Thursday, September 23, 2010

Departures - A Stunning Film, Gorgeous Music, Life & Death & Love

Here's a passage from Paul Bowles' book The Sheltering Sky, which I just saw referenced below a YouTube clip from a fascinating, emotional, incredible Japanese film: Departures. Get it now! Watch it! And be prepared to cry and laugh. Cut and paste this link ( to listen to the film's main theme, a beautiful solo cello piece, as you read and think about this passge.

"...Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? ...Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless...."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review of a Hemingway Novel - A Man's Man, and then some

Hemingway Cutthroat
by Michael Atkinson

Ernest Hemingway was an infamously unlikeable guy, and Michael Atkinson’s frank portrayal calls for adjusting one’s “empathy” threshold to very low. Atkinson’s premise is that this is what really happened to Hemingway in Spain in 1937, providing the content for his most famous book, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway is a journalist, sending back dispatches to U.S. newspapers about the Spanish Civil War. When a Spanish friend “disappears”, Hemingway throws himself into the fray like the proverbial bulldog clamped onto the bull’s neck, and won’t let go until he finds out the facts.

As a woman reader of historical novels primarily written for women readers, I decided to challenge myself to read a novel about this outrageously macho man, written by a man, to see if the content, style and overall experience could possibly be all that different. Honey, you don’t know the half of it. Atkinson is a good writer and at times, delivers some great sentences; for example, after witnessing a cold-blooded murder, “The inside of his heart was a slightly different country now, cloudier, brutalized by midnights and less beguiled by mornings.” But there’s also non-stop swearing, drinking and passing out, whoring, fighting, beatings, torture, kidnapping, car chases and precious little sleep. The atmosphere is hot, dark, smoky and utterly masculine; the few women who appear are either hard-boiled American dames who cross swords with Hemingway (and lose), or tough Spanish women who defy him then invite him into their beds. Hemingway’s occasional moments of clarity about the meaning and direction of his life, his writing, and his family aren’t enough to make him truly sympathetic, but they help. Occasional observations about the experience of writing are intelligent and interesting; I would have liked more of this and less action-adventure à la Jack Bauer. A challenge for Austenites!

Minatour Books (St. Martin’s Press, New York), August 2010, $24.99, pb, 272 pages, ISBN: 978-0-312-37972-8