“Chain of Custody” by Anita Nair— A Page-Turning Thriller

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Nair, Anita. “Chain of Custody”, (The Inspector Gowda Series), Bitter Lemon Press, 2016.

A Page-turning Thriller

Amos Lassen

Thirteen-year-old Nandita has disappeared at the same time that a layer was murdered in Bangalore. Inspector Gowda is on the case and he senses that it is a high profile one. He soon finds himself involved in a child trafficking business. He is forced to deal with laws that are insensitive and government officials who are disinterested and indifferent to what is going on. Witnesses or unwilling to cooperate with the investigation and time is of the essence. Nandini has been taken by one of the most dangerous and depraved rings of criminals in the country.

As much as I like a good mystery, this is not a book for everyone because it candidly deals with child sex trade in southern India. Be that as it may, it should not come as a surprise that child sex trade can exist anywhere.

Inspector Borei Gowda is living with his college sweetheart Urmila and this is an extramarital affair that he wants no one to know about. With the brutal death of Dr. Rathore, a lawyer, Gowda is called in to take the case. At just about the same time, Gowda’s maid’s daughter, Nandini never returned home from school. Inspector Gowda is aware of the crime that is at play in the city but it is uncontrollable. Gowda’s personal seems to be collapsing in front of him and he seems to be constantly trying to balance his professional life and personal life.

Gowda is a good inspector but who bosses try to find ways to control him. He has to deal with deal with red tape, orders and the egos of his bosses and politicians as well as take care of what is happening in the world of crime. Author Anita Nair writes about what is going on and she hides nothing. She writes of children being forced into the sex trade and she shares their terrible and heartbreaking stories. She tells us that even when some of the children are rescued that their lives will never be normal. It is indeed possible that some of them will grow into the kind of people that they, themselves, have come to resent.

We understand quickly that Gowda is not the nicest guy in the world but he is a skilled detective and that’s what his job calls for. Child trafficking is a horror and Nair certainly shows that to us here. Anita Nair brings us this story in all of its chilling detail and there are times we have to stop reading just to be able to take everything in.

We see Bengalur as a world where politicians, policemen, real-estate dealers and green grocers trap children from places as far away and as far apart as Mumbai and Bangladesh, and use and abuse their bodies to make money. It is not an easy topic to read about but we need to know that it exists.

Neelgubbi in Bengalur was once a rural hamlet but has now been taken over by urbanization and the greed of real-estate developers Gowda is well aware of the gambling, betting, bootlegging, drug dealing, rape, murder, burglary, prostitution, and illegal possession of fire arms going on but his hands are tied by those above him.

When Nandita’s disappearance, everything changed, as Gowda and his team work against time to find her. This is, however, not the story of one missing child but rather the story of many missing children. There is Moina, a Bangladeshi girl forced to submit to multiple “customers”, Krishna, a child exploiter but then he is just re-enacting how he was treated as a boy and others. We become privy to the thoughts of both the oppressed and the oppressor. What this does is make these characters human but flawed. often evil, but human.

This is the second book in the Gowda series but it is not necessary to have read the first book however, I understand that it will help the reader to be able to appreciate Gowda’s personality better by also reading “Cut Like Wound”.

“She Married a Zombie Truck Driver & Five other “Trucking” Tales” by Robin Anderson— Eight Deadly Sins

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Anderson, Robin. “She Married a Zombie Truck Driver & Five other “Trucking” Tales”, CreateSpace, 2016.

Eight Deadly Sins

Amos Lassen

A new book by Robin Anderson is always fun. I do not know how Anderson does it but he is always able to put a smile on my face and good feelings in my heart. “She Married a Zombie Truck Driver…” is a collection of short stories about the now “eight deadly sins”— greed, envy, anger, laziness, gluttony, lust, pride and despondency take us to places of “euphoria and tantalization”. Anderson has updated the traditional sins and added the sin of despondency to make them relevant to today and to make theme stories of wry humor. Because each story is unique and has its own offbeat humor, it makes it impossible to summarize them without spoiling the read. We have quite a cast of characters that includes Claudette Cavil-Carter, a representative of the world of avariciousness and Tom Tattoo Edwards who is there to try to help her take all of what she has with her when her time comes. This is like reading a cookbook of sins with each sin having its own recipe and outcome. Then there is the fact that we get eight sins in six stories that are truly “naughty” (Thank you Grady Harp for finding the word I was looking for).

Reading Anderson is habit forming and I can no longer count how many books I have read, reviewed and relished. His output is so vast and such fun that I have given him his own section on my review site.

Anderson is wonderfully ridiculous and amazingly erudite and sophisticated. His seriousness is not in his plots but in his language and his usage of it to create situations that are off-color is a trait that he owns totally. I love his irreverence and the characters he has created here to reflect that. Don’t take my word for it— have a look for yourselves. You will never regret it.

The stories include “She Married a Zombie Truck Driver”, “The Advert” (yes, Anderson is British), “The Princess Michelin & Mr. Sprat”, “Eighty Six and a Half Percent”, “Four & Twenty Blackbirds” and “Seeing is Not Believing”.

 

“When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones— Words from a Participant in the Struggle for Gay Rights

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Jones, Cleve. “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement”, Hatchette Books, 2016.

Words from a Participant in the Struggle for Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

The new ABC television mini-series “When We Rise” was inspired by this book by Cleve Jones and it is a book we have been waiting to read. Here is the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights written by one of the key participants in it.

Cleve Jones was born in 1954 and became one of the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. He learned that there were and that he was not alone. Jones moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s where he and many others were drawn. It was a city that was politically progressive and was known for the sexual freedom that was there. Jones was able to almost immediately find a community and it existed in strange places— hotel rooms and apartments that were shared by other young adventurers and in the city’s bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud. The Castro was becoming a gay district and Harvey Milk who has come to San Francisco from New York opened a camera shop and began his term as America’s most outspoken gay elected official. It was with Milk’s encouragement that Cleve Jones dove into politics and found his place in the new gay rights movement. When Milk’s assassination in 1978, Jones took up where Milk left off and soon saw the AIDS epidemic devastate our community and he was transformed yet again. Now he tells us his story in his own words and he reminds us of what it was to lose so many to the terrible epidemic that became our holocaust. Jones almost died himself and more than once.

Cleve Jones was the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the early and fearful years of the epidemic. He is responsible for the AIDS Memorial Quilt that became the largest community art project in history. Jones’s story is the story San Francisco in the 70s and how it became the destination of many. His story is also the story of thousands of young gay people and others misfits. He shares his personal relationships with friends and lovers during a time of “unprecedented freedom and possibility, and prejudice and violence alike”.

Jones is one of the heroes of our community and his memoir is a work of beauty as it looks at how America was transformed then. He is still working for the movement. The mini-series comes to us from Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, executive producer Gus Van Sant, and stars Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Carrie Preston, and Rachel Griffiths. With the book you can double your pleasure by reading about what you are going to see.

 

“Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights” By Paul Johnson— Oral Histories

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Johnson, Paul. “Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Oral Histories

Amos Lassen

“Going to Strasbourg” brings us unique oral histories of European Convention on Human Rights and it presents a socio-legal analysis of cases against the United Kingdom relating to sexual orientation discrimination. We read of the account of legal and social changes during sixty years of British history. Since the beginning, the European Convention on Human Rights has offered hope to gay men and lesbians in Europe and we clearly see here how individuals in the United Kingdom have used the Convention, by way of making applications to its organs in Strasbourg in order to challenge sexual orientation discrimination.

Along with an analysis of Strasbourg case law we also get with nineteen unique oral histories of applicants, legal professionals, and campaigners. This is the definitive history of the role that ‘going to Strasbourg’ has played in erasing and eradicating discrimination and establishing legal equality on the grounds of sexual orientation in the United Kingdom.

“New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times” edited by Oishik Sircar and Jain Diplika— Celebrating Who We Are and How We Got There

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Sircar, Oishik and Dipika, Jain, editors. “New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times”, Zubaan Books, 2016.

Celebrating Who We Are and How We Got There

Amos Lassen

There is no question that in the last fifteen years there has been a major change in the rights of LGBT people. As these new rights were being won and secured, however, there has been “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”. We are left to question how we can understand these new rights against a backdrop like this.

The selections in “New Intimacies, Old Desires” answer this. We get an analysis of laws, state policies, and cultures of activism that explain what has happened in this age of neoliberalism and the modern period that, in effect, celebrates the liberated sexual citizen and we see something of a reproduction of that old colonial hope of civilizing the native. Looking carefully at race, religion, and class, the selections are a “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”.

 

“SCREAM QUEENS” A Horror Comedy Series

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-“SCREAM QUEENS”

A Horror Comedy Series

Amos Lassen

There have been a string of murders at Wallace University and the members of Kappa Kappa Tau sorority find themselves being run by Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) . Then Dean Cathy Munsch announces that sorority pledging must be open to all students, and not just the elite students, causes unrest and sets the stage for a killer dressed as the devil to begin claiming victims, one episode at a time. “Scream Queens” brings together black comedy and slasher movies to give us a contemporary look at the wonderful mysteries of yore. Every character has a motive for murder and also could easily become the next victim.

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Ian Brennen, Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy who brings us “American Horror Story” are a the helm of this new campy mystery series that is a comedy version of the “other” series and is intentionally ridiculous as it satirizes horror films.

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Chanel Oberlin is a rich, spoiled brat and head of the Kappa sorority and got to that position because of the untimely death of the previous president. Her back is covered by Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande), Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd), and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin). She cannot even be bothered with learning these girls’ real names and she is determined to not only rule the school, but become a successful television journalist. This will not be easy for her since the dean is her greatest adversary. Her boyfriend, Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) decides he can’t be with her if she’s loses her popularity because of the dean’s decision and the serial killer has begun his killing spree concentrating on the girls in and around the sorority. Nothing fazes Chanel, nor makes her care about others. She is what she is.

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The series has quite a large cast and while Roberts and Curtis are the stars in the spotlight, others steal it for with some wonderful moments. Nick Jonas has a wonderfully memorable bedroom scene. There are others including national sorority president Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad), security guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash), and “white mammy” Ms. Bean (Jan Hoag) are all excellent.

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The series is not to be taken seriously and is necessary to remember that if you want to really enjoy what is going on. As the mystery unfolds, people die in gory, hilarious ways.

“JACK GOES HOME”— Learning the Facts

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“Jack Goes Home”

Learning the Facts

Amos Lassen

Thomas Dekker’s new film, “Jack Goes Home” begins with Rory Culkin as Jack Duncan, a magazine editor looking forward to the birth of his child with his pregnant fiancée (Britt Robertson). However, he learns that a car crash has claimed the life of his father. His mother survived but we see by his reaction to this that there is something in his past that is plagues him.

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He goes to his hometown, where he meets again his old friend Shanda (Daveigh Chase) and a mysterious young neighbor (Louis Hunter). He also reconnects with his mother (Lin Shaye) whose mental state in the wake of the tragedy makes her seem more likely to erupt in rage than in sorrow. When Jack goes up to the attic, he finds a videotape revealing a brother Jack had forgotten and an audiocassette left by his father with cryptic messages and intimations of child abuse. Shanda tells him that she had always thought that Jack’s childhood home was haunted. Soon Jack begins to lose his hold on sanity.

Something about sleepwalking begins to happen and that along with family secrets coming to the fore do not add up.bJack’s mother Teresa suffers multiple physical and emotional wounds and Jack returns to his home in Denver, Colorado to take care for her during her recuperation. It is then that he begins uncovering long-buried secrets about his childhood kept from him by his parents.

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Culkin manages to carry the film with a considerable amount of ease. He has been able to give Jack endearing qualities that cause us to easily empathize with his plight.

Nothing about the film is subtle and nothing is left to the imagination. Dekker emphasizes the themes of depravity, sexual abuse and depression.  The story is about loss and homecoming and in Jack we see man’s ability to teeter at sanity’s end.

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Jack is the one who seems to be unraveling. Teresa approaches each day with a certain calmness, while Jack turns to best friend Shanda for support before he finds himself haunted by nightly sleepwalking fits and clues that lead to buried pasts, all of which suggest his life is nothing as believed.

Jack is haunted by outreaching arms and bloody creatures, beaten by his mother, kissed by his male neighbor, ruined by bad news from his wife and the real issue here is his discovery of gruesome family secrets. The horrors of each night are taken away by each day’s light yet the demons in Jack’s head are never restrained enough to follow.

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“Jack Goes Home” is filled with emotional ravaging and even though it does not all come together, this is a fascinating film that could have been a much greater one.

“GROWING UP COY”— A Landmark Civil Rights Case

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“Growing Up Coy”

A Landmark Civil Rights Case

Amos Lassen

Coy was born biologically a boy but began to identify as a girl when she was 18 months old by wearing dresses, having long hair, and loving the color pink. She was one of triplets and has two sisters. Her father, Jeremy Mathis is a former Marine, and her mother, Kathryn, is a freelance portrait photographer.

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During kindergarten, the Mathis parents notified the school in the Fountain-Fort Carson School district that Coy had identified as a girl and should be treated as one. However, when she was in first grade, they received a letter stating that Coy could not use the girl’s bathroom and that the best solution would be to have her use staff bathrooms or a gender-neutral one in the school’s health office.

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This outraged and upset Coy’s father and mother who took her out of school and began their own home schooling program. After thinking things through, they decided to have Michael D. Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, handle their fight for her rights. Silverman met them in Colorado and decided to use the case as a critical test of how state anti-discrimination laws are applied to transgender students.

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This film, directed by Eric Juhola looks at the efforts of a six-year-old trans girl and her brave parents to defend her rights. Silverman shares that there are 17 states and the District of Columbia offering some form of legal safeguards for transgender people.

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The film is a fascinating portrait of how parents, support their trans-gender male-born six-year-old within the family, then against public opinion when Coy goes to elementary school and they request Coy’s use of the girls’ bathroom. Today this is quite an important and hot issue but Juhola met the family in 2012 with his attorney friend Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund as they prepared to file a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against the school system. The news had just begun to shift back then.

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Kathryn, because of her profession, has lots of pictures of their large blonde brood: older sister eight-year-old Dakota, younger autistic sister three-year-old Auri, and the six-year-old triplets: Lily with cerebral palsy, their only male child, Max, and Coy. The photos show Coby as an unhappy little boy until by 18-months-old his parents give into his demands to wear his sisters’ clothing and wish for their anatomy. They consulted a psychologist specializing in nonconforming gender identity and send Coy off to kindergarten in the suburbs of Colorado Springs, an area known for evangelical mega-churches and for proselytizing at the nearby Air Force Academy. Anti-government and anti-Planned Parenthood billboards are all over the landscape in the foothills of the Rockies. The lawyer warns that their legal strategy has to include a media plan for educating the public.

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The film is strongest at showing the personal stress from what follows but unlike reality TV stars who want to be famous, this became a media nightmare for the family. After their announcement in Denver, local, national, even international press surrounded their house and their phone never stopped ringing. TV news clips emphasize they were depicted in salacious promotion and headlines. The father is a media relations major at Colorado State, so maybe that helped at handling press conferences and balancing the media’s need for access to their child with Coy’s fatigue at rationalizing his choices as other children acted out their resentments. During all of this, the parents struggled to continue home schooling their kids until the school agreed to accept them on their terms. Their ten-year marriage also began to wear down in front of the camera.

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Since the Mathis’s victory in 2013, it became a model for other states and the recent directive of the Federal Departments of Education and Justice establishing trans students access to bathrooms of their choosing, we could only hope that the family moves to a more fluidly accepting place where personal choices don’t have to be defined by a binary litigious system.

“YOUNG MEN”— A Dance Film

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“Young Men”

A Dance Film

Amos Lassen

“Young Men” is a feature length dance film without dialogue shot on location in Northern France featuring dancers from BalletBoyz Dance Company. It is based on the hugely successful stage production that premiered at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 2014 and is choreographed by Iván Pérez with a commissioned score by singer songwriter Keaton Henson. Artistic Directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt (who were formerly leading dancers with The Royal Ballet) realized the production. Since they formed their own company in 2001 they have built a reputation for bringing dance to the screen in a variety of innovative ways and have won many awards.

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“Young Men” is about a group of young soldiers who are barely old enough to fight and they experience the brutality of warfare. The film was shot on location in Northern France. The setting is the First World War and the ballet  follows a young solider and his squadron’s experience of basic training, combat, and this ultimately leads to the destruction of modern warfare, and the devastation of the entire European continent. The ballet is carefully choreographed and not a word is spoken. The music score is by Keaton Henson, an acclaimed British recording artist and is performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

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“How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS” by David France— Stopping AIDS

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France, David. “How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS”, Knopf, 2016.

Stopping AIDS

Amos Lassen

Inspired by the documentary film of the same name, this is the definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic. It is the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of whom were in a life-or-death struggle and seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal disease to a manageable one. We meet a small group of men and women who were ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and who faced shame and hatred yet chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Because of them, sixteen million people are alive today. This is a beautiful, brutally human, intimate true story.

We become dramatically part of the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and see the rise of an underground drug market instead of prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We read as “these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies”. These are our heroes.

David France brings to life the extraordinary characters (the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter). This is an epic and detailed study of one of the most important moments in the history of American civil rights. This is a book that causes you to weep at the same time that it presents hope for the future. Writer France traces the lives of the people behind the scenes and shows their struggles in stirring detail. We cheer with them and share their frustrations especially those that are related the political establishments that ignored the terrible tragedy of the AIDS epidemic.

This was America during the 1980s and 1990s and the book is a history, a memoir, a study of public health, and a call-to-action. France brings an update to Randy Shilts’ “And the Band Played On” (1987). We meet the activists who refused to die without a fight and who were vital in arresting the epidemic.  We cannot let the AIDS epidemic fade into history. It was a terrible time for all of us but it also united us as we faced the terror and confusion of those dark days. France’s storytelling is intimate and monumental and the story of illness and death but also of resilience. Courage, anger, joy, compassion and kindness come together in an unforgettable story that changed the way we lived forever.