Ever since falling hard for A Time of Gifts last year, I've been working my way through the rest of Patrick Leigh Fermor's oeuvre, but I had some trepEver since falling hard for A Time of Gifts last year, I've been working my way through the rest of Patrick Leigh Fermor's oeuvre, but I had some trepidation about this one: it's his first book, written in the late 1940s, and it's about a journey through the (at the time, still colonial) Caribbean. There just seemed to be a lot of potential pitfalls. And that trepidation was warranted; there are a lot of bits in this book that make for uncomfortable reading.
Leigh Fermor is no jingoistic imperialist; he's repulsed by the overt racism he encounters among white locals, seeks to speak with black and Native people on their own terms and to learn about their cultures, is admiring of Aimé Cesaire and empathizes with the Haitian revolution. But at the same time he has a constant tendency to exoticize and generalize about the non-white people he meets, at times in quite racialized ways; there's an element of patronization here that is notably different from his books about Europe. Not surprising, perhaps, in a white European man visiting the Caribbean in the 1940s, but disappointing and upsetting nonetheless.
A big part of what makes Leigh Fermor so compelling in his chronicles of Europe is his historical sensibility--his awareness of the many layers of the past and how they all bleed into and affect one another, and linger into the present--combined with his celebration of multiplicity and cultural mingling, and his equal-opportunity curiosity that encompasses peasants and emperors alike. He has a fascination with the romantic, a tendency to drift into fantasias, but he's able to connect with the romances and dreams of many different peoples and places. In The Traveller's Tree we see that sensibility at play, but also its limits. But I'm glad I read it, for a couple of reasons. This is a vivid and fascinating book, full of delightful turns of phrase and evocative descriptions, that offers a glimpse of the Caribbean at a particular time in the past. It's also salutary to be aware of the flaws and failings of a favorite author. In many ways, the problems with Leigh Fermor's perspective here are still the problems of white liberalism today.
In the end, The Traveller's Tree left me feeling replete with a rich and varied journey - and in dire need of some writing by black Caribbean authors....more
The Cass Neary books are pretty much catnip for me. A punk photographer who keeps getting tangled up in dangerous situations connected to artists andThe Cass Neary books are pretty much catnip for me. A punk photographer who keeps getting tangled up in dangerous situations connected to artists and archaeology? These are basically all of my interests. The only thing that bothers me sometimes is that it can all seem a bit TOO tailored; I like Cass a lot but I don't always completely buy her as a character. Anyway this one has London and Cornwall and a dénouement in a fogou, so, you know, it's good....more
Delicately observed slice-of-life stories about Yemeni Jewish characters in Israel, Canada, and a few other places, many dealing with family relationsDelicately observed slice-of-life stories about Yemeni Jewish characters in Israel, Canada, and a few other places, many dealing with family relationships, how those ties can both provide sustenance and inflict damage. I enjoyed these while I was reading them but I'm not sure that they'll stick with me for long; there was a definite MFA style to them that felt a little too poised and deliberate, and tended to make the individual stories blend into each other....more
This is a very short book, best read in one sitting. I guess it originated as a Kindle single, at least going by the Goodreads information, so that maThis is a very short book, best read in one sitting. I guess it originated as a Kindle single, at least going by the Goodreads information, so that makes sense. I read it because I love Ruth Ozeki's books and will read anything she writes, and while I wouldn't recommend this as a place to start with her work, as an established fan I enjoyed it. She has this ability to take unlikely-seeming topics and make them very compelling, and this way of building meditations that circle from one thing to another and end up drawing in a lot of life. So the concept of this book is the author meditating on her face, literally sitting and looking at her own face in the mirror for two hours (it seems like this book is part of a series that asked authors to go through this exercise?). Which sounds odd, but is actually quite fascinating. In a short space Ozeki touches on aging, growing up as a biracial person in mid-20th-century America, relationships with one's parents, and Zen Buddhism, among other things. The face, after, all, is worthy of reflection: it's so much the point where we interact with other people, the identifying element of the self, so much meaning is tied to it, and yet it is not the self. ...more
This is a very dense and academic read, but worth it. I had the weird sensation of for the first time reading something that was really about, as JoanThis is a very dense and academic read, but worth it. I had the weird sensation of for the first time reading something that was really about, as Joan Didion put it, where I was from. I feel like this book helps me make sense of the place I grew up, that strange way that national and international politics lived alongside, and interpenetrated with, the experience of 'standard suburbia.' And it's full of info and histories that I didn't know, or didn't know in detail - many of them appalling - that pull the picture together....more