I thought this an excellent study of Dante and his Commedia. Meant for the general reader rather than the academic, it should be enormously useful toI thought this an excellent study of Dante and his Commedia. Meant for the general reader rather than the academic, it should be enormously useful to any reader of the poem, especially those entering it for the first time.
Shaw analyzes the Commedia through the use of seven themes: friendship, power, life, love, time, numbers, and words. The discussion moves from how Dante came to begin it to the historical reality of its final existence and everything in between, including the importance of the Trinity, explorations of love, and how the poem's cosmic scope can be squeezed into the conscience of a man. That design means her gloss isn't a canto by canto summary, and it allows her plenty of leeway to discuss the other important material associated with the poem. Biographical details of Dante and others are included along with descriptions of Florence and the Italy they lived in. Shaw spends time explaining the theology of the times and the tumultuous politics of the mid to late 13th century, both Papal, which influenced all of Europe, and the regional politics Dante had to skate through. She maps the "geography of the afterlife," as well as the all-important structure of the poem itself. I especially liked her writing at length on the influences such ancients as Aristotle and Ovid had on Dante and those Dante had on such moderns as T. S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney.
I'd think Reading Dante a useful book for anyone interested in Dante and his work. If you've read his Commedia before, Shaw's study can only add to your appreciation. If you're reading for the first time, using her book in conjunction will allow it to act as the Virgil guiding you through the elaborate world Dante created....more
I had to warm up to this book. I had to get used to the way the prose runs because rather than purring like a Cadillac it kind of clunks like an old fI had to warm up to this book. I had to get used to the way the prose runs because rather than purring like a Cadillac it kind of clunks like an old farm tractor, an engine that misses and misfires, though it does slowly move along, planting the seeds of information and analysis. Maybe the reason the engine of this biography doesn't run more smoothly is because it's clogged with venom and spite. It's a near-assassination. It's a negative slant. Kinzer seems to want to paint a negative portrait of the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen. The former was Dwight D. Eisenhower's Secretary of State, the latter the first civilian director of the CIA during the early years of its operation. I've read other biographies like this. Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang, which I reviewed here on Goodreads in 2009, and the Albert Grossman biography of Elvis disappointed in the same way. Biography approaching its subject in such a negative way and telling the life from all the bad angles makes for unbalanced biography. Unfair, too, because it can't be the complete story of these men who lived long, productive lives in service to American society and government. But it must be the story Kinzer wants to tell. He writes more on expose and polemic than biography.
The book is structured around 6 international leaders of the period Kinzer says the Dulleses called monsters: Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran, President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, President Sukarno of Indonesia, and Fidel Castro of Cuba. The governments of the first 3 were overthrown by U. S. intervention and influence, primarily through actions initiated by John Foster and Allen Dulles, at State and the CIA. In my opinion, to explain the intricate, global-encompassing foreign policy of the U. S. in the 1950s as the intervention in 6 countries is to rob your work of the high octane fuel needed to write successful biography. I don't doubt that the Dulles brothers in power during those years had a hand in subverting governments. But by trying to make me believe they did no good, either, or didn't act in the best interests of America is to subvert my sense of history and my values of good biography.
To be fair, the book becomes less strident following the death of John Foster in 1959, leaving Allen alone in government. Though the reader knows the seriously-flawed Bay of Pigs, a CIA operation. is still to come. But Kinzer's summation claims the brothers misread Soviet intentions, motives, and attitudes, and that misunderstanding led them and America into a more threatening stance which created friction between the ideologies. He writes, "John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles guided their country through the world during an era of extremes. The passage of time, and the end of the Cold War, make it difficult to grasp the depth of fear that gripped many Americans during the 1950s. Foster and Allen were chief promoters of that fear. They did as much as anyone to shape America's confrontation with the Soviet Union. Their actions helped set off some of the world's most profound long-term crises." To me, to blame the Dulles brothers for the confrontational stance and fear generated by the ideological competition is to forget that Churchill advocated a preventive war against the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, that George F. Kennan's influential views of Soviet intentions and motives encouraged the policy of containment adhered to during all those years, and that Harry Truman's actions in Berlin and Korea began the pattern of confrontation before the Dulleses came to power. Sometimes I thought Kinzer wrong. To claim that singer and actor Pat Boone's announcement that he wouldn't kiss his leading ladies was an example of the religious climate of 1950s America is to misjudge the times. (Even at 15 I knew he was making a mistake by not kissing Ann-Margret.) To compare the interventions of the Dulles brothers to Shane ridding the valley of bad guys, or Eisenhower to a sheriff in a lawless town, is to misjudge men.
But to be fair again, by Kinzer's summation the engine was running more smoothly, the rattling rhetoric not so noisy. The stars are generous. The skies are clearing here, and I can see them again. Just as I could always see there was some truth in Kinzer's telling. It's just that he didn't tell it all....more
Orwell led a difficult life after the Spanish Civil War. Wounded in the throat in Barcelona, he was already struggling with the tuberculosis which wouOrwell led a difficult life after the Spanish Civil War. Wounded in the throat in Barcelona, he was already struggling with the tuberculosis which would kill him in 1950. His first wife died in 1944 leaving him to care for their infant son alone. Four years later he himself was hospitalized. He spent most of his last 2 years in hospital. These letters deal with how Orwell coped with these misfortunes. Bravely, I think, and also hopefully right up to the end. The personal letters describe matter-of-factly and uncomplainingly the difficulties of health and raising a toddler in ration-plagued postwar Britain. He made the best of it. If he never wrote figuratively or poetically, he never wrote angrily or dejectedly, either.
What Orwell didn't struggle with was his writing. He wrote quickly and with ease when he was healthy enough to work, and he was lucky in being able to place whatever rolled from his typewriter. Publishers waited eagerly for his novels, but finding someone to print essays and reviews was easy, too. His book deals were good to him; book clubs provided huge print runs and large sales. Partly because of all this his letters reveal little friction with publishers and editors. With peers, either, though there are few letters to fellow writers. Arthur Koestler and Anthony Powell were his closest writer friends. For all these reasons the letters are generally peaceful, contented. The turmoil in Orwell's life was with his health....more
I'm reminded of a couple of novelists long-established before the publication of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Meg Wolitzer's first novel, SleepwalkiI'm reminded of a couple of novelists long-established before the publication of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Meg Wolitzer's first novel, Sleepwalking, revolved around a trio of girls on the Swarthmore campus who were obsessed with Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, poets who destroyed themselves. One of Joyce Carol Oates's earlier novels was You Must Remember This. It shares a major theme with McBride's novel, sexual abuse within the family.
Despite the thematic similarities, there are differences. Wolitzer's character Clare Danziger and Oates's Enid Stevick complete their journeys as knowledgeable, rational, and beautifully complete young women. McBride's protagonist, never named, is, as the title suggests, half-formed. The most striking difference is the language. The reader quickly becomes aware that in her novel about a half-formed girl McBride has written half-formed sentences. The hype surrounding the novel refers to Samuel Beckett, with good reason. The prose is choppy in the same way, though McBride's writing has a few unusual and original characteristics. Sometimes in the midst of this choppy sea of sentence fragments, stops and starts, McBride has even formed sentences from word parts. Dis. Gusting. Pet. Ition. Sometimes she'll wombine cords, like that. In a time of stresS near the end, she's caPitalized ranDOm leTteRs, like this. In fact, this is language under stress, language bent, stretched, and twisted to the breaking point.
I don't mean to make it seem difficult. It's not. It's more unusual than difficult, and is fairly easy to read. Some sections, I'm remembering now, are even musical. Other parts push the narrative forward with irresistible, headlong power. The story itself is a conventional one of a young girl's passage through school, through sexual awakening, to become a woman. It's Irish, so not surprisingly Catholicism is a theme, as is the dense weave of family. Some elements may be autobiographical. Another thing the news about the novel tells us is that McBride also had a brother who suffered a brain tumor. The experience must have been searing. She holds us close to the flame with her.
McBride has a bright future. Wolitzer began in darkness but has sprung, fully-formed, into success as a writer of lighter themes. The legendary Joyce Carol Oates has thrived on her novels exploring the dark underside of families. McBride will have her time. Her prose pops and flashes like fireworks, and out of such beginnings a writer able to demonstrate such savage, Paleolithic style will be capable of writing the gleaming ziggurats and gardens of lasting literary merit. ...more
This is the 2d volume of letters between these intellectual giants. Olson was the father of projective verse and the author of The Maximus Poems. BoldThis is the 2d volume of letters between these intellectual giants. Olson was the father of projective verse and the author of The Maximus Poems. Boldereff was a James Joyce scholar who wrote critical studies of Finnegans Wake. Between them their understanding of the cultural and literary currents, past and present, moving through America provide a fascinating discourse on literature from Rimbaud to the end of Olson's life. Boldereff was a true muse, and her influence on Olson, one of the most important poets in postwar America, was enormous. Along with the need to bounce ideas off of each other is the impulse to love one another, and these letters also speak that love across 2 decades and through 2 of Olson's marriages. The correspondence is lovely in that way. The letter from Boldereff to Olson on 9 September 54 in which she tells him she's found a man more Maximus than himself and his immediate reply which the editors, Sharon Thesen and Ralph Maud, call a "roar," is well worth the time spent with the volume....more
In September I saw what I think is a great film. Leviathan is a Russian movie incorporating the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the Book of Job to telIn September I saw what I think is a great film. Leviathan is a Russian movie incorporating the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the Book of Job to tell a story of a family living on the shore of the Barents Sea destroyed by the pervasiveness of corruption and a ruinous lifestyle which, we are encouraged to understand, are inherent in modern Russian society.
Anthony Marra's novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is enshrouded in the same atmosphere. Some novels, as you read, make you feel a sense of darkness, as if it takes place at night. And in the coldest hours of night, too, because after all this is Russia in the iron grip of winter. But Marra's Russia is Chechnya, and his story tells of a few days in the time after the two wars in which the Russian Federation cruelly overpowered the Chechen separatist movement. We follow the slim staff of a dilapidated hospital as they try to survive while knee-deep in the chaos governed by the Feds, who can be seen as the persecuting demons in this hellish environment. So this is a novel dark in tone about a society beaten down by war and oppression. It takes place in the murky depths where the leviathan of state exerts pressures great enough to crush the human soul. Still, there's light. The novel is lighted by luminous characters who swim in the depths of this narrative with hope their only solace. It may be cold and dark at these depths, but there's still life here, the constellations of vital phenomena of Marra's title.
Perhaps the best descriptive word is powerful. Reading the events occurring in the 5 days of the novel's primary action, you'll be immersed in the atmosphere I spoke of as it's constructed from the same dark detail and emotion its entire length of almost 400 pages. It's as if you lose all sense of time. It's a little like waking up, after having finished the novel, to find yourself in a different place and time, not having been aware of the passage. It's that absorbing. The ride is bumpy. The anvil of history is hard and those pounded on it are shaped and misshapen until all that's left is the luminosity of their hope. The blows upon the anvil are softened by Marra's humor, for this is a funny novel. The bumpy ride is smoothed by the fluidity of his prose, for it is also lyrical. Making such powerful fiction must be harder than we suppose, those of us who dig for nuggets like this in the vast rubble field of contemporary fiction. Some novelists struggle to find such light in communities smoking with despair and hopelessness. I admire Marra's ability to write truth with such expressive passion it creates a reality. On this site dedicated to good reading, I suggest Marra's novel is exactly that, a good read. I recommend it. I think you'll like it. ...more
In this meditative, philosophical work, an old woman sits in her Beirut apartment remembering her city and her life, especially her reading life. SheIn this meditative, philosophical work, an old woman sits in her Beirut apartment remembering her city and her life, especially her reading life. She also translates favorite works into Arabic and stores them in boxes in the maid's bathroom of the old apartment. But she feels unnecessary because she doesn't fit in the world. Estranged from her family, divorced, friendless, quite alone, from her kitchen balcony she's party to all the life in the building and the street below she doesn't belong to, including the coffee klatch of three women upstairs.
Asliya's situation is partly by design. She's deeply reclusive and is content--indeed, prefers--to relate to the world through literature. Early on she tells us, "I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books. Transmuting this sandy metaphor, if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass--an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me." As you might imagine, her first person rumination on life is filled with many references to the literary works she loves. J. M. Coetzee and Fernando Pessoa are just a couple of her particular favorites. Her love of literature makes this novel an avid reader's delight, a novel with rich literary veins to be mined.
This is also a Beckettian work, I think. Asliya's story is a sad one evoking Beckett's characters in cosmic isolation. She, like a Beckett character, is weak, frustrated, and helpless while being at the same time defiant and part architect of her condition. At one point Alemeddine has her say, "I like men and women who don't fit well in the dominant culture, or, as Alvaro de Campos calls them, strangers in this place as in every other, accidental in life as in the soul. I like outsiders, phantoms wandering the cobwebbed halls of the doomed castle where life must be lived."
Though defiant architect, she's resilient, too. In the course of the novel she undergoes a family crisis and a crisis with her vast collection of translations. How she is forged in the crises amounts to affirmation and returns her to living life rather than just witnessing it. To be honest, I thought the ending a little too contrived and pat, but it doesn't mar the novel. It's the result you and Asliya want. Laurens Van der Post once wrote, "Life is its own journey, presupposes its own change and movement, and one tries to arrest them at one's eternal peril." This is a journey certainly worth it because this is a lovely novel....more