Thursday, 28 May 2020

The Search for Human Connection in Songs for the End of the World


 “Society is still worth protecting, don’t you think? Maybe now more than ever.”
-          – Saleema Nawaz, Songs for the End of the World
 
Almost two months ago, the Montreal writer, Saleema Nawaz received considerable attention in the Canadian media for her novel Songs for the End of the World, about a respiratory pandemic ravaging 2020 America that bears startling similarities to the current COVID-19 Virus. Among them: the devastation of New York City from a mysterious infectious virus that originated in China; the inconvenience of self quarantines; the individuals on the front line – police and health care workers – risking their lives to save the lives of individuals afflicted with this virulent pathogen; the need for personal protective gear; social distancing ordinances; conspiracy theories posted on social media, and anti-Asian hate crimes. The novel took six years to research and write, and Nawaz’s imagination, combined with her knowledge about previous pandemics from the Spanish flu (1918-1920) to SARS, is etched into her narrative. Still, given her prescience, it is unsurprising that Songs, scheduled to be published in late August, was rushed into an e-book in early April.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

The Plot Against America: Adapting a Novel for Television

"It's about: What if the magnetic forces at work in our country were just given a little push in one direction. What if a certain kind of intolerance was just given a slight nod from powers on high?"
– Zoe Kazan, actor on the HBO series, The Plot Against America

History is a nightmare from which none of us can wake.”
– James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This review contains spoilers

Michelle K. Short of HBO photographed the screenshots

In Anti Social, a riveting account of the alt-right online trollers who elevate the persuasive narrative above any semblance of accuracy, evidence or fairness, Andrew Marantz interjects the wisdom of the philosopher, Richard Rorty, who contends that history is not preordained but is contingent and depends on the way people bend its arc. I thought about Rorty and Marantz’s far-right profiles as I reread The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and watched the six-part gripping HBO mostly-faithful television adaptation by creator David Simon and his collaborator Ed Burns, widely known for their productions among others of The Wire and Treme. I found the gradual slide into fascism in America more convincing in The Plot than I did when I first read it in 2004 – likely because of the current American political climate – and that the Simon’s and Burns’s rendition offers innovations that enhance the relevance of the novel by creatively blurring the distinction between the early 1940s setting and our time. 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Portrait of a Survivor as a Young Man

“The past is intrinsic to the present, despite any attempts to dismiss it.”
Ariana Neumann

Ariana Neumann’s moving, beautifully-written memoir, When Time Stopped: A Memoir of my Father’s War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann (Scribner 2020) chronicles her search to shed light on the early secretive life of her Czech-born father, Hans, whom she remembers as an art-collecting, successful philanthropic business man. But her account is as much a mystery as a memoir because she combines the tools of both a sleuth and historian to unearth her father’s life.
 
Currently, a London based journalist, Ariana spent her formative years in a well-heeled home nestled in Caracas Venezuela. Although her father’s early life for her was basically a tabula rasa, she remembers awaking to her father’s screams uttered in a foreign language. He would say nothing about what provoked these nightmares and he discouraged her from asking questions. At that time, raised as a Catholic, she did not even know she was Jewish. Later as a college student when they both travelled to his homeland in Czechoslovakia, Hans revealed little, apart from a sob near an old railroad station: “Sometimes you have to leave the past where it is—in the past.” The underlying purpose of his daughter’s research and writing is to challenge that assumption.