Category: politics


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

220px-a_brief_history_of_seven_killings2c_cover

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

Advertisements

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)
i_am_not_your_negro

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

A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh (First published, 1934)

dustIn his chosen career as a novelist Evelyn Waugh has to write about human beings but you get the strong feeling from this cynical and morally vacuous novel that he didn’t like people much. He became a committed Catholic soon afterwards and presumably he took comfort from an organized religion that takes it for granted that we are all born sinners.

Its title comes from a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – an allusion to death given that someday all of us return to dust.

Like a vindictive deity or grim reaper, Waugh moves his sad characters around like someone idly engaged in a game of chess with himself. None of them are presented in a flattering light and their actions are mainly driven by apathy, ennui or spitefulness. They are well off, comfortably placed and bored out of their skins.

Continue reading

THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair, 2015)

51gf6tbbznl-_sx316_bo1204203200_Vietnam was a war that was technically won by the Viet Cong but which American are reluctant to concede to having lost. The unnamed Vietnamese Army Captain narrating this tale has sympathies with both sides but this only serves to place him between a rock and a hard place.

As a reluctant revolutionary he pleads guilty to the charge of being westernized, admitting: “If longing for riches made me a Occidentalist, I confess to it”. As a uncomitted communist he sees no attraction in the authentic “rustic realities” of village life in Saigon.

While not being blind to the faults of the US, he recognizes that there is more freedom of speech than in his homeland. This, together with air conditioning, an efficient traffic system and the modernist novel are among the other things that he admires. On the down side, he reviles the American knack for putting a positive spin on defeat and for hyping up the benefits of individualism. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: