Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review: A Luminous History of the Palm by Jessica Sequeira

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 Not really a question: is it any wonder that I began this book while flying to California, the place where palm trees first took root in my imagination.

But a question: what if history were more than (anything but) a list of battles and dates? What if history were a living thing, one that promises to to be more than just its mundane existence? A touchstone, a point of reference rooted in the ground and in the imagination? Such are the questions that underpin A Luminous History of the Palm.

Across its 57 pages Sequeira delineates the various incarnations of this most fruitful of symbols. It becomes health and wealth before transforming into weapon, home. She traces its appearance from ancient Judea to the rice fields of Thailand. She witnesses its manifestations as chimera, star, a succession of frond-like waves, a symbol of time and of the zodiac. She measures the height of their god-like gazes, offering, no, not enlightenment but a share in their own luminous natures. At its most playful, it's simply a puzzle book where the reader searches for a hidden tree on every page.

This book is a meditation in the best sense, not just on the palm but also on the art of translation, of crafting fiction. Is it any wonder—again: not a question—that Sequeira devotes her book to the tree that shares its name with the open hand.