“Second Line: Two Short Novels of Love and Cooking in New Orleans” by Poppy Z. Brite— Two Chefs

Brite, Poppy Z. “Second Line: Two Short Novels of Love and Cooking in New Orleans”, Small Beer Press, 2009.

Two Chefs

Amos Lassen

As an avid reader and fan of New Orleans writer Poppy Z. Brite, “Second Line” slipped right passed me and I only became aware of it a couple of days ago. Consisting of two short novels, “Second Line” looks at two chefs in New Orleans.

“The Value of X” introduces us to G-man and Rickey, who grew up in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and who are slowly realizing there are only two important things in life: cooking and each other. Rickey’s parents aren’t quite so taken with the boy’s plans and get him an impossible-to-resist place at the Culinary Institute of America.

In “D*U*C*K”, Rickey and G-man’s restaurant, Liquor, is doing well but there are the usual complications of running a kitchen but it was all working until Rickey is jumped in an alley by one of their ex-waiters. As he heals, Rickey takes a side job to cater the annual Ducks Unlimited banquet, where every course must, of course, include the ducks the hunters have caught. Rickey’s crew are ready to meet the challenge, but Rickey’s not sure he can do it all and also deal with the guest of honor who has been his childhood hero, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert.

Having been born and raised in New Orleans, I am always anxious to read about my hometown even though I am not planning on going back except for a visit. New Orleans is a place that gets into the core of those who have lived there. Brite successfully shows us the city and her details are always perfect.

I have now learned why I was not aware of this book. It was originally published in limited hardcover editions.

“No Other World: A Novel” by Rahul Mehta— Coming of Age and Coming Out

Mehta, Rahul. “No Other World: A Novel”, Harper, 2017.

Coming of Age and Coming Out

Amos Lassen

Rahul Mehta’s novel, “No Other World” is set in rural America and India in the 1980s and ’90s. It is partly a coming-of-age story about a gay Indian American boy and part family saga about an immigrant family’s struggles to find their hopes and who they are. Kiran Shah lives in Western New York. He was born here in America to Indian parents and he so wants to be a “real” American. He carefully watches his neighbors, the Bells, and how they behave and goes to school with Kelly Bell yet he is mysteriously drawn to her father, Chris.

Kiran’s parents are having a hard time adjusting to the American way of life. His father, Nishit Shah, a successful doctor, is haunted by thoughts of the brother he left behind. His mother, Shanti, struggles to accept a being married to a man that she did not choose and she nurtures her growing attachment to an American man. Kiran and his older sister, Preeti are close but then an unexpected threat and a betrayal came between them that will reverberate through their lives.

As he matures and leaves childhood behind, Kiran finds himself on the outside. He is an Indian American torn who is between two cultures and as a gay man in a homophobic society. After an emotional breakdown, he travels to India, where he forms an intense bond with a teenage hijra, a member of India’s ancient transgender community. It is with her help that Kiran begins to pull together the pieces of his life and his broken past. Almost epic in scope, this is a meditation on love, belonging, and forgiveness. With Kiran, the reader explores the line between responsibilities to our families and to ourselves, the difficult choices we make, and the painful cost of claiming our true selves. The novel is filled with gorgeous imagery and complex characters in emotive situations. It is almost impossible not to be moved by what is here and the characters remain with us long after closing the covers of the book. Mehta writes with unique subtlety. He shows us all about what being means and makes us care for his characters. We also see the different kinds of love and its effect on others. It is an especially relevant book today when immigration has become such an important issue in our lives. Desire and dislocation become partners in the quest for identity. We see how familial love can fail and how it can survive, even against great odds.

 

 

“New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times” by Oishik and Jain Dipika— The Last Fifteen Years

Sircar, Oishik and Dipika Jain, editors. “New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times”, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

The Last Fifteen Years

Amos Lassen

Great advances strides have been made in the last fifteen years regarding the rights of queer people. At the same times that the community has secured these rights, there has been “the rise of crony capitalism, violent consequences of the war on terror, the hyper-juridification of politics, the financialization of social movements, and the medicalization of non-heteronormative identities and practices” and the election of a president of the United States who is the head of the party that could destroy all of the gains. The LGBT community has to know how to critically read the celebratory global proliferation of queer rights in these neoliberal times.

“New Intimacies, Old Desires” collects answers to the questions that are raised. “The book analyzes laws, state policies, and cultures of activism to show how new intimacies between queer sexuality and a neoliberalism that celebrates modernity and the birth of the liberated sexual citizen, are in fact, reproducing the old colonial desire of civilizing the native. By paying particular attention to race, religion, and class, this volume engages in a rigorous, self-reflexive critique of global queer politics and its engagements, confrontations, and negotiations with modernity and its investments in liberalism, legalism, and militarism—all with the objective of queering the ethics of global politics”.

“Milena, or The Most Beautiful Femur in the World” by Jorge Zepeda Patterson— Sex, Power and Information

Patterson, Jorge Zepeda. “Milena, or The Most Beautiful Femur in the World’, translated by Adrian Nathan West, Restless Books, 2017.

Sex, Power and Information

Amos Lassen

Milena’s lover and protector and the chief of Mexico’s most important newspaper, died in her arms. She then understood that in a matter of time, the thugs behind the human-trafficking ring that kidnapped her from her Croatian village will find and catch her and then force her back into sex slavery.

We meet three comrades who are held together by childhood friendships, romantic entanglements, and a desire for justice and they are also after Milena but for different reasons. These three include the new head of the newspaper, columnist Tomás Arizmendi, who must find Milena’s mysterious black book before his media empire that he had inherited is ripped apart, intelligence expert Jaime Lemus who wants to use what the black book contains about the crimes of the world’s power elite to further his political intrigues and politician Amelia Navarro has made it her mission to protect women and children from the abuses of men in power. Just knowing this little bit about the plot already gives you an idea about what to expect here.

This is a book that moves quickly and keeps the reader turning pages. There is wonderful humor here but there also serious issues such as the very large networks of capital, data, crime, and coerced labor. We are reminded that the survivors of the darker facets of modernity are not just numbers but living people. Writer Patterson’s prose is vivid and we can actually picture what we read but it is also complex and it makes us aware that corruption and power can be partners. I am sure that the author did intensive research to write this book— everything is based upon facts that he collected.

“AN AMERICAN TRILOGY”— Cyril Morin Directs Three Films About How We Live

“AN AMERICAN TRILOGY

Cyril Morin Directs Three Films About How We Live

Amos Lassen

“An American Trilogy” is made up of three films by Paris and L.A.-based filmmaker Cyril Morin that give us a perspective on three significant moments in modern American culture and history.

THE ACTIVIST” is a riveting and intimate political thriller set during the Wounded Knee events in 1973 and it recreates the paranoid culture of the 1970s. It shows the corruption and political scheming after the arrest of two Native American activists. What happened at the insurrection at Wounded Knee shows a tragic story of American subjugation of Native Americans by the government led by president Richard Nixon and how it was an attempt to subvert the actual events for political gain. This film genuinely develops the various characters in a layering manner. Directed by Cyril Morin this is an intense political thriller based on an actual report called the Sacrifice Zone that President Nixon signed off on.

Bud “One Bull” Ward began as a rebel who started an Indian immersion school and then had that taken away from him. As a result he turned to the American Indian Movement as way to fight the problems that existed at Pine Ridge prior to 1973.

Most of the film is set within a jail cell where Marvin Brown and Bud were sent after the unexplained death of Marvin’s wife. A brutal officer guarded their every move as Nixon’s representatives tried to stop the negotiations to end the Native American riots and the survival of the two of the two prisoners becomes an uncertain dispute.

“NY84” is the story of three young artists and lovers who are part of the New York art scene of the early 1980s and see their future challenged by the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. We look at the

creative and emotional lives of Kate, Anton, and Keith. They are young and carefree but this all ends in 1984 when Anton and Keith contract a mysterious illness known as the “gay cancer.” As her music career takes off, Kate tries to save her friends in this bleak but affecting portrait of New York as it changed so drastically because of the disease.

 Singer-poet Kate (Sam Quartin), photographer Anton (Chris Schellenger) and painter Keith (Davy J. Marr) live in a crummy apartment. They work, party and play, feeling happy and safe in their cocoon. But then AIDS hit and people started getting sick.

The movie’s narrative has limited dialogue and back-story. It relies more on mood and impressions, scenes of photo and recording sessions, pensive one-sided chats with an unknown interviewer, and tightly shot imagery that deftly shows the way they struggled against the epidemic.

“HACKER’S GAME” is a modern, relevant, and suspenseful thriller will keeps on the edge of our seats. Soyan, a hacker hired by a high profile cyber security firm, and Loise, a cyber detective, embark on a dangerous romance.

Soyan (Chris Schellenger) lands a job at BL Reputation Management after he’s caught breaching its IT system and potentially exposing sensitive information about its clients. The company specializes in creating new identities and rewriting histories — much like the witness-protection program except available to any VIPs or corporate entities.

At the same time in the Human Search Organization, human-rights lawyer Alice Carson (Gayla Johnson) has Loise (Pom Klementieff) tracking down families of victims of illegal arms trade. Soyan and Loise become romantically involved, while BL partner Russel Belial (King Orba) tries to seduce Alice under the false pretense of offering her a job so that he can sideline her. Soyan seeks to dump classified corporate, government and banking information on the independent Leak.

For the first time the three films are packaged as a trilogy in a 2-disc Bluray pack.

New From Bruno Gmunder— Coming in March

New From Bruno Gmunder

Coming in March

The international travel guide for gay and bisexual men: the Spartacus International Gay Guide, now in its 46 year, offers tourists not only a worldwide list of bars, hotels, saunas, beaches and self-help groups but also provides an overview of the applicable laws on homosexuality around the world.

The Spartacus International Gay Guide 2017 is published by the Bruno Gmünder publishers and offers on 980 pages around 21,000 useful listings: from bars and hotels as well as saunas to trendy shops in over 135 countries. All the tips, where gay and bisexual men can feel at home on their travels are researched and updated.

Once again at the beginning of this year’s travel and holiday season all of the listed hotels, guest houses, resorts and other accommodation possibilities have been newly researched. More than 900 accommodations in 85 countries came under close scrutiny.

The guide provides extensive information and is richly illustrated. In addition the proven and acclaimed pictogram system helps the reader quickly find information with ease. The bilingual guide is popular world-wide and combines concise information texts with sophisticated colour photography. Each entry contains information on prices, opening and season times as well as full address and contact information. This makes the Hotel Guide near to unrivalled.

 

Beautiful, sensual, and emotional: David Vance’s newest large-scale photography book Emotion – Photographs by David Vance is an homage to the male physique in all its beauty and sensitivity.

 

Bodies, sweat, and a look in the eye: strength, courage, and doubt. Right away, Piero Pompili’s visual and emotional alphabet indicates an œuvre characterized by images of captivating intensity. For fifteen years, the artist has been passionately photographing the world of boxing, frequenting the gyms and practice rings of the borgata in Rome or Naples.

My Brother and His Brother tells the story of 18 year-old Jonas, who throughout his teenage years has been trying to find out about Paul, the brother who died before he was born. Eventually, Jonas discovers that Paul had an intense love aff air with another boy during the last year of his life. His search for truth is related like a mystery where there are loose ends, clues and cliff hangers. A love story that continues.

 

“Books of the People: Revisiting Classic Works of Jewish Thought” edited by Stuart Halpern— The Ten Foundational Books

Halpern, Stuart (editor). “Books of the People: Revisiting Classic Works of Jewish Thought”, Maggid, 2017.

The Ten Foundational Books

Amos Lassen

Stuart Halpern has edited writings by scholars at Yeshiva University Straus Center in this collection of essays about the foundational books of the Jewish religion. There ten volumes have played important and key roles in the history and traditions of Judaism and were written between the tenth and the twentieth centuries that have dramatically influenced the development of Jewish thought and are here examined by contemporary scholars of Jewish studies. Each scholar revisits a particularly important work and discusses its themes, historical context, the circumstances and background of its author, and its relevance to contemporary society. These books cover a thousand years of Jewish thought and here we see them through the eyes of modern thinkers. We get Rav Saadia Gaon’s “Emunot VeDeot”, Rabbi Judah Halevi’s “Kuzari”, Maimonides’ “Guide of the Perplexed”, Rabbi Joseph Albo’s “Sefer HaIkkarim”, Maharal’s “Gevurot Hashem”, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s “Tanya”, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s “Tales”, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s “Nineteen Letters”, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin’s “Haamek Davar”, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook’s “Orot HaTeshuva”, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s “Halakhic Man” and Rabbi Isaac Hutner’s “Pahad Yitzhak”.

It is wonderful to have so much knowledge in one volume that is designed for the modern reader and we see here how and why these ten books are regarded as highly as they are. This is ideal of deeper study and comparison between the texts and the authors and is a book that anyone who seriously studies our history will be glad to have.

 

“Textual Tapestries: Explorations of the Five Megillot” by Gabriel H. Cohen

Cohn, Gabriel H. “Textual Tapestries: Explorations of the Five Megillot”, Maggid, 2016.

Finding New Depth

Amos Lassen

The writings that are known as the Five Megillot (the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) are important and familiar biblical texts. They are constantly being studied and now it is wonderful to see the new depths found here by Bible scholar Gabriel H. Cohn. Through the use ofclassical commentary and modern scholarship, Cohn explores literary, philosophical, and educational aspects of the megillot and uncovers multiple dimensions of meaning yet never loses the core of the original writing and the plain sense of the texts. Reading this is to take part in the

continuing dialogue between the Jewish people and their holy books discovering the religious meaning for the individual and the community.

“The Story of Hebrew” by Lewis Glinert— The Hold of Language

Glinert, Lewis. “The Story of Hebrew”, (Library of Jewish Ideas), Princeton University Press, 2017.

The Hold of Language

Amos Lassen

Hebrew is a unique language in that it was miraculously reborn after two thousand years as a dead language. It is also miraculous, as writer Lewis Glinert tells us, in its unique hold that it has had on both Jews and Christians throughout history since it has been invested with more symbolic power than any other language in history. It was preserved

by Jews during the two thousand years that it stopped being spoken as a mother tongue. Hebrew also served as a conduit to Greek and Arab science. During the Reformation, Hebrew unlocked biblical sources and Kabbalists and humanists looked for philosophical truth in it. Colonial Americans used Hebrew to shape their own Israelite political identity and today, it is the first language of millions of Israelis.

Glinert takes us back to the opening chapters of the Five Books of Moses, specifically to the book of Genesis when like the world, Hebrew was created and then moves us over history to the resurrection of the language as the official spoken language of the State of Israel. We learn about the uses and meanings of Hebrew in ancient Israel and its role in wisdom and prayer. We read that the early rabbis’ preserved Hebrew following the Babylonian exile and we learn of the challenges posed to it by Arabic and of the prolific use of Hebrew in Diaspora art, spirituality, and science.

There was a conflicted relationship that Christians had with Hebrew from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation and see the language’s fatal rivalry with Yiddish. We meet the dreamers and that made modern Hebrew a reality and that a lost pre-Holocaust textual ethos is being renewed today by Orthodox Jews.

However displaced from its native ground, Hebrew has continued through centuries to continue its heritage. When we consider that the language of the bible has returned to common spoken usage, we understand just how much of a miracle this is. The history of Hebrew is also the history of the Jewish people and in it we see the enduring power of language for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Glinert’s gives us the sociolinguistic, historical, and cultural aspects of Hebrew and it is nothing short of wonderful.

“PARAGON SCHOOL FOR GIRLS”— Helping Gifted Young “Ladies”

“Paragon School for Girls”

Helping Gifted Young “Ladies”

Amos Lassen

Paragon School for Girls has been helping gifted young ladies manifest their potential since 1889. When Violet (Michael J. Willet) arrives there, she begins a strange journey into a whole new world. Each student learns that she has the latent ability to become something quite extra ordinary. What the girls so not know at first is that the school is a place of mysteries, secrets and dangers. When girls begin disappearing, the students join together and figure out how to save themselves and discover what Paragon is really all about. The film is shot unconventionally on a green screen with the actors being placed inside dollhouses, miniature models and painted backdrops. Everything is false, from the scaled down props to the gender of the actors playing the women and girls.

Writer/director Jim Hansen has brought together an amazing cast of performers including Jack Plotnick, Bryan Safi, Michael J. Willett, Jeffery Self, Sam Pancake and Tom Lenk. They dress in drag and play residents of a mysterious mountaintop boarding school for young girls with magical abilities. The set is essentially a doll’s house with the cast superimposed onto it.

The girls all have supernatural abilities and live together under the watchful gaze of mysterious Ms. Click (Drew Droege). When the girls start to disappear Violet leads the girls and the maid (who is trying to find a way out of her job) in doing detective work.

The episodes are less than ten minutes long and addictive. The cross-dressing, the spooky set and the excessive use of dry ice make this campy entertainment that is hard to turn away from. The girls are not who they seem to be  and director Hansen has said that “Paragon” comes out of the idea that everything in this world is false and imaginary in some way. The film was shot in a very unique way. Every actor was shot separately, having been given only their lines and a brief description of the background scenery and where to look. The characters totally and convincingly making it possible to forget something as incidental as gender as the audience becomes immersed in the twisted narrative.