Friday, February 11, 2011
Perhaps no person can be a poet, or even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall. A wall, Salamanca Square, Hobart. February 2011.
Yet MORE books...
First is Letters from America is a compilation of essays drawn from Alistair Cooke’s weekly 15-minute radio series that ran for 2,869 shows from 24 March 1946, to 20 February 2004. Each ‘arrangement’ was presented by Alistair Cooke to a British audience, each week speaking of a topical issue in the USA, often tying together different strands of observation and anecdote. As such, this collection is a remarkable snapshot of ‘history in the present’.
Cooke was a master at this primarily because he had a magnificent grasp of history. Each essay is remarkable in his ability to contextualise what he sees, drawing upon both a great knowledge of history, and a seemingly endless amount of casual contact with top politicians, authors and artists throughout his life.
Moreover, despite the fact that each chapter was written for radio, they read wonderfully well. The art of constructing such a tightly composed set of thoughts so eloquently sometimes seems lost today, and for this alone the book is worth revisiting.
Secondly, Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon was originally published as a serial – fifteen instalments – in the New York Times Magazine through 2007. The author (in an enlightening afterward) tells us that the working title was Jews with Swords, which captures the swashbuckling tone.
Set (around) AD 950 in the kaganate of Khazaria – present day [deep breath] Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Northern Caucasus, Georgia, the Crimea, and Northeastern Turkey [exhale] – it follows two Jewish ‘gentlemen of the road’ slash bandits slash brigands (one Frankish, one African) who become embroiled in a rebellion and a plot to restore a displaced Khazar prince to the throne.
I won’t go any further than that, but it is a rollicking and breezy read and a nice venture into a genre I’ve not much experience in (nor did Chabon, until he started writing it). If you would like a change of pace, track it down.
Number 3: The Weekend is German author Bernhard Schlink’s latest novel and it tackles familiar themes of guilt, responsibility, contrition, remorse, justice and redemption. With the fulcrum of the plot a recent pardon of a former Red Army Faction terrorist, a group of former friends from the heady days of the 1960s and 70s gather to ‘ease’ his transition back into society.
Although at times the text seems a little ‘stagey’, it does manage to captivatingly explore the concept of what happens to revolutionaries well after the revolution (and the revolutionary spirit) is lost, and an extended meditation on the changing meaning of the nature of dissent, terrorism, of social activism, of idealism and violence in modern, democratic societies. In this sense, I think that Schlink achieves his goal.
Well worth the effort.