Friday, 7 August 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #190 (7.8.20)

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Our Book of the Week this week is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated by Elisabeth Jaquette). This superbly well written novel is comprised of two reflecting parts: the first narrating the fate of a young woman abducted by soldiers during the 1948/49 Naqba/Israeli War of Independence; the second telling of a contemporary woman's obsession with finding out more about this 'minor detail' of history. Shibli is interested in how the past remains in and shapes the present, and in how mechanisms of power harm both the wielders and the victims of that power.
>>Read Thomas's review
>>Read an extract
>>Preview the book (Text Publishing edition). 
>>Another extract (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
>>Writing Palestine from the inside
>>The choreography of violence
>>Book now to hear Adania Shibli at the Edinburgh Festival (to be held this year on your sofa)
>>A session with Dr. Shibli
>>The politics of translation
>>Meet the translator, Elisabeth Jaquette
>>Choose your edition of Minor Detail.  >New Directions, >Text Publishing, >Fitzcarraldo Editions.
>>Books by Adania Shibli

 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He was careful not to write a review that was longer than the stories in the book he was reviewing, but he was uncertain how he could do this. Uncertain seems more of an introspective word than careful, for some reason, and is therefore unsuitable for use in a review of a book which contains no introspection, or at least displays no introspection. This is not to say that the characters are not propelled by forces deep below the surfaces of their appearances, they are propelled entirely by such deep forces, unconscious compulsions, so to call them, we all have them, or similar ones, but these are not manifest in anything but action, action and appearances also, both austerely told, or seemingly so, briefly, directly, barely, or something to that effect, each of the forty stories, he thinks it is around forty stories, told like a folk or fairy tale, without anything unnecessary, without elaboration, like a folk or fairy tale in which someone, the narrator, so to call her, is trapped in the first person. Folk and fairy tales are never told in the first person because the first person is a trap, or trapped, there in the mechanism of the story, told in the past tense, unalterable, and, like fairy tales, Scanlan’s forty stories are about the relations of power, as the title suggests, about the struggle for dominance that is the basis of all stories. All that happens happens as if by instinct, or by reflex, awareness lags, is only good for telling a story and only in the past tense, and, as with all stories, as with all relations of power, as with all struggles for dominance, everything in the past tense is at once horrible and ludicrous. And the same goes for the present. The horrible is ludicrous, the ludicrous is horrible, there are no other modes of being. All other modes are modes of non-being, if there are other modes, he supposed, fictional modes, perhaps, but he was not sure. That which we see in animals, the tooth-and-nail struggle, so to call it, the immediacy of all response, the inescapability of all compulsion, the way of nature, the cruelty, so to call it, what we call cruelty, is mainly true of us, he thought, without introspection he hoped, that which we affect to see in animals we see only of ourselves, is not apt of animals, who in any case have the advantage over us of seldom being capable either of deception or of self-deception. Just like objects, he thought, Scanlan gives objects the same agency as persons, not by giving agency to objects but by removing it from persons, or by recognising its absence, persons are just objects moving in rather complex ways, scudded on by some force, momentum, compulsion, whatever, but no freer to be otherwise or do otherwise than an object thrown at a wall, notable primarily through the effects of our velocity. Scalan is master of the velocity of her prose, honed to sharpness, careful, devastating, puncturing the imposed limit of the conscious to deliver the reader precisely at the point where rationality, or what passes by that name, flounders in what lies beyond, behind, beneath, or wherever, the point where the unsayable is both revealed and annulled. Think Fleur Jaeggy, Lydia Davis, Diane Williams, he thought, these authors share a sensibility both verbal and incisive, but Scalan’s sentences are no-one’s but her own, she who ends a story, “I watched the man drive away in his glossy, valuable car and prayed he might be met with some misfortune. Due to a major failing — the pathological poverty of my imagination — I could not call to mind anything more specific than that.”

>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Blanket by Kara Thompson    {Reviewed by STELLA}
When you think of a blanket, initially what might come to mind is a source of comfort or warmth: a blanket in a crib or across the end of a child’s bed — something to protect and keep one safe. And then, the blanket as an item of exchange or gift, maybe passed down through generations with a family history embedded. It’s also the object which is used to cover the unsightly: the ill or the dead and, metaphorically, the deed not wanting to be seen. In Kara Thompson’s essay, Blanket, in the 'Object Lessons' series, she starts with her inability to write about this object, with what eludes her. “When I try to write about blankets, I tell the story of death.” In her introduction, Thompson aligns the concept of the fold and the blanket — she writes about what is hidden beneath and what is condensed, culturally in particular, within the object’s folds. What do we no longer see and, by unfolding, what do we and must we reveal? As a professor of English and American Studies, it is no surprise that the meanings of the blanket as exchange and weapon arise in this exploration of an everyday object that we use often, that has a central role to play in political and social interactions, and has been a tool of distraction and exploitation. With chapters headed Witness, Folds, Extraction, Security, Cover, and Carriers, Thompson delves deeply and honestly, recording historic as well as contemporary voices in her study of this seemingly innocuous item. From the blankets, knowingly infested with smallpox, given to indigenous peoples in the 1760s, spearheading an epidemic that killed 90 per cent of the population in Ohio, making a land grab and the desires of colonists easier, to a star quilt made by a Dakota artist presented to President Obama with an embroidered message, "NoKXL", as a protest against the pipeline proposed for Standing Rock, blanket and land have been intricately linked in our political histories. Recorded in blankets through their woven patterns and decorative elements are stories passed down through generations. Thompson focuses here on the Ute blanket — made between 1840 and 1860 by Navajo (Diné) peoples as they were disenfranchised from their lands during and at the conclusion of the Mexican-American war. The Diné women continue to weave and their blankets tell their story — the forced march, imprisonment and railroads are manifest in their designs. Thompson does not only focus on the blanket as telling of colonial histories but also as remembrance — the AIDS quilts and the symbol of illness and recovery. The blanket enfolds us when we are born and covers us as we falter. Interspersed with her examination of cultural histories, contemporary artists’ use of blanket in sculpture and blanket as protector, is Thompson's own personal story of her brother’s death as a young man and her memories triggered by the blanket that covered him as he lay at home, and of the hospital blankets, always white, and the blanket in which she found shelter. Each ‘Unfold’ reveals a little more or her brother’s story of illness and her inescapable memories of death in the house of her childhood. They are brief and affecting, making the story of the blanket-as-object more personal, and enable the reader to reflect on their own cultural knowledge and personal experiences, triggering memories and examination. This is another excellent addition to the 'Object Lessons' series — the books are always fascinating and relevant, windows into something you may have not considered previously — in this case, to fold a blanket now has greater resonance.  
The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King         $30
Miro and Zia live in Aurora, a fishing town nestled in the shadow of an ancient castle. Miro lives in his books; Zia is never without her camera. The day they meet, they uncover a secret. The fishing works, the castle, and the town council are all linked to an ill-fated 1930s Antarctic expedition. But the diary of that journey has been hidden, and the sea is stirring up unusual creatures. Something has a powerful hold over the town. With Zia determined to find out more, Miro finds himself putting aside his books for a real adventure. A superb graphic novel for 8—12-year-olds. 
>>Watch the trailer!
After Midnight by Irmgard Keun         $24
"In 1937, German author Irmgard Keun had only recently fled Nazi Germany with her lover Joseph Roth when she wrote this slim, exquisite, and devastating book. It captures the unbearable tension, contradictions, and hysteria of pre-war Germany like no other novel. Yet even as it exposes human folly, the book exudes a hopeful humanism. It is full of humor and light, even as it describes the first moments of a nightmare. After Midnight is a masterpiece that deserves to be read and remembered anew." —Fantastic Fiction
Beyond these Shores: Aotearoa and the world edited by Nina Hall        $15
In recent years, more people are calling for an independent, values-based foreign policy and parties of all political stripes are looking for new ideas to achieve that. This book brings together a diverse group of New Zealanders to outline their visions for New Zealand's role in the world. It sparks a conversation about how we can exercise leadership and influence in the international arena.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See         $23
A tale of friendship between two members of an all-female diving collective on a small Korean island, set in the decades covering the Japanese colonial period, World War 2, and the Korean War.

Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble        $19
Neoma and Jag and their small community are 'living gentle lives' on high ground surrounded by the risen sea that has caused widespread devastation. When strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive unannounced, the friends find themselves drawn into a web of secrecy and lies that endangers the way of life of their entire community. Soon daring, loyal Neoma must set off on a solo mission across the risen sea, determined to rescue her best friend and find the truth that will save her village. New from the author of How to Bee and The Dog Runner
Human Compatible: A.I. and the problem of control by Stuart Russell            $26
Russell considers that if we do not prioritise the objectives of potential artificial intelligence, humans' crowning inventions may be their last. 
All Adults Here by Emma Straub           $37
One of Astrid's grandchildren becomes the catalyst for the revelation of secrets that she had successfully hidden from her children, and even from herself.
"Intimate, epic, beautifully observed." —Jennifer Egan
"Has all the pleasures of Anne Tyler's compelling family portraits, with a Lorrie Moore-like sense of the absurdities of contemporary life." —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
>>The author's bookshop. 
Shouting Zeros and Ones: Digital technology, ethics and policy in New Zealand edited by Andrew Chen        $15
 A diverse group of contributors reveal the hidden impacts of technology on society and on individuals, exploring policy change and personal action to keep the internet a force for good. Timely.
The Telling Time by P.J. McKay           $35
Two young women, a generation apart, travel to opposite sides of the world on fraught journeys of self-discovery. 1958: Gabrijela yearns to escape the confines of bleak post-war Yugoslavia and her tiny fishing community, but never imagines she will be exiled to New Zealand- a new immigrant sent to housekeep for the mysterious and surly Roko, clutching a secret she dare not reveal. 1989: Luisa, Gabrijela's daughter, departs on her own covert quest, determined to unpick the family's past. But not all decisions are equal and amid Yugoslavia's brewing civil unrest, Luisa's journey confronts her with culture shocks and dark encounters of her own.
"A vivid, engrossing family story that crosses oceans and eras, exploring the price two women pay when new and old worlds collide." —Paula Morris
Brasswitch and Bot ('Rise of the Remarkables' #1) by Gareth Ward        $23
Screams surge along York's narrow Victorian streets as a run-away crackle-tram races toward disaster. Fearing an accident like the one that killed her parents, Brasswitch Wrench is forced to reveal her powers - a decision that will change her life forever. Recruited to the sinister department of Regulators who hunt down others like her, Wrench teams up with their maverick mechanical leader, Bot as they are tasked with halting the rise of the aberration threat. Until today, being called Brasswitch would have got you killed. Now, it might save your life. The first book in an exciting new series from the author of 'The Traitor and the Thief'.
Overkill: W@hen modern medicine goes too far by Paul Offit          $38
Dr Offit contends that many common medical procedures and treatments do rather more harm than good. 
>>Is medicine the answer? 
Beyond a Boundary by Cyril Lionel Robert James      $26
In this classic summation of half a lifetime spent playing, watching and writing about the sport, James recounts the story of his overriding passion and tells us of the players whom he knew and loved, exploring the game's psychology and aesthetics, and the issues of class, race and politics that surround it. Part memoir of a West Indian boyhood, part passionate celebration and defence of cricket as an art form, part indictment of colonialism, Beyond a Boundary addresses not just a sport but a whole culture and asks the question, 'What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?'
"To say 'the best cricket book ever written' is piffingly inadequate praise." —Guardian
"Great claims have been made for Beyond a Boundary since its first appearance in 1963: that it is the greatest sports book ever written; that it brings the outsider a privileged insight into West Indian culture; that it is a severe examination of the colonial condition. All are true." —Sunday Times
How To Be Old: Poems by Rachel McAlpine         $25
Always developing her own aging, McAlpine has written a selection of poems that capture often unnoticed aspects of this process. 
>>Rachel's website.
Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand's political environment by Nicky Hager          $35
Recent political developments have made elements of this book relevant again, and it has been reprinted. 

A Book of Surrealist Games compiled by Alastair Brotchie         $30
Game playing was a primary creative method of the Surrealists. This book provides language games, alternative card games, "Dream Lotto", automatic techniques for making poems, stories, collages and photo-montages to re-enact Surrealist creativity. The games may also be used to delve into the collective unconscious in much the same ways as the original surrealists did at the start of the movement.
>>Exquisite corpses.

Friday, 31 July 2020


Our newsletter for 31.7.20

STELLA>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole
In this collection of essays, Teju Cole ranges across literature, art and politics. As a writer, photographer and art historian, Cole ranges widely. The essays, first published in the New York Times Magazine, are 55 moments of lucid thought: some are personal responses to Cole’s travels, his interest in photography and his fascination with several authors, while others are pointed commentary and questions about politics and society and the ways in which artists and writers interpret or present a viewpoint. Teju Cole has his opinions and these are intelligent missives. The essays are arranged in three sections. ‘Reading Things’ includes an interesting interaction with V.S.Naipaul, and a search for W.G. Sebald’s grave which is charmingly reminiscent of Sebald’s own work. As Cole ventures out across Norfolk with Jason the taxi driver, he is simultaneously journeying with Sebald. ‘Seeing Things’ deals with visual observations, predominantly contemporary photography. Here Cole’s ability and knowledge as a photographer gives this section real depth, and his ability to appreciate as well as add critical interpretation of the photographer’s intention raises some thought-provoking questions about the role of visual observation, the ability of a photograph to capture a moment and the lies that images can be. Cole looks at photographers who exhibit in art galleries alongside those who use google and instagram as a platform to communicate their work. The third section ‘Being There’ is firmly rooted in place and travel. The essays are fine examples of ponderings on politics and society, and in many of them Cole ventures into the conversation around racial politics in Africa, America and Europe. His interests range widely in this section - there are essays about drone warfare, terrorism’s personal impact, home and belonging. The first essay in this section, ‘Far Away from Home’, is a gem — Cole is in Switzerland and is overcome with an unexpected fascination with the Alps and the idea of Fernweh (a German expression meaning ‘one simply wants to be far away’). Teju Cole’s essays are places where you can journey — he pulls his ideas together with references to writing, art and history, giving texture to the well-constructed sentences. They are provocative, stimulating and rewarding.

 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann     {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“‘Today’ is a word that only suicides ought to be allowed to use, it has no meaning for other people.”
Even five decades after it was written, this wholly remarkable book continues to reveal new possibilities in literature and new impossibilities in living. 
In the first part of the book, ‘Happy With Ivan’, the unnamed narrator records her obsessive love affair with a man she first sees outside a florist’s shop near her home in Vienna. On account of Ivan, “the rest of the world, where I lived up to now — always in a panic, my mouth full of cotton, the throttle marks on my neck — is reduced to its petty insignificance.” She snatches evenings with Ivan, plays chess with him (resulting in stalemate), writes him letters (which she tears to shreds and throws away, unsent), and talks (or 'talks') with him on the telephone, but, mainly, she waits and thinks and narrates. “Ever since I’ve been able to dial this number, my life has finally stopped taking turns for the worse, I’m no longer coming apart at the seams. I hold my breath, stopping time, and call and smoke and wait.” But hers is a desperate happiness, not a convincing happiness, not really happiness at all but a straining towards the impossibility of happiness, agitation trying to pass as happiness. Just as the difference between pleasure and irritation is generally merely a matter of degree, there is, for the narrator, no substantial difference between ostensibly contradictory states and the case for her happiness is made so strenuously that it is clearly made from a position of great unhappiness. Ivan lives along the street, but the narrator shares an apartment with Malina, a civil servant who works at the Austrian Military Museum but who is so compartmentalised in the narrator’s mind that he never makes contact with Ivan, or, rather, never inhabits the Ivan compartment in the narrator’s mind. Although the narrator interacts with Malina, and we are told of her visiting elsewhere with him, it is very unclear that Malina exists outside the narrator’s mind, or, rather, that he is not an aspect of the narrator. “Ivan hasn’t been warned about me. He doesn’t know with whom he’s running around, that he’s dealing with a phenomenon, an appearance that can also be deceiving, I don’t want to lead Ivan astray but he has never realised that I am double. I am also Malina’s creation.” I increasingly began to suspect that Ivan also exists, at least mostly, in the narrator’s mind, and that, although probably affixed to someone she saw outside the florist’s shop, the Ivan with whom this 'love affair' persists is a never-quite-reachable eidolon of her longing and desperation. “My living body gives Ivan a reference point, maybe it’s the only one, but this same bodily self disturbs me. Extreme self-control lets me accept Ivan’s sitting opposite me.” Is there no exteriority? All these words, these truncated staccato telephone conversations, these endlessly commaed descriptions, these letters and interviews and documents in many versions, these moments and encounters, these details, these memories and revised memories, these stupendous rants, are they all the desperate invention of the narrator (in the same way that the novel is the desperate invention of the author)? “Whatever falls on my ground thrives, I propagate myself with words and also propagate Ivan.”
The second part of the book, ‘The Third Man’, intimates, perhaps, the degree of trauma that underlies the narrator’s agitation and the fracturing of her psyche. Passages, seemingly dreams or memories, describe violence, torment and sexual abuse, largely at the hands of the narrator’s 'father' (and of, by extension, Austria and Nazism), enacted either upon the narrator or upon her naive and complicit alter ego Melanie. “Here there is always violence. Here there is always struggle.” Bachmann’s sentences offer no respite for the reader nor for the narrator. “I don’t want to be any more, because I don’t want war, then put me to sleep, make it end.” The dream sequences are interspersed with conversations, written as script, between the narrator and the rational, interrogating Malina, bringing into her awareness the nature of her trauma, and moving towards the possibility of understanding. “Although it disgusts me to look at him [father], I must, I have to know what danger is still written in his face, I have to know where evil originates.” But, Malina warns, “Once one has survived something the survival itself interferes with understanding.”
The third part, ‘Last Things’, charts the shrinking of the narrator’s world, her gradual inevitable loss of Ivan, either as reality or eidolon, her loss of confidence in herself or hope in her world — and it is much funnier than this list would suggest, though no less tragic. Experience, once replaced with knowledge of — or description of — experience, loses the power of experience. Language at once conjures and replaces — annihilates — what is lived. But, says the narrator, “I must have reached a point where thought is so necessary that it is no longer possible.” Her conversations with Malina, in which Malina (or 'Malina') increasingly dominates, drain the reality from Ivan and reveal her isolation and self-suffocation. “I am not one person,” she says, “but two people standing in extreme opposition to one another, which must mean I am always on the verge of being torn in two. If they were separated it would be livable, but scarcely the way it is.” The slow, cumulative, fatal intrusion of rationality is here like a pin being pushed against the surface of a balloon with great, horrible, slow, thrilling patience. “The story of Ivan and me will never be told, since we don’t have any story.”  Literature is lack. All that is written is written against the facts. Happiness, or imagined happiness, becomes harder and harder and at last impossible to sustain. All that is imgined is destroyed. The narrator’s ‘I’, her subjective self, “an unknown woman”, catches a last whiff of Ivan in the crack in the wall, enters the crack and disappears, leaving the rational alter ego, Malina, the cataloguer, the explainer, the understanding and inhibiting mind, to answer the telephone when Ivan rings (their first encounter) and to deny her very existence. The book ends with the bare sentence, “It was murder,” but, if the characters are all fractured parts of a single mind (if there can be such a thing), what is the nature of this ‘murder’?
“What is life?” asks Malina. “Whatever can’t be lived,” the narrator replies.

Book of the WeekMalina by Ingeborg Bachmann 
In the wholly remarkable Malina, originally published in German in 1971, Bachmann draws the reader into a world stretched to the very limits of language. An unnamed narrator, a writer in Vienna, is torn between two men, who may or may not exist outside her head. 
>>Read an extract
>>Detonating the container of consciousness
>>A singular woman adrift
>>"We could call her happiness self-deception."
>>"I don't understand how one can live."
>>Reading Ingeborg Bachmann
>>Is Malina "the truest portrait of female consciousness since Sappho"?
>>"The outrageous has become the everyday."
>>Malina was made into a film by Werner Schroeter in 1991
>>As a piece of physical theatre
>>A brief biography of Bachmann
>>Books by Bachmann.
>> Fun fact: Bachmann appears as Maria in Thomas Bernhard's last novel, Extinction
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell         $38
Utopia Avenue are the strangest British band you've never heard of. Emerging from London's psychedelic scene in 1967 and fronted by folksinger Elf Holloway, guitar demigod Jasper de Zoet and blues bassist Dean Moss, Utopia Avenue released only two LPs during its brief and blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and draughty ballrooms to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968.
The much-anticipated new novel from the author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks.

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison           $38
"That M. John Harrison is not a Nobel laureate proves the bankruptcy of the literary establishment. Austere, unflinching and desperately moving, he is one of the very great writers alive today. And yes, he writes fantasy and sf, though of a form, scale and brilliance that it shames not only the rest of the field, but most modern fiction." —China Mieville
Shaw had a breakdown, but he's getting himself back together. He has a single room, a job on a decaying London barge, and an on-off affair with a doctor's daughter called Victoria, who claims to have seen her first corpse at age fourteen. It's not ideal, but it's a life. Or it would be if Shaw hadn't got himself involved in a conspiracy theory that, on dark nights by the river, seems less and less theoretical. Victoria is up in the Midlands, renovating her dead mother's house. But what, exactly, happened to her mother? Why has the local waitress disappeared into a shallow pool in a field behind the house? And why is the town so obsessed with that old Victorian morality tale, The Water Babies? As Shaw and Victoria struggle to maintain their relationship, the sunken lands are rising up again, unnoticed in the shadows around them.
Berg by Ann Quin         $28
"A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father." A new edition of Berg's 1964 astounding experimental novel, which introduced into British fiction many of the techniques of the French nouveau roman. 

Seasonal, authentic and completely delicious, the relaxed—but—particular style of dining expresses all that is best in Scandinavian life. This lovely book includes both traditional and modern dishes. Recommended. 

The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown          $33
Isabel spent her life following Jane's lead. Of the conjoined twins, Jane was always the stronger one, both physically and emotionally. But when Jane dies on the operating table during a risky attempt to separate the twins, Isabel is left alone. Or is she? Soon, Jane returns, attached to Isabel from shoulder to hip just like she used to be. Except Isabel is the only person who can see Jane — a ghost, a phantom limb, a phantom twin.

Threshold by Rob Doyle          $33
Finding himself heading into middle age, the author/narrator embarks on an increasingly desperate and futile quest for transcendence and mind-altering chemicals. 
"A Pilgrim's Progress for our time." -Mike McCormack
"A sly tale told against its author takes the reader on a destabilising voyage of discovery and self-disgust." —Guardian
"Audacious, daring and deranged, endlessly entertaining, furiously funny and — to hurtle to the other end of the alphabet — wonderful." —Geoff Dyer
"An extremely funny book, a novel that sends itself up mercilessly even as it is created. His best work to date." —Kevin Barry
"I was buzzing after reading Threshold: it's the kind of work you have to come down from — playful, potent, lurid, moving and fearless." —Lisa McInerny
"Fearless and challenging, inventive and compulsive, unique and utterly heartfelt." —John Boyne
The Touch: Understanding the essentials of haptic design by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen and Natahan Williams         $135
What do a museum in Marrakech, a mid-century apartment in Berlin, and a graveyard north of Venice all have in common? In The Touch, creative collaborators Nathan Williams of Kinfolk and Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen of Norm Architects explore the idea that these inspiring spaces, and many more like them, share the five essential tenets of haptic, human-centric design: materiality, light, color, nature, and community. Good design is not only visually appealing — it engages all of the human senses.
The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkirke        $22
Lyttelton, 1884. Elsie is waiting for the fish to bite. She has her reasons for coming down to the waterfront so often, the main one being the memory of the lost boys. She was one of the last to see them alive, and now she is haunted by what happened to them. When the opportunity comes for Elsie to follow in their footsteps over the Bridle Path, and put their ghosts to rest, she doesn’t hesitate. "I’ll be careful," she says. But no one knows that the weather is about to change for the worse.
From equal marriage to gender definitions, bullying to parenthood, the issues covered in these speeches touch on all aspects of LGBTQ+ and reflect the diverse and multi-faceted nature of this community. Includes Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Robert G. Ingersoll, Theodora Ana Sprungli, Bayard Rustin, Franklin "Frank" Kameny, James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, Sally Gearhart, Harvey Milk, Harry Hay, Vito Russo, Mary Fisher, Tammy Baldwin, Paul Martin, Wanda Sykes, Sally Ride, Lady Gaga, Lana Wachowski, Jason Collins, Laverne Cox, Debi Jackson, Lee Mokobe, Janet Mock.
The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking through Anne Frank's window by Jeff Gottesfeld and Peter McCarty         $40
The tree watched a little girl, who played and laughed and wrote in a diary. When strangers invaded the city and warplanes roared overhead, the tree watched the girl peek out of the curtained window of the annex. It watched as she and her family were taken away-and when her father returned after the war, alone. The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eighty-one, but its seeds and saplings have been planted around the world as a symbol of peace. A beautifully illustrated children's book. 
Interesting perspectives on the 1967 June War, the 1968 Israeli air strikes on Jordan, and on Jordan's 1970 8-day civil war. Hazou was a freelance reported who went on to become Director of Information for the Middle East and North Africa for UNICEF. 
"There is the mammal way and there is the bird way." This is one scientist's pithy distinction between mammal brains and bird brains: two ways to make a highly intelligent mind. But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviours they have, for years, dismissed as anomalies or mysteries. What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, survive.
Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power       $20
Ever since Margot was born, it's been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot's questions. No history to hold on to. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.But that's not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And when she finds a photograph pointing her to a town called Phalene, she leaves. But when Margot gets there, it's not what she bargained for.Margot's mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what's still there? A new YA novel from the author of Wilder Girls
The Mermaid Atlas: Merfolk of the world by Anna Claybourne and Miren Asiain Lora        $35
From the Selkies of the Scottish seas, to the Iara of Brazil who love to outwit travellers. to the fearful Ningyo of Japan.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

#188 (24.7.20)


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Sand absorbs water poured upon it just as it absorbs blood spilled upon it and the actions committed upon it. Where does this water, this blood, and where do these actions go? Can they be recovered? How do they return? Adania Shibli’s remarkable novel is comprised of two parts. The first, told in the third person, describes with elegant impassivity and equivalence the actions and movements of an officer in the Israeli army in the Naqab/Negev desert during the 1948-49 Naqba/War of Independence. Although we gain no access to his thoughts (how could we gain access to his thoughts, after all?), we are witness to his obsessive washing routines, his watchfulness for spiders and insects within his hut and his destruction of them, his tending of a festering spider bite on his thigh, his journeys into the surrounding desert either in vehicles with his soldiers, using maps, searching for Arab ‘insurgents’, or alone, on foot around the camp, following the topography. The other soldiers have no reachable dimension other than being soldiers because any such dimensions would be irrelevant. The officer is the only one who speaks, and that hardly at all except for a long lecture expressing the view that the desert is a wasteland that can be made fertile when cleansed of its current inhabitants. As the rituals of army life are repeated and repeated, the tension builds beneath the narrative. The soldiers come across a group of unarmed Bedouin at an oasis and kill them and their camels, taking a dog and a young woman back to the camp. Their mistreatment of her, culminating in gang rape and later her murder and burial near the camp, can be felt in the narrative long before they occur. The howling dog witness shifts the first section of the book to the second, where a howling dog keeps the first-person narrator awake at night in her house in contemporary Ramallah. She has become obsessed with the fate of the young woman, which she has read about in a newspaper article, and by “the conviction that I can uncover details about the rape and murder as the girl experienced it, not relying on what the soldiers who committed it disclosed.” What happens to those who have no agency in their own story? The narrator cannot accept that the young woman is “a nobody who will forever remain a nobody whose voice nobody will hear,” and, with a borrowed ID, which will help her to enter different areas, and a rented car, one weekend she sets out to see if she can find out more. She takes a pile of maps: the official Israeli maps that show the roads, checkpoints, settlements and army zones in the Negev but do not mark even still-existing Palestinian settlements, and maps of the Naqab before 1948, which give information possibly relevant to her search. Maps are a way in which power imprints itself on territory, and Shibli spends a great deal of careful attention in both parts of the novel to the movements of her main characters over the land, contrasting the movement associated with maps with that concerned with and guided by the terrain. These different ways of moving have, for each of them, quite different results. The movements of the officer in the first section imprints power upon a territory, a pattern traced by the woman in the second section over land that holds the trace of violence in itself. The past is never left behind though it can never be recovered, either. In the first part, the officer has complete ease of movement, heading wherever he wishes, inside or out; in the second part the narrator has her movement checked and restricted wherever she goes (until she reaches the Naqab). “The borders imposed between things here are many. One must pay attention to them, and navigate them, which ultimately protects everyone from perilous consequences,” she notes, waiting at the checkpoints in the wall that divides the territory. “There are some who consider focusing on minor details as the only way to arrive at the truth, and therefore proof of its existence, to reconstruct an incident one has never witnessed simply by noticing little details that everyone else finds to be insignificant,” she says, as a reason for her search. This may be true, but if such minor details exist their significance may also be unrecognised by the searcher. In the military museum that she visits, the only ‘evidence’ is the soap, the jerry cans, the uniforms, the vehicles and the weapons mentioned in the first part. Intention leaves no residue. Also these objects constitute the majority of the soldiers’ experience, given how little the woman meant to them. Part of the narrator’s and Shibli’s project is to uncover the particular from the general, the experience from the history. Although both she and the author bewail injustice, the narrator shows no enmity towards any of the people she meets, all are treated with sympathy; harm arises only from structures of power. Power withdraws the evidence of its actions, hides its victims, disappears into the understructure of everyday life. There is no residue unless the land holds a residue. The second half of the book is lightly told, in keeping with the personality of its narrator, and often funny (she describes a film rewinding in a museum and the settlers dismantling their houses). She visits the settlement with the name of the place where the crime occurred and learns that the actual place is near by, she visits the place and finds nothing of interest, she walks through the surrounding plantations where the desert has been made fertile, but is frightened back by a dog. “I am here in vain,” she says. “I haven’t found anything I’ve been looking for, and this journey hasn’t added anything to what I knew about the incident when I started out.” Reluctant to return to Ramallah, she drives back and forth in the desert, gives a ride to an old woman, and then decides to follow her through a military zone, where she comes across an oasis. The land has drawn her to the core of her quest, but she has no way of recognising it as such, and she does not expect that her quest will be, still unknowingly, fulfilled in the last sentence of the book.