At The Theatre: Antigone

Posted April 24, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Culture / 0 Comments

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Recently I had the good fortune to be able to see the play Antigone by a small indie playhouse in my city. Now the story of Antigone comes from Greek mythology, she is the daughter (and sister) of Oedipus. Antigone is best known from the Sophocles’ play where she is trying to secure a ritual burial of her brother Polynices. This is against the wishes of King Creon who wants Polynices to stay out unburied as an example to all those who seek to fight against the throne of Thebes.

The play I saw was not the one written by Sophocles but rather the French written by Jean Anouilh’s in 1944. I do not know the difference between the Greek mythology, the play by Sophocles or the one I saw but I was very impressed with the play. Now Anouilh wrote this tragedy during the Nazi occupation of France and he purposely made it ambiguous to get past the German censorship. However knowing this you can clearly see the parallels between the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation and the Greek tragedy.

This play is about war and standing against the authority in order to do what is right. Antigone was dressed in white to represent good while everyone was in black. This is a very speech heavy play that explores the themes mostly through dialogue. For the most part the actors preformed this play wonderfully with the exception of one person, who I thought was a little flat. I really enjoyed the use of lighting to create shadows that turned the stage into what could be considered a dystopian world.

While this is a Greek play, it appeared very much like a French production with some Avant-garde elements playing through while keeping a very minimalist approach. I was impressed with the play and would love to see more indie performances in the future. Antigone was translated from the French by Lewis Galantière and I highly recommend this interpretation of the Sophocles play, especially in relation to World War II and the Nazi occupation of France.


Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin

Posted April 22, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Crime / 4 Comments

Hide and Seek by Ian RankinTitle: Hide and Seek (Goodreads)
Author: Ian Rankin
Series: Inspector Rebus #2
Published: Wheeler Publishing, 1991
Pages: 397
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Detective Inspector John Rebus is back following the case in Knots and Crosses; this time he finds himself on a case that that may have supernatural elements to it. The body of a drug addict is found in a squat, in between two burnt down candles and a pentagram painted on the wall next to it. While most people were quick to discard this of a heroin overdose, Rebus is determined to investigate to find the true circumstances surrounding this death. What transpires is something far more sinister than a simple overdoes, is it murder? Or even worst, is it a conspiracy?

One thing that I really enjoyed about Knots and Crosses was the way Ian Rankin took on a different approach to the crime genre. The crime took a back seat in the story and the novel spent most of the time developing characters and building the backstory that will set up the rest of the series. I understand that Hide and Seek would not be able to continue developing John Rebus as a character the same way Knots and Crosses but I still expected more. I knew Rankin could write a crime novel that was not formulaic or unoriginal, but Hide and Seek was not on the same level as the first book in the series.

It has been come out that Hide and Seek was Ian Rankin’s attempt in presenting a modern take on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A story that fascinates Rankin; he has even filmed a documentary (Ian Rankin Investigates Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) exploring the origins of this classic from fellow Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. There are a few nods to the classic found in this book from ‘Hide’ in the title of the novel and the private member’s club known as the Hyde club.

Ian Rankin found himself in the middle of a scandal when a case featuring similarities to the novel became apparent. This scandal was mentioned in parliament and two lawyers opened an investigation into Rankin to determine if there was any connection. While any allegations made towards Ian Rankin turned out to be false, this real life scandal gave this book some extra attention in the public eye.

I was very disappointed with Hide and Seek and will continue my search for a new crime series. I have very particular taste, but mostly I want a series that is dark, gritty, original and does not feel like a ‘crime of the week’ situation; is this too much to ask for? I thought Inspector Rebus may have been a good series to explore, but this novel convinced me otherwise. Not sure if the next book (Tooth and Nail) is any good but I do not think I will be finding out.


Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Posted April 21, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander EssbaumTitle: Hausfrau (Goodreads)
Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published: Pan Macmillan, 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Lisa Benz is a thirty-something American living in Switzerland with her new husband. While he is off working as a banker, she is alone to look after the kids; she cannot do much else because she has yet to learn German. Lisa wants to be the perfect mother and wife but she is unhappy and alone. Hausfrau is the punchy debut novel from poet Jill Alexander Essbaum.

If you look at Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Goodreads profile, you will see that she is obsessed with many things, including puns, sex, God and words. These kind of obsessions lead her to become a poet; her collections of poetry often feature religious and erotic imagery within them. I have heard mixed reviews of Hausfrau in the past, but when I heard her on the Literary Disco podcast, I knew I had to check it out. I think Essbaum’s love for putting words in the right way helped to release a strong debut novel.

The novel follows the life of Lisa Benz, who is unhappy and alone, which leads her to make some bad decisions. Hausfrau is a typical domestic novel exploring one person’s unhappiness in their marriage. However this book still feels fresh and different to the others, not just because it is the wife who is making terrible choices. I found Jill Alexander Essbaum took an interesting take on the importance of communication and the idea that a marriage should be a partnership. She explores the breakdown of the marriage and makes it obvious the root causes.

I really enjoyed Hausfrau and it was nice to see a destructive female character for a change; it always feels like the husband is the one that ruins everything. Jill Alexander Essbaum really knows how to write and I am very interested in trying her poetry, especially her erotic religious poetry. I think Essbaum will be an author to take notice of in the future and I eagerly await her next novel.


It’s Monday 7th of March 2016! What are you Reading?

Posted March 7, 2016 by Michael Kitto in What are you Reading / 4 Comments

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Date. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

Fever at DawnFever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos (translated by Liz Szász)

‘How many have replied?’
‘Almost twenty.’
‘Are you going to write back to all of them?’
‘She’s the one,’ Miklós answered, prodding the pocket where he had hidden the letter.
‘How do you know?’
‘I just do.’

In July 1945, Miklós, a Hungarian survivor of Belsen, arrives in a refugee camp in Sweden. He is skin and bone, and has no teeth. The doctor says he has only months to live.

But Miklós has other plans. He acquires a list of 117 young Hungarian women who are also in refugee camps in Sweden, and he writes a letter to each of them—obsessively, in his beautiful hand, sitting in the shade of a tree in the hospital garden. One of those young women, he is sure, will become his wife.

In a camp hundreds of kilometres away, Lili reads his letter. Idly, she decides to write back.

Letter by letter, the pair fall in love. In December 1945 they find a way to meet. They have only three days together, and they fall in love all over again. Now they have to work out how to get married while there is still time…

This story really happened.

Fever at Dawn is a love story for the ages. Based on the letters of the author’s parents, it’s a sad and joyous tale that will stay with you long after its happy ending.

City on FireCity on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

New York. 1977. Be there when it explodes.

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1976, and New York is a city on the edge. As midnight approaches, a blizzard sets in – and amidst the fireworks, an unmistakable sound rings out across Central Park. Gunshots. Two of them.

The search for the shooter will bring together a rich cast of New Yorkers. From the reluctant heirs to one of the city’s greatest fortunes, to a couple of Long Island kids drawn to the punk scene downtown. From the newly arrived and enchanted, to those so sick of the city they want to burn it to the ground. All these lives are connected to one another – and to the life that still clings to that body in the park. Whether they know it or not, they are bound up in the same story – a story where history and revolution, love and art, crime and conspiracy are all packed into a single shell, ready to explode.

Then, on July 13th, 1977, the lights go out in New York City.

What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday 22nd of February 2016! What are you Reading?

Posted February 22, 2016 by Michael Kitto in What are you Reading / 9 Comments

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Date. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian by Kang Han (translated by Deborah Smith)

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.

Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

 

girl waits with gunGirl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist comes an enthralling novel based on the forgotten true story of one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

What Are You Reading?


Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

Posted February 20, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana AlexievichTitle: Voices from Chernobyl (Goodreads)
Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Translator: Antonina W. Bouis
Published: Aurum Press, 1997
Pages: 288
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In 2015, Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for literature, thus resurging some buzz for her 1997 book Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Originally translated into English in 1999 by Antonina W. Bouis, the book was also released in a new translation by Keith Gessen in 2005. This translation went on to help Alexievich win the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction in 2005. Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian journalist who set out to interview more than 500 eyewitness accounts of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. She interviews people involved with the clean-up, including firefighters and liquidators (a name given to the clean-up team), as well as politicians, physicians and citizens. The book Voices from Chernobyl is just a few of the stories that came from the interviews.

I found a copy of Antonina W. Bouis’ translation at a fete and picked it up for $2, not because it was so cheap but because it was the first time I have seen this book for sale. I have been wanting to read this book for a while, as part of my interest toward Russian history and the Soviet era. The preface of the book offers a few facts that I was unaware of, at the time of publishing, Belarus still had over 20% of the land contaminated by nuclear fallout. The reason this book was published was mainly because Russia and Ukraine are normally associated with this horrible disaster and Belarus is often forgotten about. Even though around 70% of the radiation fell onto this small country.

I picked up Voices from Chernobyl back in November 2015 but due to a loss of a family member I had to put it aside. I did slowly work my way through the book one devastating story at a time and found this book to be a very emotional journey. It not only explored the physical devastation but also the psychological and cultural impact the Chernobyl disaster. I do not think I have ever found a book that explores the impact of nuclear accident quite like this.

It is hard to review a book like this; it is not a comfortable read but it provides some valuable insights into such a devastating event. Most people know that I love the Soviet era and ever since reading All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon, I knew I needed to know more about this disaster. I think this is an important book to read. I would have preferred to read the Keith Gessen translation, because my research shows that to be a better translation. I think this is my biggest problem with Voices from Chernobyl and should not deter people from picking up this book.


The Librarian by Mikhail Elizarov

Posted February 17, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Magical Realism / 0 Comments

The Librarian by Mikhail ElizarovTitle: The Librarian (Goodreads)
Author: Mikhail Elizarov
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Published: Pushkin Press, 2007
Pages: 410
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The books by Gromov, obscure and forgotten propaganda author from the Soviet era, have gained a bit of cult following. However this is not your normal fandom and his book are unlike anything you will ever read. These books have the ability to magically transform anyone; make the weak strong, the cowardly brave. Small groups have formed to protect these supernatural book with their leader given the title The Librarian. War breaks out between these libraries in desperate attempts to seize any copies of Gromov’s books they may have. The Librarian tells the story of Alexei, a loser who unexpectedly stumbles across one of Gromov’s books that changes his life forever.

This dystopian world created by Mikhail Elizarov is an obvious allegory for the Soviet Union, however it is something to be expected in post-Soviet literature. However Elizarov explores some interesting themes as well, in particular an idea of ‘blind faith’ in politics. The Librarian looks at the way people will thoughtlessly adopt a political system in which they are forced to inhabit. The author has a lot to say on the Soviet system and, like other Russian authors (in Soviet and post-Soviet literature), he adopts a satirical method to explore these ideas.

Alternatively, you could look at The Librarian from the perspective of the power of books. The entire novel is about people reading these books and gaining power, knowledge, and so on. This is the true power of books; as readers, we educate ourselves and learn empathy, and also get different political, historical or cultural points of view. While we might not gain the same amount of power as the people in this novel, we do gain power.

I found this book extremely interesting and I was engrossed the entire way through it. It is violent and could be a little too hard for some to handle but there is something worth exploring here. The Librarian won the Russian Booker Prize in 2008; this is very similar to the Man Booker Prize but for Russian novels. I had not heard too much about the Russian Booker Prize previously but I am now very interested. As a fan of Russian lit, I will keep an eye out for books translated into English so I can continue to explore more post-Soviet literature.


A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

Posted February 13, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

A Meal in Winter by Hubert MingarelliTitle: A Meal in Winter (Goodreads)
Author: Hubert Mingarelli
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Portobello Books, 2014
Pages: 138
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Three German soldiers set off early one morning through the frozen Polish country side to search for Jews. If they are successful they will be able to do it again, if not they will have to go back to their job as executioners. Having found a man hiding in the woods they settle in an old abandoned house to warm up and share a meal. Tensions increase when an outspoken Polish man joins them to escape the cold. A Meal in Winter is a highly emotional French novella that is worth checking out.

It is hard to talk about this book, it is a very emotional book. It is the type of book that will rip out your heart, punch you a few times in the face and then end abruptly. Leaving you emotionally and physically drained and having to think about all the themes. I love A Meal in Winter because it really explores so many interesting ideas and themes and leaves you thinking well after finishing it.

This is such a quick read and explores the idea of following orders and issues of mortality. The Jewish man has done nothing wrong and these Nazi soldiers know this, but if they take him back as a prisoner then they might be able to go out searching again. Is it better to hunt or kill, both will end the same for the Jew, but which one would make you feel better about your actions?

I truly love what Hubert Mingarelli did with such a small book like A Meal in Winter. I have not been able to stop thinking about the book since I finished it. I love when a piece of literature leaves me contemplating about life and philosophical questions that I had not considered before. A Meal in Winter did just that and I think this short hundred page novella will stick with me for many years to come.


The Whites by Harry Brandt

Posted February 11, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Crime / 1 Comment

The Whites by Harry BrandtTitle: The Whites (Goodreads)
Author: Harry Brandt
Published: Bloomsbury, 2015
Pages: 333
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the mid-90s, Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of a special anti-crime unit. He made headlines when he accidently shot a ten year old boy, emotionally scarring Billy and damaging his career.  Eighteen years later, Billy has finally become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch. The Whites follows the life as Billy Graves as he gets a 4:00 am slashing of a man at Penn Station. However The Whites is much more than a police procedural, rather it covers the life of the people in working the night watch.

Harry Brandt is a pseudonym of crime writer Richard Price who has been acclaimed for his books, like Clockers. He adopted the pseudonym so he could explore his writing in a new direction. However, I have heard that the writing style turned out to be very similar to his other stuff. I have not read anything by Richard Price, but hearing it is similar I hope to pick up Clockers in the future.

What I think stands The Whites apart from a typical police procedural is the fact that Richard Price focuses mainly on the character development. I love exploring the lives of people working in a similar field and how the people are effected in different ways. Sure, Billy Graves is the primary focus and there is a great deal to do with the crime but Price really did a good job of not making this a typical crime novel.

The Whites is a fascinating read and the style of book I look for in police procedurals. The novel even made the Tournament of Books list, but I do not expect it to make it too far. It was a wonderful book but not something I would consider high literature. If you have some recommendations of other books similar to this, please let me know.