Monthly Archives: July 2019

“Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” by Inbal Arieli— Fostering Entrepreneurship

 

 

Arieli, Inbal. “Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, Harper Business, 2019.

Fostering Entrepreneurship

Amos Lassen

 

 Israel has the largest concentration of startups per capita worldwide in the world today, with more than one startup for every 2,000 people. A look at the long list of innovations that have come out of Israel includes everything from cherry tomatoes and drip irrigation to the USB flash drive and the Waze traffic app. While many claim that Israel’s outstanding economic achievements are because of its technologically advanced military, tech insider Inbal Arieli argues that it’s the way that Israelis raise their children (in absolute independence) that is responsible for building the resiliency and creativity that is needed for entrepreneurship. Arieli explains how Israeli childhood is shaped by challenges and risk in a tribal-like community, where they develop the courage to pursue unorthodox and often revolutionary approaches to change and innovation.

The root of this is what is known as Israeli chutzpah. This chutzpah includes a determinate approach to life, which might seem to some as rude and opinionated behavior, or more positively, to others, as preferring directness to political correctness for the sake of achieving one’s goals. (my own experience teaching in the Israeli school system showed this to me first hand and at first, it was quite jarring). I have since learned with the right amount of chutzpah, everything is possible.

Israeli children are used to expressing their opinions and we can compare this to an experienced business man framing a creative commercial transaction: he is “instilled with the chutzpah power – determined, courageous, and optimistic that anything can be achieved.” 

Arieli’s own experiences both as an Israeli entrepreneur and as a mother of three boys are the sources for her ideas here. 

Arieli shows how Israelis are driven toward experimentation, failure and learning, mental and physical risk-taking, and the positive belief that things will be all right. We embark on a journey through the typical Israeli childhood and see how it parallels with the lifecycle of a startup from discovery and exploration of the target market and value proposition, to the actual validation and scale.  Arieli says that there are five stages, Discovery, Validation, Efficiency, Scale and Sustainability, Renewal:

 

  • Stage 1:Discovery: in this stage, Israeli children don’t question and act intuitively. They live in a state where things don’t have a preordained order. In business, learn through own experiences rather than explicit teaching
  • Stage 2:Validation: Children are open up to criticism, test limits, resilience and experimentation and experience failure in this stage, discuss and learn from it, collect feedback and input from outside sources
  • Stage 3:Efficiency: Stage of Israeli teenage years when they use creativity muscles. Israelis live in a constant state of uncertainty and learn to cope with ambiguity. In business, they learn to use more from less while testing the boundaries, applying an agile mindset.
  • Stage 4:Scale and Sustainability: the phase when most Israelis join the military. Israeli children learn how to constantly improvise and keep challenging authority

In business, different elements come together to form a more robust organization, where information flows in all directions

  • Stage 5:Renewal: When Israeli youth are release from military service with an emphasizes that networks are key. In business, they take on new challenges, stepping out of routine and comfort zone.

 In sharing the unique ways in which Israelis parent, educate and acculturate their children, “Chutzpah” gives us invaluable insights and proven strategies for success as entrepreneurs, executives, innovators, parents and policymakers.

 

“The Sacrament: A Novel” by Olaf Olafsson— A Nun’s Story

Olafsson, Olaf. “The Sacrament: A Novel”, Ecco, 2019.

A Nun’s Story

Amos Lassen

Sister Johanna Marie as a young nun is sent by the Vatican to investigate allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland. While there, a young student at the school watches the school’s headmaster, Father August Franz, fall to his death from the church tower.

Twenty years later, the grown man the child became is haunted by the past and he calls the nun back to the scene of the crime. Even though the sister now seeks peace and calm in her twilight years at a convent in France, she has no choice but to make a trip to Iceland again and it brings her former visit, as well as her years as a young woman in Paris back to her. In Paris, she met an Icelandic girl who she has not seen since, but whose acquaintance changed her life. She now relives this relationship while reckoning with the mystery of August Franz’s death and the abuses of power that may have caused it.

Writer Olaf Olafsson looks deeply into the complexity of our past lives and selves; the nature of memory; and the  marks and scars left by the joys and traumas of youth. Affecting and beautifully observed. As we read we become very aware of the tragedy of life’s regrets as well as the possibilities of redemption. The narrative alternates between  the present day and the 1980s as we follow Sister Johanna Marie as she remembers time investigating allegations against the Church at an Icelandic primary school in the 1980s. New information from an eyewitness to the past has emerged, and the truth is finally revealed. 

Sister Johanna had originally been called to Iceland to investigate alleged sexual misconduct between a priest and some of the young boys. After a thorough investigation Sister Johanna knows he is guilty. However, none of the children or their parents will go with her to have it documented officially. The old priest knows her dilemma and taunts her. 

This is one of those books that is very difficult to put down once begun. Narrated in the first person by Pauline who becomes Sister Johanna, the book transitions between three time periods. We read Sister Johanna’s thoughts and what is going on in her life during each time. None of the events that take place are easy for her to deal with yet because of  her grace, dignity and faith, she manages to deal with it all while holding her head high and carrying on with pride. She investigates the sex abuse charges against grade school boys as best she knows how— she was appointed to so only because she knows the Icelandic language and because of a secret the bishop has held over her most of her life. There is a shocking twist at the end that I did not anticipate.

Throughout her journey she reflects on the past and at the end she is able to find peace with the choices she has made throughout her life. Inspiring and thought provoking, this is a story that will stay with you for a long time.”

“DIAMANTINO”— A Comic Odyssey

“DIAMANTINO”

A Comic Odyssey

Amos Lassen

When dumb Portuguese soccer hunk Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) messes up in the World Cup finals, he loses his superstar status and becomes a laughing stock. As  if this was not enough, he learns about the European refugee crisis and resolves to do his part by adopting an African refugee  but later discovers that his new “son” is an undercover lesbian tax auditor who is investigating him for corruption. From there, Diamantino becomes involved in a comic odyssey that involves cigarette-smoking evil twins, Secret Service skullduggery, genetic modification, and an anti-European Union conspiracy. Directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt bring us a “genre-blending and gender-bending satire” that is nothing short of high-camp and that looks at gender fluidity and the nature of celebrity, desire and love.

Diamantino begins by describing his close bond with his father who taught him how to play the game and sharing his father’s fondness for beautiful church ceilings and how they made him look up at them. At the same time,

a drone hovers above a football stadium where Portugal is playing a game and Diamantino prepares to take a shot while being surrounded by giant puppies, the player’s magic charm. When he stops seeing them in the field that his troubles begin.

Diamantino, we learn, has the cognitive abilities of a child but with a heart that is full of love and good intentions. We follow his career and personal tragedies and see how he is affected by the plight of refugees who are forced to flee their own country. He decides to adopt one and shower all his love his adopted child. Aisha (Cleo Tavares), a lesbian government agent who wants to investigate Diamantino’s finances by absurdly posing as a refugee boy and as his newly-adopted son. Part of this involves the story of two evil twin sisters, an agent dressed as a nun with a bunny headpiece, Diamantino’s face on bedspreads and a subplot involving cloning and scientific experiments to find the source of the athlete’s genius.

Even though the film has political relevance and directness, it is non-serious tone yet aware of its own silliness which is also charming. We especially see this in the ideas of  notion of innocence and purity that make up its central character and cause him to lovable and sympathetic. We also see this in the eventual relationship that grows between Diamantino and Aisha. Diamantino is child-like and helpless, and in a welcome reversal of roles, he needs Aisha to rescue him from the troubles that he unwittingly gets into.

The film mixes sci-fi, comedy, fantasy and much more as Diamantino attempts to get his mojo back. His search for redemption causes him to face the refugee crisis, genetic modification, neo-fascism, giant puppies and the hunt for the source of the genius.

We see stunning and very weird imagery and the characters take on a fairytale quality in their performances. It is best not to know too much about the film before seeing it and you will understand what I mean when you see it. It is a wild ride from start to finish, with gorgeous and inventive compositing and a lovably naïve character at its center. 

“Diamantino” won two awards at Cannes Film Festival’s Critic Week   including the Grand Jury Prize even though there were (and still are) critics who fail to see the film’s joy.

“LATTER DAY JEW”— A Conversion

“Latter Day Jew”

A Conversion

Amos Lassen

Conversion is no matter in Judaism yet as serious at it is, we can still laugh about it as we see here. Comedian H. Alan Scott shows us just that. You might have seen Scott on Ellen and The Jimmy Kimmel but here he gets personal. You see, Scott was raised Mormon and he decided to take a religious journey that ended in a bar mitzvah. Here is his very funny journey, front and center in this personal documentary that includes his standup and chats with prominent Jewish comedians as well as clips from famous onscreen conversions (“Sex and the City”, “Family Guy”) and even a trip to Israel for Tel Aviv Pride and blowing a shofar. It is hilarious to see him,  a 30-year-old man training for his bar mitzvah with a room of 12-year-olds and this is one of the best scenes of the film although all of the scenes that challenge his conversion are great.

We find ourselves with these questions: “What does it mean for his relationship with his Mormon family in Missouri? How did his scare with cancer impact his religious journey? How does his gay identity intersect with his religion and does the Mormon stance on LGBTQ issues impact others leaving the faith?”

 

We might not get the answers but we do get a fascinating film that is filled with great humor.

“AND THEN THERE WAS ISRAEL”— The Origins of the Creation of Israel’s Statehood

“AND THEN THERE WAS ISRAEL”

The Origins of the Creation of Israel’s Statehood

Amos Lassen

Director Romed Wyder takes us back in time to look at the origins of the creation of the State Of Israel. We lookat historical facts under the specific angle of the responsibility of the Western World. Via the analyses of internationally renowned scholars and cinematographic archives, we see that in adopting the Zionist project, Great Britain and other Western countries have been guided mainly by their own agenda. Therefore the West bears a heavy responsibility in terms of the fate of Jews in Europe at the time as well as in terms of the fate of the Palestinians today.

When it comes to Israel and Palestine, the current crisis is rooted choices made in response to 19th century geopolitics, colonial imperatives and the Holocaust. What makes this so complicated two sides entrenched and thousands of years of history and there seems to be no solution.

It’s so complicated. Thousands of years of history. Old hatreds. Both sides entrenched. No solution seems possible. There are common sentiments on both sides and the conflict goes way back in time. We are at a stalemate that is filled with rocket attacks, massacres, and uprisings. 

But the birth of the modern state of Israel was far from inevitable.  The 19th century was the era of the rise of the nation-state and this was a period filled with the invention of history. If every nation were to have its own state, what of the Jews? Early discussions of a Jewish state were not limited to placing it in Palestine. Argentina, Uganda and the United States were also considered as possible locales.

Not all Jews were Zionists, and not all early Zionists were Jews. Among Christian Zionists there was a split between those who welcomed a Jewish state as a precursor to the end of times and those who saw it as a way to decrease the Jewish population elsewhere. Even the partition of Palestine was not inevitable; many instead supported a single, federal state. In central and eastern Europe, working-class, Yiddish-speaking Jews were far less likely to support Zionism than those who were better off.

“And There was Israel” covers the history of Zionism from the writings of Theodore Herzl to the expulsion of Palestinians from hundreds of villages following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Political sociologist Riccardo Bocco maintains the seeds of later conflict were in part brought about by the contradictory commitments made by the British during the period of the Mandate: promising to recognize an independent Arab state in exchange for an alliance against the Ottomans while also committing to supporting a Jewish home in the Middle East, while at the same time secretly negotiating with France over carving up the region into spheres of influence. After the liberation of survivors in Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II, calls for a Jewish homeland became ae moral urgency. But as we see here, even then, the outcome was far from certain. A proposal for a federal state including both Jews and Palestinians was never put to a vote at the United Nations, while behind-the-scenes machinations to ensure support for partition took place.

Our references to this fascinating history are seven academics from the fields of history, sociology, law, and political science and Middle Eastern studiess. Their narratives of the decades leading up to the formation of Israel include British, French, and American newsreels, along with rarely seen footage from within the early United Nations, as the question of partitioning Palestine into separate states comes to the floor.

This is an accessible, clearly argued essay on how Israel came to be and the far-reaching ramifications of colonial projects.

“Religion, Law, USA” by Isaac Weiner— A Complex Relationship

Weiner, Isaac. “Religion, Law, USA”, (North American Religions), edited by Joshua Dubler, NYU Press, 2019.

A Complex Relationship

Amos Lassen

In “Religion, Law, USA”, writer Isaac Weiner presents insight into the complex relationship between religion and law in contemporary America. Of late, there have been several high-profile court cases involving religion thus forcing Americans to grapple with questions regarding the relationship between religion and law. Here we see the contemporary interplay of religion and law within the study of American religions.
We look at what rights are protected by the Constitution’s free exercise clause, What are the boundaries of religion, and what is the constitutional basis for protecting some religious beliefs but not others? What characterizes a religious-studies approach to religion and law today? By approaching law from the vantage point of religious studies, we see how much attention to the law offers back to scholars of religion. Each chapter considers a specific keyword in the study of religion and law, such as “conscience,” “establishment,” “secularity,” and “personhood.” Contributors look at specific case studies related to each term, and then expand their analyses to discuss broader implications for the practice and study of American religion. We hear from leading voices in the field making this book an indispensable addition to the scholarship on religion and law in America.

 

 

“SELL BY”— Keeping a Relationship Together

“SELL BY”

Keeping a Relationship Together

Amos Lassen

Money can ruin so many relationships especially when things become hum drum. Minor differences suddenly become major and can explode into problems that might never become fixed.

 

New York couple Adam (Scott Evans) and Markin (Augustus Prew) are growing apart after five years together. Macklin changed his profession from retail sales to fashion influencer while Adam has continue to paint fora  wealthy, pretentious artist Ravella (Patricia Clarkson) who passes them off as her own.

They are also other 30-year-olds having their own relationship issues.  Cammy (Michelle Buteau) discovers that her latest boyfriend is homeless and is so ashamed yet continues dating him on the sly. Adam’s best friend Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) has been married for over ten years and wants Adam to get married, too. What she is about to learn is that her own happiness is is about to end since her husband wants to marry someone else who will give him the babies that she doesn’t want.

Meanwhile Markin becomes frustrated by couples therapy  that he and Adam have been having and thinks he can buy his happiness with a new penthouse  apartment. This shows the guys’ income disparity as well as how their views on life have gone in different directions.

This is the  feature film writing/directing  debut from  out gay actor Mike Doyle who gives us a fascinating (but honest) view of the problems in securing a romantic urban relationship where financial success is of importance.  The fact that the two main protagonists are gay is really not that an issue here since Adam has to come out and accept himself.  He needs to realize that with his talent he should not need Ravella take the credit for his work, or let Markin’s wealth affect him in any negative way at all.  They have enough still to keep themselves together as the strong loving couple.

The cast gives excellent performances all around and this is a fun romantic comedy.

“THE REFLECTING SKIN”— A Dark American Dream

“THE REFLECTING SKIN”

 A Dark American Dream

Amos Lassen

“The Reflecting Skin” was an instant cult classic when it premiered to sold out screenings at Cannes in 1990 and it is a darkly humorous, nightmarish vision of the American dream. 

Mysterious deaths plague a small prairie town in 1950s Idaho and eight year-old Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) believes that Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), the reclusive English widow living next door, is a vampire who steals the souls of his neighborhood friends one by one. When his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) returns home from military service and falls in love with the widow, Seth is totally distressed and worried that Cameron could  be her next victim? 

“The Reflecting Skin” is not an average vampire movie. if it is a vampire movie. Most people easily label it a psychological horror film but it  is not a film that is easily pigeonholed. It appears to be a film about the trauma of growing up and more importantly, growing up with a dysfunctional family that is haunted by their past. The plot is told in a series of twisted events.

The film was the directorial debut of Philip Ridley, a British painter-illustrator-novelist and it was celebrated as one of the unique films of its year and received a good deal of favorable reviews. Seth’s mother, Ruth (Sheila Moore), is an unhappy woman who obsessively cleans her home, trying to get rid of the smell of petrol, which Seth’s father (Duncan Fraser) carries with him because of working at a small gas station nearby. Ruth doesn’t think much of her youngest son but speaks highly of her oldest Cameron, a soldier back from his military duty in the Pacific. Dad, on the other hand, is a loving father, who, unfortunately, has a shameful dark secret. At one point, he tells Seth a story about vampires and the prairie boy becomes convinced that a pale, young widowed neighbor named Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), is, in fact, a bloodsucker. Seth’s slow descent into madness is intensified by some truly horrific events that unfold shortly after. For Seth, the world of childhood is dark and twisted: His friends are molested and murdered, his tormented father douses himself in gasoline and then sets himself on fire before his eyes and his half-crazy mother abuses him. Meanwhile, his beloved brother returning from World War II is suffering from radiation sickness and doesn’t know it. Life is not good for Seth.

 “The Reflecting Skin” is part horror story, and part coming of age tale. It is a true American Gothic,  shot from the point of view of the impressionable Seth and crammed with twisted religious symbolism. Ridley is said to have conceived of the idea for the film when he was reading “Alice in Wonderland and studying the paintings by Andrew Wyeth. The influence of Lewis Carroll is evident with its hyper-imaginative child roaming about what appears to be a dark fairy tale; meanwhile Wyeth is even more apparent in the overall aesthetic. The Reflecting Skin is many things, and one of the most beautiful and most intriguing films of the 1990’s due to the stunning cinematography from the legendary Dick Pope. The breathtakingly blue skies, shots of golden wheat fields and beautiful landscapes are a strong contrast to the bleak story.

I was also amazed at how each of the five main characters are painstakingly detailed and drawn – from learning about Dolphin’s husband’s suicide, and her ongoing fascination with destruction  to understanding why Seth’s mother is clearly unbalanced, and likely clinically depressed to the father’s secret past and to hints that Cameron is psychologically and physically wounded and scarred from his time spent overseas.

Death is visible everywhere, from the dead bodies piling up, to the black Cadillac that roams the countryside abducting the young boys, a rather obvious, symbol of death as well. Cameron asks Seth, ”Why aren’t you off playing with your friends?” To which Seth responds quite matter-of-factly, “All my friends are dead.”

The film is pessimistic and offers absolutely no hope or any sort of happiness for anyone. Ridley fills each frame with metaphors that boil just below the surface, but what it all means is left for the viewer to decide. In the final reel, Seth is seen running as fast as he can through the golden fields. It soon becomes evident that no matter how fast he runs, he has nowhere to go. You can’t escape death, and in the end, we are all just rotting away. And in the end, Dolphin, who is seen almost always wearing black is found dead, cloaked in white – as if, dying was the release she needed to break free from the horrors of her everyday existence. Perhaps we are all vampires, sucking the life out of from one another, day to day.

. BONUS FEATURES

  • Angels & Atom Bombs: The Making of The Reflecting Skin(running time: 44 minutes)
  • Commentary with writer/director Philip Ridley
  • Booklet with introduction by Philip Ridley and new essay by Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche

About Film Movement

Founded in 2002 as one of the first-ever subscription film services with its DVD-of-the-Month club, Film Movement is now a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life” by Ryan O’Callaghan— The Struggle

O’ Callaghan, Ryan and Cyd Ziegler. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life”, Edge of Sports,  2019.

The Struggle

Amos Lassen

In this country, LGBTQ athletes face varying degrees of acceptance. Ryan O’Callaghan, a former offensive tackle for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, shares his struggle as a closeted gay man in the very masculine world of professional football and his story is about love and acceptance, honesty and truth, integrity and hope. O’Callaghan could have kept his sexuality to himself but instead he offers us all of himself in these pages. By his doing this, he will change lives, save lives, and continue to forge path ahead so that it will be much smoother for those who bravely follow in his footsteps.”

 O’Callaghan details the fear and pain of a lifetime spent hiding who he really is. His story is “a suspenseful and cathartic look at a man on the edge, whose salvation could only come from admitting his truth and finding acceptance.” By doing so his story will change the lives of young men and women who are struggling to come out and with their sexuality and help those around them who may not know how they’re contributing to a loved one’s pain and silence. This is an intense book as it looks at the reality of life in the NFL and it is told with gripping honesty and courage.

We learn that O’Callaghan’s plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself. He grew up in a politically conservative corner of California and the messages he heard as a young man from his family and from TV and film claimed that being gay was a disease. He could not tell people his darkest secret. Under the surface of Ryan’s entire NFL career was a collision course between his secret sexuality and his hidden drug use. When the league caught him smoking pot, he turned to NFL-sanctioned prescription painkillers that quickly sent his life into a tailspin. As he suffered more injuries, his daily iuse of opioids reached a near-lethal level and he wrote a suicide note to his parents and planned his death.

A member of the Chiefs organization stepped in, seeing the signs of drug addiction. O’Callaghan reluctantly sought psychological help, and it was there that he revealed his lifelong secret for the very first time. He was already nearing the twilight of his career when he faced the ultimate decision: “end it all, or find out if his family and football friends could ever accept a gay man in their lives.”

O’Callaghan  spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. He didn’t fit the gay stereotypes, but O’Callaghan had spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. 

O’Callaghan knew that his life would change forever when he made the trip to Los Angeles was about to sit on a bench with one camera in front of him, and one behind, and publicly tell the story that for years he struggled with privately.

Sitting in front of those cameras, telling an account that would be broadcast to millions unnerved him. He said in an interview, “My reasons for wanting to do this have always been the same… to help people in my position. Hopefully someone could relate to my story.”

 “I waited so long, because I don’t think you go, in my case, 29 years, not planning on living, not accepting living as a gay man. You don’t go from everything I did to normal and ready to speak and be an example overnight. I had to work on me. It took a while.”

The significance of O’Callaghan’s story can be seen in its unique nature among professional male athletes. On its own, it is an inspiring story of a man who used football to mask his identity. A story of a man who planned to kill himself following his career, but  who accepted help when higher-ups in the Chiefs organization offered it. 

There’s a slow yet continuous trend of more acceptance of homosexuality in the athletic world yet O’Callaghan’s story was courageous. It showed that the Chiefs’ handling of the situation should be the norm, not an anomaly and it also served as a reminder that players coming out is still extremely rare.

 “I spent my whole life trying to avoid the spotlight,” O’Callaghan says. “Football was a great place to hide. Now I don’t have 50 other guys to hide behind. I realized this was going to get some attention. That’s the point. Get the word out there, spread awareness, make people feel accepted. They’ve got to know. I’m fine with that. I’m ready.”

 “I had to learn how to love myself,’’ he said. “I’m not looking to be a sloppy straight guy anymore.’’

 “Life’s great now,’’ he said.

“Circus” by Wayne Koestenbaum— Hot and Lurid

Koestenbaum, Wayne. “Circus: or, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes: A Novel”, Soft Skull Press, 2019.

Hot and Lurid

Amos Lassen

This Soft Skull reissue of Wayne Koestenbaum’s 2004 debut novel “Circus” has been republished and that’s reason to rejoice. Now with an introduction by Rachel Kushner, it is the perfect book for summer in that it makes you forget the heat outside and think about the heat on the pages of the novel. One reviewer has stated, “It’s fever-hot, lurid to the extreme, and filled with the kind of lunatic linguistic acrobatics that leave you gasping for air.” I cannot think of a finer recommendation.

 Theo Mangrove is a concert pianist who has been  living at his family’s home in East Kill, New York for the last five years. He is recovering from a nervous breakdown that has ruined his career. Now he is trying to deal with his “relentless polysexual appetite in the company of male hustlers, random strangers, music students, his aunt, and occasionally his wife.” He is also preparing for a comeback recital in Aigues-Mortes, a walled medieval town in southern France and has become obsessed with the idea that the Italian circus star Moira Orfei must join him there to perform alongside him. Theo has been describing his plans in a series of twenty-five notebooks and has written assembles an incantatory meditation on performance, failure, fame, decay, and delusion.

You may know Koestenbaum from his brilliant, “The Queen’s Throat”. He rarely writes fiction, but when he does, it is totally off of the wall. He seems not to believe in narrative continuity and formal completion and “Circus”  is made up of a series of notebooks authored by the narrator. It shares  the highs and lows of Theo Mangrove’s small-town life and histrionic musical hopes and desires. His accounts are detailed, raw, and sexually explicit; we learn that Theo is suffering from HIV and his body is gradually deteriorating. As it does,  he obsesses over a classical repertoire that he may or may not perform.

The novel is written ala a surreal fever dream and is the swan song of Theo Mangrove. Koestenbaum plays with the “deranged aesthetics of literary artifice practiced by such luminary predecessors as Baudelaire, Nerval, Artaud, Rimbaud, and Huysmans to tantalizing effect.”

“It is mad; it is totally fabulous” and now has been given a new life. We see thatTheo is more penis than pianist and he loves lists. He lists the places he’s been, the piano works he’s played, the people he knows, what he ate, what he drank, and what sexual perversion he has in indulged, or thought about indulging, etc. It’s a read you will not forget.