Monthly Archives: November 2008

How Baghdad has changed

November 12, 2008
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How Baghdad has changed

Ashley Gilbertson, veteran NYT photographer and author of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Iraq War, was featured last Thursday along with first-time Iraq correspondent Campbell Robertson in a videocast for the Times Baghdad Bureau blog. In the video—illustrated with a selection of Gilbertson’s Baghdad photographs—the pair discuss the radical changes that have taken place in the city since the beginning of the conflict, noting a decrease in overall violence, the conversion of onetime insurgents into peace keepers, and, perhaps most conspicuously, the relative absence of U. S. troops patrolling the streets. But while America seems to have been at least marginally successful in transforming the once horrendous conditions in Iraq’s capital, the war has also had a transformative effect on America, evidenced by the profound impacts it has had on the lives of all those who have been witness to its violence. For example, Gilbertson himself, who initially supported the war is now adamantly against it, as stated in this recent clip of the author speaking about the war and its often tragic effects on the lives of its veterans—a topic that Gilbertson says is the focus of a new project. Also see this website for Gilbertson’s . . .

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The honest voice of war

November 11, 2008
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The honest voice of war

Today’s Washington Post story about Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America chronicles the emergence as “a major player on the Hill” of the first nonpartisan organization dedicated to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. “The veterans’ group might not have the budget or membership or fancy clients of some of the lobbying shops that line K Street,” the Post notes. “But its leaders, most of whom are younger than 30, are keenly aware of the problems their unique constituency faces—post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, repeated tours—a fact that has helped the fledgling nonprofit group become a powerful voice for the 1.8 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan on this Veterans Day.” For those of us who don’t work on Capitol Hill, Operation Homecoming tells the stories of those same veterans, in their own words. Called “the honest voice of war” by Jeff Shaara, this volume is the result of an initiative launched by the National Endowment for the Arts to bring distinguished writers to military bases to inspire U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and their families to record their wartime experiences. Encouraged by such authors as Tom Clancy, Tobias Wolff, and Marilyn Nelson, American military personnel and their loved ones wrote . . .

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Ha Jin on creating Chinese culture

November 11, 2008
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Ha Jin on creating Chinese culture

The San Francisco Chronicle recently published an interesting review of The Writer as Migrant—the latest book from award winning poet, novelist, and Chinese expat, Ha Jin. Consisting of a series of essays that explore the significance of writing outside of one’s homeland and in a foreign language, the book focuses not only on the author’s own experience but also considers those of other famous exiles—like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Chinese novelist Lin Yutang—examining how each grapples “with issues of identity and tradition,” and their capacity to act as sounding boards for the voices of their native countries. From the review: In the preface to Between Silences, his first book of poetry, published in 1990, Ha Jin proclaimed that he spoke for those who suffered and endured, those fooled or ruined by history—a Chinese writer who wrote in English on behalf of the downtrodden Chinese. Nearly two decades later, Jin says that he has come to see the “silliness of that ambition.…” “oo much sincerity is a dangerous thing. It can overheat one’s brain,” he drolly notes in his compelling new collection of essays, The Writer as Migrant.… “Just as a creative writer should aspire to be not a broker but a . . .

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The perfect writer

November 10, 2008
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The perfect writer

Chicago Tribune cultural critic Julia Keller reviewed The Norman Maclean Reader last Saturday. Maclean published only one book, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, during his lifetime, but that one book—published when he was 74—assured his place in American literature. Keller talks about why he didn’t publish more: Whether living in Illinois or Montana, though, Maclean wrote constantly; it was his perfectionism that kept him from publishing until he was in his seventh decade, his sense that a work could always be made better, the ideas sharper, the images more telling. Because he cared so much about getting it just right, writing never came easy for him. In a 1986 interview reprinted in The Norman Maclean Reader, he said of literature, “It’s a highly disciplined art. It’s costly. You have to give up a lot of yourself to do it well. It’s like anything you do that’s rather beautiful.” We have a website for Norman Maclean. . . .

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Happy birthday, Erika Mann

November 10, 2008
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Happy birthday, Erika Mann

Sunday marked what would have been the 103rd birthday of the eldest daughter of novelist Thomas Mann. Erika Mann, born November 9, 1905, was a writer in her own right, though her father’s fame overshadowed her own accomplishments in her lifetime. More recently, however, Andrea Weiss has restored Erika, and her brother Klaus, to their rightful places in the spotlight. In the Shadow of Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story is an intimate portrait of Mann’s two eldest children, who were unconventional, rebellious, and fiercely devoted to each other. Empowered by their close bond, they espoused vehemently anti-Nazi views in a Europe swept up in fascism and were openly, even defiantly, gay in an age of secrecy and repression. They were serious authors, performance artists before the medium existed, and political visionaries whose searing essays and lectures are still relevant today. And, as Andrea Weiss reveals in this dual biography, their story offers a fascinating view of the literary and intellectual life, political turmoil, and shifting sexual mores of their times. In the Shadow of Magic Mountain was the lead review in the November 6 London Review of Books and has been praised by the late John Leonard . . .

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The Economist on Patty’s Got a Gun

November 7, 2008
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The Economist on Patty’s Got a Gun

Does the election of Barack Obama signal the end of the culture wars, the end of the politics of polarization? If you can’t sink a candidacy with the ankle weight of a ’60s-era bomber, has that decade’s grip on our politics finally been broken? Once the partisans have been cleared out of the way, the historians are unencumbered. For instance, William Graebner in Patty’s Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America. In April 1974, twenty-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst robbed a San Francisco bank in the company of members of the Symbionese Liberation Army—who had kidnapped her nine weeks earlier. What was she? Traumatized victim, brainwashed zombie, or domestic terrorist? From a review yesterday in the Economist: What makes this book worth reading is not so much the first half, a compelling enough account of Ms. Hearst’s kidnapping and subsequent time in the headlines, as the second half: an attempt to put the Hearst affair in the context of an America struggling to emerge from the Vietnam quagmire and the ignominy of Watergate. The America of the 1970s, he argues, was ridding itself of the legacy of the “permissive” 1960s, and was preparing for the rightward shift of Reaganism . . .

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Obsessive cover design

November 7, 2008
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Obsessive cover design

Here at the University of Chicago Press, publishing books of rich and valuable scholarship is all in a day’s work. And while most book reviews assess the learned content between the covers, occasionally a book is noted not just for the insight inside but for the package it comes in. Lennard Davis’s Obsession: A History is such a book. Professor Davis’s book was recently heralded by the Economist, but Isaac Tobin’s cover design has been trumpeted far and wide in the blogosphere, from Readerville to the Book Design Review. We think both Davis’s and Tobin’s achievements deserve wide praise. And the synchronicity of the two is just a bonus. As Readerville notes, “Extra points for the subtle implication that to even think of such a thing—much less actually do it—perfectly reflects the title.” Here’s to obsessive scholarship and obsessive design, together at last. . . .

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A conversation with Ha Jin

November 6, 2008
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A conversation with Ha Jin

Phillip Adams, host of the Australian news radio show Late Night Live, recently conducted an interview with poet and novelist Ha Jin, a Chinese ex-pat who struggled through his country’s Cultural Revolution as an uneducated soldier in the People’s Liberation Army to eventually become one of the United States’ most admired writers of world literature. Jin has authored numerous semi-fictional books about China and Chinese culture in the English language including his most famous Waiting and War Trash. In the interview, he discusses his hard fought journey to literary stardom and the new place of literature in a rapidly globalizing world—topics that also take center stage in his most recent book The Writer as Migrant, a book that places his own life as a literary exile alongside those of other migrant writers from Nabokov to Naipaul. Listen to the archived audio of the interview on the Late Night Live website. Or, find out more about The Writer as Migrant. . . .

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The City of Obama — Grant Park and Chicago

November 5, 2008
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The City of Obama — Grant Park and Chicago

Last night, an estimated quarter of a million people (your humble and hopeful correspondent included) gathered in Grant Park to celebrate the election of our nation’s 44th president, Barack Obama. While the spotlight undoubtedly shined brightest on the man who will become our first African-American commander-in-chief, the city of Chicago—and its diverse and dedicated citizenry—was also on glorious display. As we bask today in the afterglow of a historic victory and a safe and successful rally (it was, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports today, a “Night for dancing, not trouble, in the streets“), we offer you a reading list for those who couldn’t join us on our city’s “front lawn.” Though from the air, it may have appeared that all of Grant Park was teeming with revelers last night, a section just north of the camera’s view was quiet as a museum after visiting hours–and a museum is just one way to describe the incredible space. In 2004, a nearly 25-acre parcel of northern Grant Park, which was previously occupied by an unused railroad yard and parking lots, was remade into the whimsical and inspiring Millennium Park. Part park, part outdoor art museum, part cultural center, and part performance space, . . .

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Press Release: Hazzard, The Ancient Shore

November 5, 2008
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Press Release: Hazzard, The Ancient Shore

“Life in Italy is seldom simple. One does not go there for simplicity but for interest: to make the adventure of existence more vivid, more poignant.” Such a life is what Shirley Hazzard found when she first landed on the shore of Naples as a young woman in the early 1950s: underneath the devastation caused by World War II, the city that had bewitched such literary visitors as Byron and Goethe remained intact, ready to charm the patient and attentive traveler. That sojourn was the first step in a lifelong love affair with Naples. Along with her late husband, Francis Steegmuller, Hazzard made Naples a second home for decades, and The Ancient Shore collects the best of her writings on the city, its people, and its literary heritage. While acknowledging that Naples can be off-putting to the casual tourist, Hazzard takes readers behind the city’s rebarbative face, showing the underlying beauty and unrivaled hospitality that await those who take the time to truly understand its rhythms and its history. A much-loved New Yorker essay by Steegmuller telling the harrowing story of his mugging—and the attentive care he received in its aftermath—rounds out a collection that memorably limns the inherent contradictions . . .

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