most light-hearted book out there, but it offers the consolation that, at some point in life, everybody is really just a strange pilgrim. As the gloomy skies rain on us, Strange Pilgrims might just be worth your time. Especially if you’re looking to escape to a far more vivid and enchanting place. Oh, and whether you are returning to TU Delft after your summer break or are coming here for the first time, I hope that this pilgrimage is everything you imagine it will be and more. Happy Q1!
Pooja Ramakrishnan, Master student Environmental Engineering, is a science student during the day and a poet by night. She balances the two with her curiosity and fascination for the world we live in.