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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Purity by Jonathan Franzen - A review


The newest novel by Jonathan Franzen is the kind of novel which an author can only write when previous success has occurred. Without that track record of reliability or quality, the editors would have given the book much greater scrutiny. Purity suffers badly from a lack of editing.

The main character is nominally the recent college graduate Purity, nicknamed Pip, though the Julian Assange-like figure of Andreas Wolf steals the spotlight as soon as he appears. The best of the entire novel is set in East Berlin and if more of the focus of the novel was spent on Wolf, it’s possible the novel would have been far more entertaining. The parts with Wolf are not without flaws, however, especially as the character’s repeated stating of his devotion to his mother and love for his past partner, are his motivations begins to seem less plausible as the book goes on. The other main character, Tom Aberrant, an editor at Denver Independent, gives us the most emotional parts of the book but the hysterics in his diary makes one feel as though one is reading the most banal remembrances. Purity herself sometimes seems like a description of the problems of millenials than an actual person.

The entire book is sprawling and ambitious yet primarily character focused, as would be expected from the author. In fact, the summary of the plotline(s) actually seem like the logical expansion that Franzen would next attempt. It brings in Berlin during the era of two Germanys, subject that the author would know from up close during his time at Freie Universität Berlin. His distaste for the internet pervading into all aspects of life is also previously documented in his essays and the idea to spin this as a parallel to the era of the Stasi is actually quite clever.

The main issue with the book lies not with the concepts but the execution. Too many characters exist in the book that contribute nothing or, even worse, contribute just enough to seem interesting and then disappear. There are several stories that go nowhere at all, such as the journalism piece about a missing nuclear weapon which gives us one of the more interesting characters in the novel in Leila. Leila has claim to be the realistic character in the book. Pip, barely seems more than a blend of what millennial are supposed to be like and her mother is almost a parody of an idealistic feminist (as well as a parody of neurotic mothers and child of the rich). The author’s previous works such as The Corrections and Freedom were also dominated by idealistic characters (especially in Freedom with Patty but also The Corrections, as Alfred’s reserve and adherence to mid-Western style values is one of the primary structures of the book), but they managed to feel like real people with ideas and not composites of various ideologies.

People do exist with several motivating ideologies which swirl in them and are never resolved because of the difficulty of ideology in real life. But a novel is not real life and the author should put forth a viewpoint that is compelling. Even if the viewpoint that turns out to be compelling is that life is confusing. But the confusion of the story is not designed by the author and comes from incoherence, not design.

The main threads of the story do interact and there are unexpected links between Wolf, Pip and Tom. But these links never seem to ring true. The coincidences are wholly implausible and when later on in the novel we find out they are not coincidences, it’s been hundreds of pages since we already knew. The book gives the uncomfortable in-between of presenting us with the idea that the power of the information era brought the people together but states it slowly throughout the novel. Tom’s meeting with Wolf is plausible but Wolf’s motivation for obsession with Tom is thing. The entire rise of Wolf to the leader he is seems either underdeveloped or told in too much of a rush.

The novel is filled with brilliant ideas and a compelling plot. The characters have potential and Franzen has shown us a world which is much like our own. With better editing and perhaps a bit more work on the characters, it could have been another masterpiece. The man who wrote The Corrections certainly knows how to create one.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Best Directors Working Today (Latin America and the Caribbean)

Picked from directors who are Latin American or Caribbean by birth or upbringing or film in those countries regularly (at least 3 films in the region). Exceptions will be made for quality film-makers of Latin American or Caribbean descent who film stories in the United States of America or Canada about Latin Americans or Caribbeans. Or perhaps for directors not of Latin American or Caribbean descent or residence but who film about the diaspora. Stories about the children of immigrants in North America counted in a separate section. 

To qualify I'm making it that the director has to release an excellent film (in my opinion) during the 21st century and I need to be able to find at least 3 excellent reference films. Same criteria as the previous lists. 

13. Jose Padilha - Brazil

Directing Timespan : 2002- Present

Reference Films: Bus 174(2002); Tropa de Elite (2007); Secrets of the Tribe (2010)

12. Pablo Trapero - Argentina

Directing Timespan : 1990-present

Reference Films: El Bonaerense (2002);Familia Rodante (2004); Carancho (2010)

11.Karim Ainouz- Brazil

Directing Timespan: 1992-present

Reference Films: Madame Sata (2002); Praia do Futuro(2014); O Ceo de Suely( 2006)

10. Walter Salles -Brazil 

Directing Timespan: 1991-present

Reference Films: Terra Estrangeira(Foreign Land) (1995);  Central do Brasil (1998); Diarios de Motocicleta (2003)

9. Alejandro González Iñárritu - Mexico

Directing Timespan: 2000-present

Reference Films: Amores Perros (2000); 21 Grams (2001); Biutiful (2010)

8. Alfonso Cuarón - Mexico

Directing Timespan: 1990- Present

Reference Films: Y tu Mama Tambien (2001); Children of Men (2006); Solo con tu pareja( 1991); Gravity (2013)

7. Juan José Campanella- Argentina

Directing Timespan: 1979- present

Reference Films: El Hijo de la Novia (The son of the Bride) (2001); El Secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in their eyes) (2009); El mismo amor, la misma lluvia (1999)

6. Guillermo del Toro - Mexico

Directing Timespan: 1985 - Present

Reference Films: Cronos (1993); The Devil's Backbone (2001); Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

5. Andres Wood- Chile

Directing Timespan: 1997- Present

Reference Films: Machuca(2004); Violeta went to heaven (2011); La Fiebre del loco (1997)

4. Patricio Guzmán- Chile

Directing Timespan: 1968-Present

Reference Films: La Batalla de Chile (1975); Salvador Allende (2004); Nostalgia for the Light (2010)

3. Lucrecia Martel - Argentina

Directing Timespan : 1988- Present

Reference Films: La Cienaga (The Swamp) (2001); La Nina Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004); La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman) (2008)

2. Carlos Reygadas- Mexico

Directing Timespan : 1999-present

Reference Films: Japon (2002); Stellet Lucht (2007); Post Tenebras Lux(2012)

1. Pablo Larrain - Chile

Directing Timespan: 2006 - present

Reference Films: No (2012); Tony Manero (2008); Post Morten (2010)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Midnight's Children - A Review

Midnight’s children

Midnight’s Children immediately reminds the reader of two other novels upon reading, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. These are two of the major novels of twentieth century literature and foundation works of the genre of magical realism. Midnight’s Children falls comfortably into the same category of importance as these novels.

As well as magical realism Midnight’s Children also encompasses several other literary modes such historical fiction and is considered an allegorical novel and a postcolonial novel. Despite the complexity of categorizing, the book itself is not difficult to read. The language and style which Rusdie employs provide an energy which powers the entire story.

The allegory is that of the events in India leading up to independence and what follows after. The narrator of the book is Saleem Sinai who was born at the moment India gained independence on August 15th 1947. He and other children born within the first hour of independence are in possession magical powers, which will be both a blessing and a curse. Events in Saleem’s life mirror the events of India, the nation born the same time as him. The connections of these events are so close that at times it may seem as if it is India following Saleem’s life instead of the other way around.
The book it does not just deal with Saleem’s life but how he came into being, so telling the story of his grandparent’s courtship and how his parents met. As such it is filled with characters all of whom command the spaces of the book they occupy. All of the Midnight’s Children with their powers are not detailed but remain memorable. India itself, with all its varied landscapes and lifestyles, forms a major part of the story.

 The book deals with Indian events but this does not mean that every reader should have an encompassing knowledge of Indian history. The book was written in English by an Anglo-Indian author. There is no gap in translation or cultural divides that are too great for readers from any part of the world. Rushdie makes his allegories but does not demand that the story cannot progress without understanding of every reference. The novel can also work as a fantasy with superhero powers inserted; the writing is powerful enough to work on several levels.

.The book has remained a bestseller and is still in print today. It is in every sense of the term, popular, not just with academics but with the public. A book that has won such a large number of prizes can seen intimidating, in most cases for good reason. Readers of Midnight’s Children can have no such fear. The book transcends so many genres and is written with such wit and style that it is impossible not to enjoy.