Date Archives February 2009

“The Question of Bruno” by Aleksandar Hemon

The writing grabbed me from page one: there is a real rhythm to it, and the description is beautiful. The first story in the collection is the sort of “lazy childhood summer holiday” tale that you expect to be idyllic, until the writer throws in really gruesome details, like a dog killing a mongoose, dead fish caught in hooks, a tourist vomiting in the sea, a dead bee swirling in the boy’s coffee, etc., etc. Then old Uncle Julius, who smells of pine cologne with a whiff of rot and… Read More

How to explain the credit crunch to a five-year-old

1.  The government promised Mummy and Daddy they would be happy if they spent their lives working to make someone else rich. 2.  Mummy and Daddy did what they were told, but ended up with jack shit. 3.  The rich people told Mummy and Daddy to borrow lots and lots of money, so that they could buy a house, a car and all the lovely shiny things they had been promised. 4.  The rich people got even richer by selling Mummy and Daddy’s loans to each other and pretending that… Read More

“Prisons we choose to live inside” by Doris Lessing

A clear-sighted, well-argued plea for individuality of thought in an age of mass emotions and social conditioning. Doris Lessing has faith in the power of writers to stay detached from these mass emotions and “enable us to see ourselves as others see us.” I like the image she gives of writers as a collective organism, constantly evolving but always providing this same crucial function of detached examination of the human condition. There are some fascinating passages on the way mass emotions are constructed by governments and leaders, for example pointing… Read More

Food crisis

Wonderful article in the December New Internationalist about the global food crisis. As the magazine points out, we hear a lot about the financial crisis, but comparatively little about the food crisis which pushed 100 million people into situations of life-threatening malnutrition last year. What makes it worse was that at the height of the food crisis, Cargill, the world’s largest grain trader, was making $471,000 in profit every hour from its grain trading operations. Also, one of the reasons why people in poor countries were so vulnerable was the… Read More

Quote for the day

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. Paulo Freire

“The Steep Approach to Garbadale” by Iain Banks

I particularly liked that although most of the story is told from Alban’s point of view, he is described at first from the outside, first from his cousin Fielding’s perspective, then from that of Tango, the man he is staying with in Perth. It immediately creates the sense of Alban as a slightly mysterious, unknowable character, and this feeling persists through the rest of the book, even as we are told much more about him and given access to his thoughts. It’s a clever device, and the book is full of similar effects. If the clues to the ending had been a little less heavy-handed, this would have been an excellent book.

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