About the Author
John B. Robinson graduated from Harvard University in 1991 and then bought a one-way ticket to Africa to pursue writing as he worked as a guide on Mount Kilimanjaro; traded, bought, and sold rare gems; and taught English in strange and exotic locales. He lives in Portland, Maine.
Read an Excerpt
The Sapphire Sea
It was 6:45 A.M. when the sun's blazing rays of amber light finally blasted over the horizon. Lonny cruised down a stretch of open macadam flanked by lizard green hills and fetid rice paddies. He was past the mining camps and inside the King's Reserve. He had the throttle wrenched back, the clutch lever squeezed tight and was in the act of kicking the Japanese road pony into third. And it was just a flash. A hallucinogenic glint of phosphorescence in a crosshatched sea of chartreuse yellow, ocher red and black ash.
The motorcycle coasted at a high-pitched whine as Lonny's eye processed the color, and a magical sensation welled up inside his chest like a balloon. He told himself to push on but the curse and the salvation of Lonny's life was his eye. Lonny had a seeing eye. An eye that could weigh, cut and mount a gemstone by holding it to the sun. The eye of an artist. An eye that could see into things and take their measure.
As he whipped around in the saddle to locate the blue glimmer, the motorcycle veered into freshly tilled soil and his body catapulted forward like a human cannonball. He plowed into the sponge-like paddy helmet-first. Mud jammed up around the visor and left him with a intimate view of a tropical millipede. After two years in Madagascar there were still some mornings he found the place surreal.
It was the fourth time he had taken a digger, each time in a paddy, and each time it had required a team of zebu to pull the machine free of the sticky muck. But this time he was not overly concerned about himself, his predicament or the danger of getting caught inside the King's Reserve. He could feel his body temperature rise and his eye twitch as he thought about an improbable twinkle that promised a glimpse of the divine.
He pushed himself off the fallow ground and glanced around. In the near distance he spotted a middle-aged peasant sitting away from the deserted highway beneath a towering mango tree. A small figure who watched Lonny's ridiculous accident without understanding and without trying to understand. The peasant was lifting a blue stone up to the sun, as he had seen the traders do in the sapphire camps, trying to see what he could sense.
Lonny wiped the mud from his visor and surveyed the damage. The front tines of the motorcycle were twisted, the wheel rim bent, the engine covered with soil. With luck he might be able to ride it back to Diego-Suarez. He removed his mirrored helmet and walked woodenly toward the gigantic mango tree. His body was drenched in a heavy layer of sweat before he was halfway there.
"M'boulets tsara," greeted Lonny in the local dialect. Once a week he submitted to Antakarana lessons from Bishop McKenzie, an aged Scottish missionary who had not spoken English for months at a go before Lonny parachuted into town. "M'boulets tsara," returned Jaoravo, the Happy Bull, a descendant of Jao, the Bull. Unlike the landless miners from the highlands and the south, Jaoravo's ancestors had cultivated this territory for a dozen generations. It was a part of his feet, his hands, his stomach. Everything he harvested he owed to the ancestors' good grace.
"J'achete des saphirs," said Lonny, switching to French. As a boy his French mother had impressed upon him that "the beautiful language" was the language of love. At New York University he had majored in French because it was supposed to be the language of literature and art. Yet in northern Madagascar all his years of St. Exupéry, Sartre and Duras served a commercial end.
Jaoravo listened to Lonny and heard nothing malevolent.
"Vous avez un saphir?" continued Lonny, hoping he would not have to try the whole thing in dialect.
At the time of independence Jaoravo had finished his schooling and he was proud of his ability to speak French. The young men in the nearby village called him the Frenchman because they liked to tease him. He did not mind the teasing. He was proud of his ability to communicate with strangers. His own father spoke French and Jaoravo did not feel ashamed before the ancestors.
Lonny's legs were limber, as he had only been riding a short time, but he lost balance when Jaoravo rotated his palm and extended his arm to reveal a luminous sapphire the size of a swan's egg.
"C'est un vrai saphir," said Jaoravo. A real one. And he knew it was. For although he knew nothing about sapphires in particular, he sensed the force of the stone, and from what he had heard, all the good stones were sapphires. The stone had a presence not unlike the sacred tree where he offered white-faced male ducks to the departed. He had discovered the blue stone in his rice paddy as he turned the soil with a squared spade. He had been carrying it for months, but now he felt himself unaccountably sad and he wanted to make a tribute to the ancestors. He wanted to sacrifice a zebu in their honor and he thought that if he took the disturbing blue stone to town surely one of the strangers would give him a zebu for it.
Lonny picked the wondrous sapphire from Jaoravo's work-beaten palm and held it against the washed turquoise sky. The stone was the color of a delphinium on the summer side of a mountain, as clear as a bell's chime. He closed his eyes briefly in delight and behind his eyelids he saw the magnificent sapphire float melodiously like a musical note. The gem did not filter the passage of light ...The Sapphire Sea. Copyright © by John Robinson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|2||Diego, Mon Amour||32|
|3||Angel from Antananarivo||49|
|8||The Great Gatsby||151|
|9||The King, the Colonel, the Consul and the Knave||171|
|10||At the Vo Vo||195|
|12||The Ocean Like a River||214|
|13||The Further Dark||226|
|14||Into the Desert||241|
|16||Beyond the Lighthouse||294|
|19||Rounding the Cape||331|