The earliest memory I have of reading was when I was four. My mum swears I was reading before then. Much earlier, but I can’t tell for sure. We’d ride the trolley on the way to kindergarten and my father would point out the window at the different signs and marquis and I’d read them. Cinema Scala. Restaurant Lido. ONT. Tarom. My first full-length books were Renart the Fox and the entire Jules Verne series. Our flat had two rooms. I read in the blue room on the carpeted floor. I also had a toy firetruck and a bumblebee which, when wound up with the aluminium key, would walk a bit, then do a back flip. It was quite brilliant. After the earthquake in ’77, which devastated the city, we had to contend with sirens. The Party distributed leaflets which said the purpose was to warn of after-shocks. There were different kinds of sirens, although I could never discern between the 3.0 – 3.9 Aftershock Siren and the 4.0. – 4.9 Aftershock Siren. There were blackouts as well. And water shut-offs. But that was nothing new. During the blackouts, I’d set two pillows on the floor, against the door, and read by the light of a small candle. Once, I got into big trouble lying to my dad about reading, when I should have been sleeping. I was alone in the flat and he was coming home late after long rehearsals, and saw the light flickering in the blue room, from eight stories below. I pretended I was asleep when the key turned in the lock, and he let me go on with the entire charade for a bit, before he busted my lip and threw me into the couch in a furious, savage rage fueled by my deceit. I took one of the biggest beatings of my life for reading in secret. It was worth it. Everything that came with everything: the shit, the good, the fantastic, the lower of the lows, was worth it. For some reason, the sirens never stopped throughout the years. The aftershocks did, but the sirens went on periodically in the middle of the blackouts. I lost track of what they were for. Once there was a war. Then another. Then they both ended. It was all nonsense, so I stopped being interested in their purpose. The sirens woke me up, always, and always I’d set up my two pillows and candle in the middle of the savage nights, and read and the aggressive sound would somehow recede at first, then disappear altogether. The pages swallowed it up. The books had managed to hold the piercing, sharp blade of noise inside…at bay. Decades later, in another country, in the middle of a foreign night (always in the middle of a foreign night), I’d open up Gatsby or Daisy Miller or Pride and Prejudice that most polyphonic of all novels, and I’d faintly hear the monotone of the night warning from so long ago, trapped inside the pages and stripped of its rabid bite, but allowed to seep out in tolerable doses. They were a reminder; my reminder of another country in another life. And a realization that I was trapped somehow in between all of it. Inside the pages. With Gatsby and Winterbourne and Madame Bovary and Tom Jones.