One Day in the Afternoon of the World

“He walked, one of many still abroad in the world, in the street. Every day gone with work unfinished, things to do, places to go, people to see, words to be spoken, a man himself unfinished, unfinishable, even by death unfinishable, even in birth unfinishable, a walker through days and nights until he is forty-seven all of a sudden. Everything moved, and the bus always got away. Everybody saw it go. Everybody was sorry to see it go, and took a drink, told a joke, said a prayer, wept, kissed, or swore.

That’s the story, he thought, and I won’t knock it. I tried to write a little of it. Others did, too. And I won’t knock what they wrote either – but wasn’t it bad, though? Wasn’t it careful and neat and boring, though? Didn’t they take too long to say too much that was useless, though? And didn’t I, too? Didn’t I try to make a little art out of a little mud with my own little fire in it?” – William Saroyan, One Day in the Afternoon of the World.

One sultry afternoon in May, a few years ago, I stumbled upon a used bookstore on King George St. in Jerusalem. Now usually, stepping into a bookstore leads to one of two outcomes for me: a) spending hours browsing and walking out with a book, or b) spending hours browsing and walking out empty-handed, overwhelmed by decision fatigue. But ever so rarely, this happens, and it’s glorious: I walk in and I’m instantly drawn to a book for no apparent reason, I read the first few sentences and know that I need to have it. That was the case with William Saroyan’s ‘One Day in the Afternoon of the World’.

It is, essentially, a book with no real plot. I believe the best books aren’t plot-driven; after all, life doesn’t follow an exact plot either. The story focusses on a week in the life of down-on-his-luck writer Yep Muscat, as he visits New York in an attempt to sell his plays and meets his ex-wife and children while in the city. In short, read it. It’s the kind of book that I simply couldn’t put down and yet dreaded finishing, for I didn’t want it to end.

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