Sunday, April 30, 2006

Happy May Day!

Let it be said, I am in favor of any sort of march or parade (with or without political overtones), wild dancing and prancing, flag (any kind) and streamer waving, song-singing (any language), silly hats, flowers, candles and inspired carrying-on in honor of May Day and its been that way since, er, the day I was born. So I'm down with the celebratory "we are all immigrants" spirit of the day. Have a piece of cake too!

Possible future Rights Readers selection? Death in the Haymarket. NPR has an interview with the author. [Link]

Angel Island Poetry

National Poetry Month is coming to a close and I thought I might raise a little poetic consciousness and at the same time spotlight the current immigration legislation controversy by journeying back to the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the detention of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island in San Francisco where they wrote poetry about their plight all over the walls of their barracks. Here's a great photo gallery. For a fun lesson for the linguistically curious and students (or former students) of Chinese language amongst us-- including audio readings in Mandarin and Cantonese-- try this link.
Scholastic has a nice account of children's author Li Keng Wong's (Good Fortune: My Journey to Gold Mountain) stay at Angel Island. A more adult, scholarly approach to the poetry can be found here.

Okay, enough history lesson! Read about Amnesty's concerns and take action on the pending immigration legislation!

When Worlds Collide...

I'm referring to the world of novelist W.G. Sebald and the working world of some of our Esteemed Readers. I can't resist providing a link to an improved version of the photo on page 116 of Austerlitz featuring the Eagle Nebula courtesy of NASA where some of our Readers are employed illuminating this very thing. And while we are on the subject of nebulous things... here is a better look at the Turner watercolor, Funeral at Lausanne, described on page 110. Finally, because I want to be thorough, here is the Van Valkenborch painting, View of Antwerp with the Frozen Schelde, from page 13 and the somewhat nebulous Rembrandt, Flight into Egypt (p.120). Enjoy!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Kindertransport

More background on Sebald's Austerlitz.

The Kindertransport has its own organization, but perhaps the best starting point is the Oscar-winning film Into the Arms of Strangers
and its companion book.  You can get a taste of the film at the film's website and download a study guide.  The BBC also has a feature that includes interviews with survivors.

Some background on Sebald

We had an excellent discussion of Sebald's Austerlitz and yet there is so much more to be explored! Some follow-up:

A little background on the author is available in this Guardian profile.

Here's an interview that touches on Wittgenstein, 9/11, architecture and the art of translation. A snippet about the role of photography in his work:
Q: Photographs and documents interrupt your books. What part do they play in your writing process?

A: They often precede it. If there's an image you want to use, you often write toward it or away from it. The writer's curse is that he doesn't work with tangible matter of any kind, and this is a little device that helps. It certainly encouraged me to write a novel in the first place.

The cover image [of "Austerlitz"] is one I've had for a long while and always felt I needed to write about. It has a haunting quality that wouldn't leave me alone.

I begin by surveying things I've accumulated: notes, documents, bits of transcribed interviews. When you talk to someone aged 80, invariably the photo album comes out. It's the generation that first had access to cheap cameras.

I've always liked image-text relationships. In the '70s there were very interesting things written about photography by Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, John Berger. I felt a direct rapport with things said in these essays.

Q: Are the photographs meant to manipulate the reader's visualization?

A: I don't do that deliberately. But what the image always does is arrest the text.

The narrative moves in time and slides toward its own ending. The visual arts have the capacity to lift you out of time, and since all disasters happen in time, they offer some consolation in lifting you out of it.

Sometimes pictures do contain a high density of information. There is an image in [his 1992 novel] "The Emigrants" of a Jewish family in Germany. They're in lederhosen and dirndl skirts. That picture, if you know how to read it, tells you more about Jewish assimilation than any text could.

KCRW's Bookworm has this audio interview including moths inspired by Virginia Wolff, narrative devices inspired by Thomas Bernhard, the conspiracy of silence and more.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Rights Readers Guide to the Los Angeles Festival of Books

This weekend some of our loyal Readers may be attending the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Here's a little guide to Rights Readers authors past and future (?) you may want to check out:

On Saturday  Adam Hochschild (King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains) appears in the "Writing Epic History" panel at 10:30 AM.  The "First Fiction" panel at 11:30 has two potential Rights Readers authors in Olga Grushin (Dream Life of Sukhanov) and Uzodinma Iweala (Beasts of No Nation).  At 12:30 Lost Boys Alephonsion and Benson Deng share their experience of Sudan, another possible future read.  And at 4:00 PM the "Fiction: Unknown Territory" panel includes Lisa See (who I'm sure we will get around to one of these days), author of Dragon Bones and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and Amy Wilentz (Martyr's Crossing).  The 4:00 PM panel "Under Siege: Life in a Culture of Conflict" includes Loung Ung, a Cambodian genocide survivor, whose previous appearance was praised by one of our Esteemed Readers, and I have to admit one of her books is sitting in my "to read" pile.  Wow!  Looks like this is a Rights Readers day!

On Sunday Amy Wilentz is back moderating a fiction panel featuring Chris Abani (Graceland) at 10:30 AM and he appears again at 3:00 PM. 

Reports on these authors or others I may be neglection are appreciated!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Rwandan Genocide Anniversary and Camp Darfur Launch

Today marks the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Commemorate the date with a visit to the Rwandan Survivors blog for first person accounts of the tragedy and efforts to rebuild lives.

Today also marks the start of Camp Darfur, a multi-day event bringing attention to the genocide in Sundan. Let's hope it gets some press attention-- I'm on the lookout for links...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Pamuk Post-trial

The Guardian checks in on Orhan Pamuk (Snow) post trial:
So does he think he was the victim, in a way, of Turkish self-hatred? This too, apparently, would be too simplistic. "Self-hatred is OK. I have self-hatred too. It's OK. What's bad is if you don't know how to get out of it, don't know how to manage it. Self-hatred is, in fact, a good thing if you can clearly see the mechanism of it, because it helps you to understand others." It is a kind of plea.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rushdie on the Birth of Midnight's Children

Salman Rushdie has written a new preface to Midnight's Children on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of it's publication, describing the origins and initial reaction to the novel,
My father was so angry about the character of “Ahmed Sinai” that he refused to speak to me for many months; then he decided to “forgive” me, which annoyed me so much that for several more months I refused to speak to him. I had been more worried about my mother’s reaction to the book, but she immediately understood that it was “just a story — Saleem isn’t you, Amina isn’t me, they’re all just characters”, thus demonstrating that her level head was a lot more use to her than my father’s Cambridge University education in English literature was to him.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kanan Makiya and the Iraq Memory Foundation

NPR offered a recent profile of the Iraq Memory Foundation which is documenting human rights violations from Ba'thist Iraq. The foundation is headed up by Kanan Makiya, himself the subject of a profile in the Rights Readers selection Calamities of Exile by Lawrence Weschler. Be sure to visit the foundation's grim art gallery. Kanan Makiya also offers up some reflections on the current state of affairs at NPQ. On Saddam Hussein's trial: seems to be driven by a purely sectarian agenda, with lists of crimes against Shiites, then against Kurds. There seems to be no focus on the fact that Saddam’s regime terrorized everybody in Iraq in various ways, that the system was totalitarian.

It would have been much wiser to have focused on the ways in which the former regime victimized everyone, irrespective of sect or national origin. Wise leadership in Iraq today cannot be merely about me and what is in my self-interest; it has to be, and to be perceived to be, about “us,” the people of Iraq, and our Iraqi self-interest.
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