Tender, difficult memoir of the Russian diaspora during and after the Soviet revolution. Nemirovsky has centered her narrative on the cities, Kiev, StTender, difficult memoir of the Russian diaspora during and after the Soviet revolution. Nemirovsky has centered her narrative on the cities, Kiev, St.Petersberg, Helsinki, and Paris, each a stage in the flight across Europe, and in the maturity of her heroine.
Covering the ages of about fifteen to twenty, we get the full emotional uproar of the onset of womanhood, as experienced against a fairly catastrophic background. Nemirovsky is more interested in the fluid psychology of her protagonist than in the Jamesian jigsaw puzzles that the story may resemble. Touchingly, precisely laid out, though, and perhaps truer to life than those other, more famous European labyrinths....more
The night firmament is abstract density of music, symphony without end, illumination without end, yet emptier, more sparsely l Under The Night Colander
The night firmament is abstract density of music, symphony without end, illumination without end, yet emptier, more sparsely lit, than the most succinct constellations of genius. Now seen merely, a depthless lining of hemisphere, its crazy stippling of stars, it is the passional movement of the mind charted in light and darkness. The tense passional intelligence, when arithmetic abates, tunnels, skymole, surely and blindly (if we only thought so) through the interstellar coalsacks of its firmament in genesis, it twists through the stars of its creation in a network of loci that shall never be co-ordinate. The inviolable criterion of poetry and music, the non-principle of their punctuation is figured in the demented perforation of the night colander. The ecstatic mind, the mind achieveing creation, take ours for example, rises to the shaftheads of its statement, its recondite relations of emergal, from a labour and a weariness of deep castings that brook no schema.
This material, which the author never wanted published, called the Dream Of Fair To Middling Women-- is a kind of soft-boiled Becket-In-The-Egg. Come and meet the starry-eyed apprentice, student of Joyce and brooding Irish boy-man, come with us and watch Sammy run amok in stream-of-consciousness high-jinks. An unmanageable flood that the mature writer would routinely chop, slop, grind, and purée brutally down to size, once he moved on to his journeyman days.
This was compiled before Murphy, Watt and More Pricks Than Kicks. And long before the plays. But lay aside the later work and we find this to be a conscientious and muscle-flexing outing; in fact there is something of the trial-by-fire going on here, as self-administered by One Unrelenting And Jesuitical practitioner. Reading Beckett is always a bit like getting into a boxing ring on Open Ticket night, where the reader must be prepared for all comers, any kind of game, blatant cheating, and all of it on the rough side.
That this is a hidden blurt of juvenalia written in a blinding heat seems apparent; the concerns spin vertiginously down from that Infinite Night Sky to the niceties of arriving informally at a posh party ... simple-you-say-I-think-not ... after having barfed up a day's work in drinks... whilst stage-managing the getting of the girl. The unpleasant meeting unexpectedly with the unsettling, as we ride his shoulder.
Do you have to be Irish and vehemently narcissistic to arrive at that Holy Tranquility, that trans-configuration of the banal and the immortal wherein you may care for this kind of thing, in book-form, of all the unlikely ? I think it may actually help. It did me. But I feel better now. ...more
… a reception at Tina Brown’s house, where he found himself standing in a small circle of guests whose other members were Martin Amis, Martin Scorses
… a reception at Tina Brown’s house, where he found himself standing in a small circle of guests whose other members were Martin Amis, Martin Scorsese, David Bowie, Iman, Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart and Jerry Seinfeld…
For some reason this seemed like it would be an unnerving and paranoiac modernist turn on memoir-writing, with some swashbuckling-special-branch derring-do on the side. In the end you know a lot more about a typically fretful middle-aged writer and not so much about the extraordinary circumstances he lived; funny how that could be, but I think that possibly the truly exotic parts couldn't yet be printed.
(That's being kind. Odds point to yet another variation on this same theme, from the same author, perhaps ten or fifteen years hence; a director's cut, so to speak. It shouldn't feel mercenary like that, but it does.)
Seems to me there are four reasons this was not to be much of a book, and the same four reasons add up to a recipe for a fairly dissappointing outing.
First and most ship-sinkingly, Mr. Rushdie uses this occasion to settle scores, to talk back, to set the record straight according to his lights. His call, of course, and surely those messages find their way to their intended audiences. Unlike famous authors, the rest of us think of the witty retorts only by the next morning-- and chalk it up as experience. But no snippet of anything, carefully cut and preserved for later comment, escapes Rushdie's infinitely acute hindsight. Which starts to wear on the reader who doesn't care about every last slight or rebuff, and certainly doesn't need imaginary revisions; a years-later "here's how it should have been" adds up to not much.
Second, there is nothing so dismal as a middle aged man, no matter how intricate his afterthoughts, or how elegant his talent at description may be, commenting on his marriages, affairs and offspring once they have all moved on. That's your own book, Salman, the one no one should really want to be caught reading.
Third, they call it the Special Branch, the Secret Intelligence Service, because they don't want you knowing what sort of tricks they get up to. When Rushdie avers his undying respect for the men not-in-uniform, you believe him; and yet, you have to think that because of it you won't be getting the inside game, the slew of deception & camouflage that you wanted to know about. And that was the public tease, the premise of the book, as promoted in its release.
Fourth, the deeper aspect of the book is somehow wasted on trying to balance the secret jet-setting & womanizing with the holier-than-holy duty to produce High Art at his scrivener's desk all the while. Rushdie is no slouch, but judging by what's here, this is no easy needle to thread. Too much contemplative whirling-around is wasted on worrying about those questions, I'm afraid. So, zero in the Ars Longa Vita Brevis column.
Once a chapter or so, we get a nice, curve-free emotional pitch from the man we used to know as Salman Rushdie, and it makes it worthwhile again, if only for that moment in time :
In Kerala he watched a famous oral storyteller work his magic. The interesting thing about this performance was that it broke all the rules. “Begin at the beginning,” the King of Hearts had instructed the flustered White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “and go on until you come to the end; then stop.” And this was how stories were meant to be told, according to whichever king of hearts had made up the rules, but this was not what happened in that open-air Keralan theater. The storyteller stirred stories into one another, digressed frequently from the main narrative, told jokes, sang songs, connected his political story to the ancient tales, made personal asides, and generally misbehaved. And yet the audience did not get up and walk out in disgust. It did not hiss or boo or throw vegetables or benches at the performer. Instead, it roared with laughter, wept in despair, and remained on the edge of its seat until he was done. Did it do so in spite of the storyteller’s complicated story-juggling act, or because of it ? Might it be that this pyrotechnic way of telling might in fact be more engrossing than the King of Hearts’ preferred version— that the oral story, the most ancient of narrative forms, had survived because of its adoption of complexity and playfulness and its rejection of start-to-finish linearity? If so, then here in this warm Keralan night, all of his own thoughts about writing were being amply confirmed…
Everyone will read this, everyone will feel that there was a lot more there, still going unsaid, and my wager is that Rushdie himself hasn't had his last say on l'affaire Joseph Anton....more
A bit light on period detail (of which there can't be too much if you're really reading for that) but there is enough here to transport the reader toA bit light on period detail (of which there can't be too much if you're really reading for that) but there is enough here to transport the reader to a different world, that of 1914. A world where cannon and horse fought world wars, weather and season were uppermost on the minds of the warriors, and in which the idea of "spy" wasn't quite set as a genre.
This is apparently direct documentary reportage, and suffers (a little bit) by comparison to it's fictional competitors, Erskine Childers, say, or John Buchan. But the fact is that this is a template for those kinds of narratives, an outline of the strange events and the nagging goblins that inhabit men's minds when the world is at war. Geoffrey Pike's voice in the book is kind of endearingly chipper and defiantly blasé in the closest of calls; he's a kind of Great War teenage ancestor of future Clandestine Britannia, ala Mr.Bond.
So not a Thirty Nine Steps or a Riddle Of The Sands but a forerunner of same. The harrowing chase across the moor, the forced-march across frozen night-landscapes, the endurance tests where the protagonist must swear to a fraudulent claim and appear nonchalant... We'd never get to Eric Ambler or Ian Fleming without the originals like Mr Pike. ...more
Time-capsule document from the mid-sixties, years where the studios found themselves in long slow eclipse. Donne amiably taps the bones and kicks at tTime-capsule document from the mid-sixties, years where the studios found themselves in long slow eclipse. Donne amiably taps the bones and kicks at the ashes of the mastodons, as the concept of "big movie studio" morphs in the background.
Seems like Donne was lucky in the sense that 2oth Century Fox chose to green-light some super losers in the year that the book covers. In the later part of the sixties it just seems incredible that studio heads would bankroll flatliner vehicles like Star!, Hello Dolly, or the genuinely insipid Dr. Doolittle, but they did, and did so merrily, with conviction. And they follow it up with all the old wisecracking wisdom of the previous era ... This was still the time in the Movies where studio bosses could change the adorable Daughter character to a Chimp, and move locale from Western to Noir -- all the while congratulating themselves on their 'feel' for the market. High-jinks ensue, bottom line protected, box office continues to shrink mysteriously.
By 67-68, the years of the book, huge inflated movies had crashed and burned : The Longest Day and Cleopatra were large scale disaster movies for the studios, and somehow or other, nobody in Hollywood saw 67's Summer Of Love as any kind of indicator. Keenly oblivious to actual youth culture, Fox mounted The Sound Of Music to please the 'family' market and scored big. Their success with that film pointed the way to some really bad choices, and this is where Donne arrives.
Near-total disregard for the intelligence of the audience and a tone-deaf misunderstanding of the times and the changes happening in cinema... are the plot of the book. Curiously, Mr Donne indulges in no critical appraisal of the events, saving for the end a glimmer of understanding. At the premiere of Doolittle, celebrities and power brokers alike declare, with astonishing, breathless consensus, that the "movie is just wonderful".
Seems that Donne is willing to risk a little in showing the echo-chamber happy-talk strategies of the PR machine, but curiously again, there is no consideration given that most of the movies worked up during the course of the book are overblown fiascos even before publicity began.
Likely that Donne just wanted to be able to still get his table at Chasen's, and do lunch in Olde Hollywood style, after the book was published.
Good introduction to a kind of ancient civilization, a once and never-again land where the choice of Pastrami versus Corned Beef may be as critical as Julie Andrews versus Barbra Streisand.
Majors pull no boffo returns on warblers, but a quick read & a couple-o-yucks. ...more
Contrasted with the drama he sees all around him, Charles Li's autobiography is a quiet, solitary account of the upheaval in the China of 1944 onwards Contrasted with the drama he sees all around him, Charles Li's autobiography is a quiet, solitary account of the upheaval in the China of 1944 onwards to the 1960s.
Born into the affuent surroundings afforded to a father who was a member of the collaborationist Nanking regime under the Japanese, the author was tought a practical, confucian code that distanced him from his actual situation. History swept the cars, mansion and servants away with the onslaught of the Nationalist movement of Chiang Kai-shek. From here onwards the family finds itself on the wrong side of everything, and our narrator finds himself progressively more alienated at each development.
The first two-thirds of the book conveys that sinking feeling, the sense of being on the wrong side of history, something infinitely complex for a child on his own to metabolize. The boy gets occasional guidance from the father, but the advice is cryptic & distant at best. "Rule Number One: Keep everyone else in the light while you yourself remain in shadow."
Pretty much cast adrift and left to his own ideas, occasionally the boy gets a lift, as when stumbling onto a treasure trove of popular culture, a mashup of east and west in happy agreement:
In order to avoid unpleasant encounters, I had to find a place in that flat to hide after school and made myself as inconspicuous as possible on weekends. A tiny room at the back of the flat, used as storage space, provided me a surprisingly beneficial escape. Originally intended as a bedroom for a second servant, the little room now housed books that did not belong to mainstream literature in the Confucian framework, books that did not deserve the title of classics. They were "lowbrow" books--novels folklores, mythologies, opera librettos, travel books, ghost stories, martial-art legends, even American magazines such as National Geographic and Life. Father had never assigned any of those books for me to read. After all, Confucius had decreed twenty-five hundred years ago that any written work other than poetry, philosophy, history, and didactic essays was to be dismissed as "sreet talk and alley gossip." But to me, the lowbrow books in that little room offered suspenseful diversion and fascinating information...
Across the breadth of the book the young man moves from Nanking to Shanghai and eventually away to the British Colony of Hong Kong, essentially part of a family of political exiles. When time for University comes around, Li is urged by his father to repatriate to (what by now is the Maoist mainland of) China, advising that the progressive marxist regime would reward his efforts and welcome him as a native son.
It is here that the narrative finds its voice, and the pace quickens perceptibly. Met at the border by a grey-suited Comrade Zhu, a nervous Li is taken inland on a train. As the train pulled into Guangzhou Station he told me, "I am going to hand you over to a special school established for students who returned from overseas." "But I am not from overseas," I protested. There isn't a sea separating Hong Kong from China. Just a small river." "Well, we include Hong Kong and Macau in the 'overseas' category at this point in time," he said officiously, dismissing my protest. "But of course, they are without a doubt an integral part of our motherland. You know that we will take them back." "What will I do in the special school for students returned from overseas ?" "You will undergo thought reform."
From here a story that was somewhat detached becomes entirely visceral. Life is turned around drastically for young Li. And life in the 'reform' of Mao's pogroms was as ridiculous as it was harsh. Even more amazing than the flyswatting "Campaign To Exterminate Pests" undertaken by millions of chinese is the logic used to support and police the effort. More than reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's trial and sentencing guidelines in Alice In Wonderland, the Party has inexplicable ways & means. There is a mindbogglingly funny scene in which intellectual Student-Comrade Mei stands up in Mutual-Criticism-Self-Criticism class, to confess that he has often dreamed erotic scenarios at night in the study compound, involving Teacher-Comrade Ziu, she of the shapeless uniforms and asexual affect... and a very colorful confession it turns out to be. Student-Comrade Mei is promptly redirected and his student days are terminated.
There is an astringent quality to humor when it is in the grip of state-socialism, a bitter tang that is unforgettable when told in narrative form. Like Witold Gombrowicz's expressionist novels, Charles Li has chapters in his account of the Cultural Revolution that are benchmarks of just that, the extremist self-denial and delusion during the era giving way to the ludicrous. Convention and civility are twisted into unrecognizable shapes, and humanity forgets itself. There is something here that is turning out to be one of the unfortunate dramatic hallmarks of Twentieth Century literature-- the senseless inhumanity that results from humanity's efforts to rebuild a social contract-- inevitably contravening the fairness and practicality it sought to re-establish. ...more
This isn't "Patti Smith My Untold Story"... rather, it's the account of the strange, sad, quasi-mystical bond she shared with the late Robert Mappleth This isn't "Patti Smith My Untold Story"... rather, it's the account of the strange, sad, quasi-mystical bond she shared with the late Robert Mapplethorpe. Which acts as the medium for her own story.
Starting with the very convincing memories of being starving, non-influential peripherals, these were the days when everybody wanted a little pixie dust on their own parade, everyone in NYC was either artist or civilian, and the whirlwind of fame was just around the next corner.
Without any undue emphasis, Not-Famous Patti comes across as the toughest thing on the block---and the block was 23rd street on the west side, Chelsea Hotel, to be precise-- as well as the pillar of strength & inspiration for Mapplethorpe. Somehow she manages to work a straight job, stroll back into art-land with Robert in the evenings and eventually make it over to Max's Kansas City to be officially counted in the scene there, then back to the Chelsea for late nights with the other animals in the zoo.
... As everyone was taking turns petting the python, I was free to rummage through George's musical compositions, stacked randomly among the ferns, palms, and caged nightingales. I was elated to find original sheet music from Shinbone Alley in a pile atop a filing cabinet. But the real revelation was finding evidence that this modest and kindly snake-rearing gentleman was none other than the composer of the music for Tubby The Tuba. He confirmed this fact and I nearly wept when he showed me original scores for the music so beloved in my childhood. The Chelsea was like a doll's house in the twilight zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking it's spirits, dead or alive...
And as their time in New York rounds that corner from obscurity to perfectly-tuned bohemia, we meet and greet. Here's Allen Ginsberg chatting to Diane Arbus, there's William Burroughs surrounded by Gallery boys & Factory girls, here's Rauchenberg, Dylan, Warhol, and the Icons of pop-culture.
To be brief, eventually Patti allows herself to be convinced that an electric guitar can accentuate her poetry readings, leading to a rock'n'roll future. Robert curtails hustling on Times Square in time to be ushered into elaborate, well-moneyed environs as blazing-hot photographer of quirky features & fashion.
The best parts of the book entail the early days, the rise to something like acceptability on the art scene in seventies New York. How to shoplift art supplies without alienating your art supplier, how to dress for gallery openings when you can't afford the cab to get there, how late to arrive, and the ever important who's who. The intersection with the end of the flower-power era is nicely accounted for, too ....
.... At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde. There were musicians everywhere... I stood there amazed, yet I didn't feel like an intruder. The Chelsea was my home and El Quixote was my bar. There were no security guards, no pervasive sense of privilege. They were here for the Woodstock festival, but I was so afflicted by hotel oblivion that I wasn't aware of the festival or what it meant. Grace Slick got up and brushed past me. She was wearing a floor-length tie-dyed dress and had dark violet eyes like Liz Taylor. "Hello," I said, noticing I was taller. "Hello yourself," she said.
When I went back upstairs I felt an inexplicable sense of kinship with these people, though I had no way to interpret my feeling of prescience. I could never have predicted that I would one day walk in their path. At that moment I was still a gangly twenty-two-year-old book clerk, struggling simultaneously with several unfinished poems...
At no point does Just Kids feel pretentious or overly self-impressed; Ms Smith is most impressed by the power of Art & Music and the sway it holds over the lives of those in her circle. What doesn't exactly equate is the sort of mystic, tender, self-sacrificing dedication to the calling, in the face of the street-tough, odd-jobs-&-hustling-persona that both Smith and Mapplethorpe had to embody to make ends meet. Something had to give. Something there doesn't add up, but as in all memoirs history isn't objective but selective, and it's a small quibble. It's not that the aspiration and the day-to-day couldn't inhabit the same body, but that these diametrically-opposed visions could never really abide as closely as presented.
For Mapplethorpe, the era left it's mark in his Hiv positive condition and he would only live to see his success through the lens of death. For Patti, she recorded some of the most inspired records of the era, and eventually moved on to voluntarily drop out of the scene. Everybody had a good time, everybody let their hair down. ...more
Adelstein seems to have looked back on his abbreviated career in the Japanese print media and determined that it wasn't just "crime beat" but actuallyAdelstein seems to have looked back on his abbreviated career in the Japanese print media and determined that it wasn't just "crime beat" but actually Noir. Okay, well enough, but this leads him down a peculiar prose path: rather than saying, for example, that he just interviewed someone with possible Yakuza connections, he noirishly sketches out the loner journo leaning his stark frame against a shattered doorway whilst lighting the millionth cigarette of the morning --before getting down to the connections. That kind of thing.
Let's not be too hard; this is all based on a real adventure in the seamy milieu of Japanese organized crime, murder, sex-slaving, cosplay and kink, along it's intersection with otherwise normal society. Though it can tend a little to self-aggrandizement, it's also got it's eye on the culture, the atmosphere, and the little details that make this kind of narrative come alive.
And unpredictably, the haircuts. There is Takeshi Aida, owner of a chain of adult clubs, who sports "a punch perm-- tight curls all over his head, a thin mexican mustache, and photochromatic oval shades." Or "Saeki, the head of Saitama homicide... running the press conference. He had bad skin and thick glasses, and even though he was at least twenty pounds overweight, he still managed to find suits that were baggy on him. He was growing bald, so he combed his hair, grown long on the sides, over the bald part on top, producing the hairstyle known in Japan as bar-code".
This kind of cross-cultural slang and shorthand is the real foundation for the book; when bad guys do bad things, it's just cowboys and indians, but when they've been tatooed from head to foot first, or do it with a bow beforehand, it can only be Japan. All in all, an intriguing ride. doːitaɕimaɕi̥te. ...more
Slightly meandering, mild-mannered memoir of Blofeld's years in pre-Mao china of the thirties & forties. In his younger, more curious years, he haSlightly meandering, mild-mannered memoir of Blofeld's years in pre-Mao china of the thirties & forties. In his younger, more curious years, he has interesting encounters with the Singsong Girls of the Flower-ships, as well as the opium pipe. As things move on, they get more academic, though occasionally a rivetting meta-moment occurs in the higher reaches of Toaist practice.
This narrative seems to lose color a bit as it attempts to 1. steer away from the political thunderclouds in China in that day, 2. find paths that navigate all bottlenecks presented by the tricky intersections of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and 3. generally avoid criticism, never ever disparaging any aspect of Chinese culture, social practice, class structure or milieu... All presumably well-intentioned observances, but together they manage to drain the atmosphere a bit, and it's color and atmosphere that I tend to value most in a Period Travel memoir.
All that being said, this is a gentle and eventually winning account of China in the early twentieth century, standing on the doorstep of spectacular upheaval. Blofeld is on a spiritual quest here, too... He's not exactly here for anthropology, and by the end of the tale we get his vision a little better :
Modern science can now provide evidence for this idea of the primordial unity of all manifest form, throughout the universe. It has been demonstrated by science that matter (form) and energy (formless) are interchangeable, and that they both share the same essential vibrational nature. Einstein's famous equation E=MC²defined the dynamic commutability between these two dimensions of existence. Furthermore the advanced science of quantum physics now agrees with the fundamental hypothesis of ancient Eastern Cosmology that the entire manifest universe is formed and shaped by consciousness, and that nothing whatsoever exists beyond the infinite luminous field of primordial awareness.
It's possible that some of the distant quality here comes from the fact that the English Blofeld wrote this account in Chinese, his second language, for a Chinese readership-- and for this book his protégé has translated it back to English. ...more
...More like three and a half stars... Slightly dated ('94) by now, but still well stocked with fascinating material about Fringe Japan, from the motor...More like three and a half stars... Slightly dated ('94) by now, but still well stocked with fascinating material about Fringe Japan, from the motorbike-punks to the salaryman-bar hostesses, from the yakuza wiseguys to the otaku, the computer hackers. Each chapter a different outing with a different subgroup, all of whom the author seems to have befriended for at least a while.
There is no doubt an unresolved question with a project like this one, resting on the ethics of representing a (fairly conservative) nation via it's most flamboyant outliers. I'm not sure I'd like to be reading a report about my own country that takes up the flag of the most dazzlingly flakey subsets; or to have such an account seen as reprentative of the whole "pie". But I suppose if a wide range is covered, tilting toward all extremes, it's somewhat characteristic, on average, at least of those thinner slices of the national pie.
This is more a compilation of essays that it is a coherent thesis, but: each and every one is a compelling read... which is no mean feat.
Modern-day Tokyo is a society in symbiosis with the machine. Exactly where human beings end and technology begins can become confusing in a city that resembles, more than any other city on the planet, a neon-lit circuit board writ gigantic. Grandmothers in kimonos bow in gratitude to their automated banking machines. Young couples bring hand-held computer games along for romantic evenings out. Workers on a Toyota assembly line vote their robot coworkers into the auto workers union. A woman calls the Matsushita-Denko kitchen design showroom to complain because her kitchen doesn't look like the model kitchen she saw in a virtual reality walkthrough demonstration. "I was expecting more vivid oranges and pinks. Something more cartoony," she complains. Voice-activated elevators. Cars that tell you to slow down. Houses that adjust internal temperatures themselves. Vacuum cleaners that alert you when it's time to clean ...
In many respects, Japan is itself an absorbing case-study for where modern world culture may be travelling. The point may be made that no other singular culture in the world has been through such drastic upheaval, and consequent evolution, in the last hundred or so years. Even though this collection is written before universal cellphones & blackberries, and more interestingly, before the Internet-- it's well worth the read. ...more