Muriel Spark seldom disappoints with her impressive writing style, but sometimes the characters and plots do not live up to the the same high qualityMuriel Spark seldom disappoints with her impressive writing style, but sometimes the characters and plots do not live up to the the same high quality of her style. And that was the case with Memento Mori (1958), which displays her high style about a group of elderly people living in a communal house. There is a mystery about an unknown phone caller who begins calling the occupants and saying "Remember you must die." Spark does an admirable job of creating character who are well beyond her own age at the time of the writing as well as the believably of their concerns, conversations, and day to day life. I suppose Charmiam Colston, the elderly novelist, is supposed to the be the main character, but I couldn't sympathize or identify any of the major characters, hence, my dissatisfaction with the novel. However, as usual there were some great lines throughout the novel: Her words depressed him. they were like spilt sugar: however much you swept it some grains would keep grinding under your feet. And:How banal and boring, Guy thought, do the most interesting people become when they are touched by a little bit of guilt. I have now read all of her most well-known novels, and I'm not sure I'll bother with the lesser known less well-praised novels....more
When I saw that there was an oral history, Under The Big Black Sun (2016) written by John Doe, I was excited to read it. Once I started reading it andWhen I saw that there was an oral history, Under The Big Black Sun (2016) written by John Doe, I was excited to read it. Once I started reading it and realized that it wasn't a biography of his band X per se, but an oral history of the early LA punk scene I soured somewhat. But once I got into it and read entries from people such as his ex-wife and band mate Exene Cervenka, Go Gos Jane Wiedlen and Charotte Caffey, Chris D., Henry Rollins, Mike Watt, and ex-Blaster and X member Dave Alvin among a host of other scenesters, musicians, journalists and the like I started to enjoy the history of the scene that included more than a few bands that I liked. This book captured what was great about it and why it was short-lived and what it became. The South Bay hardcore scene is what it became and it was scary, violent and a far cry from the variety and openness of the scene that included women, gays, and Chicanos. I became a fan of the the roots influenced bands that emerged from the scene-hardcore was never my cup of tea-but they explain how this happened and speculated on why it happened....more
It is often said that war is hell, but the same can be said of the postwar experiences of many. During wars people have been displaced, cities destroyIt is often said that war is hell, but the same can be said of the postwar experiences of many. During wars people have been displaced, cities destroyed, there were shortages of food and medicine. And the losers are often at the mercy of the victors. Homare Endo’s experiences as vanquished Japanese in China are recorded in Stonebridge Press’s English version of Japanese Girl at the Siege of Changchun: How I survived China’s Wartime Atrocity (2016) translated by Michael Brase.
Homare and her family struggled for several years after Japan defeat in World War II in the former colonial state known by the Japanese as Manzhouguo. There the story begins in the capital, Changchun, where her father, Takuji, ran a pharmaceutical company, the Shinkyo Pharmaceutical Company. This company produced an anti-opiate addiction medicine called Giftol. Her father’s expertise and success would keep him and his family in China long after Japan’s defeat. Homare’s father felt responsibility towards his company’s workers and their fates in the face of defeat. Later his kindness toward his Chinese and Korean workers, as well as his success with the factory, would allow them to survive several life or death confrontations with Chinese authorities over the years.
The central event, the 1947 siege of Changchun by Mao’s Revolutionary Army in which they hoped to starve out the Nationalist Army out. This was done in spite of the large number of civilians that were still inside the city. The author briefly outlines the political motivations and historical context which is discussed more fully in The Afterword. Homare feels that as a survivor she must bear witness to this atrocity despite the fact that this event has been suppressed in China by the government. Most official accounts put the number of deaths as between 150,000 to 300,000. Homare suggest that at he very least there were hundreds of thousands base don the views of survivors and calculations of the city’s demographics. At any rate, a disturbing number of people perished. And many more suffered great hardships for survival as Homare’s story illustrates.
It was the aftermath of the Siege of Changchun that most strongly affected Homare and her family. The Qiazi, the no man’s land surrounding Changchun, was a horrific wasteland of rotting corpses that would haunt Homare all of her life. The family is trapped to remain in China during the civil war due to her father’s usefulness to the Communist Party and trapped by need for survival. They travel to liberated Yanji, which had a majority Korean population and was the first place that the reactionary rhetoric of the revolution would put the vanquished Japanese family at risk. But her father is singled out by a former acquaintance as treating his Korean workers well and encouraging them to go to night school while working at his factory. Takuji's scheming nephew, nick-named The White Rat-master of his own survival, was at the heart of the campaign to denounce Takuji.
Their struggle for survival continued until they reached the relative safety and stability in the large city of Tianjin. Here Honmare recovers from her malnutrition that almost killed her, Her extended recovery keeps her out of school. However, once she gets the opportunity to study in a Chinese school she became motivated with a steely resolve to succeed among the Chinese that still see her a reminder of the former colonizers and a “Japanese dog.” In spite of the bullying she succeeds at school, putting the other children to shame by having a foreigner out perform them in school. This took place in the wake of the Korean War, in which Japan manufactured munitions for the invading America Army and sign a treaty with them making them enemies of the allied communist states. It is in the aftermath of this that Homare and her family are finally repatriated to Japan-a place that Homare never has seen with her own eyes in 1953. Her postwar struggle had finally come to an end. It is a fascinating, harrowing story of resilience and struggle that has been overlooked by most people and historians. It is a story that needs to be told, in order that it will not be repeated....more
I had previously read a book by former Japanese doctor and historian Junichi Saga, Confessions of a Yakuza, and quite enjoyed it. So when I learned thI had previously read a book by former Japanese doctor and historian Junichi Saga, Confessions of a Yakuza, and quite enjoyed it. So when I learned that he had two other books I decided I would read those as well. The first of the two I read was Memories Of Wind And Waves (2002). The other is Memories of Silk and Straw. It is essentially oral histories from Saga's patients-thirty-three elderly men and women who spent their lives working on or around Japan's second-largest lake, Kasumigaura, 60 km northeast of Tokyo in Ibaraki. These stories are mostly from sturdy fishermen and their wives, but some remembrances are from town folk and even one by a local geisha. Saga has done a great service in allowing these people to describe a different time and way of life that was harsh, but also more innocent. There are illustrations in the book by his father, who was also a man of medicine. It was a fascinating portrait of times past in Japan....more
One of the newest editions of the BFI series focuses on Werner Herzog's 1972 break out film in BFI: Aguirre Wrath Of God (2016) by Eric Ames. The bookOne of the newest editions of the BFI series focuses on Werner Herzog's 1972 break out film in BFI: Aguirre Wrath Of God (2016) by Eric Ames. The book is arranged into eight chapters: 1. Visionary History, 2. The Descent, 3. Assembling the Troops, 4. Visions of the World, 5. The Act of Conquest, 6. Into the Quiet, 7. Hallucination, and 8. Aguirre Lives. Ames discusses the historical sources as they differ from Herzog's script as well as the problems and difficulties of the production, how the film reflects the problems of colonization as well as the initial reception and the reception of the film over time. There is a final note about the legendary showdown between difficult lead actor Klaus Kinski and the director-in which Herzog allegedly threatens to shoot Kinski with a rifle. Another well-researched and written history of a fascinating film.
I didn't know Evelyn Waugh was so intrepid-perhaps because he didn't use the travel material as much as his contemporary Graham Greene in his novels.I didn't know Evelyn Waugh was so intrepid-perhaps because he didn't use the travel material as much as his contemporary Graham Greene in his novels. In When The Going Was Good (1946) has parts of four travel books that Waugh wrote between 1929 and 1935. Chapter One "A Pleasure Cruise in 1929" from Labels, recounts a cruise, and the passengers are given much consideration, to Europe. Chapter two, "A Coronation in 1930" from Remote People, which recounts the coronation of Emperor (Abyssinia - now known as Ethiopia) Haile Selassie I, which Waugh reported on in 1930 as special correspondent for The Times. Chapter Three, "Globe-Trotting" also from Remote People, chronicles his travel elsewhere in Africa. Chapter Four, "A Journey to Brazil in 1932" from Ninety-two Days, is about his travels in Guiana and Brazil in South America-I was unaware of his travels here. Chapter Five "A War in 1935" from Waugh in Abyssinia, is about Waugh's exploits as a war correspondent in Abyssinia when war breaks out. Waugh used much of the African exploits in his early novel , Black Mischief (1932), and much of his writing in this book is quite charming and funny. However, he also makes some astute observations as well, for example:
To have traveled a lot, to have spent,as I have done, the first twelve years of adult life on the move, is to this extent a disadvantage. At the age of thirty-five one needs to go to the moon, or some such place, to recapture the excitement which one first landed at Calais.
There's also this:
One does not travel, any more than one falls in love, to collect material. It is simply part of one's life. For myself and many better than me, there is a fascination in distant and barbarous places, and particularly int he borderlands of conflicting cultures and states of development, where ideas, uprooted form their traditions, become oddly changed in transplantation. It is there that I find the experiences vivid enough to demand translation in to literary form.
Another entertaining and enlightening read from one of my favorite writers....more