Barbara hates that her mother is addicted to ten prescription pills, Johnna Monevata (Misty Upham), the Native American housekeeper-cook is furious that Steve is messing with an underage female, Charles and Mattie hurl barbs and accusations against each other, and plates are thrown around the room. Everyone shouts but none of this means anything without Violet whose drug usage affects her more than her cancer and she starts in on Barbara, her eldest who she regards as an ingrate.
Director John Wells gets wonderful performances and one of the characters says, “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed”, we sense that we are in for a “long day’s journey into night” and a view of a truly dysfunctional family. The cast is uniformly excellent as they bitch and yell at each other and make Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” seem like a virgin.
The Weston family has been estranged for years. They have all moved away from Oklahoma’s Osage County but they have taken their feelings for each other with them. We first meet Violet as se harasses her poet husband while he introduces her to the new family maid, a Native American. But then Beverly disappears and the family comes together bringing their secrets and personal problems with them.
Barbara is trying to hide her separation from husband Bill, while their daughter flirts with rebelliousness. Barbara’s younger sister Ivy who stayed close to home is now resentful for it; Karen arrives from Florida with a sketchy new fiancé with wandering eyes. And this is just the beginning as the family is all under one roof in sweltering Oklahoma summer heat (the gauge reads 108 degrees) and allowed to stew in their own juices. Then there are Violet’s boisterous sister Mattie Fae and her quarreling with even-keeled husband Charles over their awkward son “Little” Charles (Cumberbatch) and there’s barely a moment when something venomous isn’t spewing out of someone’s mouth.
Streep is mesmerizing as Violet. She is the perfect mix of dramatic, controlling, and crazy and obviously a woman who has been through a lot. She has become extremely bitter over the years, and has decided to overuse prescription drugs as a way to alleviate the pain. There are several moments in this film where Violet calls out several of her family members mainly at the dinner table that showcases just how amazing Streep is as a leading lady. Out of all the actors and actresses on-screen, Streep gets the most screen time out of everyone involved and I don’t think a single second of it goes unused. Julia Roberts who in my opinion has been overrated as an actress finally comes into her own. She is the film’s standout performance because of how much emotion her character displays interacting with Violet as well as her other family members.
I do not think that this is the kind of movie that will attract everyone and that is because the dialogue is very heavy but for those who do see it, it has a great deal to say about what acting is all about.
A Parallel Universe
Andrew James (Phillip Gay) is an older man who is both wise and enigmatic. He has the ability to travel between parallel universes and using the energy of serial killers to stay among the living. On one of his adventures, he saves the life of Mark Roberts (Marc Maynon), an unsuspecting 19 year old. However as he did this, he drew Marc into his world. From that sentence alone, you can understand how difficult is to write a review of the film without giving something away.
I suppose you already understand that this is a supernatural drama but it goes steps further than that by dealing with the important ideas of morality, humanity and fear. It looks at how one can justify “living a selfish life out of fear and self-preservation” and that is contrasted with free will that is used to do what is right even when we are not sure.
Andrew has been fueling his life off of the energy of serial killers since he was 17 and he is now 155 years old. Now he and Andrew have to learn if they continue to live this way as self-centered people or whether their lives will change and be devoted to something greater than themselves.
This is not a film that you are likely to forget just as it is not a film to come out of the Hollywood movie machine. It is quite boldly complex as it challenges the viewer and beckons him to enter into plot. There are very few movies that capture the viewer the way this does. I have always felt that any of the arts that challenge us are what we should strive for.
Edgar Michael Brown both wrote and directed “Monster Killers” and he makes sure that his characters are important to the viewers and even though this is a supernatural thriller, the special effects are not nearly as important as the characters and what they say. Just as Andrew and Mark enter a new world of a parallel universe, so do we.
The main focus of the film is one the two main characters. I found the supporting cast to be excellent as well. What I really like here is the way film is layered and how this allows it to be understood in many different ways. Uncertainty is one of the acts of lives and dealing with is based upon how we live. Our lives are real and existential and this is what we see here.
Remembering the Rosenbergs
Fifty years after the execution of the Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, Ivy Meeropol, their granddaughter, looks at their lives, their death and their principles. Many Americans considered them to be traitors while others think of them as heroes.
Before sentencing the Rosenbergs to death in the electric chair, Judge Irving Kaufman said, “I consider your crime worse than murder…I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000, and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country…Indeed, the defendants Julius and Ethel Rosenberg placed their devotion to their cause above their own personal safety and were conscious that they were sacrificing their own children, should their misdeeds be detected—all of which did not deter them from pursuing their course. Love for their cause dominated their lives—it was even greater than their love for their children”.
It was on June 19th, 1953 that the Rosenbergs died in the electric chair after they were convicted of treason against the United States. They had been accused of giving the secrets of the Atomic Bomb to the Soviet Union. Today not only do the Rosenbergs no longer exist but neither does the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs left behind two sons, Michael was then ten and Robert who was six. The boys were eventually adopted by strangers because no one in the Rosenberg family wanted them. Ivy Meeropol who is the eldest grandchild of the Rosenbergs sets out to find out the truth about who her grandparents really were and to learn more about their trial and execution.
Since the filmmaker is related to the Rosenbergs, we cannot say that this is an objective film. However, I believe that Meeropol tries very hard to be objective. The director does not waste any time trying to prove that her grandparents were innocent. She gives us a look at the victims of the Rosenberg trial—those who became the heirs to the execution. We do not look at innocence or guilt especially now since documents that were once classified have been released. The Venona papers, for example, confirm that Julius Rosenberg was a spy for the Soviet Union. Aleksander Feklisov, former colonel of the KGB has admitted that he recruited Julius in 1943. In the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, he credits the Rosenbergs for their help in speeding up production of the atom bomb.
Meeropol is only after the truth and as unprofessional on screen, we sense her honesty and the fact that she had to deal with her own emotions. She faces the evidence that her grandparents were guilt of something that was linked to espionage. She tries to reconcile that with a picture of the Rosenbergs that comes out of her interviews with Rosenberg friends and family.
There is a powerful moment when Meeropol meets with Darren Roberts and says,” This is the first relative I’ve met on the Rosenberg side.” He is the grandson of Julius’s brother David (who changed his name to Roberts in order to avoid the infamy then attached to the family name); Darren learns for the first time that his grandfather was among those family members who refused to take in Michael and David. He breaks down into a tearful apology at one point. Ivy tells him there is no need, but Darren is adamant: “Who else is left to apologize?” he says.
It seems to me that Ivy Meeropol is trying to find the human story between her grandparent’s trial while, at the same time, connecting with Julius and Ethel. We see the ambiguity of the trial when we meet Julius’s former boss who is now 103. He weeps as he describes what the Rosenbergs went through; especially their going to their own execution instead of signing documents that implicate others in Communist activities. What I saw here was this: if they were simply highly principled people, then of course they wouldn’t sign false documents. But if they were really spies, then of course they would not rat out their fellow agents. And even if their sacrifice was made for the most noble reasons imaginable, it does not change the fact that they were willing to die to save 25 suspected Communists but were not willing to live to save their own children. “They gave their lives,” Steingart weeps and Meeropol responds with “But they left two children.” Robert’s son Greg tells us of the difficulty of the situation: “Why didn’t he say ‘it was me and not my wife’?” Why, indeed. This question is never satisfactorily answered in the film, leaving us to draw some not-too-flattering conclusions.
I think we can all understand that Meeropol wanted to show her grandparents as loving people but what I want to know is why the Rosenberg chose being martyred over love of family. Neither had to die and we know that several deals were offered to them. If they had admitted the truth, they would have been saved. Meeropol remarks that she and the others, because of the grandparents, are able to live a life in which they are proud. I just cannot grasp why allegiance to a dictator like Stalin is more important that raising children. While the Rosenbergs are regarded as the first victims of American fascism negates the idea that the Rosenbergs were good people. Meeropol says that they were idealists who had good intentions and who really believed that the Communist way was the better way. It is been even harder to believe that the Rosenbergs who were intelligent people could serve a cause that was responsible for the enslavement of the people of Eastern Europe.
The way I see it is that there are two possible conclusions to be drawn from the film. One is that the Rosenbergs were nice people yet willingly and knowingly supports the policies of the U.S.S.R which terror, murder and slavery to Eastern Europe. The other is that she paid no mind to what was going on in the Soviet Union and by doing this they could remain idealists. I keep thinking about the two children they left behind which they did not have to do. I see no heroism here.
We will probably never know the truth about their guilt or that innocence and I am sure this weighs heavily on the family. Here Meeropol tries to understand the complex issues about her grandparents and she certainly succeeds in letting us see the humanity of those involved.
There are several extras on the DVD—an interview with Tony Kushner who used the idea of Ethel Rosenberg in his prize-winning drama, “Angels in America”. There is also an interview with Arthur Kinoy, a lawyer who tried to get a stay of execution for the Rosenbergs; there is also an interview with Bill Ruben, who was the first to claim the Rosenberg’s innocence. There is also deleted footage that presents an even more rounded perspective from some of the featured interviewees, who talk at length about their perspectives on the Rosenbergs and the difficult circumstances surrounding their trial and execution, the meaning of Communism, the Rosenbergs’ perjury, the possibility of the evidence that has since surfaced supporting the Rosenbergs’ guilt, and other engaging subjects.
There is a lot of background information here so that those who do not know of the Rosenberg case will be able to follow the film. I love that we see an innocent approach to the subject and the interviews give us a lot to think about.
Lambda Literary Foundation.“25 for 25”, 2013.
I have not seen this new anthology but I want everyone to be aware of it.
“The Lambda Literary Foundation’s 25th Anniversary collection E-Book is now on sale and makes a great holiday gift!
25 for 25 is an anthology of works by some of our community’s leading authors, including Dorothy Allison, Ellen Bass, Alison Bechdel, Ivan E Coyote, Jewelle Gomez, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Alex Sanchez, Sarah Schulman, David Trinidad, Edmund White and many others, with original introductions by emerging writers they’ve influenced, many of whom the Lambda Literary Foundation has had the opportunity to support and nurture during one or more of our annual Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Voices Retreats.
Coedited by Lambda Fellow, Ames Hawkins, and former LLF Board President, Judith Markowitz, 25 for 25 marks the first-ever e-publication by the Foundation. The anthology is available for Kindle, iPad and other e-readers”.
“MEMORY OF THE DEAD”
Here is a film that makes no sense whatsoever yet is fun and interesting to watch. Seven weeks to the day after the death of her husband, a grieving widow brings a group of friends and family together to honor his memory. This gathering, however, becomes something else altogether. This is one of those films that has the viewer scratching his head and thinking,“WTF”! I read that was homage to the Giallo films of Italy and the Luis Bunuel films of Spain. Giallo films are noted as full of blood and crime and these were popular in Italy in the 70s. Bunuel films are built on a single ridiculous premise which is turned into masterpieces. In other words this film combines gore and suspense with surrealism. The ambition is but it did not work.
When the film begins we see Alicia (Lola Berthet) and Jorge (Gabriel Goity) walking down a garden path which leads them to their country home. Then one night Alicia wakens from a terrible dream and finds Jorge lying in bed bleeding from his face and next to her even though in the dream he killed himself. He dies but he leaves instructions for Alicia and these include his last wish. Jorge had been having premonitions about his death but she did not take them seriously. In the note, Jorge told Alicia to get the people who he loved together and spend an evening speaking about him. The evening begins with a reading of the letter during which Alicia tells each person what they meant to her husband. The evening quickly changes from memory to horror. Strange things happen outside the house and the characters and the audience then realize that it is going to be a long and strange night.
Here is where we get the idea that the movie is based on Bunuel. It is both character and dialogue driven but we really do not get to know the characters. In the letter we hear of intimate relationships between Jorge and the characters present. Some cry, some are angered and we wonder who these people are. I do not think we would care who they are even if we knew. Director Valentin Javier Diment combines comedy and gore.
The letter also has a little fact that I did not mention. It says that Jorge plans to return from the dead via a ritual in which everyone in the home will be visited by ghosts from their past. Told they will be safe as long as they remain inside the house the group abides by Jorge and Alicia’s wishes hoping to see their friend again. What they cannot know is they are about to be sacrificed as part of an arcane magic ceremony designed to betray each of them.
The film starts out on a surprisingly effective and serious note. By the time Jorge has passed away and everyone has come to his house to hear the reading of the letter the characters have been introduced, relationships established and considerable empathy generated for all concerned. But then one of the guests sees the ghost of a long dead relative outside and rushes to meet him and the seriousness of the film is forgotten and we watch a parade of special effects. The screenplay, which keeps the characters confronted with a variety of personal sins and anxieties, gives a solid framework to an equally solid cast in making important moments seem heartfelt. If anything the humor makes some of the films darker observations easier to digest. The film ends on a hard twist that it absolutely earns but by then has lost a little of the dramatic power it gained from its setup making the highly energetic project seem a bit of a cinematic curiosity rather than full fledged minor gem.
Despite numerous parts that feel as if they were borrowed from earlier horror films, Diment still manages to give us a unique story wedged into the mayhem, and the flick is energetic and unpredictable.
100 Notable Books of 2013
Published: November 27, 2013
The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
FICTION & POETRY
THE ACCURSED. By Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Oates’s extravagantly horrifying, funny and prolix postmodern Gothic novel purports to be the definitive account of a curse that infected bucolic Princeton, N.J., in 1905 and 1906.
ALL THAT IS. By James Salter. (Knopf, $26.95.) Salter’s first novel in more than 30 years, which follows the loves and losses of a World War II veteran, is an ambitious departure from his previous work and, at a stroke, demolishes any talk of twilight.
AMERICANAH. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Knopf, $26.95.) This witheringly trenchant novel scrutinizes blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain.
BLEEDING EDGE. By Thomas Pynchon. (Penguin Press, $28.95.) Airliners crash not only into the twin towers but into a shaggy-dog tale involving a fraud investigator and a white-collar outlaw in this vital, audacious novel.
CHILDREN ARE DIAMONDS: An African Apocalypse. By Edward Hoagland. (Arcade, $23.95.) The adventure-seeking protagonist of Hoagland’s novel is swept up in the chaos of southern Sudan.
THE CIRCLE. By Dave Eggers. (Knopf/McSweeney’s, $27.95.) In a disturbing not-too-distant future, human existence flows through the portal of a company that gives Eggers’s novel its title.
CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $25.95.) Danticat’s novel is less about a Haitian girl who disappears on her birthday than about the heart of a magical seaside village.
THE COLOR MASTER: Stories. By Aimee Bender. (Doubleday, $25.95.) Physical objects help Bender’s characters grasp an overwhelming world.
A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA. By Anthony Marra. (Hogarth, $26.) Odds against survival are high for the characters of Marra’s extraordinary first novel, set in war-torn Chechnya.
THE DINNER. By Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett. (Hogarth, $24.) In this clever, dark Dutch novel, two couples dine out under the cloud of a terrible crime committed by their teenage sons.
DIRTY LOVE. By Andre Dubus III. (Norton, $25.95.) Four linked stories expose their characters’ bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses.
DISSIDENT GARDENS. By Jonathan Lethem. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Spanning 80 years and three generations, Lethem’s novel realistically portrays an enchanted — or disenchanted — garden of American leftists in Queens.
DOCTOR SLEEP. By Stephen King. (Scribner, $30.) Now grown up, Danny, the boy with psycho-intuitive powers in “The Shining,” helps another threatened magic child in a novel that shares the virtues of King’s best work.
DUPLEX. By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.
THE END OF THE POINT. By Elizabeth Graver. (Harper, $25.99.) A summer house on the Massachusetts coast both shelters and isolates the wealthy family in Graver’s eloquent multigenerational novel.
THE FLAMETHROWERS. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $26.99.) In Kushner’s frequently dazzling second novel, an impressionable artist navigates the volatile worlds of New York and Rome in the 1970s.
THE GOLDFINCH. By Donna Tartt. (Little, Brown, $30.) The “Goldfinch” of the title of Tartt’s smartly written Dickensian novel is a painting smuggled through the early years of a boy’s life — his prize, his guilt and his burden.
THE GOOD LORD BIRD. By James McBride. (Riverhead, $27.95.) McBride’s romp of a novel, the 2013 National Book Award winner, is narrated by a freed slave boy who passes as a girl. It’s a risky portrait of the radical abolitionist John Brown in which irreverence becomes a new form of homage.
A GUIDE TO BEING BORN: Stories. By Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead, $26.95.) Ausubel’s fantastical collection traces a cycle of transformation: from love to conception to gestation to birth.
HALF THE KINGDOM. By Lore Segal. (Melville House, $23.95.) In Segal’s darkly comic novel, dementia becomes contagious at a Manhattan hospital.
I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE: Stories. By Jamie Quatro. (Grove, $24.) Quatro’s strange, thrilling and disarmingly honest first collection draws from a pool of resonant themes (Christianity, marital infidelity, cancer, running) in agile recombinations.
THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS. By Andrew Sean Greer. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) A distraught woman inhabits different selves across the 20th century in Greer’s elegiac novel.
THE INFATUATIONS. By Javier Marías. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. (Knopf, $26.95.) Amid a proliferation of alternative perspectives, Marías’s novel explores its female narrator’s relationship with the widow and the best friend of a murdered man.
THE INTERESTINGS. By Meg Wolitzer. (Riverhead, $27.95.) Wolitzer’s enveloping novel offers a fresh take on the theme of self-invention, with a heroine who asks herself whether the ambitious men and women in her circle have inaccurately defined success.
LIFE AFTER LIFE. By Kate Atkinson. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $27.99.) Atkinson’s heroine, born in 1910, keeps dying and dying again, as she experiences the alternate courses her destiny might have taken.
LOCAL SOULS: Novellas. By Allan Gurganus. (Liveright, $25.95.) This triptych, set in Gurganus’s familiar Falls, N.C., showcases the increasing universality of his imaginative powers.
LONGBOURN. By Jo Baker. (Knopf, $25.95.) Baker’s charming novel offers an affecting look at the world of “Pride and Prejudice” from the point of view of the Bennets’ servants’ hall.
LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH. By David Rakoff. (Doubleday, $26.95.) Rakoff completed his novel-in-couplets, whose characters live the title’s verbs, just before his death in 2012.
THE LOWLAND. By Jhumpa Lahiri. (Knopf, $27.95.) After his radical brother is killed, an Indian scientist brings his widow to join him in America in Lahiri’s efficiently written novel.
THE LUMINARIES. By Eleanor Catton. (Little, Brown, $27.) In her Booker Prize winner, a love story and mystery set in New Zealand, Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, while creating something utterly new for the 21st.
MADDADDAM. By Margaret Atwood. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $27.95.) The survivors of “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” await a final showdown, in a trilogy’s concluding entry.
A MARKER TO MEASURE DRIFT. By Alexander Maksik. (Knopf, $24.95.) Maksik’s forceful novel illuminates the life of a Liberian woman who flees her troubled past to seek refuge on an Aegean island.
METAPHYSICAL DOG. By Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) To immerse oneself in these poems is to enter a crowd of unusual characters: artistic geniuses, violent misfits, dramatic self-accusers (including the poet himself).
OUR ANDROMEDA. By Brenda Shaughnessy. (Copper Canyon, paper, $16.) In these emotionally charged and gorgeously constructed poems, Shaughnessy imagines a world without a child’s pain.
SCHRODER. By Amity Gaige. (Twelve, $21.99.) In Gaige’s scenic novel, a man with a long-established false identity goes on the run with his 6-year-old daughter.
THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. By Elizabeth Gilbert. (Viking, $28.95.) In this winning novel by the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a botanist’s hunger for explanations carries her through the better part of Darwin’s century, and to Tahiti.
SOMEONE. By Alice McDermott. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Through scattered recollections, this novel sifts the significance of an ordinary life.
THE SON. By Philipp Meyer. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Members of a Texas clan grope their way from the ordeals of the frontier to celebrity culture’s absurdities in this masterly multigenerational saga.
THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING. By Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Translated by Anne McLean. (Riverhead, $27.95.) This gripping Colombian novel, built on the country’s tragic history with the drug trade, meditates on love, fate and death.
SUBMERGENCE. By J. M. Ledgard. (Coffee House, paper, $15.95.) This hard-edged, well-written novel involves a terrorist hostage-taking and a perilous deep-sea dive.
SUBTLE BODIES. By Norman Rush. (Knopf, $26.95.) Amid dark humor both mournful and absurd, former classmates converge on the hilltop estate of a friend who has died in a freak accident.
TENTH OF DECEMBER: Stories. By George Saunders. (Random House, $26.) Saunders’s relentless humor and beatific generosity of spirit keep his highly moral tales from succumbing to life’s darker aspects.
THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE. By Ayana Mathis. (Knopf, $24.95.) Mathis’s deeply felt first novel works at the rough edges of history, within a brutal and poetic allegory of a black family beset by tribulations after the Great Migration to the North.
THE TWO HOTEL FRANCFORTS. By David Leavitt. (Bloomsbury, $25.) In Leavitt’s atmospheric novel of 1940 Lisbon, as two couples await passage to New York, the husbands embark on an affair.
THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT. By Amy Tan. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $29.99.) This wrenching novel by the author of “The Joy Luck Club” follows mother and daughter courtesans over four decades.
WANT NOT. By Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.) Linking disparate characters and story threads, Miles’s novel explores varieties of waste and decay in a consumer world.
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. By Karen Joy Fowler. (Marian Wood/Putnam, $26.95.) This surreptitiously smart novel’s big reveal slyly recalls a tabloid headline: “Girl and Chimp Twinned at Birth in Psychological Experiment.”
WE NEED NEW NAMES. By NoViolet Bulawayo. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $25.) A Zimbabwean moves to Detroit in Bulawayo’s striking first novel.
WOKE UP LONELY. By Fiona Maazel. (Graywolf, $26.) Maazel’s restlessly antic novel examines the concurrent urges for solitude and intimacy.
THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS. By Claire Messud. (Knopf, $25.95.) Messud’s ingenious, disquieting novel of outsize conflicts tells the story of a thwarted artist who finds herself bewitched by a boy and his parents.
AFTER THE MUSIC STOPPED: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead. By Alan S. Blinder. (Penguin Press, $29.95.) The former Fed vice chairman says confidence would have returned faster with better government communication about policy.
THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY: How the Other Half Still Lives. By Sasha Abramsky. (Nation Books, $26.99.) This ambitious study, based on Abramsky’s travels around the country meeting the poor, both describes and prescribes.
THE BARBAROUS YEARS. The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675. By Bernard Bailyn. (Knopf, $35.) A noted Harvard historian looks at the chaotic decades between Jamestown and King Philip’s War.
THE BILLIONAIRE’S APPRENTICE: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund. By Anita Raghavan. (Business Plus, $29.) Indian-Americans populate every aspect of this meticulously reported true-life business thriller.
THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. By Gary J. Bass. (Knopf, $30.) Bass reveals the sordid White House diplomacy that attended the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
BOOK OF AGES: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. By Jill Lepore. (Knopf, $27.95.) Ben Franklin’s sister bore 12 children and mostly led a life of hardship, but the two corresponded constantly.
THE BOY DETECTIVE: A New York Childhood. By Roger Rosenblatt. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $19.99.) In his memoir, Rosenblatt recalls being a boy learning to see, and to live, in the city he scrutinizes.
THE BULLY PULPIT: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. By Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Simon & Schuster, $40.) Historical parallels in Goodwin’s latest time machine implicitly ask us to look at our own age.
THE CANCER CHRONICLES: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery. By George Johnson. (Knopf, $27.95.) Johnson’s fascinating look at cancer reveals certain profound truths about life itself.
CATASTROPHE 1914: Europe Goes to War. By Max Hastings. (Knopf, $35.) This excellent chronicle of World War I’s first months by a British military historian dispels some popular myths.
COMMAND AND CONTROL: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. By Eric Schlosser. (Penguin Press, $36.) A disquieting but riveting examination of nuclear risk.
COUNTRY GIRL: A Memoir. By Edna O’Brien. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) O’Brien reflects on a fraught and distinguished life, from the restraints of her Irish childhood to literary stardom.
DAYS OF FIRE: Bush and Cheney in the White House. By Peter Baker. (Doubleday, $35.) Baker’s treatment of the George W. Bush administration is haunted by the question of who was in charge.
ECSTATIC NATION: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877. By Brenda Wineapple. (Harper, $35.) A masterly Civil War-era history, full of foiled schemes, misfired plans and less-than-happy endings.
EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. By Jung Chang. (Knopf, $30.) Chang portrays Cixi as a proto-feminist and reformer in this authoritative account.
THE FARAWAY NEARBY. By Rebecca Solnit. (Viking, $25.95.) Digressive essays, loosely about storytelling, reflect a difficult year in Solnit’s life.
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. By Sheri Fink. (Crown, $27.) The case of a surgeon suspected of euthanizing patients during the Katrina disaster.
GOING CLEAR: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. By Lawrence Wright. (Knopf, $28.95.) The author of “The Looming Tower” takes a calm and neutral stance toward Scientology, but makes clear it’s like no other church on earth.
THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. By Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $40.) The final volume of Atkinson’s monumental war trilogy shows that the road to Berlin was far from smooth.
THE HEIR APPARENT: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince. By Jane Ridley. (Random House, $35.) He was vain, gluttonous, promiscuous and none too bright, but “Bertie” emerges as an appealing character in Ridley’s superb book.
A HOUSE IN THE SKY. By Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. (Scribner, $27.) A searing memoir of a young woman’s brutal kidnapping in Somalia.
JONATHAN SWIFT: His Life and His World. By Leo Damrosch. (Yale University, $35.) A commanding biography by a Harvard professor.
KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR: The Path to a Better Way of Death. By Katy Butler. (Scribner, $25.) Butler’s study of the flaws in end-of-life care mixes personal narrative and tough reporting.
LAWRENCE IN ARABIA: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. By Scott Anderson. (Doubleday, $28.95.) By contextualizing T. E. Lawrence, Anderson is able to address modern themes like oil, jihad and the Arab-Jewish conflict.
LEAN IN: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. By Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell. (Knopf, $24.95.) The lesson conveyed loud and clear by the Facebook executive is that women should step forward and not doubt their ability to combine work and family.
LOST GIRLS: An Unsolved American Mystery. By Robert Kolker. (Harper, $25.99.) Cases of troubled young Internet prostitutes murdered on Long Island add up to a nuanced look at prostitution today.
MADNESS, RACK, AND HONEY: Collected Lectures. By Mary Ruefle. (Wave Books, paper, $25.) The poet muses knowingly and merrily on language, writing and speaking sentences that last lifetimes.
MANSON: The Life and Times of Charles Manson. By Jeff Guinn. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50.) Guinn’s tour de force examines Manson’s rise and fall, the 1960s music industry and the decade’s bizarre ambience.
MARGARET FULLER: A New American Life. By Megan Marshall. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) Fuller’s extensive intellectual accomplishments are set in contrast with her romantic disappointments.
MEN WE REAPED: A Memoir. By Jesmyn Ward. (Bloomsbury, $26.) A raw, beautiful elegy for Ward’s brother and four male friends, who died young in Mississippi between 2000 and 2004.
MISS ANNE IN HARLEM: The White Women of the Black Renaissance. By Carla Kaplan. (Harper, $28.99.) A remarkable look at the white women who sought a place in the Harlem Renaissance.
MY BELOVED WORLD. By Sonia Sotomayor.(Knopf, $27.95.) Mostly skirting her legal views, the Supreme Court justice’s memoir reveals much about her family, school and years at Princeton.
MY PROMISED LAND: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. By Ari Shavit. (Spiegel & Grau, $28.) Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, expresses both solidarity with and criticism of his countrymen in this important and powerful book.
PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: An Adventure. By Artemis Cooper. (New York Review Books, $30.) The British wayfarer and travel writer is the subject of Cooper’s affectionate, informed biography.
THE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. By Margalit Fox. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.)Focusing on an unheralded but heroic Brooklyn classics professor, Fox turns the decipherment of Linear B into a detective story.
THE SKIES BELONG TO US: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking. By Brendan I. Koerner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.
THE SLEEPWALKERS: How Europe Went to War in 1914. By Christopher Clark. (Harper, $29.99.) A Cambridge professor offers a thoroughly comprehensible account of the polarization of a continent, without fixing guilt on one leader or nation.
THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD: And How They Got That Way. By Amanda Ripley. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) A look at countries that are outeducating us — Finland, South Korea, Poland — through the eyes of American high school students abroad.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. By David Finkel. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Finkel tracks soldiers struggling to navigate postwar life, especially the psychologically wounded.
THE THIRD COAST: When Chicago Built the American Dream. By Thomas Dyja. (Penguin Press, $29.95.) This robust cultural history weaves together the stories of the artists, styles and ideas that developed in Chicago before and after World War II.
THIS TOWN: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital. By Mark Leibovich. (Blue Rider, $27.95.) An entertaining and deeply troubling view of Washington.
THOSE ANGRY DAYS: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941. By Lynne Olson. (Random House, $30.) The savage political dispute between Roosevelt and the isolationist movement, presented in spellbinding detail.
TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. By Evgeny Morozov. (PublicAffairs, $28.99.) Digital-age transparency may threaten the spirit of democracy, Morozov warns.
TO THE END OF JUNE: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care. By Cris Beam. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.) Beam’s wrenching study is a triumph of narrative reporting and storytelling.
UNTHINKABLE: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy. By Kenneth M. Pollack. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) The Mideast expert makes the case for living with a nuclear Iran and trying to contain it.
THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New America. By George Packer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) With a nod to John Dos Passos, Packer offers a gripping narrative survey of today’s hard times; the 2013 National Book Award winner for nonfiction.
THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE: The Road to 1914. By Margaret MacMillan. (Random House, $35.) Why did the peace fail, a Canadian historian asks, and she offers superb portraits of the men who took Europe to war in the summer of 1914.
WAVE. By Sonali Deraniyagala. (Knopf, $24.) Deraniyagala’s unforgettable account of her struggle to carry on living after her husband, sons and parents were killed in the 2004 tsunami isn’t only as unsparing as they come, but also defiantly imbued with light.
WILD ONES: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. By Jon Mooallem. (Penguin Press, $27.95.) Mooallem explores the haphazard nature of our efforts to protect endangered species.
YEAR ZERO: A History of 1945. By Ian Buruma. (Penguin Press, $29.95.) This lively history shows how the Good War turned out badly for many people and splendidly for others less deserving.
“Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations” by Hannah Arendt— Still Controversial 50 Years Later
Arendt, Hannah. “Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations”, Melville House, 2013.
Still Controversial 50 Years Later
“There are no dangerous thoughts for the simple reason that thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise.” —Hannah Arendt
This week’s New Yorker Magazine had an article saying that Hannah Arendt is back in the news again and I find that to be an interesting statement for no other reason than that the New York Times Book Review also had quite an article about her last week. It is so interesting that 50 years after Arendt published “Eichmann in Jerusalem” that she is as controversial as ever and I do not believe that she ever left the news. This year alone we had the film biography by Margarethe von Trotter which reopened old wounds, we had the new film from Claude Lanzmann (Shoah), “The Last of the Unjust” and this week brings us the publication of “Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview and Other Conversations”. The Jewish Press this year has published several articles about Arendt and while not as much as was written in 1963 when Arendt’s study of the Eichmann trial was published, we still get a bit of Arendt on a steady basis every year.
“The Last Interview” consists of four interviews with Arendt—one each by Gunter Gaus (1964), Joachim Fest (1964), Adelbert Reif (1970) and Roger Errera (1973). The first two took place after the publication of “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and they deal with the book.
Arendt presented Eichmann as mechanical, abstract and with an unsympathetic view of the situation of the Jews under the Nazis and there are some who feel that this shows Arendt’s inability to look at the experience of others from within. In these interviews that we are collected for the first time we see that Arendt criticizes other thinkers. We tend to see Arendt as having written while being intellectually unconscious and this is what made her tells us her assumptions about Eichmann, Jewish victims and Nazis in a way that is self-defeating.
During the Gaus interview, Arendt relates how she escaped from Germany in 1933. She had been arrested because she compiled a pamphlet in which she documented anti-Semitic statements that were made in ordinary circumstances. An unusually sympathetic official released her (the same person who had arrested her) and she made her way to France. She says that what was so intolerable about Germany was that intellectuals; fellow-intellectuals adhered to the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung which basically means that all German institutions will conform to the Nazi party line. She was not as disturbed by the overt hatred of the Jews. In the German intellectual community conformity was the rule. She found that this caused an intellectualism that was full of flaws. In my own experiences with intellectuals, it seems that it is their job to make up ideas about everything. Arendt maintained that the worst thing about Nazi Germany was that some people actually believed in the cause. Therefore intellectuals made up ideas about Hitler that sounded very interesting as fantastic and complicated as they were. Arendt says that intellectuals were trapped by and into their own ideas but it took a long time to realize that was what was happening.
Arendt says that the reason for her believing that Eichmann was not an ideological Nazi but rather a blind functionary was this anti-intellectualism that masqueraded as deep thought. Eichmann was not an intellectual so he had no ideas about Hitler and so he really was not able to believe in Nazism. Arendt divided the world into those who think and those who speak in clichés, like Eichmann. What this shows us is something I learned while a college student—intellectuals, in most cases, are snobs. The fact that she maintains this says that intellectuals follow Nazism simply because they are intellectuals. However, what this does is show that the hatred that the Nazi movement ran on was far beyond Arendt’s capability of understanding. She also charged the intellectuals with inventing ideas and items that were totally fantastic, interesting and complicated but then they become prisoners to their own ideas. This is where she got the background which she used when she looked at Eichmann—a very heavy theoretical and impersonal view.
In the Fest interview, Arendt tells us what she feels is the substance of “Eichmann in Jerusalem: “He doesn’t actually have any criminal motives …. He wanted to go along with the rest …. He was a typical functionary …. Ideology, in my view, didn’t play a very big role here.” She chose the word “banal” from a story she heard from Ernst Junger who related the story of a German peasant who said, “There’s something outrageously stupid about this story”. Eichmann was an intelligent man otherwise he never would have risen in the Nazi party. Arendt insists that he was stupid regarding the treatment of Jews and the Final Solution. This, Arendt says, is what she meant about banality. It is neither demonic nor deep but rather it is simply the reluctance to imagine what another person experiences. Because of this, perhaps, she was reluctant to think about to imagine her own subjects’ experiences in terms that go beyond the intellectual substance of discourse of their actions as a result of their political views.
I must agree with what several others have said what Arendt said in “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. It is not what she said but she said it with arrogance and without emotion. I find it impossible for a Jew not to be emotional about the Holocaust and yet with Arendt we sense no emotion. She did not want to imagine Eichmann’s hatred of the Jews, she could not imagine the feelings of the Jews who were forced to serve on Jewish councils; Jews who were selected by the Nazis to do so and were required to give up their own people. In the interview with Fest, there is a moment of Arendt showing emotion. Fest says, “Let’s return to your book, Frau Arendt. In it, you referred to the way that the Eichmann trial laid bare the total nature of the moral collapse at the heart of Europe, among the persecutors and the persecuted alike, in every country. Does the reaction to your book—a reaction that consisted on the one hand of denying this collapse, and on the other of making a confession of total guilt—indicate precisely what you were trying to prove?”
Fest had quite simply reduced Arendt’s book to the denial that came from many Jews who were more than infuriated by Arendt’s charge that they were involved in the Holocaust rather than being lost within the Holocaust. Arendt called this “moral collapse … among the persecutors and the persecuted alike”. We expect Arendt to object but she doesn’t. She, instead discusses her own feeling at the way the Jewish community reacted to her statements and she speaks about what this brought about. She sees herself as one who was persecuted by those whose lives were hurt and damaged by what she published as factual truths. She is referring to Jewish organizations who would say that is was the anti-Semites who would say that would say that the Jews were to blame. However she also says that she acknowledges having hurt the feelings (to say the least) as well as wounded some people with her claims of Jewish collaboration. As if that was not enough, she adds there were detractors who had real and legitimate interests and they were not upset by what the book contained but rather Arendt’s style and her irony.
Is this self-delusion? On the one hand, in the book, she calls Eichmann a clown (and yes, that is the word she uses). However, there is nothing funny in the book. Indeed Eichmann was stiff and euphemistic as well as insensitive. However to deride a character like this is not the issue among Jews. They became angry by Arendt’s including both the persecuted and the persecutors in the same sentence which is to say that morally they were the same. This is what was so morally offensive and, in fact, is still morally offensive.
In her interview with Errera in 1973, Arendt still has something to say about the book: “When I wrote my “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” one of my main intentions was to destroy the legend of the greatness of evil, of the demonic force, to take away from people the admiration they have for the great evildoers like Richard III or et cetera. I found in Berthold Brecht the following remark: ‘The great political criminals must be exposed and exposed especially to laughter. They are not great political criminals, but people who permitted great political crimes, which is something entirely different. The failure of his enterprises does not indicate that Hitler was an idiot’.”
Has Arendt had a reversal of thought? Has she moved from laugher to Hitler not being idiotic? What does all of this mean and why have I spend so much time on it? This time last week, I agree with the majority of what Arendt said. I just wonder if I have spent too much time on thinking about all of this. Honestly. I had forgotten all of brou-ha-ha about Arendt and then I saw the film and was driven back to her and to re-evaluate what I thought. Suddenly I moved from being pro-Arendt to going against her and now I am back in the middle again..or am I? Arendt quotes Brecht’s explanation, “If the ruling classes,” says he, “permit a small crook to become a great crook, he is not entitled to a privileged position in our view of history.” We see Brecht blaming Hitler on the capitalist system and in doing so he diminishes Hitler as well as Nazism in order to use them as a function of class relations. Arendt does accept this fully but she uses the same strategy. Eichmann is reduced to a functionary position. She then dehumanizes what his victims experienced using a different theory that is filled with fantasy and complication. It is because of these things that Arendt blames the victims along with the Nazis. What is really surprising is that Arendt should have discredited this theory even as she was writing it and not because she had an obligation to the Jews but simply because she knew it was wrong. Reading these interviews, we finally see that deep within herself, she knew she was wrong.
“In these interviews—including her final interview given in October 1973, in the midst of Watergate and the Yom Kippur War—Hannah Arendt discusses politics, war, protest movements, the Eichmann trial, Jewish identity, and language with the incisiveness and courage that always set her apart”.
Even though Arendt is no longer with us, we are still living in her world. Not only was she a powerful thinker of the 20th century, she is a guide to the problems of the 21st century. She took the responsibility to observe the uses of power which were often inhuman and she gave her generation a reason to seek judgment and action. She was able to bring common sense to the world of the intellectual and her insights into history and politics are nothing short of amazing.
Girelli, Elisabeth. “Montgomery Clift, Queer Star”, Wayne State University Press, 2013.
His Subversive Image
Montgomery Clift was one of the most handsome men to grace a movie screen. He was at the top of his career and his fame when his face was almost destroyed in a terrible car crash. The accident took his heartthrob status from him and Clift became a disturbing and socially alienated person. In this book, author Girelli maintains that Clift had always combined an “on-screen erotic ambiguity with real life sexual nonconformity. In her book she examines the development of this subversive image over the years of his career and she sees him as a “queer signifier who defied normative cultural structures”.
In his early films, Clift seemed to be sexually ambivalent and in his later films he seemed to be asexual, transgressive and often quite distressed. As a star he was remarkably consistent as a star. He represented virility, sexuality and normality but when we look at his as Girelli does through the lens of queer theory we see that he was disruptive and closeted. Using other queer theory terms such as performativity, queer shame, crip theory, and queer temporality, we indeed get a different perspective of Clift. Girelli looks at how Clift’s personal life and how the public perceived it to give us an overall picture and image of Clift as a deviant star and man. She goes a step further and gives a comprehensive critical look at Clift. The book is written clearly and actually builds on other older studies of Montgomery Clift.
What I personally find interesting about Clift is that while he lived, women swooned not picking up on his sexuality. After his death and we learned more about him, he was elevated as a gay icon. He is, even in death, a challenge to contemporary norms.
Morrissey. “Autobiography”, Putnam Adult, 2013.
The Real but Incomplete Morrissey
I still am not sure why I read this book—I am not and have never been a Morrissey fan. I have heard of him, of course and of his unwillingness to commit to much aside from his music. He has been elusive to say the least and while this book is an interesting read, we do not really get past that elusiveness.
Born Steven Patrick Morrissey in Manchester, England on May 22, 1959, he went on to be the singer-songwriter and co-founder of The Smiths from 1982-1987. He had been a solo artist for twenty-six years and has had three number one albums in England in three different decades. His songs have been recorded by David Bowie, Nancy Sinatra, Marianne Faithfull, Chrissie Hynde, Thelma Houston, My Chemical Romance and Christy Moore, amongst others. Aside from being a protector of animals, he was voted the second greatest living British icon by the viewers of the BBC. He lost the number one place to Sir David Attenborough. He was even given the keys to the city of Tel Aviv. He is one of the few pop stars who became an icon while he is still alive.
Reading this autobiography, I gather that Morrissey sees himself as a pop star with unusual talent and he does write well here. The problem is not what he tells us but what he doesn’t.
He tells is what it was and still is to be a person who used his possibilities well in pop music, poetry, films and television. It is as if he tells us that his biography is going to be of that class. Now I am not saying anything bad about his book and is writing is excellent but I remain unsatisfied. What I was looking for is just not here…but more about that later.
For years Morrissey has been thought to be gay and in fact he is but his book says nothing about it…or does it? In the British version of this book, there are details of his relationship with photographer Jake Owen Walters but this is not in the American version. Walters does not even appear in the American edition. In October of this year, the part of the book was leaked to the British press. In the 90s, Morrissey says (when he was in his mid-30s) that he met Walters: “…for the first time in my life the eternal “I” becomes “we”, as, finally, I can get on with someone…Jake and I neither sought nor needed company other than our own for the whirlwind stretch to come…Indulgently Jake and I test how far each of us can go before “being dwelt in” causes cries of intolerable struggle, but our closeness transcends such visitations”. That relationship lasted two years. When a woman in an airport saw them, she remarked, “Well, you’re either very close brothers or lovers.” “Can’t brothers be lovers?” Morrissey imprudently replied. He was always ready with a pert answer.
Walters’ presence has been all but scrubbed clean from Morrissey’s scripted life, including a photo of Walters as a boy and his name in a story about a night out on the town with The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. I never approved of this kind of censorship especially because there is really no need for it. I also do not understand why anyone would write an autobiography that has parts cut from it. We don’t get the full story and it is a pity because what we do get is so well written.