Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Here's the playlist from Brasyl:
1. Siri: "No Tranco"
2. Suba: "Tantos Desejos" (Nicola Come remix)
3. Samba de Coco Raizes de Arcoverde: "Gode Pavao"
4. Acid X: "Uma Geral"
5. Bebel Gilberto: "Tanto Tempo"
6. Suba: "Na Neblina"
7. Fala: "Propozuda R'n'Roll"
8. Salome de Bahia: "Taj Mahal" (Club Mix)
9. Céu (feat. Pyroman): "Malemôlencia"
10. Milton Nascimento: "Travessia"
11. Carlinhos Brown/Mestre Pintodo do Bongo: "Ai"
12. Bebel Gilberto: "Sem Contenção" (Truby Trio remix)
13. Mylene: "Nela Lagoa"
14. Tijuana: Pula
15. Carlinhos Brown: "Água Mineral"
16. Pagode Jazz: "Sardinha's Club"
17. Suba: "Você Gosca"
18. Bonde Das Bad Girls: "Montagem Skollboll"
19. Suba: "Abraço"
20. Milton Nascimento: "Cio da terra"
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
“Total surveillance from rodovia toll cameras to passersby's T-shirts or I-shades snatching casual shots; only the rich and the dead have privacy. Information not owned but rented; date-stamped music and designer logos that must be constantly updated: intellectual property rights enforceable with death but murder pay-per-view prime-time entertainment and pay-per-case policing. Every click of the Chilli beans, every message and call and map, every live Goooooal! update, every road toll and every cafezinho generates a cloud of marketing information, a vapor trail across Sampa's information sphere. Alibis, multiple identities, backup selves—it is not safe to be one thing for too long. Speed is life. She will be trying to work how she can exist—must exist—in this world of Order and Progress, with no scan no print no number, a dead girl come back to life. As he is a dead man, driving west through the night traffic.”
This cyber dystopia is the first of the three narratives that comprise Brasyl. Set in 2032, McDonald gives us his futuristic take-off on the Brazilian film City of God where Edson - a young man from the favelas in Sao Paulo - a budding ‘entrepreneur’ gets entangled in a conspiracy that crosses the multiverse when he becomes besotted by a hacker (and subsequently her doppelganger from a parallel universe) of quantum computers. The second narrative takes place in Rio of 2006 and is centred on Marcelina Hoffman, a producer of tasteless reality TV shows who is increasingly confounded at being accused of being in places and doing things she had no hand in. The third narrative is the one that appealed to me the most and takes place in 18th century Brazil. An Irish Jesuit priest is dispatched into the Amazonian jungle to administer corrective action upon a deranged Jesuit who has a set up his own hellish fiefdom. This story was very reminiscent of the film The Mission. What ties the 3 stories together is the existence of multiple universes and hence realties existing simultaneously with infinite probabilities (kinda like Schrödinger’s cat which is dead in one universe and humping the milk bowl in the next).
The stories were incredibly engaging and the writing even more so:
“By then Marcelina had donated the spandex and so-last-season shades to a charity store, given the pedometer to Mrs. Costa from downstairs, who was haunted by a fear that her husband was a somnambulist who walked the streets kilometer after kilometer at night, stealing little things, bought herself the classic rig of red-striped Capri pants and stretchy little top, and was taxiing twice a week up the hairpin road up the breast of Corcovado, upon which Christ himself stood, an erect nipple, to Mestre Ginga's Silvestre fundação. She was a convert to the battle-dance. Cool would come around again; it always did.”
How is he so good and in such a seemingly effortless way? One of the characters Brasyl admits that “we are helpless before our legends” and I must confess I feel inadequate even writing a review about McDonald. He is a truly a legend. What I do regret is that this genre is limiting, not in scope but in terms of readers, as a consequence of which, many will never experience McDonald’s unfailing genius in River of Gods, The Dervish House and Brasyl.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
When I was 11, kids in my class used to ask me if I ate atlases for breakfast because I seemed to know all the capitals . The truth, which I concealed from them, was that I studied maps every night in bed. I'd never get sleep without poring over a great, big, musty atlas. And it wasn't the capitals that captivated as much as those small towns with wonderful names, Kumasi, Potosi, Toowoomba... What did they look like? Did they rise up from the coast or at the foot of mountains? Were they flat and dusty? Did they suddenly begin where scrubland ended or gradually build their way up from scraggly clusters to towering blocks? The atlas didn't have answers to all these questions. Imagination and extrapolation had a lot of blanks to fill. Now, there's no need to imagine. Thug got the cat in me mewing for a town named Etawah, described in Thug as a decrepit town at the confluence of the Yamuna and the Sangam and set amidst deep fissures in the earth. I think people are way too critical of Wikipedia. True that all it says isn't a hundred percent factual but at least it points you in the right direction. And the direction the Wikipedia article pointed me in was an intriguing relic of the 19th century. A reference to the only remains of the Great Hedge of India sent me squirreling around the net. Apparently, to arrest smuggling of salt and opium from eastern India, the British set up a massive living fence. This customs line stretched nearly 4000 km from the Punjab east to Orissa. Of these 4000 kms, nearly 1300 was a hedge made most of the Indian plum. There's a book by Roy Moxham called The Great Hedge of India which I'll have to dig up to satisfy one rabid mewling cat.
Flickr cc image Hedge at Montacute House, Sommerset by Moochy
I have always been fascinated by the Thugs and ironically my first encounter with them was through Hollywood in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In India, many are deeply sceptical about the very existence of Thugee – that it was merely a British invention or an exaggeration of conventional dacoity to feed into then existing notions of the backwardness of India and the barbarity of Hinduism.
Mike Dash’s lovingly researched book which goes by the subtitle ‘The True Story of India’s Murderous Cult’ dispels contemporary notions of bloodthirsty Kali devotees. Much of the book focuses on the rise of Thugee sometime in the 17th century and its consolidation in the badlands of Central India, particularly in the area around the river Chambal (which retains the title of dacoit country even today). William Sleeman (the portrait on the right), an administrator in the area, would later become the Company’s foremost Thug hunter. Sleeman was a meticulous man who compiled volumes on the ways and experiences of the stranglers. As a result, Dash is able to draw on a rich repository of resources to paint a vivid picture of life in the boondocks in 19th century India. So specific and descriptive is the material available that you get to read about individual incidents of murder, robbery and subsequent concealment of the corpses.
The accounts of the thugs were riveting but the exceptionally amusing asides on colonial life in India make the book really memorable. On the subject of servants in India, “...there was a tendency to ostentation among wealthier British residents – in the richest households, according to one lady who lived up country from Madras, every horse had not only its own groom but a grass cutter as well, and every dog a boy. ‘I enquired,’ the woman added, ‘whether the cat had any servants, but found that she was allowed to wait upon herself, and, as she seemed the only person in the establishment capable of doing so, I respected her accordingly’. Some like the Governor General Lord Minto, weren’t so amused by the battalion of domestic staff and complained that on “the first night I went to bed in Calcutta I was followed by some 14 persons in white muslin nightgowns. One might have hoped some of these were ladies; but on finding that there were as many turbans and black beards as gowns, I was very desirous that these bearded housemaids should leave me.” Even more bizarrely, food fights were a popular and respectable pastime amongst the gentry, “instead of drinking a glass of wine with a gentleman, it was usual to throw a chicken at his head, while the ladies pelted with sweetmeats and pastry. This was thought refinement in wit and breeding.”
What surprised me was that Kali didn’t make an appearance till close to the end of the book. Dash explains how after the capture and incarceration of most of the Thug population, close questioning into their ways and lifestyle also revealed a lot about their religious beliefs, Kali being their patron deity. At this point, prevalent (and condescending) attitudes about Indian religious practices and media fervour over-exaggerated the role of religion in Thugee. The Thugs did worship the implements of their trade and performed elaborate rituals before going off on the road but as Dash points out so do all manner of artisans, labourers and other workers in India. Moreover, the worship of Kali wasn’t in any way unique to the Thugs and was common throughout India. Indeed, the patron goddess of the Company’s capital – Calcutta – was and still is Kali. And most intriguingly, many of the Thugs (perhaps a majority of them) were Muslim!
Two other things I really enjoyed about this book were references to the 19th century British traveller Fanny Parkes (one of my favourite travel writers) and Dash’s use of old Anglo-Indian spelling, Cawnpore, Jumna and Jubbulpore. In his preface, he writes that he has stuck to these old names for consistency and also because he finds them evocative. I can’t agree more. Thug has turned out to be a really invigorating read and it has whetted my appetite for 19th century India so I’m naturally following it up with a book called Mutiny.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Sunday, February 06, 2011
Saturday, February 05, 2011
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is supposed be a seminal British work on sexuality. It’s even taught for A-levels in schools in Britain. Although it is an interesting novel, Winterson’s style doesn’t lend itself well to developing a personal connection with her characters. As a consequence, I felt no empathy whatsoever for Jeanette, strange considering what she’s subjected to. Winterson also weaves fairy tales into the narrative to perhaps show Jeanette’s detachment from reality. But, this device doesn’t really work well. The book also lacks the mood of a town in Northern England in what I guess is the 1970s. Like her more recent children’s book that I read not too long ago, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was kind of a downer.
Durrell was a British naturalist born in India in turn to India-born parents. In 1935, when he was 10, at the behest of his brother Larry, his whole family (including his slightly daft mother; his other brother Leslie, a gun toting layabout; his hypochondriac sister Margo and their dog Roger) moved from England to the Ionian island of Corfu to better economise their savings and benefit from the salubrious Mediterranean climate.
On Corfu, the family are adopted by a local taxi driver, Spiro, whose stint in America enables him to communicate moderately successfully with the family. Durrell, already a budding naturalist, troops all over the island (and off it) in pursuit of its fauna, bringing many specimens for preservation and as pets including a pigeon, a tortoise, a pregnant scorpion, a gull, an owl, spiders, insects, magpies and many more. The presence of all of these creatures within the house is much to the consternation of the rest of the family who begrudgingly tolerate and sometimes indulge Durrell’s passion. Much of the book’s comedy revolves around the intersection of Durrell’s ‘pets’ and his family members (although they’re quite the specimens themselves).
But, the real hero of My Family and Other Animals is Corfu. It’s clear that Durrell loves everything about the island from its aqua-blue seas to its ancient olive groves. He describes the place so lovingly that you want to hop on the next flight out to the island. But, the book does show its age with language like “Chinese junks with jaundiced crews” and toads with mouths set it “negroid insolence”.
Nonetheless, it was endearing and terribly funny. So, I had to read its sequel – Birds, Beasts and Relatives. This books details the many stories Durrell skips in the first. Although, many of the incidents recounted are amusing, I think the top of the shelf anecdotes were already expended in My Family and Other Animals. It was only whilst reading the second book that I discovered that these stories albeit autobiographical contain some fictional elements. Larry, Durrell’s brother, was married and his wife lived with him on Corfu. No wife is mentioned in either book. Durrell also describes Larry as living with the family in the same villa but Wikipedia claims that he lived elsewhere with his wife. I do wish everything in these two books were true. There’s a sort of Enid Blyton meets Wodehouse atmosphere to these stories – oddly comforting – takes you to a more pleasant, languid world that doesn’t exist anymore.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul
Sir Vidia must have written these 3 mediocre tales after a particularly bad bout of diarrhoea because there is something definitely shitty about, but thankfully in terms of quality, they are arranged in an ascending order with the titular tale lackadaisically redeeming the book and implausibly snagging it a Booker.
Filth by Irvine Welsh
I tried reading Trainspotting once, I don’t what came of it although I did like the film or am I confusing the movie with Ewan McGregor; anyhoo, every other word was fuck, cunt and bastard and in betwixt them, wondrous words of Scottish argot which gave me an even more wondrous, throbbing headache - it really lives up to its name.
Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
I thought I would continue my awesome tryst into the realm of fantasy with more mainstream material so I plunged head long into the eighth book of a thirteen part series on a Chicago detective wizard, feted for its wry humour; it was about as funny as having someone spit out of their rickshaw and have a fresh globule of saliva and vernacular germs deposited on my brogues.
As Lie the Dead by Kelly Meding
This is arguably the queen of the collection of crock that I read last month and it did wonders for my sagging self esteem.
Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
Marginally better that what I have been reading, Maguire could have done much more with this parallel tale based on the Wizard of Oz but he must have expended all of his creativity on the book’s parent – Wicked.