Gloriah Amondi’s narrator arrives back in Nairobi. A friend has died, her ex-lover has moved in with the Love of their Life, there’s a memorial mass to attend, and she has dreams of the dead friend. She writes on stickers and puts them up on the walls: “Death has a lot of time. It will wait, it will wait.”
Brian Fawcett learns the rules and wisdom of life and war, at least according to Ronald Surry, on a pig farm in England in 1962. Yes, a coming-of-age story but, more important, a story of coming-into-intelligence, which belongs to the world, not to the individual. Ch. 14 of “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars.”
He lives in the basement. His ex-wife lives upstairs. He has a new girlfriend. She has a young child. He has a psychiatrist. He has kids. John Harris’ “Making Light of Love in the Moon.”
The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars: (Ch. 13) Doom
Brian Fawcett, coming of age on a Sussex pig farm in 1962, is trying to secure the facts in a world that seems doomed by nuclear weapons and a population explosion. Ch. 13: Doom, of “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars.”
Scribbles from Italy: The Clang of the Past, Shouts and Hollers, The Slaughter of the Politicians, Entanglements
Passages from Vian Andrews’ journals about living in Italy’s Umbrian countryside. He’s thinking about church bells clanging, children’s playgrounds, medieval donkey races, the brutal games of politics, and the bloody chore of pruning brambles and thorn bushes.
A recent coronation leads Renee Rodin to think back to Queen Elizabeth II’s crowning in1953, when Rodin was an 8-year-old trhird-grader in a psychically-charged classroom in Montreal. A memory vignette that goes beyond the royal ritual.
SENTENCE: I AM
Mikhail Iossel recalls a moment in Leningrad as an 8-year-old Jewish boy, a luminous moment of being, loss, love, and language. The latest installment of SENTENCE, Iossel’s series of stories in a single sentence.
The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars: (Ch. 12) Insolence
Brian Fawcett, coming of age on an English pig farm in 1962, reads Voltaire’s “Candide” and wonders if the whole world is sliding back into the perils of “blind faith.” Ch. 12 of “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars.”
Mikhail Iossel’s friend has an after-dinner nap nightmare about a firing squad. The latest installment of Iossel’s stories in one sentence.
The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars (Ch. 11): Death
Brian Fawcett thinks about death, on a pig farm in 1962, in the trenches of World War I and during the London Blitz. Ch. 11 of “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars.”
Scribbles from Italy: The Winds Do Blow, Orgasms & Anti-Vaxxers, Setting the Table, The Stink of Modern Life
From Vian Andrews’ journals about life in Italy’s Umbrian countryside: reflections on the winds that blow, full course meals, the stench of daily life, and even orgasms and anti-vaxxers.
What We're Reading:
Daniel Gawthrop, Double Karma (2023)
Vancouver writer Daniel Gawthrop's debut novel probes both individual and national identities in the context of the brutal and long-standing dictatorship in Myanmar, which used to be known as Burma a half-century ago. Min Lin, a Burmese-American photographer in his mid-20s and living in Los Angeles, who has never been to his taciturn father's Southeast Asian country of origin, plunges into the tortured politics of Burma-Myanmar in the late 1980s, as hopes for a "normal" democracy are once more shattered by a military junta. Along the violent way to the present, long-hidden sexual, familial and political secrets are revealed, raising the classic Eastern philosophical question about karma: how does the sum of our actions over a lifetime determine our fate at every moment in the present? Or, does what goes around really come around?
Martin Duberman, Reaching Ninety (2023)
The noted now-nonagenarian historian, biographer, memoirist and pioneer gay activist, Martin Duberman, tells the story of how he got to his advanced age, his probing mind and open vulnerabilities remarkably intact. Duberman is the author of histories of the progressive Black Mountain College experiment (1933-57) and the breakout of "gay liberation" in 1969 at Stonewall (1993), as well as biographies of Paul Robeson, fellow historian Howard Zinn, feminist theorist Andrea Dworkin and art impressario Lincoln Kirstein, plus a half-dozen or so autobiographical volumes, notable for their frankness and blunt assessments of himself, as well as friends and enemies.
Dubravka Ugresic, The Ministry of Pain (2004; tr. Michael Henry Heim, 2005)
The Yugoslavian novelist and acerbic essayist, Dubravka Ugresic, died March 17, 2023 in Amsterdam at age 73. One of the better ways of remembering her is reading her poignant 2004 novel, The Ministry of Pain, a highly-rated account of exile and disorientation. Having fled the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and finding her new ultra-nationalist Croatian homeland unbearable, Ugresic's protagonist is now a temporary professor of literature at the University of Amsterdam. Her class is filled with other young Yugoslav exiles (now Croatians, Serbs, and other refugees from the region), most of whom have low-wage gigs assembling leather and rubber S&M gear at a nearby sweatshop they sarcastically refer to as the "Ministry of Pain." The reference books often describe Ugresic, whose name was occasionally mentioned as a possible Nobel Prize for Literature candidate, as a Croatian or (worse) Croatian-Dutch writer, both of which are incorrect. She was born and raised in a country that disappeared into history and left only a diaspora.
Jonathan Healey, The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603 - 1689 (2023)
History, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, is not a fixed series of events and meanings. It's closer to what Walter Benjamin pictured as the Angel of History, whose face is turned to the past, a past which is viewed as a catastrophe whose wreckage is piling up at the angel's feet. That's why almost every generation needs a new interpretation of the surprisingly changing past. Jonathan Healey's "new history of revolutionary England" in the 17th century is the latest account of a turbulent era that runs from Guy Fawkes and the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, through the mid-century English Revolution and Oliver Cromwell, to the eventual Restoration of the crown.