War and Love

war

War and Love –
A Family’s Testament of Anguish, Endurance
and Devotion in Occupied Amsterdam
By Melanie Martin
Matador/Troubador – £14.99

     Whoever reads these words, recall,
     my comrades in distress
     and their loved ones most of all,
     their utter wretchedness,
     know this that we too brought to mind
     our kin and country dear,
     from every night a new day dawns,
     and every sky will clear.

                                                        (‘The Eighteen Dead’)
                                                        Jan Campert, 1941

In April 1941 they decided that every Dutch person should carry personal identification papers – before that we had never seen them.
They wanted it so you could show who you are and those held by Jews had to be stamped with a ”J.” And those stupid Dutchmen the government offices cooperated. As a result, Holland lost the highest percentage of its Jewish population. This was in stark contrast to Denmark, where nobody cooperated – led by their king, who stayed in Copenhagen throughout the war.

                                                         (‘Early Resistance’)

Like the prime protagonists throughout this book, my mother – who was the same age as Anne Frank – lived through the horrendous Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The elongated trajectory of which, was to remain forever more.
In more ways than one.

As such, I can wholeheartedly (if not unfortunately) relate to War and Love –
A Family’s Testament of Anguish, Endurance and Devotion in Occupied Amsterdam. So much of its altogether poignant reading is akin to an actual ‘’testament’’ of my own childhood.

Reason being, by way of my mother’s side of my family, I was made well-aware of such words as Westerbork, The Hunger Winter, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen at a very early age. So much so, that said words have intermittently/subliminally remained with me ever since.

There again, my mother had Jewish family members murdered at Auschwitz.
Family members, me and my sisters were never to meet, although I’m led to believe they were bigger than life.
Indeed, bigger than the vile regime responsible for their murders.

A regime, whose atrocious and barbaric behaviour, is occasionally brought to bear throughout these 236 pages (excluding List of Sources), although never dwelt upon. And this is what accounts for War and Love being such a delicate, and dare I say it, enduring read, as so succinctly mentioned on the back cover: ‘’What makes this book different is that it doesn’t dwell on the horrors of the Holocaust. It surrounds those events with the fabric of human life. The remarkable way that people adapted to the different circumstances they faced and in spite of the peril and hardship they still made the best of their lives, told jokes, played their part in the Dutch resistance and fell in love.’’

There is admittedly, the odd historical error; the big one being on page 122, which mentions that the Warsaw Uprising occurred in 1943, when in fact it was (August) 1944; although the reproduction of so many (overtly eloquent) black and white photographs, as well as the information on the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands, more than makes up for this.

To be sure, I’m most grateful for the authoress, Melanie Martin, having written and compiled what is clearly a brave, astute, humane and altogether, rather beautiful book.
I’m not sure I could have done the same.
So: thank you.

David Marx

 

Flyover Country – Poems

country

Flyover Country – Poems
By Austin Smith
Princeton University Press – £14.99

     It had become clear
     To each of them separately,
     The world wasn’t ending,
     Only growing darker.

                                       (‘Dark Day’)

As I write, it seems one cannot open a newspaper or switch on the radio or television, without somehow being inundated with the current Covid-19 Coronavirus. The elongated trajectory of which, as it stands, would indeed suggest that the world might not be ‘’ending,’’ but it’s certainly ‘’growing darker.’’

So once again, poetry comes to the fore – to tell it as.
Even if inadvertently.

That said, while the (above) quotation of ‘Dark Day’ is nigh all conclusive, the formation of its earlier literary expanse, does nevertheless, cast a far wider net:

     Even the rebellious daughter
     Who mouthed her prayers at supper
     Felt afraid when she parted
     Her bedroom curtains and saw stars.
     But in the family plot their dead
     Stayed dead. They’d expected
     The clamour of coffin bells
     Rung by ancestors resurrected,
     […].

As such, ‘Dark Days’ is a wide-open premise, the poetic realm of which isn’t as linear as one might expect from such a relatively hard-hitting title. A quality, which could just as easily be applied to much, if not most of this collection as-a-whole.

And this is clearly something that resonates within the overt inventiveness of Austin Smith.

With a previous book of poetry entitled Almanac (also on Princeton), the very title Flyover Country, goes some way in suggesting that that is exactly what current day America has become; whereby the nation is caught between: ‘’carrying out drone strikes abroad, whilst locked in a state of perpetual war that civilians seem helpless to stop.’’

In other words, a relative form of ideological stasis – all the more underlined by such poems as ‘Outside The Anne Frank House, ‘The Bombing Of Hospitals’ and ‘Wounded Men Seldom Come Home To Die.’

The latter’s opening four lines truly telling it in such a way as needs to be ferociously recognised:

     And this is why: when a wounded man comes home
     To die he must come in through the summer kitchen,
     Clutching his wound like a bunch of kindling.
     At the sight of him his mother faints. He catches her

Suave, sturdy, yet simultaneously silent and sedate, this collection of poetry will no doubt continue to resonate way into the future; for as Colm Tobin has since written: ‘’these poems live in the delicate space between the ordinary and the luminous.’’

David Marx

 

Tick-Tock

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Tick-Tock
By Suso de Toro
Small Stations Press

This book is the sequel to the almost Raymond Carver induced Polaroid, which I reviewed on this site upon publication.

Where said book’s short stories tell of the everyday, quasi-bizarre, such as a second-hand typewriter which insists on typing out its own message, a cash machine which flirts with a regular customer of the bank by making spurious deposits into her account (a funky premise for story if ever there was one…) and a blind man whom beats and is poisoned by his wife; Tick-Tock is made up of five, very distinct sections.

Oddly entitled ‘The Bogeyman’s Prophecy,’ ‘Memory and Dream,’ ‘The Tyranny of DNA,’ ‘Usury and Constipation, Asepsis and Sterility’ and ‘The Bogeyman’s Work,’ these stories – while interlinked with similar themes whereby the protagonist waxes lyrical by way of a poor man’s philosophy – are occasionally more jocular and (far more) darker.

For instance, by the book’s third page of the very opening gambit (‘What weather, eh’), we nigh immediately learn of the alluring effects a lingerie shop can have on a man (well he who is telling the story anyway): ‘’[…] oh goodness. I sometimes stand there with my mouth open, of course you can’t touch even if you wanted to, the window’s in the way, and I stare at all those busts with all their lace brassieres… The bust is the body part that comprises the breasts and shoulders […]. Oh, goodness me. And though one would like to maintain control of the situation, well, sometimes it gets difficult. Once this saleswoman came outside to tell me off. ‘Off with you, you great big brute.’ I wasn’t doing anything. I was just looking, I’m not a pervert, it’s normal if you’re looking to have your hand in your trouser pocket […].

Moreover, as mentioned, the flip said to Tick-Tock’s occasional jocularity, is its profound under-current of darkness and sadness, of which ‘Mother, Dear Mother’ is a perfect example: ‘’Even though he was forty, he’d always had a weak pair of lungs. He wondered what his mother would say if she could see Adelina’s behaviour. She’d only died a year earlier, and already Adelina was leaving him. So it was hardly surprising the house was in a mess. He wondered what on earth would become of him. Once Adelina retired, he would be left all alone. All alone in the world. Because of his mother. Why did she have to die? I asked her not to die, but she didn’t listen.’’

Clearly, there’s so much going on in the above quotation.

Indeed, just as there is throughout many of the stories herein, which may partially account for this book having received the Spanish Critics’ Prize for its ‘’unconventionality and narrative expertise,’ that just happens to be Suso de Toro’s most popular work.

No surprises there then – although there are quite a few scattered throughout these 269 pages.

David Marx

 

Untruth

truth

Untruth – Musings with Kierkegaard On
Christian Living in A Fractured World
By Michael Stark
Darton, Longman & Todd – £12.99

The Church has formed God in its own image. The internet only helps that.

(‘Social (Dis)Connection’)

A revolutionary age is an age of action; ours is the age of advertisement and publicity. Nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere.

(‘Engaging Public Life’)

The Church has largely missed the point of faith – that is supposed to be appropriated at an individual level so that it heightens the thriving, healthy self in a way in which the Gospel flows through and in all things. Faith is a key component on the formation of a healthy self. Because each person is made by God, when one relates well to self, then one also relates well to God. Kierkegaard writes of the necessity of faith that the ‘task is to become itself, which can only be done through the relationship to God.’

(‘Engaging Public Life’)

This book by Michael Stark is many things: dense, enlightening, thought-provoking, astute, friendly and fundamentally more readable than most books of a similar persuasion.

Anchored within the realm of Soren Kierkegaard’s progressive thinking, these 157 pages traverse a veritable gambit of current day Christianity, as seen through the eyes and heart of the renowned, brilliant Danish philosopher (1813-1855).

For example, the second of the above opening quotes with regards the ‘revolutionary age,’ are Kierkegaard’s words, yet they could have been written yesterday.

Reason being, one cannot buy a toaster, take a cruise or call a call centre to pay a bill – or do anything really – without having to fill in questionnaire after questionnaire; either rating the product itself or rating how helpful (or unhelpful) the nineteen year old was who took the call.

To be sure, in this current age of social media, we are indeed bombarded with the most acute quest for ‘’advertisement and publicity.’’ A fact, which, for all intents and malfunctioning purposes, is affecting how society effectively functions.
This includes religion. This includes the Church.

Untruth – Musings with Kierkegaard On Christian Living in A Fractured World does much to shed revelatory light on this issue (and in more ways than one): ‘’The result in Christian communities is a very plain, stale version of faith where Christians are content with placing ticks in the boxes of what organized Christianity deems appropriate. In doing so, contemporary Christianity has forced God into a box made very much in an image that makes us comfortable. This boxed-God desperately wants to be freed to meet us where we are at, to challenge us and cultivate a deeper level of trust and intimacy with each of us as individuals’’ (‘The Many Shades of Faith’).

Within the very density of some of Kierkegaard’s thinking, there are aspects of Untruth that are, or at least ought to be (essentially) self-evident. In other words, much of what Stark touches on makes for common sense.

Thing is, common sense and religion don’t necessarily bode well together, especially when self-righteousness and, dare I say it, social media are thrown into the mix. All the more reason to read this book – even if just to assimilate the truth from the untruth.

David Marx

 

 

 

Night-Singing Bird

night

Night-Singing Bird
By Karen Harrison
Small Stations Press

The day collapses slowly
like a thirsty rose,
[…]
dripping through the leaves
like broken honeycomb.

     (‘Cassandra’)

I am outraged by God,
furious and disgusted.
How dare He create the world
and then exile most of it
from His presence
on the basis of race or creed?

     (‘On the Straight Gate’)

There’s something to be said for the three essential threads which coalesce these forty-eight poems (God, nature and the author’s personal life – although not necessarily in that order) are fundamentally intertwined.

And of a certain belonging: that of each other – and I don’t just mean the mere fact that they fall within the parameters of a collection which just happens to be called Night-Singing Bird. Be it the disparity of the book’s opening poem ‘Cutting Out (On Hebrews 9:22)’or ‘Winter Solstice;’ the aforementioned ‘Cassandra,’ or ‘Flight 139: Over the Midwest;’ or the depth of such semi-coquettish rage that substantiates ‘Boob Job’:

Some women get plastic breasts
to get a man into their life.
I got mine
to get cancer out.
But it seems they multi-task.
Despite their feeling like
a pair of tennis balls
duct-taped to my chest,
I have just been kissed.

Great last line.
Likewise, the continuance of the second above opening quotations, ‘On the Straight Gate,’ which readily reinforces the cataclysmic depth of Karen Harrison’s frustration:

There are laws against that kind of thing.
The UN votes.
There are sanctions.
I register my protest with an embargoed faith.
I shout my gratitude at Him
and yell my praise
[…].

‘An embargoed faith’ may be something of an abstract visionary persuasion, admittedly; but it’s within said abstraction (if such be the word or description) where the poem’s ultimate power lies.

As such, I too would like to yell my praise.

David Marx

 

Colombia

col

Colombia
By J. Bremner, A. Egerton, T. Masters & K. Raub
Lonely Planet – £17.99

It was a much different country the first time I came to Colombia in the early 2000s, but the stellar hospitality of Colombians had me at arrival. Today, the security situation has improved dramatically, helping Columbia to become South America’s phoenix from the flames. But that initial reception has always stuck with me: without a five-star tourism magnet – no Machu Picchu, no Iguazu Falls, no Patagonia – Colombia works harder for its money, and that begins and ends with the people, who ensure you leave with a different impression than the one you landed with.

     Kevin Raub
     (‘Why I Love Colombia’)

The hands of the clock on the Puerto del Reloj wind back 400 years in an instant as visitors enter the walled old town of Cartagena […]. A stroll down the streets here is a step into the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. The pastel-toned balconies over-flow with bougainvillea and the streets are abuzz with food stalls around magnificent Spanish-built churches, squares and historic mansions. This is a living, working town that just happens to look a lot like it did centuries ago.

     Number One
     (‘Colombia’s Top 20’)

I’m pleasantly pleased as well as somewhat chuffed that Lonely Planet’s Colombia lists Cartagena’s Old Town as Numero Uno in Colombia’s Top 20 – primarily I guess, because I’ve been there.

And can as such, wholeheartedly agree with every word.

Upon entering Cartagena’s Old Town, one does indeed feel as if one is traipsing through the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel (who just happens to be one of my favourite writers), which just so happens to have been written around the time of Shakespeare.

To be sure, the whole area simply reeks of colour and culture (and vibe); the sort of which is indeed, a whole other world.

Along with the wondrous beauty of both Paris and Barcelona, the Old Town area of Cartagena is one of the most photogenic places I have ever had the joy of endeavouring to capture. Luckily, the authors of this guide must feel the same way, as they have captured the essence of the place almost perfectly. Even the wonderful photo that accompanies the second of the above two quotes – is spot on.
As is the following from page 121:

‘’Cartagena de Indias is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13 km of centuries-old colonial stone walls. Cartagena’s Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage site – a maze of cobbled alleys […] and massive churches that cast their shadows across leafy plazas […]. This is a place to drop all sightseeing routines. Instead of trying to tick off all the sights, just stroll through the Old Town day and night. Soak up the sensual atmosphere, pausing to ward off the brutal heat and humidity in one of the city’s many excellent bars and restaurants […]. Cartagena is hard to walk away from – it seizes you in its aged clutches and refuses to let go (‘Caribbean Coast’).

Suffice to say, the 341 pages of this superb guide (excluding Behind the Scenes and Index) traverses all the regions of this fascinating country – from the capital Bogota to both the (aforementioned) Caribbean as well as Pacific Coast, from Cali & Southwest Colombia to Boyca, Santander & Notre de Santander and finally Los Lianos.

It also includes an abundance of exquisite colour photographs, maps, and all the usual sections one has come to expect from Lonely Planet Travel Guides (such as Need to Know, Month by Month, Itineraries and Regions at a Glance).

Although the most appealing aspect of Colombia, as a guide at least, is the essential way it captivates and draws you in. Rather like Cartagena.

David Marx

 

Get Over Yourself

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Get Over Yourself –
Nietzsche For Our Times
By Patrick West
Imprint Academic – £9.95

Nietzsche would agree with Dawkins that there is no need to disprove God, just as there is no need to disprove The Flying Spaghetti Monster. To Nietzsche, the non-existence of a Christian God was so obvious it needed no further discussion. He would never settle with the term atheist, because it suggests a settled, complacent knowledge. Atheism for him was a stage. He decried any ‘’ism,’’ because that pertains to ideology and certitude. Nietzsche argued, and how he did argue, that all dogmas were to be overcome, not subscribed to.

               (‘Human, all too human’)

Sin and punishment were created to deter deviants who threatened the well-being and prospects of the tribe.

               (‘Convictions are prisons’)

One of the many things, both profound and pertinent, I really like about this book, is how exceedingly relevant it is to today. The resultant trajectory of which, wholly substantiates how very much one stands to gain by both embracing and understanding the writing(s) of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Instead of writing(s), I was initially going to use the words philosophical ideology; but of course, Nietzsche would have hated such categorical description. So, I have instead opted for the word writing(s), that, given his very considerable number of books (Thoughts Out Of Season, Thus Spoke Zarathustra and On the Genealogy of Morals to name but three), is perhaps, altogether more apt anyway.

Apt, being another operative word; for as already stated, Get Over Yourself – Nietzsche For Our Times is so acutely relative to today, that it’s 115 pages (excluding Prologue, Bibliography and Index) go some way in essentially highlighting two important factors:
what an enlightening and engaging book this is.,
the degree to which Nietzsche’s philosophy appears to have transcended time.

There again, isn’t such the very nature of philosophy itself?

Indeed, regardless of whether or not one actually agrees with the philosophy; Patrick West has herein written a book that makes for essential reading when it comes to he who once declared that his mission was to ‘’philosophise with a hammer.’’ For other than being an engaging read, Get Over Yourself is also oddly concise – given the (occasionally complex) subject matter – as well as lively, inspired and informative – as I believe the two below quotations illustrate:

‘’Nietzsche’s prose is at once ferocious and euphoric, sulphureous then dazzling. It is exuberant and anarchic, leering violently from the malicious to the vivacious from one sentence to the next. He breaks into French, Italian and Latin without warning and without explanation’’ (Introduction)., ‘’Christianity is the religion for the mob, for the weak and resentful who are unable to achieve greatness. ‘’The preponderance of feelings of displeasure over feelings of pleasure is the cause of a fictitious morality and religion.’’ Its success lies in appealing to common denominators’’ (‘Convictions are prisons’).

So far as a most explanatory introduction to a philosopher is concerned, this book is one of the finest I’ve read in a very long time. One of the prime reasons being – I may have finished reading it over a week ago, but so many of the ideas are still vying for my attention today.

David Max