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Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom)
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Maps for Lost Lovers
Maps for Lost Lovers
by Nadeem Aslam
Edition: Hardcover

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Flag of a Deeper Colour, 8 Sep 2004
This review is from: Maps for Lost Lovers (Hardcover)
Maps for Lost Lovers takes place in 1997 and is set over the course of a year in an unnamed community in England with a large Muslim population. It's primary focus is a married couple, Shamas, a non-believer and Kaukab, his pious wife. There are many mysteries threaded throughout this beautifully written novel, but the central one focuses on the disappearance of Shamas' brother Jugnu and the woman he was living with, Chanda. The two were not married and therefore were perceived to be living in a state of sin according to Muslim belief. Chanda's two brothers have been accused of murdering the couple. Over the course of the year, the trial over their suspected murder unfolds and many hidden secrets of the community are brought to light. It's a story of great suspense, giving precious insight into a very closed community that is struggling to maintain the beliefs of the country they left and the religion which is in many ways antithetical to modern English life.
It took Aslam over ten years to write this novel, working largely in solitude and subsisting on a very humble income. The beautifully wrought passages attest to the concentrated labour used to create them and the vast amount of time he spent with these characters shows in the penetrating insight he gives to their individual minds and hearts. The lyrical style of the novel which uses metaphor upon metaphor might at first be a distraction to the reader. However, this persistent way of likening one thing to another reflects the attitudes of people in this community who persistently compare things in England to their home country. It's a device by the author to show how they are in some ways unable to see things in England as they really are. One of the most remarkable things about this novel is the shocking, extremely violent reactions by the Muslim community used to condemn some of the characters' actions. Aslam based all these events on real reported incidents. He also depicts the extremely intolerant and racist attitudes of non-Muslims to this community of immigrants. However, at the same time the author shows how deeply compassionate members of the community are to each other and the difficult struggle they experience trying to maintain their beliefs in opposition to the more extreme Muslim behaviour some of them disapprove of. Aslam has spoken about how moderate Muslim's need to speak up in today's world and dispel the popular Western view that all people of this religion are dangerous extremists. This rich, entertaining and poignant novel is a testament to that struggle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2010 4:15 PM BST


Lighthousekeeping
Lighthousekeeping
by Jeanette Winterson
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her Gift of Life, 23 Aug 2004
This review is from: Lighthousekeeping (Hardcover)
Silver is a girl born completely by chance. Her mother had a brief encounter with a sailor, leaving the penniless woman to raise the baby girl in a crooked house tipping into the sea. The house was so slanted that the family dog's legs grew irregularly and they couldn't eat any food that would roll away. Eventually Silver is taken by a hilariously prudish woman named Miss Pinch (a curiously Dickensian touch from an author who has spoken so condescendingly about the work of Sarah Waters) to live with a lighthouse keeper named Pew. From Pew she learns the art of story telling and consequently a way of finding value in her life. Because of her origins and social status Silver is viewed by people like Miss Pinch as worthless or an accident. Through the medium of story telling Silver is able to forge for herself an identity more true than any documented reality.
Interwoven with the tale of the novel's central character Silver, is the story of a priest named Babel Dark. He is a fascinatingly divided character, something Winterson has Robert Louise Stevenson cement in English literature. As always, the author's surreal nature of story telling melds with philosophical insights which have the ability to really turn our world upside down. Stunningly beautiful passages add depth to wonderfully quirky tales. Winterson always holds up the importance of storytelling in a way that is ceaselessly inventive and inspiring and makes you want to read on.


Love In Idleness
Love In Idleness
by Amanda Craig
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.52

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully Composed and Magical Escape, 31 July 2004
This review is from: Love In Idleness (Paperback)
A group of American and British people on holiday travel to the idyllic Italian setting of Casa Luna, Cortona for a fortnight and find that their expectations about what will happen are totally reversed. Craig introduces a large cast of characters who we get to know intimately over the course of the novel due to her skill at delicately portraying the psychological state of each one. She shows how Daniel's noble sensibility is at odds with his mother Betty's more ambitious goals for him. The author is able to beautifully conjure her characters sometimes in a single terse, meaningful line such as "Betty did not so much converse as hand down a smaller tablet of stone." Craig also creates the intensely fresh perspective of the young in the three children showing how their magical world melds with the vibrant physical landscape of the Italian countryside. Those that are familiar with Craig's earlier work will recognize Ivo as the mischievous critic who loves to be hated from A Vicious Circle. But even with this superficially unlikeable man, the author's meaningful phrases hint at an underlying insecurity giving his character a lot of depth. Over the course of the holiday the characters find themselves paired with the ones they could never admit to really desiring. All it takes is the madness of summer and a little fairy magic.
This is a thoroughly engaging and funny novel that is an up to date revisioning of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although the tone of the novel maintains a comic air, Craig doesn't shy from tackling difficult social issues such as racism, sexuality and our culture's obsession with beauty. These problems are woven into the characters lives making them a fully-realized, modern and recognizable group of people. Most importantly, this book ponders the question of love in a way that is not trite or sentimental. Rather it shows the maddening confusion of it, the heart-stopping joy it brings and how it pulls us in the most unexpected ways.


Beasts
Beasts
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carved Lives, 28 July 2004
This review is from: Beasts (Hardcover)
Beasts is a gothic novella set in a small New England woman's college in the 70s. It is told through the perspective of Gillian Brauer, a yearning student poet who is infatuated with her D. H. Lawrence loving professor Andre Harrow and his controversial and mysterious sculptress wife, Dorcas. Several mysteries including recurring acts of arson, a coveted but secret apprenticeship to the radical Dorcas and several students who are debilitated by mental illness are balanced through the book. The characters explore the moral boundary of the liberal time period through their sexual explorations, but this isn't a novella that seeks to exploit the titillating age of free love. Rather, it reinvents the tale of Bluebeard to create a contemporary fable of the grotesque.
This novella explores the deadly consequences of a train of thought taken too far, viciously seeking out the passionate ends of extended thoughts. Harrow and his wife take the liberal sexual attitude of DH Lawrence and act out the extreme barriers of it. Gillian enigmatically buries her responsibility in the events of her early life while simultaneously plotting the motives which form her guilt. Somehow she is left centrally pure, a passionate girl spoiled by ideas. Oates draws out the violent inner natures of her characters to show them in the light, exposing the consequences of their nature. This novella isn't subtle, Oates chooses instead to go for the extreme to show us our forgotten nightmares. It is a powerful and memorable read.


Madame Sata [DVD] [2003] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Madame Sata [DVD] [2003] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Lázaro Ramos

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Outcast, 12 July 2004
Karim Ainouz has created a film which shows a section of the late Brazilian Joao Francisco dos Santos's life. Joao was an incredibly fascinating man and his life in many ways paralleled Jean Genet's life. To both these men being a homosexual and criminal were inextricably intertwined. Growing up in the their respective repressive societies they had good reason to feel this way. Joao was born to slaves, never received any formal education and lived much of his life amongst the degenerate and outcast. Periods of his life were spent incarcerated for thievery and violence. He was fully capable of defending himself being an expert kickboxer. However, he also had a strong maternal side having adopted seven children throughout his life. He also had a tremendous flare for performance fashioning himself as a successful drag artist who won multiple competitions and became a kind of cult hero later in his life.
This film chose to focus only on his time in the 1930s where he was trying to make the transition from being a thief to a performer. It has been severely criticized for not encompassing many of the other interesting aspects of his life. However, I found this film to be incredibly moving in the way it portrays the intense frustration Joao feels from being outcast from the majority due to his race, class and sexual identity. Even more isolating is that even amongst people to whom he is equal he is abused and vilified. The period of his life that the director focused on beautifully illuminated this conflict. Through Lazaro Ramos's tremendous performance, Joao's emotions erupt in his reactions to how people react to him. Often the camera zooms close onto people's faces and body parts making the experience very personal. We see Joao's emotions change as quickly as his physical appearance. In a short scene he switches from jubilation to anger to despair. Joao was not a kind of martyr or saint. Ainouz portrays a Joao that is given to fits of unexpected violence, insulting and physically beating those closest to him at times. Yet, over the course of his trials I developed a strong sympathy for him because of his drive to survive and fight for what he believed in.
The narrative doesn't have a tight focus, but I suspect this is because Joao's life didn?t either. At the beginning of the film he is working part time in a night club for a performer he admires. This job comes to a terrible end. It also shows him turning tricks through a nightclub and stealing from his customers with the help of his close friends and housemates. He meets a beautiful and dangerous man named Renatinho who he labels The Indian Prince. This follows nicely with Joao's obsession with fairy tales and mythology. He hilariously twists the much told tale of the woman he works for to suit him personally. Joao and Renatinho?s relationship is portrayed beautifully, capturing the violence and steamy eroticism of their coupling. The narrative unexpectedly leaps forward after Joao is required to spend a year in jail. After making some devastating discoveries he launches his career as a drag artist to great acclaim. But the angry words of a drunken bigot bring Joao to defend his honor and we realize that he will have to spend many more years in prison before returning to the stage. This film is an amazing work which captures a portion of Joao's most colorful and brave life.


No Title Available

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Father's Promise, 12 May 2004
From the writer/director of Independence Day and The Patriot, comes a new spectacular disaster movie about the coming of a modern day ice age. At a UN meeting in India about the environment a scientist who studies climate change, Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) warns the leaders of the world that the abuse we're causing to our planet could lead to catastrophic results. He's proven correct all too soon as the precarious Atlantic current is disrupted by melting ice caps. Soon the planet is plagued by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tidal waves and hail the size of watermelons! Prior to this chaos we're shown the brilliant son of Jack Hall, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) travel to NYC. The love-struck boy joins a debate competition in the city to be near the girl he has a crush on, Laura Chapman (Emmy Rossum). Jack Hall fights to retrieve his son from the doomed city before it's frozen in a new ice age while Sam, Laura and a small group take frantic shelter in the NYC Public Library. While the story unfolds we're treated to incredible visual effects of cities being blown to pieces, planes encased in ice mid-air and enormous floods that sweep a city away. Throw into the mix one pack of hungry wolves and you're buckled into one edge-of-your-seat thrill ride!
This movie delivers several strong messages about the importance of conserving the environment, international politics and familial relations. While these issues are never tackled very complexly, the movie chooses to focus more on the devastating chaos of rapid environmental changes. Erupting out of the plot are some fantastic one liners that give great comic relief to the gripping scenes of destruction. Gyllenhaal makes a cool, charming hero whose sly acting technique really enhances the picture as a whole. Like Independence Day, several small stories take place across the world while cataclysmic changes occur effecting them all producing a lot of moving drama. This fast-paced movie doesn't leave you bored for a second as the tension steadily rises. It's very entertaining and perfectly accompanied by a big box of popcorn.
Trapped in an enormous library with Jake Gyllenhaal? I could think of worse ways to spend an ice age (or two hours at the cinema).


In a Dark Wood
In a Dark Wood
by Amanda Craig
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light and Dark, 11 Feb 2004
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Paperback)
Benedick Hunter is having what at first appears to be a middle-aged crisis. He's an actor who hasn't had any steady work recently. His wife is divorcing him and he bickers constantly with his pompous father. He finds little joy from taking care of his imaginative, but demanding young children. Benedick lives off from the small amount of royalties from his mother's children's books. After rediscovering one of these collection of fairy tales he begins reading the stories for deeper personal meanings. He's compelled to follow a trail of his mother's old friends who are scattered over Britain and America like a trail of breadcrumbs. The mysteries contained in her subversive fables lead him to his mother's childhood home and the truth about his family that has been hidden from him. Gradually he learns that his alienation from society and erratic behaviour has its roots in a mental illness. But he has to descend into the darkest psychological depths in order to learn how to live with this disorder.
In this beautiful and moving novel, Craig manages to write very convincingly about a man's perspective of the world. Benedick's personal aspirations are clouded by despair in a way that prevents him from also appreciating all the loving people he has in his life. Unfortunately, he has also inherited a lot of pain and bitterness from his mother's life, many of the facts of which have been hidden from him. We are also given many funny details about the cultural differences between America and England. What the author also does so extraordinarily well is show a blend of light and dark in this central character's psychology. He does a number of detestable things. Yet we are given insight into them and understand they are acts of desperation brought about through a mental illness he can‘t control. Craig pays tribute to the important and complex work of Angela Carter who was dubbed the Fairy Godmother of British fiction. She does this by insisting that fairy tales have a much deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. The raucous emotions and terrible violence they depict just may be a greater reflection of reality than we care to admit. The psychological demons which hound many people are indeed more terrifying than the creatures who lurk in the dark woods of fairy tales. By blending the story of Benedick’s travels with a number of creative fairy tales, Craig gives us a lot of insight into this while producing an enthralling story.


The Tattooed Girl
The Tattooed Girl
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dangers of Our Unspoken Reality, 11 Feb 2004
This review is from: The Tattooed Girl (Hardcover)
After September 11, 2001 many authors felt it necessary to respond in some way. But how? Joyce Carol Oates has chosen to write a novel, not about that historical event specifically, but about the nature of hate and evil. She chooses to concentrate this exploration in the intimate environment of a celebrated, reclusive writer named Joshua Seigl. He has reached a point in his life where he realises that he can no longer block the world out and needs human company. Searching for an assistant to help him organize his enormous body of work and attend to the menial chores of his large house, he encounters a drifter who calls herself Alma. Her body is covered in what may be scars, birthmarks or tattoos. Alma uses these mysterious marks on her body to fashion a personality for herself which can confront the uglier aspects of the world that her more sensitive self cannot combat. After hiring her there follows a working relationship in the intimate space of Seigl's house that unearths hidden aspects of both their identities. The unspoken antithesis that exists between them is built through months of a seemingly harmonious working relationship. Yet the hatred that exists between them is brought physically to the forefront by the exaggerated attitudes of Alma's dangerous, anti-Semitic lover Dmitri and Seigl's mentally unbalanced, passionately upper class sister Jet. Inevitably, the central characters own prejudices must come to the forefront where a tacit understanding is formed amidst tragic events.
The ultimate question this novel raises is: what place does art have in illuminating the past and dispensing with hatred? The answer is not as simple as it appears because fiction does not deal in truth. One can't help feeling that Oates herself is attempting to work out her own feelings over the matter in a heated argument toward the end of the novel where Joshua defends his writing:
"'Alma, I think of myself as writing stories for others. In place of others who are dead, or mute. Who can't speak for themselves.'"
This argument for the exhumation of buried events and people is the same that Oates has used in interviews to explain why she has written some novels such as Black Water and Blonde that reinvent historical situations. Alma's rebuttal is that he pretends to know these things, but doesn't actually know. However, one could argue that the point of fictional writing isn't to get at the "truth" but to convey an "idea" and in these "ideas" we discover the reality that has been hidden. The Tattooed Girl isn't a political novel in any obvious allegorical manner. It does, however, haunt your thoughts in the way it illuminates the divisions (economical, social, racial and religious) between people to such a startlingly intense degree. It is an incredibly important book that ought to be read now.


You Are Here: A Memoir of Arrival
You Are Here: A Memoir of Arrival
by Wesley Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.11

5.0 out of 5 stars A True and Funny Memoir, 16 Jan 2004
For many young gay men who live in disparate communities around the country, New York City is the golden promise land that they strive to merge into once age and finances allow. The tale of an obscure individual arriving in the city with nothing and achieving fame beyond his wildest dreams has become an American myth. Wesley Gibson has written his own tale of travelling to the famous city where he hopes to establish himself as a writer. He lives under the threat that if he doesn’t make it he will have to return to his hometown as a failure.
He casts the physical landscape of the city under the terms of a gay sensibility. For instance, he remarks: “Central Park is Martha, as in George and Martha, braying at you, ‘I do not bray.’ It’s too much of muchness.” In this redefinition of the city he marks it as his own territory. It’s also a clever way for the author to introduce his environment as a character itself. While the tone of the book remains that of a memoir, the people Gibson encounters are transformed into eccentric characters that stand alongside the colourful caricatures of Dickens’ fictional world. In fact by the end he remarks that he feels a growing kinship to one of Dickens’ greatest tragic females. This fictional cast to his life is borne out of a self-consciousness playfulness that comes through in his thought process, usually spurred on by morbid premonitions of doom. After hardly speaking to his new roommate he is on the phone to a close friend fearing that he’s moved in with an axe murderer. Dramatic events are conceived in his mind and then the reality of the city asserts itself as stranger than anything this writer could have imagined.
Gibson describes the typical life of a writer, where little actual writing is accomplished, and a mass of experience is acquired. To make ends meet he tries different jobs and finds a room through a gay housing agency. These lead to hilarious encounters which highlight the absurdities of life like in the best writing of David Sedaris. However, much of the book is also concerned with the serious problems Gibson encounters such as depression, AIDS and isolation. He finds that having abandoned the threatening homophobic environment of his home in Virginia, the liberal big city does little to comfort this gay man. His first potential romantic encounter turns out to be a hustler looking for money and a place to crash for the night. A potential roommate with a large collection of extremely anatomically correct GI Joe figures proclaims that Gibson isn’t a normal gay man. This lingering resentment of being outcast for not conforming to a certain image of a gay man haunts the memoir.It leads me to believe that Gibson has a much bigger fictional work ahead of him.
Nevertheless, YOU ARE HERE remains a funny, thoughtful account that many people will no doubt identify with for it’s witty observations of cosmopolitan life.


Fanny: A Fiction
Fanny: A Fiction
by Edmund White
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Two Fannys, 12 Nov 2003
This review is from: Fanny: A Fiction (Hardcover)
Edmund White has published a trilogy of novels in a mode he has termed "autofiction" and another novel heavily based upon his experiences with one of his lovers who died of AIDS. He is currently working on his autobiography and later this year a book called Original Youth: The Real Story of Edmund White's Youth by Keith Fleming will be published. Stephen Barber has also published a biography of White. This profuse amount of material focusing on White's life uses it to examine how gay culture has evolved through decades of gradual liberation. It is a tribute to the complex way a gay identity does not only encompass one life, but many.
White is also a skilful artist that is able to experiment in his narratives with different genres. Persistently, his focus is on particular lives and through them he excavates the ideologies of the time that impacted upon these people's lives. His new novel FANNY: A FICTION is on its surface a great departure from his earlier work, but when examined closely utilizes his greatest skills as a writer to tremendous success. It is a fictional biography of the cerebral Scottish pioneer Francis Wright who moved to America in the early 19th centuy to found a commune with the hope of dissolving slavery. It is narrated from the perspective of Francis Trollope who was a friend to Wright and a middle class women seeking to reverse the fortunes of her family as they sank into bankruptcy. She did so by publishing a non-fiction work titled Domestic Manners of the Americans which trashed the culture of the "New World". Given Wright's ecstatic love of America, this created a rift in the tempestuous friendship of the two which could never be healed. Trollope is writing this biography close to her own death, years after the death of Francis Wright. Still, the anger and resentment burns between these two revolutionary women.
FANNY: A FICTION feels like some amazing drag act with White dressed as Mrs. Trollope. It is an incredibly entertaining read with pages overflowing with tantalizing gossip and fascinating observations. It's also much more sophisticated than just that because it's composed with such a tight structure and uses an elegant style with luscious detail to convey the effect of the early 1800s. What is does best is to examine how the details of a person's life work within the context of when they lived. While this novel includes almost none of the gay content White is famous for, it does point out the aching divisions that can exist within a minority group seeking equality. The abolitionist movement was long and complex with many disagreements about how the end of slavery should be achieved. From the vantage point of history it is easy to forget how groups that struggle for equality are inevitably made of individuals whose objectives may greatly differ. It can even inspire hatred between those who should be allies. Now that the movement for gay liberation has progressed this far with many of it's pioneers buried, it may be useful to think back upon some of the divisions within it and lay some ghosts to rest. White's new novel is a strong example of how this re-examination of history is not only necessary, but urgent.


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