What the…?

Being given some cash for my birthday (last December, this was) my eyes lit up at all the infinite options of what to spend it on.  It just so happened we had decided to take a Christmas Eve jaunt to Newstead Abbey, home of Lord Byron, so we were guaranteed a book section in the gift shop.

From previous visits I knew all the Wordsworth classics would be £2.50 so I blew some of the money on the below books, completely ignoring Byron in favour of a massive chunk of Charles Dickens, on a whim.

Fancy arrangement and photograph done by Crissy as my photos have a long history of looking awful.

As I was sorting which ones I wanted, it called to mind that episode of Doctor Who, where they meet Dickens and he ends up exclaiming, ‘What the Shakespeare!’, ending all the speculation on what people used to say before the well known phrase, ‘what the dickens?’.

I did get more books at a later date – and by other authors – but will leave that for the next post as I haven’t gotten around to badgering the wife to take an arty photo yet.

Interrogation of Author Nicholas Conley (Part Two)

Part one is posted back here (however many days ago, now). A huge thanks to Nick who took time out of his busy schedule to share the background to his latest novel, Knight in Paper Armor:

You spoke with a holocaust survivor, can you give us an insight into what that was like and how that affected you and the subsequent drafts of the book.

During the Jewish holiday of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jewish people around the world will take the day to remember the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. While many people can trace direct relatives, pretty much any Jewish person of Ashkenazi heritage lost family members to this event, whether they’re aware of the names or not. And on this day, many synagogues will invite a local Holocaust survivor to tell their firsthand story of what they went through, what it felt like, and so on.

In 2018, the year following the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally– wherein people with torches repeatedly shouted “Jews will not replace us,” amid other ethnic slurs towards Black people, Latinos, and so on – the woman who spoke at our synagogue for Yom HaShoah, a Holocaust survivor born in Hungary, made a point of directly calling out how much these recent events echoed what had happened in her own childhood. She described it vividly—the hatred, the look in these men’s eyes, the fact that America’s own leader would not denounce white supremacy after that, and so on. What she said stuck with me. It’s one thing to draw comparisons, as a younger person, but when someone who actually survived this historical atrocity draws these same comparisons … you know? Talking to her, after that, was something that really spurred me to write this book. Continue reading “Interrogation of Author Nicholas Conley (Part Two)”

Interrogation of Author Nicholas Conley (Part One)

Nothing beats the feel of a solid, weighty book in one’s hands, and recently reviewed Knight in Paper Armor is just such a book, both hefty in your desired unit of measurement, and also in message.

Getting a much needed , and rare, bit of Vitamin D, whilst rereading selected passages of the book.

Having enjoyed the book immensely, I was interested to dig deeper into the book and the mind of author, Nick, himself, who kindly agreed to answer some questions, a taster of two are below, and the the others will follow in an upcoming post:

Knight in Paper Armor has been with you for a long time, how long has this story been formulating in your writerly mind and what were the specific inspirations?

The first inklings of the concept – and the title – came to me all the way back in 2010, actually, before my first book even saw print. It took me a long time to figure out how to write it, however. Every time I tried to draft it, it felt like I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t crack the code. Most of these drafts had very little in
common with the finished novel, but there was always one core element that remained—the idea that, basically, there’s something wrong with the world, and there’s this boy—Billy—who, through his strange powers, feels the pain of everyone out there, and wants to help.

Here’s the thing. What is this “pain of others,” exactly? As a writer, with a concept like that, you have to decide whether you’re going to be vague, for the sake of not polarizing readers, or if you’re going to be upfront, honest, and forthright about the brutality, inequalities, and unfairness of the real world. Explicit parallels felt necessary, but back then, I don’t think I had yet gained the maturity and life experience to tackle these sorts of complex, heavy subjects, yet. Writing Pale Highway, which came out in 2015, was the book that really propelled my skills and confidence forward, in that regard. Continue reading “Interrogation of Author Nicholas Conley (Part One)”

Knight in Paper Armor – Nicholas Conley

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

Regular readers of this humble blog will no doubt have read a review – or four – of Nick’s previous books or most likely have viewed his blog. Knight in Paper Armor is his latest novel and, in my opinion, is not only the most ambitious but also the maturest of his work to date.

Night in Paper Armor is a multi-layered work, its sinister overtones are pitched perfectly for a dystopia, which has plenty of the real world feel – both past and present – and chillingly explores a logical conclusion to which the world could find itself moving towards if it stays on its current trajectory. Adding in a bit of the psychic spices up an already interesting science fiction premise and adds more speculations for the reader to muse upon.

From an early glimpse of a child’s creepy drawings to the ethics of science and the horrors it can inflict in its quest to help people – and be profitable – the real and those things unseen come together perfectly to ooze a strong sense of unease.  It is a great start, and maintains that subtle intensity throughout, whilst slowly building on those ideas and themes and adding in a strong dose of the human, the personal and potential. Continue reading “Knight in Paper Armor – Nicholas Conley”

Renaissance Books

Wandering around the websites of various publishers, I was delighted and a little surprised to find one of my reviews was featured on the website of Renaissance Books, hereRenaissance Books are academic publishers offering a new, robust and independent platform for peer-reviewed scholarship on Asia Pacific, in particular East Asian Studies – principally in the Humanities and Social Sciences

From the website:

Renaissance Books was established in 1996 to promote gifted, aspiring authors and books of general interest. Later, its focus moved to East-West themes relating to people, culture and way of life.

In 2015, the imprint was re-launched in order to concentrate on scholarly reference in the Humanities and Social Sciences, publishing especially in the field of East Asian Studies, notably Japan and Korea, as well as Central Asian Studies. To this end, we have launched a new peer-reviewed Renaissance Books Asia Pacific Series drawing on recognized authorities from within the region and beyond, offering a platform for comparative and interdisciplinary works on historical and cultural themes as well as those relating to contemporary issues, especially in Politics & Economics, Conflict Resolution, Globalization, NGOs, Security, Human Rights and Media Studies.

As someone interested in learning, especially in light of the proximity to the subject area in my adopted home of the Philippines (where I look forward to being later in the year again), it is a publisher that deserves a lot more attention for the body of work that they are putting out.

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)”