From time to time, I wonder if I am the same person as I was in my youth. I suppose mostly I am. After all you are who you are. There are traits you might not like about yourself, you want to work on becoming a better version of you because you care . When I first returned home after graduating from the varsity, my dad said I had changed. Before I went abroad, my late dad and I used to be close as we shared some common interest but then years later, I realised that I could not share his values and views about things in general. Was that him who had changed or that I had changed or that I had seen him in a different light in my teens?
There are things that you wish you had figured out earlier but then you win some you lose some, you cannot win them all.
Life is work in progress, I am still figuring out how to be a completely free person.
There is something luring about Deborah Levy‘s writings. It feels like she is having a long and contemplative conversation with you as you read her narratives in Real Estate, the last instalment of her living autobiography.
In her first instalment of the living autobiography entitled Things I don’t want to know, Levy writes about motherhood and her childhood memories. Deborah Levy was born in South Africa and in her memoir, she writes about her childhood memories of what happened to her dad in apartheid South Africa in 1964. I read it early this year and re-read Cost of Living in 2019. Cost of Living was the second part of Levy‘s autobiography.
In Real Estate, fifty-nine year-old Levy is divorced and her daughters have flown the nest. They are now young women of eighteen and twenty-four. She finds herself having to make another life, hence her imagined property portfolio.
‘ I was also searching for a house in which i could live and work and make a world at my own pace, but even in my imagination this home was blurred, undefined, not real , or not realistic, or lacked realism. I yearned for a grand old house ( I had now added an oval fireplace to its architecture) and a pomegranate tree in the garden. It had fountains and wells, remarkable circular stairways, mosaic floors, traces of the rituals of all who had lived there before me. That is to say the house was lively, it had enjoyed a life. It was a loving house.’
–Real Estate, Deborah Levy
Levy includes Bachelard‘s quote in her narratives :
‘If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’
– Gaston Bachelard, The poetics of Space (1964)
Levy writes about life as a woman, a mother and most of all as a writer. She tries to connect with her younger self and muses about how she has learnt a great deal from her children. This is something I can totally relate to.
She had started writing in her early twenties and was first published at age twenty-seven. Her plays were hard to pay the bills and she thought about Rebecca West , ‘whose books had brought her enough wealth at forty to buy herself a Rolls-Royce and a grand country house, or estate , in the Chiltern Hills‘ At forty, Levy’s daughter was three months old and she was experimenting with how to make dhal (very cheap) from a variety of pulses and lentils and was figuring out how to combine spices and whether it would be better to serve dhal with rice or learn to make roti or other Indian flatbreads’, which she did .
‘Motherhood in the early years had been a long lesson in patience and submission to their needs,How could it not be like that? In later years, for some reason I had become a very good cook.’ – Real Estate, Deborah Levy
Levy‘s books have been translated across the world.
About translation, Levy writes:
‘To be translated was like living another life in another body in
France, Ukraine, Sweden, Vietnam, Germany, China, the Czech Republic,Spain, Romania – wherever. I often thought about my translators, mostly unknown to me, though some did email questions, often strange questions.Sometimes my work choices had to be changed because they had three other meanings in another language and culture.I knew these skilled translators were not creating a
doppelgänger of my book, so much as a new life for it. Reaching out into the
big bewildering world was the point of writing, in fact it was the only point.
At the same time Brexit devoured the news and I was anxiously wondering what
life separated from Europe would be like. Maybe it would be like living in a
kind of silence. ‘
Levy also muses :
” I supposed that what I most value are real human relations and imagination. It is possible we cannot have one without the other. It took me a long time to discard the desire to please those who do not have my best interests at heart and who cannot live warmly with me. I own the books that I have written and bequeath the royalties to my daughters, In this sense, my books are my real estate. They are not private property. ‘
And Levy asks herself,
‘ Or did I consider myself to be a sixty-year-old female character who was continually rewriting the script from start to finish?‘
Here is a thought. Are we not constantly rewriting the script about what we value and what we must discard? While life is transient, we want to leave our loved ones a legacy and it can be ‘unreal estate‘.
Real Estate, a memoir by Deborah Levy takes you from London to New York, Mumbai, Berlin, Paris and Greece. Real Estate is in essence about the writer asking herself who she is, all her longings and her literary journey. Levy‘s writings are meditative and insightful.