Monday, January 02, 2017

Reader's Diary #1430- Madeleine Thien: 10^80 Pieces

When we were kids, before Canada Post started doing the H0H 0H0 postal code to get letters to Santa, my sister and I were told to throw our letters into the wood stove. Miraculously the ashes would blow up the chimney and to the North Pole where they'd reform into a letter for the red man himself. I've not encountered many others who had similar traditions growing up but I have to suspect it wasn't just a clever way of my parents to declutter the house pre-Christmas but somehow tied to the 2500 year old custom referred to by Madeleine Thien in the introduction to her short story "10^80 Pieces:"
The burning of paper offerings is a 2,500 year old tradition, built on the hope that if one burns paper money and gifts to one’s loved ones, they will receive them in the afterlife and put them to use.
In this case, however, the offerings are not received by Santa, but rather one Hafith al Bareed, basically a post office master in the afterlife. It is said the pieces of mail that he's handled numbers upwards of 10^80 or the approximate number of atoms in the universe. Of course, this doesn't make any sense without accepting the metaphysical or at the very least that the story is meant as a parable of sorts.

In this sense, "10^80 Pieces" reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges' "The Library of Babel" but I'm not sure it comes together in the end quite as well. Still, an interesting story to be sure.

Burning letters by RosiePosieTosie, on Flickr

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