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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Life Advice from Sam Harris: It's Raining! It's Cold! It's London! Let's Go to India!


The Middle of Somewhere is a lovely book about growing up, about being a child, about experiencing the world, about being part of nature.

The world of the Middle of Somewhere is ostensibly India and Australia, but really in an ideal world it could be anywhere where there are open spaces, clear skies and a family where freedom, adventure and discovery are the norm. And the children are Uma and Yali, daughters of  Sam Harris. He photographed their lives, their joys, their tears and their traumas as they grew up in the most idyllic surroundings. But again, in an ideal world, it could be any child.

It's a joyful book then, one that starts with a picture of a line of green clad girls, their feet pushing through the grass of a forest clearing, their arms pushing against the barriers of our imagination. Flick forward a page and we see  Uma (I think) lying in a meadow, her eyes closed as she falls into the ground upon which she lies.

There's a pagan element to the book, a sense that we are, or should be, one with nature, and that is emphasised through repeated pictures of birds, animals, flowers and fruit. A double-page spread shows a dead red-beaked finch held in the palm of a hand that is adorned with bangles and bead, together with Yali (I think) holding a mashed up bunch of blackberries, her lips stained red, her eyes gazing directly into the camera from hair that is reminiscent of the well-dwelling Sadako of The Ring.

So we have coming of age and we have mortality and there is half a nod to Sanguinetti's Sixth Day and the lyricism of the Immediate Family landscape, but the symbolism is never heavy handed and the book can be read as a straightforward journal, especially because it is made like a journal.

The journal inserts help in this. We hear from Yael, Harris's partner, as she sits with a young Uma in a one-bedroom flat in London. It's raining and she needs a change, they all need a change. The next entry comes from Goa. The change has come and life becomes a romantic tale of travelling in India, on the road in places where hungry cows, blue seas and freak storms create memories that have a value beyond value. Then Yael is suddenly pregnant, one month from term and ready to give birth, 'just like millions of other women..' in an Indian village.

And on life goes.

There's a great picture of gleaming eucalypti (I think?) shot from the inside of a car. It's a familiar shot with the dashboard in the foreground but is evocative all the same, a sign of the move to Australia, and the beginning of a new kind of life.

Here, the open spaces and the big skies open up before Harris and Yael. We see them standing beneath the stars, looking at a gleaming mood, a moment of peace as a quiet domesticity (toys, make-up, washing, chickens - the quieter pictures that punctuate the stronger double page spreads) makes a home in the smallholding that the family now calls home.

Amidst all this there are tears and conflict. Uma and Yali fight, then make up. We see this in little kiss-and-make-up notes stuck into the pages of the book.

The girls grow and so does the family's Australian home. Uma and Yael reach up with brooms to dislodge water trapped in an awning. But now Uma is almost Yael's height, more nimble and stronger. The generational 'surpasso' beckons.

And that is almost how the book ends. It's a gorgeous book with a gorgeous cover that is a pointillist rendition of the bush surrounding the Australian home. It's romantic, populist and beautifully produced; as well as the post-it notes and journal inserts, it comes with rounded corners to edge off that travelogue feel.

Buy the book here. 

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