My grandfather was born in Hreljin in 1923, when it was Yugoslavia and in what is now Croatia. When I heard about Yugoslavian Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina, I had hoped for a glimpse of what life was like in my ancestor’s homeland during a tumultuous time. Although my grandfather’s home town is far from the Bosnia-Serbia border on which this novel takes place, it was still an interesting look at the complex history of the Balkans. I did not really enjoy reading the book, but it was somewhat interesting. (more…)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (published 1970, reissued in ebook form by OpenRoad Media) is an incredibly painful book to read. It is a straight-forward historical account of the last three decades of Native American Indians in the American West, an account of the great leaders and cultures that are no more.
Although I felt I had an understanding of the conflicts that happened in the American West during the 1800s, I feel now that I had no idea of the extent of the genocide. Before, I thought the Native American Indians tragically died out, due to disease and relocation. Now I see better that the local American government routinely slaughtered whole communities.
Brown’s book is written with the Native American perspective at the forefront, so of course there is bias. However, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a well researched record of the American historical experience, and it is a vital text for Americans interested in learning the not-so-pretty truth about American history. (more…)
Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto1 blends two stories of seeking for one’s identity in the midst of war-torn Mozambique. In the first, an old man and a young orphaned boy have fled a refugee camp and seek shelter in a burned-out bus on the side of the road. Near a corpse, they find a set of journals written by Kindzu. These journals, which tell Kindzu’s story, form the bulk of the novel by portraying life during the Civil War2 in a fantastical magical realism setting.
I tend to enjoy reading magical realism because it mixes fantasy in to seemingly realistic settings and gives a story a very different feel3. In Sleepwalking Land, that not-straight forward feeling was perfect in providing me, a reader unfamiliar with both Mozambican history and life during a civil war, with a dream-like introduction to life in a confusing political and violent setting. I struggled to understand the reasons behind various violence and betrayals, and yet I realized that understand the context absolutely did not matter: Couto’s book instead illustrated how life (such as it was) continued for the people in the land, and the confused tone of what was real or not provided a perfect atmosphere for the hopelessness of the era.
- First published in 1992 in Portuguese as Terra Sonâmbula; translated by David Brookshaw and published in English in 2006. ↩
- According to Wikipedia, the Mozambique Civil War lasted from 1977 (upon freedom from colonialism) until about 1992) ↩
- I must point out, however, that as in most magical realism, there is a fair amount of sexuality in this book. I personally didn’t find it very tastefully written this time… ↩
I wish I could finish off my series of posts on Henry VI with as much enthusiasm as I had for the second play, but 3 Henry VI (written 1595) was simply not as enjoyable as 2 Henry VI was.
In the first place, 3 Henry VI is simply violent from the first scene, when Richard Duke of Gloucester enters with the Duke of Somerset’s head and York and Montague compare bloody swords. The play also has lots of betrayal: no one can trust each other, and promises are broken from one scene to the next. “An oath is of no moment,” says Richard Duke of Gloucester in Act 1, scene 2. The leaders themselves are unsure who they want to follow and they frequently change loyalties from one king to the other. It should be noted that the cast of characters includes King Henry VI and King Edward IV. Obviously, there is a bit of confusion as to who is actually ruling England during the years portrayed in this play.
But by focusing on the fragility of power, Shakespeare manages to poignantly touch on the pointlessness of greed and power. Although I disliked King Henry VI in the previous two plays, in this play, his steadfastness is the most enjoyable aspect. He remarks on his life and the pointlessness of war, and the scenes in which he does so are the most memorable of the play. So, while the play does for the majority of the moving action illustrated the ultimate chaos that comes from power and greed, it also draws the other parallel in its quieter, more subtle scenes: the pointlessness of war, the danger with leadership being an inherited calling, and the tragedies associated with betrayal. (more…)
As I began reading The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway(2008), it seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t place why. I finally figured it out: it reads like a dystopian novel, where people are struggling to survive in an oppressive war environment.
The characters in the book struggle just to get the basic necessities of life, their freedoms have been curtailed, they dream of life in the “good old days,” and snipers wait on the hills, regularly killing civilians as they walk across the street. There is little political explanation, and the reader of the novel feels a bit troubled by the pointlessness of the environment that has been created. We share in the characters’ dismay at the world and ask “why?”.
But of course, Galloway’s novel is not a dystopian fiction but fiction based on a real situation. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a novel of the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted for almost four years from 1992 until 1996. Although Galloway’s novel is a fiction, with a compressed storyline (we never learn in the text when during the siege it takes place, but it’s clear it’s been going on for a while), invented characters, and made-up scenarios, the facts of the siege are reality, and some characters are inspired by real people. Each time I recalled the reality of the recent history this novel describes, the book became all the more shocking and painful to read. (more…)