What's with The Existential Eggplant?Inanimate objects and animals that possess some form of consciousness have appeared in several modern American novels. From Tom Robbins’ spoon, soup can and socks to Pynchon’s talking dogs, a wisecracking eggplant isn’t far off. The eggplant in Orphans, Assassins and the Existential Eggplant, which takes place in the 13th century, is unique in several ways:
“This was no ordinary eggplant—this one was the size of a small toe, hard as polished marble, rich like a deep purple-black jewel and more than handsome—it possessed a certain intelligence, magnetism and ‘voice’ that set it apart from the rest of the vegetable kingdom. It was a magnificent little companion.”
As the story unfolds, we learn that when this eggplant was fresh, it was extremely edible and probably quite delicious if anyone had been foolish enough to eat it. But unlike other vegetables, this amazing eggplant was preserved to last forever.
An old woman in the Arabian Desert grew the eggplant almost 600 years before our story begins. She was a midwife who people chased from villages every time a baby died and one day she was tired of being chased so she moved to the desert, where she lived alone, grew a sparse crop of vegetables each year and raised a few goats. She lived quietly until a thief burst into her hut one night and demanded jewelry he thought was hidden in her tent. When she explained she had nothing but two eggplants and three goats, the thief killed her goats and threatened to kill her if she didn’t give him her jewelry. But before the thief could raise his knife, an archer shot a single arrow into the tent and killed the thief.
According to the eggplant, “The old midwife gave the eggplants to the archer, and wished she had more to offer him. They shared one of the eggplants for dinner, my only sibling, along with fresh goat stew. After their meal, the archer pulled a small golden globe from a pouch at his side, opened it and revealed a shiny salve he rubbed over my entire eggplant body, then instructed the midwife to carefully dry me in the shade and protect me as if I was her only child. He told her he charmed this eggplant, and I would keep her company and provide for the old woman and whoever possessed me thereafter. She dried me with great care, making sure I was always in the shade. And I slowly became smaller and harder and shinier, keeping my eggplant form and smooth skin until I looked like a tiny, polished stone…”
The eggplant had a higher stake than most when it came to existence. As far as it was concerned, its self-awareness was all the proof of existence it needed. It had memories and was quite aware of how others felt about it—even if they had no feelings about the vegetable. But the eggplant also understood it needed others to offer credible reassurance from time to time, otherwise it could never be 100% sure if it did exist, or if it was the imaginary product of a few humans giving the little vegetable make-believe qualities, like a human consciousness. There are several other existential scenarios the eggplant routinely considers, but none of them provide any certainty, so it continues to think of itself as a real being who can observe and interpret the world and is recognized as an independent consciousness by at least one human at a time. Unlike the Non-existent Knight, the eggplant needed no official papers to exist.
In addition to the eggplant, Orphans, Assassins and the Existential Eggplant includes a host of quirky historic and fictional characters who take readers on wild, cross-continental adventure in search of the fabled Lost Stone of Eden. There’s Layla the wise alchemist, Mina the devoted desert saint, Aaron the teenage language prodigy, Stephen who led the Children’s Crusade, Hassan i Sabbah and his Assassins, the aforementioned Non-existent Knight, and many others.
As one reviewers said, “Who could imagine a shriveled up eggplant as a conduit of guidance, wisdom, sarcasm and humor. Even if this isn’t your usual style of book—venture out of your comfort zone and hitch on for the ride.”
Publication Date: February 19, 2015 | Homunculus Press | Formats: Kindle eBook, Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0692391662 | Pages: 279
Genre: Historical Fiction
Orphans, Assassins and the Existential Eggplant explores the quirky side of historical fiction. The novel takes you on wild ride through the early 13th century with a female alchemist, orphan teenager and a 600-year-old, shrunken eggplant that can speak to whomever wears it. In search of the fabled Lost Stone of Eden, they cross Europe and the Mediterranean with the Children’s Crusade, hijack a caravan in the Sahara desert, live with hashish-fueled Assassins in the mountains of Persia and rediscover paradise on the island of Bahrain.
ExcerptAaron and the girls slept for a few hours during the hottest part of the day, then rode through the evening and the entire night, taking only a few breaks to rest the camels. They didn’t catch up to any slow-moving caravans, come upon an oasis or see fires in the night. Everything around them seemed the same, day after day. Same mirrored sky. Same scorching sun. Same sound of camel farting and plodding. Same sad, ivory scent of emptiness.
“Are we dead?” asked Donatelle as they shared the last of the water. They were sitting atop a tall dune and could see nothing but more dunes in every direction.
“Do you feel dead?” Aaron had to ask, knowing that in the middle of this terminal landscape, it was a good question.
“I can’t tell because I don’t know what it’s like to be dead, but it might be like this. Just nothing,” Donatelle shrugged.
“Death is much different—and much luckier,” guessed the eggplant.
Aaron hoped the eggplant was right, but he chose a different answer for Donatelle. “Whenever I’m not sure, I listen for my heartbeat. The pounding inside me says I’m alive in this world and even though we’re in a dead place, we’ll survive. We’ll find something soon, or something will find us.”
Something took the form of a humming dark cloud on the horizon. They watched as it grew darker, stretched across the dunes and started to roar like steady, rolling thunder.
Praise"Good stories rise and fall like empires in the endless pursuit of happiness, like armies of lovers marching to paradise - good stories change the world." So begins Part One of Orphans, Assassins and the Existential Eggplant. This book is such a good read. I read it on the plane to Hawaii, and it soared with me through the sky. My wife kept asking what was so funny as I giggled and laughed in my seat. This story changed me, in that flying is such a drag these days, and this book kept coming up with surprises, weaving together stories of gods, goddesses, orphans and assassins, the pursuit of the unattainable, and existential conundrums.
I have had the opportunity to read some of Mr. Gillett's poetry (especially "This is My Last Poem" - I hope this is not his last novel), and in this novel, he brings his poetic ability to sublimely transport the reader to new views of the mundane, new opportunities for transformation, and new ways of understanding my own self. What more could I ask for in a book.
Steal this book if you need to, but get it and read it with joy." - Paul Rerucha, Amazon Reviewer
"I don't read a ton of books for pleasure but I did read this one on the recommendation of a friend. It kept me captivated and I ended up finishing it in 2.5 days. This is the kind of book that makes me want to read more often." - B. H., Amazon Reviewer
About the AuthorJ.T Gillett holds degrees in philosophy and journalism from the University of Oregon and studied at Naropa Institute’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. His stories and poems have appeared in a variety of Literary Journals, including City Lights Journal, edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
For more information please visit the Orphans and Assassins website and blog.
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