Posted by: Sally Ingraham | June 26, 2010

Moo Pak

Moo Pakby Gabriel Josipovici

Over the span of ten years two friends meander through the parks and streets of London, stopping for a pint if rain threatens, pausing to watch ducks play on a pond, and talking about an endless variety of subjects. Or at least Jack Toledano talks. This 151 page book is one enormous paragraph which contains all Damien Anderson’s memories of the things that Jack spoke about during their walks.

What immediately grabbed me when I started reading this book was Jack’s insights about walking and writing. What Jack thinks about things is quite fascinating for the first third of the book, and I had to pull out my highlighter and start underlining. He has a way with words for sure. But then his opinions and thoughts shifted slightly and I started getting a better-then-thou vibe from him as he claimed the people have forgotten how to read correctly, and that the youth of today are far greedier and materialistic than those of his generation. My highlighter was set aside in puzzlement.

As the book progresses it becomes more and more apparent that this is not a book of wisdom, and not a particularly balanced collection of literary and artistic criticism, nor even a clever format through which Josipovici could preach his own opinions. It is a novel, and it has a flawed and fascinating character whose thoughts and opinions are in constant flux. Seen through the eyes, or rather heard through the ears of Damien over the course of 10 years, we are a witness to the constant contradiction that is a life being lived as well as it can be.

It is so interesting to me to think about how our impressions of the people around us – even the people we believe that we know really well – are so heavily reliant on the things these people say. Of course actions speak louder than words, but most of the time it is the words that we encounter on a more regular basis. One day I might speak with excitement about a topic, and by the next week my passion has cooled and to the same person I might express my disillusionment. One day I might be in a foul mood and speak spitefully about my home, and the next day I am in love with it again. I’m an endless contradiction.

The reason this book worked for me was because once I understood what it was about, I could relate to it so well. Granted, I didn’t fully understand what Josipovici was doing until nearly the end, when he turned around and surprised me with an actual plot point. That brought the whole thing together. I also really enjoyed all the literary and artistic references (I kind of want to make a list of all the authors whose work Jack talked about!) as well as Damien’s brief but colorful descriptions of the sights and sounds of London. And I haven’t even touched on the intriguing book that Jack talked about writing, which lent it’s title to Josipovici’s novel. Maybe not as “deep” a book as I had expected, but a lot of fun. I will definitely be looking for more Josipovici in the future.

Thanks again to Emily for picking this book for our Non-Structured Book Group. Next month we will be reading Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter, if anyone is interested in joining us. Since I’ve set this entire day aside for playing on the computer, I’m off to order that book (and probably others…!) and then check out everyone else’s posts about Moo Pak. Happy Saturday!


  1. Your thoughts remind me of how different speech can be from writing. From a personal point of view, I think that I probably say all kinds of ridiculous crap when I am talking, almost as if to try it out. How will it sound when it comes out of my mouth? But when I write, I am still impulsive but more cautious about what I commit to a more permanent record. I saw this playing out in Moo Pak too and tried to be tolerant of Toledano and view the work as an evolution. Got me through that tough middle part.

    Glad to see you back around! Just blog with the brew in your hand while outside and we can still get all the Sarah we want! 🙂

    • For the longest time I believed that I was utterly inarticulate when speaking out loud. I preferred writing to conversing in person with people almost entirely. I’ve come a long way since then, which is probably why the idea of the constantly evolving person, played out so clearly here, really appealed to me.

      Once I find a good internet connection outside I will totally take you up on this blogging while imbibing while outside scheme! 🙂

  2. Sarah, it’s wonderful how you got past the surface and saw into Jack’s and Damien’s relationship so well. After reading everyone’s posts, I think I was flawed in my reading for being so distracted with the brilliant flashes of wisdom that I overlooked the underlying meanings that made up the story as a whole. Of course, after the ending, I certainly saw everything else on a different light, but I feel like I missed so much in the middle section, being so consciously aware of the non-progression (except the beginning and end). Definitely need to reread, which I intend to, anyway. I guess it doesn’t help when your eyes are shutting down and you still keep on reading and everything seems to drone on.

    I still thought it was a wonderful book, though slightly less enjoyable for me than a lot of others I’ve also loved. The brilliance for me in this book wasn’t a question. My inability to give this book the highest possible rating was my inability to fully enjoy it during those tedious parts. I’m glad to see you never found any part boring though. As I mentioned in my reply to your comment on my blog, I will most likely read it in little chunks next time, as you did. It might’ve made a lot of difference if I did. 😀

    • I’m actually surprised that I didn’t find it more tedious – must have been my mood and reading style this time around. And I definitely came to a better understanding of how the book worked after finishing it and being blown away by the ending. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few days. I can relate to being so tired that I fell asleep while reading this multiple times! 🙂

  3. I love the point you make about how our knowledge of the people around us is often more limited than we realize, Sarah – and certainly, we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of saying one thing one day and totally reversing it a week/month/day later—an aspect of experience I think authors often disregard because they want their people to stay “in character.” Damien has a particularly limited (and yet, in other ways quite extensive) view of Jack, since he never lives with him or observes him going about his normal business, but always sees him in public places and does the same walking-and-talking activity with him.

    I share your enjoyment of all the things you mention here, and especially the parts where Jack talked about the lives of particular authors – his discoursing on Swift, in particular!

    • Yes, all Jack’s talk of Swift has made me really want to read some of his work. I never have – I’ve seen a couple of movie versions, but nothing beyond that. I’m really curious now. There were a couple of other authors that also intrigued me, and some of Jack’s commentary on Proust was great.

  4. Sarah, I also liked this quite a bit while not finding it as “deep” as I would have expected in some ways. Weird! However, I really appreciate your insightful point about how Toledano is a flawed character whose opinions are in flux. I kind of overlooked that part while I was reading it b/c I was so engrossed in the random patter and curious about how the novel would eveentually end. P.S. to Frances: Blogging with a brew in hand is a wonderful idea! Why didn’t I think of that?

    • Yes, having to use the internet at work or the library has really cramped my blogging with a brew technique!! 🙂

      My impression of Jack’s character definitely developed more rapidly towards the end, and then as I’ve thought back over the progression of the book. I too got very engrossed in Jack’s patter. Fascinating stuff. I would like to hang out with him, I think, as long as he didn’t get to snooty!

    • I prefer red wine myself but whatever works for the individual. 🙂

  5. I think your third paragraph sums up Toledano’s character especially well. He does contradict himself several times and some of his opinions don’t seem that well thought out. For that reason, I don’t think Moo Pak was meant to be simply a catalog of ideas. There is an underlying theme and it stems from Toledano’s lifelong experiences as a national, ethnic, religious, intellectual, artistic outsider.

  6. […] Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? which I’m looking forward to. I liked Moo Pak quite a bit when we read it last year so I’m interested in revisiting Josipovici. Discussion […]

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