Monday, December 24, 2012
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
We, the undersigned, including poets, men and women writing, performing and reciting poetry in all corners of the world, urge the Secretary of State or Foreign Minister of our respective countries to appeal to the Qatari Court for the immediate release of our colleague, Qatari poet Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami, who after spending a year in solitary confinement, on November 29, 2012 was sentenced to life in prison by the Qatari courts.
Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami’s crime consisted of reciting on November 16, 2011 a poem extolling the courage and values of the popular uprisings in Tunisia, /Oh revolutionary, sing the praises of the struggle with the blood of the people/ in the soul of the free carve the values of revolt/ and to those holding the shroud of the dead tell/ that every victory also bears its ordeals/.
According to the poet's lawyer, Najib al-Nuaimi, the judge made the whole trial secret [..]"Muhammad was not allowed to defend himself, and I was not allowed to plead or defend in court. I told the judge that I need to defend my client in front of an open court, and he stopped me."
Rather than making itself an instrument for cracking down on dissent, we believe that the Court should uphold Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami’s right to free speech. In the tradition of speaking truth to power, following the footsteps of such great poets as Pablo Neruda, Majakovski, Nazim Hikmet, Mahmoud Darwish, Faraj Bayraqdar and innumerable others throughout the world today, such as Colombia’s poet Angye Gaona, Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami placed his poetic talent to the service of a movement for change. The poem he recited called for an end to intolerable conditions, a demand that for the past two years has been aired by millions throughout North Africa and the Arab world.
In this spirit, we poets and non-poets who perceive the need for worldwide change at the social, political and ecological level, call on the Court to review the appeal, stop siding with repression and lend its ear to the movements that have sprung up all over the world for dignity, social justice and freedom, virtues that poets all over the world are endeavoring to voice and deliver using the beauty and power of poetry.
Qatari Poet Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami has been sentenced to life in prison for the crime of reciting a poem. Help correct this injustice by signing the petition.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Monday, December 3, 2012
"To become memorable or brilliant, language needs to be fertilized by egotism."
Adam Kirsch's long but worth reading collection of meditations/prose epigrams on the position of writers WRT past writers, future readers, and the present tense; on the respective roles of literature and science; and the role of culture in a technologically evolving civilization (among other insights).
Monday, November 26, 2012
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
"Kinship is a central theme in Israeli writer Dror Burstein's novel Kin, which is published today in Dalya Bilu's English translation by Dalkey Archive Press. The book portrays the inner life of Yoel, a senior citizen, widower, and adoptive father who decides to find his adult son Emile's biological parents and reunite him with them."
Also see my New York Journal of Books review of "Kin": http://goo.gl/gAtWg
Monday, November 5, 2012
Sunday, October 28, 2012
To watch Israeli films via streaming video you'll need a credit card, a computer, and high speed broadband internet service (faster is definitely better). If your computer is connected to a high definition television you can watch Israeli movies from the comfort of your sofa, armchair, or in bed. And though this service is offered by a New York cultural institution it is available anywhere in the United States. Once you order a movie for the next 24 hours you can watch it as many times as you want.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Williamsburg, Brooklyn resident and Chicago native Jami Attenberg's third novel, The Middlesteins, published yesterday by Grand Central Publishing, explores how one woman's morbid obesity affects her Jewish-American family and its dynamics. Unfortunately the writing is inconsistent; in my New York Journal of Books review of the book I wrote, "the quality of its prose … is at best serviceable and at worst pedestrian…" Also read my NYJB review: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/middlesteins
Monday, October 15, 2012
Friday, October 5, 2012
"The film portrays the two sides of the 2009 campaign without taking sides. The filmmakers spent the duration of the campaign embedded in both sides' war rooms and strategy sessions and documented the private thoughts, insights, fears and conflicts expressed by key leaders as they crafted and created their messages and strategies."
Thursday, September 27, 2012
"The Canvas has a unique structure: half way through the book the first of its two narratives ends, and to continue reading readers must turn the book upside down and start again at the other end. The book has two front covers, and readers can start with either one." Also see my review on New York Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/canvas
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Friday, August 31, 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
I can't watch or listen to the Republican convention. Of all the occupations that make up an economy and society, of all the ways one can make a difference in the world, the only one that matters to Republicans and whom they wish to represent is "business owner," and the solipsism of Republican entrepreneurs and the politicians who are their mouthpieces is truly nauseating. Of course not all American entrepreneurs are narcissists; some are Democrats and independents.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
In Joe Meno's Office Girl the characters are fine-arts majors in their early to mid-twenties transitioning from college to establishing themselves as working artists. In this interim period they find themselves taking dull, dead-end jobs to make ends meet. In my New York Journal of Books review of the novel I compare it to Lena Dunham's HBO seriesGirls in that the characters are legally adults but are still growing up, and how their poor choices exacerbate their already modest and insecure circumstances. One of the characters has a role model in his Jewish step-father. The story is illustrated with line drawings by Cody Hudson and photographs (including one of a topless woman wearing a gas mask) by Todd Baxter. There is an excerpt from Office Girl in The Nervous Breakdown. Gray Adams, Barbara Browning's male protagonist inI'm Trying to Reach You is a middle-aged dancer turned academic (mirroring the author's career path) who is a post-doctoral fellow at the same university and the same department where in real life Ms. Browning is a professor. Post-doctoral fellowships are by definition transitional periods between graduate school and a college teaching career. Mr. Adams has few responsibilities, little money, is in a long distance relationship with an overseas partner, is applying to tenure track teaching positions for the following year, and is obsessed by the consecutive deaths in a period of months of great performing artists and by a series of home made YouTube videos featuring dance performances by Ms. Browning. In my New York Journal of Books review I recommend the novel "to anyone . . . who wants to experience a multimedia novel blurring genres and means of communication as well as the boundary between the author and her fictional narrative.” Ms. Browning discusses I'm Trying to Reach You in an interview on her publisher's blog.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
This article is an addendum to my New York Journal of Books review of the novel which readers should read first. If after reading my review you decide to read the book, a decision in view of the book's dense and difficult prose that I can only endorse for readers whose verbal SAT or GRE scores place them in the 90th percentile or higher, come back to this article in a month or two when you've finished reading the book. If my review convinces you not to undertake so daunting a read but you are nonetheless curious about the book this article will give you the Cliff Notes version.
As I mentioned in my review the novel has a very large cast of characters. If there is one character who is a kind of linch-pin to whom the other characters are connected that character would be Monsieur Jacques. He was born at the turn of the previous century and entered adulthood at the end of World War One and the birth of the Turkish Republic as did his older brother Nesim, Nesim's wife Rachael, Monsieur Jacques' wife Madam Roza, her sister Madam Estreya, a Ladino speaking and Istanbul raised Ashkenazi woman named Olga who is like a sibling to Jacques and Nesim and whose father Moses Bronstein immigrated to Istanbul from Riga by way of Odessa and Alexandria, the narrator's Uncle Kirkor who was Monsieur Jacques' closest confidant, Uncle Kirkor's wife Ani, and the narrator's Aunt Tilda. Their generation was the first to be educated in French and they enjoyed an unprecedented level of urbanity, worldliness, sophistication, and in some cases decadence.
Towards the end of this non-linear novel we learn that Monsieur Jacques' grandfather Yasef founded the family business after apprenticing under an Armenian carpet weaver and subsequently starting his own carpet business. Yasef's son and Monsieur Jacques' father Avram switched the business from carpets to textiles. Avram's wife was Madam Perla who survived her husband and went blind in her old age.
Her oldest son Nesim lived and studied in Vienna where he became fluent in German. After World War One, and perhaps after seeing how his Muslim countrymen had treated their Christian compatriots, Nesim decided that a western democracy would be a safer place to raise a Jewish family, and moved to France. Two decades later when France is occupied by Nazi Germany a Turkish consular official advises Nesim to return to Turkey with his family. But Nesim tragically believed that his Turkish passport and fluent German would spare him, his wife and three daughters from deportation. The family's domestic servant hides their youngest daughter Ginette in a convent, and the rest of the family are deported to Auschwitz. Nesim's friend Henry Moscowitch, a Spanish Communist who had fled to France after the Spanish Civil War, was also deported and is the only one of the group to survive the concentration camps. After the war he takes custody of Ginette from the convent and returns her to her relatives in Istanbul. When Ginette grows up she emigrates to Israel, raises children of her own, one of whom dies in military service.
During World War Two Turkish diplomats in German occupied countries used their consular offices to issue visas and save about 35,000 Jews. At home in Turkey the government conscripted religious minorities into segregated military units and imposed a devastating wealth tax on non-Muslims. Those who could not pay the wealth tax were sentenced to labor camps. These policies fell on Christians as well as on Jews, and convinced many of the latter to emigrate after the war. Characters in the novel leave for Mexico, Argentina, England, America, and the greatest number go to Israel. Today Turkey's Jewish population numbers less than 20,000 whereas Israel's population includes 70,000 Israelis of Turkish descent.
Monsieur Jacques and Madam Roza's oldest son Robert emigrates to England, becomes a wealthy coffee trader whose occupation takes him on business trips around the world and remains a bachelor. His closest friends in London are also ex-pats. The middle son Berti earns a graduate degree at Cambridge University where he falls in love with a non-Jewish Mexican photographer. After graduation he returns to Istanbul where his parents convince him to end that relationship. Berti marries Juliet, an Istanbul Jewish woman of whom the family approves; the couple stay in Istanbul and raise two daughters, Rosy and Nora. Monsieur Jacques and Madam Roza's youngest son Jerry attends Harvard University, becomes a Mormon, marries and has children, and breaks off all ties with his family of origin.
These are just a few of the novel's many characters. For the most part the narrator conveys their stories in his own voice with relatively little dialogue or for that matter monologues in other character's voices. In the few places where Mr. Levi lets his characters speak their voices provide relief from the narrator's discursive ruminations. Despite the problems I have addressed in New York Journal of Books Istanbul Was a Fairy Tale deserves wider notice than my lonely review.
Friday, May 18, 2012
J.K Rowling was famously rejected by a mighty 12 publishers before Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone was accepted by Bloomsbury - and even then only at the insistence of the chairman's eight-year-old daughter.
Judy Blume, Gertrude Stein and D.H Lawrence all got a lot of 'no's from publishers before any said yes.
But while some were chucked quietly in the publishers' bin of doom, others recieved an additional slap in the face in the form of some frankly hilarious criticism.
It probably wasn't fun to receive at the time, but now these writers have found their place on bookshelves worldwide, we imagine they quite enjoy reflecting on those publishers who got it embarrassingly wrong...
Oscar Wilde's 'Lady Windermere's Fan'
<em>Lady Windermere's Fan</em> was a hugely successful play from Wilde, but one publisher rejected it, with the rather polite, and shocked comment: "My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir."
Anne Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl'
Anne Frank's diary only found a publisher successfully after being featured in a newspaper article. Before this, the famous memoir was rejected repeatedly, with one publisher saying, "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."
Irving Stone's 'Lust For Life'
Irving Stone's novel about Vincent Van Gogh went on to sell 25 million copies globally, but not before it was rejected 16 times, once with the announcement that it was "a long, dull novel about an artist."
D. H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'
Lawrence's controversial novel was a bit of a publishing nightmare. One publisher warned: "for your own sake do not publish this book". It was published eventually, but it took until 1960 for the full version to be published by Penguin in the UK - over 30 years after it was first published in Italy in 1928.
Anthony Trollope's 'Barchester Towers'
One publisher commented: "The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a lady or a gentleman amongst them" when rejecting Trollope's <em>Barchester Towers</em>, before it was published in 1857.
William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'
Presumably not foreseeing Golding's classic novel becoming a schoolroom staple, 20 publishers rejected it. One with the damning comment, "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." Try writing that on a GCSE English paper.
Joseph Heller's 'Catch-22'
Heller may have been trained in rejection from an early age; as a teen his short story was rejected by the New York Times. However, it probably still hurt when one publisher denounced <em>Catch-22</em>, saying: "I haven't the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say...Apparently the author intends it to be funny - possibly even satire - but it is really not funny on any intellectual level."
J.G. Ballard's 'Crash'
One publisher rejected Ballard's dystopian novel with the note, "the author of this book is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish." How did the author react? By regarding it as a sign of "complete artistic success."
Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita'
Eventually published in Paris (where else?), <em>Lolita</em> was rejected by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. Originally cast away as, "overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream...I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.", the American version of the novel went on to be a bestseller, selling 100,000 copies in the first three weeks.
Anita Loos' 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'
Loos' comical novel was initially rejected, with this curt comment from a publisher: "Do you realize, young woman, that you're the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex." It subsequently because the second best selling title of 1926, a year after it was published, and was dubbed "The great American novel" by Edith Wharton. A musical and two film versions followed after. Poking fun at sex has never been so successful.
Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road'
Kerouac's famous journey novel was rejected repeatedly. While some publishers thought it "pornographic", another thought it would never catch on: "his frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don't think so."
Tragic poet Plath suffered rejection a number of times, including from one publisher who said, "there certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice." We think she took it rather well, saying, "I love my rejection slips. They show me I try." IMAGE: PA
The <em>San Francisco Examiner</em> told Kipling, frankly, "I'm sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language." IMAGE: PA
Jorge Luis Borges
One publisher claimed Borges was "utterly untranslatable". His global success would suggest otherwise. IMAGE: PA
Isaac Bashevis Singer
A submission of Singer's was done so with the comment, "it's Poland and the rich Jews again." The author went on to win a Nobel Prize. IMAGE: AP
William Faulkner's 'Sanctuary'
One editor exclaimed, of Faulkner's <em>Sanctuary</em>: "Good God, I can't publish this! We'd both be in jail." Nobody ended up in prison, but Faulkner's literary reputation was established as a result of it.
John le Carré's 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'
It's not unusual for first novels to be rejected, but John le Carré's went on to make <em>TIME</em> Magazine's All-Time 100 Novels list. The publisher who passed on the author with the comment, "You're welcome to le Carré - he hasn't got any future", presumably didn't imagine this.
Stephen King's 'Carrie'
"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." These were the words of one publisher who passed over <em>Carrie</em>, which King submitted when he was 20. By this point, he was fairly used to rejection, having sent off stories since the age of 16. He kept track of the rejection slips by sticking them on a nail, until he got so many he "replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing."
Kenneth Grahame's 'The Wind in the Willows'
<em>The Wind in the Willows</em> very nearly didn't get published. After several rejections, one of which claimed it "An irresponsible holiday story", and a positive campaign from President Roosevelt himself, the much-loved story was published in 1908. Over 100 years later, it's still going strong.
Richard Adams' 'Watership Down'
On a ratio of rejections to rabbits associated with Watership Down, the rejections would probably win. Adams received 17 'no's before being accepted by Rex Collings Ltd. One of whom claimed "older children wouldn't like it because its language was too difficult." It's since never been out of print, and is Penguin's best-selling novel of all time.
Norman Mailer's 'The Deer Park'
The Deer Park was nearly at the centre of a court case, after Mailer's publisher, Rinehard & Company rejected it for obscenity, saying "this will set publishing back 25 years." Eventually, the matter was settled and Mailer kept the advance.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Great Gatsby'
Fitzgerald's principle character is arguably as famous as the novel he appears in, yet one publisher advised the author in a rejection letter, "You'd have a decent book if you'd get rid of that Gatsby character."
Joyce encountered many rejections - <em>Dubliners</em> was rejected over 20 times, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was only published after he re-wrote it several times.
J.D. Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye'
Before Salinger gained success with coming-of-age masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye, he struggled to get a collection of short stories published. After the publisher suggested the book would be published and offered a $1000 advance, Story Press' Lippincott Imprint refused to print. All of which, ironically, made the debut an even more brilliant first novel.
Chuck Palahniuk's 'Fight Club'
<em>Fight Club</em> was published twice - but only once as the novel we know it as today. Initially, Palahnuik's work existed as a seven-page short story, which then became chapter six in the full-length novel. It was a double success for the author, who managed to publish the previously rejected <em>Invisible Monsters</em> off the back of it.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article claimed Gone With The Wind author Margaret Mitchell was also turned down by several publishers. This was not case.
According to the publishers who rejected them Sylvia Plath had no talent, and Borges was untranslatable. An editor who rejected Nabokov's Lolita wrote, "overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy." Replace "unsure" with "brilliant" and subtract the adverb "overwhelmingly" and the adjectives "hideous" and "improbable" and his comment would be not far from the mark and an argument for why it should have been published.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
My examiner.com article about the exhibit:
Also see the slideshow sneak preview with 40 images from the exhibit:
Friday, April 27, 2012
All-New York Double Bass Festival - New York NY | Examiner.com
Saturday, April 21, 2012
"Studies suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness..." This resembles a traditional Jewish belief that in the first week after burial the soul of the deceased is in a confused state and wanders back and forth between the burial plot and his or her most recent place of residence.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
but you were sick and would not answer
The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself
I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped
or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight
An apposite poem at the time of her passing via bryantmcgill.com
Monday, March 26, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Wednesday, March 14, 2012