Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NaPoWriMo '09

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Due to Apparent Demand

"Twelve More 12-Line Poems" over in The Jackdaw's Nest.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some New Additions to the Prose Shelves

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, translated by George Szirtes
Casanova in Bolzano by Sandor Marai, translated by George Szirtes
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, translated by John Cullen
Balthasar's Odyssey by Amin Maalouf, translated by Barbara Bray
Samarkind by Amin Maalouf, translated by Russell Harris
A Journey to the End of the Millennium:  A Novel of the Middle Ages by A. B. Yehoshua, translated by Nicholas de Lange
The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Last Orders by Graham Swift
U. S.:
The Brooklyn Novels:  Summer in Williamsburg, Homage to Blenholt, Low Company by Daniel Fuchs
Bombingham by Anthony Grooms
Stoner by John Williams
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cod:  A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
The Secret Life of Lobsters:  How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean by Trevor Corson
The Pencil:  A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski
The Middle East:  A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years by Bernard Lewis
Lost History:  The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists by Michael Hamilton Morgan
In the Name of Identity:  Violence and the Need to Belong by Amin Maalouf, translated by Barbara Bray

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Jackdaw's Nest

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OTC 1.5: Two Mini-Reviews of Novels from Hungary and Pakistan

This is actually an unscheduled extra contribution to the Orbis Terrarum Challenge.

(1)  The Rebels by Sandor Marai, originally published in 1930, translated from the Hungarian by  George Szirtes, 2007.
The novel, set in Hungary in the spring of 1918, deals with a group of young boys who are graduating from school and facing the inevitable draft which will sent them into the front lines of World War I.  Confronted with this inescapable situation, the boys rebel against adults, adulthood, and the whole adult world, attempting to hold on to the innocence -- and ultimately safety -- of childhood; they begin to steal various valuable objects and money from their own families and secretly reveling in their thefts and defiance of the adult world.  They are joined by a mysterious actor who intrigues them and who ultimately leads them into a bizarre "performance" with unexpected and devastating consequences that shatter any illusions they have about remaining in a safe childhood world.  Although the novel is a dark one, it is also fascinating with some individually powerful scenes; it is definitely worth reading.

(2)  Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa, 1991 (originally published in 1988 in Britain as The Ice Candy Man).
This novel, narrated by a young girl whose family belongs to a very small religious group, the Parsees, deals with the extreme religious, racial, and ethnic violence that accompanied the Partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947.  We watch through her eyes as a peaceful multiethnic community of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs  disintegrates into distrust, growing hostility, and finally horrendous and unrestrained brutality, and the effects on Lenny, her family, servants, and friends, and their attempts to salvage something of value out of the maelstrom of violence that engulfs the city of Lahore as it does much of  India and Pakistan during this time.  Another novel I recommend.

Friday, March 13, 2009


One of the most remarkable things about the internet is that it allows us to get to know people in all parts of the world.  One such person is Braja who blogs regularly at "Lost and Found in India."   Today (or yesterday, depending on your time zone), she and her husband were seriously injured in a car accident.  Tomorrow (or today), internet friends are holding a moment of silence, prayer, and well-wishing for them and theirk driver.

Monday, March 09, 2009

New in "The Jackdaw's Nest"

Thursday, March 05, 2009

CRC 2: "Annie John"

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, published 1985.

Annie John is a short novel (I believe the individual chapters were originally published as short stories in The New Yorker) that traces the coming-of-age of a young Antiguan girl from the age of 10 to the age of 17, narrated in first person by Annie herself.  However, the focus seems rather different than that of most coming-of-age novels with which I'm familiar, as much of the work concentrates on Annie's growing alienation from her mother, a central thematic core which embodies the idea of developing adolescence as a loss of paradise.  At the beginning of the novel, Annie's mother treats Annie as the focus of her life, the person on whom she lavishes almost constant attention.  However, as Annie grows older, her mother's attitude changes, and she treats Annie as a person who is maturing and is no longer the child she was earlier; the reader recognizes that this change is an inevitable and necessary one, but Annie sees it only as a betrayal, an emotional abandonment, and becomes angry and resentful in consequence.  She begins to attempt to punish her mother by refusing to do things her mother praises her for and giving vent to outbursts of anger in which she abuses her mother; not surprisingly, her mother reacts with disappointment and hurt, which in turn only make Annie feel guilty and increases her anger.

At the same time, of course, Annie is going through other difficult and trying changes in her life; she enters a more advanced school where she often excels academically but frequently disappoints her teachers by her unruly conduct behind their backs; she makes new friends but finds after a while that she has outgrown them. She particularly cannot understand their growing interest in boys; whether this element of the novel is intended to suggest that she is not heterosexual (a couple of brief articles and reviews I looked at indicate this is a distinct possibility) is never entirely clear; in any event, she certainly differs from her peers in regard to their interest in boys, marriage, homemaking, and raising families  -- things she indicates she will never pursue.

Additionally, her life is further complicated by an illness of several months' duration which leaves her for a time bed-ridden and subject to apparent hallucinations.  The doctor assures her parents that there is no detectable physical cause for her illness; the suggestion seems to be that she is possibly suffering from an attack of clinical depression.  

The novel ends with Annie's conflicts with her mother unresolved.  Having graduated, Annie is leaving Antigua for England where she is to undergo training as a nurse; her real desire, however, is simply to escape from what she views as a claustrophobic  environment, and she vows to herself never to return, even though her mother's parting words to her are "It doesn't matter what you do or where you go, I'll always be your mother and this will always be your home."  For Annie, the paradise she knew as a child has vanished, and she no longer feels she has a place in or ties to Antigua.

I have recently read a number of coming-of-age novels which focus on young girls entering into maturity -- Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, among others -- but Annie John is by far the most interesting of them all, I feel, primarily because of the focus on the conflict with her mother.  There are no simple or easy answers for Annie John, and she carries with her into her future the conflict she's experienced during her adolescence, a conflict completely unresolved.  One can only wonder what her future is going to be.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Things That Weren't Mentioned On Setting Out: A Small Senior Citizen's Rant

In the past 36 hours, I've learned:

(1) that my accountant for the past dozen years or so has become so seriously ill that he's retiring and will no longer be doing taxes;
(2) that the absolutely trustworthy and reliable mechanic who's kept our cars going for almost 25 years has just closed up shop permanently;
(3) that the guy who owns the barber shop I've been going to for 10 years up and died yesterday.

I'm getting the very uncomfortable feeling that whatever powers may be are trying to tell me something, and I don't think I'm going to much like what it is.

Monday, March 02, 2009

OTC 1: "Sweet and Sour Milk" -- Somalia

My first book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge is Sweet and Sour Milk by Nuruddin Farah, published in 1979, the first volume of his  trilogy Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship.  

Set in the late 1970s, the novel deals with life under the harsh, repressive government of the Somali dictator known as The General.  Loyaan, a dentist with no real interest in politics, learns that his twin brother Soyaan has possibly been involved in actions against The General's regime and its Soviet allies and has apparently been poisoned in consequence.  As he attempts to find out the truth, he encounters a conspiracy on the part of the government to rewrite history and to cast his brother in the role of a steadfast supporter of The General who died praising the revolution that gave The General power in the first place.  Their parents, for varying reasons,  accept the government's version of the story and try to talk Loyaan out of questioning the situation.  Several friends of the twins are arrested and imprisoned, and Loyaan is warned repeatedly to accept the government's "truth" and stop causing trouble or there will be serious consequences.  Finally, just as he becomes convinced that Soyaan was in fact poisoned by a KGB doctor, he is told that Soyaan was about to have been "rewarded" for his services to the state by being given a minor diplomatic post in a Soviet-bloc country in Europe, and , further, he is informed that, as a tribute to his brother, the government is assigning him to that post.  The novel ends with a knock at the door as the authorities arrive to escort him to the plane which will first take him to Moscow for indoctrination into his future diplomatic duties; he is, in effect, being sent into what appears to be perpetual exile for his refusal to cooperate.

Sweet and Sour Milk is a devastating evocation of what life was like (and continues to be still in some African nations) under the dictatorships that all too often came to power in many African countries in the wake of colonialism.  Farah himself was exiled from Somalia several years before beginning the trilogy for having criticized the government in an earlier novel, so he knows all too well the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere that exists under such a regime and portrays in exacting detail the frustration and powerlessness that the individual experiences if he attempts to confront such a powerful government which has a vested interest in maintaining the fictions of its own creation.  The other two novels in the trilogy, Sardines (1981) and Close Sesame (1983), further develop these themes as well as others, while dealing with related characters; taken as a whole, the trilogy gives us a clearer picture of the group of conspirators to which Soyaan belonged and its eventual -- and inevitable -- outcome.  

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Some Poems with Fewer Than 10 Lines"