Tag: politics

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Posted December 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon JamesTitle: A Brief History of Seven Killings (Goodreads)
Author: Marlon James
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2014
Pages: 688
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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In the lead up to 3 December 1976 general election, Bob Marley planned to perform the Smile Jamaica Concert to help ease political tension. However seven gunmen from West Kingston stormed his house, although Marley did survive he had to flee the country the next day. Not a lot was said about the fate of the seven gunmen but there are whispers around the streets. A Brief History of Seven Killing is inspired by these events in a fictionalised oral history of what might have happened.

This novel spans three decades, spanning the political tension of Jamaica in the 1970s, the crack wars in the 1980s and the changing Jamaica in the 1990s. It also follows multiple narrators, with very unique narrative styles. One thing I loved about this novel is the fact that each narrator had their own style and you could easily work out who was narrating without looking at the title of each chapter.

A Brief History of Seven Killing is Marlon James’ third novel and has recently won the Man Booker Prize. I read this before the award was announced and I was really hoping it would win. I think there are so many interesting perspectives, exploring ideas of corruption, organised crime and even the CIA trying to control the fate of the country. I was interested in America’s involvement in Jamaica’s politics in an effort to fight the spread of communism.

One of my favourite narrators was Alex, a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine. I thought he had the right amount of bitterness and sarcasm, making his narrative style stand out. All the other narrators are great as well, and I liked the way I was able to experience so many different angles of the story. There are over seventy different characters that regularly show up throughout the novel; it can be difficult at times to remember who is who, however I think Marlon James did a decent job helping the reader through this.

I have heard people compare A Brief History of Seven Killing to The Wire, but I compare Marlon James’ style as doing something similar to James Ellroy. I hear that HBO have brought the rights to make this into a show; this is the people who developed The Wire. I am glad to see that this novel is getting the attention from winning the Man Booker Prize. I really enjoyed the experience of reading this novel, even though this is anything but brief. I am curious to see what Marlon James’ other novels are like.


Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère

Posted September 26, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 3 Comments

Limonov by Emmanuel CarrèreTitle: Limonov (Goodreads)
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Translator: John Lambert
Published: Allen Lane, 2011
Pages: 340
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Eduard Limonov1 is a Russian born writer and politican. Best known for founding and leading the banned National Bolshevik Party which opposed Vladimir Putin from 1994 till 2007. The National Bolshevik Party2 (Natsbols) was a militant type organisation that defended Stalinism, it was never register as an official political party. Nowadays Eduard Limonov is a member of the umbrella coalition known as The Other Russia3 which oppose the leadership of Putin for a variety of reasons from political to human rights issues. The Other Russia has a mixed group of supporters from liberals, nationalists, socialists and communists all working together to achieve a Russia without Vladimir Putin leading it.

Firstly I would like to point out that the subtitle for Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère is ‘a novel’ and there can be debates around if this should be considered a biography or a novel. Eduard Limonov’s life reads very much like a novel and this could be in part because Emmanuel Carrère is an excellent writer and John Lambert translated it into English wonderfully. I do not know enough about Limonov to be able to disagree with categorising of this as a novel but I do think all good biographies have elements of fiction to make them more readable.

Having said that the life of Eduard Limonov is a fascinating read; some consider him a terrorist, others a political leader, and there is no denying that. The beauty of Limonov is the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured this complex character in a way that shows all sides of the man while avoiding a biased portrayal. There is a lot worth talking about when it comes to Eduard Limonov but I do not want to go too much into his life story; there just is not enough time.

I am fascinated by the history of Russia, especially when it comes to the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. I love the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured the life of Eduard Limonov, a political figure that I knew nothing about. I am tempted to try some of Limonov’s own books, in particular It’s Me, Eddie: A Fictional Memoir and Memoir of a Russian Punk. Has anyone read anything by Eduard Limonov and is he worth reading? With his life experiences, I am interested to see just how he portrays himself in his books and explore more of his life story.


10:04 by Ben Lerner

Posted August 5, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

10:04 by Ben LernerTitle: 10:04 (Goodreads)
Author: Ben Lerner
Published: Granta, 2014
Pages: 241
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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10:04 tells of a time with increasingly frequent super storms; the novel is bookended with Hurricanes Irene and Sandy (although they are never referred to by name). Our unnamed narrator has also been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, which is almost always fatal. Faced with the state of the world and his own mortality, this narrator must question his legacy. Not just biologically but as a writer he must consider what he will leave behind.

A Brooklyn based writer, this narrator starts off early within the novel talking about just what kind of life he has. In one particular passage he describes visiting the Metropolitan Museum, a frequent occurrence, with a friend. “We often visited weekday afternoons, since Alex was unemployed, and I, a writer.” The two like to look at all the melodrama found in the 19th century, in particular his favourite; a painting of Joan of Arc. This passage not only sets up an introduction to our narrator and his female friend Alex but also an indication of what type of novel to expect here.

Ben Lerner has an uncanny ability to write a unique novel that is both beautiful and moving but at the same time remaining hilarious and intelligent. I will admit that the novel did make me feel stupid so many times but I love a book that makes me work to fully grasp it. I always get a real sense of accomplishment when I finish a book like 10:04. For those that are hesitant about reading a book that might make them feel dumb, I think 10:04 is worth the effort and the challenge.

This novel explores a lot of interesting themes from friendship, sex, memory, legacy, art and politics; think of this as a book that explores the landscape of the contemporary life. The narrator is a bit pretentious but then again the circles he hangs out in are full of pseudo-intellectuals. The New York literary scene has been done time and time again, however I am a huge fan of this setting and I think there are so many opportunities to explore interesting ideas. 10:04 did exactly that.

It seems like Ben Lerner is going to be one of those authors that the literary world will need to watch. His first novel Leaving the Atocha Station was met with critical acclaim, showing up on all the major literary magazines’ best books of the year list. A novel I have yet to read but if it is anything like 10:04, I know I will love it. Ben Lerner manages to capture so many emotions in one single narrative, 10:04 is just a great book and I expect to see many more great novels from Ben Lerner in the future.


Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson

Posted April 25, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Boardwalk Empire by Nelson JohnsonTitle: Boardwalk Empire (Goodreads)
Author: Nelson Johnson
Narrator: Joe Mantegna
Published: Plexus Publishing, 2002
Pages: 312
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Atlantic City has quite a history, from the rocky beginnings to its colourful characters like Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson (subtitle: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City) tells the history of this US city. While this book inspired the current HBO series of the same name, this is not a reason to read this. The HBO show tells the story of a fictional character based on Nucky Johnson (called Nucky Thompson in the show). If you were to base a show on this non-fiction book it would turn out more like House of Cards.

There was a big chapter of Boardwalk Empire devoted to Nucky Johnson, who was an interesting guy. If you know the plot of the HBO series you might be aware of the type of character Nucky was, despite being only loosely based on him. His rise to power came thanks to the Volstead Act, but he wasn’t just a mob boss, he was a political powerhouse. Corruption never seemed so complex and scary; using the Republican Party to control the city all the while using extortion to fund the party. This technique helped control Atlantic City, keeping it corrupt well into the modern era.

While the history of Atlantic City is fascinating, it is sad to see just how big of an impact organised crime had on a growing city. I have an interest in the Volstead Act and how prohibition helped organised crime get a foothold in America. Boardwalk Empire shed some interesting insights into the cultural impact it had on a large scale.

I have started a new phase in my reading life where I’ve become very interested in non-fiction. While Boardwalk Empire wasn’t the greatest book, there was a lot to learn about politics and organised crime. This period of time interests me and I plan to read a whole lot more reading on the Volstead Act and organised crime, so I need recommendations. If you know good non-fiction books on these topics let me know.


Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Posted February 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DefoeTitle: Robinson Crusoe (Goodreads)
Author: Daniel Defoe
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1719
Pages: 321
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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When Robinson Crusoe gets shipwrecked on an island, everything changes for him. Now stuck on the island of despair, Crusoe has to learn how to survive. Daniel Defoe’s classic survival novel has been the inspiration for many stories to come. Most people know the story so I won’t go into too much detail summarising the book.

Some may disagree but I found that Defoe set out to shatter the misconceptions that Europeans had towards colonialism. When Robinson Crusoe lands on the island he adopts colonialism, as it is familiar to him and the political nature he recognises. You see the progression of this social structure from when Crusoe first found himself on the island. He built his shelter, farmed the lands and hunted. Then when other people were introduced, the social order fell into place, putting himself as lord and master. Others like Friday and his father were slaves, but the Spaniard and the Englishmen were treated completely differently.

Another theme I noticed while reading Robinson Crusoe was the idea of isolation; this was portrayed in a literal sense. Stuck on the island, Crusoe had so much time on his hand he spends it contemplating society, religion, politics and the world. What was interesting to note is the fact that there was no real mention of women in the book; there were some but none played a significant role. This detail is something I spent a lot of time contemplating, it felt like with all his reflections, women never were an important part of the world. I’m not sure what Defoe meant by this but I’m sure it is something worth investigating.

I found Robinson Crusoe fascinating; I was studying it for university so I had to look at what Daniel Defoe was trying to say about colonialism. However there is something that really annoyed me about the book and that is the way the writing style kept changing. It felt like Defoe wasn’t sure how he was writing the novel, switching between diary entries and first person narrative. It didn’t feel intentional just changing whenever it suited him and that, in turn, just felt sloppy.

Robinson Crusoe isn’t a great book; I’m glad I read it but it just isn’t something I can praise. It wasn’t a problem with the themes or the style; it just focused too much on survival and missed opportunities to explore other topics. Sure, this is a classic and you have to give a book credit for staying around so long, but Robinson Crusoe just wasn’t for me.


Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Posted June 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Speculative Fiction, Thriller / 0 Comments

Snow Crash by Neal StephensonTitle: Snow Crash (Goodreads)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: Bantam Press, 1992
Pages: 440
Genres: Speculative Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

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In a time in the not so distance future where the federal government of the United States has yielded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs, franchising individual sovereignty reigns supreme. Merchant armies complete national defence, highway companies compete for drivers and the mafia own the pizza delivery game. Hiro Protagonist, “Last of the freelance hackers and greatest swordfighter in the world”, finds himself without his pizza delivery job when a young skateboard “Kourier” named Y.T. tries to hitch a ride on his vehicle. Leading them on a grand scale adventure trying to uncover just what exactly Snow Crash is.

Like all of Neal Stephenson books, you can expect this one to cover subjects like  history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, and philosophy, all while keeping to his cyberpunk thriller style. He says this book was named after the early mac software failure mode:

“When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set—a ‘snow crash’”

His goal, was to take the reader on a “full tour of Sumerian culture, a fully instantiated anarcho-capitalist society, and a virtual meta-society patronized by financial, social, and intellectual elites.” Snow Crash is a pseudo-narcotic or is it something far worse; Hiro and Y.T (short for Yours Truly) slowly discover that it is in fact a computer virus capable of infecting the brains of careless hackers in the Metaverse (the successor to the internet) and a mind altering virus in reality.

One of the things I liked most about Snow Crash was the fact that Neal Stephenson showed us how to write a kick ass teenage girl protagonist. Young Adult novels like to use a strong teenaged girl as a main character but few of them really know how to make her great; most are just Katniss clones. While Y.T’s narrative wasn’t as focused as that of Hiro, it was more of a pleasure to read, she seemed to accomplish the most in the entire book and she did it her own way without compromising her character. Sure, she did manage to get into some trouble and make some bad choices but she’s human, I expect them to struggle and fall and recover from their mistakes.

While this was a fun and exciting novel there are some things that I just didn’t like; firstly each ethical group portrayed the stereotypical extreme.  The mafia, the rednecks from New South Africa, the Pentecostals, Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong and so on, all felt very much like the cliché versions of these cultures and Stephenson played on the stereotypes a little too heavily. I know they were only minor plot arcs but it still felt like it was overdone. The most interesting people in the book are the ones living outside their cultural and ethnic groups; Hiro, Y.T and Raven.

Then there is my biggest problem with the book, which is a similar problem I had with Reamde and that is I feel like Neal Stephenson turns some chapters into a Wikipedia articles just to give us all the interesting information he has on a subject he is exploring. In this book it is every time the librarian talks, there is heaps and heaps of interesting, and sometimes irrelevant, information and the way Stephenson tried to stops it become and wall of text is the awkward attempt to make it sound like a conversation. Hiro keeps interrupting the librarian’s information with very simplified reiteration, agreements and metaphors, I found it incredible annoying.

Overall this was a fast paced cyber thriller with some weird and unusual tangents and twists. Stephenson has some interesting ideas about the future of the world but for some reason I never feel a strong connection to his books. I think I prefer William Gibson’s style and take on the future cyber world but can’t fault Stephenson for what he does. Not that I’ve read many books from this author and there are plenty more I want to read, maybe I just feel like he over simplifies and draws his novels out a little too much.