I liked the two different stories in one single book, though I do not believe them to be different versions of the same story. I see them more like different moments in the same person’s life. The narrator refers everything as having its avatar and this is possibly the way the author understands his own book.
The correspondences between both parts lie, among other things, in the romantic/ friendship encounter between people, the fascination for a specific city and the development of a mood, which is also partly city-related.
The second story, especially towards the end, engaged me more. “Death in Varanasi” poses the question: “What if (…) desire went away and never came back?”. Among other subjects, the book is about lust, about feeling it in the first story and about renuntiating it in the second.
Some of my favourite quotes:
“The bank at the other side was quite steep. Walking over it was like cresting a low sand dune. As I did so, a dark bird flapped noisily into the air. To my right, in a small bay, two dogs were eating something at the river’s edge.
A dead man.
Was being chewed by two dogs. One was eating his left forearm, the other his right wrist. The dead man was intact. He was lying face down. I could see his hair and one ear. He was wearing a filthy pale blue T-shirt, torn in several places and shorts. The dogs looked up, looked at me, then resumed their meal. It seemed a strange place to start, the arms. Maybe they started there because it was easy to get their jaws around limbs.
I could not see the dead man properly, but I recognized one of the dogs“. (p.265)
“Some people stop believing that hapiness is going to come their way. On the brink of becoming one of them, I began to accept that it was my destiny to be unhappy. In the normal course of things I would have made some accomodation with this, would have set up camp as a permanently unhappy person. But what had happened in Varanasi was that something was taken out of the equation so that there was nothing for unhappiness to fasten itself upon. That something was me. I had cheated destiny. Actually, the passive construction is more accurate: destiny had been cheated“. (p.279)