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Archive for the ‘europe’ Category

Books: Recent Acquistions

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I’m slowly acquiring all the books written by late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. I have three of his brilliant books in my possession:

  • Another Day of Life
  • Shah of Shahs
  • Travels with Herodotus

I’ve only read Shah of Shahs. A brilliant piece of literary journalism about the fall of the Shah of Iran during the 1979 revolution. After I read it, I said to myself: I want to write like him. Even though these books are English translations (Kapuscinski only wrote in Polish), his genius shines through. Like many writers, his power is the economy and elegance of his prose.

I highly recommend him.

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Written by niraj

July 1st, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Review: Inglourious Basterds

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Who hasn’t dreamed about killing fascists at least once in their life? I know I have. I want to massacre the bastards by the truckloads, moral and legal constraints be damned. But thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s new revenge fantasy flick, Inglourious Basterds, I can vicariously live the experience without getting my hands dirty or suffer moral qualms.

The movie is about a fictitious squad of Jewish-American servicemen whose sole purpose is to slip behind enemy lines in occupied France in order to kill (and sometimes torture) as many Nazis as possible. Body count is important here. Led by a Tennessee hillbilly named Lt. Aldo Raines, played by Brad Pitt, they rampage through the French countryside, ambushing German soldiers, scalping them like Apaches. No prisoners are ever taken, but a token survivor is always left behind as a living monument, with a swastika carved into their forehead, to scare the shit out of the Germans. And believe me, the Germans are scared shitless, including the Fuhrer himself.

Quentin Tarantino being Quentin Tarantino, naturally, this movie does not work as a conventional narrative, but in the patented Tarantino style of going forwards and backwards. His movies often read like novels, and Inglourious Basterds is no exception.

But in addition to the novel-like elements, Tarantino has added another storyline that complements, but does not compete, with the first. The movie opens up on a French farm, with a farmer cutting wood. He is met a by a charming German SS officer named Col. Hans Larda, who is called the “Jew Hunter” for his single-mindedness to rid France of all Jews. Col. Larda is played with such evil joy by Christoph Waltz; he alone is worth the price of admission. You want to like him but are reminded that his is a Nazi, and a ruthless one at that. Col. Larda suspects the farmer of hiding Jews. With wit and the interrogation skills of an experienced detective, Col. Larda manages to squeezes the truth out of the farmer. No violence is used in the process, but the Jews, on the other hand, their fates were sealed by a hail of bullets.

There was a lone survivor of the massacre, a young girl named Shosanna Dreyfuss, played by French actress Melani Laurent, who manages to escape to Paris, where she ends up running a movie theatre playing nothing but Nazi films. All the while, Shosanna nurses a grudge that eventually develops into full-blown homicidal rage: the targets of which, of course, are Nazis, a theatre full of them, in fact.

The film is derivative like many of Tarantino’s films and include his trademarks: long dialogue scenes about philosophical issues and meditations about German films of the 1920s, unconventional camera angles, and his trademark penchant for violence. It should be said, however, that Tarantino-style violence is not the cartoonish violence that are is found in bonehead Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris films. On the contrary, it is never gratuitous. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that more than half the movie is in both French and German. For moments, I thought I was watching a foreign film. Surprisingly, it did not detract from the enjoyment of the film at all.

But why did Quentin Tarantino decide to make a film about a Jewish revenge fantasy in the first place? It this article published in Atlantic magazine, he explains why:

“Holocaust movies always have Jews as victims,” he said, plainly exasperated by Hollywood’s lack of imagination. “We’ve seen that story before. I want to see something different. Let’s see Germans that are scared of Jews. Let’s not have everything build up to a big misery, let’s actually take the fun of action-movie cinema and apply it to this situation.”

It is true that most—some might even say all—films about the Holocaust focus on the persecution of Jews. The Holocaust was very bad for Jews; this is an immovable fact of history. But Tarantino isn’t wrong to suggest that the cinematic depiction of anti-Semitic persecution can become wearying over time, particularly for Semites.

I feel the same way any book I read or any movie I see on the Holocaust, Jews are always depicted as defenseless victims. They never fight back, accepting their fate because it is God’s will, for punishment of sins, real or perceived. It is so maddening. This is one of the reasons why I admire Israel, at least it fights back whenever it is attacked.

The problem, I suppose, is both a philosophical and religious one, so I will leave it there.. Nevertheless, Inglourious Basterds is a welcome addition to both World War II and Holocaust genres, if only for its cathartic effects. The thirst for revenge must be slaked once in awhile, in my opinion, even if it is only on the silver screen.

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Written by niraj

August 27th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

V.S. Naipaul: A Literary Monster Part 2

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More evidence of V.S. Naipaul’s unalloyed monstrosity on display:

Naturally, as Naipaul grew older, the bad behaviour grew to crescendos. But there is often a lordliness about it which some, such as I, may find redeems it. Two examples, one minor and one major: the minor – when he was first introduced to Auberon Waugh and was asked, “May I call you Vidia?”. His reply, worthy of Evelyn Waugh himself was: “No, as we’ve just met, I would rather you called me Mr Naipaul”; the second, which would win a prize for bad behaviour, but is also hugely comic, was his inability to inform Margaret, his mistress of long standing, that he had decided to remarry when Pat died of cancer. He sent his tall, mysterious literary agent, “Gillon Aitken to sort out the mess, taking the concept of agency to new lengths”.

I wrote about V.S. Naipaul here. The article condones Naipaul because a writer’s life is a hard one. May be so, but this does not mean he has the right to treat people cruelly as he has. I will continue to read him even though I despise him as a human being.

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Written by niraj

June 6th, 2008 at 9:10 am

Posted in books,europe,writing

Why Cadbury Rocks

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I love Cadbury chocolate. To me its the finest chocolate in the world, far better than any expensive European brand. And not just any Cadbury will do. Cadbury available in the United States is simply not as good as the ones sold in the UK. For one thing, the texture is different. I think the UK variety contains more milk as it tastes smoother and is far more creamier than its American counterpart.

I figured out that there is a proper way to enjoy a Cadbury. Don’t chew it like you would with other chocolates, otherwise you’ll miss out on the flavor. Savor it. Consume it like you would hard candy: English toffees, for example. It’s one hell of an experience. And one piece will last you a long time.

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Written by niraj

April 18th, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Posted in europe,food

V.S. Naipaul: A Literary Monster

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V.S. Naipaul is no doubt a great writer, who also has a reputation for being an arrogant prick with a gigantic ego. Like Paul Theroux, who once called Naipaul a mentor and a friend, I knew very little of the man. Some choice quotes:

Now French’s biography amply demonstrates everything I said and more. It is not a pretty story; it will probably destroy Naipaul’s reputation for ever, this chronicle of his pretensions, his whoremongering, his treatment of a sad, sick wife and disposable mistress, his evasions, his meanness, his cruelty amounting to sadism, his race baiting. Then there is the “gruesome sex”, the blame shifting, the paranoia, the disloyalty, the nasty cracks and the whining, the ingratitude, the mood swings, the unloving and destructive personality.

…Normally an author’s biography offers a reading list of influences and favourite books or writers. What do we have here? Naipaul’s father Seepersad is his favourite writer, some of Conrad passes muster, Flaubert is a one-book wonder; and all the rest he dismisses or disparages – James Joyce, Dickens, E M Forster, Maugham, Keynes, Jane Austen, Anthony Powell, Derek Walcott and many others, including me. I am “a rather common fellow”, who writes “tourist books for the lower classes”. I am also a bore and as a pedagogue “in Africa, teaching the negroes”, I clearly did the unpardonable.

Read the whole article. The level of cruelty Naipaul delights in will simply make you vomit. What a horrible, horrible man. Nevertheless, I’ll still continue to read him.

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Written by niraj

April 8th, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Random Quote #2

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“Perpetual peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream, and war is an integral part of God’s ordering of the universe…Without war, the world would become swamped in materialism.”

–General Helmuth von Moltke

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Written by niraj

March 31st, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Posted in europe,quote