Thursday, February 25, 2010

For June: Right of Thirst by Frank Huyler

Right of Thirst: A Novel (P.S.)For June we have selected Frank Huyler's Right of Thirst,
Shattered by his wife's death, and by his own role in it, successful cardiologist Charles Anderson volunteers to assist with earthquake relief in an impoverished Islamic country in a constant state of conflict with its neighbor. But when the refugees he's come to help do not appear and artillery begins to fall in the distance along the border, the story takes an unexpected turn.
This haunting, resonant tour de force about one man's desire to live a moral life offers a moving exploration of the tensions between poverty and wealth, the ethics of intervention, the deep cultural differences that divide the world, and the essential human similarities that unite it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our February Author: Herta Müller

The Land of Green PlumsThis month we took on Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller's novel, The Land of Green Plums.  A good place to start learning more about this author is her eloquent Nobel lecture, which is packed with autobiographical detail that parallels the experiences of the narrator in the book as well as insights into her use of language and image that are key to appreciating her work.

In this article from Sign and Sight, Müller details her experiences with the Romanian Securitate. (The Guardian reports on the backlash: Herta Müller 'has a psychosis', claims Romanian agent who spied on her.) In an interview with Radio Free Europe offers additional biographical detail including this, not irrelevant to the book at hand,
My mother was deported to the USSR. She spent five years in a labor camp, paying for the "collective guilt" of Hitler's deeds. They called that internment "Aufbauarbeit," "reconstruction work". My grandfather never got used to those changes. He was a poor man now. He couldn't go to the barber's three times a week to get shaved, like he used to. And that was no small thing, mind you. That was his social life. He used to go there to meet the community, his peers. It was a ritual which he was forced to give up. What happened to him was socially degrading. And my grandfather, and that whole generation of grandfathers turned outcasts by the new regime, have never ever accepted socialism. Then my mother returned from the USSR in 1950, after five years in the labor camp, after she'd witnessed death and famine...
Although I could find no other interviews with the author in English, there are plenty of critics weighing in on her importance as a writer.  A good place to start is with fellow Romanian Norman Manea in the New York Review of Books: summary or podcast.  Lyn Marven's assessment on OpenDemocracy offers many good insights, including this one the book's title,
The translated titles lose Müller's invented compound-nouns, and refuse the oddness of the long phrases. Their effect in English is apparently too, well, alien. But Müller's linguistically inventive work already challenges German readers. Her poetic language also draws on Romanian: Herztier is a German "translation" of a Romanian wordplay with inima (heart) and animal (beast)
For more observations on Müller's use of language, see this review at Dialog International.

Children Of CeausescuFor a visual break from exploring Herta Müller's prose, sample these heart-wrenching photos from the AIDS epidemic among Romanian children by Kent Klich from his book Children Of Ceausescu. Müller wrote the accompanying text.

Finally, just for a glimpse of Müller in person, here is a clip (with subtitles) of her speaking passionately about the plight of the individual in the face of dictatorship at the Prague Writer's Festival:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Standing with the Iranian people

Robin Wright (Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East) previews the anticipated demonstrations in Iran today at WAMU.  Last month in TIME, Wright compared the current Iranian protests to China's 1989 democracy movement,

Both were youth-driven popular movements demanding change, led by loose coalitions of disparate factions that lacked strong leadership. And in both cases, the protesters' demands grew as the regimes clamped down. 

But there are important differences between the two that may result in different outcomes. In Iran, the catalyst was the charge that the authorities had stolen an election that the opposition believes Mousavi won; the Chinese protestors had no history of voting in competitive elections and were mobilized by the death of Hu Yaobang, a reformist member of the communist leadership. China used maximum force relatively early; it contained the challenge within seven weeks. Iran's regime is losing momentum after seven months; demonstrations late last month spread to at least 10 major cities. China banned the foreign press and tightly controlled state media; Iran has been unable to prevent eyewitness accounts of citizen journalists from reaching the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.

The biggest difference may be that Iran is historically more democratic than China, where public participation in politics has been restricted for centuries. Iranians have had a growing role in politics since the 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution produced Asia's first parliament; they've voted for decades under both a monarchy and a theocracy. Also, China has long been a closed society; Iran's Indo-European population has long had exposure to Western ideas and education.

Rather than Tiananmen, Iran's opposition is hoping to repeat a different event from 1989 — the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Eastern Europe's communist regimes.

Here's hoping for a peaceful day. Take action in support of human rights in Iran here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Round-Up: Familiar Authors in Unfamiliar Places

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A NovelIn our latest round-up, we find many of our authors stretching their wings in new genres and finding new audiences:
  • Film critic Roger Ebert is a fan of W.G. Sebald and shares some video tributes on his blog. Check out the one from the architecture students for an Austerlitz flashback.
  • John Conroy (Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People) has converted his investigation of allegations of the use of torture by Chicago police officers into a play.  He described it for the NYT, “I wanted to indict the whole city of Chicago.”
  • Louise Erdrich (Tracks) will participate in the PBS series Faces of America which explores the genealogical histories of a dozen prominent Americans.
  • At the New Yorker, you can hear Junot Diaz read and discuss Edwidge Danticat's story "Water Child" and Danticat discuss Diaz' "The Dating Game."
  • The photographer Pieter Hugo has published a collection of photographs, Nollywood, about the Nigerian film industry.  Chris Abani (Graceland) and Zina Saro-Wiwa, daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa supply the text.  Preview this striking collection here.
  • Orhan Pamuk (Snow) explains how his latest book, The Museum of Innocence, lead him to curate an actual museum and the NYT provides a slideshow of some of its holdings.  Want more Pamuk? How about a stroll with him through downtown LA?: "I like it when there is history, when there is decay. I'm very much impressed that this city has a decaying face. I identify it with my own." And then compare that to Istanbul.  Not juicy enough?  How about this literary match: ‘No secret, Kiran’s my girlfriend’
  • Finally, remember our exploration of afropop legend Fela Kuti when we discussed Uzondinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation?  Kevin Mambo, star of the Broadway musical "Fela!" and Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA's Executive Director discuss the musician's commitment to human rights (and Obama's Nobel speech) on WNYC. More from NPR here.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Where is Gao Zhisheng?

A China More JustAmnesty International Group 22 Pasadena has adopted the Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and is just gearing up to advocate on his behalf and while we hope to have an action on this case very soon, Rights Readers wanted to acknowledge that today is the one year anniversary of his disappearance.  Thankfully, the case is receiving worldwide attention from the AP, BBCGuardian, and OpenDemocracy among others. But most of all, don't miss Gao Zhisheng's wife's plea in today's Washington Post,
The United States cannot allow China to continue to act with impunity, particularly with respect to imprisoning lawyers. China's lawyers are the country's only hope for becoming a one-party state where the rule of law prevails, let alone a true democracy. If China continues to imprison its lawyers, there will be never be change.
I worry about the next generation of Chinese lawyers. Will disappearances like my husband's deter them from becoming rights defenders? I imagine so. But if the United States were to speak out on my husband's behalf, perhaps this would change.
My 8-year old son, Peter, was surprised to discover last week that President Obama is a lawyer. To him, lawyers are people the government throws into prison, not leaders of the government itself. He asked me whether this meant that President Obama could help free his father. I told him that I hoped so. We are waiting to see.
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