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Archive for July, 2009

In his 2000 memoir, Out of Place, Palestinian critic and Columbia University Professor, Edward Said, recounts his life (mostly his childhood and early adulthood) in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and ultimately the U.S.

The theme of this book is feeling “out of place”: being a Christian Palestinian Arab American, Said was affected by the political upheaval around him, and his father’s difficult scrutiny of him, or “bullying” caused him to be shy and lack esteem as a child. His complicated but close relationship with his mother is also a major topic in this book, about which he writes several passages, showing his skill at putting subtle expressions on paper; he also rounds up the book with the topic of his mother.

Out of Place is an honest and moving account of coming of age and belonging. It is astounding how Said remembers the details and names of his formative years, and especially the people – family members, teachers and friends – who have influenced his life.

At a later phase of the book, Said writes harrowingly about the experience of being fatally ill and the feeling of nearing death. Out of Place is not just an episodic autobiography, but a sort of reflection and realization of the past which shaped the author’s life. Edward Said’s writing contains memories and scenes infused within each other; each memory smoothly leading to another: It is a mesmerizingly absorbing book and page turner..

Said writes lively accounts of the many dimensions of school life in Cairo and the United States: the cunning tricks he and his friends played on his teachers, corporal punishment, unjust teachers (astonishing how one remembers those school authorities who used to pick one you), friendship, loneliness, and generally the bizarre and absurd things of school.

He also discusses his avid love for classical music and literature. As a young person, Edward was, even if subliminally, aware of the the effect of colonization and dispossession, for he had lived through it himself and observed its victims. Out of Place is an ebullient account and reflection on an intellectual’s life, filled with rich and touching memories and dialogue (made all the more vibrant with Arabic phrases).

I think that Out of Place is a quintessential book in the memoir genre; read it.

Out of Place on Amazon

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Film
Title: Malcolm X
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Denzel Washington

clip_image002Malcolm X is a 1992 adaptation of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (read my review) by Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The film begins with the depiction of the young Malcolm X in Boston and Harlem, along with his friend Shorty, and their involvement in burglary, drug dealing and prostitution. In flashbacks, the movie chronicles the life of Malcolm’s family before he was born and during his early childhood. His father was killed by the KKK (while it was said that he had committed suicide) and his mother was sent to a mental center. He was then separated from his siblings.

During a group robbery, Malcolm and his partners get sent to jail for 8-10 years, while his white female partners received 5 years in jail. After learning about the Nation of Islam and its teachings by one of the prisoners, Malcolm converts to the Nation of Islam while corresponding with the its minister, Elijah Mohammed. He educates himself in prison, and after leaving, becomes the main speaker of the movement, preaching Elijah Mohammed’s teachings of complete separation between whites and blacks, and that all whites were racists and enemies. However, Malcom’s feelings change after his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was touched by seeing Muslims of all races and colors together. While preaching his new, flexible beliefs, he receives death threats and was ultimately assassinated.

Malcolm X is a very good movie, albeit being pretty long (3 and a half hours). Malcolm’s life before joining entering jail could have been shortened; I was more interested in his stint as an activist. His troubled young-adulthood was too detailed, in my opinion. We get that he was involved in all sorts of trouble. But the director, Spike Lee, who also played Shorty in the film, did a good job of showing Malcolm as an innocent young adult who just wanted to be cool, hypnotized by the “slave mind”, as Malcolm puts it. The film also depicted how Betty, Malcolm’s wife, sensed that he was in trouble even before Malcolm did. Since Malcolm revered Elijah Mohammed, it was difficult for him to imagine being betrayed by that person who changed his life.

I would recommend reading the book before watching the movie. The movie was very true to the book, and it was easy to follow. At the end of the movie, following real footage after Malcolm X’s assassination, Ossie Davis narrated Malcolm’s legacy and a scene with Nelson Mandela speaking to students about Malcolm X.

Malcolm’s story is a sad one, and showed that a person who wanted to change his/her society always suffered.

Malcolm X the film is available for rent and purchase on iTunes.

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Title: Other Colors: Essays and a Story

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Note: I’ve read most of the essays on this book, but not every single one of them.

Other Colors is a collection of non-fiction pieces and a story by the Turkish Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk. The book is mainly composed of literature, politics, and personal essays, including an interview and Pamuk’s Nobel Lecture.

Other Colors is a wonderful book because it shows the reader an honest portrait of Pamuk. It includes many thoughtful pieces which Pamuk has written over the years. In the section Books and Reading, Pamuk reflects on great authors such as Camus, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Victor Hugo. The good thing about Other Colors is that there is something in there for everyone and every mood, ranging from amusing reflections on everyday life and Pamuk’s childhood, to his observations and thoughts on Europe and Istanbul.

Pamuk’s essays, especially the ones on his childhood, family and on literature, were very inspiring for me. He writes deeply about the process of writing and reading, often discussing what thoughts are in the reader’s minds and literature shapes one’s identity.

Pamuk writes in “In Kars and Frankfurt”:

“…For it is by reading novels, stories and myths that we come to understand the ideas that govern the world in which we live; it is fiction that gives us access to the truths kept veiled by our families, our schools, and our society; it is the art of the novel that allows us to ask who we really are.”

Finally, I’d like to mention Pamuk’s Nobel Lecture, “My Father’s Suitcase”. It is one of my favorite pieces of writing by Pamuk. He writes about the pleasures of reading, and his father’s failed attempts to become a poet, and how, nevertheless, he was always encouraged by him. You can read the lecture or download it here.

The best way to know the true Pamuk is to read Other Colors, in addition to his stories, of course. Pamuk proves to be a great and sympathetic writer and literary person. His reflective essays are very true, delectable, but also sad at times.

Other Colors at Barnes and Noble

http://www.orhanpamuk.com/ and Pamuk at NobelPrize.org

Read my review of My Name is Red, also by Orhan Pamuk

NyTimes review of Other Colors

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In the latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the teenage protagonist must encourage the new potions teacher, Professor Slughorn (a dull but crucial new character), to give him the memory of a critical moment between he and the young Tom Riddle, who was a bright student at Hogwarts, now known as Voldemort. This is the key to destroying Voldemort.

The Harry Potter movies just keep getting darker and tenser. The gloomy mood is set in the beginning of the movie, with Death Eaters whooshing over the Muggle city. This time, the more independent and older Harry is sitting at a coffee shop, instead of being tormented by the ridiculous Dursleys. David Yates, the director, vividly captures the tension and mystery in the story which keeps the audience at the edge of their seats.

Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter’s student enemy, is now “chosen” by Voldemort and must perform the task of killing Dumbledore. He is now a very serious and focused person. Tom Felton’s role as Draco Malfoy is exceptionally good. He is a pitiable character to me. He is not just the bully who often appeared in Harry’s way in the past Harry Potters. Now his situation, although not his character, has more depth. He makes the audience feel sympathetic for him, since he is obviously a lost person trying to shape his identity. Although Malfoy tormented Harry so much in the past, he is very miserable now.

There are humorous moments in the story, but I must add that Ron’s roles were exaggerated and silly, specifically the moment when he charmed by Love Potion. Despite this and the slow developing relationships of Hermione, Ron and Harry, the movie maintains a fine balance between that and Harry’s own missions.

After watching the movie, I wasn’t very satisfied because there wasn’t much accomplishment done in the end; plus the ending wasn’t very good. Most of the movie was about newly revealed “memories” about Tom Riddle’s past and the discovery of Horcruxes, which are yet to be destroyed in the upcoming movies (two have already been destroyed), to make Voldemort mortal. At least we know what to expect in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which will be split into two movies.

This movie will not disappoint. It’s exciting and capable of completely engulfing us Muggles into the magical world of Harry Potter for two and a half hours.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

Edit: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the upcoming movie, not HP and the Order of the Phoenix.

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Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart, is set in the village Umuofia in Nigeria. It is about the personal struggle of Okonkwo, the main character, to live contrary to his father’s own shameful and ignominious life. Therefore, he is often harsh toward his wives and children and tries not to show any passion or friendliness. Things Fall Apart also chronicles the colonization of Achebe’s village by European missionaries and its effect on the Igbo people.

Things Fall Apart is divided into three parts, the first two provide the reader with an insight into the cultures and tradition of Umuofia, using Igbo language for local terms. Before the missionaries arrived and introduced the Christian religion, Achebe shows that the village, although having its issues, was functional. Men of honor received their deserved rankings and the gods were respected. However, there were people who were unaccepted in the society, and others who felt baffled by things they didn’t understand, such as Okonwo’s son, Nwoye. Those were people who had a chance to at least explore their identities and feel they belonged to a society by the arrival of the missionaries.

Okonkwo, in my opinion, is a sad character because he is the type who doesn’t finally encounter a revelation in his personal journey, and in the end commits suicide. Superficially he appears as a harsh person for his fear of appearing effeminate. Although men and women had different roles in society, Okonkwo’s perception of manliness was beyond that of his village. He is haunted by his father, who died in debt and failed to provide for his family (even though a man was judged by his own achievements and not by those of his father), so Okonkwo works very hard and develops a tough attitude, often scorning his son Nwoye for what he sees as laziness. Okonkwo accomplished his wish; he showed everybody that he was unlike his father, and he gained several honors, but he was still an unhappy person.

The language of Things Fall Apart is simple but descriptive and renders beautiful imagery

“…And then came the clap of thunder. It was an angry, metallic and thirsty clap, unlike the deep and liquid rumbling of the rainy season. A mighty wind arose and filled the air with dust. Palm trees swayed as the wind combed their leaves into flying crests like strange and fantastic coiffure.”

Things Fall Apart shows that Africa is a complex continent, but also has problems like any other society (Ogbanje, or “a wicked child who is born and then dies only to re-enter its mother’s womb over and over again” and committers of dishonorable things such as suicide were cast in the Evil Forest)

Visit this BBC website to download a documentary of Chinua Achebe’s homecoming or watch it on Youtube.

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The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller, an adaption of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, where over a hundred people accused of witchcraft, some of them executed for that.

The Crucible begins with a group of young girls dancing in the forest, doing hysterical things and “conjuring spirits”, which was considered unacceptable in their society. When she is questioned by her uncle Reverend Parris, Abigail, one of the girls who were dancing in the forest, defends herself and the other girls by accusing their slave Tituba of conjuring dead spirits. Soon after, in hysteria, the girls start accusing other people of witchcraft. An investigator, Reverend Hale, and a group of judges are called to the town when Salem is turned into a hostile and terrifying environment of people pointing fingers at each other.

Although it is less popular than Death of a Salesman, The Crucible is a moving play. Through the hysteria of witchcraft accusations, the play focuses on Elizabeth and John Proctor. Abigail, who is having an affair with John Proctor, gets fired by Elizabeth when she discovers this. Now Abigail, like many others, has a chance to take vengeance, so she accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft. John Proctor, ashamed of his unfaithfulness, tries to convince the judge of Abigail’s untruthfulness to defend Elizabeth, who is known for never telling a lie. Now Elizabeth is put to the test in front of the judge to prove her innocence.

The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s response to McCarthyism and Communism, where envy and hostility lingered in the air. The Crucible is very dramatic, even when read. Because of corrupt judges and injustice, many people were executed. To me, the crucial points in the play were the accusers’ chances to admit their involvement in witchcraft and be spared execution. Yet there were memorable people such as Rebecca Nurse who refused to tell a lie and faced execution for that. The superficially impenetrable judges and officials, such as Deputy Governor Danforth and Reverend Hale, are revealed for their hypocrisy when things turn out worse than expected.

A thing I was thinking about while reading the play and after that was Abigail, an untruthful and vicious girl, a bully. She was actually the one who started all this havoc by first accusing Tituba of witchcraft. Girls can be very deceiving.

I highly recommend the Viking Library Critical Library edition of the Crucible. It doesn’t just include the play, but also commentary by Arthur Miller himself and essays and reviews of the play and its production. It also has documents and records of the Salem Witch Trials. It certainly enriched my experience of the play.

An excellent movie adaptation of The Crucible is the 1996 film starring Daniel Day Lewis as John Proctor.


The Crucible movie poster

The Crucible Shmoop studyuide

wikipedia

The Salem Witch Trials

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gatsbyThe Great Gatsby tells the love story of the rich Jay Gatsby and the childish, wealthy Daisy Buchannan. Set in the Jazz Age following World War One, it chronicles the attitudes of the new arising society. After five years, Gatsby finds the chance of accomplishing his dream: winning back his old lover Daisy, with the aid of the new outsider, Nick Carraway, who comes to Long Island to sell bonds but becomes deeply involved in the story. Gatsby is disappointed in the end after discovering that the notion that Daisy deeply loves him was untrue.

I think that Nick Carrway’s point of view was a very good way of describing the new period after World War One because it showed the attitudes of its people from another detailed perspective.

 

“That fellow had it coming to him. He through dust into our eyes just like he did in Daisy’s, but he was a tough one”.

Tom Buchannan says this after he and Daisy confront Nick for the last time; but more importantly, after the shooting of Jay Gatsby. After vainly trying to convince him otherwise, Nick loses hope of making them understand the truth. Tom doesn’t seem to know that it was Daisy who recklessly killed Myrtle, the wife of George Wilson the garage owner, with whom Tom was having an affair. Daisy, who knows that she killed Myrtle, doesn’t tell Tom the truth and follows along. In my opinion, knowing the truth wouldn’t have changed anything on the behalf of Tom. Although he doesn’t know the truth, he doesn’t want to know. He is content with living luxuriously and care-free in his ignorance.

When Gatsby becomes rich, he turns into a material man. Before the war, Daisy leaves him for the wealthy Tom Buchannan. The past five years, during which he turned himself into a millionaire, he has been thinking of fulfilling his dream of getting Daisy back, with the dreamy notion that she still loves him and had been faithful to him all those past years, like he had been. In the movie and in the book, his confusion is shown in this moment:

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once—but I loved you too.”

Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.

“You loved me TOO?” he repeated.

“…It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”

This is still relevant today. Tom and Daisy both have narcissist attitudes, and when they are engulfed in their own depressed worlds, they care not what they do around them, and they have no guilt over their doings.

The 1974 movie a good companion to the book. To me, it focused more on the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy. Mia Farrow performed an excellent portrayal of Daisy Buchannan. I didn’t think that she overacted. She visually showed Daisy’s character as it was. Robert Redford also very-well depicted the “cool” and mysterious character of Gatsby. However, some silent moments in the play seemed like gaps to me, they were awkward.

The people of the Jazz Age, as Fitzgerald depicted them, were fascinating:

“I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited, they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.”

After not even having Gatsby (but some “acquaintances” of his) and even enjoying themselves at his great mansion, they accuse him of being a German spy and of killing somebody. This shows the immorality and vicious gossip in the 1920s.

I find Gatsby’s situation sad because he has always genuinely loved Daisy, perhaps something rare in that period, but he thought he could win her back and please her through material and his great house. Gatsby was so determined in achieving his dream that he thought he could repeat the past (“Why of course you can!”) He reminds me of Florentino Ariz, in Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, who waits fifty-one years, nine months, and four days for his lover’s husband to die. The difference is that Florentino achieves his dream, proving the power of enduring love and patience, unlike Gatsby, who has been patient also. Florentino did not attempt to change himself or his status; but Gatsby thought he could win back Daisy through the wrong way; millions and materialistic luxury.

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