ITALY AND THE INNER LIFE: JHUMPA LAHIRI’s ‘WHEREABOUTS’

Jhumpa Lahiri, Whereabouts, London: Bloomsbury, 2021, 157 pp. Translated by the author from Italian original, Dove mi trovo (Milan: Ugo Guanda, 2018).

**

This fine, distinctive short novel is the latest work by Jhumpa  Lahiri, who rose to prominence, globally and in the genre known as Indian Writing in English (IWE), in 2000 with her first book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning short story volume Interpreter of Maladies. The London-born author, child of Bengali parents, was educated in the US but now lives in Italy, a circumstance which marks out her new novel as unusual within the IWE genre, since it was originally written and published in Italian and subsequently translated into (American) English by the author herself – a history which should attract the attention of scholars in the field of Translation Studies. The three-year lag between versions means that Lahiri’s English text appears in the time of the pandemic but describes the pre-pandemic world – and thus may be read by some with a nostalgia which was not originally intended.

 

The novel is narrated throughout in the first person, by a woman protagonist who lives alone in a big city and has never married, but is deeply observant of her surroundings and the people she encounters. The woman is not named, and nor are either her city or the country she inhabits. However, internal evidence makes it clear that the country is Italy, as given away when she speaks of trattorias, piazzas or decaying villas, while the city would appear to be Rome. She is presumably of Italian extraction, given her recollections of her family, which give out a sense of them being long-established there.

The book consists of forty-six monologues of varying length, with titles like ‘At dawn’, ‘On the balcony’, ‘In the bookstore’ or ‘At the supermarket’. We accompany the protagonist in her day-to-day activities, observing people and things, sometimes interacting with others but returning home alone. There is some narrational development: towards the end, she decides to go away for an extended absence, to somewhere across the border in an unnamed foreign country, and we last see her on the train heading for her new destination.

The narrating voice is sensitively and cohesively maintained across the novel. The protagonist is characterised by a rich inner life, and there are passages whose introspective depth recalls the Fernando Pessoa of The Book of Solitude/O Livro do Desassossego. Her thoughts and feelings strike parallel chords in the reader: in a time of divided identities, this narration, set in Italy by an author of UK/US/Indian origins, comes across in its emotional accessibility as a plea for a shared humanity and its universalism.

LIGHTING UP THE WORDS ON THE PAGE: JOHN MULLAN’S ‘THE ARTFUL DICKENS’

LIGHTING UP THE WORDS ON THE PAGE: JOHN MULLAN’S ‘THE ARTFUL DICKENS’

John Mullan, The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist, London: Bloomsbury, 2020, 428 pp.

**

The appreciation and study of the work of Charles Dickens are notably enriched by John Mullan’s ambitious and impressive The Artful Dickens. The author, noting that ‘Dickens’s very popularity seems to have made it hard to recognise his technical boldness and his experimental verve’, conversely stresses that ‘our enjoyment of Dickens does not come despite our better judgement, but because of his extraordinary skills as a novelist’ (34). Mullan reminds us that despite the deadlines of serial publication, Dickens was a keen and frequent redrafter, as is abundantly clear from the various archive collections, notably at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Over fourteen chapters, the author ably lights up multiple facets of Dickens’ writing – essentially the fifteen novels, with occasional forays into the shorter works and non-fiction – always being careful to demonstrate his assertions with palpable quotes from the books themselves, and gliding effortlessly from novel to novel to home in on just the right passages to evidence his theses.

The aspects of Dickens’ work explored are both substantive and formal. Concrete themes examined include death by drowning and the ins and outs of ghosts and haunting; more formal elements include the naming of the characters, the individuality of their voices, the use of coincidence, repetitions and lists, and, in perhaps the most revealing chapter, Dickens’ masterly manipulation and subversion of the cliché. With all this, characters like Alfred Jingle, Flora Finching or the Veneerings come to be known by the reader as rarely if ever before.

This book is guaranteed to send the reader back to the novels and re-read Charles Dickens’ words on the page with more alert and attentive eyes. This is a feat not all works of criticism can achieve, but John Mullan’s study is exemplary in this regard, and it is hoped it will inspire similar studies of other writers too!

RICHARD THOMPSON’S ‘BEESWING’: A MUSICAL GENRE IS BORN

Richard Thompson with Scott Timberg: Beeswing – Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, 2021

Gifted singer-songwriter, virtuoso guitarist and co-creator of the folk-rock musical genre: Richard Thompson, now aged 72, is recognised by the cognoscenti as a vital figure in British popular music, has achieved a degree of commercial success and has been awarded an OBE, but it would be an exaggeration to call him a household name. Nonetheless, he has built up a loyal following over the years and is seen as eminently British despite living today in the US, and as long ago as 1996 his career merited an excellent write-up in the form of Patrick Humphries’ Richard Thompson: Strange Affair – the Biography. That volume is now complemented by Richard’s own memoir, written with the assistance of author and journalist Scott Timberg (who sadly died in 2019 before the project was finished).

Beeswing (named after a Thompson song from 1994) is not a full autobiography, taking in – and here it resembles Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles from 2004 – only a part of the artist’s working life, namely the formative years from 1967 to 1975. Over those years, Richard recorded and performed as a member of the legendary group Fairport Convention, as a solo artist and session musician, and as half of a duo with Linda Thompson (née Peters), his wife with whom he recorded six albums between their marriage in 1972 and break-up ten years later. Fairport began as a US-influenced psychedelic folk group, and gradually moved towards traditional music. The high point so far of Richard’s career is generally considered to be Liege and Lief, the historic album which he recorded with Fairport in 1969 and which ushered in a new popular music genre, in the form of British, roots folk-rock.

As far as personal life is concerned, Richard begins at the beginning and takes us through his London childhood (his father was of Scottish origin, his mother English) and his education at William Ellis, a grammar school whose usual Oxbridge ambitions for its bright pupils left the budding artist cold. Once he has discovered his true musical gifts, the narration weaves an equitable tissue balanced between, for both Richard and his associates, ‘life’ and ‘work’ (en route we learn a lot about Sandy Denny, the great vocalist who as lead singer contributed so much to Fairport’s unique sound and who died tragically young in 1978). Key biographical events are given their due weight, from the 1969 motorway crash which claimed two victims (Fairport’s drummer and Richard’s then partner) and could have killed Richard himself, to the much-publicised conversion of the Thompson couple to Sufism in 1974. At the same time, the book contains a feast of music-related information – origins of the songs, making of the albums, recording techniques, performances at a host of venues – which will delight connoisseurs of the sounds of the period. Thompson has, I believe, succeeded in striking the right balance, as – to compare similar publications – achieved by Sylvie Simmons in her 2011 life of Leonard Cohen, and, as I see it, missed by Bruce Springsteen in his autobiography of 2016, which I found too often lacked in-depth discussions of the music.

We learn about the multiple influences on Richard Thompson’s music and songwriting. His musical enthusiasms are centred on the folk tradition but also take in jazz (Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt), music-hall, rock’n’roll, the American roots-rock of The Band, and English classical composers including Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Delius. His reading ranges from classic authors such as Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy or a poet like Robert Burns to contemporaries like Jack Kerouac and esoteric writings by the likes of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (for years he was a regular frequenter of Watkins, London’s premier esoteric bookshop).

As is only to be expected, the influence of Bob Dylan looms large. Our songwriter does not raise the influence of the US master on his own writing (though it is certainly there!), with the one exception of the Fairport title ‘It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Witchcraft’, an obvious nod to Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding’). However, he does go into detail over a number of the Dylan songs covered by Fairport.  Recording obscure Dylan material was one of the early Fairport’s trademarks, and Richard sheds light on how the group managed to access two such songs, finding ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ on a Judy Collins B-side and discovering ‘Percy’s Song’ from a cut with Joan Baez in the Dylan film ‘Don’t Look Back’. We also learn that Bob Dylan was in the audience – provoking a fit of nerves in Sandy– at a Fairport gig in New York in 1971.

The book contains valuable information on the genesis and history of many of Richard Thompson’s and Fairport’s finest recordings. We learn how Fairport’s producer, the highly professional Joe Boyd, gave the nascent band ‘Chelsea Morning’ and ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’, unreleased songs by a protégée of his called Joni Mitchell which were to feature on the group’s debut album, called simply Fairport Convention and released in 1968. We are allowed to relive how Fairport auditioned Sandy Denny and she then proceeded to audition them! Richard narrates Fairport’s (and his) one and only appearance on the TV chart show Top of the Pops, featuring ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’, their French-language, Cajuned-up cover of Dylan’s’If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, which gave them a surprise novelty hit, peaking at No 19, and featured on their 1969 album Unhalfbricking. We are also given a detailed account of the recording for the same album of ‘A Sailor’s Life’, the traditional song which marked out a new direction for Fairport and brought folk violin maestro Dave Swarbrick into the group.

Richard left Fairport in 1971 and released the solo album Henry the Human Fly the next year. It was followed by a sequence of six Richard and Linda Thompson albums.

In Beeswing, Henry and the first three Richard and Linda albums – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Hokey Pokey and Pour Down Like Silver – receive in-depth song analysis (albeit for the last-named there is no mention of its stellar track ‘Dimming of the Day’, despite that song being one of Richard’s most covered compositions). There is next to nothing on the fourth and fifth albums (First Light and Sunnyvista), and the sixth and last, the magnificent Shoot Out The Lights, gets little more, but that is no doubt because those albums fall outside the book’s timeframe.

What I found to be the most interesting thing in the book is the account of the making of Fairport Convention’s masterpiece, the great Liege and Lief album, and above all its textual side. The then five members of Fairport, with ethnomusical expert Ashley Hutchings at the helm, worked their way through multiple versions of the traditional ballads chosen for consideration for the album, collating and comparing texts from the famous Francis Child collection, the English Folk Dance and Song Society archive and other sources. They did not hesitate to combine versions and add or subtract verses with a view to creating the most singable version and that which told the best story. It was a process similar to that employed by Walter Scott when compiling his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and the result was the renditions of ‘Tam Lin’, ‘Matty Groves’, ‘Reynardine’ and ‘The Deserter’ that graced Liege and Lief when it came out in 1969.

Liege and Lief may be the narration’s apex – as Thompson says near the end, ‘We really did invent a genre of music, and not many can say that’ – but Beeswing as a whole offers a rich abundance of musically and historically fascinating material. As the book winds down, the reader may ask if this is really the end of the road for Richard Thompson’s reminiscences: if more is to come, the appreciation of British folk rock and history will be enriched even further.

**

NOTE : I have written on Richard Thompson and Fairport elsewhere at:

*Review of Patrick Humphries, Strange Affair,  1996 –  https://groups.google.com/g/rec.arts.books.reviews/c/90N6LZTsqJ0/m/0D1cEFyDyS4J

*Entry ‘Richard Thompson’, The Bob Dylan Who’s Who, Expecting Rain website, 1996 –  https://www.expectingrain.com/dok/who/t/thompsonrichard.html

*CD review:  ‘“A Tree with Roots”: Fairport Convention and friends and the Songs of Bob Dylan”, The Bridge (Gateshead, UK), No 62, Winter 2018, 75-79; online at: https://rollason.wordpress.com/2018/08/25/review-of-a-tree-with-roots-fairport-convention-friends-and-the-songs-of-bob-dylan/

THE RULE OF INFLUENCE: ALEX ROSS’S ‘WAGNERISM’

I have recently finished reading Alex Ross’s epic tome Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (London: Fourth Estate, 2020, x + 769 pp.). The New Yorker’s music critic has produced a remarkable volume indeed, part life of Wagner and part catalogue and analysis of the composer’s influence in and beyond his time, mainly outside his own realm of music and in such disparate fields as literature, philosophy, visual arts, theatre, dance and cinema.

The reader is shown how Wagner – as bearer of what was everywhere proclaimed as ‘the music of the future’ – looms large in the work of a massive swathe of artistic creators of the period, across a span of names including not only an obvious case like Friedrich Nietzsche, but also Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Thomas Mann, Henry James, Willa Cather, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Bernard Shaw, Wassily Kandinsky, Aubrey Beardsley, Isadora Duncan, Rudolf Nureyev, Sergei Eisenstein … the list goes on. Ross ably summarises the well-worn political and ideological controversies surrounding Wagner, and examines the Bayreuth phenomenon and concepts such as the Leitmotiv and the total artwork, but the main thrust of his argument centres on the question of influence: quite simply, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century arts in the Western world would not have been the same without the informing presence of Richard Wagner.

The book is also a monument to the encyclopaedic capabilities of our time. It was twelve years in the making: the usual acknowledgments are of course there, but the book as a whole bears above all the stamp of its author – illuminating a heritage that is collective, but from a research angle marked by the persistent, overriding vision of an individual committed to his subject. The author’s research has clearly been both meticulous and passionate, the product of a fine-comb exploration of both print and online sources (the latter logged in the notes), in search of Wagnerian allusions and parallels across the cultural heritage. The book would have been possible without the internet, but would inevitably not have been so all-embracing.

Since I read it, Alex Ross’s volume has impacted directly on my own cultural choices, already sending me to the classic Wagnerian essays by Baudelaire and Shaw, both of which I owned but had never read, and impelling me to devote an attentive hearing to Lohengrin (my choice since, years ago, it was the first Wagner opera I swallowed whole) – and appreciate it as never before.

Alex Ross concludes, in response to the complexity of the Wagnerism phenomenon, that  Wagner ‘requires the most active and critical kind of listening’ (659). Such a claim is justified by the breadth and depth of his book. All in all, I would call Wagnerism a major cultural event, as well as a demonstration of the continued possibilities of traditional research in the internet age.

BOB DYLAN’S FAVOURITE LEONARD COHEN SONGS?

The personal and professional relationship between Bob Dylan and the late Leonard Cohen was always good: rather than being rivals, they appreciated and admired each other’s work. There were memorable moments like their encounter in a Paris café, when Cohen singled out for praise Dylan’s then new song from Infidels, ‘I and I’, and Dylan lauded Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a song which he would later be the first artist to cover live. Now, the online magazine Far Out has published a fascinating (unsigned) article focusing on the relationship and intriguingly titled ‘Bob Dylan’s favourite Leonard Cohen songs’ (https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/bob-dylan-favourite-leonard-cohen-songs-and-his-greatest-genius/ – 19 March 2021).

The article cites a New York Times interview with David Remnick from 2016 in which Dylan, shortly before Cohen’s death, paid tribute to his fellow songwriter, praising not only his lyrics but also his melodies, and even affirming that ‘no-one comes closer to this in modern music’. Dylan declares that in Cohen’s lyrics, ‘there’s always a direct sentiment as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something’.  

The Far Out piece concludes by listing the six Cohen songs named by Dylan himself in the NYT interview, and speculatively suggests that they may be his favourites. They are: ‘Sisters of Mercy’ from Songs of Leonard Cohen; ‘Hallelujah’ (inevitably) and ‘The Law’ from Various Positions; and ‘Going Home’, ‘Show Me the Place’ and ‘Darkness’, all from Old Ideas.

Both Dylan and Cohen fans, and the many who admire both, will find this article of interest. There is more on Dylan and Cohen in an earlier Far Out piece from July 2020, at : https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/bob-dylan-leonard-cohen-hallelujah-cover-bootleg-1988/

INSIDE GREY WALLS / DETRÁS DE LOS MUROS GRISES – GHOST STORY / RELATO DE FANTASMAS – CHRISTMAS/NAVIDAD 2020

This story came out of a family challenge at Christmas 2020 / Este relato es producto de un reto familiar de Navidad de 2020.

INSIDE GREY WALLS

The castle of the county’s chief family, still owned by that melancholy line, is shrouded in gloom, as if in a perpetual mist. Grey walls, grey turrets, grey buttresses: even the leaves of the creeper, grey-green, repeat the oppressive greyness. The lead-tinted windows are pinched and narrow, prison-like. Outside the grass gleams emerald, as if hope and joy still existed somewhere, but she lives immured on the inside of those grey walls, and many is the year since she last trod those lawns.

Sometimes she presses her brow to a window, and allows her weary eyes to take in the green expanse out there, filtered to a half-tone through the leaden panes. But green is not for her: she withdraws her gaze and returns to the four corners of her world. That high room with its vaulted ceiling is her universe. Four-poster bed, writing-desk and its chair, bookcase, dinner table, bathroom behind the curtains, and flap for receiving morning porridge, midday meal and supper: these objects have circumscribed her life in a procession of yesterdays. She is free to read and to write: without those distractions she might go mad. To interact with any other human being, there is only the deaf-mute woman of an uncertain age who comes daily to clean and bring food.

She has just finished her supper – clam chowder followed by braised lamb with onions, at least they confine her with decent food! – and returned the dishes to the flap. She sits at the writing-desk and picks up Traditional Ballads of Erin, bookmarked where she left off reading. Nothing has changed, nothing will ever change.

Her ears prick suddenly: somehow she feels an unaccustomed movement in the room. Or was it outside? She moves back to the window and gazes down: no sign of anyone out there. And then she feels a strange and unfamiliar chill at her heart. She turns round.

‘Here I am. I have kept my promise: have you?’. She hears those words, in that voice she knows from long ago. Yes, it is him. How could she not recognise the attraction of his tones?

She confronts him with her gaze and lets him speak. ‘Come’, he says, ‘Faery awaits us with open eyes and ears. All this time I was there. Come away with me. Listen: Just one more journey to the woods, the holes where spirits hide. That is our journey: come!’

She embraces him, with the acquiescence of surrender. He draws a circle around them and both take a deep breath.

The next morning, the deaf-mute maid sees to her consternation that the bowl with the breakfast porridge has not been taken in. She calls the butler on her bell: he forces the door. There spreadeagled on the four-poster bed, her limbs spattered with blood and a knife twisted into her heart, she lies, tranquil at last and unbonded to any being in this world or another.

DETRÁS  DE LOS MUROS GRISES

El castillo de la familia principal del condado, siempre la propiedad de esa estirpe melancólica, está amortajado en oscuridad como si en una bruma perpetua. Muros grises, torreones grises, contrafuertes grises: hasta las hojas del trepador, de matiz entre gris y verde, repiten el agobiante esquema ceniciento. Los vitrales, teñidos de color plomo, son puntiagudos y angostos, de cárcel. Afuera, el césped brilla esmeralda, como si en algún lugar aún existieran la esperanza y la alegría, pero ella vive reclusa en el interior de esos muros grises, y hace años que sus pies ya no pisan aquella hierba.

A veces acerca el frente a un vitral, y permite que sus ojos cansados asimilen los contornos del césped allí fuera, cuya brillantez se halla filtrada hasta un matiz semipastel por el vidrio de color plomo. Pero el verde no es para ella: retira su mirada y regresa a los cuatro rincones de su mundo. Ese aposento alto y abovedado es su universo. Cama de dosel, escritorio y su silla, librero, mesa de comer, baño detrás de la cortina, y apertura para recibir y quitar gachas de desayuno, comida de mediodía y cena: estos objetos han circunscrito su vida en un desfile de ayeres. Tiene libertad para leer y escribir: sin esas distracciones podría enloquecer. Para que ella pueda interactuar con cualquier otro ser humano, únicamente hay la mujer sordomuda de edad indeterminada que viene diario para hacer limpieza y traer comida..

Acaba de terminar su cena – sopa tipo chowder de almejas, seguida de borrego estofado con cebolla – ¡al menos en su confinamiento recibe comida decente! – y ha regresado los trastes a la apertura. Se sienta ante el escritorio y retoma su libro, Traditional Ballads of Erin, encontrando el marcapáginas allí donde lo había dejado. Nada ha cambiado, nunca nada cambiará.

De súbito su oído se agudiza: de alguna manera se da cuenta de un movimiento inusual dentro del aposento. O ¿sería allí fuera? Regresa al vitral y se asoma mirando hacia abajo: no hay señal de nadie afuera. Luego siente en su corazón un frío extraño e insólito, y se voltea.

‘Heme aquí. He mantenido mi promesa. ¿Y tú?’  Ella escucha esas palabras, en aquella voz que conoce desde un pasado lejano. Sí, es él. ¿Cómo no reconocer los acordes de su voz, tan atractivos?

Lo enfrenta con su mirada y lo deja hablar. Enuncia: ‘Ven. La tierra de las hadas nos espera. Nos ven, nos oyen. Todo ese tiempo estuve allí. Vete conmigo. Escucha: Sólo un viaje más al bosque, a los huecos donde se esconden los espíritus. Es ése nuestro viaje: ¡ven!’

Ella lo abraza, con la anuencia de la entrega. Él traza un círculo alrededor de ellos y ambos respiran fuerte.

La mañana siguiente la empleada sordomuda ve consternada que nadie ha recibido las gachas de desayuno. Llama al mayordomo, quien abre la puerta a la fuerza. Allí, tendida en la cama de dosel, con sus miembros salpicados de sangre y una navaja torcida en su corazón, ella yace, finalmente en paz y sin nada que la vincule a nadie, ni de este mundo ni del otro.

A GRAPHIC INTERPRETATION: EDGAR ALLAN POE ILLUSTRATED / UNA INTERPRETACIÓN GRÁFICA: EDGAR ALLAN POE ILUSTRADO

There is a fresh chapter open in the world of Edgar Allan Poe illustrations, in the shape of the Spanish-language volume Narraciones Extraordinarias, illustrated by the British artist John Coulthart and published in 2017 by Editorial Iberia (Barcelona) in their collection ‘Alma: Clásicos ilustrados’.

The volume consists of 32 tales and 4 poems. Each of the 36 texts is frontispieced by a single, black-and-white illustration. The Spanish translation is not credited (and is not the standard version translated by Julio Cortázar). The best-known texts (‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, ‘The Raven’ …) are all there.

It appears that this is an original Spanish-language market version (with no Anglophone precursor) and that the illustrations have appeared in print form nowhere else. They can, though, be found – all 36 of them – on-line on the artist’s personal site at:

Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe

These are remarkable illustrations. Each is pertinent to the tale or poem it accompanies, but typically from an unusual angle, pointing up a less obvious facet of the text. Thus, the illustration to ‘Berenice’ focuses on the narrator’s Gothic library; that to ‘Usher’ frighteningly actualises the mansion’s ‘peculiar atmosphere’; that to ‘William Wilson’ features a sinister pack of playing cards; that to ‘The Raven’, the narrator immersed in his reading yet surrounded by multiplied beaked black shadows.

 

Each single image repays closer study and renewed attention to the text. I believe these illustrations deserve to be better known: my only cavil is a technical one, namely that the resolution is on the thin side and the images would benefit from being sharper. For the rest, I would suggest that Coulthart’s illustrations to Poe should already place him up there with the likes of Edmund Dulac and Gustave Doré!

**

Se abre un nuevo capítulo en el mundo de las ilustraciones a la obra de Edgar Allan Poe, con el volumen en lengua española Narraciones Extraordinarias, ilustrado por el artista británico John Coulthart y publicado en 2017 por Editorial Iberia (Barcelona) en su colección ‘Alma: Clásicos ilustrados’.

El volumen se compone de 32 relatos y 4 poemas. Cada uno de los 36 textos tiene como frontispicio una única lámina en blanco y negro. No hay detalles sobre la traducción española o quien lo hizo (y no es la versión de referencia de Julio Cortázar). Los textos más conocidos (‘La caída de la casa de Usher’, ‘Los asesinatos en la Rue Morgue’, ‘La barrica de Amontillado’, ‘El cuervo’ …) están todos allí.

Parece que se trata de una versión original para el mercado hispanófono (sin precursor anglófono) y que estas ilustraciones no han aparecido en forma impresa en ningún otro lugar. Se pueden encontrar, no obstante, en su totalidad en línea, en el sitio personal del artista en:

Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe

Estas son ilustraciones de categoría. Cada una es pertinente al relato o al poema que ilustra, pero típicamente desde un ángulo inusitado, resaltando una faceta menos obvia del texto. Así, la ilustración de ‘Berenice’ nos revela la biblioteca gótica del narrador; la de ‘Usher’, una terrorífica manifestación de la ‘atmosfera peculiar’ de la mansión; la de ‘William Wilson’, una siniestra baraja de cartas; la de ‘El cuervo’, el narrador perdido en su lectura y rodeado sin saberlo por múltiples sombras negras con pico.

Cada imagen individual amerita ser estudiada de forma más detallada y deberá enviarnos de regreso al texto. Creo que estas ilustraciones merecen ser mejor conocidas: mi única reservación es de naturaleza técnica, en la medida en que la resolución no es muy alta y las imágenes beneficiarían de una mayor nitidez. De resto, sugeriría que las ilustraciones a Poe de John Coulthart  ya deberían ser colocadas en el nivel más alto, al lado de las de figuras como Edmund Dulac and Gustave Doré …

JOURNAL OF THE ODISHA ASSOCIATION FOR ENGLISH STUDIES, VOL. 10, NO. 1 (2020)

Now released despite today’s difficult circumstances is Vol. 10, No 1 (2020) of the always high-quality Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies, edited from Baleswar  by Santwana Haldar.

Among the diverse subjects featured in the articles are R.K. Narayan (Anindita Das), Jayanta Mahapatra (Debabrata Das), contemporary stories by Indian women (Nadjia Boussebha and Fewzia Bedjaoui), Native Canadian writing (Mahesh Kumar Dey), W.B. Yeats (Nandakishore Mohanty), George Lamming (Chaitali Gorai), Margaret Atwood (Dayanidhi Pradan), and secondary school English textbooks in Odisha (Satyashree Mohanty). Also included are creative writing (including poems by Sudasharna Ghosh, Jaydeep Sarangi and more) and book reviews (including three by Santwana Haldar of recent works of fiction by Bernardine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood and Nobel laureate Peter Handke).

The reviews also feature my own of Andrew Muir’s book of 2009, ‘The True Performong Of It : Bob Dylan and William Shakespeare’ (175-179).

FRENCH MAGAZINE ‘AMERICA’ INTERVIEWS SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTUMN 2020

In its autumn 2020 number, the French magazine AMERICA (devoted to literature and culture in the United States)  published a long interview with Salman Rushdie, conducted in New York by the magazine’s editor (‘Le grand enretien: Salman Rushdie, propos recueillis par François Busnel’ [‘The long interview: Salman Rushdie talks to François Busnel’, pp. 20-41]. The text is in French: I here provide English retro-translations.

 

Busnel introduces the interview with a clear statement of principle: ‘S’il y a un écrivain qui incarne le combat, inlassable, pour la liberté d’expression, c’est bien Salman Rushdie’ [‘If there is a writer who incarnates the unceasing struggle for freedom of expression, it is certainly Salman Rushdie’] – 21. The Indian-born author speaks on his latest novel, Quichotte, and on his acquisition in 2016 of US citizenship. He also touches on subjects including the (then upcoming) 2020 election, the merits of the Biden-Harris ticket (of whose victory Rushdie was, correctly, hopeful), race matters (recalling that ‘ce sont les immigrants qui ont fait ce pays’ [‘Immigrants made this country’] – 31), and social networks (he has all but given up Twitter).

Of particular interest are his views on the fashionable tendency to denounce ‘cultural appropriation’ in the literary context (i.e., approximately: writers should only write about people from the group they ‘belong to’ and not about anyone from any other group or culture), a notion which he roundly rejects. For Rushdie, such attitudes taken literally would end up eliminating literature: ‘Si vous devez etre une femme pour écrire sur les femmes ou si vous devez etre gay pour écrire sur les homosexuels, ou Noir pour écrire sur les Noirs, c’est la fin de la littérature’ [‘If you have to be a woman to write about women, or gay to write about gays, or Black to write about Black people, it’s the end of literature’] – 32. He nonetheless adds that to be credible, a work of literature needs to be properly researched and authors aiming to write about a particular group should do so duly informed. He cites as an example his own novel from 2017, The Golden House, which includes a male-to-female transexual character: ‘Je ne savais pas grand-chose de la vie d’un transexuel. J’ai donc rencontré plusieurs personnes qui ont fait cette transition .. puis .. j’ai fait de plus amples recherches sur le sujet’ [‘I didn’t know a great deal about the life of a transexual. So I met a number of people who had made the transition … and then I carried out wider research on the subject’] – 33. As a historic supporter of the left, Rushdie finds it worrying that today the attacks on literature come not only from the right, but also from ‘une certain gauche obsédée par l’idée de la pureté’ [‘a certain left obsessed with the idea of purity’] – 33.

Expressing himself on multiple subjects, Salman Rushdie minces no words, and this interview should prove highly valuable to anyone wishing to update their knowledge of one of our era’s most important literary figures.

BOB DYLAN, PARA NIÑOS EN ESPAÑOL / BOB DYLAN FOR CHILDREN IN SPAIN

Salió en este año el librito para niños ‘Pequeño y grande Bob Dylan’ (autora: María Isabel Sánchez Vegara;  ilustrador: Conrad Roset), el número 34 en la colección ‘Pequeño&GRANDE’ (Barcelona: Editorial Alba, 2020). En esta serie los libros originales son de lengua castellana, pero existen también versiones en lengua catalana, inglesa y alemana. Se trata de un proyecto algo similar a los conocidos libros norteamericanos ‘Cuentos de buenas noches para niñas rebeldes’ y ‘Cuentos de niños que se atreven a ser diferentes’, pues las figuras que se celebran son gente famosa que a los niños les pueden servir de modelos de vida, aunque en este caso es cuestión de libros en tema individual, enfocados en una sola biografía en vez de 100.

El librito ilustrado de Dylan cuenta la ascensión de un joven músico de un pueblecito de Estados Unidos a la fama universal, al estatuto de ‘la voz de su generación’ y a un premio Nobel, todo eso debido a su amor incondicional por la música.

Bob Dylan se suma a otras 33 figuras de la colección, de las cuales 23 son mujeres. En el área de la música, la poesía y las artes del espectáculo, también aparecen Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Josephine Baker, Carmen Amaya, David Bowie, Federico García Lorca y Rudolf Nuréiev. Según la evidencia que nos proporciona este volumen de Dylan, se trata de una iniciativa en el campo del libro infantil que bien merecerá ser apoyada y que tiene mucho potencial educacional.

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Newly published this year in Spain is the children’s book ‘Pequeño y grande Bob Dylan’ (author: María Isabel Sánchez Vegara;  illustrator: Conrad Roset), number 34 in the collection ‘Pequeño&GRANDE’ (Barcelona: Editorial Alba, 2020). In this series the originals are in Spanish, although Catalan, German-language and English-language versions also exist (English version: ‘Little People, Big Dreams’, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, London). This is a project in some ways similar to the by now well-known volumes published in the US, ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ and ‘Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different’, as the figures celebrated are famous people who can be role models for children, though in this case each book focuses on an individual (one biography instead of 100).

The new Dylan book narrates the rise of a young musician from small-town America to worldwide fame, the status of ‘voice of a generation’ and a Nobel prize, all thanks to his unconditional love of music.

Bob Dylan joins 33 other figures in the collection, 23 of them women. Among those from the area of music, poetry and performing arts are Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Josephine Baker, Carmen Amaya, David Bowie, Federico García Lorca and Rudolf Nureyev. On the evidence of this Dylan volume, this is an initiative in the field of children’s books which deserves all support and has much educational potential.