Working on Paul Auster, one has to get used to outrageous examples of chance and coincidence. And then they occur in one's own life. Of course. I have to write this down before I forget. Those who want to know why Auster considers wild strokes of chance a major part of reality, check out the real-life anecdotes in The Red Notebook
(also available as part of The Art of Hunger
). I must admit his stories are still way better (= more unbelievable) than this one of mine.
Last week, I attended a seminar where the dissertations of us doctoral candidates were scrutinized. One of the commentators was a professor from Denmark, an expert on American lit, who has taught in UCLA for several years and also works in American Studies. She had heard where I live and started asking questions about Uganda, revealing that her sister also resides in Kampala. This, I thought, was already quite a coincidence, since the Nordic population in Uganda is very limited in size.
I told her about Kaija working for the WFP. She immediately had that "are you kidding" expression on her face. So does her sister's husband, she said. Small world, I thought, and left it at that.
Later, I asked Kaija whether she knew of any Danes working for the WFP in Kampala. No, she did not. When I told her about the professor, she remembered that the Country Director, an American, has a Danish wife. She must be the sister. I had heard about him and seen his photo in newspapers several times myself, and once last winter we saw the whole family dining in an Italian restaurant that we, along with other mzungus
, frequently visit. It all came back to me now.
But there was more. Don't you remember, Kaija asked. She had told me about it last winter. Once she had chanced upon the Country Director in a queue, and they had started talking. He had asked what her husband did, and she had told him I'm working on a Ph.D in contemporary American literature. Funny coincidence, he had said; his wife's sister just happened to work in the same field.
And so it also happened that the very same sister came to Finland to comment on my work, and I only understood the whole unlikely connection afterwards.