StAnza 2018: Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th March, 2018. This article is courtesy of Louise Robertson, the Press & Media Manager for StAnza this year.
StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, has announced some of the headline voices for next year’s 21st anniversary festival ahead of National Poetry Day on Thursday 28th September. The annual festival will take place from Wednesday 7th March until Sunday 11th March in the Fife town of St Andrews.
StAnza Festival Director, Eleanor Livingstone said: "Next year’s festival is a significant milestone for StAnza which held its very first festival twenty years ago in 1998. We’re delighted to be welcoming some of the biggest names from the literary world and friends of StAnza old and new to St Andrews to celebrate our special anniversary year.
“Over the last twenty years we have endeavoured to bring together a diverse mix of well known talent with new, up and coming poets to create a programme which is fresh and vibrant. This year we have pulled out all the stops to put together a programme which is truly fitting of such an exciting year for StAnza and we look forward to revealing more names over the coming months."
Among the headline poets appearing at next year's annual festival is Sinéad Morrissey, who last week won the prestigious Forward Prize for Poetry and is a former Belfast Poet Laureate and T.S. Eliot prize winner. She is joined by former Scots Makar Liz Lochhead and Scottish poet and jazz musician Don Paterson who will be in conversation with Marie-Elsa Bragg, daughter of Melvyn Bragg. Also on the programme for 2018 is Gillian Allnutt, who was awarded The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry earlier this year, Tara Bergin, winner of the Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize in 2014 and up and coming Scottish poet William Letford.
Sasha de Buyl, Literature Officer at Creative Scotland added: “StAnza has established itself as one of Europe’s leading showcases of contemporary poetry over the last twenty years. Since its inception in 1998, StAnza has continually offered a diverse programme of world class contemporary poetry to growing audiences of all ages, celebrating some of the most exciting local and international names in poetry and nurturing emerging talent.”
StAnza traditionally focuses on two themes which interweave with each other to give each annual festival its own unique flavour. Next year’s themes are The Self and Borderlines. StAnza will also have a focus on young people as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People.
Dozens of poets will be taking part in StAnza, along with many musicians, visual artists and filmmakers bringing the historic Fife town of St Andrews alive with poetry, music and art for five days in March.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is one of the best and most revealing books into the capricious and turbulent nature of the relationship between Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Ashley Llewellyn provides a short analysis as part of The Tribe’s continued series of short, snappy book reviews.
In the beginning, they were the couple of their day; however, Zelda and Scott’s marriage quickly deteriorated, leaving both unhappy and unsatisfied. Zelda is often portrayed in Scott’s novels as someone who was turbulent and selfish, but this brilliant novel by Fowler reveals Zelda’s side of the story, one that is not often heard. The novel begins with Zelda, a young, bright, 18-year-old girl in Southern Alabama. She is beautiful and restless, someone who wants something more than her small town of Montgomery can offer. She meets and falls in love with Scott at a ball when he is a young soldier, promising engagement only if he could take care of her financially. Fowler describes Zelda’s first years of marriage as nothing but happiness since Zelda and Scott are rich, famous newlyweds. However, problems quickly arise and Zelda’s sense of helplessness is extremely well portrayed by Fowler in these years of marriage, when attempting to help Scott manage their finances, she is brushed off as he tells her to go take care of their newly born child.
Around this time, Zelda’s mental condition drastically worsens. She has fits of anger, moodiness, and often loses control of herself. Fowler describes how Scott convinces Zelda that she isn’t any good at anything, especially criticising her writing, due to jealousy, even though her works, especially Save The Waltz, have come to be extremely widely read and appreciated by many literary critics. By this time, Scott had also become an alcoholic, often drunk, incoherent, promising Zelda that it was necessary for him to drink if he was to ‘properly write’, or so Hemingway had convinced him. This novel also brings to light the paranoia that Zelda often felt about Scott having an affair, she often thought Scott and Hemingway might be sleeping together. This paranoia might have stemmed from Zelda’s misdiagnosed schizophrenia and her subsequent gruelling treatment methods at a mental hospital, which worsened her condition. More recent discoveries have found that it is much more likely that she had bipolar disorder. This novel does such an excellent job of portraying Zelda Fitzgerald, fighting to maintain her own strong sense of self, while still trying to keep her marriage with Scott afloat. She was one of the first feminists of her time, someone who tried to be her own person outside of her marriage and pursue her own interests even while being constantly put down by her husband. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was a truly remarkable yet tragic character, and this brilliant novel will leave readers enthralled and amazed by the woman who was so often dismissed as only F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife. Ashley Llewellyn
'As in 1914, as in 1939 or 2014, 2022 or 2050, off they went again. But in 2084, it finally worked. The old world ceased to exist, and the new world, Abistan, began its eternal reign upon the planet’. Sneha Reddy reviews the acclaimed Algerian writer Boualem Sansal’s award winning novel '2084: The end of the world'_____________________________________________________________________2084 is a story of Ati, a young man living in Abistan, a country named after its eternal prophet, Abi, who is the representative of the almighty Yölah on Earth. Boualem Sansal writes this political satire as a tribute to George Orwell’s classic 1984. Set within the boundaries of a totalitarian and brutal regime, the novel follows Ati as he first learns to doubt and then to challenge the totalitarian system with the very idea of freedom. Along with his friend, Koa, Ati dares to venture into the forbidden territories of the kingdom and resists the all-pervasive authority. Will Ati and Koa survive or submit? Will Ati’s ideas stand the test of authority or will the State erase the evidence of his existence altogether? The tale is told in four ‘books’, and an intriguing epilogue, each of which begins with a summary to brace the reader for its sinister content. The first is about Ati’s return to Qodsabad, the capital of Abistan, after spending two years in a sanatorium. On his way, he meets Nas, a powerful investigator from the Ministry of Archives, Sacred Books and Holy Memories, who shares a secret that could destabilise the establishment at its heart. The following books trace Ati’s ailing mind and his quest to resist the oppressive police state while the epilogue reveals what becomes of Ati and Abistan. The imagery used by Sansal is contemporary and the events unfold like a daily newsreel. The plot is rarely slow and the chapters remain unpredictable. It is impossible to judge between friend and foe. Sansal’s style is distinct in that he writes little about his characters directly. Everything is revealed through stories told by others. Everything is constructed. The book is an obvious tribute to 1984—Big Brother is Bigaye. AngSoc is Abigov. Newspeak is Abilang. Inner circle of the party is the Just Brotherhood—The references will not be missed by an Orwell reader. In addition, like in 1984, language is key. The true location of Abistan is never revealed and the world they invent inside it is amnesiac. As one of the characters describes it, Abistan is 'so absurd that they have to be more and more absurd with every passing day just to find a place where they left off the day before'. However, unlike in 1984 where ordinary people are convinced about committing reprehensible acts, Sansal’s satire is less layered and plays into an obvious debate between what is humane and immoral. In addition, Julia, the formidable female lead in Orwell’s totalitarian world, has no equivalent in 2084. Barring the nameless women of the 'ghettos', the few female characters who appear in the novel do so as mothers, wives and sisters with no consequential roles. Women remain the subalterns in Sansal’s story of awakening and rebellion.I read 2084 while on a mountaineering trip and Sansal’s descriptions of Ati’s journey through the Ouâ range felt only more real in such a setting. The book’s original version appears in French, as '2084: La fin du monde', but foreign language novels rarely seem to be stocked in St Andrews and I gave in to the English version I spotted at Topping’s. While 2084 made for a good read, it was obvious that a lot was lost in translation. The book made waves in France in 2015 after the Algerian author was awarded the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française and has since been featured in several other longlists. French language being at the core of the existence of l'Académie française, the Grand Prix du roman makes evident the importance of the original writing to the story.The novel, however, propounds many ideas that transcend the barriers of translation. One such idea is about museums. Ati’s confidant, Toz, and perhaps through him Sansal, philosophises that ‘a museum is a paradox, a trickery, an illusion that is every bit as pernicious’. He believes that by reconstituting a vanished world, ‘we idealise it and destroy it for the second time because we remove it from its context to set it down into another, and thus we freeze it in immobility and silence, or we make it say and do something it may not have said or done.’There are many ways in which this book could be received by a global audience in the postcolonial era. It is arguable that in presenting a national award to a book about religious totalitarianism, France is engaging in intellectual co-optation. At the start of the book, Sansal writes, 'La religion fait peut-être aimer Dieu mais rien n’est plus fort qu’elle pour faire détester l’homme et haïr l’humanité'. Sansal is a writer who is evidently disillusioned with religion and his book is about that disillusionment. The book's protagonist, Ati, makes a disturbing discovery that religion can be built on the opposite of truth and so become the 'fierce warders of the original falsehood'. Sansal explains that Ati's spirit was 'rejecting was not so much religion itself as the crushing of mankind by religion'. Boualem Sansal’s earlier writings are said to have been systematically censored for his criticism of the Algerian government. That France bestowed upon Sansal its most prestigious literary prize fits, and even perpetuates too easily for comfort, the intellectual Left's narrative about religion. Nonetheless, Sansal, like Orwell, deserves credit for telling a story of protest where much of the context can be imagined by the readers themselves. Although written in French and inspired by a British classic, Boualem Sansal’s work is very much a part of contemporary Algerian literature and has universal appeal. One does not need to have read George Orwell’s 1984 to grasp Sansal’s story but will, most likely, want to read or re-read the classic soon afterwards.Sneha Reddy
Aine Dodman, the Tribe's new kid on the block, reviews Florence Marryat's The Blood of the Vampire, which she considers a book which takes us 'an important step closer to realising the roots of the shadows we live it'.
What is a vampire without fangs? Dangerous, because she doesn’t even know what she is – alright, that makes the book sound a bit YA-Twilight-y, but bear with me. Published in the same year as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Florence Marryat takes a close look at Victorian racial science and imperialism as the reputation of the British Empire and the age of progress slowly began to crumble.Marryat’s vampire is twenty-one-year-old Harriet Brandt, holidaying in Heyst, Belgium with her unsuspecting victims. Heyst is not exactly a paradise, but it attracts interesting company. Harriet soon attaches herself to Margaret Pullen, an English gentlewoman all too willing to take an innocent young girl under her wing whilst she and her baby wait for her husband to return from service in India, and Elinor Leyton, the New Woman with a cold exterior suffocating her internal passions. Elinor is not impressed with Harriet, who is unaware of social decorum and consistently over-steps boundaries, and leaves her with Margaret in a café. Alone together, Harriet begins to reveal some of her tragic past: whilst being brought up in Jamaica, she was ignored by her parents and left to the care of the overseer on her father’s plantation. When her parents died she was placed in an orphanage, deprived even more of the love she craved. She leans on Margaret for comfort, and in their closeness, Margaret begins to feel strange, faint, and weak. Harriet, oblivious to Margaret’s suffering, continues to weep until Margaret is retrieved by Elinor and taken to their hotel.Harriet soon grows overwhelmingly attached to Margaret’s baby, Ethel, smothering her constantly with affection. As Ethel’s health wanes, Margaret calls for Doctor Phillips to attend from England, who arrives as Harriet and Elinor’s recently arrived fiancé Ralph are falling rapidly into a steaming love affair. Doctor Phillips sees no hope for little Ethel and confesses to Margaret that he once knew Harriet’s parents in Jamaica and believes that she is the cause of both Ethel’s and Ralph’s growing illnesses. We learn from him that Harriet’s maternal grandmother was bitten by a vampire bat whilst pregnant, and so her Creole mother was born with vampire blood in her veins which, when combined with the savageries of her racial background, make her into a monstrous, gluttonous, and bloodthirsty woman. Harriet’s father is no better – a mad scientist conducting vivisection experiments on animals and his own slaves. Her parents died after the slaves on the plantation rebelled, slaughtered them, and then burned their house. Harriet survived only with the help of the overseer and was then stashed away in a convent until she was of age. Having inherited the blood of the vampire, Harriet now draws the energy from all of those she grows close to, making them weak by her very presence.The death of baby Ethel convinces both Ralph and Margaret of Harriet’s dangerous nature and they leave for England. Harriet however waits eagerly for Ralph’s return in Brussels, expecting a romantic getaway but having to content herself with the company of the scheming Baroness Gobelli, her feckless husband, and her young son Bobby Bates who in turn also falls for Harriet. She agrees to lodge with the Gobellis in London but is furious about being spurned by Ralph and disappointed with the Red House which falls short of hyped-up expectations. Elinor Leyton confronts Harriet about her love letters to her fiancé and by defeating her in a very British manner (staying completely calm and borderline disinterested in the presence of a passionate and angry young woman) shakes off her cold manner towards her fiancé and emerges victorious in her triumph over Ralph.Anthony Pennell, Margaret’s celebrity author cousin, agrees to meet with Harriet at the Red House to smooth things over and ensure the end of the scandal, but is immediately taken by her beauty and intelligence. He proposes to her, secretly watched by the heartbroken Bobby, and she accepts. Bobby retires to his room and is later discovered dead, the shock of which causes Baroness Gobelli to accuse Harriet of being his murder and revealing her vampiric bloodline to her. Flustered and confused, Harriet goes to Doctor Phillips, who confirms her hereditary curse and drawing temperament, though admitting his theory has no grounds in science but is only a generally accepted fact in the medical community.Determined to call off her engagement to Anthony to save his life, Harriet tells all to him but he reassures her that all this talk of vampirism is nonsense, and, still with her reservations, she agrees to go ahead with the wedding. They honeymoon in Europe, travelling eventually to Italy. Anthony hides his growing sickness from Harriet and one morning, without warning, Harriet awakes to find her husband dead beside her. Convinced she has killed him through her vampirism, she commits suicide, leaving her huge fortune to Margaret Pullen with a note in which she hopes that her curse will not carry itself over into the afterlife.This book is, by Victorian standards and ours as well, a little bit mad. A vampire who doesn’t bite, everyone falling in love with the same woman, mad scientists, continuous “unexplained” deaths, fake séances, hidden engagements, and feigned interests in china – what does it all mean, if this book does mean anything at all?Maddeningly, we simply do not know enough about Florence Marryat’s life to say what her stance was on the contemporary issues of mixed races and hereditary, but we know enough to pick out the extremely personal investment she placed in this novel. Just like Margaret, Marryat lost her only child very early and become deeply depressed for a long time afterwards. She turned to Spiritualism and séances to attempt to communicate with her daughter, and this grief drips from the pages. Marryat is also clearly very immersed in the scientific debates of the time, as is reflected in the language she uses when describing both Harriet and Doctor Phillips’ “medical opinion” of her. On the one hand, Harriet is beautiful but her deceptive exterior – she does not look like a colonial subject – hides an animalistic and childish interior, dangerous to the ruling classes and their potential children. ‘One might get a piebald son and heir’ if marrying her, Ralph says. Does Marryat agree with all this pseudoscience? At time yes and at times no, it seems. Harriet may be a dangerous beast but she is also a delicate and innocent young girl, as equally vulnerable as she makes others. Her grief and fear are just as real as Margaret Pullen’s, just as touching, and just as devastating.Is she a killer? I do not know. Is she a vampire? I do not know. If she is, she is innocent of any mens rea, any truly murderous intention, and any savagery. As Harriet quickly and resolutely internalizes the superstitious beliefs of those who, in an age defined by scientific progress and knowledge, lead people further from concrete religious beliefs to uncertainty about the basic questions of existence, Marryat mourns for those like Harriet who are torn apart by the “advances” of the Victorian age, for those whose hopes are soiled by those who claim authority without evidence or legitimacy, and for lose trodden underfoot in the name of progress both at home and in the furthest reaches of the Empire.To read The Blood of the Vampire is to attempt to come to terms with two parts of our disturbing past as a nation – our cruel colonialism and our cruel literary canon. Marryat was a renowned author of her day, prolific as she was popular, and yet we have not remembered her. Shining a light on forgotten authors is not just important for our cultural or literary history, but we often try to forget the literature which troubles us. We praise the works which praise our modern values or entertain our modern fancies. We purge our culture to try and purge ourselves, but if we want to understand the uncertainties we face today, the ease with which misinformation and prejudice take hold, reading Marryat can take us an important step closer to realising the roots of the shadows we live it.This book has stuck to me from the moment I began to read it. It is a conversation, nay an argument, with itself that only goes halfway down the path but does it with such vigour, humour, and intrigue that we push ourselves further than Marryat leads us fuelled by her luminous, electric passion. A curious concoction of the society novel and the supernatural, The Blood of the Vampire is a novel not just worth the read or the study, but worth so much more love and recognition than we have given it. Forget Dracula (if only we could) and see the vampire and the Victorians in a more disturbing vision than any castle in Transylvania. Aine Dodman
Sneha Reddy reviews Orwell's Down and Out in Paris, a collection of the author's encounters as a young man in the late 1920s and early 1930s living first in Paris and then in London.
‘Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition, more like the after effects of influenza than anything else’. Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, is a collection of George Orwell’s encounters as a young man in the late 1920s and early 1930s living first in Paris and then in London. Homeless and unemployed, he struggles to feed and clothe himself. Like many others in his position, Orwell walks miles to save a few centimes, queues up for hours to find a daily wage job and in desperate times, pawns his remaining few clothes to pay for food and tobacco. Down and Out, by the author’s own admission, is a ‘fairly trivial story’ that tells the reader, ‘here is the world that awaits you if you are ever penniless’.The book is a people’s history as seen through the eyes of Orwell, who was then a young writer, eager to ‘explore that world more thoroughly’. In a way, this book has two Orwells. One, who is experiencing life as it happens each day on the streets with no money, and the other Orwell, who is continuously talking to the reader, almost fearful of failing to create empathy for the destitute in his story. Orwell sees discrimination, deceit and desperation but he also writes about generosity, friendship and some good times. His themes, therefore, are universal but the images remain unique to the story. In the Paris and London that he describes, there is not a single mention of the beauty or heritage of the cities, for his characters have no time and take no interest in such things. Life, for them, is a struggle from one meal to the next and their survival depends on whether they could collect enough to pay for a bed in a ‘spike’ that night. The story could have easily passed off as an inward view of this part of the world but for the occasional encounters with soldiers suffering from shell shock who remain dependent on charities long after the end of the First World War, a global phenomenon.In the chapters set in Paris, Orwell takes the reader up the staircase, into the hotel room on Rue du Coq d’Or where the roof was often lined with bugs and later into Hotel X, where his job as a plongeur keeps him busy throughout summer. Uncertainty, however, remains the only constant. ‘Two bad days followed’, he declares at the start of one paragraph. The reader cannot but feel for Orwell and his Russian friend, Boris who at that point become ‘too hungry even to try and think of anything except food’. ‘It was all very queer after Paris’, he writes, upon arriving back in his own country. He realises that England is a ‘very good country when you are not poor’. When he meets some old fellow lodgers, he notes, ‘till meeting them I had never realised that there are people who live on nothing but the old age pension of ten shillings a week’.Orwell is constantly bringing his perspective to what he sees. The influence of his early years in India are evident in his descriptions of the hierarchy in Hotel X which he likens to the ‘idea of the elaborate caste system’ and in his attempts at demonstrating his knowledge of swear words in Urdu. In some others, he is more vocal about his feelings. He says upfront, ‘for what they are worth I want to give my opinions…’ and then goes on to state rather assertively about ‘smart’ restaurants being cheap, shoddy imitations of luxury and rickshaws existing only because ‘Orientals consider it too vulgar to walk’. The Orwellian approach that manifests itself in whole in his later works such as Animal Farm and 1984 begin to surface already in Down and Out where he writes about the long working hours of low wage workers—‘I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob… it is safer to keep them too busy to think’ and argues that ‘the mob is in fact loose now, and—in the shape of rich men—is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom’. All his observations appear to be connected. The book ends with what sounds almost like an effort to lobby the government for better conditions for the homeless and to reason with people to be more empathetic to tramps.In all, there are thirty-eight chapters, split between Paris and London, with some parts dedicated almost exclusively to specific topics such as the one on London slang and swearing or the one on the working of a hotel which he found, even in its chaos, to have its own kind of order. Many of Orwell’s travel companions, such as Bozo, the screever, and Paddy, the Irishman, are likeable. There is a backstory for each of the characters that Orwell lays out when he introduces them as though it were essential for the readers to know how they got there. Overall, Down and Out is a travel account but it is also a social commentary and is true to what it seeks to express. At one point, Orwell laments, ‘the trouble is that intelligent, cultivated people, the very people who might be expected to have liberal opinions, never do mix with the poor’. He feels uncomfortable about the fact that the educated man has not experienced real hunger and attributes such ignorance as the cause for ‘fear of the mob’. It is hardly prudent to disagree.I picked up this book earlier in the year from India. I wanted to read it long since after I completed 1984. His experiences in Paris took me back to my own time working in the kitchen of Rose Bakery near Montmartre and the Métro, boulot, dodo lifestyle that is typical of both Paris and London. I found the book to be a great read especially in these times of harsh income disparities and the very real disconnect between different sections of the society. While the book goes some way in sensitising its readers, it also makes one wish they could feel just as Orwell did when he wrote, ‘it is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out’. Sneha Reddy
On the eve of his presidency's end, Sneha Reddy reviews Barack Hussein Obama's Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, a memoir before his Senate career began. In a wide-ranging, poignant appraisal, Sneha notes aspects of his early years, President Obama's distinct grace, articulate powers of oration, and the personal accounts of the 44th President, before his meteoric ascension.
Dreams from my father is the personal story of a ‘black man with a funny name’, written by thirty-four-year-old Barack H. Obama, two years before his election to the Illinois Senate, in 1995. Dreams is a memoir—a record of Obama’s childhood, his college life, the years spent in Chicago as an organiser—ending around the time of his marriage to Michelle L. Robinson. True to its title, it is ‘a story of race and inheritance’ that stretches across continents, carrying within it countless tales of the many people around Obama. My guess is that Obama wanted to write this story because he recognised that his journey, which we see today as remarkably unique in the history of American politics, was indeed a shared one—set in a complex context that is the American society. And through this book, Obama wished to speak to Americans, Kenyans, Indonesians, Indians and the rest alike, to remind us that ‘we’re all part of one tribe…the human tribe’. His writing is simple but he engages like a poet. In an updated 2004 preface to the book, Obama confessed to ‘wincing ever so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced’. Nevertheless, his observations are keen and recollections are evocative.A lot may be new to a reader unfamiliar with the terrain that Obama referenced in the nineteen chapters that make up this book: Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya and in the US—California, Chicago’s South Side and New York’s Harlem. Everywhere, however, young Barry accompanies the readers, revealing something about himself through his moments of brilliance, of impatience, as well as, of self-doubt. In the first two parts of the book, readers are taken from the warm beaches of Hawaii to the cold winds of Chicago’s winter, along with Toots, Gramps, Lolo, Maya and his mother, Ann who make up his maternal family. Writing about his high school years, Obama recalled looking for answers in the works of Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright and DuBois, but feeling disappointed when he found ‘the same anguish, the same doubt; a self-contempt that neither irony nor intellect seemed able to deflect… Only Malcolm X’s autobiography’, he wrote, ‘seemed to offer something different’.At University, as questions of race became more pronounced, he remembered finding the term ‘white folks’ uncomfortable. To him, ‘it felt like a non-native speaker tripping over a difficult phrase’. Feeling overwhelmed, he remarked, ‘I had begun to see a new map of the world, one that was frightening in its simplicity, suffocating in its implications’ but in those years, he also ‘learned not to care’, noting that ‘pot had helped’. He wrote of smoking cigarettes and wearing leather jackets and of nights in the university dorms discussing neo-colonialism, Frantz Fanon, eurocentrism, and patriarchy with his friends. He wrote of the evenings when they set the stereos ‘so loud that the walls began to shake’ but how it felt like they were ‘resisting the bourgeois society’s stifling constraints’. Years later, following his time in New York, Obama would decide: ‘my identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t, end there’. The book further describes in detail, his time as an organiser in Chicago which he realised was ‘America’s most segregated city’.The third part of the book is an account of his first trip to Kenya, rich in detail and thoroughly personal. While still aboard the flight to Nairobi to meet the paternal side of his family, Obama wrote of his ‘uneasy status’: ‘a Westerner not entirely at home in the West, an African on his way to a land full of strangers’. His arrival, however, soon filled his mind with other thoughts. He noted, ‘no one here in Kenya would ask how to spell my name or mangle it with an unfamiliar tongue. My name belonged and so I belonged’. On that same trip, Obama encountered an old woman in the city marketplace who told his sister, Auma, that he looked like an American. To this, he responded: “Tell her I’m Luo”, referring to his father’s tribe while beating his chest. As years passed, ‘the puzzle of being a black man’, that came from being born to a Kansas mother and Kenyan father, began to appear to Obama as one that he could now possibly solve.Obama cautiously added that his memoir is not ‘representative of the black American experience’ but confided that through his story, he wished to embrace his ‘black brothers and sisters, whether in this country or in Africa, and affirm a common destiny without pretending to speak to, or for, all [the] various struggles’. His 2006 book, Audacity of Hope, which is about his political ideas and beliefs, picks up the threads left by Dreams. It is in this first book, however, that one discovers the young Obama as well as his ‘very bad poetry’ in college. And, it is in these pages that one learns of the first time he met his father and of the day he married Michelle, danced with his friends and felt most lucky. I had not planned to read Obama’s memoir until I picked it up in a book sale at the Main Library in Saint Andrews last week and found it to be an excellent antidote to the current affairs of our times.
Writing in the last week of the Obama presidency:The first time I had heard about Barack Obama was in the summer of 2008 when I was visiting New York for a high school conference. Election fervour had engulfed the city. Everybody appeared to be supporting what looked like a fun party where everybody felt included. I, too, wore a badge on my bag which read ‘Hope’ as I walked the streets of this excited country that was anticipating change. Fast forward to 2010: the Obamas were visiting Mumbai and they gave a talk in Xavier’s where I studied. I found that my peers, most thrilled to meet him, asked him tough questions on the sticky points of his foreign policy. In the years that followed, expressing disappointment in the Obama administration was met with wide acceptance in the collegiate debating circles. To appear to be his supporter in such times was certainly unwelcome. Since 2016, however, the tone changed once again. This time, despite the elusiveness of peace in so many parts of the world, Obama’s popularity has continued to see an unprecedented rise. Nostalgia for the Obama era is clearly here to stay. At this point, having witnessed his strengths and limitations as President as well as reading this book, so full of ideas for community development and organisation and ‘real change’, it seems obvious to me that the presidency was only a part and that he will most certainly go much further. Sneha Reddy
First year Ashley Llewellyn reviews The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a heartbreakingly beautiful story narrated by Death about a young girl, Liesel, who grows up in Nazi Germany during World War II.
When the book opens, Liesel Meminger is traveling to meet her new foster parents. Liesel’s mother knows that she will soon be killed by the Nazi party so she is sending them away when Liesel’s brother unexpectedly dies on the journey. They bury him beside the train tracks before continuing on, a rather grim start to the novel.Upon her arrival, Liesel becomes instant friends with her adopted father, but dislikes her new mother’s strict rules. She beats up a fellow classmate the first day of school for teasing her about not being able to read or write, which catches the attention of her neighbor, Rudy Steiner. Rudy immediately falls in love with Liesel’s fiery spirit and fierce determination. They become best friends at once, going to school together, playing after, and sharing each other’s closest secrets.Liesel’s father, Hans, teaches her how to read, and once she understands how to, she loves it immensely. Liesel lived in the heart of Nazi Germany where almost all books were banned or censored, and in an attempt to fully demonstrate just how “subversive” these novels were and further indoctrinate their citizens, the books were burned. The first book burning makes Liesel realize the inherent evil of the Nazi Party and, around this time, Liesel steals her first book, earning her the title of “the book thief.”During the war, Liesel’s family hides a Jewish man who is on the run, Max Vandenburg. Liesel’s mother and father, despite the risk of being caught and killed, shelter him in their basement because Max’s father had saved Hans’ life during the first world war.https://www.flickr.com/photos/lisibo/3295228179/in/photolist-62bUwX-bGoKpB-51m6sp-cyXWLJ-5tAVhV-bttVQN-8r5tEu-brEbdK-bGoK8P-bttW2b-bttVZE-GhzkVA-BLo9sL-BtcWbK-BW2dA-751zi5-bGoKiM-dPu5Dj-bKmj2k-7iLPqZ-6fMwgR-dUquVy-8Sw64E-4BQLwS-cz7M45-MEiwd-7iLPs6-7zQsCn-dJu49c-dYqyPu-dPotf8-w98tLd-bttVVd-a28owN-eyFXm8-5tFhZS-kmHd2z-8SdXVx-dM9wJm-79tYRc-8y32yB-8XJu6P-9zN2hY-cyLcU3-bmBtN1-9aAicX-bmBsVY-7reoPf-bzwkzK-iDQZcVThe novel ends with the city of Molching being bombed. Death reflects on each soul he picks up, in particular, Hans’ is described as “light as a feather,” and in this scene, the stereotypical characterization of death as an evil, malicious character who all humans will eventually meet, is transformed into something more beautiful. Death reflects on the moment when he picks up each person’s soul as it floats from their body: “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst.”Zusak writes beautifully, his prose and imagery are both extraordinary, and, as many devastating events occur in this novel, the narration of the story by Death is perfect. This tragic yet fantastic novel provides an inside view to what it was like living in Nazi Germany during Hitler’s reign. Liesel’s point of view reveals not only the extent of the brainwashing within Germany during World War Two, and how certain individuals, like Liesel, stood up for and helped save the lives of those being persecuted, but also how Liesel’s love of books helped her endure the best and worst times of her life, and made her realize the unbounded power of learning and knowledge. Ashley Llewellyn