Archive for the “Cultural” Category
Lazarus is a rich and complex novel. It is a chronicle of loss and hopelessness and cruelty yet it is entertaining and well written. Having survived the 1908 pogrom in his native Bosnia Lazarus immigrated to Chicago with his sister Olga. In Chicago he is killed by the chief of police in the chief’s home. He was shot several times. They quickly pulled down his pants to see if he was a jew. In the modern era, Vladimir Brik is a struggling writer with a highly successful wife. She is a successful American neurosurgeon who saves lives from “her high position of surgically American decency.” Brik gets a grant to research Lazarus and takes a photographer friend, Rora, back with him to Bosnia and Sarajevo to find out more about Lazarus, his family and the pogrom.
An excellent read.
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Posted by Brian Bassingthwaighte in Auto/Biography, Cultural, Feel Good, Gay, Nonfiction, Political, tags: culture, dysfuntional family, Gay, non-fiction, power, teenager
Edited by DAN SAVAGE, TERRY MILLER
Savage and Miller are the married couple (they got married in Canada) who started the IT GETS BETTER video campaign on You Tube as a result of a slate of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered teens who committed suicide due to bullying. They were hoping for one hundred, maybe two hundred at best, after they publish their video on You Tube. With in a week there were over one thousand videos. These vignettes are taken from the videos. They are all sad tales when they describe the bullying but all uplifting as writer after writer talks about finding his or her acceptance with friends and family. The first message in the book is from President Obama.
Now the videos will have their own web site so that young people who need to hear these messages in five, ten or twenty years will be able to. Power to the people. Good on Dan and Terry.
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What a culture shock. A Canadian Mennonite girl living in Mexico becomes involved in a feature film production that is happening next door. She is 18 and married to a mexican man who only comes around once and awhile. Her husband seems to be flitting on the edges of narcotic production and uses Irma’s shed to store boxes. Her father has shunned her for marrying a Mexican but keeps her next door so she can continue to work for him. Irma is a bright but naive young woman. She has never seen a photo of her self. Her Mennonite up bring has been extremely strict.
Since she speaks Plattdeutsch (low German), Spanish and English, Irma is hired to help translate the director’s instructions to his actors (one of these is a German woman who seems a bit lost) and to cook and clean for the crew. The filming proceeds intermittently; Irma’s father and some of the other Mennonites resist, incompetence reigns and the weather is unco-operative. Irma conceives an affection for a member of the film crew, and she enjoys her exposure to these artistic outsiders. Irma’s sister Aggie also gets involved with the strangers so Irma tries to shelter her. She knows the kind of trouble she could get into at home.
I travelled to Mexico and Belize last winter and saw Mennonites. This book brought back a lot of memories.
Well worth reading.
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At over 400 pages this book is for danceophiles, if there is such a word. d’Amboise started dancing in the ’40′s and never looked back. He learned with the School of American Ballet and then joined the prestigious New York City Ballet. He became George Balanchine’s “the supreme Ballet Master’s” protege. “You must practice, practice, practice. Onstage, forget everything! Just listen to the music and dance.” I love that thought of dancers.
I enjoyed it even though there were many areas that I skimmed. Again, not for every one.
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Patchett is one of my favourite authors however State is far from her usual standards. It is still worth reading but the middle section drags. Marina Singh becomes a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company after she damaged a baby doing a caesarian section in her year of residency. The CEO of the drug company sends her to Brazil to find a wayward researcher who is no longer in touch with the company. This researcher is the doctor who Marina was working under in her residency. A different employee was sent to find and bring home the noncommunicative researcher but he died of a fever in the jungle. What Marina finds in the jungle is the most interesting part of the story. The rest can be skimmed.
Definitely check out her older works such as Bel Canto and Run. They are must reads
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Peer’s Curfewed Night is an incredible memoir that brings the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan and into the lives of Kashmiris and into our awareness. Peer was only 13 in 1990 when Indian troops fired on pro-independence Kashmiris and, as he puts it, “the war of my adolescence started”…One of the great achievements of Curfewed Night is its seamless mingling of memoir and reportage. It is the book of Basharat’s Peer experiences, yes, but those experiences include returning to Kashmir and seeking out the stories of others affected by the conflict. It is not an easy book to read. Man’s cruelty to man is overwhelming. Why didn’t we know about this when it was happening?
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Strange book. I’m uncertain why it was written in graphic novel form other than the author is a noted graphic author, he wrote and drew a well reviewed biography of Louie Riel. However the graphics add little to the story line. But the story line: a man tires of romantic love so choose to believe that romantic relationships are inherently destructive. Brown chooses to pay for sex rather than deal with the difficulties of an intimate relationship. He presents his case for the decriminalization of the profession to his friends and family, which makes for interesting discussion but not interesting graphics.
As I said strange book. Definitely worth a look.
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Stephen Newman, the protagonist of Orange Prize-winner Linda Grant’s new novel We Had It So Good, is a prototypical baby boomer, and the novel makes an ambitious attempt to document the lives of that generation (or at least the college-educated and privileged part of it).
Born to immigrant parents in mid-century Los Angeles, Newman appears in the book’s opening passage as a nine-year-old child visiting his father’s workplace, a cold-storage locker filled with the furs of Hollywood celebrities. On impulse, Newman tries on Marilyn Monroe’s champagne mink stole, redolent, in Grant’s wonderfully evocative phrase, with the “fragrance of hot pearls.”
This wins him a smack on the back of the head and a heated torrent of abuse in his father’s native language, “with few vowels and many syllables, which seemed to get stuck in the speaker’s throat, choking him.” For Grant, language is always a bit problematic, both conveying and concealing truth.
The incident with the stole was not Stephen Newman’s only brush with celebrity. Later, crossing the Atlantic on the way to a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, Newman has an encounter with “a big blond Southern boy with a veneer of East Coast sophistication.” The big blond is Bill Clinton, although Stephen’s grown son later rejects this and his father’s other prized stories, seeing them as attempts to pretend that baby boomers were more interesting than they really were.
This moment of inter-generational doubt is a signpost to one of Grant’s ongoing concerns, the elusiveness of truth. By the end of the story, for example, Stephen is an aging and disillusioned boomer learning that his own father’s stories about how he came to America were false.
Stephen never sees Clinton again, but his story continues to track the most significant events in his generation’s history, from the Vietnam-era draft, which prompts his decision to remain in England after he is expelled from Oxford for cooking LSD in the school laboratories, to heady experiments in communal living and radical politics that faded, for so many, into the soporific longueurs of middle-class respectability, and to late-life confrontations with mortality, from 9/11 to cancer wards.
Much of this is richly observed and imagined, and the characters are complex, well rounded and believable. Grant has much to tell us about class and character, history and human frailty, and she has created a story that captures much of the truth about a certain time, place and class setting as the Age of Aquarius morphed into the Age of Hedge Funds.
Although the characters belong to a group that once would have sung along to the Who’s anthem My Generation and its arrogant line, “hope I die before I get old,” most of them didn’t manage that escape. This splendid novel is about how those survivors aged.
There is one caveat. This reviewer can fully understand the temptation Grant felt to have the most radical of the seventies commune crowd become a plump, complacent advertising executive in the new century, but it is a temptation, however delicious, that should have been resisted. This book is too good to require cheap irony.
That said, Grant’s use of free indirect discourse, the narrative device that infuses a first-person sensibility into an apparently third-person account, is brilliant. Using this demanding approach, Grant succeeds in creating a vivid sense of the inner lives of Stephen, his friends and family. This book, by an acclaimed British writer who did her graduate studies in Canada, is one baby boomers will read with rueful recognition. As for younger readers, they may find it an interesting historical romance.
Tom Sandborn is an aging baby boomer and war resister who settled in Vancouver rather than London. Borrowed from the GLOBE AND MAIL
Published Tuesday, May. 31, 2011
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As a young girl Natalia adored her grandfather who told her mythic stories as they wandered the zoo in an unnamed Balkan city. She was especially fascinated by stories of a young woman known as the “tiger’s wife.” Grandfather was a respected doctor and professor and always carried the book Jungle Book. Natalia imagined that the tales of the tiger’s wife arose from Kipling’s stories of India. When Natalia is a teenager, war returns to the Balkans. The zoo closes, and a curfew is imposed. Natalia and her friends immerse themselves in “the mild lawlessness” that surrounds them. Among other things, this means spurning her grandfather and dating a young tough who sells black-market contraband. Later she becomes a doctor, following in her grandfather’s footsteps.
The book is filled with a multitude of stories from a superstitious land. I was disappointed that the ending was not more pulled together. But Obreht is a wonderful writer and the book is a great read.
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WARIS DIRIE and Cathleen Miller
What an amazing story. Waris grew up in a wandering tribe in Somalia. Her job in the family was to take the family animals out to graze for the day and bring them back before night fall. She told the time by watching her shadow. One day her favourite goat that she called her pet did not return but was eaten by predators. She was circumcised at age five. Despite having seen a bit of her sister’s circumcision she wanted to be cut because she wanted to be a woman in her culture; she never realized it would be so painful and debilitating. No one talked about the procedure and its effects. When her father told her he was marrying her to an old man she ran away to look for her mother’s family in Mogadishu. She thought she would rather die than be married to an old man. She had never been in a city before; but she was strong and self-determined. Eventually an uncle took her to London to be a maid in his house. When the uncle and the family returned to Somalia she stayed in London, nearly penniless. Eventually she became an international model.
Although the book is poorly written, the story is so engaging it is still well worth the read.
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Quite an amazing graphic novel, The Listener intertwines the story of a Canadian artist, Louise, haunted by the death of a man called to action and protest by her sculpture and the story of Hitler’s rise to power which led to the second world war. Louise does a tour of Europe trying to comprehend what has happened in her life and to her art. Among the most important people that Louise meets is an elderly couple named Marie and Rudolph. They tell her a little-known tale of an election in the small German state of Lippe (only about 100,000 inhabitants) in January of 1933. At the time, while the Nazis were the largest political party in Germany, being the largest party in a plurality does not necessarily mean much if you can’t do anything with your power. While they remained the largest party, the Nazis had begun to lose seats and their momentum was beginning to wane (and as you all know, a large part of Hitler’s power was harnessing forward momentum). So when Lippe held a parliamentary election in 1933, the Nazis through everything they had into winning the election to keep up their momentum. Marie and Rudolph tell the story of the underhanded spin-doctoring that was used to secure that election for Hitler and therefore solidifying their power in Germany.
Great and quick read.
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DR. IZZELDIN ABUELAISH
“My daughters are dead! They killed my daughters. We need help.” These words haunt me to this day. I heard them through Abuelaish’s tears, pain, and wailing. AnIsraeli rocket tore into his daughters’ bedroom and exploded killing three daughters and a niece and wounding and mutilating others. Abuelaish called his journalist friend for help and support because he knew the journalist could get him access to Israeli hospitals and medical care. The journalist took his call live on TV news so all of Israel heard his pain, suffering and loss. All that he has been through and he can say “I shall not hate.” The book tells Abuelasish’s story of growing up in Gaza, not having enough to eat, of the pain and humiliation of Israeli boarder check points, of living with constant fear.
This is a book everyone should read.
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In some ways 1983 seems late for peace and anti-nuclear activism; we tend to think of protests being in the late 60′s and early 70′s, Vietnam War era. Falling is about a group of young people in 1984 who were peace activists protesting nuclear proliferation. Its several years before the end of the cold war. The narrator Jane meets this group of activists when she takes a room in their shared accommodation house in Kitsilano, Vancouver. Despite the fact that they are aiming for peace they fight amongst themselves and treat each other quite callously. This story rang true for me for at this time my sister was living with an anti-nuke peace activist. He was an artist and would paint pictures of famous places such as Disneyland and the Egyptian pyramids with nuclear bombs exploding. He was an asshole just like one of the characters in the novel.
A good read.
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“My whole experience was clouded over there, we were in a dream. It was so vivid, I thought it wasn’t real. But it was. Truer than anything here.”
The life and loves of a photojournalist during the Vietnam War. Helen learns her craft from Pulitzer prize winning Sam Darrow. He gives her his assistant, Linh, to protect her and take care of her. Soli explores the issues of the war through her characters’ experiences. “The war doesn’t ever have to end for us.”
A good read especially if you are interest in that period of history.
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Raised by a single mother with no father in the picture, seeking a father’s love, the fear that everyone will abandon you as he did, and a selfish and emotionally-distant mother to boot. Tessa’s mother is totally self-absorbed. She dragged fourteen year old Tessa an ashram. Once there her mom enters the guru’s inner circle. She is so in love with Guru that she abandons her daughter. Nessa is put on a grounds crew and there meets Colin, a twenty year old mechanic who is hired from outside to work on the ashram’s vehicles. They fall into love and lust but why a twenty year old is infatuated with a fifteen year old child makes no sense to me. The young adult novel is actually quite a page turner. Interesting insights into Ashram life and drugs.
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Posted by Brian Bassingthwaighte in Canadian, Comedy, Cultural, tags: Canadian, crime, culture, dysfuntional family, power, prostitution, sexuality, teenager
The Canadian Michael Turner has a knack for titles. Just as children’s books with the word “chocolate” in the title sell unusually well, Turner’s three novels seduce you with their promise of grown-up delights: alcohol, debauchery, sex. Hard Core Logo , his experimental novel about a punk band of the same name, is now a movie, a radio play and a comic book; American Whiskey Bar was picked up for television; and now The Pornographer’s Poem has won him huge critical acclaim and an award in British Columbia.
Happily, the book justifies its hype: it’s more generous with the porn than with the poems. Turner himself has called it “The Catcher in the Rye with a strap-on”, and the Salinger bit is important, for the novel is at heart a coming-of-age story. It is 1978 and the nameless narrator is 16 when an unorthodox teacher introduces him to the techniques of Super-8 film. Disillusioned and frustrated by what he sees as almost universal hypocrisy, our boy keeps only one of his projects: a blurry home movie of his swinging neighbours having sex with their dog. The short is a hit on the Vancouver underground scene and he drifts into semiprofessional porn.
We’re given the pornographer’s story as he tells it, complete with exaggerations, half-truths and justifications. Turner’s hero will not tolerate hypocrisy, in himself or in others, yet he does things our society considers morally unjustifiable: underage porn, hard drugs, abandoning friends. How would such a man justify himself? This is the fascinating riddle that weaves in and out of the narrative. Turner sets up a vague authority figure to interrogate the narrator about his misspent life; there’s no process of judgment, just questions and statements. It is up to us, and our prejudices, to work out whether this is a life worth living.
The novel is pornographic in more ways than one. The erotic scenes are offered up to us without passion: we watch from a distance, as though through a camera lens. When The Pornographer’s Poem is made into a film – as it almost certainly will be – it will be closer to that other unrelenting portrait of 1970s suburban sleaze, The Ice Storm, than to Boogie Nights. Like both films, though, it has its moments of humour. Turner has an especially good time with the narrator’s early adolescence, when sex is still an escape, an exploration – something to be marvelled at.
A masturbatory photo found in a neighbour’s drawer provides a brilliant passage on the feelings of a child forced to acknowledge and accommodate the fact of sexuality. “I remember the moment so well,” recalls the narrator, “if only because of the way the photo seemed to animate that garbage, how each item – the Vaseline, the beer sausage, the tissues, the magazines – came to life, leapt from the page, how they danced about my neighbour like something from Fantasia.” Disturbing, but, like the rest of this excellent novel, somehow disturbingly true.
This review borrowed from The Guardian, Saturday 2 December 2000.
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Maggie Ly was born in Vietnam but raised in the United States. Maggie and her mother were able to get out of the country at the end of the American war. Her father planned to follow but that never happened. Maggie came to Vietnam to find someone who knew her father, an artist. He went through re-education because of his political beliefs, including the fictional Beauty of Humanity Movement. Maggie. Her search takes her to a pho seller may have known her father, and so she ends up visiting Hung’s pho cart, hoping to discover something about her father. Hung prepares his pho with loving conscientiousness. He sells the soup to customers but feeds the poor people who live around him.
The oppression of the Communist rule comes through clearly which is shown by the difference between how Hung has lived and how his adoptive family, especially 22-year-old Tu, lives after capitalism takes over the country. Tu is a math whiz who “has made the depressing discovery that loving math was a very different thing from loving teaching it.” So he quits his job and becomes a guide in the new world of Vietnam, hoping to profit from the tourism industry along with his friend Phuong, a former music teacher who has dreams of winning Vietnam Idol. The Vietnamese may have fought the Americans, but the young Vietnamese appear to revere all things American, in particular popular culture.
This book shows us what humanity should be with love, acceptance, respect, no matter if you are related by blood or by your heart. An excellent read.
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Good Book is loose and freewheeling, lighted by the energy of the humour, contradiction and brutality of the Bible. On Isaiah: I love these catty biblical comments. They show God acting just as we would if we were God. The Good Book feels most real and most persuasive, when it’s funny, mean and scornful. It reminds us that the Bible is not an idealization, but a book written by and about real people, who can be both scornful and kind, faithful and cruel, sarcastic and sweet — as God can be too. Let’s revel in its messiness, humour and cruelty.
Plotz calls Exekiel “God’s whole-grain hippie prophet.” He ends the book with Appendix of Bible Lists; the first being The Bible’s Twelve Best Pickup Lines.
A most funny and interesting book!
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Posted by Brian Bassingthwaighte in Auto/Biography, Cultural, Family, Gay, tags: Developing World, dysfuntional family, fiction, Literature, power, prostitution, sexuality
“Salvation Army” by Abdellah Taia is not complicated on the surface. It tells the story of a young gay Moroccan boy who grows up in large family and later comes to Europe in the pursuit of sexual and intellectual freedom. When his friend does not show up at the airport in Geneva to pick him up, he is forced to seek shelter at the Salvation Army. It is not your average coming of age story. Taia puts together an amazingly sobering story about growing up in a culture in which your freedom to make choices is not considered. He is in love with his brother and has erotic fantasies about him and the brother doesn’t seem to notice. The fact of having eleven siblings can leave anyone feeling lost in their own family, but Taia retains a distinct personality through and through. He gets mixed up with Swiss sex tourists — one who helps him achieve his dreams of leaving Morocco to study further.
Whether he is writing about North Africa or Western Europe, Taia seems to have found a way to put things in perspective — at least for himself. He finds North African lovers be warm, passionate and full of love for life. On the other hand, his Western European affairs tend to leave him yearning for more. And while he finds laughter and the exotic bliss of life in his family, it is Western Europe where yearns to find the peace and happiness one finds in freedom.
Taia’s autobiographical novel is an engaging read.
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Mary arrived in the United States for college, and then helped to pay her sister’s way through an American university. Life in Americ has only heightened the contrast between them, as Mary has since settled into conventional, affluent suburbia while Ingrid enjoys the wild city life in New York. Their widowed mother,Wang Fenglang, comes for a six month visit; Ingrid moves from New York. Wu weaves their stories and their secrets into an into an engaging narrative. Ingrid’s boyfriend was shot and killed while they were fleeing at Tiananmen Square. Mary’s husband is American-Chinese but does not speak a Chinese language.
An interesting look at the Chinese immigrant experience.
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