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Tag Archives: Religion

Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak

A brutal re-imagining of the Gospel story, Next Year in Jerusalem follows the footsteps of Yeshua Bar-Yosif–an illiterate, epileptic, bastard son of a Roman soldier on his ill-fated life journey through a land racked by terror.

As first century Judea bleeds from the oppression of Roman rule and the violent uprisings against it, Yeshua, tormented by familial guilt for abandoning his mother, eventually forms his own family of travelers who preach for peace and compassion in the face of internecine savagery. Their wanderings lead to encounters with false prophets, assassins, and a rapidly growing movement of extremist rebels whose leader Bar-Abbas’ mission is to expel the Romans and establish an ethnocentric theocracy. Chance sends both Yeshua and Bar-Abbas to the court of Pontius Pilate–the dipsomaniac Governor obsessed with leaving a name for himself in the scrolls of history–and the outcome of that meeting seals the fate of the world for the next two millennia.

With urgent parallels to contemporary issues of religious war, this book is both a lament and a warning. It is also a story about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and of mankind’s inherent yearning for life everlasting.

When a HBO researcher gets in touch and asks if you want to review his book, it’s a no brainer so this week I have been spending my time back in Biblical days, enjoying an interesting alternative and to some controversial version of the Gospels which has plenty of interesting theories about those accounts and will certainly inspire plenty of debate.

There is much to intrigue the reader about this book, including plenty of subversion to the original biblical stories as well as a solid depiction of the brutal world of the time, a land torn with rival beliefs which will resonate with readers today as we still see the effects of those ripples all around us.

The main characters of Yeshua and Pilate get plenty of backstory, their memories, philosophies and motivations are established quickly and explored in-depth.  Yeshua is seen as vulnerable, conflicted and frequently unsure of himself and his beliefs, whilst Pilate – the more intriguing of the two character for me – is lost,all alone in his own existential nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/04/2017 in Fiction, Philosophy

 

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Satantango – László Krasznahorkai

YouKnowWhenYou'veBeen...In the darkening embers of a Communist utopia, life in a desolate Hungarian town has come to a virtual standstill. Flies buzz, spiders weave, water drips and animals root desultorily in the barnyard of a collective farm. But when the charismatic Irimias – long-thought dead – returns to the commune, the villagers fall under his spell. The Devil has arrived in their midst.

Irimias will divide and rule: his arrival heralds the beginning of a period of violence and greed for the villagers as he sets about swindling them out of a fortune that might allow them to escape the emptiness and futility of their existence. He soon attains a messianic aura as he plays on the fears of the townsfolk and a series of increasingly brutal events unfold.

After reading this I found out there was a seven hour film of the book which is lauded with critical acclaim but after reading this story, I may have to leave it a few months as it is one of those rare pieces that feels like an experience and not just another good read.

Satantango is a strange, yet thoroughly intriguing book set in a closed world, cut off from civilisation only by the limitations of its characters. For those who like dense prose and stream of consciousness writing – each chapter is one long paragraph – you can’t go far wrong than with this.  It’s a challenge but in the best possible way. as the reader is treated to political and religious allegory, veiled from the communist censors at the time by its subtlety.

Despite being less than 300 pages, I felt like I was putting the work into this one, that’s not to say it was a chore because it wasn’t but what it is, is very slowly paced read layered with meaning.  The translator George Szirtes must have had his work cut out not only capturing the essence of the book but also keeping up with all the looping sentence structure that takes a while to get used to.

Set primarily in a slowly decaying farm, this ruin of the communist dream is a dreary, all but forgotten place of perpetual misery where time has stopped and everything is rotting and anything that is meaningful has been lost under the rubble, this is reflected in the characters themselves.  Even in scenes outside of this small collective, there is a narrow and confined feel to the text, the pressing down of an invisible weight. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 12/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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Facts of Life: Reflections on Ignorance and Intelligence – Rehana Shamsi

lifefactsDay six and post six of poetry week, thanks for all the likes and comments so far and please bear with me as I will be around to view your blogs just as soon as I complete my seventh and final post.

Facts of Life: Reflections on Ignorance and Intelligence is the result of Rehana Shamsi’s observations, experiences, and relationship to her former society. Many of the poems bring to the forefront the emotional and psychological trauma caused by men’s traditional dominance over women in majority of South Asian households. Women’s constant struggle to overcome suppression is a major theme covered in this collection of poetry. In addition, Shamsi showcases her perspective on life in general.

Through her captivating and incisive style, she explores joys and sorrows, challenges and choices, and ignorance and intelligence.

After reading Nadeem Alsam’s excellent novel, Maps for Lost Lovers, I didn’t expect to come across something as moving, which confronted the same issues so soon.  Right from the first poem, the reader will find a strong voice that tackles one of the most important issues facing society today, the repression of women and their lack of education.

Shamsi’s experiences are a strong indictment of these failures in society and her remembrances are as difficult to read as it is, not to be angry at the number of girls still subjected to arranged marriages and the horrors that can stem from such ‘deals’.  These social issues seem to almost taken for the norm these days or at least less mentioned by the media for fear of upsetting the hegemony of men that still think this is still acceptable.

The book then takes a turn towards the positive.  After emigrating from the suppressive Pakistan to America, thoughts of a freer life are expressed, one where Shamsi can bring forth her unrestrained reflections on her journey through life.  Structured into parts titled: Awareness after Repression, Gender Disparity, Resurrection, Health, Migration, Family, Facts of Life, Old Age, Bereavement, Nine – Eleven, and Curiosity and Others, each of which will hold a strong resonance for her readers. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13/11/2016 in Poetry

 

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Thursbitch – Alan Garner

bitchyHere John Turner was cast away in a heavy snow storm in the night in or about the year 1755.

The print of a woman’s shoe was found by his side in the snow where he lay dead.

This enigmatic memorial stone, high on the bank of a prehistoric Pennine track in Cheshire, is a mystery that lives on in the hill farms today.

John Turner was a packman. With his train of horses he carried salt and silk, travelling distances incomprehensible to his ancient community. In this visionary tale, John brings ideas as well as gifts, which have come, from market town to market town, from places as distant as the campfires of the Silk Road. John Turner’s death in the eighteenth century leaves an emotional charge which, in the twenty-first century, Ian and Sal find affects their relationship, challenging the perceptions they have of themselves and of each other. Thursbitch is rooted in a verifiable place. It is an evocation of the lives and the language of all people who are called to the valley of Thursbitch.

Garner is one of the few authors that I struggle with, after enjoying the magical The Wierdstone of Brasingamen and then being less convinced by some of his other books – Elidor, The Owl Service and Red Shift – I once again found myself hooked by the ancient ways of the author’s evocative scene setting.

This book feels like a culmination of ideas of the three above books that didn’t quite convince me when I initially read them.  With two separate stories, one a character exploration and the other a glorious look into the past with its ancient traditions, with an opening that really sets the scene for the delights to come.

The echoing of time both backwards and forwards is an appropriate plot device, especially as we are fast losing our connection with the land in modern times. Garner creates an atmosphere that lingers with the reader and is infused with the soil and its seemingly mythical properties.  He deals with loss and the changes to what is an insular setting, the titular valley of Thursbitch.

The book is minimal in terms of superfluous detail so as a result is tightly written but less is definitely more in this case.  The lack of plot though is a good thing as it is about the characters and what they do and believe, that is the true focus; its magic, haunting, pagan and the beauty of the countryside.  The book serves as a reminder of the passage of time and that the past traditions and language we formerly used are threatening to be forgotten and lost to new generations.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 28/10/2016 in Fiction

 

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Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam

ordinancesurveyIn an unnamed English town, Jugnu and his lover Chanda have disappeared. Rumours abound in the close-knit Pakistani community and then, on a snow-covered January morning, Chanda’s brothers are arrested for murder. Telling the story of the next twelve months, Maps for Lost Lovers opens the heart of a family at the crossroads of culture, community, nationality and religion.

Wrapped in some gorgeous prose, Maps for Lost lovers demands discussion.  It’s a daring book, one that attempts to make Muslims as well as migrants in general more human than they are often portrayed by the media.  Not only does Aslam tackle the unpalatable parts of Islam but also shows a community’s response to an all too real tragedy.

The central theme of the book is the disgusting practise of so-called ‘honour killings’ and how they impact on a close knit group, yet there is so much more to this melancholy story, exploring love, desperation, loneliness, seclusion and loss in everyday life, far from their homeland and extended family.

The meeting of modern thinking against the traditional, all to the backdrop of an alien cultural experience is; for both the characters and for readers thought-provoking.  Such ideas in close proximity should be brought to the fore and as the world is getting smaller and the time for debate and understanding of each other is immediate.

The chosen isolation of some Muslim groups is troubling, insularity leads to misunderstanding, fear and control over the uneducated.  The characters motivations for coming to England are explored and with well-rounded personalities with plenty of depth, even the least likeable of the main players have their moments.  Each is seen showing doubt over aspects of their beliefs (be they religious or ethical), especially those which are blatantly biased in favour of men and relegate women to being merely property.

The unease felt by the immigrants and their defensiveness and willingness to see the bad in their neighbouring cultures is a neat mirror imaging of the local inhabitants of the northern town they reside in. The closely isolated society is as racist as the local whites people can be, in a neat balancing act this is shown by the woman whose son feels he can walk to the mosque alone so she phones up all the people she knows on the way to keep an eye on him because ‘every day you hear about depraved white men doing unspeakable things to little children’.  Yet a similar fate awaits many young girls as an accepted part of their own belief system. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 21/09/2016 in Fiction, Philosophy, Politics

 

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Arguably – Christopher Hitchens

AnotherHitchSlapChristopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist. Throughout his life he shone the light of reason and truth into the eyes of charlatans and hucksters, exposing falsehood and decrying hypocrisy wherever he found it. With his passing, the world has lost a great soul, the written word one of its finest advocates and those who stand for freedom everywhere have lost one of their clearest voices.

Arguably collects Hitchens’ writing on politics, literature and religion when he was at the zenith of his career; it is the indispensable companion to the finest English essayist since Orwell.

The joys of learning about scintillating new books, of stories both fact and fiction is tempered by the sheer amount and scope of the eclectic selection already on offer.  The never-ending list of books I need to read has grown by around fifty books since reading this tome but on the other hand I will never be short of a quality read..

It turns out, if this book is anything to go by, that I am distinctly under read, despite my best efforts to the contrary.  I shall not let that soul-destroying revelation ruin my enjoyment of what is a magnificent set of essays, that should be required reading for all those who love to learn and think for themselves.

The finite amount of time that the reader has to tackle such a broad base of literature is at best daunting and at worst obscenely short.  As one who rushes from one to the other in a futile battle to read and process them all; whilst simultaneously collecting even more avenues of enquiry, it occurs that all I can do is horde these treasures (read and unread) to one day pass on to another enquiring mind who will appreciate them.

In these days of ignorant and woefully ill-informed internet commentors and the prevalence of lazy journalism, it is refreshing to not only be able to read a literate and educated voice but also one that knows no fear in not only arguing but backing up said points with actual facts and a clarity that is most welcome.  Being critical is a right afforded to citizens in  many (not enough) countries and it should be used in debate to better ourselves, Hitchens was one man who never shied from giving his opinion and we should be thankful for his body of work. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/08/2016 in Essays, History, Journalism, Philosophy, Politics

 

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Salem

Finally drawing to a close with these travel posts, having only one or two more after this one, I couldn’t fail to include Salem being a place of historical interest.

Hopping on a ferry on yet another glorious day (complete with furious sea breeze) was a fine idea that we collectively made, even if I do say so myself, which I just did.

SAM_2777Whilst leaving Boston, not only did a couple of planes fly low over us on towards the airport runway but the beleaguered tour guide whose voice was blown away by the ever-present wind informed us that one of the islands was the location of the film Shutter Island which I quite enjoyed and coincidentally was on last night.

SAM_2775Looking (with a bit of imagination) like the L.A. skyline from the A-Team credits, it was good to get wider perspective of the city which looked like it was built in Minecraft.

SAM_2797Not what I expected to greet me in Salem and resembling something from Baltimore docks, it nevertheless provided an intriguing beginning to the town which has a good bar call In a Pig’s Eye which is interestingly a phrase meaning disbelief (of a statement) and some pretty grim artwork.

SAM_2798The Salem Witch Museum is worth a visit to get a short history of the trials and the reason they came about, yet for such a serious subject it was a shame that some of it was so unintentionally comedic.  After such a chronicle of tragedy, it seemed tasteless to have all the kid’s witchy souvenirs in the gift shop, it did take the edge off of what was a terribly wretched time but also lessened the impact of its lessons. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 17/07/2016 in Art, Boston, History, Travel

 

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