Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Colonial Tale

Tropic Moon
Tropic Moon 

“My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven’t read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may — need is the word I use — to read Finnegans Wake, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill’s history of the Second World War, the complete Tintin in French, 47 novels by Simenon, and By Love Possessed.”  ― Roger Ebert

Tropic Moon, one of Georges Simenon's "Romans durs," or hard novels, is his first book set outside of Europe. The story of Tropic Moon is not only harsh on the protagonist but also on the French colonial system as a whole—that is, it is extremely harsh on the French colonialists who lived in Africa. This was a slightly different experience for me compared to Simenon's detective novels.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Apolline vs. Dionysian

The Birth of Tragedy / The Case of Wagner
The Birth of Tragedy 
and The Case of Wagner 

“Without myth, however, every culture loses its healthy creative natural power: it is only a horizon encompassed with myth that rounds off to unity a social movement.”   ― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche not only narrates the origin of tragedy, but he also offers a postmortem that identifies its killers. According to Nietzsche, with Euripides' help and encouragement, Socrates destroyed this pinnacle of Greek culture. However, Nietzsche goes on to predict that Wagnerian opera will bring about its revival, at least in Germany. The ideas of Schopenhauer and Kant indicate that the rationalism that was introduced by Socrates and ultimately led to the abolition of tragedy has run its course and reached its limits, which means that the time is right for tragedy to reappear. Pace logic apart, the thing itself demonstrates that it is fundamentally unknown.

Nietzsche's analysis identifies the Apolline and the Dionysian artistic tendencies that are united in Greek tragedy. In contrast to the Dionysian, who offers chaos, intoxication, obscurity, excess, and fusion, the Apolline symbolizes clarity, beauty, order, shape, and individuation. Greek tragedy—at least the works by Aeschylus and Sophocles—exposes its audience to existential horrors like fate's hand, the impotence of even the most admirable people, and the certainty of suffering. It rises above the pit of sorrow and pessimism, however, to affirm life in the end, or at the very least, to affirm aesthetic force and its capacity to redeem pain and suffering, by crafting these brutal facts into a great work of art.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Regrets from Time Past

I Have Some Questions for You
I Have Some Questions for You 

“it was easier to believe she was lying than that lightning loves a scarred tree.”   ― Rebecca Makkai, I Have Some Questions For You

This was a real challenge for me from beginning to end. I can't say that I was thrilled to read this book, even though I managed to slowly proceed through it. I was not inspired to flip the pages, and I wished the story had been more interesting. I persisted because I don't give up easily and was curious to find out what really happened before the murder and if justice would be served in the end. Unfortunately, the second-person narration didn't exactly work for this particular story, and I frequently felt like the prose was wandering.

I can say that, without giving too much away, I was quite impressed by how true to reality the novel was. Even though we always want our books to have poetic justice and perfect endings, this one chose a conclusion that, although not perfect, may be more realistic than what actually happens. That having been said, I cannot recommend this novel, as I felt it had too many flaws.

Monday, February 05, 2024

A Historic Moment

The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague

The Magic Lantern:          The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague 

“In this crowded world, we must learn to navigate by speech, as ancient mariners taught themselves to sail across the Aegean Sea.”   ― Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World

Written by a brilliant witness who also took part in epochal events, The Magic Lantern is one of those rare books that defines a historic moment. Covering events such as the first free parliamentary elections in Poland, where Solidarity was forced to try and limit the extent of its victory, or attending the meetings of an unlikely alliance of Catholic clerics and free-thinking intellectuals planning the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Garton Ash writes with a great deal of empathy and impact.

This book is a stunningly evocative portrait of the revolutions that swept Communism from Eastern Europe in 1989 and whose aftereffects are still being felt today. From the perspective of more than three decades, Garton Ash writes in a sharp afterword, "Freedom's battle is never fully won. It must be fought anew in every generation.” I would recommend this to all readers who are interested in modern European history.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Do Humans Want to be Good?

All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays
All Art is Propaganda:
 Critical Essays 

“On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”   ― George Orwell, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays

All Art is Propaganda is a collection of George Orwell's essays bound by the theme of philosophical and aesthetic commentary. It includes such masterpieces as "Propaganda and Demotic Speech," "Charles Dickens," and "Rudyard Kipling." Of particular interest in our political enthused year are the essays addressing the nature of propaganda; both directly in "Propaganda and Demotic Speech," and somewhat tangentially in "Politics and the English Language," the latter of which is more important and contains many insightful statements like "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. Bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better."

I hope that some of the many readers of Orwell's novels will take the time to savor their fine prose. Orwell's essays are always both enlightening and interesting on each of the disparate topics he addresses. The usage of political speech in the twenty-first century is proof enough of Orwell's claim. Thoughtful criticism, such as Orwell's, is woefully lacking in our current day, particularly among practicing politicians and their supporters.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Scientific Woman

Lessons in Chemistry
Lessons in Chemistry 

“Whenever you start doubting yourself, whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change and change is what we're chemically designed to do.”   - ― Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry

My experience reading this book was at times unpleasant since the characters were often caricatures and the events appeared forced, especially when they were opposed to Elizabeth Zott, the main character, a scientist. So, even though the book was very readable and difficult for me to put down, this reduced my enjoyment of it.

The main character of Elizabeth, however, really pulls this book together. Elizabeth is not only intelligent, but also incredibly rational, pragmatic, and level-headed; she just won't accept being underestimated. She continues to defy the restrictions that some (sometimes it seems like everyone) would place on her due to her sex, telling her audience that "the reduction of women to something less than not biological; it's cultural." Not so much because she defies these boundaries but because she recognizes their absurdity and acts appropriately, which made me fall in love with her. It is the absurdity of some situations that provides a level of comic relief in what is often a very dark story.

The novel's opening chapters, which seem almost like they were written for a young adult readership, highlight the author's straightforward writing style. Although the approach becomes less obvious as the story goes on, some readers might become disinterested before the action truly picks up. The characters that surround Elizabeth also lack complexity; for the most part, the "good" ones are all very wise and helpful, while the evil characters are naive and malicious; I thought this distracted from the message of the book. Lastly, a lot of the storyline, especially the fairytale conclusion, is highly dependent on coincidence. These aspects detracted from what I otherwise found to be a pleasant read.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Insights and Discoveries

The Heart in Exile
The Heart in Exile 

"It was all clear now, or at least as clear as it could be. I had discovered and could explain many things, but there was so much, of course, that I could never hope to explain."  - Rodney Garland, The Heart in Exile

Although this book is a mystery set in the gay community of post-World War II London, it is much more than that. It explores the nature of love and the very personal truths experienced by homosexuals, as well as the gay life, which was necessarily an underworld in London at the time. It is this second aspect of the book that allows it to rise above the average sentimental story. This book is intensely about the lives of a psychiatrist and his former lover, who was found dead from what appeared to be an overdose of sleeping pills. The doctor's investigation into what happened led to revelations about himself that profoundly affected his life.

This book, which examined the variety of homosexual life in London and offered a touching account of how one might transform his life in unexpected ways when faced with the ups and downs of daily existence, captivated me. It was both fascinating and profoundly touching.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Interesting but Unconvincing


“they all believed, without any sort of doubt, that they deserved to be heard, that their words ought to be heard, that the narratives of their faultless lives must be heard. They all had the same unwavering certainty my father had. And I understood that this was the certainty that Bevel wanted on the page.”   ― Hernan Diaz, Trust

This novel is an interesting blend of different genres, spanning historical fiction, autobiography, and critical memoir. In addition to facing the lies that frequently lie at the core of interpersonal relationships, the imagined might of capitalism, and the ease with which power may corrupt facts, Trust is part an engrossing story and part an attempt to construct a literary puzzle. 

I found the first two sections interesting reading, especially as they read like a fantasy of a superman of finance. However, the final sections did not impress. With the unsatisfying sections just hanging on to the somewhat dull but interesting first two parts, the whole was ultimately unconvincing as a modernist literary construct.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Sunday Poetry Selection

Paul Celan

Paul Celan was not an easy man—why would he be?—and his poetry, as his translator Michael Hamburger writes, is not easy either. Celan, Hamburger says, “calls for an application and effort so intense that it may have to be broken off and resumed over the years.” That is definitely true of “Death Fugue.” It is hard to take in without a break. But to take in even a portion of it is to have taken in something unforgettable. Celan wrote almost exclusively in German, so it makes sense that his most successful poem, "Todesfuge," or “Death Fugue," is in the language of the Nazi death machine. Here is a selection:

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown

we drink and we drink you

a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from 


he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke

            you will rise into air

then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies unconfined

(from "Death Fugue" by Paul Celan)

Saturday, December 16, 2023

A Commonplace Entry


Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry longes; And specially from every shires ends Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende, The hooly blissful martir for to seke, That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

- from the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Top Ten Books for 2023

 Annual Top Ten Favorites

 Top Ten Favorite Books of 2023

Since January 1, 2023, these books have been my favorites.  They span a wide range of reading genres, from non-fiction to fiction, from lengthy to short works, and from the Classics to modern literary fiction.  The inclusion of Samuel Beckett's Trilogy is one example of an exception, and the pairing of Cormac McCarthy's two last novels because they enhanced one another is another. If I were to enlarge my list, I could have included more novels from this year, which was a really rich reading year.  Even though the other works were excellent, these ten will be with me for a long time; in fact, I reread the Faulkner and Ellison volumes. 

The list is in no particular order, but if I had to pick my favorite of the year it would be Three Novels by Samuel Beckett. I read these together as one book in the final months of the year and they stand out as the most powerful novels I have read in a long time. They have joined the other classics on my top ten books of all time. 

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen

Independent People by Halldor Laxness

Landscape: Memory by Matthew Stadler

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

The Passenger / Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy

All Down Darkness Wide by  Sean Hewitt

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

The City of God by Augustine of Hippo

The Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

Sunday, December 10, 2023

A Modern Trilogy

Molloy / Malone Dies / The Unnamable
Molloy / Malone Dies / The Unnamable 

“In other words, or perhaps another thing, whatever I said it was never enough and always too much.”   ― Samuel Beckett, Molloy

Beckett's three great novels like his plays, break new ground in their structure and narrative. A bleak emptiness hovers throughout the three novels that one may consider a sort of trilogy. I was mesmerized from the opening pages of Molloy and wondered what it was in this bleak indeterminacy that was so beguiling. Reading slowly and closely I slowly found a method in this seemingly chaotic world. Drawn inward by moments of humor that counterposed the strange events, if they can be called that, I was drawn forward by the narrator even as the narrative itself seemed to be collapsing. These are three novels with so much wonder and ideas to think about that the attentive reader cannot fail to be impressed. I found these novels to be moving in a unique way and important additions to the literature of modernism.

In Samuel Beckett's novel, Molloy, the first sentence states bluntly, “I am in my mother's room.” This is followed on the first page of the novel with the phrase “I don't know” repeated five times, and if you add “I don't understand” and “I've forgotten” you have eight assertions of lack of knowing. How can or should the reader interpret those comments as establishing anything but a high level of uncertainty both about what the narrator (I) is telling us and what the narrator, may or may not, believe about himself and the world around him? Of most interest to this reader is the comment that the narrator would like to “finish dying” and that his mother is dead, although he is not sure exactly when she died.

What is the reader's expectation for the succeeding 167 pages of the novel based on the first page filled with uncertainty and death? There is work mentioned, but the pages he works on are filled with “signs I don't understand”. Can we say the same for ourselves as readers? At best we are left with snippets of possible information about a handful of others (the man who comes every week, they who may or may not have buried his mother, the son that he may or may not have, and the chambermaid without true love, and yet another who was the true love-whose name he has forgotten, repeatedly). As I reread these lines I cannot help but note the humor of the situation.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Dark Ideas in Another Place

This Other Eden
This Other Eden: 
a Novel 

“Other ideas still, though, were darker, underwater, or he underwater and they above the surface, clear and sharp and focused. He could hear them in his head, feel their weight in his chest and their shapes in his throat, but he was slow of tongue and they went unworded. He knew everyone had the same kind of ideas, but that his thoughts outdistanced his words sooner than with other people—even the words for what he meant when he thought about this hovered above the water—dark, familiar circling birds he could not name.”   ― Paul Harding, This Other Eden

This Other Eden tells the story of Apple Island as an imagined, somewhat simplistic, utopia and is skillfully written in a mellifluous and poetic style, giving it a complete personality of its own. While based on a real place and events, I do not consider it an historical novel but rather more speculative in nature. 

The book requires concentration and focus despite being brief (just over 200 pages), yet it covers multiple characters and time periods. There are references to eugenics that was a popular movement during the beginning of the twentieth century which were definitely upsetting, yet they were necessary to the story and to present the real temper of the times. The effect on the primary characters in these passages was devastating, but the narrative voice handled the main characters with kindness and respect. I was drawn into its setting and era and discovered that I was moved by an emotional connection to the people living on Apple Island. 

While I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to discerning readers, especially those interested in the social history of the period, mainly because it has such a deep concept, exquisite details, and lovely prose to appreciate. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Plants and People

Lab Girl
Lab Girl 

"People are like plants: they grow toward the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed---a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be." - Hope Jahren

Are people like plants? Can you hear plants grow? These and other questions are raised and answered or at least discussed in this fascinating book by geobiologist Hope Jahren. I have enjoyed reading about science throughout my life, from biographies of Michael Faraday and George Washington Carver in my youth to works by scientists and histories of science in my adult life. 

Lab Girl changed the way I perceived trees. It forced me to consider the incredible grace and tenacity of a seed. Most notably, it introduced me to a very fascinating woman, a scientist who was so enthralled with her work that I could practically feel it in every page. This is a clever, captivating, and successful debut. With her passion for science, Hope Jahren's Lab Girl teaches us in the best way possible. Its profundity made it a book that is powerful and unique. The result was as interesting a read as any I have had in quite a while.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Beasts on an Island

The Island of Dr. Moreau
The Island of Dr. Moreau 

“By this time I was no longer very much terrified or very miserable. I had, as it were, passed the limit of terror and despair. I felt now that my life was practically lost, and that persuasion made me capable of daring anything”   ― H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau

Over the period of a decade beginning with The Time Machine in 1895, H. G. Wells wrote some of his most popular fictions in the form of scientific romance novels, what I refer to as speculative fiction. These books have captured the imagination of readers ever since and are arguably as popular today as they were more than one hundred years ago. Among these perhaps the strangest and best is The Island of Dr. Moreau. Undoubtedly influenced by Robinson Crusoe, but also by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island which was published only thirteen years earlier, this book goes far beyond those deserted island tales and looks forward to the twenty-first century and beyond. In its day it was considered blasphemous, but in the age of cloning its depiction of vivisection takes on new meaning while the blasphemy recedes into the background.

The story is an insightful allegory of civilization as only the tip of the evolutionary tree and humans the only highly evolved animals. By using his cold-blooded scalpel, Moreau is, in a way, quickening the pace of evolution and giving his creatures two features that are exclusive to humans: primitive speech and a terror and wonder combination that is essential to religious belief. Their lowest impulses take over after the death of their god, Moreau, as exemplified by Montgomery's reckless actions, which spearhead the subsequent frenzy of self-indulgence. Observing the beast's plunge into self-destruction, the narrator Prendick is left alone when Moreau and Montgomery are slain.

After the terror passes, Prendick acknowledges that he might have acquired part of the "natural wildness" of the animals he had coexisted with. He senses the "animal [that] was surging up through them" and travels among humans in terror for a long time afterward, even though he knows this is unreasonable because he lives among "perfectly reasonable creatures" who are not bound by their instincts. The Island of Dr. Moreau is another warning about human reasoning put to the wrong use, and it offers more evidence of Wells’s inner debate on the issue. Above all this is a good story with suspense that holds even after the first breathless reading that it usually inspires.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Darkness and Ghosts

All Down Darkness Wide
All Down Darkness Wide 

“There was desperation in his eyes. As he looked at me, it was as though he were looking into me from another world, trying to reach across some void, but everything he said was somehow falling short, not quite carrying its meaning across.”   ― Seán Hewitt, All Down Darkness Wide

This memoir is shaped by the story of a poet who writes of his friendship with a man whose unhappiness was causing him great suffering. In it, the author felt he had to prove "that I was good, that I was kind, that I followed the rules" while growing up in England in the 1990s and 2000s, despite the fact that he "was brought up vaguely Catholic" and "had a secret to keep." 

The mystery was that he came out as gay during a period when the Catholic Church was fighting a bill in Parliament that would have legalized equal marriage. That is only one of the numerous difficulties Hewitt writes about in this memorable memoir. Hewitt was reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose poem "The Lantern Out of Doors" serves as the title of this book, after his partner passed away while he was a student at the University of Cambridge. The memory of or experience of Hopkin's poetry permeates the narrative in a way that I have seldom encountered. That is a good thing.

I found this memoir to be a heartbreaking discourse on "ghosts" like Hopkins and the inability to achieve permanence. It is filled with beautiful scene after beautiful scene, from Hewitt's own father, who confided on his deathbed, "All I want is my boys," to a patient at the mental hospital who laments that his son never visits and remarks, "I knew you'd come." As long as I can continue to spend time with my boys and enjoy listening to the birds while I sit in the garden. I only want that. It is a deeply poignant reflection on mental illness, queer identity, and the transience of existence.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Intellectual Vacuity

The Temptation to Exist
The Temptation to Exist 

“For all sensation is a bond, pleasure as much as pain, joy as much as misery. The only free mind is the one that, pure of all intimacy with beings or objects, plies its own vacuity.”  ― Emil Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

When this eleven-essay collection was first released in France, it caused a literary frenzy on the Left Bank. Cioran writes sharply about writers, novels, mystics, apostles, philosophers, and Western civilizations. Twenty years ago, Richard Howard's excellent translation of this remarkable European thinker's work, The Temptation to Exist, first introduced it to American readers. The book has subsequently turned into an underground classic, and the literary aura around Cioran has only deepened.

Cioran is a typical modern-day exponent of the metaphysical futility school. It is possible to argue that the titles of the first two articles in The Temptation to Exist, "Thinking Against Oneself" and "On a Winded Civilization," perfectly capture the tone and perspective of the entire collection as well as Cioran's body of work. Here, as elsewhere, Cioran presents a series of intensely personal observations on a variety of instructive subjects, including the collapse of Western civilization, the place of the intellectual in modern society, the end of the novel, the benefits of tyranny, the future of utopia, and other related subjects.

Cioran's persuasiveness stems from more than just the content of his argument; his style and epigrammatic tautness are just as, if not more, significant. His much-publicized efforts to master the French language have yielded a style that combines an almost Olympian coldness and intellectuality with an almost hysterical impression of passion. It is fundamentally a teenage style, like so much about Cioran: conceited, confessional, and theatrical, but full of vitality none the less. One of his most blatant rhetorical allusions to Nietzsche is the royal we, which he frequently employs to lend his work an air of authority. Cioran is also highly quotable if one ignores context and misses small details like meaning. Reading these essays is nonetheless engaging and demands the reader's thoughtful attention.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

A Smile and the Words


“She would smile and show no surprise, convinced as she was, the same as I, that casual meetings are apt to be just the opposite, and that people who make dates are the same kind who need lines on their writing paper, or who always squeeze up from the bottom on a tube of toothpaste.”   ― Julio Cortazar, Hopscotch

Hopscotch could irritate more than it impresses because it lacks any narrative action, yielding to characters, or merely voices—very articulate voices, to be sure. It is the epitome of what a modern anti-novel is not. When one is informed that the first half can "be read in a normal fashion" but the second must be read in the numerical chapter order 73-1-2-116-etc. concluding with 131, one can begin to question the work's aesthetic validity. Such a technique (pagination) was unsuccessfully employed in a French novel a few years ago. The first section of the jumbled 560 pages, to put it simply, is about Horacio Oliveira, who is described as "a conscious bum"," during his stay in Paris.

He is living with one La Maga and sitting around drinking and talking—about jazz, painters, empirical ontology, illusion, time, identity, the Sartrean bit, or what he calls the ""giddy discontinuity of existence."" He returned to Argentina in the second section, met up with a couple known as the Travelers, and went to work with them in a mental health facility where they played hopscotch in a courtyard. The final section, which the author kindly calls the "Expendable Chapters," is a back-and-forth between the two universes interspersed with quotes, letters, notes, and other such materials. Cortazar's extraordinary versatility as a language artist allows him to express a wide range of concepts, recollections, and supporting associations. The richness of the cultural allusions makes one think of William Gaddis' recognitions. Then there's wordplay in Spanish, French, and occasionally a tongue that not even pig Latin can match. Since nothing has any reality, we have to start ex nihil."" Having started ex-nihil, one goes nowhere. But it can be fun to relax and enjoy the play of language in this postmodern classic.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Hypnotic Novel of the Sea

The Death Ship
The Death Ship 

The death ship it is I am in,
All I have lost, nothing to win
So far off sunny New Orleans
So far off lovely Louisiana.
(from "Song of An American Sailor")

This was B. Traven's first novel, published in 1934, and it is my favorite of his works. It is a sea story unlike any other in that it is a story of men at sea as a metaphor for men against what Jack London infamously referred to as the "Iron Heel" of modern industrialism. It is a novel with hypnotic power, timelessness, universality, and authenticity. In this work, Traven approaches the ability of Joseph Conrad to make the sea come alive for the reader.

The main figure who doesn't have a name—at least not a true one—isn't a victorious hero. He is an ordinary person who is struggling. His tale alternates between being hysterical and really somber at points. The reader is made to feel like his existence is pointless and that he has nowhere to fit in. It's interesting to note that B. Traven, the author, published under pseudonyms and declined to have his works recognized. His identification has never even been adequately confirmed due to the extent of this. Maybe that's why I found the writing to be so captivating. It was, in part, the author's way of venting his dissatisfaction with the world he witnessed.

Bruce Catton called the book "a startling novel about the horrible things that can happen to a man in the cock-eyed post-war world of Europe if he can't prove he is who he says he is. . . Our sailor is entangled in a world gone mad, a world in which justice and sanity have simply ceased to exist." A few decades later and several wars as well, and the world seems at times to be just as cock-eyed, no more just or sane.

What intrigued me, perhaps even more than this mesmerizing first novel, is the mysteriousness with which B. Traven hid his personal life. Even after many more novels, including the great Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Traven continued to hide behind a post office box in Mexico City. However that does not matter since his novels stand for themselves as exciting and daring adventures into the world of men and nature. This reader found The Death Ship was a novel with hypnotic power, timelessness, universality and authenticity. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Memory is a Wound

The Wrong End of the Telescope

The Wrong End of the Telescope 

“Memory is a wound, you said. And some things are released only by the act of writing. Unless I go in with my scalpel and suction to excavate, to clean, to bring into light, that wound festers, and the gangrene of decay will eat me alive.”   ― Rabih Alameddine, The Wrong End of the Telescope

The story narrates the travels of Lebanese doctor Mina Simpson to the notorious Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, after receiving an urgent call for assistance from her friend who manages an NGO there. As a Trans woman, Mina has avoided going so near to her birthplace for decades because she is estranged from her family, with the exception of her loving brother Mazen. However, Mina intends to do something significant during her week off work and without her wife of thirty years, amidst the hordes of Western volunteers who take photos with beached dinghies and the camp's kids.

Sumaiya, a very defiant Syrian matriarch who has terminal liver cancer, is soon transported across by boat. Sumaiya refuses to tell her family about her diagnosis since she is adamant about protecting her kids and spouse at any costs. Sumaiya's secret brings her together with Mina, who plans a course of therapy with the few resources at her disposal, she must face the circumstances that led to the migrants' displacement as well as her own limitations in being able to assist them. 

Told through a compilation of short vignettes, I found this novel a touching and emotionally uplifting story of a trans woman's success in difficult situations. What comes through is the warmth and humanity of the heroine and her modern odyssey in theLevant.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

The Year that Launched Modernism

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature
The World Broke in Two: 
Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, 
D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster
 and the Year that Changed Literature 
"In 1922, Eliot, Forster, Lawrence, and Woolf each discovered a private literary way to recapture and to bridge the lost time that the (Great) war represented."

Willa Cather stated in 1936 that "the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts," and since then, college freshmen have been fretting about it like a soup-bone. With its leave-nothing-to-the-imagination subtitle, "Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature," Bill Goldstein's book, The World Broke In Two, which focuses on some of the major figures in the Western literary world in the year 1922, has that unsettling idea at its core. 

The professional and personal lives of Goldstein's key characters and a large cast of others are described with insightful detail ("Hearing of Virginia's latest relapse in May, Tom wrote in sympathy to Leonard"), the founding editor of the New York Times Books website. The year 1922 was indeed "a great literary period," as Ezra Pound wrote to T. S. Eliot. The book was meaningful to me personally as a reminder of the enjoyment I have had reading the books discussed, especially with the added biographical background of E. M. Forster and the others. The book is a tribute to the birth of modernism in literature.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Leadership Strategy

Leadership : Six Studies in World Strategy
Leadership : 
Six Studies in World Strategy 

“A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”   ― Henry Kissinger

This is a remarkable book about leadership, as the title suggests, but it also covers a wide range of other topics, such as history, global political strategy, and the value of moral character on the international stage. Six twentieth-century leaders are chosen by Kissinger, the majority of whom he knew personally. His descriptions of each place focus on the legacies that the leaders of each nation left behind and the strategic vision that each leader worked to make a reality. Importantly, this vision would improve his or her people's standing in the eyes of the international community.

The book also highlights characteristics of leadership including personal qualities, limitations faced by each, divisiveness created by the changes sought, and the policy imprint that endured for each nation as a result of the leadership of each of the characters: Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, and Lee Kuan Kew.

Kissinger's excellent wording and the manner he gave context and history for each of the stories impressed me. What Kissinger referred to as "deep literacy" was one fundamental idea that each leader shared. That is a mind that has been trained by intense reading, and through this reading and their particular experience, they have developed a profound awareness of and the capacity for concentration on the major problems they confronted. Each reader of his book can apply this lesson to their own situation. Overall, this book improved my comprehension of the world I live in and the contributions made by these six leaders.