LW in 2023

KeskusteluClub Read 2023

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LW in 2023

joulukuu 27, 2022, 10:58 pm

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 27, 2022, 11:14 pm

The picture above is a screen shot from my #1 favourite movie of all time, Sergei Paradjanov's 1969 Sayat Nova (AKA The Colour of Pomegranate). It's a poetic, surrealist visual fairy tale about the life and poetry of the Armenian 18th century bard Sayat-Nova and a repository of images from Central Asian cultures and symbolic languages. I saw it first when I was about fifteen, it conditioned everything I would ever feel film can and ought to be.

joulukuu 27, 2022, 11:26 pm

That's a fantastic image.

joulukuu 27, 2022, 11:40 pm

In the past I posted about my reading much less consistently than many (probably most) members of this and other record-keeping groups. Since I fear I'm beginning to repeat myself, I'm collecting here my earlier reading threads, such as they were and scattered among different groups.

Club Read:

2022 LW's abridged 2022

2021 LW's clubbable 2021

The Hellfire Club:

2011 Lola Reads

2012 Lola Reads, vol. 2

2020 Lola Reads, vol. 3


2019 Weekly tallies, LW

Diverse Reading Challenge

2015/16 Lola's awareness campaign

Exotic Male Dancers Who LibraryThing (warning: the group's image may be NSFW)

2011 This Is Not A Blog: Lola Reads, Naked Boys Dance

joulukuu 27, 2022, 11:42 pm

>3 lisapeet:

Isn't it just!!! Seriously, every frame is a marvel.

joulukuu 28, 2022, 8:36 am

Yes, cool image. Happy new thread. Your sort of snapshot of weekly tallies (from 2019) are fun and really impressive.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 28, 2022, 3:42 pm

Happy to see you starting off a thread at the beginning of the year, this year. Last year you waited a bit, or am I misremembering? Anyway, cheers and Happy New Year.

joulukuu 28, 2022, 9:23 pm

>6 dchaikin:

Aw, thanks... just another failed experiment, really... I thought they might be useful notes for the Future Me, but Future Me regularly takes a look at Past Me and goes "who ARE you?"

>7 rocketjk:

Yes, this year the cart definitely went ahead of the horse. I don't think I ever before dared be this premature (if we don't count my actual birth, hastened by a good two months+)... Happy New Year to you too.

I was wondering whether making plans might have a salutary effect on my reading... Nothing strict, but in broad strokes, and not in any kind of order, I'm contemplating:

1. the José Lezama Lima project -- basically, read everything by him I can find

2. Marx & Engels & Lenin & Trotsky -- political philosophy used to bore me once upon a time, then I moved to the US and discovered what the revolutionists were on about. Last year's collective read of The Communist Manifesto was eye-opening and made me want to make a more systematic approach.

3. take up again reading feminist classics--I started several but finished none so far

This is not to replace the usual trend of my reading, just to give form to some themes I wish I had tackled and assimilated long ago.

Other ideas: a) take up the sci-fi "oldies" again. I abandoned that project in its sixth thread, as the narrow focus on representation was both way outdated and somewhat hindered my enjoyment of this unassuming literature... but as it turns out, it did at least make me pick these books up. And considering I have some five-six (seven? EIGHT?) hundred of them unread around, taking quite a lot of space...

b) more Canadian literature

joulukuu 29, 2022, 6:20 am

Fabulous image, looks a bit like something Peter Greenaway might do, but grittier.

>8 LolaWalser: I thought they might be useful notes for the Future Me, but Future Me regularly takes a look at Past Me and goes "who ARE you?"
Sounds like the story of all our lives…

Good luck with your 2023 plans!

joulukuu 29, 2022, 1:08 pm

Welcome to Club Read 2023! I'm currently reading Agent Sonya. I knew little about the communist movement in Shanghai in the 1930s and am finding it fascinating. Incredibly brutal between the White Terror and the infighting. Very colorful personalities, like Agnes Smedley.

joulukuu 29, 2022, 1:18 pm

>8 LolaWalser: I kept out Paradiso by Jose Lezama Lima when I packed most of my other books for the move (will mostly be relying on the library and my Kindle for the next few months), so perhaps I will get to it within the first couple of months of 2023. I've never read anything by him, but it would seem you would recommend him highly.

joulukuu 29, 2022, 4:19 pm

>9 thorold:

There's a beautiful new restoration out that does the colours justice--much recommended.

>10 labfs39:

Thanks! That's an interesting topic I too know very little about. I'll be trying for a balance reading about history, as I am also trying to keep my political reads future-oriented. In the spirit of something I saw on France Culture a while back--"The 20th century was the century of marxism without Marx; is the 21st century going to be the century of Marx without marxism?"

>11 arubabookwoman:

Hi, Deborah--I was bowled over by a book of interviews with Lezama and the intuition of an amazing original sensibility. I suspect he'll turn out to be very complex to analyse but he had such a beautiful, unexpected turn of phrase even in conversation, I feel a compulsion to dedicate a chunk of time to his work alone.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 31, 2022, 2:28 pm

Where I was born, where I will die:


joulukuu 30, 2022, 2:25 am

Hello! Just dropping a star...

joulukuu 31, 2022, 2:03 pm

Good luck with the sci-fi oldies

joulukuu 31, 2022, 2:55 pm

joulukuu 31, 2022, 3:01 pm

Hi, guys! Dan, you noticed--just filler for the double post--I keep thinking I ought to upload something pretty, but my best photos date from the times before cell phones and that means scanning... Those are just some snaps on a bad mobile. The little houses, however, are in the immediate vicinity of my mother's, that's the point of them. Well, so is the port--there's not much vicinity there to go around.

joulukuu 31, 2022, 10:21 pm

Thread starred. Like arubabookwoman, I want to read Lima's Paradiso this year. I haven't looked into his works much beyond the big one, but Paradiso's esteemed reputation gives me little doubt of his repertoire's quality. Happy reading!

tammikuu 2, 1:33 am

>13 LolaWalser: the middle photo in particular really reminds me of Dubrovnik. So pretty.

tammikuu 2, 10:17 am

>17 LolaWalser: well, hope you double-post more often. Sadly our pre-iphone photos are mostly forgotten too.

tammikuu 2, 7:32 pm

>17 LolaWalser: best photos date from the times before cell phones
Sigh, they're in a drawer in a closet, from back when I had to really think before using up an exposure.

Happy New Year!

tammikuu 5, 7:44 pm

Hello, visitors--there will be more pics then, and just count yourselves lucky I can't unleash a slideshow on a captive audience like our elders used to do :)

Meanwhile, stuff is already getting overwhelming. A few of these technically belong to 2022 reads but in spirit they feel very much of the new year:


Sarah Bastard's Notebook, OPD 1967, by Marian Engel (1933-1985)

Engel's first novel is the second of her works I read, the first having been her still-controversial classic, Bear. Both books feature strong-willed heroines bent on independence but struggling to harmonise that absolute need with other desires, above all for love, sex, companionship. What strikes me most, as a not-straight woman, is how much of their predicament is related to their need for men, to their heterosexuality.

Sarah Porlock, a thirtyish "lady PhD" (still rare at the time) from a solid Protestant Canadian background is at a loss to map her life goals past the achievement of a degree and an academic position (one way in which the book shows its date is how comically fatal and final Sarah finds her attainment of professorship, while today that's become almost technically impossible). She's strong, smart and independent, but still imbued with fear and loathing of spinsterhood. She flails trying to find a fitting companion--a colleague who was also a roommate and travelling buddy might be one, until he falls for a mentally unstable woman (do men prefer women they need to "take care" of?), and, in a central relationship in the book, a passionate affair "among equals" with her Italian brother-in-law: obviously disastrous from another angle.

Whatever individual devils may be causing Sarah difficulties, there is clearly something wider at play too, the fact that mainstream society doesn't know what to do with women like her. Women were winning their independence but gender roles were still entrenched, men weren't giving up their privileges nor changing the notions about relationships.

As I noted, I couldn't personally identify with Sarah completely, but there is one feature I recognised, the outsider's perception of one's own "monstrosity". Just like Sarah thinks of herself as "Sarah Bastard" (and inquires about the possibility of legally changing her name to that), around the time when I was increasingly feeling my social "unfitness" (age eighteen) I began thinking of myself, half-ironically half-seriously, as a "Ridiculous Woman".

To this day I have never come across any man, straight, gay or whatever, who knows this, who felt this. Men always belong to and in the world, "naturally". Men may lose their homes but never their standing in the cosmos.

For a short novel this one packed a lot: a European jaunt, a glimpse of a 1960s Toronto and persistent Canadian malaises, including a fleeting but chilling mention of "the Indian"--whose life expectancy at the time was 31 years.


Howl, and other poems was a chancy reread due to reshuffling stuff and discovering I hadn't entered it. By sheer coincidence "Moloch" was reinforced just a day or so later, quoted in the 1969 Visions from San Francisco Bay--Milosz was not a fan, calling "Howl" hysterical, but he did pick up on a lot of relevance between an "ode to decadence" and what he persistently saw as the West's moral decay.

I've now read at least three books of Milosz's essays, and probably won't bother with more. To a newcomer I would recommend The land of Ulro because it not only contains ALL of his recurrent topics, and treated at greater length than elsewhere, in this collection they achieve their feverish acme. In his last years Milosz went off the rails, following his great-uncle O.V. de Milosz into Swedenborgian mists and pseudo-aristocratic ultra-conservatism. Not that he was unique, as Poland's post-communist deterioration into a far-right ultra-Catholic bastion of reaction amply shows.



The Wall Jumper, OPD 1982 (as Der Mauerspringer), by Peter Schneider (1940-)

Another short novel (as I like 'em!) packing a lot. This belongs to my fairly recent interest in the "two Germanys" topic and is curious in that it's the first, I can't say positive, but at least tries-at-even-handedness West German take on the DDR. We are introduced to an array of characters from the West or the East who more or less habitually, and often illegally, cross The Wall--some do it once, but some, like a trio of boys from East Berlin, do it casually for movies, until they get caught. Some are monomaniacs like the Easterner who wishes to wage war on the DDR and tries to join various Western forces, from the standing military to the Foreign Legion, some just people in love like the Westerner whose girlfriend refuses to leave East Germany.

Whose way of life was better? Oddly (you may think...) this is not easy to answer.



a change-ringing of the mind

This beautifully-printed excerpt from Velimir Khlebnikov's Zangezi tries to visualise the changing sounds of the poem, which in Russian lends itself to variations on words ending with -um (oom). The word "um" means "mind", and some may recall the avangardist genre of "zaum" poetry ("beyond the mind" poetry) that Khlebnikov pioneered and many like-minded artists took up, creating multimedial art objects. (The post with relevant links in Reading Globally's thread by SassyLassy, "Oct - Dec 2020: Russians Write the Revolution 1881 - 1922.)

And in another serendipitous connection, the Allen Ginsberg project contains several links (some with audios) of Ginsberg discussing Khlebnikov with students:


This post is probably huge already, so enough for now.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 4:40 am

I remember reading Howl and other poems when I was a teenager and being amazed. I wish I had written down my thoughts at that age, but of course I was far too busy.

(do men prefer women they need to "take care" of?), speaking from personal experience I end up with women who want to take care of me.

tammikuu 6, 7:47 am

>22 LolaWalser: I am reading The Captive Mind currently, so was interested to read your thoughts on Miłosz's essays. Have you read anything else by him (besides essays)?

tammikuu 6, 3:34 pm

Very interesting about Marian Engel. (And the rest too, but that part struck home). I’ve never read Howl.

tammikuu 7, 9:02 pm

>23 baswood:

I was a teenager in the eighties and by that time pretty much all the 20th century "rebels", from Rimbaud to the Beats, were assimilated into schoolwork or at least extracurricular activities...

>24 labfs39:

I've read some poetry of his, ages ago, and had the bad luck (I presume) to run into either a less representative or not-so-great a selection, because I found it self-consciously solemn to the point of pomposity... not that I'm a great critic of poetry, jmo. We are just not vibing on the same frequencies--to me he's a throwback to the 19th century, and the whole rootedness in Catholicism (or any religion for that matter) is a non-starter where I'm concerned. (Funniest thing ever is that he ended up teaching at rad Berkeley in the 1960s...) Fwiw--and I'm not claiming that I know or understand him as a person--I respect that he wasn't an antisemite, something that's not a given when it comes to Polish Catholics. (Although I wish he didn't like Simone Weil as much as he did--and would Lithuanians in general welcome the idea that they are some sort of "super"-Poles?--but like I said, much of this depends on ideas dating from way back and would be difficult to discuss today).

>25 dchaikin:

I have one more book by Engel somewhere, with the great title "Lunatic villas". I hope it won't disappoint, when or if I ever find it.

Well to finish this first leg.


Tropisms, OPD 1939 (as Tropismes, expanded in 1957), by Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1999)

The title refers to the "movements" below the surface of one's behaviour, and presumably the vignettes collected here illustrate them, or mark the spot in daily lives where they occur. Sarraute is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called "nouveau roman" (maybe second only to Robbe-Grillet), which eschewed psychologizing in favour of "objective" description. But, objective or not, she gets to have a laugh or two too...

This was what he taught at the Collège de France. And in the entire neighborhood, in all the nearby Faculties, in the literature, law, history and philosophy courses, at the Institute and at the Palais de Justice, in the buses, the métros, in all the government offices, sensible men, normal men, active men, worthy, wholesome, strong men, triumphed.
   Avoiding the shops filled with pretty things, the women trotting briskly along, the café waiters, the medical students, the traffic policemen, the clerks from notary offices, Rimbaud or Proust, having been torn from life, cast out from life and deprived of support, were probably wandering aimlessly through the streets, or dozing away, their heads resting on their chests, in some dusty public square.



The Crazy Kill, OPD 1959, by Chester Himes (1909-1984)

I'm not reading these "Harlem Cycle" novels in order, but that doesn't seem to matter. Honestly, I don't know that I can or should try to "sell" Himes to anyone... these were his pulp fictions of postwar Harlem life, teeming with colourful characters on the seamier side--hoodlums, pimps, gamblers, women on the make, the occasional corrupt politician and preacher and, recurring, two black cops, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson--shadows, mediators, Greek chorus of the proceedings. The tone is mostly light and the goings-on can verge on the burlesque, but that doesn't belie a vein of bitterness and protest.



They shoot horses, don't they?, OPD 1935, by Horace McCoy (1897-1955)

I haven't seen the film made after this book and don't know what their treatment made of the enigmatic plot. We know from the beginning that there's been a murder and who killed whom: the narrator, Robert, killed Gloria, a strange woman with whom he partnered in a dance marathon. They had been in near constant motion for several weeks, minus the ten-minute breaks, when the marathon is interrupted by a shooting and the remaining couples dismissed with fifty dollars. At this point the ever-lugubrious Gloria pulls out a handgun of her own and asks Robert to kill her, which he obligingly does.

I'm guessing that this short book lends itself to multiple interpretations... maybe it's about two people at the end of their tethers, ground by the Depression and serial failure of their dreams, but maybe we aren't getting the full picture through Robert's would-be optimistic eyes.

There's a special quality of mad despair to the prose that guarantees the story won't be forgotten, whatever the answer.

tammikuu 8, 9:24 am

Great post. I had never heard of Himes before reading a biography of Richard Wright recently. Any recommendations for his novels?

tammikuu 8, 4:55 pm

>27 dchaikin:

I was hooked by Cotton comes to Harlem, so that can't be a bad start in my view; but, many people would likely prefer to begin at the beginning, with A Rage in Harlem (I have not read that one yet). However, except for a few recurring characters the novels are standalones so it really depends on your preference and habit.

I also have somewhere Pinktoes, read up to the middle and then annoyingly mislaid just as I was racing through it. Not sure whether a word of caution is necessary but--one should keep in mind pulp fiction can be raunchy and/or sweary, at least by the standards of the times. Pinktoes was more so than the Harlem Cycle books, I think.

Mind you, if you wanted to start with Himes' best book then that would be, according to the general view, If he hollers, let him go, which I'm reserving for last.

I've also read Cast the first stone, based on Himes' prison experiences, but with the main character being a young and handsome white man among white men (the prison was segregated). It has a steamy reputation as a gay pulp but I found it boring--although that may reflect the monotonous prison existence as is. I understand there is a later edition of the unabridged manuscript, maybe that's more interesting.



Leopoldstadt, OPD 2020, by Tom Stoppard (1937-)

This made me cry last night. Leopoldstadt is a Viennese neighbourhood close to but separate from the first district; an ancient neighbourhood that was for centuries known as the Jewish part of the city and absorbed Jewish immigrants from the East. Jewish theatre, vaudeville, cabaret flourished there. After Austria's annexation Viennese Jews were corralled in it in a temporary station before Auschwitz.

Stoppard's play begins at Christmas 1899 in the Ringstrasse mansion of the assimilated rich Jewish family Merz and ends in 1955 in the same premises, gutted and haunted by the ghosts of the destroyed people which the few survivors remember to each other.

tammikuu 8, 9:47 pm

>28 LolaWalser: thanks for the Chester Himes suggestions!

Also Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt sounds very powerful.

tammikuu 9, 7:34 am

The only Stoppard I've read is R&G are Dead. This one is tempting. I should get back into reading plays, since I rarely have the opportunity to see them anymore.

tammikuu 9, 7:38 am

Tämä käyttäjä on poistettu roskaamisen vuoksi.

tammikuu 9, 8:09 am

>28 LolaWalser: >30 labfs39: R&G Are Dead is the only Stoppard I've read, too. Leopoldstadt looks well worth reading, or even seeing performed, if that's possible. But for me it'll have to wait until I'm in a better headspace and can handle Shoah material again.

tammikuu 9, 1:23 pm

>22 LolaWalser: I’ve just picked up the ebook of Der Mauerspringer. Looks interesting.

tammikuu 10, 4:37 pm

I lived in New Jersey one year (1966-67) when I was 16, and went to a poetry reading by Alan Ginsberg at a local university (I think it was Fairleigh Dickensen). It was in a smallish room, Ginsberg sort of sat at the center front and the audience surrounded him in folding chairs. I sat about 3-4 feet away during the reading. I don't remember much else about the reading.

>26 LolaWalser: I saw the movie They Shoot Horses Don't They? with Jane Fonda fairly soon after it was released (in the theater). I remember thinking it was a decent movie. A number of years ago I saw the book was on the 1001 list, and read it, but again don't remember much about it and can't really compare the book and the movie.

tammikuu 11, 9:03 pm

>29 dchaikin:, >30 labfs39:, >32 Julie_in_the_Library:

If you know Stoppard's "experimental" stuff, Leopoldstadt may come across as ordinary--the switches are simple and the action linear. However, the character cast is large and very complex as it involves people related by blood and/or marriage, older and younger generations, and many in parallel roles--in-laws, children, grandchildren etc. So I would recommend reading the play if possible. I used to be an avid theatre-goer but I also always enjoyed reading plays, in particular since I have a special liking for so-called philosophical theatre, heavy on dialogue. So for me at least, I think reading worked at least as well as seeing the play performed would have.

It struck me that Stoppard had all the ingredients for a great massive novel here. What would have been the difference? Maybe more than just the leads would have been fleshed out... is theatre more general than a novel? maybe that's it--maybe it involves us more directly through type rather than individual detail.

And Julie, I understand.

>33 thorold:

No sooner said than you read it!--impressed as usual. I'll be keeping it. Reading up on Schneider later, his being a pal of Willy Brandt's, generally of that circle, explains his openness to the Osties.

>34 arubabookwoman:

I know that the movie has a good reputation and I'm definitely curious about it now--I can't see pretty Jane Fonda fitting in the role of the downtrodden, acid-tongued, wilted Gloria...

Very very cool about sitting next to Ginsberg as he poetised! I think the sixties were the last decade when poetry and poets were seen or could be experienced through a romantic lens. The last grand swelling of popular song. Then Moloch ate us all up...


It seems counter-intuitive but Beneath the sea in 3-D actually put me in a better mood, the constant anxiety and regret at the passing of the natural world notwithstanding. It may be as dumb as religion (no, nothing is as dumb as religion), I mean, I acknowledge it's not scientific and I'm not even dreaming of any sort of proof--but there is a possibility that if life evolved once, it may evolve again--at least there is a possibility of thinking so without being a complete idiot.

Maybe not here, maybe not us--please, not us!--but maybe somewhere else somebody else. Maybe a planet of reptiles and plants left to their own giant devices. Maybe a planet of sea and shellfish and seaweed.

Ah, this reminds!--the first two movies of the year--the second one in particular, the gloriously bonkers Everything everywhere all at once. The sublime Michelle Yeoh is identified as the lynchpin in the catastrophe overtaking the multiverse--meaning that she has to help to save all the worlds, or all the worlds will end.

I got this simply because I watch anything with Yeoh in it, I didn't know the plot nor read any reviews... I can't remember the last time I loved a movie this much. Not only does it deliver on the usual action extravaganza one would expect from the casting, it goes very deeply into the mother/daughter, parent/child can of worms and transforms pain believably into love (because at the root it's the same?)

The other movie I saw, I'm sorry to say, was disappointing--I loved Jordan Peele's Get Out and Us, but Nope felt like a backslide despite the excellent acting.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 9:17 pm

arrrgh, another double post... another visit to the photo albums...


tammikuu 12, 6:34 am

I'm late in the game, but at last, ready to follow your reading this year again!
Great posts and great photos!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 12, 7:49 am

>35 LolaWalser: is theatre more general than a novel? maybe that's it--maybe it involves us more directly through type rather than individual detail.

Or, in a good production, is the individual detail is provided by the creative team and the actor through visual cues and non-verbal means? For example, Is the male lead dressed in a crisp button up shirt, tie, jacket, glasses, short hair wetted down and played with good posture and clipped words. Or is the male lead in a half untucked shirt, no tie/jacket, unruly longish hair and played sprawled on a couch with a lazy drawl?

tammikuu 12, 11:56 am

>36 LolaWalser: Where were these photos taken? Lovely composition

tammikuu 12, 3:02 pm

>37 raton-liseur:

Hello, welcome and thanks!

>38 ELiz_M:

I'm sure that's it in part (as far as visible or audible cues can go)... Do you think a theatrical role can ever be as complex as one in a novel? I suppose I feel that in theatre the audience does the active work of fleshing out character (using also the cues you mention), like we do with strangers in public, whereas a novel has the means to express specific things we wouldn't think of.

I don't mean that there's a hierarchy of value btw, that novels are "better" than plays, just got to wondering how one makes the choice, what is it playwrights think they can or can't do in one form or another.

>39 labfs39:

Thanks, just randomly stuck two photos together (it's all within a stone's throw)--that's still my hometown. In the first pic one of the possible routes I took to high school, in the second, my mum's house.

tammikuu 12, 10:56 pm

Need more doubleposts. Great pictures.

tammikuu 13, 8:14 am

>35 LolaWalser: >40 LolaWalser: It struck me that Stoppard had all the ingredients for a great massive novel here. What would have been the difference? just got to wondering how one makes the choice, what is it playwrights think they can or can't do in one form or another.

I haven't read/seen enough plays to weigh in on the differences in what one can do with them, but I can say, from a writing perspective, that stage/screenplays and prose fiction like novels and short stories are entirely different processes that require entirely different skill sets.

While there are writers out there who can and do write both, for the most part, writers tend to stick with one or the other - especially if they've gone in for formal training like an MFA or undergrad writing program, where they would have picked one track or the other, so to speak.

Tom Stoppard has written exactly one novel, and that was back in the 1960s. So I can make a pretty good guess as to why he chose to use this material for a play rather than a novel: he's a playwright, not a novelist.

If it even occurred to him that he had the ingredients for a novel, which it might not have, he likely dismissed the possibility because he wanted to do this story to the best of his abilities, and for a man with his background and skills, that means a play, not a novel.

tammikuu 13, 10:00 am

>28 LolaWalser: Does sound like a novel to me, a format which would offer more development.


This is an interesting discussion about plays and novels (not saying versus as it's not an either or).

Somewhat related, I just finished Spadework by Timothy Findley, a man who certainly knew his way around the theatre, but was also a very accomplished novelist. This novel has the theatre at its heart, and takes place in Stratford ON. In trying to write a novel about it, he somehow failed at integrating the one with the other. I still haven't worked out how, but it was interesting watching him try. It could have worked in play format, which is something I wouldn't have thought of without the discussion above.

tammikuu 13, 11:59 pm

I had the extreme good fortune to see Leopoldstadt on stage last fall... fifth row, maybe? My husband feels that life is too short for cheap seats. It was really affecting, as I'm sure you could pick up from the script, a real—I can't decide if I love this term or hate it but I'm going to use it anyway—tour de force.

Part of what I loved about it was the casting, with the same actor playing different family members in different generations. It very subtly and carefully said so much about families, and about the commonality of people and types, including non-family members. Very skillfully done—I'd like to see it again, maybe after reading the script, because there were a lot of connections that I'm sure I missed. I think being a play, and relying on the physical embodiment of the actors, is more moving than it would have been had an author fleshed them out according to his imagination... maybe a really amazing author could pull it off, but I bet also the fact that it's based on Stoppard's family story means he might not have wanted to inject himself in it like that. Plus, as you all pointed out, he's a playwright and not a novelist.

Anyway, if you are up for it—Julie_in_the_Library is right on, and you need to be braced for a devastating story—I recommend it.

tammikuu 14, 6:09 am

My favourite Stoppard is Arcadia, which I have seen once and read a couple of times. One of the things which contributes to its impact is the way that the scenes from the two different time periods interweave, with sometimes both sets of actors on stage walking past each other or through the middle of a conversation in the other time - an interesting, physical way to show the impact of the past on the present.

I too loved Everything Everywhere All At Once - it is worth watching a second time, because the beats of the story come out more clearly when you are not thinking "what the hell just happened".

tammikuu 14, 9:06 am

>44 lisapeet: Leopoldstadt is on Broadway again this season.

tammikuu 14, 9:26 am

>45 wandering_star: This was my first Stoppard—I haven't even seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—and I'd like to see more.

>46 ELiz_M: I definitely recommend it, though Broadway tickets are so ridiculously pricey. We're not super regular theatergoers, but go to the big shows when Jeff's sister is in town—last couple of visits we saw Wicked and An American in Paris, this time she wanted more serious fare and we did Leopoldstadt and Death of a Salesman a few days apart. Both really good.

tammikuu 14, 5:03 pm

>41 dchaikin:

I'm thisclose to start scanning... :)

>42 Julie_in_the_Library:

Oh I'm sure specialisation is a factor, but as Sassy notes, some people are versatile.

>43 SassyLassy:

Pirandello would be my favourite example. Hugo was another, I suppose, at least in his time (equally famed for plays, poetry, novels).

>44 lisapeet:

Glad to hear it was a success! Using the same actors ups the ante even more.

>45 wandering_star:

I love Arcadia too, and I've never seen it staged. EEAAO--I had decided not to shop for movies until I see everything I already have, but I'll be getting this for sure.


Again something with coincidental resonances, and an oddity at that...


The rare and extraordinary history of holy Russia, OPD 1854 (Histoire pittoresque dramatique et caricaturale de la Sainte Russie, d'après les chroniqueurs et historiens Nestor Nikan Sylvestre Karamsin Ségur etc.), by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Who would have guessed that Doré's first publication would be a propaganda work of venomous Russophobia? In 1854 the Crimean war pitted Russia against the alliance of France, England and the Ottomans and apparently nothing was too low to imagine about the enemy. This caricatural "history" goes far beyond the conflict of the day to express a hatred of Russianness itself, possibly extending to all Slavs. (At least, as the support for the Ottomans shows, the French and the English generally did not give a shit about the enslaved people of the Balkans--and so much for "defending Christianity" and all that jazz too.)

It's interesting to see how deep and long-standing is this "scorn and fear" of Russia, as the introduction has it.

That's another thing--in addition to this already appalling work we get in this edition an appalling introduction by Richard Pipes, supposedly a trained historian (of conservative bent, it's known, but still):

On contact with uncompromisingly black or yellow heathens, the European could, with some effort, allow for a fundamental dissimilarity and adopt an attitude of tolerance. He might even find amusement in seeing himself through the eyes of an imaginary barbarian or a Persian sage. But what could he make of a white people who worshipped the Cross, and yet were so different in the way they thought or behaved? Unlike the Africans, they were not children; unlike the Persians or the Chinese, they were not heirs to an ancient civilization. They were rather a caricature of civilized men, just enough of both savage and urbane to make them amusing and (under some circumstances) menacing.

Even the translator into English takes a potshot, as in the Note in which he apologizes for "imperfect" renderings, but, he adds, not that it matters much as "there is neither reason nor rhyme in Russia".

Savage Russia, civilized Europe? The same Europe that never saw a Putin oligarch or oil sheikh's cock it wouldn't and couldn't happily accommodate for mere filthy lucre? Not to mention the apparatus the civilized Europe set up to burn people under the windows of Goethe's Weimar or the 5.3 million Russian "subhumans" those same civilized Europeans destroyed like animals although they were legally protected prisoners of war?

Civilized England, in which the have-nots lived in hovels, holes dug directly into soil, well into the 20th century? Ah but avert your eyes, you're supposed to look at the stately home next door.

Free facsimile of the French first edition on Gallica

tammikuu 14, 7:28 pm

That quote is awful. What year was the intro written or published?

tammikuu 15, 11:21 am

Wow. I know he's somewhat reviled in the art world, despite the fact that his illustrations are amazing and classic—so I guess that's why. I didn't realize he was also a writer.

tammikuu 15, 1:32 pm

>49 dchaikin:

The intro is dated July 1971, but it seems this edition was first published in 1964.

>50 lisapeet:

The text used is seemingly cobbled from various sources, including--and this is funny, I admit--direct quotations from Rabelais to depict the excesses of the court etc. Pipes says Doré relied a lot on Marquis de Custine's Letters from Russia from 1839. Then there's also a lot of current propaganda. It made me think about Dr Seuss and the Japanese. Basically he took the opportunity to make a name and a franc for himself.

My favourite work of Doré's is Raspe's Munchhausen, you can tell he was inspired from start to finish. Never cared for his Bible and other "monumental" stuff, it slides into kitsch so quickly.

tammikuu 15, 3:59 pm

1964! oh dear. So recent. I was thinking, maybe 1864...

tammikuu 15, 4:21 pm

>48 LolaWalser: Who knew? But Doré's certainly not the first or the last polemical artist or writer to allow themselves to be sucked into producing propaganda against the enemy-of-the-moment. And he certainly redeemed himself later on for any temporary blindness to the faults of 19th-century France and England.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 17, 7:44 pm

>53 thorold:

Do say more. I know nothing about Doré's life.

Yeah, it's not unheard of (see Seuss above), Pipes also mentions that Wilhelm Busch (of Max und Moritz fame!) drew nasty cartoons about the starving French eating rats etc. Apart from being very sad (that the same people who drew jolly pictures for children could stoop so low), it's really disturbing when we know what extremes such propaganda has led to.



Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida

I dragged my feet on the Penguin anthology for years, I just don't like much reading Russian translated into English, it's fine I guess, nice range of writers.

This is Moscow speaking, OPD 1965, by Yuli Daniel AKA "Arzhak" marks an infamous episode in Soviet history, the trial of writers Sinyavsky and Daniel for "anti-Soviet activities". This was related to some stories the writers published pseudonymously in the West. They were imprisoned for five and six years; on release Sinyavsky emigrated to France but Daniel refused to leave USSR and died there in 1988 (Sinyavsky would fly back for his funeral).

I have Sinyavsky's book about the trial and now have read the relevant fiction by both writers. It's beyond pathetic to think this sort of thing had had people thrown in jail, but I guess it's some insane recognition of the "power of the word", if you will. But, mainly, insane.

To top it all, neither Sinyavsky nor Daniel were anti-socialist (rather the contrary), but little did it avail them...


Modern japanese prints: an art reborn, OPD 1956, by Oliver Statler
Avant-garde art in Japan, OPD 1962, Tore Haga and Michel Tapié

These are my picture books, my Goodnight Moon!

Tapié's introduction is powerfully weird, all about how perfect Japan was in the medieval times (one of few nations that had an "art of living") and the horrors of modernity, and I don't want to say that he hasn't got a point, but I also can't help thinking but whither the poor and the women.

From Modern Japanese Prints, Inagaki Tomoo, Cat Making Up

tammikuu 17, 8:37 pm

Love that cats. Very interesting about Sinyavsky and Daniel.

tammikuu 17, 8:37 pm

>54 LolaWalser: This cat looks like Picasso painted it... :)

tammikuu 18, 9:20 am

>54 LolaWalser: but little did it avail them...

Indeed. How many were hauled off to the gulags crying "but I believe!"

>55 dchaikin: Ditto

tammikuu 18, 10:00 am

>54 LolaWalser: "Pipes also mentions that Wilhelm Busch (of Max und Moritz fame!) drew nasty cartoons about the starving French eating rats etc. Apart from being very sad (that the same people who drew jolly pictures for children could stoop so low)"
In Busch's case it doesn't even surprise me that much as the Max und Moritz stories are quite cruel upon a closer look. I hated them as a child!

tammikuu 18, 3:12 pm

>48 LolaWalser: Well that's certainly horrifying on the part of Pipes

>51 LolaWalser: This sent me off to dig up my copy of Letters from Russia. I had made it to page 350 out of 654 a couple of years ago before wandering off. I really hope Pipes read it, I would think he did given his field. However, my memory of reading it is of how diplomatic de Custine was for the time. At times it seemed he believed, not unreasonably, that his letters were being read by others, so he was quite careful. I'll have to go back and finish it with Pipes in mind.

De Custine's comments on travel were quite another matter!

tammikuu 22, 5:02 pm

>56 AnnieMod:

Cat all over the place!

>57 labfs39:

Yes, tragic.

>58 MissBrangwen:

The olds were SERIOUS about spooking children back then! I have a soft spot for Busch, but then I first think of Hans Huckebein (der Unglücksrabe!) when I think of him. :)

>59 SassyLassy:

I think relied on for information, not copied directly. Ha, speaking of Pipes, he even shares his suspicion that Custine's powers of observation derived from his homosexuality--which he brings up twice in the intro a page and a half long. Truly was a different time, 1971.

Well I have stuff accumulating again so contemplating skimming again... I do quite a bit of "accidental" reading, where I trip over a book and next thing I know, I'm reading it--but not very carefully, not very lovingly...

La colère de Maigret, OPD 1963, (Maigret's anger, or as I see the touchstone has it, "Maigret loses his temper"), from an omnibus, a lateish and not terribly engaging entry: a man who owns multiple cabarets but otherwise leads a solid family life disappears, for his corpse to appear a few days later in a spot where he didn't die and with days' delay after the murder. The question dominating the investigation is why would a murderer keep a corpse for days--I'm afraid I found the whole thing so dull I don't even recall the motive anymore.


This one may illustrate the capricious method I go about reading... the pushes (minuses) and pulls (pluses) of the computation of temptation:

+ What a neat cover! To me, book!
- Uh oh, Kingsley Amis, no friend of mine.
+ But it's a crime novel, not a novel novel! He was a fan of genre lit...
- the narrator is a 14 year old boy? Teenage boys are no friends of mine...
+ It's set in the 1930s! You are interested in all the aspects of the pre-WWII!
- ...the boy is sex-obsessed?
+ Duh?! Realistic at least.

So by the slimmest of margins I read The Riverside Villas murder and can now confidently tell you the cover is the best thing about it. A weak mystery, far too much time spent in young Peter's head, copious instances of racist slurs (assuming true to period but no less grating for that). I did find sociologically interesting that Amis attributes to Peter and his male friends casual and frequent homosexual behaviour, even as they are wrangling to get a crack at the baffling and unapproachable opposite sex.


Sin noticias de Gurb, OPD 1990, by Eduardo Mendoza (No news from Gurb)

So last night I started reading a Finnish science-fiction (or speculative fiction) and yet somehow ended up reading this Spanish science-fiction (or speculative fiction) book--just one of the daily mysteries of my life.

In the preface Mendoza sounds seriously peeved that this "joke" of a book ended being his most popular work. Apparently he started it only to break in a pen or something.

Two extraterrestrials land in Barcelona and one of them, Gurb, goes on a recce, first assuming the form--presumably attractive--of a female Earthling (I'm guessing a Spanish celebrity at the time, but to me just any "Marta Sánchez"). Gurb promptly disappears and his companion, assuming human appearance as needed, and including, among others, that of Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno, Pope Pius one or the other and the Japanese general Yamamoto, has a string of adventures trying to find him. I lolled several times but I also for sure missed some number of insider-type digs at local government etc.

Not the least entertaining couple of hours I spent on Earth (assuming absence of drugs, wine and/or mad monkey sex).


Hoop Dreams, 1994

If you haven't seen this, run and see it. Over the years I've read and learned a bit about the peculiar status of college sports in the US, but to grasp it with all the ramifications, in the context of the starkly unequal, racist American society, nothing can come close to this documentary. Two boys from Chicago's "ghetto", William Gates and Arthur Agee, are singled out by a scout as possible candidates for high school basketball teams. William, with the help of a white sponsor, goes to a private school where he is one of the few black students. Arthur too initially starts in the same school, but a dispute over fees (his parents can't afford them and he has no other sponsor) gets him kicked out and he resumes his education and basketball training in a public school.

The public school is practically entirely Black and PoC and heartbreakingly underfunded. I can't get over how people aren't protesting this all the time, this brazen, criminal attack on American education--that's been going on since Reagan. How much more degrading can it get?

(Remember that video of American teachers being made to compete on their knees for money for school supplies? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59646803 That was a CHARITY event.)

William initially seems to do better than Arthur, working super hard to catch up with the white schoolmates. But you can tell he's lonely, insecure and lost. Then he suffers a knee injury and must recuperate at length. His likelihood of contracting arthritis and other illnesses by and by also goes up, but William doesn't have the luxury of worrying about old age, he just wants to make good in as near a future as possible, for however short a time.

Arthur, in contrast, is at least among his own people, with a black coach (unlike the white terrorist Wiliam must endure), who doesn't have illusions but not only understands these boys, he wishes them well. It couldn't be more clear if they said it out loud, but white people only want to use black boys like these, use them for their own profit and glory, and they don't give a damn how many they go through and ruin.

When people talk about the "gladiatorial" aspect of sports, I wonder if it's generally understood just how much more is at stake for these poor black boys. You have to see it, where they come from and what they fall into if the sports gamble doesn't pay off. Their education is so neglected, they don't feel able to compete with anything but their bodies. Their families are too poor and beset by troubles to support them. Drugs and gangs wait to prey on them. And white people lie--lie about the fees, about contracts, about small print, and have the gall to keep their transcripts ransom until the cash dings--I was watching this late at night and had to text people about the stickers "VISA" and "Mastercard" INSIDE the American high school, selling education like sofas.

tammikuu 22, 10:53 pm

Hoop Dreams is a such powerful documentary. I saw it somewhere in the 1990's, but not immediately after it was released. It already had some aura around it. Anyway, it hung around and I still think about it. I appreciate your 2023 take.

tammikuu 23, 6:55 am

Doré: He did a lot of very powerful pictures showing the real life of the poor and working-classes in both cities, which seem to have had quite some impact in making people talk about the problems, if not actually solve them.

Kingsley Amis: I had a similar reaction to The Riverside Villas Murder. I've never really liked any Kingsley Amis book apart from Lucky Jim, but I think he is a little bit less repulsive as a writer than his son. The RVM is almost redeemed by giving John Mortimer the name of the case (often mentioned, never described) that launched Rumpole's career back in the day, the Penge Bungalow Murders.

Mendoza: I've read some of his silly crime stories, and enjoyed them. I can see how he'd be good at comic science fiction stuff too, always provided it's set in Barcelona.

tammikuu 23, 7:19 am

>60 LolaWalser: I do like your description of the push/pull with the cover!

tammikuu 25, 7:18 pm

>61 dchaikin:

Yes, I'm afraid it's still very relevant.

>62 thorold:

Haven't read Lucky Jim, or anything by Martin. I am in fact looking for the former, but only the specific edition with the Edward Gorey cover... so far no luck chancing upon it in the wild.

>63 wandering_star:

So it goes with everything! Constant struggle. :)



Quicksand, OPD 1928, by Junichiro Tanizaki

Years ago I saw the 1964 film adaptation, without realising it was based on a Tanizaki novel or I'd have preferred to read the book first. Tanizaki may be my favourite Japanese author, as far as I can even judge (reading in translation, relatively few authors), with a dash of zaniness and black humour to him and a propensity for passionate characters--although usually said passion makes them deviate from the straight and narrow.

For example, Mrs. Sonoko Kakiuchi, protagonist of "Quicksand" (the original title "Manji" denoting the Buddhist "counterclockwise" or "left-facing" swastika). Sonoko is a well-to-do Osaka bourgeoise in a tolerable but not very loving marriage which she already tested with one adulterous affair. She takes up painting and in art school crosses paths with beautiful and mysterious Mitsuko. Actually the two women are inadvertently thrown together when the school principal starts a rumour about their supposed attachment to each other. Just to show how much they disdain gossip, they strike a friendship, which quickly turns into a passionate sexual affair.

So far more or less simple. Sonoko's husband confronts her about her strange behaviour but she makes clear she doesn't care what he thinks at all, threatens him with her family, and even taunts him to kill her. It's interesting that even as he learns the real nature of her connection to Mitsuko, there is no sense (as one would expect in a Western work, especially of that vintage) of some great moral outrage, the problem boils down to a breach of protocol and social convention. He tries to argue rationally that she can't marry Mitsuko--because she really, technically, can't, there being no legal or cultural provisions for homosexual couples--so there is little to expect from the future. But Sonoko and Mitsuko have already mentioned suicide as a solution, and meanwhile the affair goes on.

Lightning strikes in the form of a shock discovery that Mitsuko has, and has had for a while, another, male lover. A temporary breakup follows, which Mitsuko ends through a ruse, pretending to be pregnant, then pretending to be dying. Sonoko gives in and accepts that her relationship with Mitsuko now includes Watanuki.

Oddly, though, his attraction seems to lie in his femininity, which is gradually revealed in increasing doses. At first it's his looks, as attractive as a woman's. Then his character appears to fall far below that expected of a Japanese macho--he is weak, deceptive, histrionic and hysterical. By and by we learn that although he is known as a womanizer and frequents the brothel quarters, the women make fun of him. Is he only sterile or also impotent? Is he only popular because of the unnamed tricks a lesbian geisha taught him? The swirl of rumours becomes is as uncontrollable as it is murky. In his jealousy, Watanuki forces Sonoko to make a pact with him regarding their relationship with Mitsuko, signing in blood a contract that specifies what each may demand or expect from her and the rival. Exhausted and driven to distraction, Sonoko agrees.

But in order to get rid of Watanuki at least for a while, Sonoko proposes to Mitsuko they should playact a suicide--take just enough pills to render themselves incommunicado for days, which presumably ought to shock Watanuki into leaving them alone. The plan backfires spectacularly when Sonoko's husband, concerned about the women, checks in on them. As he tries to make them more comfortable on the bed, drowsy Mitsuko embraces him and adds to her roster of lovers.

The Kakiuchis are now both in thrall to her and jealous of each other. A properly hare-brained solution is found in that Mitsuko would administer sleeping drugs to each of them at the end of day, thus ensuring that neither is with her. They go on like this for a while, both suspecting the other of not really being put to sleep. Finally nobody can take it anymore and a triple suicide is set on (Watanuki the pretty girl-boy has patently been replaced--although, alarmingly, Sonoko's husband started to exhibit "feminine" characteristics too).

As is clear from the start, Sonoko survives the attempt and lives to wonder to the end whether the other two didn't cheat her--if dying be proof of love...

Although I described the plot at some length, this doesn't come close to exhausting the story's mysteries--or pleasures.


There is currently a not great/not awful copy of "Manji" 1964 on YouTube, with English subs. It's not half as interesting as the book, despite slavishly following it. But Kyoko Kishida rules as the high-strung, willful, my-love-burns-all-bridges Sonoko.

tammikuu 26, 6:05 pm

>64 LolaWalser: Difficult to keep up with all of that.

tammikuu 26, 7:48 pm

>65 baswood:

Have you never been in love!!!

Actually, it's a tad scary how logical it all comes to seem by the end... :)

More lesbians and simple coquettes:

Poems between women : four centuries of love, romantic friendship, and desire, OPD 1997, edited by Emma Donoghue

This anthology collects poetry in English from the 17th through 20th century written by women for other women. There are some usual suspects: Anna Seward, Christina Rossetti, Amy Lowell, Mansfield, Stein, Sackville-West etc., but also many more women I hadn't heard about, or not in this context before (Aphra Behn etc.)

A lot of it is classicizing, painstakingly wrought, coy, hyperventilating or merely pretty; I loved it all.

Old, Childless, Husbandless (1939) by one Ruth Pitter (England, 1897-1992) ends thus:

Urania! what could child or husband be
More than she had, to such a one as she?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 28, 9:48 pm

It's wonderful when I know nothing about what to expect, and then it turns out to be something delightful.


Daybook from a kitchen drawer, OPD 1985, by Irene Fay (1914-1986)

I was drawn by the photos, mostly small and in the centre of the page's expanse, lending them the aura of jewels.


In between Fay's vignettes talk about food and her family, daughters Yanni and Ann, there are some casual, un-snobbish recipes generously meant to provide the taste of expensive dishes with modest means--nothing canned, frozen or powdered is disdained, from asparagus tips to ready-made pie crusts and orange Jell-o. It reads like a conversation with an old friend, mellow chatter that can allow disconnections because there is a strong link underneath. Sometimes there are single sentences. Sometimes something off-the-cuff rhymes:

What To Do With Spinach

Creamed spinach is a lovely food,
but I don't treat it as I should.
My spoon likes to divide the mush
to make a road, a gate or bush.
Green hills would rise, and for a river
we gently squeeze the juicy liver.
A French bread bridge with mushroom people
will take them to the pickle steeple;
from there they'll glance at spinach land:
Hurrah, she did it with one hand.
It's just construction I am after
without a single blooming rafter.

"Don't play with food!"

ETA: Found on YouTube a short (3 minutes) tribute to her grandmother by Fay's granddaughter Rosalie:
Irene Fay: An Artist's Legacy

Rosalie is featured in the book as a five-year-old who, taken to a restaurant, demanded escargots and then proceeded to eat them "with disgust". :)

tammikuu 30, 8:46 am

>60 LolaWalser: Hoop Dreams... heartbreakingly underfunded...

I hadn't seen it... 1994, didn't have a TV and was oblivious to movies... also basketball which I've had an aversion to since elementary school... but it's available for streaming so I watched it over the weekend. Alas, I spent two years teaching in Philadelphia and do not find it as shocking as you do. We have an abysmally inequitable education system. Even more heartbreaking is on Arthur's 18 birthday, his mother is celebrating in part because some kids don't make it to 18. And some years after the documentary, both Arthur's father and William's brother were murdered. On the plus side, William and Catherine were still married going on 30 years later. I liked her; when William says if it weren't for basketball he wouldn't be going to college, she replies "I'm going to college and I have a daughter to take care of."

Of course, Arthur and William now have a podcast.

tammikuu 30, 9:49 pm

>68 qebo:

That's great about the podcast, thanks! There are three different commentaries on the disc I have so I haven't gone through them yet, but yeah, the deaths of Ashe Sr. and William's brother (who had his own short basketball dream before William) are noted in the credits.

I came to the US as a 20-something AND I was just awfully ignorant and naive, so although some things became apparent quickly enough, it took me a long time to understand the roots and the systemic nature of the problems, I mean.


Superman : tales of the Bizarro world, OPD 1960s, various authors

As a kid I much preferred the odd, the grotesque and the zany as foils to the "straight arrow" protagonists, so of course the Bizarros, Mr. Mxypltzlk (however his name goes) and similar grabbed my imagination far more than the usual megalomaniac bent on universe-domination or a simple clobberin' gangster could.

The Bizarros were fascinating in what they DIDN'T do "opposite" to "normies"--it both niggled at me and reassured me. Yes they would go square where the normal was round, they prized coal and thought diamonds were rubbish, they held sports events in bad weather etc. But they still had love, families, houses, clothes... how? The rule of the opposites clearly wasn't being applied rigourously.

Much later (I think only once I moved to the US) I came across the notion that the Bizarro world was a spoof of Soviet Russia. No idea if there's any traction to that or if anyone ever read them in that light. You'd have to be Bizarro to do so...


Beirut, Beirut, OPD 1988, by Sonallah Ibrahim

This was disappointing after I had loved his brilliant Ice so much. I actually struggled to recognise the same author. The reason, I think, are the lengthy parts detailing the Lebanese civil war through newspaper headlines and descriptions of photographs--these overwhelm the narrative and for obvious reasons obscure the personal, literary aspects.

The framing events are apparently based on Ibrahim's actual experience so may well be fully autobiographical. In 1980 Ibrahim (the unnamed narrator) comes to Beirut carrying the manuscript of his latest novel, having a previous understanding with a Lebanese publisher. The city is still in a schizophrenic state of war and things-as-almost-usual. Militias of umpteen allegiances roam the streets, bombs and guns go off at any time, transports of buses and taxis take people outside Lebanon but the main streets still retain some of the old glamour and commerce.

Ibrahim's publisher, it turns out, is not in the country but his wife is, and Ibrahim tries both to get his contract honoured and an affair going. At the same time he meets Antoinette the documentary filmmaker, who offers him the job of doing the voiceover for her film about the war. He agrees but admits he doesn't understand much about the war--so they start going over every frame of the film, noting every headline and describing the photos.

I can't tell how informative this might be today. There is an addendum with a glossary and index of names, explaining which party they belonged to, and someone already familiar with this history may find that useful. But just think, if you were explaining American politics to an alien, how much more beyond "X is a Democrat, Y is a Republican" would be necessary to begin to grasp... anything.

In Lebanon the divisions ran intersectionally along religious, political, and class lines. It was country with a quasi-feudal reality, with a handful of rich clans lording it over mercilessly exploited peasants. Some of the rich were Christian, some Muslim. The Christians were splintered among various sects (sometimes coinciding with ethnicity, as in the case of Assyrians), the Muslims were split--and HARD--between Sunni and Shi'a. Therefore, no one group was united regardless of faith, class, ethnicity. Anyone might find it profitable to make alliances, more or less temporary, with anyone else. (Except Communists.)

Add to that gumbo the outsider influences and the chaos is complete. Egypt, Syria, Iraq are deeply enmeshed as beacons of Arab nationalism. Jordan wants to make nice with the Americans but at the same time survive the threat of Arab socialism and Ba'athism. The Saudis and other rich Gulf scum are throwing their money and weapons to anyone (except Communists). Israel and the US, the French and the British play their own games vis-a-vis each other and the perennial Communist threat (or scarecrow) of the USSR. Masses of Palestinians who were not given citizenship meanwhile like unwilling ravers travel this mosh pit in whichever direction momentarily opens up. The Israelis kill them. The Phalangists kill them. The Saudis kill them and also the Jordanians and Syrians. Everybody is united in hating on the Palestinians (except Communists).

The projected outcomes of the war ranged from a split along the Christian-Muslim axis to unions of various sort with other Arab countries. Only because it suited the West and the Soviets best that the country should survive, did it, shall we say, survive. Technically. Like some other I could name, Lebanon is today a shadow, a placeholder and not a place, somewhere to remember but not encounter the beauty and hope of the past.

These massacres accompanied the rise of Bashir Gemayel, and his ambition to impose his leadership on the Maronite front, or the "Lebanese front", as it calls itself. It is composed of the forces of Pierre Gemayel (the Phalangists), Chamoun (the Tigers), and Frangieh (the Giants), not to mention Charbel Qassis (the Permanent Congress of Lebanese Monastic Orders) and Etienne Saqr (Guardians of the Cedars).
On the other side of the Green Line that separates the two halves of the Lebanese capital, similar battles take place between the various forces that make up the opposing front -- sometimes called the Islamic front, and other times, the Nationalist, Progressive or Leftist front.
In addition to the Palestinian organizations, some of which have ties to the Arab countries that are at each other's throats, such as Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya, this front is made up of Nasserist parties whose allegiance is divided among Iraq, Syria and Libya, and two Baathist organizations, one of which follows the Iraq line, while the other falls in behind Syrian leadership. Others are Communist groups that fly the flag of Marx and Lenin, a socialist party that is considered the liberal wing of the Druze sect, and scattered Islamist factions, some of which represent local leadership for Sunnis and Shia. These are semi-feudal leadership positions bound by firm ties to monarchies in the Arab world, whereas others represent new forms of leadership for these two religious communities, some of which enjoy the support of Khomeini, while others are in Gaddafi's good graces. (...) Every individual, one way or another, follows an organization or a party. Tribal thinking holds sway: the parties he follows must leap to his aid, whether right or wrong, using one dominant idiom--that of the gun.

tammikuu 31, 7:07 am

tammikuu 31, 10:12 am

>69 LolaWalser: So sad. I don’t know anything about Lebanon, except for this graphic memoir I read a few years ago: Bye bye Babylone: Beyrouth 1975-1979. I liked it, it wasn’t as depressing as yours I think.

tammikuu 31, 3:55 pm

>70 labfs39:

Thanks--I should add a warning, just in case, that in addition to the narrator's constant mode of leering and trying it on with women, there is a brutal sexual assault. I'd love to hear what Arab readers make of it, I wouldn't dare speculate.

>71 FlorenceArt:

Heh. That artless kiddy paean to consumerism encourages me to mention my own memory of Beirut in the summer of 1974. My mother had accepted the invitation of a friend as we were leaving Cyprus in the wake of the Turkish invasion. Our hostess was a Dalmatian married to some Lebanese diplomat and lived in this enormous palazzo with internal gardens, free-ranging exotic animals and whatnot. To listen to my mum, it was like something out of Arabian nights--and I recall nothing of it. What I do remember is THE TOY SHOP in Hamra, my first and last inkling of heaven.

helmikuu 4, 10:40 pm

>67 LolaWalser: Daybook from a kitchen drawer looks really neat. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

helmikuu 5, 3:50 am

I loved the Bizarro stories when I read superman comics. I had moved on by the time the Bizzaro's had their own title.

helmikuu 6, 6:58 pm

>73 lisapeet:

Something tells me you'd really like it. Let me know if it proves unfindable...

>74 baswood:

Wow, did they? Talk about overkill.

Well, I'm skipping again--Carl Schmitt's shameless sophistry got my goat but since I have a couple more titles of his, I'll revisit The concept of the political and said goat when I get to them.

Putting in a good word for William Maxwell, in particular The folded leaf. Finely observed '40s/'50s American smalltown boyhood, with precarious male friendships.

A belated discovery of Gallimard's "Continents noirs" imprint and similar led me to borrowing a bunch of them.


L'Europe, vues d'Afrique : Nouvelles ("Europe seen from Africa"), OPD 2004, edited by Jean-Christophe Rufin, collects short stories or excerpts by ten francophone African authors (only three women), none of which I had known before. All were interesting in their own way, but I was most intrigued by the Malagasy Jean-Luc Raharimanana's, for the way he found resonances with a Jewish refugee in Madagascar and a telling comparison with a Serb in Paris who talks to him about being seen as a savage (a motif taken up in Chouaki's story as well, when two boys bemoan that Europe won't accept Algeria while it takes in Bosnians, those "gypsies and chicken thieves"). There is just something more complex about his writing, a capacity for multiple POVs, an interest in the world that goes beyond "how does the world see ME?" to "does it see me seeing it?"

I noticed that although the stories were thematically and stylistically very different, one thing that could be said almost to unite them, since it recurs quite a bit, is the problematic topic of the white woman. One could almost say that the difference in the perception of women hypnotises a number of these authors, that it dominates what they think is different about "Europe". After all, the difference in wealth, in education, in the standard of living can be grasped in and reduced to quantitative measures, and these are relatively simple to address. But the way white women behave--are allowed to behave--isn't a matter of some quantity, but a qualitative difference, a difference in thought.

In the very first story Couao-Zotti has a group of African patriarchs address a Frenchwoman who has come to bury her estranged French husband as they would an African woman, cutting her to size and putting her in her place. She simply leaves with a smile, and they are left muttering that it's no wonder that the country's going to hell when their, African women, are imitating the white ones. In Boubacar Boris Diop's story (La petite vieille), the contemptuous title refers to a white woman functionary an African film director must cajole into giving him financing for his film. While the same humiliating relationship is perfectly imaginable with a man in the role of the "little old woman", I can't help feeling we're supposed to feel extra revolted by the fact that it's a woman lording it over these African clients. A man would be bad enough, but having a woman so high up is also monstrous and ridiculous.

In "Ernst's library" Patrice Nganang observes a German "househusband", Ernst, who happily stays home, doing all the housework and cooking, while his wife works outside. Patrice can't begin to imagine what his people back in Cameroun would say. (Note, all the entries seem to have been written in the noughties--so, 21st century). This is not the major theme, but Patrice (the narrator) is placed in a strangely deferential and uncomfortable pose before Barbara while he sincerely bonds only with Ernst.

Arezki Mellal writes of an Algerian man stuck in the civil war and his Frenchwoman friend who wrangles a pass for him to France. The man is offended that she thought (MAY have thought) that he was trying to get her to help him and ends the correspondence.

One of the women authors, Ken Bugul, writes about contracting and losing an obsession with the looks of white women, of trying to resemble them.

Ma grand-mère bantoue et mes ancêtres les Gaulois : simples discours, ("My Bantu grandmother and my ancestors the Gauls"), Henri Lopes, OPD 2003

Nos ancêtres les Gaulois; our ancestors, the Gauls, is a phrase deriving from schoolwork and nowadays usually uttered in sarcastic tones by the French with less or zero Gaulish ancestry (nevertheless, it was part of education in the colonies as well). Lopes' essays close the circle from the fight for independence to embracing French language and culture as one's own--yes, "our ancestors the Gauls" and all.

It has to be understood--when Ngugi wa Thiongo complained about having to study Jane Austen's romances in Kenya, he wasn't shutting the door on Austen, but rebelling against the instilling of the coloniser's culture at the expense of his own. First we must be treated as equals, then we can share in everything as equals. If African nations have had a shorter written history, their culture is not for that more recent than anyone else's. Once this is understood and everyone treated with respect (once the anticolonial struggles are truly over), then we can contemplate the justness of that response of Ralph Wiley's to Bellow's snide query, "Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus".

Or as Lopes puts it (my translation):

I write to surpass my negritude and raise my prayer to my ancestors the Gauls; Gauls of all the races of course, of all the languages, of all cultures. Because it's for my sake that Montaigne became American Indian, Montesquieu Persian and Rimbaud a Negro. It's to help me decipher Africa that Shakespeare staged his plays, that Maupassant left me his stories.

helmikuu 6, 8:34 pm

>75 LolaWalser: Found it at Alibris, which I have hooked up to a Visa that originally had a $75 refund from my local urgent care that tried to charge me twice for a visit. So it's kinda like free money, and every so often I'll buy myself a book with it. So that one's on its way to me, and thanks for the rec.

Finely observed '40s/'50s American smalltown boyhood, with precarious male friendships.
Those can be so maudlin, but Maxwell does it with such sweetness.

helmikuu 6, 8:55 pm

>75 LolaWalser: Your comments about Nos ancêtres les Gaulois reminded me of this poem I read recently in the Women Writing Africa book:

The School of Freedom
by Zbor Zerari (Algeria, 1960)

A jettisoned schoolbag
On a street corner.
Selected High Points
Of the History of France
Peek out meekly
From an abandoned schoolbag
On a street corner.
As kids scurry
On their little legs,
A naked foot stumbles
on a history book—
"Our Ancestors the Gauls..."
The wind ruffles
The pages—
"Charles Martel,
Conquerer of the Saracens..."
Another little foot,
Also naked—
"The Tafna Treaty..."
The wind takes part
In the dance
Under the children's naked feet.
The children of today
Do not study in the classroom.
The are writing the history
Of a Free Algeria.

helmikuu 7, 2:13 pm

>76 lisapeet:

That was quick!

Oh dear, I forgot you were vegetarian... I hope you won't mind the non-veg recipes and tales.

>77 labfs39:

Thank you for the poem, much appreciated! Yes, the phrase is quite famous (or notorious), you'll come across it often in this literature, and variations (I also read a novel by Magyd Cherfi titled Ma part de Gaulois--"My slice of Gaulishness" or something like that.)

helmikuu 8, 2:01 pm

>78 LolaWalser: Nah, not to worry. I always assume plenty of meat-based recipes in collections not specifically labeled vege- (or pesce-) tarian. They don't bother me—I was a happy carnivore for many years. Plus this one seems to be about much more than the recipes.

helmikuu 8, 3:41 pm

>1 LolaWalser: Great art photo!

>8 LolaWalser: I like your stated 'loose' plans! Just passed on the intel re the SF oldies to Michael.

>13 LolaWalser: Looks more interesting than where I was born....

>35 LolaWalser: Great photos.

Your reviews are soooo good. Thanks! I admit being very late getting over here.

helmikuu 20, 12:40 am

>80 avaland:

You're always on time, Lois. :)

Désir d'Afrique : essai (Desiring Africa), OPD 2002, and L'indocilité : supplément au Désir d'Afrique (Defiance : supplement to Desiring Africa), OPD 2005, both edited by Boniface Mongo-Mboussa and including dozens of contributors, francophone authors from Africa.

This was a fantastically rich* read for me, not only for introducing me to many francophone African authors, but for providing a systematic way of looking at the corpus of African literature in general. As Mongo-Mboussa and others discuss the links and influences, and also the changing themes and disagreements between generations, a picture emerged for the first time of a coherent historical skeleton. Colonialism and postcolonialism is the axis around which modern African literature can't help turning. That said, there are striking differences in the strategies and attitudes of different authors, as the anticolonial struggle of the 1950s gave way to the new problems of independence in the 1960s-70s, followed by the disillusionment of the 1980s and, by the time of the publication of these pieces, a reaction in the 1990s against "Afropessimism".

Mongo-Mboussa posits Yambo Ouologuem's Le devoir de violence and Ahmadou Kourouma's Les soleils des indépendances as the works that broke with the Afrocentrist glorification of Africans in total opposition to the evil Whites and the trend of négritude. More complex but also more despairing characterisation takes place. There appears the "dictatorship" novel, sneering at the self-serving and so often fantastically cruel African strongman. But also the reality of neocolonialism, the fact that Western exploitation of Africa continued even after independence, seems even more intractable than the old military occupations. Anticolonial struggle was relatively simple in terms of defining the enemy and the goal--but how does one fight the World Bank and the IMF, the entire global system of capitalist oppression? No wonder Mongo-Mboussa's survey ends with a discussion of sardonic and macabre humour, sarcasm and a penchant for the "carnevalesque", which he finds distinguishes the latest stage in African literary trends.

I've gone here beyond the specific problems discussed in the books, as I watched several documentaries I found in the archives of French television (for example, Didier Awadi's 2011 "Le point de vue du lion") but it all belongs together.

*As one example, recent commentary on David Diop's novel about the Senegalese soldiers in French army in the WWI made it sound (at least to people as ignorant of this literature as I was) as if it were some sort of watershed, a discovery of a forgotten topic. But it turns out that "les tirailleurs sénégalais" are practically a trope, with a slew of works about them from the 19th century onward, and a pioneering novel-memoir by an actual soldier, Bakary Diallo, published in 1926 (Force-Bonté--no touchstone). In case this work is deemed uninteresting because Diallo was loyal to France (and an aide to Blaise Diagne, first African to be elected and serve in the French government, from 1914 to 1934), it was followed by dozens of other, anticolonialist works, novels and poems. Just another reminder that francophone African literature has a long history and that Africans in general were aware of "history-making" they were doing as they were doing it.



Le blanc de l'Algérie (Algerian white), OPD 1995, by Assia Djebar

This is one of the saddest books I've ever read, a chronicle of Algerian history punctuated by the deaths of several dozen of Djebar's friends, mostly other writers, artists, their familiars, mostly assassinated. Djebar digs into the past, the years of the struggle for independence, and finds ominous signs as early as 1957 when Abane Ramdane was assassinated by his erstwhile comrades (who in turn would be assassinated themselves, as is typical for such "cleanups".)

This, of course, doesn't come near to explaining how Algeria broke under the growing Islamist threat in the late 1980s, which culminated in a civil war that is still going on. But it does indicate some of the rifts in Algerian society, a mix of arabophones more than Arabs, ethnically and tribally riven despite overwhelming allegiance to Islam.

One remark Djebar makes about the writer and sociologist Mouloud Mammeri (one of the very few to die in an ordinary, car accident), that Algerian television never allowed him to appear, reminded me that I saw him recently in a French documentary on Algeria from 1972. A few minutes of that footage is available (but in bad resolution) on YouTube:

Mouloud Mammeri, A propos de la vraie histoire de l'Algérie

helmikuu 20, 2:03 pm

Fabulous reviews of and commentary on the books edited by Boniface Mongo-Mboussa, Lola. Unfortunately neither one seems to be translated into English yet; I'll have to see if either is available in Spanish.

Fortunately I do have Algerian White on my Kindle. That reminds me; I need to write a review of Children of the New World: A Novel of the Algerian War by Assia Djebar, which I read last month.

helmikuu 20, 3:43 pm

>82 kidzdoc:

Hi, Darryl, great to see you. It's truly a pity those two books aren't available in English, perhaps other sources compensate, I couldn't tell. I didn't come close to covering all the themes involved, from the problem of language and audience, to many nuances of diverse styles and opinions, the cross-talk with English-language African and Caribbean authors, the greater advancement and progress of postcolonial studies in the Anglo sphere, the influence of the African-American literature and problems etc. Of course, being almost twenty years old, they'd be ripe for updating with the rising stars of this literature, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Fatima Daas etc.

I am looking forward in particular to reading Tchicaya U Tam'Si, which many claim as a major influence and an intellectual forerunner, the "grandfather" of African literature, as well as Edouard Glissant, maybe the francophone counterpart of Derek Walcott (Dilara covered some of his works).

helmikuu 22, 4:37 am

>81 LolaWalser: Fantastic reviews, and two (three) books that look particularly interesting.

helmikuu 22, 8:36 am

I agree, very interesting reviews, I have wishlisted Désir d’Afrique.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 23, 2:09 pm

>84 raton-liseur:, >85 FlorenceArt:

Thanks; actually I feel bad for failing to notice this imprint (Gallimard's "Continents noirs") much, much earlier. My library lists under 80 borrow-able titles but so far at least 125 have been published:



The long way to a small, angry planet , Becky Chambers, OPD 2014

Back when I was doing that sci-fi oldies thread I felt acutely the need for contemporary updates, since no one normal ought to spend their time in the 1950s... and modern sci-fi just HAD to be better. I don't expect a single book to prove anything, but I do feel enabled to say that things--people--ARE getting better because this kind of sci-fi, that unapologetically prizes love and friendship and individuals who care for others and making the world a better place, simply didn't exist. Now* it does. Something HAS become better, some progress HAS been made.

I'm too old and too warped by bad habits to give myself over 100% to this mindset, but I rejoice at its appearance and have zero doubts about its victory.

*It may be argued that television offered "cosy SF" much before--with Firefly, Star Trek or Doctor Who.



Kanthapura, OPD 1938, by Raja Rao (1908-2006)

I adored this book. The narrator is an old woman in the village of Kanthapura, telling in the first person plural of everybody's adventures upon the arrival of the Gandhi partisan Moorthy, and an outsider, the Muslim policeman Khan. Moorthy tries to organize the villagers against the exploitation by their colonial masters, bringing them Gandhi's new teaching about equality; Khan is the instrument of the ruling class but also an isolated figure who must tread carefully in a place where he's so outnumbered.

But there was one thing she spoke of again and again--and, to tell you the truth, it was after the day the sandal merchant of the North came to sell us his wares and had told her of the great country across the mountains, the country beyond Kabul and Bukhara and Lahore, the country of the hammer and sickle and electricity--it was then onwards that she began to speak of this country, far, far away; a great country, ten times as big as, say, Mysore, and there in that country there were women who worked like men, night and day, and when they felt tired, they went and spent their holiday in a palace--no money for the railway, no money for the palace--and when the women were going to have a child, they had two months' and three months' holiday, and when the children were still young they were given milk by the Government, and when they were grown up they were sent free to school, and when they grew older still they went to the universities free, too, and when they were still more grown up, they got a job and they got a home to live in and they took a wife to live with and they had many children... and mind you, she told us so many marvellous things about that country; and mind you, she said there all men are equal--every one equal to every other--and there were neither the rich nor the poor...

And so every afternoon Ratna began to read the texts to us, and when it came to discussion, Rangamma would say, "Sister, if for the thorny pit the illusioned fall into, you put the foreign Government, and for the soul that searches for liberation, you put our India, everything is clear;" and this way and that she would always bring the British Government into every page and line.



The grass, OPD 1958, The wind, OPD 1957, by Claude Simon (1913-2005)

I wonder if I have anything worthwhile to say about Simon, one of the most trying writers I ever read. There are books where so much depends on the experience of having read them, that no amount of "talking about" can be in any way useful. In some degree this may be true for all the "nouveau roman" authors, but for no one more than for Simon.

His infinite sentences, unlike Proust's, don't GO anywhere, they reverberate, like circular waves. To me he is a far lesser light and probably someone I'd deem wholly skippable, were it not for his insight about history as something outside people's concerns, which leads him to concentrate so obsessively on the life and death of grass and the whistling of the wind. Not the "important" people but the least noticed people ever; not the people but the space around them.

(It's curious that Guyotat, who is just as difficult or a thousand times more difficult, had undergone a similar shock upon encountering History but went into a completely opposite direction--where Simon abandons History for minutely told microscopic histories, Guyotat (thinking of Éden, Éden, Éden) takes such a magnifying lens to History everything becomes unintelligibly drowned in shit, piss, vomit, sperm, blood, the violently extricated elements of our miserable existence.)

helmikuu 23, 7:40 am

>86 LolaWalser: I have never read Claude Simon, but was thinking of trying one of his autobiographical works, Flanders Road. Have you read that one?

helmikuu 23, 9:41 am

>86 LolaWalser: Too bad that Kanthapura does not seem to have been translated into French.

Based on your review, I am not sure I am ready for a book by Claude Simon (I'm not a "nouveau roman" fan, to say the least).

helmikuu 23, 2:28 pm

>87 labfs39:, >88 raton-liseur:

I still haven't read La route des Flandres, which was the first Simon I tried, years ago. I don't remember where I stopped but after an n-th jump in time I realised I had no idea what was happening to whom anymore. As in The grass, a large chunk of the book seems to be a person's stream-of-consciousness imagining of another person's inner life, with all the uncertainties, questioning and mysteries coming with that.

If possible, I would suggest to try some shorter text of his first, to see how his language (which, experiments aside, is often described as beautiful) strikes you. I read Le tramway, an exhausting chronicle of a life told on a single breath--but about half the size of his greatest novels.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 23, 2:47 pm

>89 LolaWalser: a large chunk of the book seems to be a person's stream-of-consciousness imagining of another person's inner life

Ah, I was hoping it would be a more straightforward historical novel of the war. If this is the case, I'll pass for now. Too many other things are calling my name to get bogged down in another dead, born in Africa but hightailed it out of there at the first opportunity, white dude.

ETA: Have you read The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy? I think you might like it.

helmikuu 23, 3:56 pm

>90 labfs39: Yes, but Claude Simon would be a nice addition to your Nobel list...

helmikuu 24, 4:00 am

>86 LolaWalser: since no one normal ought to spend their time in the 1950s. OK I admit it - I am not normal

Simon Claude - interesting I think. I have not read any

helmikuu 24, 1:29 pm

>92 baswood:

Aaack! I swear I had completely forgotten...! Umm, what can I say--them '50s don't look the same to all...

If you like stream of consciousness, you should give Simon a go. Or if you like unconventional storytelling techniques. Or if you like to challenge yourself, as a reader, or like to give your powers of concentration a workout. Have you read Robert Pinget by any chance? He's who Simon reminds me of, most strongly.

Speaking of Pinget, this random internet person's review of Passacaglia is eerily in parts like what I wish I had thought to say of The grass or The wind:


"The ability to bend time" is something that Simon and Pinget shared in particular.

helmikuu 24, 4:43 pm

Oh dear, I’ve also got a Simon-encounter slated for somewhere in the not-too-distant, he’s one of my forty-eight missing laureates. I’ve been discouraged so far because the library only has an intimidating Pléiade complete works. Maybe I’ll go for Le tramway when I get so far, I’ve always got space for public-transport-related fiction.

helmikuu 26, 7:31 pm

>94 thorold:

It's quite possible you may find him delightfully copacetic. And yes, for you, go with the tram book. :)


Artificial condition, OPD 2018, by Martha Wells

This was a re-read; I think I've read all the "Murderbot" installments and wanted to revisit the favourites which are, no surprise there, those featuring ART or, as Murderbot unflatteringly has it, "Asshole Research Transport".
Murderbot is a human-robot construct physically much superior to humans, but emotionally quite like them, whereas ART is a much more powerful AI housed in a large ship, and yet... emotionally quite like humans.

Therein must lie the attraction of this series, I think--as we face a future in which AI will outcompute and outperform us in almost every way, the one saving grace may be our loveability--or ensuring that the damn machines love us and therefore choose to keep us around.


The Devil thumbs a ride, and other unforgettable films, OPD 1988, by Barry Gifford

Jauntily written compendium of reviews of noir-to-noirish films, from the 1930s through the 1980s, heavy on the classics. I reckon I had seen at least half of them, but not the title one. Warning: Gifford is great fun to read but he spoils everything--even the ending to Laura!

helmikuu 27, 7:26 pm

The Devil Thumbs a Ride, and other unforgettable films Another irresistible book if seen in a second hand shop

helmikuu 28, 12:44 am

The Devil Thumbs a Ride is an incredible title.

helmikuu 28, 9:46 am

>95 LolaWalser: Great title. Puts me in mind of Don McKellar's and Bruce McDonald's Highway 61 when the driver asks the hitchhiker he has just picked up what he does for a living.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 5, 1:35 pm

>96 baswood:, >97 ursula:, >98 SassyLassy:

...and therefore all the more frustrating that said movie seems unfindable!


The blurb on the back promised demolishing of the male sex, or at least "the barren bachelors", but I've found no such thing in this occasionally enjoyable but in the end completely overlookable novel--which is how I felt about the couple Sparks I've read before.

Admittedly I shouldn't now even be reading this sort of thing that only makes me furious with the smug white liberals, comfy in their prejudice, wealth, and serene conviction that all is well with the world, as THEY are doing just fine.

Overheard on the street two nights before, as I was dragging myself home, adult white woman's voice: "Naaaw, if you buy Nike shoes, you can't wear a Dea (?) shirt with them, right?! it's Dea with Dea..." and it trailed off mumbling excitedly about matching brands.

Speaking of Sparks, the note in her bio about her converting to Catholicism, exactly in the year she published this, also majorly got on my nerves. It's bad enough being born a Catholic, but CHOOSING to be a hellfire-invoking misogynist racist antisemitic bit of shit prostrate to the boys' club in the Vatican? All the worse as it seems some sort of mania among certain type of Anglo "intellectuals" throughout the 20th century. Making a fashion of what millions of people bear in misery. Should've been born in Calabria my girl, then we'd see how fancy it would seem.

Of course today's converts are out-and-out sadists, the Anglicans are getting too nice for their tastes, it just ruins the faith if you can't believe them uppity women, dirty homos and the Jews are meant for eternal torment.

And yeah, it does come through in the book, even directly, for instance in the drivel about sex with contraception not really being sex.


Riad Sattouf's final, sixth installment in the L'Arabe du futur autobiographical saga was on the contrary exhilarating. I can't say enough to recommend this series. To me it spoke especially strongly as Riad's and my childhood almost crossed in almost the same place--and yet his story, while so familiar in spots, revealed so much to me I didn't know. I didn't know that in rural Syria girls were prohibited (by their families) from going to school and that the classes were boys-only, even if they had some female teachers. I didn't know that in such schools, albeit public, they were taught the Qur'an (or was this a development post-1981, the year my family left?) I had no idea, at any time I lived in Syria, that "honour" killings of women were a thing, nor could I have believed that when such happened, as in Riad's family committed by the father and the brother of the wretched woman, the culprits could get away with a couple month's imprisonment.

The figure of Riad's father deserves a special mention, if only because he is next to Riad the most fleshed-out character. Although it's impossible not to think of him as the villain of the story, I want to underline that he is by no means a caricature, even when Riad mocks him. There is a thesis in an analysis of this type of Arab man. The series' title originally denoted Riad, but in the end it applies much more to his father, an embodiment of a failed future once promised to the Arab countries.


The first in the Discworld series, one of few I had read before but didn't remember all that much. The dud wizard Rincewind isn't a very popular character and he's certainly oddly nondescript in a world brimming with originality, but I think that's his point--he's the straight man lost in a Wonderland, a would-be scientist inapt to magic. But, while a bad, practically useless wizard, he's not a bad man although generally lacking in courage and virtue--when the goings get rough, he does find it in himself to stand up to and for others.

Hrun I had completely forgotten. Discworld's first tourist Twoflower and his Luggage allow for a lot of exposition.

maaliskuu 6, 11:37 am

>99 LolaWalser: I should really read L’arabe du futur!

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 6, 12:23 pm

Fantastic thread: I've added Désirs d'Afrique to my wishlist and nudged Kanthapura up it :-)

maaliskuu 9, 3:20 pm

>95 LolaWalser: My first LT BB! I've grabbed The Devil Thumbs a Ride from my library, and it looks delightful.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 11, 5:02 pm

Hi, Keith! Great, the more the merrier--and here's a link to a copy of The Devil Thumbs a Ride up on the Internet Archive:


Not a great copy but I'm so proud of myself to have remembered to look there for once...
I still haven't found the 62 minutes to watch it through, maybe tomorrow.


As usual, reading lots but finishing little, but this morning managed the coincidence of two books about Italian film directors, as different as possible:


That Bowling Alley on the Tiber: Tales of a Director, Michelangelo Antonioni
Federico Fellini: Comments on Film, Fellini and Giovanni Grazzini

Antonioni's is a collection of observations and overheard speech more or less elaborated into ideas for films, very literary, which really show how true it was that he "wrote with a camera". He thinks deeply about his characters' inner lives, it's something "inside" them he wants to bring out.

On the opposite pole is Fellini, all sensory experience, dream logic, and direct access of "truth" via some Zen-like word-less, thought-less gift. To him character is all already on the surface, in the face and body, and needs no delving for--you see it or you don't. To see Masina is to understand what kind of people are Cabiria and Gelsomina. There's something Dickensian in Fellini, the love for the shorthand as well as the fabulous grotesquerie of caricature.

I like Antonioni but Fellini is much more quotable:

The last time a large, absolutely likeable American, in an attempt to convince me, assured me that I alone could succeed in making Americans understand what Dante had gone to do in Inferno.
The project is seductive. I would like to make about a half hour of lunatic, schizoid images--the Inferno as a psychotic dimension, reworking Signorelli, Giotto, Bosch, the sketches of lunatics: a tiny, stark, uncomfortable, tight, flat ambiguous Inferno. But generally the producer who proposes The Divine Comedy wants Gustave Doré; smoky scenery, beautiful naked asses and science fiction monsters.

maaliskuu 11, 5:10 pm

>101 Dilara86:

Looking forward to your comments if/whenever you get to Mongo-Mboussa!

>100 FlorenceArt:

I'm not objective, having read so much of my own experience into it, but I do believe it's one of few real "graphic novel" masterpieces.

maaliskuu 17, 3:10 pm

right in the heart

Croatian Essayist Dubravka Ugresic Dies Aged 73

Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu. Jugoslavija je bila bolja. Gamad koja te pljuvala samo je pojačala tvoj sjaj.

maaliskuu 17, 4:09 pm

Thanks for this. Adding The Culture of Lies: Antipolitical Essays to my list.

maaliskuu 17, 6:06 pm

>105 LolaWalser: Sad news! All the good writers seem to be disappearing. As usual.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 18, 4:57 pm

>106 dypaloh:

Thank you. That's a great collection, maybe my favourite of hers.

>107 thorold:

It's dreadful. Far too soon.

A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto, OPD 2022, by China Miéville

In May 2021 I led a group read of The Communist Manifesto. For me it was an eye-opening experience, and I can only wish I could have shared it with many more people--and also that they had had a better guide than I could ever have hoped to be. Here is another chance.

Miéville's book is the most recent and one of the most exciting of the ever-increasing number of books meant for laypeople that explicate and defend Marx--that is, the struggle for communism.

It's fairly short, just like the document it analyses (The Manifesto is included, whole with its famous prefaces and appendices). I'd say about a third of the text explains what is obscured by time and/or hostile readings typical for capitalist societies, and two thirds address hostile objections and criticisms one-by-one. I found particularly fascinating Miéville's explanation of Marx's famous "tribute" to the bourgeoisie and the transformative power of capitalism (it's important to grasp the moment when those paragraphs were being written, and how subsequent developments and disillusions affected them further on) and the dismantling of the criticisms of racism, colonialism and Eurocentrism.

I might have wished for a more historically and context-consciously nuanced rebuttal to the right's standard all-purpose argument of "but Stalin!", but I suspect that would properly take a whole book... and possibly with scarcely more effect on those who still think this is a pertinent criticism of communist movements.

The only point where I find myself in disagreement regards Marx's statement about increasing immiseration of the working class under capitalism. It seems to me Marx was right, regardless of the relative greater comfort we can find in the working class conditions in the 21st century compared to the 19th century. Medieval serfs also enjoyed relatively more comfort than cave dwellers. I think the problem is that it's too often forgotten, even by people like Miéville, that 20th century capitalism was mostly constrained, by the competition with would-be communist countries. Not only were the original labour victories due to the revolutionary left before the October revolution, so were whatever concessions capitalists felt they had to make to the workers post-WWI and WWII. This delayed capitalism's effects for a long time.

But now we have been living with the neoliberal orgy of unconstrained capitalism for almost forty years and there is no bottom to how far we'll fall. Nothing is stopping the rising inequality. The rich are getting tax cuts while the workers' wages stagnate and drop. Workers' living standards are falling ever lower. Food pantry use and child poverty are on the increase in the supposedly richest, most powerful countries in the West. I'd call that immiseration.

Just like the Manifesto, this promises no cures. But it does do one great thing--it helps you take off the blinders of so-called "capitalist realism", the insidious right-wing ideology that kills the ability to even imagine change.

maaliskuu 18, 5:43 pm

>105 LolaWalser: I enjoyed her Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, I haven't read her essays.

maaliskuu 19, 7:11 am

>108 LolaWalser: I will probably not read this book, at least in a nearer future (not what I am currently enclined to read), but did really enjoy your review.
I know Miéville for his fiction work, in which I do not feel his communist ideas filter that much, so it is another reason what I got so interested in your review.

maaliskuu 19, 5:50 pm

>108 LolaWalser: Interesting book from China Miéville.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 20, 2:29 pm

>110 raton-liseur:

I haven't read much of his fiction but I think his politics are likely to influence it subtly. Otoh, the antifascism in The last days of new Paris combined with the historical Communist engagement of the many surrealists he name-checks is unmissable.

He's been an avowed Marxist for the past 20+ years. In 2017 Versobooks came out with his history of the October Revolution, and his PhD thesis also had a marxist outlook.

>111 baswood:

Probably an altogether interesting bloke--it's not every day that someone discovers marxism while at the Harvard Law School. Although, to me, it makes supreme good sense. There's nothing like the reality of American capitalism to radicalize people.

More in that vein...

I will marry when I want, 1977, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Ngũgĩ wa Mirii

First, now THIS is a play you want to see staged, because it sparks a communal hunger for justice, because it is meant to and written for to make people rise and rebel against the masters, against exploitation. It is incendiary like a Molotov--the only accessory one needs bring to this party.

Its original run was shut down by the Kenyan government and the writers imprisoned, then exiled. Both Kikuyu writers had an allegiance to the Mau Mau anti-colonialist, communist movement. But post-colonial Kenyan governments imposed a reactionary capitalist society in which new American masters replaced the old British ones and continued with the exploitation, aided by the orchestrated spread of parasitical religions.

Today all the good schools belong
To the children of the rich.
All the big jobs are reserved
For the children of the rich.
Big shops,
Big farms,
Coffee plantations,
Tea plantations,
Wheat fields and ranches,
All belong to the rich.


All the rich wherever they are....
Are the same,
One clan!
Their mission in life is exploitation!


You talk about prices,
But tell me a single item whose price has not gone up?
In the past a mere thirty shillings,
Could buy me clothes and shoes,
And enough flour for my belly.
Today I get two hundred shillings a month,
And it can't even buy insecticide enough to kill a single bedbug.
African employers are no different
From Indian employers
Or from the Boer white landlords.
They don't know the saying
That the hand of the worker should not be weakened.
They don't know the phrase, 'increased wages'!


Religion is not the same thing as God.
All the religions that now sit on us
Were brought here by the whites.
Even today the Catholic religion
Is still called the Roman Catholic Church.
P.C.E.A. belongs to Scottish protestants.
The Anglican church belongs to the English.
The Orthodox belongs to the Greeks.
The Baptist belongs to the Americans.
There are many more religions
Which have been brought here by imperialists from America,
And which tell us we should give them a tenth of all that we
Where does the ten percent go?
To America.
Then they send back to us ten shillings
Taken from the tenth portion we sent them,
And they tell us:
This is American aid to your local churches.


Religion is the alcohol of the soul!
Religion is the poison of the mind!
It's not God who has brought about our poverty!

maaliskuu 23, 2:44 pm

>112 LolaWalser: I Will Marry When I Want sounds extremely interesting. I added it to the ever-growing wish list.

maaliskuu 23, 3:01 pm

>113 MissBrangwen:

It reads like it was written yesterday about everywhere!

maaliskuu 23, 3:12 pm

>108 LolaWalser: I probably should look that book up.

>105 LolaWalser: Yeah, that was not a good news to wake up to that day. :(

>112 LolaWalser: Ha, another one I need to check.

maaliskuu 23, 4:56 pm

>112 LolaWalser: I would really like to see I Will Marry When I Want on stage. I'm hungry for drama lately (the kind I watch live, not the kind I live... I could entirely do without the latter).

Also sad to hear about Dubravka Ugresic.

maaliskuu 28, 8:06 pm

The obit in The New York Times, by Neil Genzlinger

Dubravka Ugresic, Who Wrote of Dislocation and Exile, Dies at 73

She was acclaimed in Yugoslavia. But when that country fell apart, she refused to embrace the nationalism of the newly formed Croatia and was vilified as a result.

Dubravka Ugresic, a novelist and essayist who, after her native Yugoslavia broke apart in the early 1990s, found herself ostracized in the new country of Croatia for refusing to embrace its aggressive nationalism and spent the rest of her life abroad, died on March 17 in Amsterdam. She was 73.

Petar Milat, her principal editor and publisher in Croatia, confirmed the death. Her family did not disclose a cause.

“Ugresic’s writings, both in fiction and nonfiction, are a unique blend of wittiness and compassion,” Mr. Milat said by email. “Her passing has resounded strongly in all countries of the former Yugoslavia, where Ugresic was regarded a chief intellectual voice, equipped by an exemplary ethical rigor.”

In the 1980s Ms. Ugresic was being hailed as one of Yugoslavia’s best up-and-coming novelists, especially with the release of “Fording the Stream of Consciousness,” which won multiple awards in that country in 1988. It was a satirical story of intrigue about a writers’ conference in the Croatian city of Zagreb, and its multinational cast of characters gave Ms. Ugresic, who had traveled internationally and held degrees in comparative and Russian literature, a chance to show off her knowledge of different peoples and of the classics. A banquet staged by one of her characters draws on a feast described in “Madame Bovary,” a flourish typical of Ms. Ugresic’s fiction.

“Her (literally) encyclopedic knowledge of literary theory is transformed, in her own creative work, into an ingenious stew of spoof, allusion and absurdist wit,” Jan Dalley wrote in The Independent of Britain in 1991 in a review of “Fording the Stream of Consciousness,” which had just been published in English. “You are so pleased with yourself for the myriad references you think you’ve clocked that you forget to wonder how many you’ve missed.”

But Ms. Ugresic’s triumph was short-lived. Soon Yugoslavia was disintegrating and Franjo Tudjman had come to power in Croatia, Ms. Ugresic’s home region, which declared independence in 1991. He fomented a strident nationalism; Ms. Ugresic, who had admired the multi-ethnicity of Yugoslavia, spoke out against it, lamenting the erasure of Yugoslav history.

In 1991 she took an extended break from Croatia, going to Amsterdam and then spending time as a lecturer at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She returned to Zagreb in 1992 but found herself being vilified in the press and ostracized by colleagues at the University of Zagreb, where she had been on the faculty for 20 years. She was harassed and threatened, she found that she couldn’t get published, and she and four other writers were labeled “the Croatian witches.”

“At first, I was shocked,” she told The Chapel Hill Herald in 1999, when she was teaching at the University of North Carolina, “but then I accepted it as an honorable name. I decided to take my broom and fly away.”

She left Croatia for good in 1993. Her 1995 essay collection, “The Culture of Lies,” which consisted of pieces she wrote from 1991 to 1994, was a blunt dissection of how national and ethnic identities in the region had been manipulated to serve whoever was in power. She wrote about a small town that had once planted a grove of trees to honor the birthday of Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia’s longtime president. In the wave of Croatian nationalism of the 1990s, residents cut the trees down.

“They say they were removing ‘the last remnants of the communist regime,’” she noted. “The people who cut the wood down were the same people who planted it.”

Ms. Ugresic continued to publish fiction and nonfiction after leaving Croatia.

“The Museum of Unconditional Surrender” (1999) was, Richard Eder wrote in a review in The New York Times, “a mix of diary, notebook, commonplace book and memoir; its facts and conversations slide between record and invention.”

That book examined the phenomenon of exiles — “not the gory amputation of refugee flight,” Mr. Eder wrote, “but arrival’s grayer course of tissue rejection.”

Exile was also at the heart of “The Ministry of Pain” (2005), a novel about a Croatian writer named Lucic living in the Netherlands.

“Lucic knows her people, and hates them — but loves them more,” Michael J. Agovino wrote in a review in The Times. “Which is why the narrator and, one senses, the author, is heartbroken. This is a work that comes from the gut, one that deserves to be read.”

Ms. Ugresic’s 2020 essay collection, “The Age of Skin,” looked at the erosion of cultural memory in recent decades.

For at least a decade, Ms. Ugresic’s name often came up when critics and industry watchers indulged in their annual speculation about who might win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She never did garner that award, but in 2009 she was on the short list for the Man Booker International Prize (which was won by Alice Munro), and in 2016 she won the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Ms. Ugresic was born on March 27, 1949, in Kutina, in what is now central Croatia. She earned her degrees at the University of Zagreb and published her first book at 22. A series of short, poetical stories, it was not intended for a young audience, but it was critically acclaimed as a new form of children’s literature.

In her 1978 novella “A Love Story,” she conjured a narrator who tries to impress a love interest by writing to him in different styles; Ms. Ugresic was beginning to experiment with ways to incorporate her literary expertise into her fiction. Three years later she wrote another novella, “Steffie Speck in the Jaws of Life,” that was made into a 1984 movie, for which she wrote the screenplay.

Although some of Ms. Ugresic’s writing focused on dislocation and exile, she also turned a critical eye on the United States in “Have a Nice Day” (1995), a collection of essays drawn from her early-1990s stay at Wesleyan that Paul Goldberg, reviewing in The Times, did not find amusing or insightful.

“Judging by this book,” he wrote, “Ms. Ugresic saw little of the United States, made few friendships of any depth and watched television a lot.”

Ms. Ugresic’s survivors include a brother, Sinisa.

In a 2002 interview with Bomb magazine, Ms. Ugresic talked about her decision to abandon Croatia.

“I deleted my ethnic, national and state identity because there was nothing much to delete there,” she said. “But I found myself in a very ironic position: In Croatia I am not a Croatian writer anymore, but abroad I am always identified as a Croatian writer. That means that I became what I didn’t want to be and what I am not.”

“Still,” she added, “what I can’t delete as easily is my experience. Even if I could, I would not erase it or exchange it for a less traumatic one. That experience is rich and enriching, as well as pretty unique. Not so many people in the world were born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore.”

maaliskuu 29, 5:53 am

Thank you. I had never heard about her. I think it’s a little sad when the first I hear about an interesting author is when s/he dies.

maaliskuu 29, 11:45 am

That obit's very superficial (a lesson, though, in deftly composing an article about something you know no more about than what you can find on the internet) but I posted it because the swine who shortened her life won't be getting obits in the NY Times for sure and I want that on record in this humble place too.

maaliskuu 29, 7:31 pm

>108 LolaWalser: A Spectre, Haunting / China Miéville
This looks interesting in part because I know of him from science fiction (The City & The City I think is the only one I've read).

maaliskuu 31, 6:33 pm

Come to Miéville for the sf, stay for the Communism! :)

Related to that, more about something I keep pointing out--that the young(er) are not just left (as ever) but leftier than ever... as they have no choice but to be, if there is to be life on Earth, after all the scum and morons are raptured to Mars by Musk and other POS of that ilk.


La profezia dell'armadillo, 2014, (Armadillo's prophecy), Scheletri, 2020, (Skeletons), and Kobane calling, 2015, all by Zerocalcare (pseudonym of Michele Rech)

I've been hearing about Zerocalcare for some years, but for dull and mad reasons relating to private hangups did not make an effort to look up his comics until La profezia dell'armadillo fell into my lap. He's excellent, do read him, order may not be that important, but if you like getting a grasp on the personality before letting them take you to places like Daesh-occupied Syria and the Kurdish Communist enclave of Rojava, then I would recommend The Armadilo's prophecy to begin with and Kobane calling next.

From the start I couldn't help thinking of another comic, a German one by Marc Uwe Kling and Bernd Kissel, serialised in Die Zeit and other newspapers and published in 2009 as Die Känguru-Chroniken. I've no idea whether Zerocalcare ever read it and make no guesses about that. Of the two major similarities the first one is in that in each case the author is present doubled by an alter-ego represented as an animal: the giant armadillo for Zerocalcare, the giant kangaroo for Marc Uwe (Kissel is the graphic artist contributing the drawing skill that Kling, presumably, lacks). In both cases the animal is the authentic but weaker, hidden inner persona, the character not apparent to the outside. It is both more idealistic than the human author allows himself to be, but also less controlled and thus more of a "truth-teller" for better and for worse, being more paranoid, more misanthropic, more terrified (Zerocalcare) or more self-contradictory, lazier, helpless (Kling).

The second major similarity, and here I point to the Zeitgeist and the tragedy of capitalism we're living through, is in that both authors, practically of the same age (Kling born in 1982, Zerocalcare in 1983), find themselves politically engaged on the left, what to an American (say) is "the far left", and this quite evidently under pressure from reality, the misery in which neoliberalism has precipitated millennials (to say nothing of even younger generations).

Zerocalcare doesn't name his activism, but his admiration for the Communist Kurds in Rojava and the society they are trying to build there on the basis of wealth redistribution, equality, and feminism, speaks for itself.

As for Kling, his human avatar is described as a "phlegmatic anarchist", while the kangaroo is a self-declared Communist.

Zerocalcare is the top-selling comics author in Italy. Kling has received prizes for his satire and, like the Italian, has seen his work filmed. They speak to and for the young.

No matter how old, rich and comfy we may be, it would behoove us all to pay attention to the protests of the younger generations.

huhtikuu 1, 8:47 am

>121 LolaWalser: I like the art there a lot, and I'm always up for an animal avatar... back in my cartooning days drew an early-1980s East Village populated almost entirely by animals, and that sustained my imagination for years. And I'm especially interested in what comix the kids are coming out with, so thanks for pointing to these. I see they're available in English, so that's a good thing for me.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 1, 1:16 pm

>122 lisapeet:

I think you'd like Zerocalcare and his substitutions of people's likenesses (mostly to protect them, sometimes to offend) with animals and other objects. In Italian he modulates between down and dirty Roman dialect and classicising oratorial pomposity that reminds me of the brilliant Alan Ford (letting the touchstone go to a random title, it's never been translated into English). But he also wears his heart on his sleeve in a way I am not accustomed to with comix artists from those parts.

Checking later, it seems that The Kangaroo Chronicles available in English are Kling's original book, not the comic (I discovered it as a newspaper comic).

The stop-motion cartoon ("in some kind of English"): The Kangaroo Chronicles - Theory & Praxis

(extra points for noticing the Musil reference... :))

ETA: random cool, a short video about the effects in the live-action Kangaroo movie: The Kangaroo Chronicles - VFX Breakdown by Trixter

huhtikuu 2, 2:32 pm

Mystery and manners, Flannery O'Connor

This posthumous collection of "occasional prose" is worth it already for the essays about writing, in particular "The Nature and Aim of Fiction".

A perception is not a story, and no amount of sensitivity can make a story-writer out of you if you just plain don't have a gift for telling a story.
But there's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.


The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.


Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you see, anything that makes you look. The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn't require his attention.


Retour de l'U.R.S.S. + Retouches..., OPD 1936, 1937

A mix of intelligence and stupidity, just and inane criticisms, probably no more than can be expected from such organized travel impressions, under the eye of Stalin's agents. Only a paragraph about the disappearing and staged trials but pages upon pages about the graded salary scale and the making of a "new bourgeoisie"... Unresolved contradictions--the people are happy but also shockingly poor, the goods are of poor quality but the development immense etc. Gide is moved by the Russians, who have the gift of tapping into one's emotional circuits directly (he was enthralled by Dostoevsky) but ignores the larger circumstances impinging on their condition.

It's barely ten years since the end of the civil war and the upheavals before and since then are still in action, including Stalin's ending of the NEP. The USSR only has enemies, intent on destroying it. It is blockaded politically and economically (Gide knows the roubles he's given will be worthless across the border but does not draw further consequences from that observation), allowed some export of raw material but no fair trade. Billions of moveable goods left the country with the White Russian exodus and foreigners have also refused to honour their debts to the new government.

Internally, the system of passports Gide deplores is meant to regulate the uncontrolled massive shift toward the cities, which results in a dramatic increase in the number of the urban poor that new housing can't keep up with. This is the largest country on earth, with millions of illiterates who were born pretty much into the tradition of serfdom. If 50 000 schools built in ten years is still 10 000 schools short, that's a failing, but not an unmitigated failure of the system.

huhtikuu 2, 6:24 pm

Not a novel : a memoir in pieces, OPD 2019, Jenny Erpenbeck

On that bloody stupid, not to mention totally inaccurate stereotype that the socialist East was "grey" (of course in every possible sense, as if no one ever danced, laughed, fucked or had an orgasm under the one-party rule...)

In reality, though, East Berlin probably wasn't so much grayer than the West after all, at least that's my impression now that I know the West, the only things missing in the East were the advertising posters and neon signs decorating the pockmarked walls or concealing the bombed-out lots.

On the ghoulish Western tendency to interpret as freakish and see only the worst in any system that dares posit equality and not the profit motive as society's organizing principle...

Seen from the outside, our everyday life under socialism might have seemed exotic, but we weren't a wonder or a horror to ourselves, we were the everyday world, and in that everyday world we were among ourselves.

On the catastrophic effects of the sweeping away of the DDR's system as if nothing had been worth preserving (but that ironically today's young generations are again fighting for)...

A public trust sold a number of East German factories for literally one mark to West German companies, which closed them shortly thereafter. Many workers lost their jobs, and university professors, lecturers, and researchers were also laid off in the East and replaced by university professors, lecturers and researchers from the West. When the common currency was introduced, rents increased by a factor of 10 overnight. West German speculators bought up East German real estate, and state-owned enterprises were privatized. The so-called new federal states were transformed into an enormous market, where all sorts of things could be successfully sold--as we've seen, not just bananas. ....

Like Lea Ypi, Erpenbeck stumbles over Western hypocrisy regarding "freedom":

Why did people always pronounce the word "freedom" with such enthusiasm, as they continue to do today, whenever they speak of the collapse of East Germany, whereas when people from other countries strive for freedom--from countries like Mali, Niger, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Haiti, and other "shitholes", as Donald Trump recently described them--they're met with contempt and aversion?

Why do we still see pictures on TV every year on the anniversary of the fall of the wall, showing happy East Germans jubilantly sitting astride the wall--whereas pictures of people scaling the twenty-foot barbed-wire fence that separates the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco only inspire tougher security measures from the European Union?

Why do we still hear laments for the Germans who died attempting to flee over the wall but almost none for the countless refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years, turning the sea into a giant grave?

Because it was never really about any sort of "freedom" for people, only money.

If only the DDR had been Saudia, or Brunei, or Paraguay, or South Africa, apartheid and all--you know, a sensible sort of place where billionaires can invest! and human rights be damned.

huhtikuu 3, 4:54 am

Interesting as always.

huhtikuu 3, 5:54 am

>125 LolaWalser:

"Why do we still hear laments for the Germans who died attempting to flee over the wall but almost none for the countless refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years, turning the sea into a giant grave?"

I’m ashamed to say I never saw it in that light, but it’s so true.

huhtikuu 3, 12:37 pm

I'll have to look at my copy of the Library of America edition of Collected Works by Flannery O'Connor, but I suspect (and certainly hope) that the contents of Mystery and Manners is in the Essays and Letters section of the LoA book.

I'll also have to dig out my copy of Not a Novel, and get to it soon.

huhtikuu 4, 10:17 pm

>128 kidzdoc:

I can't reach my copy right now but I'm sure the LOA has everything. I picked up this separate volume because it's nice to handle and feels more like an achievement than 20 pages of bible-paper, haha.

>127 FlorenceArt:

Fortress Europe! Must... defend...

Well now for something completely different, at least for the next ten minutes.

I was reading (and finished) Three at Wolfe's door, by Rex Stout, and becoming nostalgic for the NYC fished out this rare tome:

New York--oddly enough, OPD 1938, compiled by Charles Green Shaw, today charms above all with its collection of contemporary (so, 20s/30s) photographs of the NYC. These illustrate a profusion of spots and city sights deemed curious, for example (page randomly opened, 130):


This outdoor marriage altar of painted mosaic graces a most unusual and charming garden that lies back of the century-old St. John's Episcopal Church at 11th Street and Waverly Place.
In addition to the little altar, this hidden garden contains numerous winding paths, a wealth of flora, a sundial, as well as several goldfish, turtles, rabbits and pheasants.

Pheasants in Manhattan!

My book has been signed by the author thirteen years after the publication, in 1951, and inscribed to one Kate B. Harris, "who knew New York when it was New York" (sic) etc. further showing that panta rhei vertiginously and things are changing on us as we are trying to look, and see, and remember.

huhtikuu 5, 10:00 am

>127 FlorenceArt: it's nice to handle and feels more like an achievement than 20 pages of bible-paper, haha.

Yes!! LOL. The one good thing about the Library of America editions is that they take up far less shelf space than the books within them, but your point is well taken.

New York--oddly enough sounds very interesting. I'd love to find a book of photographs of NYC taken in the postwar period, as my mother lived in Manhattan and the Bronx from 1945 to 1959.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 14, 2:50 pm

I'd love to find a book of photographs of NYC taken in the postwar period, as my mother lived in Manhattan and the Bronx from 1945 to 1959.

I've surveyed what I have but (oddly enough!) that period is mostly not covered in my books. Lots of stuff from pre-WWII; not much from post- until we hit the eighties (NYC bohemia's last hurrah). lisapeet may be the person to consult.


Skip-skippety over some stuff...

Girl, woman, other, OPD 2018, Bernardine Evaristo

Amazingly cohesive for a narrative combining and crossing the lives of twelve Black British women (and/or "other"). Not only did it grab my attention so strongly I read it in two sittings, it sustains curiosity to the end. Very topical, almost a digest of "current events".

La vie et demie, OPD 1979, Sony Labou Tansi (1947-1995)

Labou Tansi's first novel and a milestone of the African "dictatorship" literature demands a certain resilience from the reader, as it launches with a gruesome-yet-comic scene of murder, torture and cannibalism and continues in that vein frenetically to the end. A masterpiece by any standard, but steel yourself. Two epic allegorical figures are pitted against each other, the horrible "Providential Guide", "father" of the nation, and the rebel Martial whom the dictator tries to kill and suppress by myriad means, all in vain. Martial's spirit lives on not just in his endlessly ravaged body but in that of his children, first of all his beautiful daughter Chaidana.

But the dictator also has progeny, the thousand+ sons of his rape of virgins, and a succession of wars proceeds to form and deform "Katamalanasie" without peaceful resolution in sight.

The conflict, though, isn't manichean. Labou Tansi manages to represent various strains on the rebels' side (liberal to communist) as well as the disturbing influence and ties the ruler's faction exerts on the enemy. To appreciate this properly one would need a better knowledge of the politics of the Congo than I have.


Marx et la poupée, OPD 2017, Maryam Madjidi (1980- )

I learned only on finishing it that it had won the Goncourt for the best first novel in 2017. I'm again surprised at how well such slight books seem to do on the French scene.

Madjidi was born in Teheran to Communist parents, just as Khomeini dashed the hopes of all such people. Her parents continued with underground activities for some years (including smuggling forbidden texts in baby Maryam's carriage, figuring that even the police would avoid poking around poopy nappies) but in 1986 emigrated to Paris.

Madjidi grew up bilingual and eventually started visiting Iran (her parents, being political refugees, could not). After her first visit in her early twenties she even decided she wanted to stay, but her grandmother managed to talk her out of it. The youth in Teheran, policed out of their wits, overcompensates by throwing veritable orgies and sexual pickups in the streets occur regularly, with the help of coded signals Maryam's friends introduce to her. The westernized, "French" girl is in comparison ludicrously "chaste".

Memories of Iran are interspersed by those from Madjidi's other travels and stays in India, China and Turkey. Some bits are beautifully poetic (the German edition chose the title --You jump, I fall--from the best of those, referring to the incident when Madjidi's heavily pregnant mother, chased by the Islamists, jumped through a window) and the account of feeling foreign on two sides belies the usual optimism that accompanies multicultural situations.

I was interested in the book because I have Iranian friends with similar political backgrounds and experiences (down to having children who adored Iran on first visit since leaving, only to realise they couldn't comply with the restrictions imposed--and these are males).

huhtikuu 14, 3:32 pm

Never heard of her...

The shunned Polish communist heroine who sailed solo around the world

...the first woman to sail solo around the world...

Chojnowska-Liskiewicz left Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in March 1976, and returned there in April 1978, after a journey of more than 30,000 nautical miles. She finished her trip six weeks before the British sailor Naomi James also completed a round-the-world voyage.

Chojnowska-Liskiewicz’s voyage came about after she won a competition by the communist Polish authorities to seek a female sailor for a round-the-world voyage, part of the government plans to mark International Women’s Year, which had been declared in 1975 by the UN.

An engineer at the Gdańsk shipyard, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was an accomplished sailor, but the voyage was the first time she had sailed on the ocean. She travelled in the Mazurek, a boat built by her husband, which was less than 10 metres in length. (...)

“For Polish women to read this book and realise that she had more reproductive rights than we do now it’s quite something. She also strongly believed she was part of a very modern country, and I’m not sure that many women in Poland can say that about themselves now,” said Reiter.

That's putting it mildly...

huhtikuu 14, 3:47 pm

>127 FlorenceArt: >125 LolaWalser:

One is in the past and it is safe to lament it - you cannot change it after all. Acknowledging the other one while something can be done about it is a different story altogether...

I need to look up this book.

>131 LolaWalser: Unfortunately Maryam Madjidi's does not seem to be translated (yet?) and I don't read French but Sony Labou Tansi's is. :)

huhtikuu 14, 5:24 pm

>133 AnnieMod:

I think you'd like Madjidi (although you'll be disappointed to hear there's precious little about Marx... :p)

Huh! That strikes me as very weird... it's available even in Croatian... https://mvinfo.hr/knjiga/12817/marx-i-lutka

huhtikuu 14, 6:53 pm

>134 LolaWalser: I don't know if it is weird really - there had been quite a lot of books translated into Bulgarian but not into English for example.

PS: Marx on the cover almost always means no Marx inside anyway ;)

huhtikuu 14, 7:45 pm

>135 AnnieMod:

Yeah, I was click-bitten. :)

there had been quite a lot of books translated into Bulgarian but not into English for example

But from French?!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 14, 8:05 pm

>136 LolaWalser: Especially from French. Bulgaria is/was technically a francophone country - without speaking the language - after the fall of the old regime so there were a LOT of grants and foundations which paid for a lot of translations. The same foundations were paying all over the region as well - so while not as common as English, French got a lot of translations.

PS: https://3seaseurope.com/bulgaria-french-speaking-country-francophonie/ for some background on that curious development and how we ended up considered francophone...

huhtikuu 14, 8:53 pm

Ha, nice work, Bulgaria! See, if you had been friends with Romania it might have happened even earlier.

Yeah, it's not until after the WWII that French finally lost out to English. I doubt that any Anglo politicos today speak French as well as Anthony Eden did.

huhtikuu 15, 2:52 am

Catching up with your thread...

>121 LolaWalser: I like Zerocalcare :-) I hadn't heard of Marc Uwe Kling though, but I see that my library has 2 copies of Qualityland and it looks like the sort of thing that would appeal to the members of my book club. I'll suggest it for next month. There are also a couple of other titles but they're in the original German, unfortunately. Thank you for the rec!

>125 LolaWalser: On that bloody stupid, not to mention totally inaccurate stereotype that the socialist East was "grey" (of course in every possible sense, as if no one ever danced, laughed, fucked or had an orgasm under the one-party rule...)
Oh that gets my goat! The other quotes in your post make me despair of the world, but it is good that someone is saying those things and I think I'll check out Jenny Erpenbeck's book.

Sony Labou Tansi is difficult to read. I started L'anté-peuple ages ago, then set it aside for when I feel stronger...

>138 LolaWalser: Yeah, it's not until after the WWII that French finally lost out to English. I doubt that any Anglo politicos today speak French as well as Anthony Eden did.
There is John Kerry? Although his excellent command of French is due to family ties rather than formal learning. And for some reason, he tends to downplay it when US citizens are watching. But we in France all know that he is the cousin of former Green Party leader and presidential candidate Brice Lalonde.

huhtikuu 15, 2:54 am

>105 LolaWalser: The Guardian now has an obituary by Matthew Janney, two weeks after the event but it looks rather better informed than the one above.

huhtikuu 15, 2:19 pm

>139 Dilara86:

John Kerry? Although his excellent command of French is due to family ties rather than formal learning. And for some reason, he tends to downplay it when US citizens are watching.

That... cheese-munching surrender fry! er or however that went... real blast from the past :)

Funny, I was reading Maurois on Lafayette and Washington the other day, there's this sense that the French enthusiasm for the States always somewhat confused Americans... and boy, did Maurois himself totally misread where America was going...

I hope Qualityland doesn't disappoint, in case it's chosen. I'm not sure, but haven't there been many like-sounding books by now, you know, corporate ownership of life and all we survey... maybe I should check it out myself.

>140 thorold:

Thank you so much for that, I'd probably have missed it. Yes, what a difference some personal contact makes! I love the "droll"--that's exactly how she was, and his picking up on the importance of "clownishness" is also smart. It's hard to explain this fundamental layer in her to audiences largely without knowledge of absurdism, of the troublemaking Russians she loved and grew up on like Ilf & Petrov, to say nothing of Kharms. (Foreigners to that side of the world also often seem surprised that Bulgakov should be so FUNNY.)

She had a love for as well as mastery of that playful, fanciful form of satire, the one without cruelty, that loves to laugh. The oppressed can never respond with equal force against what is oppressing them--but they can laugh.

Consider the very title of the novel known in English as Fording the stream of consciousness. The original, Forsiranje romana reke, bursts with the brio of an unexpected joke. First, it's in Serbian (while the novel is in Croatian), "roman reka" being a direct Serbian translation of the French "roman fleuve". In combination with the noun "forsiranje" (from forcer, "to force"), in Croatian of exclusive military use, to a Yugoslav reader it would inevitably bring associations of old Partisan films, partisan propaganda, Serbian sergeants in the army and the like. But it's also simply very funny, this juxtaposition of military-speak and literary theory.

True, something of the joke remains in English too, but not the full complement.

Anyway, that's how she was--polyphonic, always with an undercurrent of humour, the deepest intelligence.

huhtikuu 15, 3:32 pm

I too am disappointed that the Madjidi is not yet translated into English. Have you read Azadeh Moaveni's books, Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran? Similar themes, I think.

huhtikuu 15, 4:14 pm

>142 labfs39: ..boy, did Maurois himself totally misread where America was going...

Maybe de Tocqueville led him down the wrong path?

huhtikuu 15, 4:47 pm

>142 labfs39:

No, I haven't--I think I've read only Azar Nafisi, from those Iranian women authors translated into English. Actually, Abnousse Shalmani seems to have been translated into English too, and of course Marjane Satrapi... I have the latest book by Chahdortt Djavann coming up, Et ces êtres sans pénis! (Those creatures without a penis) and hmmm, also seems no English translation, yet anyway...

Mind, though, that I'm drawn to firebrands and iconoclasts and maybe Anglo publishers are less inclined to go for those? Doesn't seem very likely when I think of counterexamples, but who knows...

>143 SassyLassy:

I really should read Tocqueville finally! Maurois was a huge Anglophile. I wasn't going to talk about Études américaines because it's a total hodge-podge of subjects (basically Maurois' reports back home from the US in 1945) and extremely dated--lots of long-forgotten names, and published before the atom bombs were thrown on Japan (which I think might have modified some of Maurois' enthusiasm...)

In short, he is full of praise for American democracy which he prophesies will usher complete equality any day now (then), although he doesn't seem to notice, for example, the condition of Black Americans, whom indeed he doesn't mention once. If it is possible to overlook such an omission, maybe the most that can be gleaned is that some (white) people could still believe in the 1940s that the US was on the path to universal well-being and prosperity.

huhtikuu 15, 7:34 pm

>144 LolaWalser: Funny, I've read 13 books by Iranian authors, and 12 were by women. I wonder what that says about what is being published and/or translated in English, or if it's just me.

huhtikuu 16, 1:49 pm

>145 labfs39:

So you're in the position to tell whether there is a pattern, are they all samey in some way etc. I don't seek out these authors (Iranian refugees, plentiful in both the US and France) specifically, as I'm oversaturated with the topic of "exile", so I could have a wrong impression, but fwiw, I don't remember hearing about books translated into English featuring such loud and unapologetic female sexuality as in Madjidi and Shalmani... or indeed the Moroccan Fadwa Islah, for example. To say nothing of the leftists...



Poetry by Eugène Guillevic. "Terraqué" from 1942, "Exécutoire" from 1947; Denise Levertov's selection for New Directions reaching to 1963's "Sphère".

Guillevic was born in and strongly impressed by the landscape of Carnac in Brittany, where his poetry would keep returning. It seems to be an answer to the question of where, in the conjunction of earth and water, is there space for human existence. Does the earth know us like it knows the worm? Why do we feel illegitimate in the world of things?

Rather than animate things with his spirit, Guillevic lets his spirit live AS things.

Ciel bleu, ciel grand,
Te regardant,

Je suis bien
Lorsque je suis toi,

De mon vivant.

(From "De ma mort": Blue sky, great sky/Watching you/I am content/As long as I am you/While I live.)

Dammit, how hard can "de mon vivant" be?! Levertov has "with my span of life".

Ah yes--must not forget!--Guillevic was a lifelong Communist, something I didn't know when I bought the books. What a super day this is! Joined the party in 1942 no less, amid Vichy and Nazis and all.

huhtikuu 17, 1:39 pm

>131 LolaWalser: Oh man I'm so behind on everyone's everything, but I just finished Girl, Woman, Other and concur, it's a very readable, engaging slice o' the times, with the focus on just the right people and places for me right now.

huhtikuu 19, 2:22 pm

French man works for a radical leftist publisher. French man demonstrates against Macron. French man goes to London for a book fair. French man is arrested on terrorism charges.

French publisher arrested in London was ‘asked about support for Macron’

huhtikuu 19, 2:42 pm

huhtikuu 19, 5:08 pm

>148 LolaWalser: I can only echo Darryl's words here.

huhtikuu 19, 7:26 pm

It's mind-boggling. He was released but questions remain, like... is this the new normal in so-called liberal democracies? Where does it end? According to the Libération Moret was asked, among other things, what books his company plans to publish. If the police are now expected to have an interest in these books, what may their readers (and not just publishers) expect?

Another practical question no one has answered so far is how they zeroed in on him. Where they tipped by the French police or do the Brits now keep track of leftists demonstrators? Afraid of importing revolution? wtf indeed

Updated statement from Verso Books (who invited Moret to the fair) and La Fabrique:


The British counter-terrorism system is unique in Europe as far as emergency legislation is concerned: it is the only one that allows, without any investigative leads, suspicious behaviour, prosecution or even official "police custody", to arrest, detain and interrogate individuals who automatically expose themselves to legal proceedings if they refuse to cooperate. It also provides a very permissive legal framework for police officers to extract all data from any computer device or phone of an interrogated person.

I've said it before--only fools think that Orwell wrote "1984" about Russia.

huhtikuu 20, 1:52 am

>151 LolaWalser:

"Ernest was interrogated for several hours and asked some very disturbing questions: his point of view on the pension reform in France, on the French government, on Emmanuel Macron, his opinion on the Covid crisis, etc. Perhaps most seriously, during his interrogation he was asked to name the "anti-government" authors in the catalogue of the publishing house La Fabrique, for which he works. (...) In a context of the authoritarian escalation of the French government faced by social movements, this element is chilling."

Words fail me.

huhtikuu 20, 1:55 am

And we’ve seen nothing yet. Next year the Olympics will be held in France. We already owe them the dubious honor of being the first European country to allow algorithmic surveillance. I’m afraid it’s not the end.

huhtikuu 21, 7:02 pm

That's not surprising, I guess, but it is horrifying.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 27, 11:40 pm

In the last analysis, OPD 1964, by "Amanda Cross"

Amanda Cross was the pseudonym of Carolyn Heilbrun, a feminist English lit professor (first woman to get tenure in that field at Columbia University) whose several books* I'd read and admired and so always had in the back of my mind the notion to check out her mysteries.

Her amateur sleuth Kate Fansler is also an academic in New York City. I love NYC and appreciate the book-nerdiness of the sleuth and her friends so this is an easy sell for me regardless of the technical aspects of the whodunnit. A young woman is found murdered on her therapist's couch. Kate feels duty-bound to get involved as the girl was a student of hers, Kate herself had recommended the therapist in question, and he's an old and close friend.

*Toward a Recognition of Androgyny, OPD 1973, in particular is still interesting as an early gender-busting study foreshadowing many later developments.


Fiori sopra l'inferno: romanzo, OPD 2018, by Ilaria Tuti

I keep repeating I'm not "really" a mystery reader but only moderately interested in them, pending circumstances... for instance, a new Italian woman writer and/or protagonist will always pique my curiosity. There's been more general awareness of Italy's abysmal sexism in the recent years, especially among the young, but it still feels like an impossible battle. If the mystery genre is taken as an indicator of attitudes and/or "progress", then Italy comes way last compared even to other West European countries. For example, the first woman-led crime series debuted only in 2007, and that under the infamous title of... "Woman detective" (Donna detective), evoking Samuel Johnson's quip about women, dogs, preaching and dancing--the marvel is that it's done at all. She's a woman... and a detective! Zoweee...

Ilaria Tuti's "woman detective" is a sixty-something inspector (referred to throughout in the male gender as "il commissario", which leads occasionally to predictable confusions) Teresa Battaglia, divorced, single, diabetic and with incipient Alzheimer's. I wish I could say I had liked her and the mystery better than I did. I feel rather sorry for the character, saddled not just with two chronic illnesses but loneliness and regret, as if Tuti wanted to elicit pity on her behalf. The worst, as far as I'm concerned, is that while she's indubitably the boss, she's the only woman we see in the police force--once again the dreaded "Smurfette effect". This is actually also reflected in the gang of children who play an important role in the story--Lucia is the lone girl hanging out with a bunch of boys.

The mystery itself was intriguing (although by now I have indeed seen it all before), the setting well done, although here too I regretted the unrealistic use of standard Italian. The region (Friuli Venezia Giulia) is a crossroads between Italy, Slovenia and Austria and dominated by furlan, a Romance dialect tinged with Venetian, Slovenian and German.

I may give the second book a go just to see whether more female characters appear.


Step aside, pops, OPD 2015, by Kate Beaton

The second collection of the Hark! A vagrant comic does everything the first did, just as well (or better), hilariously (or more) etc. There is less Canadian history (alas) and more Chopin-Liszt rivalry. The Nemeseses are at it again, venting their UST through swordplay; the Founding Fathers are at the mall.



Juego de las decapitaciones, five stories originally published between 1936 and 1946, by José Lezama Lima (in the photo on the left)

I've been waiting months for Lezama's books, but it turns out to have been worth it as this small collection of stories contains the very first piece of writing he published, "Fugados" (The runaways). It's also curiously in sync with the photo, Lezama with the younger Salvador Gaztelu, somewhere by the sea--in the story an older boy, Armando, invites a younger one, Luis, to play hooky and go watch the stormy waves crashing against the Malecón, Havana's seawall and longest avenue. The way Luis' emotions interpenetrate the minutely observed accidents of the waves, algae, seagulls, raindrops, the air, the humidity (a character in its own), Armando's proximity and alien-ness, and then curl up inwardly into a dream when Armando is lured away by another, to me indicates something about how Lezama skated between exhilarating but painful reality and protective fiction.

The titular story features a fiction repeated many times--a magician's trick of decapitation--that finally becomes real. A bandit convinces an Empress that his blood contains droplets of gold, proof of royal lineage. The bandit becomes El Real. It's true--a book said it.

Lezama apparently didn't care for his stories and even repudiated them in some way; in any case it's not a form he returned to. But their enigma is couched in such bewildering imagery, the challenge and the seduction are alive for any daring reader.

huhtikuu 28, 5:18 pm


The Murderer, OPD 1978, by Roy Heath (1926-2008)

This was written well enough that I am eager to look for other books by this author, but I have nevertheless lots of problems with what he did.

Heath came to London in his late twenties, part of the great wave of Caribbean immigration of the 1950s, but never truly took root and in his nine or so published books remained tied to his native Guyana. The Murderer seems to have been his most successful book (and, coincidentally to my read, seems to be getting reprinted). I found it intriguing and perplexing, so much so I searched for commentary on it, only to add another layer of perplexity: why is no one talking about the elephant in the room, i.e. the misogyny that motivates the protagonist and casually permeates the whole story?

I couldn't help remembering how Bernardine Evaristo, in Girl, Woman, Other, has a group of women in Jamaica form a book club which begins with Sam Selvon's and similar books, only to drop them and decide to concentrate on books written by women. I can't quote, but the general thrust was that the men were found hostile to women and their experience of life, these male authors didn't add anything that the women hadn't known and more often than not suffered to the point of trauma.

In Heath's novel a handsome, intelligent young man, Galton Flood, grows up with a resentment of his mother, whom he describes as "domineering", not knowing her place, and idolizing his father and elder brother Selwyn. When he marries Gemma, after years of absence and neglect, he struggles to establish a mastery that he evidently thinks a husband ought to have and commits one error after another, harsh when gentleness would serve him better, wavering and indecisive when resolve is called for. From the beginning he seems to hate Gemma more than he loves her, a state that gets exacerbated when he discovers on the wedding night that she isn't a virgin (neither is he, but that of course doesn't matter). It also doesn't matter that Gemma was apparently raped by an older acquaintance of her father's. For Galton this is a free pass to hatred and psychological torment of his wife, whom he forces to move with him to a slummy tenement, hardly a place either of them relatively "well-brought-up", educated people would end up voluntarily.

Gemma doesn't dare protest his increasingly odd behaviour but they are beyond the point of return, Galton sometimes feels such a hatred of women he avoids being around his wife--the sign is on the wall--and the only surprise when he does kill her is how premeditated and carefully planned is the murder, implements prepared in advance, time and place well chosen, alibi secured.

And, Galton gets away with it, with recklessness and contempt--he doesn't even bother getting rid of Gemma's clothes after telling people she had left him. Gemma's father and rapist actually get a confession out of him but he refuses to put it in writing. True, people regard him as a madman and keep him alive out of charity, but in the end he did triumph, at least over the despised female gender, Gemma who he says "wasn't fit to live" after she "disrespected" him, his dead mother, whose dreams for him he joyously crushed, his brother's wife, whom he abused and threatened with death in his brother's presence (with the latter barely uttering a warning) etc.

The book is dedicated "To wife, mother and sister--the endlessly forbearing".

Sarcastic, sincere or trollish...

huhtikuu 29, 1:34 am

Oh yeah that sounds like one that it's really hard to know how to interpret. Especially with that dedication. Hm.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 29, 6:09 pm

To Heath's credit, I can't get the novel out of my head.



Toutes les femmes sauf une, OPD 2018, by Maria Pourchet (1980-)

This was a blind buy, because of the publisher (not that the current firm need have much in common with the founder, Jean-Jacques Pauvert...)

A presumably autobiographical settling of accounts with her mother, executed through a long dialogue with her newborn daughter, Adèle. Recognizable at least in parts to any woman with a grievance against mum, but with some specific flourishes pertaining to second-generation immigrants. Maria/Marie's mother came to France in the 1950s or 60s as a child of Yugoslav (likely Serbian?) immigrants, did well in school but married young with no other occupation but housewifery. This much is no different to the vast majority of French women of that generation, but Maria's mother (a character worthy of a whole study, imo) feels special and transfers this feeling to her daughter, with all the dangerous ambivalence that sort of mark creates: does this mean I am better or worse than others?

Mother's helplessness and submission to her money-making French husband is compensated by absolute dictatorship over her daughter. A strict discipline is enforced that allows no common teenage pleasures, from too revealing clothes to television--instead, mother and daughter drive hundreds of kilometres to attend notable theatrical events all over the country. Mother's people were leftists and her entrance into the bourgeoisie is a chronic source of shame and low-key rage that often finds outlet in truly cruel criticisms of the daughter.

I suppose it would be easy to dismiss Maria's mother as a disappointed narcissist, but precisely the ease with which such a suggestion arises makes me stop and consider this woman with more indulgence. I think of my own mother and her sacrifice to the domestic, with the concomitant displacing of ambition onto me. Here and there Maria too has a kinder insight into her mother's torment: Elle ne peut pas être ma mère parce qu'elle n'a pas fini d'être une fille. (She can't be a mother to me because she hasn't ceased being a daughter.)

The most interesting and the most terrible part of this toxic heritage is the internalized misogyny, the isolating teaching that no woman can trust another woman, especially when we are young and pretty. Since men can't be trusted either, this makes a woman the loneliest creature in the universe.

Il y a des routes à prendre pour couper la mienne. Il y a pute. Mais il faut être désirée. Il y a le mariage mais c'est du suicide. Il y a diplômée. Je veux dire vraiment, pas la fac à ploucs, les grandes écoles. Mais j'ignore que ça existe, ici on n'en parle qu'aux garçons et encore. Je crois, j'ignore où je l'ai pris, qu'une condition élève à jamais: écrire. Les pauvres femmes sont penchées sur les éviers, la terre, les bites, les bassines, les mômes, les poules. Une femme penchée sur un cahier, c'est un homme. C'est un homme et personne ne l'emmerde. Ainsi, depuis trop longtemps pour pouvoir désormais en guérir, je conçois ma vie dans une ahurissante limite qui, presque, m'interdit d'habiter ma propre chair. Mais toi, Adèle, mon enfant de la fin d'hiver, tu sauras: une femme penchée sur son art, c'est naturel.

(There are paths to take to end mine. There's whoredom. But one must be desired. There's marriage but that is suicide. There's graduation. I mean really, not from some bumfuck college, but the great schools. But I don't know that those exist, here they talk about them only to boys, if that. I have a belief, taken god knows from where, that one thing elevates forever: writing. Miserable women are bent over sinks, soil, dicks, bassinets, kids, chicken. A woman bent over a notebook is a man. She's a man and nobody bugs her. And so, for too long to recover from it, I conceive my life within such a terrible limit that it nearly forbids me tenancy of my own flesh. But you, Adèle, my child of winter's end, you will know: a woman bent over her art is nature itself.)

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 5, 8:52 pm

>156 LolaWalser: I enjoyed your review of The Murderer, Lola. I'm completely unfamiliar with Roy Heath, and since the Free Library of Philadelphia has it in stock I've added it to my wish list.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 9, 2:43 am

>159 kidzdoc:

Great, it deserves more attention, it's quite unusual in its stress on psychology. Some reviews I've seen mention Dostoevsky as an influence, but Heath's novel is quite different in that he doesn't analyse his protagonist, leaving everything ambiguous.



Death of my aunt, OPD 1929; A short walk in Williams Park, OPD 1971, by C. H. B. Kitchin (1895-1967)

By sheer coincidence I read Kitchin's first and last book one after another. Both are rather different to the two novels of his I've read previously (The sensitive one and Mr. Balcony). Death of my aunt is a murder mystery that I'm at pains to recommend, but apparently it was a big hit and fans of that era in the genre can probably find a lot to enjoy. Malcolm, a young clerk in straitened circumstances, is summoned to his rich aunt Catherine's country house in order to help her with her investments. There is the usual assortment of poor relations and servants hanging about, including, in a role that straddles those two categories, aunt Catherine's new, sexy husband. When she's found dead after partaking of a dodgy French elixir of youth, the suspicion falls equally on Malcolm and the widower.

Kitchin was gay and the same is hinted about his young male protagonists, in understatements and murmurs, if you can read the clues--the refinement, the pleasures taken in decadent, especially French literature, aesthetic gifts etc. (Malcolm is moved to tears by Henri de Régnier's La Pécheresse.) In this first book it's very muted, becomes more playfully involved in the other two novels I mentioned, and there seems to be an almost-coming-out in the last book--but note that this was published posthumously, thanks to the efforts of Kitchin's lifelong friend L. P. Hartley. Kitchin was no Firbank or Saki, but his "quietness" lends him an attractive elusive quality. (I wouldn't put my hand in fire over this, but FWIW he also doesn't seem as misogynistic as are many writers of similar cast.)

A quiet writer who had led a quiet life, and perhaps only later regretted somewhat that circumspection? A short walk... is strange in interesting ways. It's very short and possibly only a draft, although it does present a whole story. The lyrical ruminative style of the beginning is replaced by a more humdrum "storytelling" mode as the plot goes under way, and the second part in particular seems to hark to Kitchin's occupations with mystery (his daily job involved lawyering), love of inquests, trials, interrogations.

Francis Norton, a semi-retired partner in a spice company and confirmed bachelor, on one of his beloved walks in Williams Park accidentally overhears a couple of star-crossed lovers and on subsequent occasion strikes an acquaintance with the woman, Miranda. Miranda's lover Edward is unhappily married to a coarse woman, Barbara, who tries to control him in every way and actually blackmails him (Edward is a schoolteacher and a schoolgirl with a crush had sent him some letters, now in Barbara's possession). When Barbara's aged relative dies of an overdose, there is an inquest and Barbara, the heiress, is interrogated. Francis, who is present at the inquest out of curiosity, understands that Miranda and Edward's situation isn't hopeless because he discovers that Barbara is in love with someone else and presumably amenable to divorcing Edward. Like a fairy godfather, he arranges everything to universal satisfaction.

Why does Francis take an interest in a couple of straight lovers? He could be a sentimental old man, but there is more--he is a man who had lived a shadowy life, on the margin, despite his respectable and lucrative professional career. He feels estranged from the masses of young families for whom, as he observes, rows upon rows of new housing has been produced, with parks for children and dogs, family cars... This is all normal and assumed to be normal, and ONLY this is "normal". In this scheme that dominates society there is no room for people like him. And for once he seems to want to say something about it all. He virtually comes out to Miranda:

Francis said, "Love is rare. Since it takes many forms, many emotions masquerade under its banner. Society allows it one slender channel in which it may manifest itself. When it strays beyond those narrow bounds, it is hated and cursed and abused. And, alas, it lends itself so easily to ridicule. So, indeed, do many other things -- the antics of religious fanatics, for instance -- but they have a social sanction and if you attack them, you are charged with blasphemy and sometimes made to suffer in the flesh. On the whole, we have outgrown the grosser forms of religious persecution, but sexual persecution is almost as ferocious as it was in the Middle Ages. And its victims, unlike religious minorities, cannot band together and clamour for their rights. To be safe, you must link love with procreation -- the production of cannon-fodder.

But she doesn't inquire about this. There is no two-way exchange of secrets. Kitchin is still shy. The story ends on an oblique note:

He paced for a while among the lime-trees, watching them walk together down the hill-side, and when they were out of sight, turned his gaze to the deserted tea-garden and the ruffled waters of the desolate lake. ... He shook his head and walked to the northern gate of the park and on to the bus-stop. Anyone who noticed him, would have said, "There goes an old man, to whom nothing has ever happened."

Nevertheless, the reader now knows: things have happened to that old man, and the life lived in the shadow wasn't for that empty.

toukokuu 9, 3:18 am

Abandoned on page 117-118 Fils de personne by Jean-François Pasques, due to this:

...You'll see, it's a virile world, the police. It's a beautiful virility, a sort of protective covering in order to hide little weaknesses. That's why they are a little scared of shrinks. They have the impression of being seen from the inside willy-nilly, even if you aren't looking at them. They will be distant, sometimes even brutal, but they will never be mean or petty. If the world in which we are evolving is cruel, odious and violent, the cops aren't like that. Of course, it's difficult for a woman, especially in this environment, but in the end it's like that everywhere. ...

It's not that I couldn't forgive and forget "la belle virilité". And it's not that I need to be shown strictly cops who are cruel, odious and violent, even if I do believe that most of them are exactly like that. On the contrary, I prefer my escapist crime solvers mellow and on the side of the angels. But to have this ridiculous panegyric to the police set out black on white, and supposedly pronounced by a young policewoman speaking to another woman--get out with that nonsense.

Annoying because I liked the setup so far, especially as the victim, an old ex-Foreign Legion soldier, was a book hoarder in 10 square metres.

Pasques is a cop himself, which makes this a hundred times worse in my eyes. Damn liar.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 11, 2:14 pm


The Retreat, OPD 1982 (in Hebrew), by Aharon Appelfeld (1932-2018)

There is such a similarity between The retreat and Appelfeld's earlier Badenheim 1939 that it is permissible, IMO, to consider them together, as reflections of some central concern--in this case the trauma of the Holocaust, and specifically the "minute before". Appelfeld's novels are haunted by this last period of relative peace, when the violence is still akin to the gathering clouds and intimations of the storm, and the future victims are still pathetically clinging to the hope that the signs are misleading, the skies will clear, and life return to normal. (Maybe because Appelfeld was still a child when the war broke out this period remained for him a particularly heavy mystery--how did it, how could it happen? How does the break between normal peace and abnormal war, between belonging and extreme unbelonging, occur? What could begin to be a satisfactory answer if you went from one to another as if through a door?)

In both novels Appelfeld gathers a diverse group of highly assimilated Jews and crushes them with satire. Deceptively placed in what would normally be a refuge, a place of rest and security--a spa, a sanatorium--these unaware people discuss their problems in terms of their own failings (that is, their "race's"). Some even strive to prove themselves as un-Jewish as possible, removing the traces of their heritage from language to memory to even body (under the "improving" regimen of the retreat, a short and underfed Galician Jew may yet miraculously gain inches and an athlete's complexion...)

The problem with both books is that the metaphor is so strong it doesn't carry the story the required distance of the novel. We know everything that's going to happen from the first pages and the characters who aren't really that (but denser, more real in The retreat than in Badenheim...) struggle to engage emotion for their own sake.


Pétronille: roman, OPD 2014, by Amélie Nothomb

As one of Nothomb's autobiographical books this one was more successful for me than a number of her more fanciful efforts. But how autobiographical it fully was I didn't realise until after reading it and looking it up; turns out that the titular character is in every way based on writer Stéphanie Hochet (touchstones not taking). So, presumably the incidents reflect those in the real-life friendship of the two women.

Nothomb is ten years older and very bourgie while Hochet is the child of militant communists from the working class suburbs, reared on Zola. The two women bond over love for literature and champagne; indeed, their meetings revolve around getting ritually drunk on champagne. (Which I'm suddenly craving...)

The book's a better tribute to friendship than to the art of the novel but I lolled in places. Made a request for a book of Hochet's now.

toukokuu 14, 5:51 pm

Always interesting to read a review of a book by Amélie Nothomb.

toukokuu 16, 1:58 pm

>163 baswood:

Whoda thunk you'd be a fan of The Hatted One... :)


One Man's Owl, OPD 1987, by Bernd Heinrich

In the late eighties, in the vicinity of his cabin, zoologist Heinrich rescued a baby great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) and spent the next three-four years observing it up close and personal. He called it Bubo and addressed as a male although he never ascertained the bird's sex. Bubo is a pure delight to read about, with flashes of horror when Heinrich decides to have it re-wilded by a team of experts--oh the infamous betrayal... Months later, re-wilding having in the experts' opinion failed, Heinrich picks up the bird again and decides to try himself. But first he has to cajole Bubo out of his abandonment funk...

A thing I couldn't get over--Heinrich brings a cat to the great outdoors, and actually feeds Bubo the songbirds and other animals it catches.


Il metodo del coccodrillo, OPD 2012, by Maurizio De Giovanni

Reading Ilaria Tuti started me on a jag of Italian noirs or gialli or whathaveyou, but this second pick was extremely disappointing, in message (anti-choice, abortion is murder, women exist only through and for men) and characterisation. I have another of De Giovanni's to read, with a different protagonist and a different era (pre-war fascism) but now I don't know. Maybe his antiquated views won't irk me so much in that period?


L'Amour Bleu, OPD 1978, edited by Cécile Beurdeley

Butts galore. So many butts. Venus Callipyge triumphant. Spanktastic smorgasbord.

Seems a bit odd they got a woman to do this anthology, but as far as I can tell she did a splendid job. Once upon a time I used to flatter myself as being a bit of a connoisseur of classic erotic literature but I had never come across the novel of Umberto Saba's (Ernesto, unfinished, posthumous) from which she excerpts a truly astonishing passage. And if most of the names are well-known, there are plenty of less exposed figures like Maurice Sachs, Julien Green, Marcel Jouhandeau, Matteo Bandello...


Stealing a beat from ursula... what I listened to in the past week:

Bellini, Norma--Callas, Corelli, Ludwig, Serafin
Auber, Fra Diavolo--Raffanti, Portella, Dupuy, Zedda
Hans Hotter--Wagner etc.

The idea is to get back to listening to my CDs. I don't have a great set-up anymore and I can't even listen to my LPs and tapes (easily). But I felt better when I listened to music and didn't have the internet at home. Or was it simply being 25 as opposed to double that? :)

toukokuu 21, 1:47 pm

Ghost World, OPD 1993-1997, by Daniel Clowes

I saw the movie made after this back in the nineties and remember liking it, but the comic is surprisingly stronger. Two girls in the autumn of teen age, best friends forever, are being slowly pulled apart and out of their special paradise à deux. One of the best portrayals of the loss of youth's magic I've seen.


Bunnicula : a rabbit tale of mystery, OPD 1979, by Deborah and James Howe

I noticed some chatter about this and now an important omission in my vampirological studies has been annulled. Be spooked, be warned: a vampire, no matter how small or fluffy, is a life-essence draining machine.



Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages, OPD 1983, by Manuel Puig

The narrative consists entirely of dialogue and, at the very end, a few letters. The two speakers are 30-something Larry and a certain Mr. Ramirez, in exile after a prison stint in some Latin American dictatorship. Mr. Ramirez is in a wheelchair and Larry has been hired to push it. However, everything starts to get muddied from the start relating even to such mundane matters as who really hired and is paying for Larry's services--the retirement home or Mr. Ramirez himself? If the latter, why has he chosen Larry? Puig mixes politics and Freudianism in a similar fashion as in the magnificent Kiss of the Spider Woman, but, IMO, with far less success. Larry and Mr. Ramirez take turns in using the other to sound out and maybe exorcise their deepest private hangups, the violent and absent father in Larry's case, the guilt over what happened to his family in Mr. Ramirez's.

The book never jelled for me but there is a compelling force in the dialogue, willy-nilly one becomes involved in filling in the holes, deciphering the mysteries.


I haven't been writing about film much, mostly because I've been more of episodic TV than anything else. Regarding the latter, I've been impressed by the 1960 Maigret series starring Rupert Davies. The external scenes were actually filmed in Paris and elsewhere in France so it's a great time capsule too.

toukokuu 23, 9:58 pm

Not sure this will work but here goes trying... link to the NY Times article about housing in Vienna, or, SOCIALISM! Long story short, thanks to the legacy of a brief but significant period of socialist government in the 1930s Vienna went from being a city of palaces and slums pre-WWI to today's "renter's paradise" and top "livable" city in the world. North America is simply garbage in comparison. How many more homeless this week in your neighbourhood? Toronto's sidewalks have turned brown with shit from people, not dogs. As for Europeans, check out the comment reactions of the reactionaries and weep... with laughter.

Imagine a Renters’ Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna.

toukokuu 23, 10:03 pm

toukokuu 24, 11:20 am

>166 LolaWalser: It's been long established that simply housing the unhoused is less expensive and certainly better for everyone than dealing with the infrastructure challenges of a sizable number of homeless people, but since we're utterly committed to the idea that poverty = sloth and to a weird jealousy of anyone receiving anything from the government, we are stuck where we are.

The NYT article is interesting, although it was noted that Vienna's population is smaller than it was a hundred years ago and so the challenges faced by cities that are growing are larger and more complex. Of course this is exacerbated by doing fuck all.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 24, 1:55 pm

>168 RidgewayGirl:

Vienna's population is constantly rising too; there is construction everywhere every time I went there, including in the oldest, first district. And just anecdotally, I know so many people who have moved or are moving there (I'm considering it myself) it almost looks like a flood. I don't think increasing population is the core problem--that just means you need to build more. And of course Vienna isn't unique in this attitude, cheap housing for everyone was one of the basics in socialist countries.

Rather, it's the limitless commodification of housing in North America, which goes hand-in-hand with the commodification of EVERYTHING including water and, coming soon, air itself? that creates this untractable hell for the vast majority.

ETA: don't mean to lecture, I know you know, Kay...

toukokuu 24, 2:53 pm

Seven days of music. Getting back into stride.

Donizetti, L'Elisir d'amore--the recorded version I love the best, Freni, Gedda, Sereni, Capecchi

Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin--another flawless fave, Hvorostovsky, Focile, Shicoff, Borodina and a special treat, one of the last recordings of the great Irina Arkhipova, in a tiny role, but it's like having Olivier sitting in the armchair at your school play

Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer--Tozzi, London, Rysanek

Verdi, Rigoletto, two versions on three editions, Leonard Warren vs. Fischer-Dieskau. Much as I love the latter in other repertoire, his Rigoletto isn't even in the competition, just the wrong colour and heft of the voice.

The Art of the Cantor-- Jan Peerce. Fantastic

Basso profondo from old Russia: popular and sacral Russian songs -- Georgy Smirnov's choir

Jimmy Smith's finest hour--organ's not an instrument one usually thinks of in connection with jazz. Smith makes a persuasive case "for".

Verdi, Il trovatore--Leontyne Price, Tucker, Warren, Rosalind Elias...

Preservation Hall Jazz Band -- New Orleans vol. II. I heard live at least two members of the original line-up, one of the Humphrey brothers and the sax. Trad jazz and I love it, but it's complicated...

Legendary Voices compilation on Nimbus--Tetrazzini, Caruso, Rosa Ponselle, Tito Schipa, Giuseppe De Luca, Eva Turner, Alfred Piccaver, Ezio Pinza, Alexander Kipnis, Lotte Lehmann, Kirsten Flagstad, Jussi Björling, Tito Gobbi, Fritz Wunderlich

toukokuu 24, 4:23 pm

Nice! I got to interview Jimmy Smith twice during my New Orleans radio days. He had, of course, a deep well of knowledge, plus a bit of an edge. In other words, a great interview.

If you're interested in exploring jazz organ players a bit more, a few particularly influential musicians include Dr. Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Rhoda Scott, Shirley Scott and, a huge favorite of mine, Larry Young. I have a cool CD of Fats Waller playing organ, too. Cheers!

toukokuu 24, 8:35 pm

Thanks for the recs. For the longest time I hated the organ and then had a change of heart (ear?) about fifteen years ago. It's still not my go-to instrument, but it's interesting to hear it challenged by jazz. I'll look up Larry Young; Fats Waller could thump the kitchen dishes to delightful result.

toukokuu 25, 3:08 am

>170 LolaWalser: Fischer-Dieskau and Verdi isn’t an obvious match, although he often got away with things you wouldn’t expect to be right for his voice.
I have that Leonard Warren Rigoletto on vinyl, it’s the one I grew up with so I tend to go back to it. (And I was lucky enough to see Jonathan Miller’s famous ENO production live in the early eighties — I believe that had John Rawnsley as Rigoletto, but I remember the sets better than the singing...)

toukokuu 25, 2:19 pm

>173 thorold:

Yes on DFD--case in point--I love his Don Giovanni. And he turns up elsewhere in Verdi to great effect, even in some German-language recordings.

My first recorded Rigoletto was Sherrill Milnes--as good as Warren, I think, but I also had the privilege of hearing my hometown's local production many times, with a stellar bass baritone. Later productions I saw at the Met, Opéra Garnier etc. improved on some aspects but not on the jester, or the choir...

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 30, 3:09 pm

Reading several big books but still a way from finishing any of them. A paperback mystery picked up from a pile someone left in the mail room, The Old Fox Deceiv'd, OPD 1982, by Martha Grimes. I was just going to sample it but the writing was good enough to keep me interested to the end despite my lack of fondness for such figures like the lordly sleuths (best left to the pre-war era). Attractive setting, a village embedded in the side of craggy hills, with a crazy network of short streets and alleys.

Weeks measured in music seem to slip by faster:

Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill--been living with this recording for over 30 years now.

Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde--Ludwig and Wunderlich, Klemperer. Mahler at his happiest

Les Blasphèmes : Mélodies Fin-de-siècle --contralto Sarah Laulan pays homage to the decadent chanson that ushered in the horrible 20th century... blues.

Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill, American Theatre Songs etc. -- got this reissue for the extra of some chatter between Armstrong and Lenya, directing her where to place a beat in a certain line.

Kalinka, Russian folk songs--Dmitri Hvorostovsky and a chamber choir. Nice performances but the sound engineering is off, the audio is low and muffled.

Musique & Révolution -- various performers. This was issued for the 200th anniversary of the French revolution and contains all sorts of amazing goodies, like the "Hymn to Voltaire", and among singers, the choir of Parisian cops.

The world of Kathleen Ferrier--another addition to my collection of Ferrier on London, this is a sampler I think, one ace real pearl after another like a flawless necklace.

Fats Waller, The Panic is On--a compilation with a few organ numbers among the piano. First CD great, the second marred by the inclusion of chatter by some white asshole who addresses Waller some half a dozen times with "boy".

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 6, 12:45 pm

Tango; a play in three acts, OPD 1965, by Sławomir Mrożek

An example of late theatre of the absurd, Tango reads more coherently than most of the early plays in the tradition, which reminds me that Mrożek really had a very different bent to most other practitioners, a conservative one. Arthur, the stodgy rule-loving son of a bohemian couple, attempts to stage a family coup that would finally bring an end to the chaos of "the bawdyhouse". He urges his cuckolded father to kill the mother's lover, only to be killed by the latter himself, leaving the two to tango around his corpse.

What does it mean? Who's the Commies? Who are the goodies? Is capitalism safe?

Yes to all.

Interestingly, although Mrożek had abandoned Poland in 1963, the play, which had its world premiere in 1965 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, WAS staged only months later in Poland as well.



Afternoon of a pawnbroker, and other poems, OPD 1943, by Kenneth Fearing

A little too flat, too deadpan, too obvious for me. I wish I loved this more, but for reasons not relating to poetry, so maybe it's fair. Or maybe I'm yet to reach the point, like Fearing put it when questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee whether he was a member of the Communist Party: "Not yet."

From "Cracked Record Blues"

And if you think about it long enough, long enough, long
enough, long enough then everything is simple and
you can understand the times,
You can see for yourself that the Hudson still flows, that the
seasons change as ever, that love is always love,
Words still have a meaning, still clear and still the same;
You can count upon your fingers that two plus two still
equals, still equals, still equals, still equals--
There is nothing in this world that should bother the mind.

I warmly recommend his thriller The Big Clock as well as the 1948 film made of it.

kesäkuu 6, 12:44 pm

Seven days in music:

And I went on a-Weilling...

Kurt Weill -- Historische Aufnahmen -- recordings German and American from the 1920s through 1940s.

Cuadernos de La Habana, a 5 CD set featuring Cuban performers live in 1999 in a sound landscape designed by Stefan Winter et al. and visually by Mario Luis Malfatti, one of my foremost treasures and I don't understand why more people don't have it. Actually, the label Winter & Winter needs more attention here in general...

John Gay, The Beggar's Opera -- Bob Hoskins, Ian Caddy, Sarah Walker, Adrian Thompson, Charles Daniels, Bronwen Mills...

Not for the first time, I wonder why more people don't talk more often about this--the great unsung (ha) drama of the 18th century, a startlingly modern, black-souled work: did Brecht and Weill take all the wind out of its sails? The precursor is as brilliant as the work it inspired. It's Alice in the Underworld: all one's expectations of morality and good and bad behaviour upturned, where honest women shun marriage and robbers adhere to standards of proper conduct as punctiliously as any gentleman.

The Underworld is the real world, of which the one we good citizens live in is a sham and distorted mirror image. As Mrs (in name only) Peachum says to her wayward daughter Polly, having married a highwayman Polly can expect as much neglect and abuse as if she had married a lord.

The relief of seeing thieves, whoremongers, LORDS, called by their real names!

Tom Waits--Rain Dogs ; Franks Wild Years

Inspired after visiting Ursula's thread. I've heard both recordings so many times I need to choose the occasions carefully. I discovered Waits through Franks Wild Years and Swordfishtrombones in the late 1980s in Italy, on the run from so many things, and it's no exaggeration to say it helped me stay functional. Before I bought the CDs the friend who introduced me to him gave me tapes, without lyrics, and to this day some lines Waits mumbles rather than sings remain opaque, but that feels right.

The line from Weill to Waits is obvious. (At the time I made a chart of connections with all the other of my musics too, wishing to get at the essence of what is my musical "taste", or, hopefully, something lying even further behind it. Home.)

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 6, 1:46 pm

>177 LolaWalser: "The line from Weill to Waits is obvious."

Indeed. I wasn't sure from your comment whether you were aware of the musical stage work that Waits collaborated on called "The Black Rider." From the Allmusic.com review:

The Black Rider Review by William Ruhlmann -
Tom Waits collaborated with director Robert Wilson and librettist William Burroughs on the musical stage work The Black Rider in 1990. A variation on the Faust legend, the 19th century German story allowed Waits to indulge his affection for the music of Kurt Weill and address one of his favorite topics of recent years, the devil.

Full review here:

I got to see a production of this work in San Francisco some time in the 2000s. The wonderful Marianne Faithful was one of the principal performers.

kesäkuu 7, 11:31 am

>178 rocketjk:

Oh yes, I have The Black Rider. First Waits album I bought fresh upon issue. Predictably, it's one of my top faves of his.

Congrats and green eggs on getting to see that production! Waits is the only big-name performer I tried and tried to see live and failed each time. I think the last time the tickets sold out in four minutes. I tell myself it would be better to catch him in a small venue, which will never happen again anyway...

kesäkuu 7, 12:23 pm

>179 LolaWalser: He wasn't in the cast of the production of The Black Rider that I saw, but I did get to see him live once, on New Year's Eve in 1988 or 1989 at the Civic Center Auditorium in San Francisco. It was a terrific show. Topic adjacently, Down by Law is my favorite movie ever. (Not the best I've ever seen, but my favorite!)

kesäkuu 7, 7:44 pm

>180 rocketjk:

Yep, still jealous... Could be you saw the same concert as a friend in SF did, another huge fan, and she actually got to exchange a few words with him backstage, some casual stuff about a T-shirt, she's the coolest person I know (if we overlook that she still mentions that concert :))

I liked all the movies Waits appeared in but have only one, Coffee & cigarettes. All seen first in proper-sized real cinemas... (it's weird what has come to feel like an experience, or merely an incomprehensible feature of ye olden times)

kesäkuu 8, 10:03 pm

Sooon, soooon, soooooooooooon...

36 hours in Split, Croatia

kesäkuu 9, 8:51 am

>182 LolaWalser: We were there for only about 24 hours during our trip to Croatia several years ago. We did manage to find ourselves for a while in Marvlvs Library Jazz Bar. Also, I bought a Split football club t-shirt. All in all we loved Croatia.

kesäkuu 9, 3:47 pm

>183 rocketjk:

Is it a Hajduk shirt? That's a legend in your hands right there. :)

I dread returning after 35 years but I'm slowly getting excited about it. However, it may happen that I end up somewhere else, not sure I can take what mass tourism is doing to Dalmatia. Laughably, once upon a time Split used to be considered a transit hub, not the final destination for tourism, so we didn't suffer crowds in the streets, to say nothing of the hollowing out of daily life through excessive renting to tourists and other catering to them. And there were no giga-turbo-mountain-range-sized cruise ships hogging half the coastline in those days either. Now Dubrovnik is in danger of losing its World Heritage status due to uncontrolled masses and I dread to think what's happening to the islands. It's not just the leftists who are turning Yugo-nostalgic these days.


Los versos del Capitán, OPD 1952, by Pablo Neruda

Maybe because I read these poems almost in one go, for once I sensed, here and there, what fans of Neruda's love poetry (or of him as predominantly a love poet) are on about. Felt the heat of the fire, so to speak, even if his language doesn't do much to kindle MY fire. There is a lot of macho predatory imagery, lots of tigers, condors, ravening after the beloved's flesh, lots of agriculture and botany, ploughing, seeding, watering, things germinate, waists are like wheat and light, produce proliferates as if in a farmers market etc. But I guess not too many men swoon like Neruda did.

To remember:

From La pobreza

Amor, no amamos,
como quieren los ricos,
la miseria. Nosotros
la extirparemos como diente maligno
que hasta ahora ha mordido el corazón del hombre.

From Oda y germinaciones

Al pan yo no le pido que me enseñe
sino que no me falte
durante cada día de la vida.

kesäkuu 9, 8:40 pm

>184 LolaWalser: I have a big book of Neruda’s poetry that I haven’t been able to read because of cataracts. I am having that fixed this month so looking forward to it.

kesäkuu 9, 9:07 pm

>185 dianeham:

Best luck with the operation! I do so hope you'll get to the book soon! Will it be the first time you read his poetry?

I'm very glad I read this book of his, it's a keeper.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 10, 5:46 pm

>184 LolaWalser: Yes, a Hajduk shirt!

We went to Croatia in October, hoping we'd be missing the tourist season. No such luck. The season at that point ran from May (or was it April?) through the end of October. We flew into Zagreb, which seemed a terrific city to us and which didn't seem particularly tourist laden. We spent about five days there. Then we drove to Istria, which was beautiful, and seemed fairly calm, tourist-wise, other than Motovun, which had lots of tourists (like us) wandering around, but which I am really glad to have seen. After that we drove down the coast, stayed on the island of Pag for a couple of happy days, and went on to Dubrovnik. Later we went to Split, from where we flew home. Both Dubrovnik and Split were inundated with ocean liner tour groups bulling their way through, one after the other. And, as you alluded to, it seemed like about 2/3s of the apartments in Dubrovnik were the equivalent of AirBnBs. We, of course, imagined ourselves quite superior as we were traveling around by car just the two of us rather than moving as part of a tourist herd being led around by someone with a bullhorn. To a local, though, that's probably only a matter of degrees, if even that.

We never got out of the old city sections of either Split or Motovun, so I don't know what the other areas of those places are like. Split, as of course you know, is the second largest city in Croatia. I imagine there are many areas of the city where tourists never appear. I figure, rightly or wrongly, that it's the equivalent of living in New Orleans and never going to the French Quarter, SOP for very many of the locals there.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 15, 12:33 pm

>187 rocketjk:

Yeah, there's a lot to discuss... French Quarter is a good example of that hollowness mass tourism leaves behind (although when I lived there there was still some real life left in the edge zone on the Esplanade Avenue). At the very least that type of tourist comes and eventually goes. But there are increasing numbers of rich foreigners moving in. Typically older people, or remote workers. They contribute next to nothing to the local economy and without ability to integrate into the culture just create another crack, another rift in society, another little pool of alienation. But hey, as long as they are white...

My mum tells me she ran into two American women (separately) buying or having bought apartments in Split. Rich single retirees.

What's the point of them to local economy and culture? Economically they contribute less than they take, especially once they start leeching on the healthcare, and culturally it's a zero, there's no hope of integration.

How much better it would be to give a chance to refugee families to move in instead, people who mean continued life, regeneration.


Still knee-deep in very long books. Inhaled a shortie, Lagerkvist's Herod and Mariamne, an unpleasant would-be love story told in Lagerkvist's signature "Biblical" style. I have to give him props for formal excellence: not a word too many, not a page too long.

I also read a book of limericks collected by Norman Douglas--an "accidental" read thanks to having his Siren land bookmarked mid-way since forever, and the two books were together. Porny and inordinately scatological, the limerick, says Douglas, is THE English art form, presumably because that much repression requires such much venting.

Seven-ish days in music:

Hanns Eisler, Hollywood Songbook, baritone Wolfgang Holzmair. Composed mostly during the WWII, and mostly on Brecht's texts, this, as one might deduce, is as far away from Hollywood schmaltz as one gets. Even before Eisler's deportation (bad joke, bad joke).

Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Ethiopia song--Syncopation's the thing. I liked the first piece, Homeless wanderer, very much, but then the rest sounded quite samey. Needs a second listen. She was about seventy and older at the time of the recording...

Leon Redbone, Red to Blue--anxiety buster

Sidney Bechet, Chronological, 1945-1946--the other day I was wondering who I'd keep if I had to choose one, just ONE, jazz performer from my stash, and I decided it could only be Bechet. But it's an awful question and I'm never playing that game again. This CD would be even better without the sung numbers (one Stella Brooks, deeply annoying to my ear) but chronology is what it was.

Washboard Story 1926-1939 -- various performers. Loved this CD a good long time, got it after hearing a washboard street performer.

kesäkuu 15, 3:06 pm

>188 LolaWalser: "French Quarter is a good example of that hollowness mass tourism leaves behind (although when I lived there there was still some real life left in the edge zone on the Esplanade Avenue). At the very least that type of tourist comes and eventually goes."

When I lived in the French Quarter in around 1979/80/81 and through my New Orleans years (I left in 86), the place was, of course, generally full of tourists, especially on the main drags like Bourbon/Royal and Chartres Streets. But at the same time the local community was also very vibrant. In particular, because I was first a bus person and then a waiter, I was part of the restaurant/bar community. There were the 24 hour bars where all the restaurant folks would go hang out after their shifts. Mollies on Toulouse Street was one of those. But also the people who ran the shops, the lifetime Quarter resident retirees, they were all there. I lived in an apartment right in the belly of the beast on the 300 block of Royal Street, above an antique store. There was very much a diverse locals community in the Quarter, hiding in plain sight around about all the tourist trappings. I don't know what AirBnB and rising rents have done to that scenario. I'm talking about 40 years ago, of course.

But . . .

"What's the point of them to local economy and culture? Economically they contribute less than they take, especially once they start leeching on the healthcare, and culturally it's a zero, there's no hope of integration.

How much better it would be to give a chance to refugee families to move in instead, people who mean continued life, regeneration."

Yes, that rings true for me. Foreigners taking advantage of advantageous (for them) exchange rates and coming in to grab up living spaces and drives rent and property values up past the ability of local working folks to be able to afford is a major problem in a lot of places.

And AirBnB and its clones are a curse. It's a huge problem even in Anderson Valley, the very picturesque part of Mendocino County, CA, that might wife and I just moved from for at least a year. Rental stock for working people, whether vineyard workers, health clinic employees or public school teachers, is extremely scarce. But the Board of Supervisors and the wine industry (our largest industry by far) don't care. The winegrowers want rooms for tourists who will come and populate their tasting rooms. Many of them do supply decent housing for their workers, but far from all.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 15, 4:21 pm

>189 rocketjk:

Class war, that's what it is. I saw the same thing in NYC, where people who work to keep Manhattan's infrastructure running must commute for hours in each direction. As I worked at Mt. Sinai I was eligible for a spot in their housing or I'd never have been able to find, let alone afford living in Manhattan. And even so over 60% of my monthly salary (ETA: post-tax!) went on rent (compare that to the 8-10% outlay that article on Vienna I linked above says is the norm there!!!), for a one-room space smaller than a closet in many a wealthy home elsewhere, with cardboard walls, getting the 2nd Avenue traffic noise 24/7. (I sometimes joke that I was dating non-stop in those years just so I wouldn't sleep at home... well, it's a half-joke.)

One of my colleagues commuted from Long Island and almost every week she'd spend a night or two not bothering to go home at all, sleeping on the couch in the elevator lobby. She and her husband both worked and couldn't afford to rent in Manhattan. And so on--more tales like that than I can tell in a week.

It's insane, it's inhumane, and we're all way past the breaking point... except that when one bunch of "les misérables" pisses off or dies off, there are still new waves coming in to be exploited.

But at some point even this will end. There'll be left standing the 1-percenters and their servants, and Afghanistan.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 17, 1:22 pm


The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture, OPD 2022, by Gabor Maté

I wish I could give this book to everyone because that's how important are the ideas in it and how difficult it is to speak about what addresses our biggest frustrations.

To pick one, it could be this: that the way we think about illness and medicine is all wrong, and many of us know and have known for a long time that it is wrong, and yet we continue in upholding lies because fight is impossible, because we're straitjacketed by the system geared to make money for the most powerful elite of the rich in human history.

Capitalism has perverted science itself by aiming to yoke--no matter how perversely and counter-factually--every scientific insight into some moneymaking scheme. The whole paradigm of genetic cause of pathology (any pathology anywhere anytime) is a caricature of the truth, used simply to promote the notion that whatever is wrong with you, we can get to the "bottom" of it by biochemical or genetic means. Enter pharmacology, barely one step removed from the snake oil salesmen of yore.

Meanwhile, we live in deeply unhealthy conditions, with the vast majority of humanity exposed to daily trauma of chronic poverty, insecurity, violence, lack of food and basic medicine, to which in many parts gets added the humiliation of being told it's their fault to be poor, un- or under-employed, exploited, bullied, harassed, hunted, raped, beaten, starved.

Even the so-called "middle class" doesn't escape the traumatizing effect of constant fear and anxiety of losing status, jobs, income; the degradation of food and environmental pollution, the destruction of social bonds, the dead landscape of North American highways and suburbs, the car culture etc.

So what does it mean to dispense drugs to people living in such conditions? Mostly it means to treat their symptoms enough so that they could keep what capitalists consider is "functioning"--"functioning" enough for drudgery, for punishing physical labour, or even just for a perpetual job search, since everyone must be kept on their toes, for consumption at the greatest level possible, functioning for a pretence that must be shown to others on social media.

And this mania for lying, for dealing with symptoms while the pathogenic environment only gets worse, has now caught our children into its trap. Children are being diagnosed in millions with disorders unknown to history, predominantly ADHD and whatever next thing shows up on the "autistic spectrum". Diagnosed--and medicated. For the first time in history millions of children are getting routinely psychoactive drugs, in order to treat, not their illness (whatever that may be), but their symptoms.

It's logical, because if we allow millions of children to waste their sponge years in mindless activity instead of learning to become good capitalist citizens, capitalism might suffer. And whatever the price ordinary folk need to pay in order to preserve capitalism is a fair price.

But something IS wrong with children. Indeed--only how could it not be? With pressure rising not just on their parents but children themselves, no matter how much one may try to shield them, how could they be spared? And in a country like the US, where even the massacre in Sandy Hook did nothing to change the rhetoric and actions of the pro-gun lobby, where school drills in case of MASSACRES for elementary grades have been as normalized as metal detectors previously, how long does one suppose is necessary before a child understands--any child, even the most sheltered one--that they mean nothing to this society, that they are less than a thing.

In short, everyone, adult to child, lives not just in a "mad world", but an increasingly maddening one. Used to be that was OK for the poors, but now we're all turning into them. No amount or kind of drugs will solve the problem as long as we don't address the cause, which is the entire system of our societies and the inhumane values it embodies.

kesäkuu 19, 9:55 am

>191 LolaWalser: I feel genuinely sorry for grade- and middle school-aged kids right now. The multiple stressors they have to deal with, from active shooter drills to prescribed and unprescribed drug use everywhere to the cocaine-rat endorphin cycle of constant screens... ugh, I sound like an old person but what the hell, I just turned 60 and I'm so dismayed at what I see young people having to deal with. I know there are plenty of kids growing up with good adult help to navigate this swamp, but so many more aren't and it makes me really sad. FUND YOUR LIBRARIES, PEOPLE! End of rant.

kesäkuu 19, 12:24 pm

>192 lisapeet:

I sympathise with the feeling, but no sort of individual adult help makes a significant difference (I'm taking good parenting as a baseline. Of course any child that isn't, say, abused in their family is significantly better off than the child that is so abused.) The physical reality of life in the US is a constant threat of armed violence at any place anytime, from schools and churches to groceries and people's backyards. There is no more navigating that stress away any more than one can navigate around a bullet. And that's just one kind of stress; many other are present, with a violence and a lack of mitigating factors that have no comparable example even in some much poorer countries.

Different people of course respond to stress differently and the danger isn't that everyone will become terminally neurotic or some such extreme. The damage is already at the massive level with the epidemic of self-destroying chronic illnesses of inflammation and depression that are statistically as strongly linked to stress as is lung cancer to smoking.

At best, the individual could take a child out of that environment into a different, more humane one. But obviously that is no solution for everyone, especially as the forces that have created North America as it currently is are spreading their influence everywhere.


Some quotations from Maté's book on subjects I didn't address--the bolded notes are mine:

As I use the word, "trauma" is an inner injury, a lasting rupture or split within the self due to difficult or hurtful events. By this definition, trauma is primarily what happens within someone as a result of the difficult or hurtful events that befall them; it is not the events themselves. (...)

The past hijacks and co-opts the present, again and again. (...)

Our beliefs are not only self-fulfilling; they are world-building. (...)

...seeing trauma as an internal dynamic grants us much-needed agency. If we treat trauma as an external event, something that happens to or around us, then it becomes a piece of history we can never dislodge. If, on the other hand, trauma is what took place inside us as a result of what happened, in the sense of wounding or disconnection, then healing and reconnection become tangible possibilities. (...)

Because our nature is so influenceable, different conditions evoke different versions of us, from benign to disastrous. {THERE IS NO FIXED "HUMAN NATURE". OUR GENES ENCODE ONLY BASIC DESIGN--AND POTENTIALS.} (...)

"We are freer from genetics than any other species on earth."--Robert Sapolsky (...)

kesäkuu 19, 4:09 pm

Yah, true, though I think right now parenting that addresses mental health in any form is going to give kids some kind of leg up. But then anything that addresses mental health helps in increments.

kesäkuu 19, 5:40 pm

>182 LolaWalser: Split - its probably changed a bit since I was there in 1975 - Tito was still in power!

>191 LolaWalser: Enjoyed your review of The Myth and the Normal

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 6:54 pm

>195 baswood:

Well, Tito died in power and Split was a million times better off in his time than today. Today there are more Croats abroad than in Croatia, the brain drain in particular is practically 100%, and the influx of the sort of foreigners who think places like Thailand, Jamaica or Bali exist solely for their sake and cheap thrills is ruining the prospects of all but a minority resigned to being their servants.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 7:25 pm

>194 lisapeet:

Not to argue, Lisa (I believe we're on the same page here), but that gives me an opportunity to expand a bit on Maté's title... I think he would say that that sort of expectation--which is of course both predictable and true, good parents WILL care for their offspring's mental health--sidesteps the problem, and normalizes it--hence "The myth of the normal", i.e. the lie of the normal. The way Americans and others following in that path live ISN'T normal. We shouldn't have to be in the situation where children's mental health is so endangered that the parents must come up with strategies and therapies to deal with the traumas we KNOW are getting inflicted on all.

A similar example I already railed about in the past (as someone directly involved in the travesty that is biomedical research these days) is obesity. I worked on the genetics underlying metabolic disorders for over ten years. Most of that research was so basic that we didn't even use mammalian models until by the end. And yet the entire time I had to justify that work not by the great results we were getting in elucidating completely new biochemical networks and genes involved in energy balance, but by making wishful statements about their relevance for fighting obesity and diabetes. Don't get me wrong--of course there are links between the biochemistry we investigated and metabolic disorders. But the relevance of the research HAD to be cast in the terms of finding magic bullets to treat these disorders, while we all knew that the underlying cause of their epidemic was environmental!

Slap a tax on sugar, ban HFCS, get rid of soda and sweets dispensers in school, and childhood obesity will begin to vanish. And yet this is nigh-impossible to imagine, because capitalists' right to profit by poisoning the populace is deemed greater than people's right not to be poisoned!

To say nothing of building more humane, walkable cities, and doing whatever is necessary to get rid of and shorten the insane commute times.

None of these systemic changes would COST more than what we already do, even without the billions wasted on research for the next cash cow. In fact, sustaining the current trends costs infinitely more--it is costing us the planet.

But what is lacking is the will, the imagination, the movement to demand these changes.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 9:03 pm

Le cas Malaussène. Tome 1-Ils m'ont menti, OPD 2017, and Terminus Malaussène, OPD 2023, by Daniel Pennac

The Malaussène saga, started in 1985, is finally over. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy these last couple books in the least as much as the first four or five, which I started reading twenty-six years ago. The self-referentiality seems endless, with the (always numerous) characters constantly reminding the reader and each other of incidents and quirks from the previous books, at the detriment of plot. The last book also features lengthy monologues by a new character who retrospectively seems to get inserted into their past--that's as boring as it sounds. (Since I haven't re-read any of the books lo these many years, with the exception of Ils m'ont menti in order to refresh my --nonexistent--memory of it for this last, six-years-awaited installment, I'm not sure what that late insertion does to the tenor of the series overall, but I'm guessing nothing laudable.)

Back in the mid-nineties when I first came across Pennac this series appeared very fresh and charming, with its oddball characters, doings verging on the fantastic and truly grotesque murders. I liked (and do to this day, including in these last episodes) Pennac's lefty-anarchical leanings and social commitment, expressed in great satires of the rich filth. But, this being a somewhat dreamland France, he also makes friends of cops and immigrants in ways that have little to no authenticity. On the latter issue especially there's quite a bit that looks "cringe" today: all those stolid, fervently loyal Arab and Asian helpers, always ready to support the Malaussène tribe at the cost of their own well-being.

I've also never liked his treatment of women, and the sainted Maman Malaussène, a pure fantasy of the "Eternal Feminine", never stopped getting on my nerves big time. However, since her superpower of dropping litters of children doesn't include their upbringing, she's actually absent most of the time, leaving her son Benjamin (the main voice for most of the series) to be the caretaker and parent to his younger siblings and by the by, much of their own progeny.

It's a strange set-up but if you go with it, the early books in particular delivered lots of zany entertainment.

kesäkuu 20, 3:17 am

>198 LolaWalser: Sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy so much the last two "Malaussènes." I enjoyed Au Bonheur des Ogres so I have some catching up to do.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 20, 4:37 am

>198 LolaWalser: Every book person in my social circle has read all or most of the Malaussènes. I've been meaning to read one or two, if only to finally join the rest of the world (or so it seems) and thanks to your post, I have a better idea of what to expect. I'll still go ahead, but at least, I'll know in advance that I am bound to be annoyed at some point :-)

kesäkuu 20, 10:59 am

Funny, I’ve been thinking about the Pennac books and wondering if I felt like rereading them. Probably not, but I did enjoy them immensely back in… the 90’s? Anyway, based on your review I don’t think I will bother with the more recent ones.

kesäkuu 20, 12:14 pm

>199 baswood:

You're good for at least another 3-4 entries then!

>200 Dilara86:

Ha, it's amazing you resisted so long. By now, you can probably settle into the "literary archaeologist" mindset where the first books are concerned. I admit I'd love to hear how at least the first one appears to a new current reader. At the time I read it (and this was a good decade AFTER it was published), the utopian way Pennac presented races and ethnicities in his version of Belleville, all equal and cooperative and loving and pally, was rare (unless one counts Star Trek). It would have absolutely blown my mind in mid-eighties! But even so there were little things like the main character still being a white guy everyone adores, and practically all the "diverse" characters engaged in looking out for him and his family etc. In that sense (to say nothing of the women) it's a cliché.

>201 FlorenceArt:

I honestly don't think you'd be losing much, BUT, as a somewhat compulsive "completist" myself, I wonder if you might not want to finish it anyway. :) I too enjoyed them immensely back when and recommended more times than I can recall.

They made me curious to explore something I can't remember seeing discussed much (or at all)--the sort of zany I've come to think of as specifically French and showcased, for example, by this series and the cinema of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the performances of Les Frères Jacques and so on. It's a mix of fantastic elements, zany humour and sentimentality and romanticism that verge on the saccharine (and sometimes do fall into it) but are often, as in the Malaussène saga and Jeunet's films, preserved from terminal cuteness by sheer horror and grotesque.

I'm also thinking of BDs with realistic story lines and characters, but which will then include a cute little pet for the lead, anthropomorphised until almost fantastical.

Does anyone else recognise this as a "style"?

kesäkuu 20, 2:13 pm

>202 LolaWalser: LOL, I guess you could say I'm an anti-completist myself. My oldest niece was horrified to learn that I had read all the Harry Potter books, except the last one. I was just transitioning to e-books, and it was only available on paper, so I waited, and waited, until I just lost interest. I also got tired at one point of waiting for the next Game of Throne book.

It would never occur to me to lump together Pennac, Jeunet and the Frères Jacques, but then, I'm French. When you are very familiar with one thing you see all the little details but you may miss the big picture. So why not!

kesäkuu 20, 10:37 pm

>203 FlorenceArt:

Yeah, it's nothing I'd insist on, more a sensibility that to me seems shared, up to a point, in these examples.

kesäkuu 21, 4:02 pm

>203 FlorenceArt: I do the same in regards to series. When I lose interest, I stop reading them. And if there's a sizable time lapse, the urgency to find out what happens fades. I often jump into a series with one in the middle, too. First books are often not the strongest ones and I don't mind finding out the background details later on, if I circle around back to an earlier book. I can't decide if this trait is refreshingly anarchic, or just evidence of a lack of faithfulness.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 18, 12:47 pm

I have been reading, but the topic I got pulled in discourages posting: the Rwanda genocide. I read Moisson de crânes: textes pour le Rwanda by Abdourahman Waberi (the Djibouti writer I got introduced to via Mongo-Mboussa) and three books by journalist Jean Hatzfeld, Un papa de sang (testimonies of the children of the victims and the killers), Dans le nu de la vie (testimonies of survivors) and Une saison de machettes (statements of the killers). I have a fourth, concerning the individuals who refused to take part in the genocide, but am taking a break.

As briefly as I can put it, I see two big questions regarding any event of this kind, or maybe one question but posed at different levels. The question is, of course, "how could this happen", and on one level there is an answer that encompasses the circumstances, the facts, events on the ground--A happened, which enabled B to happen, this group sold the weapons, that group withdrew and so on. This is the level on which we notice the responsibility of many actors who need not have participated directly in the killings. This is a well-documented and elucidated story, to which more details may be added, but whose broad outline has been in place since the event itself.

And then there is the other level, on which the same question concerns the individual who kills. And maybe his victim, but that's even harder to address. On this level I don't see that anyone really "knows" anything (Hatzfeld writes that he doesn't know, he just records), and perhaps--perhaps--there is a final mystery there even to some killers.

This particular jag of reading on Rwanda was precipitated by a recent documentary in which an old woman who had lost her entire family is shown sitting with the neighbour who killed her children. Presumably she had nowhere to go.

Hatzfeld's books horrify but don't explain anything. Waberi's short collection of texts is excellent and interesting especially as it comes from an African perspective. A few short essays are reportage but the best bits are the fictionalized descriptions of the conflict, in particular the entering of the mind of the perpetrators.


Dutchman and The slave, OPD 1964, by Amiri Baraka

Two brilliant, rageful plays about America's festering wound.

... Charlie Parker? Charlie Parker. All the hip white boys scream for Bird. And Bird saying, "Up your ass, feeble-minded ofay! Up your ass." And they sit there talking about the tortured genius of Charlie Parker. Bird would've played not a note of music if he just walked up to East Sixty-seventh Street and killed the first ten white people he saw. Not a note! (...) A whole people of neurotics, struggling to keep from being sane. And the only thing that would cure the neurosis would be your murder. Simple as that. I mean if I murdered you, then other white people would begin to understand me. (...) If Bessie Smith had killed some white people she wouldn't have needed that music.


Alan Garner's Treacle Walker, OPD 2021, blew my mind. I had seen a couple TV adaptations of Garner's work but this is the first time I read him. The man's a word wizard. The tale is told with the assurance of very old masters, like those last scrolls and verses in the Far Eastern traditions that revere old age.

heinäkuu 17, 2:50 pm

From Malcolm Cowley's critical essay "Cheap books for the millions", published between 1947 and 1954, collected in The literary situation (emphasis mine):

I am not used to having Jack the Ripper presented as a model for emulation and I confess that Mike Hammer frightens me. It has been argued that the stories have no relation to American life; that they put together the ingredients of the Western novel, the pursuit thriller, the comic strip, and the animated film cartoon into a cock-eyed fairy story that has no more social significance than the fun house at Coney Island. The publishers, I suppose, would like to accept this explanation: what fun! Others might say that these fairy stories are entirely too close to one side of American life at the mid-century. There is a sullen resentment against American women that we have already seen in the war novels; sometimes it leads to acts of aggression. We have also been hearing about more and more crimes of violence, especially those directed against women. (...) I remember reading about a sailor who was arrested in Brooklyn after a career of robbing women in lonely streets. He snatched their handbags, then knocked them down, kicked them in the abdomen--like Mike Hammer--and left them gasping and vomiting on the sidewalk to wait for the ambulance. Perhaps he wasn't a reader of the Mike Hammer stories, but he was part of the same moral configuration.

Funny how close one can get to a fundamental truth without grasping it.

elokuu 16, 4:27 pm

A few remarks about some recent reads. Handke's A Sorrow beyond dreams is a short, searing portrait of his mother, prompted by her suicide. It moved me more than anything else I've read by him. For once his oblique approach to language seems to serve the subject more than it takes away from it.

I read the latest five Asterix books by Ferri and Conrad, pleasantly surprised by what seems to me a clear improvement on Uderzo's solo run. For me there's no touching the experience and aura of childhood's Goscinny-Uderzo classics, of course, but I can imagine kids today liking these as much.

The latest Fred Vargas, Sur la dalle, was unfortunately very disappointing. People are getting stabbed to death in a small Breton village, with no discernible motive or connection between them, and the curious clue of fresh flea bites on the dead. These crimes get entangled with the nefarious doings of a bunch of gangsters, local schoolboys in the past.

Two books on BDSM themes by Catherine Robbe-Grillet (wife of Alain), published under the pseudonyms Jean and Jeanne de Berg: The image (OPD 1956) and Women's rites (OPD 1985). Even in translation The image struck me as a superior example of this type of literature, with spare but graceful language. The central relationship is that of two women, offset by a male observer's narration. Women's rites takes off with the 1980s NYC sex club scene, where BDSM blurred the boundaries between gay and straight sex and patrons and Catherine found inspiration for her later stagings of erotic tableaux and orgies in Paris.

Insomnia or The Devil at Large , OPD 1971, is one of Henry Miller's last works but in tone almost adolescently yearning. The relationship that motivated it was with a Japanese club singer, Hoki Tokuda, who would eventually marry Miller but didn't seem to want a sexual relationship with him (or not before he married her). I've unfortunately read the correspondence between the two, which throws a very glum transactional light on the whole affair--she needed the green card, he had a Japanese fetish.

On its own Insomnia does offer a few endearing if not super-original insights about the persistence of desire and importance of love to the end of our days.

Painted veils, OPD 1919, by James Huneker. Huneker was a huge personality and man about town back in his day, an all-around critic, musicologist, aesthete. I found his essays fun, and thankfully this would-be novel is also chock full of his opinions and real life acquaintances with French decadents, Nietzscheans, opera singers. It made the book marginally readable, whereas the tortuous plot, involving one Ulick Invern ricocheting between three women of various sexual morals, never became intelligible. They don't write them like this anymore...

Life is not useful, OPD 2020, Ailton Krenak

Ailton (Krenak is the tribal name) is a Brazilian Indigenous activist with many videos in Portuguese on YouTube, which are the basis for this short book. His message is one of unity with the natural world and rejection of capitalism and consumerism and everything that the capitalist world insists are values.

That Ailton is right and the cheerleaders of capitalism wrong is becoming burningly more obvious every day.

Especially intriguing, and frankly optimism-inducing, is the idea that white people (or "white", if we take it as a synonym of pro-capitalism) will most surely suffer extinction because they --as is obvious enough--haven't done anything substantial to fight the deterioration of the environment. We are the creators of the coming and future wasteland, our last cemetery.

But Ailton's people have crossed wastelands before, wastelands brought to them by Western greed, and they, he says, will do so again.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 16, 5:01 pm

That Ailton is right and the cheerleaders of capitalism wrong is becoming burningly more obvious every day. In my opinion there is no argument against that; that makes any sense. But everything is Hunky Dory because English Women are in the final of the world cup out in Australia, which burns more brightly than most (apart from Tenerife or Hawaii oh and Canada)

elokuu 16, 5:33 pm

>209 baswood:

yes, merrily we go to hell... or as Neil Postman wrote back in the 1980s, still amusing ourselves to death.

Fucking liberals have ended us, comrade. Fascists we could clobber, but these slimy eels...

elokuu 26, 10:36 pm

Apropos of nothing, really, but that cover on Life Is not Useful is wonderful.

elokuu 31, 2:59 pm

>211 lisapeet:

It is, isn't it! The artist is Denilson Baniwa and the picture is from a series called "There is no supermarket in the forest" (Na floresta não tem supermercado). It and more can be seen here:


Muokkaaja: syyskuu 1, 7:43 am

Thank your for putting Life is not useful on my radar, and for the link in >212 LolaWalser: !

syyskuu 16, 1:15 am

>213 Dilara86:

You're welcome!

The Ruling Clawss: The Socialist Cartoons of Syd Hoff, OPD 1935

This was the second book I read from the New York Review of Books Comics range (that I discovered only recently, although they've started publishing it in 2018). Syd Hoff was a leftist cartoonist close to the CPUSA, until McCarthy's witch hunt and the necessity to keep food on the table forced him to repudiate his former views, at least publicly.

Philip Nel, the author of the introduction, has a great presentation of the book on his site:


I can only echo what Nel says: the cartoons are astonishingly relevant to our moment. Which is as depressing and heartbreaking as anything can be.


The women we wanted to look like, OPD 1977, Brigid Keenan

This brought back many childhood memories, of my mum's and friends' dresses and styles, but also of the happy, everlastingly sunny atmosphere of the seventies as I experienced them.


The keeper of lost causes : a Department Q novel, OPD 2007, Jussi Adler-Olsen

We have a desk in the mailroom where since Covid people have been leaving books and magazines. I picked up this book and the next one in the series because they looked pristine. If I had known what one of the characters was going through I doubt I'd have started it, but then as I began reading I had to read to the end, out of pure anxiety. The main detective character is a gruff jerk with a broken marriage, but his sidekick, a Syrian refugee who turns out to be far more resourceful than appears at first, is a more original type. Their interaction was interesting enough that I'm contemplating reading the second book as well.


American dreams, OPD 1994, Sapphire

Poetry and stories about African American mostly women and children exposed to horrifying brutality within and outside their homes. Whatever ugliness and pain are here revealed one must confront with the strength of survival and brilliance of these voices.


Popular hits of the Showa era, OPD 1994, Ryu Murakami

Another book that seems as fresh today as it was thirty years ago--if not somehow even more relevant, even "hotter". Because what did Murakami capture here but "toxic masculinity" and the "incel" phenomenon, way avant la lettre? Of course, there is the simple circumstance that misogyny is timeless, that it always was and is.

Six feckless, louche, compass-less 20-something men:

Sugiyama had been studying karate and kick-boxing since middle school and had a habit of going off on opponents who were clearly capable of pounding him into the ground, as a result of which he'd had his skull fractured on four separate occasions; Yano had inadvertently joined a fascist youth organization when he was eighteen and as part of his training had hunted field mice with a crossbow in the remote mountains of Nagano; Nobue and Ishihara had both scored a number of knockouts in drunken brawls--although, admittedly, only when given the chance to attack unsuspecting opponents from behind; Sugioka, who owned a collection of more than a hundred edged weapons ranging from box cutters to Japanese swords, always carried one or two blades and was forever stabbing walls and tree trunks and leather sacks stuffed with sawdust, and when especially piqued had even been known to slash to ribbons the shiny skin of used blow-up dolls; and Kato suffered a chronic, obsessive delusion that sooner or later he would murder--slowly and methodically--an infant or toddler or some other weak and defenseless being, and had come recently to believe that the only way to rid himself of this obsession was to go ahead and act it out. No, it wasn't violence they disliked: it was contact with strangers. What these young men feared and hated more than anything else was being spoken to by people they hadn't met, or having to explain themselves to people they didn't know.

Unsurprisingly, these specimens have a completely dehumanised view of women, which culminates in Sugioka's casual murder of a random woman in the street. However, the woman belonged to a small circle of friends, all sharing the first name Midori, of similar age (thirtyish) and single status. The remaining five women discover the murderer and decide to take revenge. The violence between the two groups escalates...

It's impossible to read this today without it resonating with the threats from the "manosphere" or news of femicidal violence. The women are less real, much as one might wish for avenging angels, and Murakami's efforts at symmetry between the two groups may at best be said to indicate that nobody can function well in a discriminatory society.

syyskuu 17, 11:41 am

>214 LolaWalser: I definitely want to read the Syd Hoff book—I used to be very up on the history of political cartooning and have fallen off a bit in my reading on it. That looks to be right up my alley.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 17, 8:14 pm

>215 lisapeet:

I'd love to hear what you thought of it. I'm slowly piecing together a vision of the US from that time that seems almost incredible from our vantage point and I wonder how many more people like Hoff were around, when one considers that there existed a whole slew of radical publications. Btw, I'm yearning for that original edition of the book that Nel showed, published by The Daily Worker--for the connection of course but also that gorgeous Art Deco lettering!

There's the reminder also about Crockett Johnson (author of Harold and the purple crayon)--Nel wrote a biography--another cartoonist on the left who turned to children's literature under the threat of a blacklist.

Speaking of history, just this morning I listened to a podcast about Daumier, whom I love, who invented many iconic cartoon figures including such as the fat rich on Hoff's cover, judges, cops, ladies who lunch etc. Poor Daumier died blind in poverty and the parasites he captured are still sucking blood.