May 29, 2018
Noam Chomsky’s views are so far outside the mainstream that, upon first exposure, you experience a reflexive resistance, an impulse to dismiss his politics as bordering on conspiracy theory. But once overcoming the shock of the new, the breadth of his knowledge and integrity of perspective become increasingly persuasive.
This collection of interviews and correspondence with David Barsamian, dated between 2013 and 2017, provide a platform for the lauded linguist, philosopher and political commentator to share his expertise on a dizzying range of international hot points, though it must be said that at no time does Barsamian challenge Chomsky’s often controversial statements. Read the rest of this entry »
April 11, 2018
Kamila Shamsie’s’ Home Fire tackles such divisive issues as terrorism and racism, governments’ treatment of those it consigns to otherness and the daily, terrible compromises migrants must make to live in safety in hostile societies. Yet it avoids the trappings of being merely a news-of-the-week novel by grounding itself in the timeless and universal themes of family and romantic love.
The novel is divided into five sections, each focusing on the perspective of a different character, all of whom are fully realised and distinct. It opens with Isma, a young, British, Muslim woman, enduring interrogation and luggage searches at the airport. She’s travelling to the United States to finally resume her studies, having spent the better part of her twenties caring for her twin siblings, Parvais and Aneeka, since they were orphaned. At first, it seems that Isma is being unfairly targeted for the crime of flying while Muslim, but she has secrets – her father was a mujaheddin who died en route to Guantanamo bay, and now Parvais, the boy she raised, has followed in his footsteps and joined the Islamic State in Syria. In America, she meets Eamonn, handsome and charming, but very much the son of Karamat Lone, a Muslim-background MP whose meteoric rise has been precipitated by his vilification of those members of his own community who won’t conform. Read the rest of this entry »
March 19, 2018
Wadjda wants a bicycle so that she can race her best friend, Abdullah. The trouble is, she doesn’t have the money and, as a ten year old girl growing up in Saudi Arabia, her mother won’t buy it for fear of censure and the danger to her daughter’s virtue. But Wadjda is not one to let anything stand on her way, and sets about earning the funds, first by selling handmade bracelets at school and then, when her contraband enterprise is discovered, by winning a Quran recitation competition. Meanwhile, her mother worries, both about her rebellious daughter, and her husband taking a second wife due to her inability to give him a son.
Wadjda is the first film shot by a female Saudi director and the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. The perspective of an innocent, spirited ten-year old girl is perfectly chosen to explore the oppressive reality of everyday life for women in Saudi Arabia while also maintaining a sense of lightness and humour. Restricting the plot to the mundane spheres of home and school, without showing any explicit violence, also allows for greater examination of the structural violence.
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March 3, 2018
The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway’s treatise on masculinity, the chief preoccupation of his literary works. He has distilled in his protagonist, Santiago, his idealised man: simple, humble, solitary, tough, with a deep affinity for the natural world and a hunter’s attitude towards its inhabitants. It was written in the later stage of Hemingway’s career, when he lived in Cuba, and it’s no doubt telling that his titular old man is an outcast, pitied by his fellow-fisherman for his age and bad luck, having outlived the hungers of the flesh of the flesh, with his sole human consolation a boy who holds him in reverence.
The plot is deceptively straightforward. An old fisherman sails his skiff far out into the Gulf Stream and hooks a marlin of almost mythical size, beginning an epic struggle. Like many simple stories, it can be read to stand for the largest of themes: life, the world, good and evil. Certainly, the text is heavy with religious allusions.
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January 1, 2018
2017 was a pretty shit year for me, personally. Bad things happened, not to me directly, but to people close to me. Actually, so many bad things happened that it made me think that the planets must be in some kind of portentous alignment, despite the fact that I think astrology is complete bullshit.
The upside of this is that is has made me open to new perspectives that are proving to be more durable. When I’ve expressed some of these ideas to friends, there have been vague looks of concern, but I’m convinced I’m on the right track. At the very least, these perspectives are working very well for now, and I’m grateful for them. Vague enough?
I have a lot other things to be grateful for, too. My kids are happy and healthy. I have my health, a lovely wife, a job that pays the bills and a very fortunate living situation. I live in fantastic city in a democratic, stable, affluent country.
In terms of writing, despite submitting my novel and short stories to a number of publishers and competitions, I haven’t had any success. This is disappointing but, from what I understand, part and parcel of being a writer. I accept that I’ll probably have to redouble my efforts, if I’m going to make any headway. I need to write more and be more strategic. This knowledge is strangely exciting, which probably makes me a masochist.
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December 19, 2017
They crawl around you in the darkness,
whispering, making animal noises,
the fear, the fight or flight, wracks your whole
body. They seem of the darkness,
which is immense.
Enough to swallow you
Or tear you to pieces
Surely, it is the crunch of bones at your feet
You turn and face them
Shine a light on them, bright, unwavering,
They freeze, show themselves for what they are.
Is that it?
They are contained, small, ridiculous even
Ambush predators, only dangerous en masse
Part of the ecosystem
You couldn’t eliminate them
Without disrupting the food chain
Cowardly, they slink away
Leaving you to the watchful night
October 9, 2017
If you’re not into boxing, you might dismiss Mike Tyson as a thug, convicted rapist and washed-up sell-out. There’s truth in all these labels, but his autobiography, The Undisputed Truth, is a portrait of an infinitely more complex and confronting character, one who is completely outside the box. His voice, too, is entirely unique, the product of a rough upbringing, years of therapy and rehabilitation and a more-than-passing interest in history and philosophy.
Tyson’s uniqueness comes from having lived life at the extremes. He grew up in unimaginable poverty in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a brutalising environment which he would become his element and he would return to throughout his life. His father was absent, his mother was a madam who filled their house with domestic violence, all night parties and strings of men. For young Mike, there is a straight line from neglect to leaving school at seven to finding a sense of belonging with local petty criminals. His lisp and poor hygiene made him the subject of bullying, and when he lashes out violently, his community gives him accolades. At the age of eleven, he has taken revenge on all those who persecuted him, and has become so infamous that grown men come to fight him. In a dark reflection of the American dream, mugging, robberies and burglaries bring him material success in the form of clothes and pigeons, the latter a local passion that will stay with him into adulthood. By the time he’s thirteen, he’s in juvenile detention. Read the rest of this entry »