David Grossman’s A Horse Walks Into a Bar: a stand-up’s cry of pain

David Grossman’s <em>A Horse Walks Into a Bar</em>: a stand-up’s cry of pain

At the weekend I read David Grossman’s latest novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar. Now I want to set down some thoughts about this intense and unsettling book. On stage in a comedy club in an Israeli town, a stand-up comedian, Dovaleh G, settles into his usual routine of edgy gags and mocking, abusive comments about members of the audience. Slowly, though, the spectators realise that they are watching a man falling apart before their eyes as Dovaleh G unfolds the story of a childhood trauma from which he has never recovered.

Since Grossman is a progressive Zionist and long-time advocate of peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, does his novel stand as a metaphor for a wounded nation? Or is it the study of a man who presents a public face of cruelty and cynicism whilst hiding deep within himself the vulnerable yet irrepressible child crushed and betrayed by what happened to him one day in 1973.

Continue reading “David Grossman’s A Horse Walks Into a Bar: a stand-up’s cry of pain”

John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)

John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)

Until I have time to gather my thoughts in response to the death of John Berger – here is a re-post of my appreciation to mark his 90th birthday in November.

(Avoid at all costs the mean-spirited obituary published by the Guardian. Instead, try these two perceptive pieces:

Continue reading “John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)”

Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind: the streets of Istanbul transformed

Orhan Pamuk’s <em>A Strangeness in My Mind</em>: the streets of Istanbul transformed

In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.
― Orhan Pamuk, A Strangeness in My Mind

Writing in a recent post about Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson, with its central character a bus-driving amateur poet who closely observes the special in the mundane details of the city he inhabits, reminded me that I ought to write something about Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s latest, The Strangeness In My Mind. Read in December, it has as its central character an Istanbul street vendor through whom Pamuk weaves the tumultuous history of that city in the last half-century. Indeed, it carries the lengthy subtitle, ‘Being the Adventures and Dreams of Mevlut Karatas, a Seller of Boza, and of His Friends, and Also a Portrait of Life in Istanbul Between 1969 and 2012 From Many Different Points of View’.  Continue reading “Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind: the streets of Istanbul transformed”

In the dark times will there also be singing?

In the dark times will there also be singing?

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
– Bertolt Brecht, motto to Svendborg Poems, 1939

In an essay called ‘Undefeated Despair’, John Berger wrote of ‘Despair without fear, without resignation, without a sense of defeat.’ ‘However you look at it’, the Guardian editorialised a few days ago, ‘2017 offers a fearful prospect for America and the world.’ In the words of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’, I don’t have a friend who feels at ease when weighing the prospects for the year ahead. In the spirit that some solace may be found in poetry in these dark times, I offer a selection of poems or brief extracts – some have which have appeared in posts here before – which seem to offer meaning and hope; they may reflect Berger’s stance of undefeated despair, offering not ‘a promise, or a consolation, or an oath of vengeance (forms of rhetoric he states are are for ‘the small or large leaders who make History’), but rather insists that ‘One was born into this life to share the time that repeatedly exists between moments, the time of Becoming.’ . Continue reading “In the dark times will there also be singing?”

Patrick Modiano’s The Search Warrant: missing, a young girl, the sort who left few traces

Patrick Modiano’s The Search Warrant: missing, a young girl, the sort who left few traces

They are the sort of people who leave few traces. Virtually anonymous. Inseparable from those Paris streets, those suburban landscapes …

Hearing the news that Bob Dylan had been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, I thought it was about time that I investigated last year’s winner, Patrick Modiano. Like many on this side of the Channel, the French novelist’s name was unknown to me. Now my literary friend Dave reckoned I should read his 1997 novella Dora Bruder, published here as The Search Warrant. It proved to be an excellent recommendation: Modiano’s spare and finely-written excavation of memory is a haunting addition to the literature of the Holocaust and one that is unique, being neither Holocaust memoir nor historical fiction but a skilful reconstruction of a life and a moving reflection on his country’s amnesia surrounding collaboration and the fate of French Jews during the Occupation. Continue reading “Patrick Modiano’s The Search Warrant: missing, a young girl, the sort who left few traces”

Dmitri Shostakovitch, Julian Barnes and The Noise of Time

Dmitri Shostakovitch, Julian Barnes and The Noise of Time

If those newspapers and politicians that last week denounced judges as ‘enemies of the people’ ever proceed to brand certain composers or artists with the same obloquy, then we’ll know that we are indeed entering a very dark place.

This thought occurred to me after reading Julian Barnes’ novella, The Noise of Time, a fictional biography of Dmitri Shostakovich which enters into the mind of the composer whose opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, was denounced in a 1936 newspaper article approved by Stalin as ‘muddle instead of music’. ‘The people expect good songs, but also good instrumental works, and good operas,’ ranted the (very) senior Party official who wrote the piece, before concluding with a sinister threat: ‘The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, ‘formalist’ attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.’ Continue reading “Dmitri Shostakovitch, Julian Barnes and The Noise of Time”

Bob Dylan: only a song and dance man?

Bob Dylan: only a song and dance man?

My first thought on hearing that Bob Dylan had been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature was a little sceptical: I love the guy’s lyrics which have made a huge impact on me (just see the many entries on this blog) but does writing songs constitute great literature? Continue reading “Bob Dylan: only a song and dance man?”