Month: April 2008

Broken April | Ismail Kadare

Broken April by Ismail Kadare is mostly a description of Blood feuds in Albenian highlands, bound by the laws of Kanun. It starts of as a story about a man, Gjorg Berisha, who is bound in a blood feud, spanning several decades and almost 70 deaths between two families. Now it is his turn to avenge the blood of his elder brother. The situation is much more serious now as he had failed an earlier time, whereby as per the laws his family ended up paying for the injury, not withstanding the insult that incident brought to the village and the family. So he afraid as he is, but nonetheless bound and obliged to his family and the bessa , the honor code of the Kanun, also reminded by his brothers blood dried shirt hanging over the house, he needs to kill. Which he eventually succeeds in. But this success brings in the last days of his freedom as after about a month its he who will be hunted now by the latest victims family. And since it was March he committed the murder, his April is now broken.

Then as per the law he has to pay the death tax for the killing he made. And to pay that he travels to a distant land. Kadare then, while writing about Gjorg journey to the castle where he has to pay the tax talks about various blood laws governing the land. Story then shifts towards the Tax collector, who works for the prince in the castle, talking about his impressions over the whole affair, the tax figures, how the collection system has been working for years bringing the revenue, about the threatening brought in the killings, how in older times killings never touched single digit in a single bay, but sadly or rather great fully Gjorg saved the day as late in the evening he rescued for happening the first bloodless day in the entire history of Kanun. But his musings, apprehensions, thoughts are bit tedious to go through, at parts boring and long drawn.

And after that Kadare throws another angle of a writer traveling with his newly wed wife in the highlands. The writer is a scholar about kanun ways and with the intention of showing his wife the rituals of the Kanun, comes on sort of honeymoon there. Kadare keeps on giving the bits of trivia here and there about the Kanun, like how the death (dead body) in a field in land feuds decides the boundary. How interpretors of the Kanun are highly sought after in the reigon.

Broken April borders over territory which works like Kafka’s The Castle and The Trial covered long ago and also quite commensurably. Like The Trial nothing happens after the killing, story doesn’t moves a bit, Gjorg keeps waiting to pay the tax and is eventually killed. The laws are there for the ages and people religiously follow then without knowing much. Even ways are there to avoid the feuds, like buying of the killings but at the cost of pride, or if one who is sought for a kill ends up as a guest in someones place and is killed then the host family has to avenge the blood and the actual family to which the latest victim belongs is now out of the feud cycle. Kadera tries to be more ambitious as he tries showing the system from three angles. One being the victim’s, Gjorg, then the Tax collectors, which is from where the system is operated and finally the third view from outside. But somehow in trying to do this it looses its much desired nightmarish quotient, or the intended mechanical environment. And also the sequence of the three angles is much to blame, as after showing the most personal angle the narration keeps moving outwards.

Broken April, incidently, is Kadare’s most famous work helping him get the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, among other praises.


Kazuo Ishiguro’s Interview

In a candid interview here at The Paris Review, Kazuo Ishiguro talks about his passions, obsessions, music that inspired him, his American dream, his books an all.
Here’s something from the interview.

How did the English setting come about for The Remains of the Day?
It started with a joke that my wife made. There was a journalist coming to interview me for my first novel. And my wife said, Wouldn’t it be funny if this person came in to ask you these serious, solemn questions about your novel and you pretended that you were my butler? We thought this was a very amusing idea. From then on I became obsessed with the butler as a metaphor.
As a metaphor for what?
Two things. One is a certain kind of emotional frostiness. The English butler has to be terribly reserved and not have any personal reaction to anything that happens around him. It seemed to be a good way of getting into not just Englishness but the universal part of us that is afraid of getting involved emotionally. The other is the butler as an emblem of someone who leaves the big political decisions to somebody else. He says, I’m just going to do my best to serve this person, and by proxy I’ll be contributing to society, but I myself will not make the big decisions. Many of us are in that position, whether we live in democracies or not. Most of us aren’t where the big decisions are made. We do our jobs, and we take pride in them, and we hope that our little contribution is going to be used well.

Learning German

This essay: The Awful German Language by Mark Twain throws some light-hearted light upon the difficulties in the language. German language, along with Latin and Russian, is said to be one of the difficult language to master. Since I have already paid my money at the Goethe Center, I guess I will have to live with that and hope that this amusing essay doesn’t becomes too amusing for comfort.
Well, here’s something from the essay:

Now observe the Adjective. Here was a case where simplicity would have been an advantage; therefore, for no other reason, the inventor of this language complicated it all he could. When we wish to speak of our “good friend or friends,” in our enlightened tongue, we stick to the one form and have no trouble or hard feeling about it; but with the German tongue it is different. When a German gets his hands on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it. It is as bad as Latin. He says, for instance:

    • Nominative — Mein guter Freund, my good friend.
    • Genitive — Meines guten Freundes, of my good friend.
    • Dative — Meinem guten Freund, to my good friend.
    • Accusative — Meinen guten Freund, my good friend.
    • N. — Meine guten Freunde, my good friends.
    • G. — Meiner guten Freunde, of my good friends.
    • D. — Meinen guten Freunden, to my good friends.
    • A. — Meine guten Freunde, my good friends.

Now let the candidate for the asylum try to memorize those variations, and see how soon he will be elected. One might better go without friends in Germany than take all this trouble about them. I have shown what a bother it is to decline a good (male) friend; well this is only a third of the work, for there is a variety of new distortions of the adjective to be learned when the object is feminine, and still another when the object is neuter. Now there are more adjectives in this language than there are black cats in Switzerland, and they must all be as elaborately declined as the examples above suggested. Difficult? — troublesome? — these words cannot describe it. I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.

Reviews of Ballard’s Biography

Here at LRB Thomas Jones talks about Ballard‘s views on Crash while reviewing his biography “Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton“.

Crash, Ballard’s most controversial and second most famous book, explores the idea that there is ‘a strong connection between sexuality and the car crash, a fusion largely driven by the cult of celebrity’: just think of James Dean, Grace Kelly, Mark Bolan, President Kennedy (‘a special kind of car crash’) or Princess Diana. In 1970, shortly before he began writing the novel, Ballard decided to ‘test my hypothesis about the unconscious links between sex and the car crash by putting on an exhibition of crashed cars’. On the opening night ‘there was a huge tension in the air, as if everyone felt threatened by some inner alarm that had started to ring.’ People got drunk and behaved badly, and over the following weeks further acts of vandalism were inflicted on the exhibits. Ballard’s ‘suspicions had been confirmed about the unconscious links that my novel would explore’. The hostile responses that the book provoked when it was published, and which David Cronenberg’s film version reanimated 25 years later, are on this view further evidence of its deep ‘psychological and emotional truth’. The only possible explanation for such fiercely negative reactions, Ballard says, is denial: it’s the classic Freudian ‘no means yes’ defence.

Though here at TimesOnline he’s being lauded for divulging more into his life rather than writing, review at LRB seems more concerned about his writing. Main thing they all are talking about is how much of his own life is there in his books, mainly Empire of the Sun. Also how much human warmth and contradictions this dystopian fiction writer had in his relationships with people around.

More reviews here n here.

Things Fall Apart

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

— W B Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart shows life in an African village Umuofia, of Ibo society, right before and after the Foreigners, or the so called white people, came there. The novel in the beginning moves very beautifully showing the African culture, their traditions intertwined with age old superstitions, their beliefs in supernatural coupled with their rigorous code of law, their notions of pride and prestige, their local dialect which also at times portrays their sense of things. Fascinating small mythical tales, legends and anecdotes are narrated time and again throughout the novel, whereby the perspective and elevation of things in African society are shown remarkably. Things start to fall apart when white people arrive there. The demise of faith as well as bond between the people starts taking place as differences between statues and class are exploited by the white men.

The real beauty of Things Fall Apart is that, its more than African culture and Colonization, as while revolving around Okonkwo, a leader and a local wrestling champ, the story takes the shape of a tragedy. Okonkwo though a great warrior and powerful leader has, had his life dominated by the fear of failure and weakness and his whole life he strove to throw it out. The seeds of this struggle are sown at his childhood as he is taunted and ridiculed all around for the fact that his father had no title and was a week person. He father was called Agbala, representing the lowest rank in the society and incidentally in the local dialect Agbala also meant women. So his life was a struggle to be at the highest place in the society, for which he always looked on track. But things on account of his personal chi (God, or rather luck) mingled with African culture and tradition things changed bad and then got worsened as the White men arrived, whereby ending on a note of tragedy.

Achebe writes with great precision and economy, illuminating African cultural values and its clashes with colonial influences. This theme almost underlines all his works. He was awarded Man booker prize in 2007 and is considered to be worthy of a Nobel prize.

Werner Herzog in conversation with Errol Morris


WERNER HERZOG: Walking out of one of your films, I always had the feeling-the sense that I’ve seen a movie, that I’ve seen something equivalent to a feature film. That’s very much the feeling of the feature film Vernon, Florida or even the film with McNamara-The Fog of War. Even there I have the feeling I’ve seen a feature, a narrative feature film with an inventive narrative structure and with a sort of ambience created that you only normally create in a feature film, in an inventive, fictionalized film.
The new film that I saw, Standard Operating Procedure, feels as if you had completely invented characters, and yet they are not. We know the photos, and we know the events and we know the dramas behind it. And yet I always walk out feeling that I have seen a feature film, a fiction film.

ERROL MORRIS: Yeah. The intention is to put the audience in some kind of odd reality. [To moderator] Werner certainly shares this. It’s the perverse element in filmmaking. Werner in his “Minnesota Manifesto” starts talking about ecstatic truth. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
But what I do understand in his films is a kind of ecstatic absurdity, things that make you question the nature of reality, of the universe in which we live. We think we understand the world around us. We look at a Herzog film, and we think twice. And I always, always have revered that element. Ecstatic absurdity: it’s the confrontation with meaninglessness.
I was talking with Ron Rosenbaum, a friend of mine, who had just finished a book on Shakespeare. We were talking about the meaning of meaninglessness. Is there such a thing? And I would say: yes. Werner’s work could be considered an extended essay on the meaning of meaninglessness.

WERNER HERZOG: Thank you, yes. It feels good to hear that. [Laughter]
But, of course, I’m suspicious about the sources. Where does this come from, this textualizing of Shakespeare and poetry? And I think a part of the cinema verité, we have discarded it. Yes, that’s enough. We have hit enough at it, and it’s actually cinema verité, the answer of the ’60s, and that’s OK. Yes, we have buried it for good, I hope.
But now what is emerging, and we should really go and lower our heads in charge against this kind of structure and this postmodernist, poststructuralist sort of film studies in aesthetics. You find it as an all-pervading abomination speaking about literature, speaking about cinema. And I think there’s a new enemy out there that we should really start to tackle more violently and more viciously. I mean with sucker punches wherever we can do it.

Into The Wild

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.

— Lord Byron

Into the Wild is based upon a work by Jon Krakauer about the real life adventures of Christopher McCandless, an 21-22 year old wanderer who embarked on a journey in search of existence in the arms of nature, away from the materialistic and manipulative world, somewhere into the wild. After graduating he gives away all his bank money to charity and burns up the rest. Taking up a new name Alexander Supertramp, in his age old car he drives up to a flash flood prone area on a overcast day, wherein he had his first tryst with nature, after which he abandons his car too, continuing his journey on foot and free rides.

His final destination in this journey of getting away from civilization was Alaska, which he ultimately reaches and along this journey he meets several people and had few nice n easy relationships with them, always leaving before anybody grew too fond of him. Along all the time he continually kept updating a journal, from which actually most of the references for reconstructing his story were taken. With his minimal travel gear he also had few books by authors like Thoreau, Tolstoy, Jack London, Stegner which he kept leafing through all along. After being in Alaska he lived fine through the first season change, hunting wild, updating his journal, reading along, while living in his super van which he found there abandoned. But sadly he survives only 5-6 months there before scumbing to eating some poisonous plant.

Laden with several beautiful scenic locations, the move has beautiful sound track too. Its a fine seducing movie, calming yet with certain turbulence beneath. A good watch.