Thomas Frank talks about his book Listen, Liberal. It’s a scathing look at what’s wrong with the Democratic Party and how it got to the disastrous place it’s in right now. Then we share some our of favorite recent fiction. Continue reading
I love talking to authors about their awesome books, but that means I have to read — a lot! You’d be shocked at how many authors thank me for actually reading their books (I guess a lot of interviewers don’t.)
Of course, that’s one of the benefits of producing Writer’s Voice: I get to indulge my reading habit and ask questions of the authors.
But there’s so much great stuff coming out all the time that sometimes my desire to devour all of it gets ahead of the time available. That’s when I find myself with more books on my plate than I bargained for. This is one of those weeks. But what books! I just finished the first one: David Laskin’s THE FAMILY. Read on for my take on his book and more. Continue reading
Bloomberg News financial journalist Bob Ivry talks about his book, The Seven Sins of Wall Street: Big Banks, their Washington Lackeys, and the Next Financial Crisis (PublicAffairs.)We also have our picks for summer reading.
by Francesca Rheannon
Ever since I discovered Shakespeare’s historical plays at age 11, I’ve been fascinated by the Plantagenets, the dynasty of English/Norman kings who counted among their number some of the greatest scoundrels and most illustrious monarchs (some of them one and the same) England has ever known.
Alas, Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England does not include my own personal favorite Shakespearean monarchs, Henry V and Richard III. But then that hardly matters, for this sweeping 300 year history kept me on the edge of my seat as I followed the royal soap operas played out from Henry II, through Richard I (the Lionheart) and bad King John to Richard II (also the star of a Shakespeare play, but a rather mediocre one.)
The reader is prompted throughout to contemplate the fickle finger of Fate (or Karma) as monarchs triumph, only to crash and burn. Sometimes, they are able to hoist their luck up Fortune’s Wheel again, but dastardly deeds, cruel betrayals by family and friends, internecine wars — in short, all the “slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune” — are unloosed on nearly all Jones’ primary subjects in the course of their eventful lives, often by their own actions. King Lear hath no tragic chops over Richard II, whose wife and sons tried to depose him.
But despite the tragic — and sometimes comic — elements of their history, The Plantagenets also had a profound effect on English law and custom that continues to reverberate down to our present time, as Jones reveals: the creation of the Magna Carta, for example, with its establishment of rights of the governed. As President Obama erodes the right of habeus corpus with his “targeted” killings of American citizens, we would do well to contemplate with what copious amounts of blood this right was birthed and defended over the past 800 years. And the penchant for wars in the Middle East (the Crusades then, our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq now) has been devastating for the balance sheets of rulers from Henry II to President Bush II and the current US administration.
In The Plantagenets, Jones gives the reader many rip-roaring yarns, a good lesson in history, and much food for thought about current events.
History is a quirky thing. Understanding history is a lot like the parable of the blind men and the elephant: depending on your vantage point, history can be a victory, a defeat, a holocaust or a glorious defense of the homeland.
And that seems to hold for personal history as well as big picture social, political and national histories. The lover you remember so fondly becomes a bitter pill after they marry your best friend; the heroic war protestor becomes a traitor to the cause when a secret relationship with the FBI is uncovered; the great writer is vilified with the discovery of plagarism.
So how does one go about comprehending a history, both personal and national, that is constantly shifting with the vagaries of time, distance, and circumstance? How can you be certain of what really happened, even in your own life, when how you interpret the past is dependent of where you are standing in the present?
Ismail Kadare examines this question in his novel, The Fall of The Stone City with a biting satirical wit and an aching sadness. Out for the first time in English translation, the novel is an complicated intellectual treat, a bitingly funny satire and a heartbreaking tragedy at all once. Ismail Kadare, an Albanian, is considered one of Europe’s best writers and his work has won the Man Booker prize and he has been a Nobel candidate several times.
The book opens on the small Albanian town of Gjirokaster in 1943 as it prepares for the Nazi invasion from Greece after the capitulation of the occupying Italians. Gjirokaster is a provincial, medieval town closed up against its neighbors and isolated by a sense of nationalistic entitlement. The Germans approach the main gates of the walled city and are fired upon by unknown assaillaints.
In retaliation, the Germans prepare a bombing campaign but just as it begins, a white flag is seen over the town. The Germans stop the bombardment but storm the town and take 100 prisoners, threatening execution if the assailants aren’t identified.
Just as the Germans are rounding up prisoners, a strange scene unfolds in the town square. One of the town’s most prominent citizens, Dr. Gurameto, meets with the German commander and invites him to dinner. It seems as if the German Colonel and Dr. Gurameto were college roommates and long lost friends.
Dr. Gurameto cuts a strange figure. Aloof, rigid and highly accomplished, he is not the only Dr. Gurameto in town. The first is known as big Dr. Gurameto while the another, unrelated Dr. Gurameto, known as the little Dr. Gurameto. Before the Germans invaded, the favorite sport of the town was to compare the two doctors on their perceived merits and. Half of the town favors the Big Dr. Gurameto and half the little Dr. Gurameto; depending on the day’s events one camp triumphs over the other in the war of words.
The dinner with the German colonel seems to seal the town in Big Dr. Gurameto’s favor. Over the course of the dinner, which is shrouded in mystery, the Germans slowly release all 100 prisoners, including the town’s most prominent Jew. Based on an agreement that no party understands or shares, the Germans agree to let Gjirokaster be left unharmed.
And there Kadare sets up his novel. There are three unkowns that the book sets out to solve: who waved the white flag, who fired on the Germans and what really happened at the dinner at Dr. Gurameto’s house?
And the answers change throughout the book depending on how and where one ponders them. The book follows Dr. Gurameto and the town for ten years, into the rot of communist rule to trace the evolving understanding of what happened so many years ago.
During the German occupation, the Albanian nationalists are convinced the communists are the culprits and after the communists take power, the nationalists are to blame. All of the town’s sacred cows fall from grace as Kadare , with keen satire, skewers the blind institutional certainty and petty jealousies that shape history.
Dr. Gurameto is first hailed as a hero but as communist revisionism and paranio slowly take over he is slowly turned into a villain and arrested as part of a plot to kill Stalin. It is in the final third of the book, during his interrogation that Kadare reveals the secrets of the dinner.
Answering the question of what exactly happened at the dinner would ruin the novel, so I will leave it at this: what happens to Dr. Gurameto in his past and in his present are shocking and grievous, both unbelievable and unjust. In an amazing feat of intellectual and narrative dexterity, Kadare takes the ironies of fate, intertwines them with the fickle nature of self-protective narratives and smashes them on the impersonal destructiveness of bureaucratic institituions.
But more than the story of Dr. Gurameto, The Fall of The Stone City, is a parable for the difficulty with reconciling Albania’s complicated political and social history. For those interested in untangling history generally, and Balkan history specifically, there can be no more tragic and insightful place to start than The Fall of the Stone City.
— Drew Adamek
Stuart Horwitz talks about his book architecture method of organizing and revising any manuscript. His book is BLUEPRINT YOUR BESTSELLER. Then Rajesh Parameswaren discusses his new story collection, I AM AN EXECUTIONER: LOVE STORIES; finally, Drew Adamek reviews Ismail Kadare’s The Fall of the Stone City.
Nutritionist Deborah Kesten shares the results of her research into losing weight and keeping it off. Her book is MAKE WEIGHT LOSS LAST. Then, Francesca’s story about a master chef’s philosophy about food. And Drew reviews ALL THE ART THAT’S FIT TO PRINT (And Some That Wasn’t): Inside The New York Times Op-Ed Page and talks with the author, Jerelle Kraus. Continue reading
Book Review by Drew Adamek: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Billy Lynn’s Long halftime Walk is author Ben Fountain’s debut novel, after making a splash with his short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. Continue reading
Richard Zacks discusses ISLAND OF VICE: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York and Stan Cox talks about his book, LOSING OUR COOL: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World. Then Drew Adamek reviews Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. Continue reading
Steve Volk talks about the paranormal and his fascinating book, FRINGE-OLOGY: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn’t; Kim Tredick talks about the “summer slide” and BrainQuest; and Drew Adamek reviews THE HUNGER ANGEL by Herta Müller. Continue reading
Philip Price and Flora Reed of Winterpills talk about songwriting and their new album, ALL MY LOVELY GONERS. Also Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies talks about the band’s new album, THE WILDERNESS. And Writers Voice Associate Producer Drew Adamek reviews J.G. Ballard’s KINGDOM COME and THE CYCLIST CONSPIRACY by Svestlav Basara. Continue reading
by Drew Adamek
The future is bleak for the human spirit. Conspiracies abound. The systems we’ve built to save us from savagery and solipsism have led us to ruin and collective dementia. Insanity rampages; mankind’s only escape is a descent into further madness. Reality is an inescapable nightmare of boredom, madness and oppression. Such are the dystopian and esoteric worlds of J.G. Ballard’s Kingdom Come and Svetislav Basara’s The Cyclist Conspiracy, both international works of speculative fiction published this month for the first time in the United States. Continue reading
Novelist Jennifer Haigh talks about her terrific new novel, FAITH. Then Dr. Kristin Neff discusses her book, SELF-COMPASSION: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Finally, a review of Siri Hustvedt’s THE SUMMER WITHOUT MEN.