Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Bridges of Madison County

On my leave day, one book led to another re-reads of books from the shelves of my personal library. Picked this one up - The Bridges of Madison County - by Robert James Waller. I remembered long ago while I was still an undergraduate when I heard of the phenomena of this book - how it swept Japan, Europe and of course, the US - where it had millions around the world in romantic grief. People were crying in public reading this book and it was even featured on the local news of that day.

So I went to the book store the next day to find out about this phenomena and bought the book. Although my lectures then started at 10am, I was normally very early as I was driving an off-peak car. So, I remembered... there I was sitting on the cafeteria overlooking West Coast beach with my coffee and began to read the book - And I understood why.

I finished it all in 2 hours and without embarrassment, admit that I belonged to the millions who were in romantic "grief." I remembered I missed my lecture on that day as I was not in the mood.

Some years later, Clint Eastwood made this book into a movie with Meryl Streep and himself in the lead. The book went on to make the New York Times Best Seller List for three years or 156 weeks!

The Bridges of Madison County describes the profound love between a photographer and an Iowa farmer's wife who, together for only four days, never lose their feelings for each other. In August 1965, 52-year-old divorced Robert Kincaid packs his pickup truck and travels to Iowa's Madison County, the location of seven covered bridges he is to photograph for National Geographic . There, he asks directions of Francesca Johnson, alone at home while her husband and two children visit the Illinois State Fair. Initially, neither Robert nor Francesca expects their random encounter to lead to anything more, yet their mutual desire is undeniable.

Waller tells their story as though it were non-fiction, claiming to have heard about Francesca from her children after her death, read her journals, seen Robert's relics of those four days and interviewed a jazz musician who knew the photographer. Scenes between the lovers are movingly evoked and moments with Francesca, who celebrates her birthday 22 years later by reflecting on her brief time with Robert, are particularly poignant.

They are, like Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers who will only remain in each other's hearts and minds for all of their lifes, though they only shared four days. Her diaries indicate that for about thirty years Francesca maintained the emotional contact she committed to Kincaid by seeing his photography in National Geography, news clippings, and reading the articles written about him.

It is easy to be in love for four days. Anyone can. New love is exciting, romance is thrilling, and a new lover's touch is magical. Yet in this case, it went beyond that. It was simple to see this aspect of the enchantment about their story. Francesca wrote of the agony that she felt when choosing whether to go with Kincaid or stay with her family and her children. This was the crux of her story; to enliven herself within, and to make choices responsibly. We all face this sometime - and we are torn apart by some of the choices that we made.

Before she died, she left her children the story of her life - in the hope that they will understand her and not love her less. Her last wish was for her ashes to be thrown on the bridge that she and Kincaid used to spend those four memorable days - many years ago, yet the memory still lives in her.

"After reading all this,
I hope you can now understand my burial request.
It was not the ravings of some mad old lady.
I gave my life to my family.
I wish to give Robert what is left of me."

6 comments:

saedah said...

Salam Hoopoe...

I am waiting for someone to buy me this book. wahahaha.....
I think I will try to catch the movie. Sound interesting. Sadly Romeo and Juliet has created such an impact that we would always expect a good love story to end with a tragedy.

TheHoopoe said...

The movie is a fair depiction of the novel - although not almost.

Instead of Romeo & Juliet, try Layla & Majnun instead :)

Nasha Islem said...

aww hebatnye cinta mereka! hehe. thanks ustaz for ur book recommendations. will pick em up and read..one of these days..hee...

little miss pinky said...

a story that is very close to the heart. its one of those book you will remember for the rest of your life. to the ladies, Francesca maybe your alter ego. to others, when you read, dont let your superego ruin the beautiful experience of rekindling "lost" love.

the visitor said...

MasyaAllah, maintaining emotional contact by seeing his news clippings etc. Reminds me of Majnoun - going through the motions just for a scent of Laila. Sigh....

TheHoopoe said...

There is beauty in all love stories - for afterall, they celebrate Love...