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"...I stopped as though struck by a shot, deeply inhaling, remembering..."

Proust may have had his madeleines, but Ralph Ellison had his yams:

Then far down at the corner I saw an old man warming his hands against the side of an odd-looking wagon, from which a stove pipe reeled off a thin spiral of smoke that drifted the odor of baking yams slowly to me, bringing a stab of swift nostalgia. I stopped as though struck by a shot, deeply inhaling, remembering, my mind surging back, back. At home we'd bake them in the hot coals of the fireplace, had carried them to school for lunch; munched them secretly, squeezing the sweet pulp from the soft peel as we hid from the teacher behind the largest book, the World's Geography. Yes, and we'd loved them candied, or baked in a cobbler, deep-fat fried in a pocket of dough, or roasted with pork and glazed with the well-browned fat; had chewed them raw - yams and years ago. More yams than years ago, though the time seemed endlessly expanded, stretched thin as the spiraling smoke beyond all recall.

Searching for this text, I was pleased to see that in 2005 my blog friend Michael Leddy also excerpted a part of this same scene from Invisible Man, though that was several years before we became acquainted.

May 1, 2012 in Books | Permalink


Pete, when I saw the post title, I was ready to chime in: One of my favorite, and so on. It really is a Proustian moment.

When I teach Invisible Man, I always bring yams, blazing hot, for the class. (I live close enough to campus that its more manageable than it might sound.)

Posted by: Michael Leddy at May 1, 2012 2:29:45 PM

Oops -- it's more manageable. The comment system didn't read the code for the curly quotation mark.

Posted by: Michael Leddy at May 1, 2012 2:31:58 PM