Sunday 29 November 2015

Life in the Shadows Never Ends: Simon Mawer's Marian Sutro Novels

This review originally appeared in Critics at Large. I am reproducing on this site because Simon Mawer's  protagonist, Marian Sutro, demonstrates a heroism that is missing in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) but here PTSD reinforces what I did write about.

Author Simon Mawer. (Photo: David Levenson)

Simon Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (Little, Brown 2012) – the American edition is Trapeze (Other Press, 2012) – and its sequel Tightrope (Little, Brown, 2015) is like reading two parts of the same novel. The more ambitious Tightrope can be read independently, but I think readers can derive more pleasure if they begins with the first. Reminiscent of Sebastian Faulkes’ Charlotte Gray, The Girl chronicles the war efforts of a young English woman with a Catholic francophone childhood who is recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the spy network, to become a secret agent. In the Scottish Highlands, Marian Sutro attends a school for spies where she undergoes commando training and learns among other skills how to survive interrogation. She is ultimately parachuted from an RAF bomber into the South-West of France to join the Resistance, along with a young irreverent Frenchman, Benoit. Although the work she knows will be dangerous and fraught with risk, Marian “felt only a great rush of excitement.” Throughout, she displays her bravery and when the occasion calls for it, she becomes a ruthless killer.

Sunday 15 November 2015

The Power of Art to Mobilize: The Wind in the Reeds

This review that originally appeared in Critics at Large is somewhat different than previous entries on this site because it reviews the memoir of an actor and activist who used both his art and his philanthropy to assist in the rebuilding of a community devastated by Katrina.  


J. Kyle Manzay and Wendell Pierce in Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward in 2007. (Photo: Paul Chan)

“At this place, in this moment in time, all mankind is us… Let us do something while we have a chance.” 
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

“Art is not a sideshow for the real business of life, it is at the heart of what it means to live as a human. At its best and highest, art changes people’s hearts, minds and even their lives.” 
– Wendell Pierce, Wind in the Reeds (Riverhead Books, 2015) 

Rarely does a memoirist write so passionately and eloquently as actor Wendell Pierce does about the power of art in his The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken. His subtitle reveals the one of its two interrelated subjects: the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that barrelled into a vulnerable New Orleans in August 2005 turning what should have been only a natural disaster into a social, political and environmental tragedy killing fifteen hundred people. The second is a poignant love letter of sorts to his mother and father, both towering influences in his life and who owned a “modest little house” since 1953 in the Pontchartrain Park neighbourhood, the first African American middle-class subdivision in New Orleans, and the site of some of the worst damage.