Recent Readings and Intros

Spinozablue welcomes new poetry from Shira Dentz, Dominic Rivron, and Adam Day.

The Last Pomegranate Tree, by the acclaimed Kurdish writer, Bachtyar Ali, is a magical, moving story of war, its volatile aftermath, and the search for a long-lost son who becomes two, then three. Translated from the Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman, this fascinating novel mixes allegory, magical realism, and mystical flights to tell the story of Muzafar-i Subhdam, a Peshmerga fighter released from prison after 21 years in the desert. Muzafar soon embarks on a journey of discovery, hoping to find his son, Saryas, born just days before he was captured and thrown into prison. Along the way, he narrates the stories of several unforgettable characters, linked through love and death to Muzafar and his son(s).

This is the kind of novel that rewards several readings. It doesn’t lack accessibility, and it’s not purposely “difficult,” but it’s layered with potential connections not immediately obvious, and its mythological foundations are ripe for deeper digs. I highly recommend it.

Humans have a tragic history of being all too easily led to war. This is pretty much the case everywhere. In American Midnight, Adam Hochshild looks closely at one particularly ugly period in American history (1917-1921), when war frenzy was at such a fevered pitch, no one was really safe. That same war frenzy was used by the Wilson Administration as phony pretext to suppress or crush unions, leftist dissidents, and conscientious objectors, often violently and without warrants. American citizens were stripped of their civil rights and liberties, their freedom, and sometimes their lives. With the complicity of both major parties, Wilson and his cabinet marshaled state power and private vigilantes in a terror campaign against the marginalized, and all but wiped out the American left, while continuing to attack Black and Brown people across the country.

The Palmer Raids are detailed, as is a fairly young J. Edgar Hoover’s odious contribution to this reign of terror.

The book also details the courageous actions of men and women who continued to resist authoritarian dictates, like Eugene Debs, W.E.B. DuBois, Kate Richards O’Hare, Emma Goldman, and Judge George W. Anderson. Some did so from within Wilson’s own cabinet, like Louis S. Post. The book is not all bleak. It details the eventual lifting of the fever and the prevention of further horrors, though a great deal of damage had already been done.

It’s a largely forgotten period in time that needs to be remembered, and Hochschild’s excellent history is an important contribution to that process. It can happen here.

Elspeth Barker’s 1991 novel, O Caledonia, has been hailed as a modern Scottish classic. Various critics have described it as a Gothic coming of age story, in the tradition of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, by way of the Brontes, Edgar Allan Poe, and Shirley Jackson. The comparisons seem apt. But it also strikes me as something a little darker, because it seems more plausibly “real,” with a tragedy more easily avoided. If the “adults” on hand had only paid serious and loving attention to Janet, the protagonist, the seemingly inevitable denouement may well have been averted.

Outsider, bookworm, and misfit lover of Jackdaws, ponies and most animals, Janet dies young, terminally misunderstood, and basically alone. We learn her sad fate on Page One. But it’s how she became who she is that matters, and the tragedy of all of those crossed wires and missed chances tugs at the heart. Learning a bit about the author’s life, through Maggie O’Farrell’s new introduction, it’s not that much of a leap to think of Janet as what could have been Barker’s own life-course, if not for some X, Y, or Z that we’ll likely never know. The novel offers us no real clues along those lines, but it opens the door for such imaginings.

The family dynamic has been a source for individual tragedies averted or created for tens of thousands of years. O Homo Sapiens might work as backup title for this very fine novel

 

Recent Readings and Intros
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