Recent reading

Elnathan John, Born on a Tuesday. I wrote this on Twitter, which seems enough: Finished Elnathan John’s novel Born on a Tuesday yesterday. Very powerful, great straightforward prose, keen insights. A tiny bit derivative of Allah n’est pas obligé but let’s call it sampling… Really worth reading. Guardian review here.

John LeCarre, A Legacy of Spies. Opened well, gripped me, until started to get maudlin and unintelligible towards the end. When the great “love of your life” is someone you only meet once, and pass an “enchanted” night with her, you know you are in the hands of some British dude-guy whose idea of men and women and their relationships was shaped by some Anglican cleric who was never in a relationship.

F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, Babylon Revisited. A couple of drunks from Charlie’s past ruin his plan to take back his daughter. I’m happy for the daughter, who will grow up idolizing “Dads” and hating “Aunt,” and thus be able to write interesting short stories when she majors in English at Barnard. That isn’t fair to “Scottie” but there it is.

A&P by John Updike. I had read this before, several times. But it captures something essential about white middle American life in the mid 1960s….

Posted in Book and film reviews

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Very long. For the first 300 pages I was really enjoying it. My kind of novel: some science fiction (AI surveilled society), some time travel (to ancient times), some style (I had just finished Chandler, and as first Harkaway channeled some of that), lots of wordplay, and very intellectual. But… it went on and on, and after awhile I was jumping chunks of 3-4 pages, nope, nope, nope…. So where Jorge Luis Borges could have crafted the same story into 40 pages, Gnomon is about 670. I don’t regret spending a couple weeks on it. But you might.

Posted in Book and film reviews

Remembering the hope of 2011 in Sudan and South Sudan

Posted in Sudan

“God’s Caravan” by Tiphanie Yanique in The New Yorker

“God’s Caravan” by Tiphanie Yanique  November 4, 2019 The New Yorker.

I really enjoyed the story (I listened to Yanique reading it on the podcast). It starts slow, and slowly builds, adding layers of complexity as you move along. With small details you get quick deepening of the characters, Brent with the Rubik’s cube, the Dodge van, Earl’s memories, the marbles in his pocket, Pop and the cane. She does a lot with that. The themes are wonderful: finding identity and self, navigating family, living at the margins, prophetic tradition and its place in the world… The more I listened the more “literary” I kept thinking the story might be, in the sense that I could feel myself making a lot of connections to other works of literature. I guess all this is the poetry background coming through?

Posted in Book and film reviews

Blistering critique of MPP and President Roch Kaboré by opposition in #Burkina

Non content de réchauffer les projets de Blaise COMPAORE pour se les réattribuer, le Président KABORE se lance maintenant dans les inaugurations de morceaux de routes. Là où un Haut-commissaire ou un Gouverneur étaient suffisamment compétents pour inaugurer ces mini-infrastructures, c’est le Président du Faso himself qui y va, avec escorte, fanfares et gardes. Cela s’explique : il n’y a rien à montrer aux Burkinabè comme bilan, à part ces courtes routes.

Source: Chef de file de l’opposition politique : « Le président Roch Kaboré se lance maintenant dans les inaugurations de morceaux de routes » –, l’actualité au Burkina Faso

Posted in Burkina Faso

The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio … context so important for appreciating the song

Posted in Music

Recent short stories in The New Yorker

“The Bunty Club” by Tessa Hadley from the October 28, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.  Hadley has several stories with fugue states embedded in them, where the narrator and reader are no longer sure that the continuation of the story is really the same story or a fairy tale or a dream. Here she does it with the line, “Then Pippa became absorbed…” and she falls asleep and when the doorbell rings she (by the description of the hallway) is now in a castle, with emeralds, topaz, rubies and a heron, kingfisher, and swan. And a handsome peasant at the door. There is no other way to read her description of Sean! So the three princesses …. and later, “Her question couldn’t be answered without invoking the whole fabric of everything.” And the ending, back to the fugue state. The Bunty Club is there standing in for our wonderful capacity as humans to make our own realities? The three women in recalling the Club are making it anew, but Gillian doesn’t want to or can’t until, alone with the call for the hospital, she recreates a quite different Bunty Club, very solitary, with just her in it. I love how Hadley seems to generously invite the reader to fill in so many holes in the lives of these three women (and Sean too!).

“Are You Experienced?” by David Means from the October 21, 2019 issue of The New Yorker. Rather a slight story, presumably part of a novel. A roam through recent times, the 1960s, an era that surprisingly does not show up much in short stories (is my impression). Almost like the mind-bending and sitting around doing nothing is too challenging for fiction. And there is certainly a lot of talking here and commenting and thinking about talking, and the one thing that is done (the theft) is not described and has no consequences, in the story. At the end of the story, I wondered about “the initial opening question” that Means refers to. There does not seem to be an initial question, but there is an “initial waiting,” as Meg waits for the “Keep On Truckin’” character to start moving!

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Joyce Carol Oates from the October 14, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.  I think the “incantations” of the illnesses and procedures is perhaps meant to remind the reader of the distance between the mystical, emotional appreciation of death of the pre-modern era, the “death and and the maiden” era where metaphor and tone were how we humans communicated and shared these powerful occasions of loss, and the modern, medicalized, prosaic era. And, yet, isn’t the theme of the story to remind us that the named illnesses are just a different version of the parent shushing the child: “Have no fear, that is just the fog, the birch, the dappled sunlight, and not the Erlking….” We lullaby ourselves to the ultimate sleep, with new songs. A rakish, mocking, masked Andrew appears at the end. Luce is digging. Black-eyed Susans in the miasma. The second to last paragraph, the tarantella? Is it really Andrew? Or…

Posted in Book and film reviews