Translator Peter Filkins talks about the third novel in German Jewish writer H.G. Adler’s trilogy about the Holocaust, The Wall. Later, we re-play a previous interview with Filkins about his translation of the first novel in the trilogy, The Journey.
James Angelos talks about his illuminating look at the Greek crisis, The Full Catastrophe. Also, political analyst Peter Mathews discusses the state of democracy in the US. His book is Dollar Democracy.
By the time you listen to this episode of Writer’s Voice, the outcome of the Greek euro crisis may be much clearer than it is as this post goes live. As of now, Greece is effectively in default, the Greek people are getting set to vote on whether to accept the draconian terms of a bailout by the so-called European Troika and no compromise is in sight.
How did Greece get to this desperate pass in the first place? Journalist James Angelos explores that question in his eye-opening new book, The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among The New Greek Ruins.
He shows that pointing fingers at one party, whether that be Greece or the European Community, is a mistake — there’s plenty of blame to share.
European banks and German industrialists made fat profits lending and selling to Greece during the good years. Corruption fattened the wallets of Greeks from high government ministers to lowly pensioners. And centuries of occupation by foreign powers engrained a deep reluctance in the Greek psyche to pay taxes to a central state authority.
Then the whole house of cards came crashing down with the global financial crisis of 2008. But the Greek people have disproportionately paid the price, while the EC has ridden its high horse roughshod over the ruins of the Greek economy.
If knowing the causes provides the path to solutions, then James Angelos’ fascinating book illuminates the way. Angelos is a freelance journalist and former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Prior to reporting from Europe, he wrote for the New York Times city section. He lives in Berlin.
Ever since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, the influence of corporate money in politics has ballooned to gargantuan proportions. But as political analyst and former candidate Peter Mathews experienced first-hand, such influence long pre-dates that historic ruling. He ran for Congress in 1998, going up against a opponent who was well-funded by corporate interests.
Matthews ran a surprisingly close race, but his shoestring operation fell short of victory, hampered by his refusal to take money from corporate-funded PACs. He went on to become a political analyst and teach political science at the college level.
Mathews’ book Dollar Democracy: with Liberty and Justice for Some, clearly lays out the case for separating the powers of Politics and the Purse — and how we might begin to reclaim our American democracy. WV spoke with him the very day Bernie Sanders declared his candidacy for president of the United States — a candidacy Mathews supports.
Peter Mathews teaches Political Science at Cypress College and is currently a Political Analyst on the “Head-On” Radio Show in Los Angeles. He was the Democratic Party Nominee for the U.S. Congress in 1998 in the Long Beach, California district.
We are all Greeks. —Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1821
On March 25, 2014, Greeks marked the 193rd anniversary of the start of their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. Young boys across the country dressed like klephts, the rebel highland bandits who fought the revolution, in white, pleated skirts called fustanellas, white stockings, red fezzes, and clogs topped with pom-poms. Girls wore traditional garb, tasseled headscarves and long colorful dresses embroidered with angular patterns distinctive to their region of Greece. In school auditoriums on the eve of the holiday, children performed plays about centuries of suffering under Ottoman rule. In a small valley town in the region of Messenia, the southwestern tip of the Peloponnese, a teenage boy dressed like a revolutionary bandit entered stage right and professed a yearning to fight for freedom: “What can I do? I can’t go on! My chest is heavy. The slavery of the Turk.” His mother, played by a girl in a yellow headscarf, urged him to stick to shepherding and to raising a family instead, but the young man was defiant. “Mother, bring the sword and the heavy rifle.” In a preschool on the Aegean island of Santorini, children young enough to still be wobbly on their feet tentatively circle-danced in front of their parents to “Dance of Zalongo,” a folk song about a mass suicide on a mountain in Greece’s rugged northwestern region of Epirus, where local women are said to have thrown their infants and themselves off a precipice rather than fall under the yoke of an Ottoman pasha. The preschool children in Santorini nearly fell over one another as the mournful song played over the speakers: “Farewell poor world, farewell sweet life, and you, my poor country, farewell forever.”
Such Independence Day rites are repeated annually with little variance, and though this was the first time I experienced the commemoration in Greece, I recognized a lot of these customs from my childhood on Long Island, where my Greek immigrant parents obligated me to attend Greek language and Sunday school classes at the local Greek Orthodox church. The church served as an outpost of cultural programming from the old country, and so the pom- pom shoes, the circle dances, and the indoctrination regarding Turkish tyranny were therefore already familiar to me. Still, this year in Greece, it was clear the usual rituals had taken on far greater significance. About four years earlier, Greece had begun hurtling toward bankruptcy, a situation that, owing to the nation’s eurozone membership, presented a potentially cata-strophic threat to the global financial system. In order to prevent immediate ruin, a trifecta of institutions known as “the Troika”— the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank— agreed, despite deep reservations in Germany and other northern European countries, that it would be a good idea to sustain Greece, in particular its ability to keep servicing its vast debts, by pledging it tens of billions of euros in loans to be paid out in dribbles over a few years. The European leaders and IMF officials who committed the funds considered their intervention a “rescue,” though it didn’t seem that way to a lot of Greeks. The financial assistance was contingent upon wage and pension cuts, among many other profoundly unpopular conditions outlined in a memorandum of understanding— the mnimonio, as the Greeks called it. Control of the domestic policy was ceded almost entirely to the Troika, which used the threat of imminent bankruptcy as leverage to get Greece to obey its recipe for improving the country’s finances. But the recipe did not work out very well, and Greece’s economic collapse would begin to deepen to Great Depression–like levels, necessitating, less than two years after the first bailout, a second one. In total, Greece received 245 billion euros in loan pledges and the largest debt restructuring in history, which reduced its outstanding debt by 107 billion euros at the expense of private holders of its bonds. Moreover, the European Central Bank sustained damaged Greek banks with a constant flow of cheap short-term loans. In exchange for the bailout, Greek politicians promised profound changes to nearly every aspect of their governance, from the country’s deficient tax-collection practices to its regulations on the shelf life of pasteurized milk. The specificity of the required measures—the simplification of customs procedures for feta cheese exports, or the creation of a nationwide system of cadastral offices—underscored the Troika’s lack of faith that Greece could reform itself without strict oversight. In order to ensure compliance, Troika experts visited quarterly to check up on Greece’s progress. Failure to comply resulted in the withholding of scheduled payments. The Greeks, in short, would be forced to change under sustained duress. To a lot of Greek citizens, therefore, the rescue seemed more like a new foreign occupation. Independence Day seemed as good a time as any to reflect on this.
Excerpted from THE FULL CATASTROPHE: TRAVELS AMONG THE NEW GREEK RUINS Copyright © 2015 by James Angelos. Published by Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Joseph Luzzi talks about his moving new memoir and contemplation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, In A Dark Wood. Then, we hear some voices from the recent marathon reading of Melville’s Moby Dick put on by the legendary Sag Harbor NY bookstore, Canio’s.
When his pregnant wife was killed in a car accident, Dante scholar Joseph Luzzi, found himself in that figurative “dark wood” that Dante wrote about in the opening verses of The Divine Comedy. His daughter was delivered by emergency C-section; his wife died just 45 minutes later of her injuries. In an instant, Luzzi found himself both a widower and a father — and utterly exiled from his previous life. There was no way back and, it appeared at first, no way forward.
But then, as he threw himself into his work to escape the unbearable pain of grief, Luzzi found his solace in the book he had been studying and teaching for 20 years as a professor of Italian at Bard College, Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Where Dante’s fictional self had Virgil as his guide, Luzzi now found a guide in Dante, whose experience of exile from his beloved Florence spoke profoundly to the dislocation Luzzi himself felt. And he found a message of hope in Dante’s arduous ascent toward Paradise, which culminates finally with a profound lesson in love.
Joseph Luzzi’s memoir is In A Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love.
Joseph Luzzi’s Recommended Translation’s of The Divine Comedy
Dual Language Translations With Notes
Over the weekend of July 12, 2015, a marathon reading of the great American classic by Herman Melville, Moby Dick, took place in Sag Harbor, NY. It was organized by Sag Habor’s legendary bookstore, Canio’s Books. Writer’s Voice went there to find out what Moby Dick meant to those who came to listen and to read.
We spoke with the store’s founder, Canio Pavone, current co-owner Kathryn Szoka and audience member David Corsi. We also taped an excerpt from a reading by marathon co-organizer, Bill Chaleff.
We speak with Michelle Goldberg about Indra Devi, who helped to spark the yoga craze in America. Her biography is The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West. Continue reading
Frances Jensen talks about her book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults . And marijuana is being used to successfully treat some illnesses. But it’s not so healthy for the developing brain. Addiction psychiatrist Kevin Hill tells us about risks and benefits of pot. His new book is Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth About The World’s Most Popular Weed. Continue reading
It’s almost unimaginable: what would it be like to be the child of one of history’s most brutal and powerful dictators? The award-winning Canadian poet and biographer Rosemary Sullivan tells us what it was like in Stalin’s Daughter, a fascinating, detailed and revelatory exploration of the life of Svetlana Stalin.
Svetlana (who took her mother’s last name, Alliluyeva) was fated to live her life in the shadow of her father, one of history’s most notorious dictators. Yet she struggled valiantly against that fate.
A woman of uncommon intelligence and integrity, she tried to live a normal life. She was a loving mother who had to leave two of her children behind; she was a wealthy woman who gave away her riches and ended up living in poverty. She was a brilliant writer who utterly repudiated her father in her books, but was never able to free herself of the taint of him in the eyes of the world. Sullivan’s biography bring this complex, tragic and compelling figure to life.
Rosemary Sullivan is the award-winning author of numerous other books, including Villa Air-Bel and Labyrinth of Desire.
When Elena Gorokhova first came to the US in 1980, she left behind the constraints AND security of Soviet Russia for the dizzying choices and insecurities of the US. It was both exhilarating and frightening.
She’d come as a young bride with her new American husband, but the marriage quickly fell apart. She eventually remarried, had a daughter and settled into a satisfying life in her new land. But the old country continued to exert a powerful pull on her psyche.
Gorokhova’s sensitive new memoir Russian Tattoo continues where her first memoir ended. That one, A Mountain of Crumbs, was about her life growing up in the Soviet Union.
This one explores the ambivalent territory that immigrants must traverse and movingly illuminates what our society feels like to the outsider. It’s a wonderful read.
From STALIN’S DAUGHTER by Rosemary Sullivan (Harper Collins, June 2015)
At 7:00 p.m. on March 6, 1967, a taxi drew up to the open gates of the American Embassy on Shantipath Avenue in New Delhi. Watched carefully by the Indian police guard, it proceeded slowly up the circular drive. The passenger in the backseat looked out at the large circular reflecting pool, serene in the fading light. A few ducks and geese still floated among the jets of water rising from its surface. The embassy’s exterior walls were constructed of pierced concrete blocks, which gave the building a light, airy look. The woman noted how different This was from the stolid institutional Soviet Embassy she had just left. So this was America. Continue reading
Hannah Nordhaus, author of The Beekepper’s Lament, talks about her latest book, a wonderful history/slash memoir of her ancestor Julia Staub. It’s called American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest.
David Flusfeder discusses his novel, John The Pupil. It’s about a medieval journey that prefigures the Renaissance era to come. And then another work of fiction that reimagines a historical figure: urban philosopher David Kishik talks about his book, The Manhattan Project. It imagines what Walter Benjamin would have written about New York had he succeeded in escaping to the US from Nazi-dominated Europe. Continue reading
Urban philosopher David Kishik talks about his book, The Manhattan Project. It imagines what Walter Benjamin would have written about New York had he succeeded in escaping to the US from Nazi-dominated Europe. Continue reading
From JOHN THE PUPIL by David Flusfeder, From pgs. 79-82 Continue reading
Catherine Price talks about her book VITAMANIA: Our Obsessive Quest For Nutritional Perfection (Penguin). Then food psychologist Traci Mann tells us why diets don’t work and how we can get to — and stay at — our leanest live-able weight. Her book is Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. Continue reading
And women mystery writers have gone from being ignored to being stars of the genre. We talk with mystery writer Sara Paretsky about women’s changing position in the genre and about her own socially conscious mystery writing. Then we congratulate Elizabeth Kolbert on her Pulitzer Prize for The Sixth Extinction. Continue reading
The more we know about climate change, the less we do about it. It’s the “climate paradox.” That’s why we need a new psychology of climate change, according to Norwegian author and economist, Per Espen Stoknes.
His new book, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, tackles the climate paradox head on in an eminently readable book that should be obligatory reading for all who care about our future and are frustrated at the slow pace of action. Continue reading