Mr. Mel stepped out of my novel, The Beauty of Failure, to share fumes with American readers

By Eva Feld

When Israeli writer Amos Oz said in his biography that he wished to grow up to become a book, he made it clear that he didn’t want to be a writer, but a book. So that a copy could have a chance to be safe in a country, a city, or a remote library. “I have seen that books always find a way to hide,” thought the Literature Nobel Prize nominee when he was a kid. Maybe it was his way of expressing a need to transcend, to become a meaningful object, a collection of words and ideas forever embodied.

A different procedure happened to many books in history, whose authors created characters that overtook both their creators and even the book to which they belong, and transcended by becoming real. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary incarnates still today, 160 years after publication, the image of a certain breed of disatisfaction. Today, we can almost continue to hear her author yell: “Madame Bovary c’est moi.”

Don Quijote is even a better example. He and Sancho Panza are still wandering in Castilla and can be heard arguing. At the sight of windmills in the region, people are able to see the dangerous dragons that the Ingenious Sir of La Macha fought fearlessly in Miguel de Cervantes’ book, nearly 400 years ago. Sir Quixote has become an emblem of the utopian man, and his name is being used to qualify anyone who pursues impossible dreams.

These thoughts came to my mind this last Saturday when the main character of my first novel written in English, Mr. Mel, was invited to share a few hours with fellow smokers at Mr. John Bell’s Tobacco Store. Even though I was there signing books, inhaling the fragrant fumes of a world range selection of tobacco, the real guest at the place was Mr. Mel. He came out of the book to light his pipe and to talk about the struggles of the Venezuelan people.

He showed his very old “Écume de Mer” pipe and the aroma of Armagnac neutralized all other perfume for as long as it lasted. After a while he accepted to share some Virginia blends and some Nicaraguan samples of cigars. By virtue of the good company and the amical atmosphere, Mr. Mel joined the rest of the smokers into the man’s cave and watched a football game.

When the time came to leave, Mr. Mel was reluctant to go back to the book, to censorship, to the political and economical crisis in Venezuela, and to the lack of food, medicine, sanitary measures, or protection of any sort. Nevertheless, I, the author can testify for him, that he is happy to be a book. He knows, as well as Amos Oz said about books in his biography, that many copies are finding a way to hide and therefore to transcend. 

                                                                                           Loveland, Ohio, Nov 2017