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“Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends” by Peter Schweizer—Corruption and Misconduct: An Investigative Look at Politics

Schweizer, Peter. “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends”, Harper, 2018.

Corruption and Misconduct: An Investigative Look at Politics

Amos Lassen

 Peter Schweizer who wrote “Clinton Cash” and sparked an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation has now published “Secret Empires” his highly anticipated investigative follow-up. In it, he shows no favoritism for any politician and attacks them all.

The opening chapters set the background for what is to come and it is all quite shocking. The first bit of new information us about businesses set up by sons of Senators John Kerry and Joe Biden. It seems that Biden’s and Kerry’s sons might have more in common with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.

What we read here are allegations; no evidence in the form of newspaper stories or media reports are found here. Nonetheless, this is an important read as it makes us question what we have taken for granted for way too long.

The ownership of the Rosemont entities in the United States and Gemini Investments are connected to sons of the former vice president and secretary of state and they were negotiating to secure a deal with a company whose ties could be traced back to the Chinese navy. This would be the second largest and profitable deal that the son of the vice president and the stepson and friends of John Kerry would strike with Chinese government–connected companies as both statesmen were negotiating with Beijing and were engaged in sensitive, high-stakes negotiations with the Chinese government while their sons’ companies were cutting a deal with a company connected to the Chinese government.

Kerry was criticized for being soft on China even though the country was aggressively laying claim and expanding its presence in the South China Sea. There was great alarm over his unilateral expansion, but Kerry played it cool.

Critics stated that regarding Chinese territorial claims in Asia, Beijing wanted to have negotiations with countries in the region individually and exclude the United States and Japan. This would make it easier for China to intimidate smaller regional players who questioned their territorial claims. Kerry surprised and troubled many in the region when he effectively endorsed China’s strategy to isolate countries like the Philippines in these negotiations by refusing to have the United States take a side in the territorial dispute. Kerry publicly stated that he saw no need to “contain” China and this was in contrast to his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s posture. He was praised by Beijing for his low-key approach to relations with China.

Business negotiations between the Biden and Kerry families and Chinese entities continued. Publicly, Secretary of State Kerry engaged with the very same Chinese government in diplomatic negotiations. In November 2014, Kerry even hosted the Chinese foreign minister in Boston, where they dined together.

By December 2014, Gemini was negotiating and sealing deals with Rosemont on several fronts. That month, Gemini bought out the Rosemont Opportunities Fund II, an offshore investment vehicle run by Rosemont for $34 million and larger deals followed. In May 2015, Kerry went to Asia to meet with his Chinese counterparts to readdress the difficult issues between the United States and China. Kerry told his hosts that the U.S. wanted to work with them on a range of issues, including North Korea, Iran and Syria, and the two powers shouldn’t let the South China Sea issue get in the way of broader cooperation. The Chinese interpreted this as a signal that the U.S. was not ready to confront them.

By August, Rosemont Realty announced that Gemini Investments, still run from COSCO headquarters, was buying a 75 percent stake in the company and this was the second major deal Rosemont struck with China.

This is a must read for anyone who wants to know how elected politicians make millions while in office. Schweiser has done his research and shows us what politicians are doing behind our backs. I just wish that there was more evidence to prove this.

Schweizer is evenhanded and looks at politicians from both parties. The book reveals a kind of self-dealing and suggests Obama used regulations in the education and energy sectors to depress the prices of certain stocks at which time friends of his bought the stocks and then eased pressure, allowing the stocks to rebound and enriching anyone who invested at the stocks’ low points.

Schweizer’s targets include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

 “Secret Empires” exposes vast corruption by top Washington figures who leverage their political power to enrich their family members and friends, often by making deals with foreign entities.

The Publishing Triangle Finalists Announced for Best LGBTQ Books of 2017

The Publishing Triangle Finalists Announced for Best LGBTQ Books of 2017

The Publishing Triangle is very proud to announced the nominees for the best LGBTQ books of 2017. The winners in these seven competitive categories will be announced at the 30th annual Triangle Awards. The ceremony will be held on April 26, 2018, at the Tishman Auditorium of the New School (63 Fifth Avenue in New York City) at 7 p.m. In addition to these prizes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans or gender-variant literature, we will be presenting the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award, and the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award that evening.

This year’s finalists are:

Finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Abandon Me, by Melissa Febos (Bloomsbury USA)
Afterglow, by Eileen Myles (Grove Press)
Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, by Rosalind Rosenberg (Oxford University Press)
Mean, by Myriam Gurba (Coffee House Press)

Ms. Gurba won the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction in 2008, for Dahlia Season.

Finalists for the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction
Brilliant Imperfection, by Eli Clare (Duke University Press)
The Inheritance of Shame, by Peter Gajdics (Brown Paper Press)
Lives of Great Men, by Chike Frankie Edozien (Team Angelica Publishing)
Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, by Richard A. McKay (University of Chicago Press)

Finalists for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Lena, by Cassie Pruyn (Texas Tech University Press)
No Dictionary of a Living Tongue, by Duriel E. Harris (Nightboat Books)
Rocket Fantastic, by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (Persea Books)
Some Say, by Maureen N. McLane (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Finalists for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
Half-Light: Collected Poems, 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing, by Charif Shanahan (Southern Illinois University Press)
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, by Chen Chen (BOA Editions)

Danez Smith’s collection is also a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature.

Finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature
Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
A Place Called No Homeland, by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Prayers for My 17th Chromosome, by Amir Rabiyah (Sibling Rivalry Press)
Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (The MIT Press)

Danez Smith’s book is also a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry.

Finalists for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Elmet, by Fiona Mozley (Algonquin Books)
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Marriage of a Thousand Lies, by SJ Sindu (Soho Press)
Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Ms. Mozley’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Ms. Machado’s story collection was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for fiction, and is also a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. Ms. Hernandez’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 Toronto Book Awards.

Finalists for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction
The Ada Decades, by Paula Martinac (Bywater Books)
The Disintegrations, by Alistair McCartney (University of Wisconsin Press)
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne (Hogarth/Crown)
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Outside Is the Ocean, by Matthew Lansburgh (University of Iowa Press)

Ms. Machado is also a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction; her collection of stories was a finalist as well for this year’s National Book Award for Fiction

The winner in each of the seven categories above will receive a prize of $1000. Please join us in congratulating this worthy batch of nominees.

Sarah Schulman Wins Whitehead Award

ss1Sarah Schulman is the 2018 recipient of the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, named in honor of the legendary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. Schulman is a novelist, nonfiction writer, playwright, screenwriter, and AIDS historian. Among her novels are The Cosmopolitans, The Child, and Rat Bohemia (winner of the 1996 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction). Her works of nonfiction include Conflict Is Not Abuse (winner of last year’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction), The Gentrification of the Mind, and Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. Schulman’s nineteenth book, the novel Maggie Terry, will be published in September 2018 by the Feminist Press.

She is on the advisory boards of Jewish Voice for Peace, Research on the Israeli/American Alliance, and Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute, and she is faculty advisor for Students for Justice in Palestine. Besides her two earlier Publishing Triangle Awards and many other prizes, Schulman has also won a Guggenheim in playwriting, a Fulbright in Judaic studies, and two American Library Association Stonewall Awards. A fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, she is distinguished professor of the humanities at CUNY/College of Staten Island. She also teaches in such non-degree community-based programs as Queer Art Mentorship and Lambda Emerging Writers Retreat.

The Bill Whitehead Award is given to a female-identified writer in even-numbered years and to a male-identified writer in odd years, and the winner receives $3000.

Schulman will accept this prize at the Publishing Triangle’s annual awards ceremony on April 26, 2018. It will be held at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium, 63 Fifth Avenue, in Greenwich Village, New York, starting at 7 p.m.

Sarah Perry to Receive Emerging Writer Award

The Publishing Triangle is pleased to announce that Sarah Perry will receive its Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award. This award is given to an LGBTQ writer who has published at least one book but not more than two. In selecting her for this award, the judges said, “Sarah Perry’s personal story is uniquely fascinating and tragic. From that story, she has produced a work of art: a hybrid of literary genres and narrative strategies which compellingly explore history, grief, and sexuality.” Perry will receive a prize of $1500 with this award.

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search, Sarah Perry’s memoir, was published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Perry holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction from Columbia University, where she served as publisher of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and was a member of the journal’s nonfiction editorial board. She is the recipient of a writers’ fellowship from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and a Javits fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education. Perry has attended residencies at Norton Island in Maine and PLAYA in Oregon. Her prose has appeared in such publications as Blood & Thunder,, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn.

“Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World” by Miles J. Ungar— How Picasso Became Picasso

Ungar, Miles J. “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World”, Simon and Schuster, 2018.

How Picasso Became Picasso

Amos Lassen

Miles J. Ungar’s “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World” is the story of how an obscure young painter from Barcelona came to Paris and made himself into the most influential artist of the twentieth century. In other words, this is the story of how Picasso became Picasso.

Let me get a bit personal here. Those of us who grew up in the ‘60s certainly knew the name of Picasso and certainly there were those who had seen paintings and prints but for most of us Picasso became a symbol of a period. I read about him but really never appreciated Picasso until I took an interdisciplinary graduate course on Cubism. I was very lucky to have Dr. Rima Drell Reck as my professor and she remains one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. She opened my eyes to Picasso and the effect he had on the modern world.

In 1900, an eighteen-year-old Spaniard named Pablo Picasso came to Paris for the first time. Paris was the capital of the international art world that and it was magical for Picasso. After having suffered suffering years of poverty and neglect, he emerged as the leader of a bohemian group of painters, sculptors, and poets. These artists were fueled by opium and alcohol and inspired by their own late-night conversations with each other. Picasso and his friends had resolved to shake up the world.

For many of his early Paris years, Picasso lived and worked in a squalid tenement known as the Bateau Lavoir, in the heart of Montmartre. It was here that he met his first true love, Fernande Olivier, a muse whom he would transform in his art from Symbolist goddess to Cubist monster. These early years were not easy but later Picasso looked back on them as the happiest of his long life.

Fame and recognition came slowly to Picasso. It actually began in the avant-garde circles in which he traveled, and then among a small group of collectors, including the Americans Leo and Gertrude Stein. In 1906, Picasso began “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and it was become one of his great masterpieces. His inspiration came from the paintings of Paul Cézanne and African and tribal sculpture. In “Les Demoiselles”, Picasso captured and defined the disorienting experience of modernity itself. The painting was so shocking that several of his friends thought he’d gone mad. Only his colleague George Braque understood what Picasso was trying to do. Over the next few years they teamed up to create Cubism, the most revolutionary and influential movement in twentieth-century art.

Picasso’s story is the story of an artistic genius with a creative gift and it is a story “filled with heartbreak and triumph, despair and delirium, all of it played out against the backdrop of the world’s most captivating city”. He ushered in the birth of modernism a century ago and it was a great moment of creative disruption including Einstein’s physics, Stravinsky’s music, and the writings of Joyce and Proust and these was “Les Demoiselles”, a painting with lasting impact in today’s art world.

“Absurdimals: Lola Goes to School” by Gewndolyn Javor— Celebrating Difference

Javor, Gwendolyn. “Absurdimals: Lola Goes to School”,  illustrated by Melissa Spears, CreateSpace, 2017.

Celebrating Difference

Amos Lassen

The Absurdimals are hybrid animals that change our perception of what is thought to be “normal”. In the absurdimals, we see how society is constantly changing and that we must encourage children to embrace individuality.

Lola the Belephant goes to school for the first time and finds out she’s not quite the same as the other animals. After feeling like an outsider, Lola learns that there is no such thing as being different even though she is half bunny and half elephant.

Before Lola goes to school and meets others, Lola loves herself and her unique traits but soon the “normal” elephants make fun of her and start to bully her. Her school principal tells her to love herself first, that Lola realizes love is what holds us together. The story looks at issues that play important roles children’s lives and it gives a sense of hope and understanding that is wonderful. This is also an excellent way for parents o begin explaining what diversity means.

Today children struggle with many issues including skin color, chronic illness, special learning needs or something else, and the effect of these make can child feel different. It is interesting that I am sure we had the same issues when I was a kid but they were spoken of. We struggled silently back then.

Gwendolyn Javor is a lawyer by trade and she is a is a humanitarian whose self-appointed job is to finding ways to show how acceptance can be found and found with love. It is her goal to let children become citizens of the world who appreciate and respect one another and where differences are not important. What is important is loving ourselves and others. Hence she developed the Absurdimals and uses humor, thought and creative characters in order for us to see how different everyone is.

Our first absurdimal is Lola who is happy with her self until she goes to school and discovers that other students did nit know how to deal with someone who was so different. She tries to join a group of elephants but they excluded her because she was not an elephant and they even made fun of her. She tried to explain that she was half elephant but they laughed at her because she was an absurdimal! This really upset and frightened her and she went to talk to her school’s principal, Mr. Hooves, a moose who her that animals can play together even if they are not alike and they can become best friends. Principal Hooves explains that the key is understanding that ’absurd’ is what animals say about things that are new, different, and not understood. ‘Furthermore he tells Lola that basically we are all alike and share much in common but Lola is upset being called an ‘absurdimal’, Her principal comforts her and tells her that is a new different and that others will love her when she loves herself. In class the next day, Lola tells everyone that she is an absurdimal and loves it. Another “different” animals then spoke up and it seem they all want to be absurdimals.

I love the idea behind the book and the author carries it put so well plus it has great illustrations by Melissa Spears. It is wonderful that we can celebrate diversity here in this country. Gwendolyn Javor sees that children are basically good and that they have the power to change what is not good. Children can be taught to understand and celebrate diversity and this gives us hope for a better future.

Here is a lovely excerpt from the book.

 Lola was no ordinary animal. Half bunny, half elephant, she was what could best be described as: a BELEPHANT.

No one else could hop after butterflies while watering flowers!

 Yes, Lola was quite different and she’d soon find that out…

 So, the ABSURDIMAL found her place…away from the real animals!

 There’s no too different…there’s only NEW-DIFFERENT!

 But no matter what type of different, there’s love in all of us. That’s what connects us!

 Love yourself, and the other animals will too.

 I’m proud that I’m an ABSURDIMAL, because I’m proud to be a BELEPHANT!

 If being an ABSURDIMAL means you can be what you want, we ALL want to beABSURDIMALS too!

 Lola looked around. Instead of a room full of different animals, all she saw was a room full of love.


“The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories” by Michael Andreasen— Hope, Love and Loss

Andreasen, Michael. “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories”, Dutton, 2018.

Hope, Love and Loss

Amos Lassen

Michael Andreasen’s “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is a collection of odd stories that are basically about the need for connection and understanding through the use of the supernatural and extraordinary. They explore hope, love and loss and are enchanting and endearing even though they are written in a surreal way. Beneath the veneer of surrealism, we see what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing. What I love about stories like this is that they make us think as we try to understand where the author is going. Through the introduction of such characters as sea monsters, ghosts of Catholic saints, and teenagers enjoying life, we get stories that are filled with emotions and that show us universal understandings and desires in ways we have not considered before. As we read we see the line between the speculative and the satirical.

The prose is lush and lyrical in the eleven stories that make up the collection. Each story balances fantasy and reality making it difficult to see which is which and while this is speculative fiction, it is also more than that.

As we read of mermaids, prophetic dancing bears, exploding children, and distraught time travelers, we see that we are also reading about love and loss and what caring for others really means. The stories take on new and varied meanings with each rereading and this is the kind of book that you want to keep nearby because you will do just that; read and reread the stories.

It is Andreasen’s wonderful imagination and command of the English language that makes for such a fun and excellent read. If you have ever wondered how a story can be urgent and timeless at the same time, then you need to read any of these stories. We see that often there is hope that comes with heartbreak and dreams that come with nightmares as Andreasen pits opposite against each other.

One of the beautiful things about being human is that we want to know “why”. We do not get answers here but we get many questions to think about. While the stories almost all deal with the fantastic, you will be amazed at the variety of tales that we get. Paternal pressures, the terror of stasis, our jealous hunger for love are examples of three of the themes here. What all of the stories share is a new way to see the world though Andreasen’s subversion of the narrative form as he plays with conventional story telling.

I am not a fan of short stories (regardless, I do have my favorites) but after reading this, my opinion might just change. You will obviously notice that I did not summarize any of the stories or single any of them out as personal favorites. I leave that to you who have yet to have the reading experience.

“Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a Living on the Stage and in Hollywood” by Ron Hutchinson— Anecdotes and Real Experiences

Hutchinson, Ron. “Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a Living on the Stage and in Hollywood”,  (with a foreword by Brian Denehy), Oberon Books, 2017.

Anecdotes and Real Experiences

Amos Lassen

Ron Hutchinson is an award-winning screenwriter who has had quite a career and here he shares stories, anecdotes and real experiences from throughout his career. He has known and worked with famous films and people such as Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Cruise and David Hockney. This is a very funny book that is also very helpful for would be screenwriters. Hutchinson has been awarded Emmy, Ace and Drama Desk Awards, has worked with many big name stars and has taught at the American Film Institute for thirty years and has even been paid by Dreamworks not to work for them. Aside from the Hollywood stories and gossip, we get valuable tips on writing, rewriting and editing and a strong warning that the screenwriting business is craziness personified.

Hutchinson has now left California to live in Brooklyn where he is renovating a brownstone and becoming an Irish-American. He shares a near-death experience on Venice Beach, and struggling to stay sane on location on one of the great movie flops of all time. He gives us a kind of a checklist for writers to look at before deciding if a draft’s complete.

What follows are some of the things you’re looking for when you read each draft. Those of us who write know that the “process is messy, with mis-steps and false starts”. I often find myself thinking how I can write a good and interesting review of a book or movie that did nothing for me and sometimes it is not enough to say that the costumes are pretty, the soundtrack is melodic or that the prose is lyrical when there is really nothing to like.

I often have powerful arguments with myself about what I write. I was determined to be the kind of reviewer that could always find something good to say and I believe I have succeeded in that but with a bit of fibbing. Hutchinson says that what a writer has to do is get that first sentence out read and reread it and hopefully the rest will follow. He also says that one should only write for three hours a day on a project and here I have to disagree since three hours for me is usually warm-up time. But then I reread what he said and I believe that he is correct that after three hours it is okay to continue but on a different project.

I loved reading about one of my favorite stars of all time, Elizabeth Taylor and Hutchinson’s story about writing a commercial for her. I was once lucky to stay within ten feel of her when she came to Israel with Richard Burton and went to the wall. Her beauty nearly knocked the breath out of me. This is both a fun and useful read especially for beginners who get advice from a master. Take your time and read slowly so that you can enjoy every word.

“A VIOLENT LIFE”— Punishment and Crime


Punishment and Crime

Amos Lassen

Thierry de Peretti’s “A Violent Life” focuses on the violent nationalist struggles that plagued Corsica, throughout the 1990s. In 1997, Stéphane (Jean Michelangeli), an 18-year old Corsican student ends up in prison because of his friendship with a small group of delinquents lands him in prison. The film explores his transformation from a middle-class youth with conventional aspirations to a radicalized activist with dangerous ties. This is a haunting story of a young man’s rise and fall that is set in the unique social and cultural climate of Corsica, a land divided that has one foot stuck in Italy, another in France and its own folkloric history. The film rests somewhere between Corsican nationalism and crime.

Since the move to armed conflict by the National Liberation Front of Corsica in 1976, many dissident events, fratricidal wars and serious crime have reinforced the opacity that national media manage to report on once in a while and then by speaking about nights filled with explosives and murders. The filmmaker here tries to fill in what we do not really know about the Corsican independence movement that has seen invisible maneuvers, reconciliations, conflicts and betrayals that end in bloodshed and hide political radicalism. The film begins in Paris in 2001, when Stéphane learns of the death of a relative and decides to g home to Corsica for the funeral. Then, in flashback, we go to Bastia, to the prison where Stephane is seduced by the independentist discourse of his prison mates and especially by the leader François. After his release, Stéphane acts as an intermediary between his criminal friends who agree to work for this new nationalist movement, albeit without any “official” role and with the freedom to continue their illegal activities. This small group is able to create explosive chaos on demand but this leads to them disturbing other hidden, Mafia forces that are trying to gain control of the island’s economy. Francois is well aware of this and he receives threats. However, if Francois falls, the fate of Stéphane and his friends will be sealed because they are only pawns and puppets in a much bigger game. The film viewers see a clinical representation of a mess and suggestive portrait of a highly impenetrable local panorama and begins to understand the circumstances of the dominant conflict as a macrocosm through Stephane’s journey. This resulted in his being given a death threat yet despite that

, Stéphane decides to return to Corsica to attend the funeral of his childhood friend who has been murdered the day before. It is the occasion for him to remember the events that saw move from being one of the petty bourgeois from Bastia, delinquency to political radicalism and underground. We see that on the island of Corsica, young people do not know where to belong and find a way to be useful by going against the government by being militant. They are into racketeering, prostitution and dealing drugs raise money for the cause. In the beginning of the film you see Stephane in Paris when he receives the phone call that his childhood body has been murdered. This bring back memories of when there were a lot of confusion about what they wanted to do with the cause and where it was supposed to go. The director uses real footage of the National Liberation Front of Corsica and mixes it in to the story story. We see how nice student from a good family ends up in a Marxist revolutionary cell bent on asserting Nationalist goals against encroaching Mafia-style powers-that-be.

Opening words on screen explain that the citizens of Corsica have protested the covetous and disrespectful outside influence since the island was sold to France by Genoa in 1768. In the 1990s political resistance faced lethal opposition from criminal elements that built up increasingly objectionable ways of putting pressure on local residents and resources and decided to fight back, And so, intent on preventing their beautiful island from going the way of Sicily or the French Riviera, there were those who decided to fight back. 

We see Stephane when he was just a typical apolitical young man attending university. His path toward armed resistance began by being born Corsican, but it intensified when he agreed to transport a duffel bag full of weapons for friends. Unfortunately the weapons in question were used in terrorist attacks and traced to him and he is sentenced to prison where he remains stoic and bookish but is singled out by older, not at all intellectual men who supplement his thinking and raise his consciousness.

Stephane is smart enough to know that the situation he finds himself in is not what he imagined when he set out to correct the imbalances as a result of colonization.

“FINAL PORTRAIT”— Giacometti and Lord


Giacometti and Lord

Amos Lassen

Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss artist who lived and painted during the first half of the 20th century. His work played a huge role in the surrealist art movement where he was most famous for his fascination with faces and bodies. On top of that, he was a strange man. Giacometti was a very, very strange man. In 1935, he asked a model to come pose for him over the period of two weeks so that he could learn more the human head and get a stronger sense of how to draw it. This study actually lasted every day between 1935 and 1940. Writer-director Stanley Tucci  creates a portrait of the man.

Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) believed that art can never be finished and like art, this film feels deliberately unfinished. It’s the story of a one-night pose that lasted weeks, as told from the perspective of James Lord  (Armie Hammer). Every night Lord comes to Giacometti’s home where he lives with his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub). Throughout his stay, Giacometti and Lord grow close, and James begins to gain a thorough understanding of the famous artist.

It was a chance encounter that led to so much more, and the story behind it is fascinating. It’s especially interesting in the sense that we don’t get the entire picture. This a small chapter in Giacometti’s life and the film gives us an interesting and unique portrait of the man during the months before his untimely death.


Rush plays Giacometti with his eccentric behaviors and a wry sense of humor to the debauchery he puts on display. Armie Hammer brings diligence and charm to the leading role and the two actors share great chemistry. The film is based on Lord’s book “A Giacometti Portrait”. Tucci goes into Giacometti’s anarchic relationship with money, showing him tossing around stacks of Francs in his cluttered office but we also see the capitalist in Giacometti and this is a fine example of the great contradiction of the post ‘60s successful artist, a syndrome which has plagued the art world ever since. Tucci restricts the narrative to the two-weeks-plus that Lord spent in Paris. We learn very little about James Lord and one might be left wondering about who exactly the man is.


The film opens in slow motion with voice over narration from Hammer. Lord has come to see Giacometti to have his portrait done and soon discovers no portrait is ever complete. Lord sits rigidly sits while Giacometti begins his painting but soon Lord realizes the three days he originally scheduled won’t be enough time and there is then a pattern of cancelling and rescheduling flights to accommodate Giacometti’s process. Giacometti has a passion and large appetitive for women, food and wine. His women range from a high-end prostitute, Caroline (Clémence Poésy), to the “house maid”, his wife, Annette.

Finally after nearly three weeks, Lord has realized he needs to take matters into his own hands if the portrait is ever to be completed since Giacometti has a recurring tendency to paint the negative, i.e., whitewash the canvas. Giacometti’s brother, Diego, an artist as well, and the artist engage in some philosophical meanderings and in some male bonding. Giacometti likes control and continually keeps Lord off balance with dialogues on suicide which he thinks about daily, and meaningful death experiences and he laments that he can only die but once.

“Neruda: The Poet’s Calling” by Mark Eisner— Portrait of the Poet

Eisner, Mark. “Neruda: The Poet’s Calling”, Ecco Books, 2018.

Portrait of the Poet

Amos Lassen

Pablo Neruda, one of the most intriguing and influential figures in Latin American history, is the subject of Mark Eisner’s definitive new biography. In his native Chile, across Latin America, and in many other parts of the world, his name and legacy are synonymous with liberation movements, and with the language of erotic love. Eisner has worked on this biography for fifteen years and is a vivid

depiction of Neruda’s monumental life, his potent verse, and his firm that it is the “poet’s obligation” to use poetry for social good. The three major strands of Neruda’s life his poetry; his political engagement; and controversial personal life are brought together into a single cohesive narrative of intimacy and breadth of life.

The events of Neruda’s life are interspersed with Eisner’s examinations of the poems, both as works of art in their own right and as reflections of Neruda’s life and times. By doing this we get a new way of looking at Neruda’s life and work in a more human and humane way.

Neruda was born Ricardo Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, and began to use his pen name in 1920 in order to hide his publications from his father who greatly disapproved of his son’s vocation as a poet. By the time he was 19, fame found him and he even had followers and disciples who would not only dress like him, they would also copy his metaphors and actually follow him around the city. Partly due to his prolific output, Neruda’s reputation and popularity grew and he became “the public poet, a people’s poet.” As a young man he joined the Chilean diplomatic corps and was assigned to Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Buenos Aires, and Spain. He was something of a contradiction with his “pattern of disturbing misogynistic behavior” which was in opposition to his outspoken political liberalism and a sense of entitlement and superiority. He was the aggressor sexually and was considered a predator and often had more than one lover at a time. He held his humanitarian views but neglected his first wife and their daughter who was born with a birth defect and died at the age of 8. He was a senator who represented the Communist Party and champion of Stalin, but finally “saw the errors of Stalinism and was emboldened enough to reject them.” He was criticized as a “Champagne Communist,” who enjoyed luxury and admirers lauded his opposition to Franco. Beginning in 1949, when Neruda denounced Chile’s president for his oppression of workers and he was forced into hiding and, finally, exile. If we read his poems closely we find historical, cultural, and political chronology.

Eisner’s biography is both comprehensive and authoritative in its view of account of the “poetry, personality, and politics” of one of the most revered poets of modern time. We read of Neruda’s formative years in Chile, his volunteer role on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, his frequent travels as diplomat and cultural ambassador, his marriages and affairs, and his “ambition and belief in his own greatness” shaped his poetry. Eisner disapproves of Neruda’s mistreatment of women, and questions his self-appointed title as “people’s poet”. In effect, Eisner’s detailed descriptions are poetic in themselves. This is a book that can be enjoyed by both scholars and lay people and is totally readable. Eisner brings Neruda to life totally and completely.

“Gables Court” by Alan S. Kessler— Looking for Samuel

Kessler, Alan S. “Gables Court”, Black Rose Writing, 2018.

Looking for Samuel

Amos Lassen

There was a time when sex was an act of love and not as much a recreational activity that it has become. I know that might be hard to believe but I remember that time well. Samuel Baas also feels that way but he is living in today’s world and as a virgin at 24 years old and a man who wants love and marriage before sex, he is not having an easy time. He as raised in New England where, it is thought, everything is quite staid so when he moves to Miami, he is quite shocked by the free lifestyle there. True romantics have a hard time with the freedom and abandon of the 21st century. Samuel meets Kate and falls for her but she is not interested in marriage and prefers, at least in Samuel’s eyes, to live immorally.

Samuel is a lawyer and a nice Jewish guy who represents an accused Nazi war criminal (my mother would have said that he forgot he was Jewish) and Haitians who, if deported, will have to face retribution. Samuel’s father is a head of a crime family (not a very Jewish career) and takes a special interest in his son’s legal career. Samuel is preoccupied with love, both its definition and finding it. He is, to put it plainly, lonely.

Samuel is a complex and flawed character yet we find ourselves loving him. His father holds strong sway over him and pays for his apartment (at a dingy motel, Gables Court) and found him his first job out of law school. Samuel is very aware that his father pulls the strings that make his son walk and of course he is aware that his dad is a mobster. Samuel’s job at the RHB offices are not exactly what he was expecting. His boss, Mr. Eldridge, has never been to court and the business’s secretary smokes like a smokestack. His day did not start so good anyway since had to walk (he is waiting for his car to join him) to work after discovering large roaches in his apartment. Mr. Eldridge informs Samuel that the firm represents a very important real estate developer (meaning slumlord) by the name of Baxter and Elridge wants Samuel to sign eviction notices for the client and there are many he wants to oust. In this present situation, nothing seems to work out the way our hero had planned. It’s almost as if Samuel comes across as the typical nebbish who can’t find romance, has a lousy job and his only friend is a teenager named Gary who he met by the pool at the “apartment complex.”

Now I am sure you are wondering where this story is going but not to worry, this going to be a fun and a bit painful read. On the other hand, you might ask why you should care about this Sam who seems to have nothing going for him. The picture I have presented so far kind of makes us feel sorry for the guy but he is no nerd. What we really see here is the difference between dreams and reality. Sam has motivation but does not know how to use it but then his father was no great example. Yet his father has protected him and provided for him but was unable to provide him with a sense of morality. I see Samuel as a young man on a journey that will lead him maturation and perhaps even acceptance of himself and of others. He suffers and he questions as he struggles with finding out who he is. Law is meant to be a moral professional yet there is nothing moral about evictions; love is meant to be beautiful but he has yet to see its beauty.

Suffering is one thing we all have in common as humans and it comes in many forms and varieties. Samuel’s search for true love leads to many dead ends, making him question (as we all do at one time or another) whether there is such a thing or if we are even capable of seeing it when it’s right in front of us. Meanwhile, he struggles with the morality of his profession, chosen for him by his father, and with concepts of spirituality, identity, and faith, both as they pertain to himself and to others.

Samuel seems to be clueless and his naiveté angers us and makes us want to slap him but then we realize that he is one of many like himself. I so badly want him to succeed in finding love and companionship and understand who he is. On the other hand (am I am a bit embarrassed to say this), I see a lot of myself in him. My father was not a mobster but a rabbi; a man with strict morals and devotion to his religion and I struggled with acceptance and finding myself just as so many others do. We understand what Samuel faces when we see that he was raised with wealth and privilege and by father who gave him whatever he wanted or needed. When he finally decides that he has to be his own man and leave his father’s influence, he is frightened and desperate but he is doing the right thing. It takes courage to leave someone who has given you everything and we applaud his move. And as he does, he stops being the nebbish and becomes a mensch. We see a passion and a strength in him. As he approaches new beginnings which I do not think he would have been able to do if he had not had the bad experiences in the past.

Alan Kessler has created an unforgettable character in Samuel and as I said before, I believe that is because we see ourselves in him. His struggle is to find his place and try to find love and be loved. We are with Samuel for ten years. During that period, he meets a lot of people and we see Kessler’s skill at creating characters. Samuel begins with a life of desperation and loneliness, living under his father’s wing. When he breaks away, he is free to search for what he wants and needs. There is a lot that I have not mentioned here but then I might have mentioned too much. Be that as it may, I have to say that I loved this point. I even loved the pain I got from remembering my own past. This is not just about Samuel—it is about all of us who have the moxie to admit it (and even those who don’t).