Category: politics


SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage Books, 2014)

41mjx6yzfel-_sx324_bo1204203200_History is full of big mistakes and there’s a common notion that we should study it to avoid repeating the errors of the past.

However, Yuval Noah Harari explains one of the key problems with taking lessons from previous cultures and generations is that “History cannot be explained deterministically and it cannot be predicted because it is chaotic”.

Such a view could give credence to the belief that “History is just one damn thing after another”.

Harari’s populist approach to the subject is a breath of fresh air. He has been criticized for his lack of scholarly rigor but his non-elitist position is that historians cannot and should not assume an objective, dispassionate position. Continue reading

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HIGH RISE directed by Ben Wheatley (UK, 2015)

high_rise_2014_film_posterIf this movie had met with universal critical acclaim or had achieved commercial success it would almost certainly have denoted its failure in artistic terms. Fortunately, therefore, it polarized the press and bombed at the box office.

J.G. Ballard’s novel (published in 1975) was meant as a morbid, provocative slice of entertainment designed to leave readers absorbed but seriously spooked. It begins arrestingly: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Doctor Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months”.

This big screen adaptation has a similarly jarring impact since, in Ben Wheatley, we have a director whose mindset is every bit as warped as the polite but misanthropic English writer. Continue reading

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS by Marlon James (Riverhead Books, 2014)

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The Novel

When asked in a recent Channel 4 interview how much of this bold and extraordinary novel came from personal experience and how much derived from rumors, Marlon James replies without hesitation “All of it is rumor. In Jamaica, you trust rumors, you don’t trust facts. Facts come with an agenda”.

 

It is something of a dumb platitude to say that truth is stranger than fiction but, like most dumb platitudes, this has a strong basis in reality. Nowadays, people increasingly struggle to separate the two concepts, reacting to natural and man-made disasters with comments to the effect that ‘It was like something out of a movie’ or routinely responding to some shocking or bizarre news story by saying ‘You couldn’t make this stuff up’.

To make sense of the ‘real world’ (whatever that is) and the irrational behavior of humankind, I must have some Jamaican blood in me because I don’t believe it is enough to stick to the facts by watching documentaries, reading history books or studying psychological manuals. While these resources can give valuable insights and context they, as James observes, always come with an agenda.

Fiction comes with its own baggage too of course but, while novels can take greater liberties with the ‘truth’ they can also encourage readers to embrace scepticism by ‘seeing’ events from diverse and multiple perspectives.

This is brilliantly exemplified in James’ masterly and multi-layered third novel, a worthy winner of 2015’s Man Booker Prize which has been accurately and acutely described by one New York Times critic as “an epic of post colonial fallout”. Continue reading

THE NIX by Nathan Hill (Picador Books, 2016)

thenixAccording to the cliché,  everybody has at least one book in them. Nathan Hill has now written his in the form of this bold and hugely entertaining debut novel.

The American author says that his previous attempts at fiction followed formulas in vain attempts to win a lucrative book deal.

After a series of rejections he decided to cut his losses and simply write a book to please himself. In doing so, he had no idea whether or not it would be published.

It took him ten years to write, a slow but enjoyable process that he equated to tending to his own garden. The result is a triumph. Continue reading

I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck (USA, 2016)
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The story of Black men and women in America is not a pretty one. This is an understatement. From slavery and segregation to the present day struggle to convince diehard bigots that their lives matter, the story is dominated by violence and oppression.

This sobering documentary may focus mainly on events from the past but it is no abstract history lesson.

The film is based on James Baldwin’s ‘Remember This House’, his uncompleted memoirs about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers; three prominent civil rights activists who were all assassinated in the 1960s before they reached 40. Continue reading

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