Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lunchtime read: Exile and the Kingdom


If you were only allowed to take a couple of stories away from this Albert Camus collection then this one would have to be included because it grows on you much as the title does and the ending is both moving and unexpected.

The Growing Stone
A French engineer arrives in a Brazilian village with responsibility for building a pier that is going to stop the river flooding the poorest part of town. As he wanders round the town he makes an acquaintance with one of the residents of the shack housing on the rivers edge. The man explains that he was a cook on a boat but there was an accidental fire and as a result he promised Jesus that if he lived he would carry a 100-pound stone at the procession to celebrate Jesus day. He goes out the night before and dances all-night, even though the engineer warns him to stop and reserve his energy for the stone. On the day of the procession the engineer is able to watch from invited prime positions but in between seeing the start of the procession and getting into place for the arrival at the church the stone carrier drops his load. The engineer picks it up and carries it past the church and the awestruck pilgrims down into the poor quarter and drops it in the middle of the house where the original carrier lives.

There has been a key exchange where the man carrying the stone explains his promise and the engineer says that something not too dissimilar happened to him. The man replies that in that case he is carrying the stone for both of them. But when it falls to the engineer to take the load afterwards he feels released and that would only happen as a result of fulfilling a promise he had not consciously made.

Fantastic stuff and I will post a full review of the book tomorrow…

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