A Brief History of Central America – Hector Perez-Brignoli

centrecourtThis is the first interpretive history of Central America by a Central American historian to be published in English. Anyone with an interest in current events in the region will find here an insightful and well-written guide to the history of its five national states – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Traces of a common past invite us to make generalizations about the region, even to posit the idea of a Central American nation. But, asHector Perez-Brignoli shows us, we can learn more from a comparative approach that establishes both the points of convergence and the separate paths taken by the five different countries of Central America.

Sometimes it seems that the countries that make up the Mesoamerican region are presented as just that, a homogenous zone that just happens to have borders.  The complexity of the area is compelling and laid out in a detailed and sprawling summary.

This, the first native overview to be published in English aims to explore the histories, views and motivations of the various peoples, it’s a history from the 16th century all the way through to nineteen eighty-seven. Despite being written by a local, the work is detached from any emotional analysis and has led me to take an interest in the present condition of these countries.

The historical account is a comprehensive loss of pre-columbian culture, countries pillaged and subjugated, then rendered weak by Spanish leaving.  The – sadly – expected tales of repression, class inequality, coups, general chaos, corruption, and foreign powers meddling for their own good are all seen here as expected. Continue reading “A Brief History of Central America – Hector Perez-Brignoli”

Pictures Of Anna: A Story Of Unfulfilled Love — Arrow Gate Publishing

I know three reblogs in a week is lazy but all other posts had to be pushed aside because I had something published, so here’s a shameless plug for myself and the book I did some editing work on last year, and which will be out in the summer.

Pictures of Anna is a story of people caught up in the tide of world-defining events, fighting for love, peace, and ultimately their human rights. The predicament of those who sought a safe harbour in World War II, and ended up once again being the focus of suspicion and hostility, is a subject that […]

via Pictures Of Anna: A Story Of Unfulfilled Love — Arrow Gate Publishing

No One Left to Lie To – Christopher Hitchens

In No One Left to Lie To, Christopher Hitchens portrays President Bill Clinton as one of the most ideologically skewed and morally negligent politicians of recent times. In a blistering polemic which shows that Clinton was at once philanderer and philistine, crooked and corrupt, Hitchens challenges perceptions – of liberals and conservatives alike – of this highly divisive figure.

With blistering wit and meticulous documentation, Hitchens masterfully deconstructs Clinton’s abject propensity for pandering to the Left while delivering to the Right and argues that the president’s personal transgressions were inseparable from his political corruption.

With his usual concise and devastating literary style, Hitch was not a man to hold back when he came across hypocrisy and lies.  Rooting out the shameful nature of Bill Clinton’s presidency, he is angry, and rightfully so.  As with his book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, such a work should surely call for a law suit or three were the claims wholly inaccurate, tellingly,  none there came.

Books like this are essential,  not only to shine a light on the dizzyingly shameful complicity of the press, but also to give examples of what good journalism actually is;  Reporting accurately and consistently, with research and sources, and exposing the dissembling and corrupt.

Bill’s career highlights are all here, including the numerous sexual assaults on women, the launching of bombing missions to coincide with congressional hearings and therefore divert the media’s attention, the dismantling of welfare, and his propensity to about-face on any promise he gave.  It is surprising, but not shocking to discover just degenerate the politics here is. Continue reading “No One Left to Lie To – Christopher Hitchens”

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)

This is a remarkable book, and big, so big in fact, that I am taking up a second post for all my remaining remarks. Starting with a quote that I really love:

“She paused by the science shelves, not because she understood much science, but, rather because she did not. Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her – the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”

There are a whole slew of characters to meet in A Suitable Boy, yet I didn’t feel confused with them at any point.  Partly this is due to my reading a little each day, retaining the thread of who is who, but the four family trees provided, and side characters who are easily associated with certain characters or places helped, and I was rarely troubled placing a character  who was returning after 200 pages in the wilderness.

Seth is a big fan of poetry and his playful rhyming couplets are seen throughout, most noticably describing each chapter, and then through the incessant creations of the Chatterji family.  There are also myriad references to various Indian mythological works which encourages a deeper reading into Indian mythology.  Sprinkled throughout are bits of the local language which was a nice touch, especially when I started to recognise what was being referred to, or which familial names were used to denote relationships.

The plot is unhurried and slowly expands to include all of life and society, it really allows the world to be shown in richness and depth.  Whether the reader thinks this much detail is relevant or not, it is certainly worth the exploration and gives the book a much more authentic feel.

There is plenty of conflict, whether it be class, religious and political divides, or generational.  Everybody has a prejudice of some sort, whether conscious of it or not.  Seth explores all sides of these, offering plenty of insight which has the capacity to bring out both sympathy or revulsion at various times. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)”

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part One)

Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

When faced with a wall of paper such as this (1474 pages), a choice inevitably presents itself.  Will it be worth the time and effort taken to read this, or would it be more productive to read a few shorter books in the same time span? Luckily choosing this Indian epic was the right option, and the time spent savouring this novel was well worth it.

When reading, I loved how it harked back in style to works of earlier ages. It was easy to draw comparisons with the Russian epics, and War and Peace in particular, as well as Moby Dick for the sheer level of detail that the reader never realised they wanted to know.

Although the story takes place in less than two years, and with its vast array of characters, it is very much in the spirit of those classics, treating the reader to a glimpse of life in post independence India. With the upheaval of the partition with Pakistan as a backdrop, social and religious tensions are explored but at the heart of the story its the family spirit, and myriad connections that gives the book its flow. An India, and a young generation trying to find its own way. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part One)”

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

Mexico, 1935.  Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.  Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks.  When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.

This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.

Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about.  Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.

The past is all we know of the future

To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book.  Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Continue reading “The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver”

Music to Write By #3 – Assume the Position/(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go

Writing in the last week has had a different sort of soundtrack, there hasn’t been much in the way of music coming through my speakers, as I have been following all manner of different paths from; film analysis, to the situation with the Italian government, and the bad news of the EU trying to pass Article 13, scientific testing of free will, and the wacky world of Flat Earthers.  Forcing myself back onto the music front, the gold started flowing pretty much instantly with this gem:

I first came across this funky tune thanks to its brief appearance on The Wire.  Then it was featured more prominently on the closing credits of The Deuce, another David Simon (together with George Pelecanos) created show which documents the legalisation and rise of the porn industry in New York, as well as the accompanying drugs, real estate booms, police corruption and the connected violence.  The first season admittedly feels like a – quality – prequel but I expect big things from season two.  Watching this as it came out was great, the whole of last year was exceptional for quality television and nothing beat grabbing a few beers and having a TV night with Tom, catching up on whatever had previously come out over the weekend, in the US.

The tune took me back to a totally different time and place – only eight months ago – but so much has changed.  Thinking back to that period now, it was such a good time and discussing the show as the end credits theme rolled, it was always interesting to get an alternate take on what we just saw.  Discussion was made more insightful by a few beers, of course, but I don’t think I have been challenged in such a sustained way by myself, my peers, or film and TV before or since. Continue reading “Music to Write By #3 – Assume the Position/(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go”