This book had a strange germination, conceived in graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee&rsquos sudden, headlong plunge into reading non-fiction a few years ago, a genre he had carefully avoided up until that point. For someone who didn&rsquot care for the genre at all, Banerjee, surprisingly, turns out to have a fine nose for good writing. He invokes such curiosities as The Cheese and the Worms, Carlo Ginzburg&rsquos iconic work of micro-history centered around a 16th-century miller (although erroneously alluded to as being from the 15th century in the &lsquoIntroduction&rsquo), who believed that human beings evolved from rotten materials and paid for it at the Inquisition. Or Wanderlust A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. Or J.A. Baker&rsquos The Peregrine, a keenly observed account of a pair of birds of prey wintering in Essex over several years. Banerjee&rsquos most memorable character&mdashDigital Dutta&mdashmakes a cameo appearance.
At the same time that Banerjee was immersing himself in these gripping books, came a commission from Deutsche Bank to create 90 murals for their new building in Canary Wharf, London. After fretting over the theme of the murals for a bit, Banerjee decided to draw inspiration from his new reading habit for the illustrations. The text accompanying the visuals, in Banerjee&rsquos distinctive style, consists of canny little observations...on the original texts, the world at large, and nothing in particular.
The writing is meditative, and deliciously odd. Take this for instance &ldquo&lsquoNot to find one&rsquos way around the city does not mean much. But to lose one&rsquos way in a city, as one loses one&rsquos way in a forest, requires some schooling.&rsquo Thus said Walter Benjamin, the foot philosopher and solemn investigator of futile things. In his youth, he shuffled through Berlin like a detective without a case, collecting clues for an absent crime.&rdquo
It could be argued that this is less book and more exhibition catalogue. And, yet, it miraculously comes together. A fractured, post-modern narrative, perhaps, but a narrative nevertheless. When planning the murals, Banerjee had decided to make the whole building read like a book. With this book, things have come full circle.