VANISHED EMPIRES

Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Question of Upbringing (Book one of A Dance to the Music of Time ) (1951) by Anthony Powell



A Question of Upbringing
 Book one of A Dance to the Music of Time (1951)
 by Anthony Powell


  English author Anthony Powell is best known for his twelve volume saga, A Dance to the Music of Time.  Book one, A Question of Upbringing, covers the student days of Nick Jenkins at Eton College between 1921 and 1924.   I'm not ashamed to say that I have no intention of reading the other eleven volumes because I feel like I've read enough about the lives of the English upper crust in the 20th century, particularly books written by straight men.   Similar to another plus ten book cycle- the one written by Dorothy Richardson- may well be canon worthy, but it isn't relevant to daily life, and it is duplicated by dozens of other canon level books.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The 10 Hottest 18th Century Books (#8 May Shock You!)



The 10 Hottest 18th Century Books (#9 May Shock You!)

Image result for 120 days of sodom movie photo
120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade is a shocker! Def one of the hottest 10 books of the 18th century


(1) Robinson Crusoe (1719) – Daniel Defoe (Reviewed 2/11/08)
(2) Gulliver’s Travels (1726)– Jonathan Swift (Reviewd 04/25/12)
(3) Tom Jones (1749)– Henry Fielding (Reviewed 9/24/08)
(4) Fanny Hill (1749)– John Cleland (Reviewed 05/10/12)
(5) Tristram Shandy (1759) – Laurence Sterne (Reviewed 10/19/08)
(6) The Castle of Otranto (1764) – Horace Walpole (Reviewed 04/26/12)
(7) The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Reviewed 11/1/08).
(8) The Confessions (1782)– Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Reviewed 5/7/12)
(9) The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) – Marquis de Sade (Reviewed 2/16/10)
(10) The Interesting Narrative (1789) – Olaudah Equiano (Reviewed 3/05/12)

  The 1001 Books project hasn't been updated since 2014, leaving open the question whether it will ever be updated.  I think a logical move forward is to reduce the size of the canon list, from the 1000 used by this project to something much smaller, perhaps as low as 100 books.   Using the 100 books as a guidepost, I would selected 10 from the 18th century and maybe 5 from the pre 18th century.  20 from the 19th century. 50 from the twentieth century and then the rest from the 21st century. 


'Cast Away.'
In Castaway, Tom Hanks played a modern day Robinson Crusoe, which continues to inspire movies and new books today.
  Here would be my 10 picks for the 18th century.   Robinson Crusoe is a must, in my mind, this is the book that is more responsible for our modern idea of the novel than any other.   Author Daniel Defoe has a better claim than any other single person to be the "Creator" of the novel in the sense that it exists right now. Robinson Crusoe continues to inspire new reference points, and has maintained it's position in the public consciousness for almost as long as Shakespeare.  

Image result for gullivers travels jack black
Jack Black is the most recent Hollywood actor to portray Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels, in the 2010 film.
  Gulliver's Travels is another "sine qua non" type book from the 18th century- without it we might speak of the novel.  It certainly is the first book that can be described in terms "of speculative fiction"  and it is the most important point of inspiration for all books that escape everyday existence.   Like Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels brought into being the audience for the novel with the success of their characters in the public imagination. 


   Tom Jones is the best example of a dozen other mid 18th century English novels which veer between picaresque and bildungsroman.  They are all similar in terms of protagonist who is young and feckless, and has a serious of adventures- often bawdy- between childhood and manhood.  Moral lessons are in short supply, and thus history has judged these sort of titles to be picaresques.  Tom Jones is the epitome of the field.
Image result for fanny hill illustrations
18th century copies of Fanny Hill were often illustrated, here is a typical example of a man and woman having wheelbarrow style sex

  Fanny Hill is the first example of the border between literature and pornography, and it is worth including simply for that reasons, since it would be this boundary- between literature and pornography- that became the defining contest of the 20th century modernism.  A major current of 18th century is that it is bawdier and more obscene than even the loosest of early 20th century literary modernists.
Image result for tristram shandy movie
Steve Coogan made a movie of Tristam Shandy recently, but it didn't go over very well. 
  Tristram Shandy is the best example of the idea that post-modernism has either always existed or exists separately from modernism- a dizzying story about the author, a man who narrates his own birth.  Literary technique runs riot in Tristram Shandy, which is probably the only 18th century book that could draw the attention of large modern/post-modern audience. 
Image result for wednesday addams
Wednesday Addams represents a continuation of the gothic aesthetic that was vibrant when The Castle of Otranto was published. 
          The Castle of Otranto is on the top 10 list because it is an excellent example of the "gothic" aesthetic in the 18th century.  Gothicism is a style that drew its name from a type of architecture- Gothic architecture referred to a particular style of cathedral design popular in Northern Europe in the middle ages- but grew to reference a host of stylistic and aesthetic principles that are still recognizable today.   Even in the 18th century, the popular audience for "gothic literature" was intense, and 18th century gothic has a claim on being the first "genre"literature in the 20th century meaning of that phrase.

Image result for morrissey the smiths
Like the gothic of The Castle of Otranto, the romanticism of The Sorrows of Young Werther descends in a pretty straight line to rock and roll bands like The Smiths and their tone and imagery. 
  The Germans get their one title in The Sorrows of Young Werther, which, like The Castle of Otranto was a hugely popular book- internationally so- that influenced the behavior of its readers. Werther was like the Morrissey of the 18th century, and this book is the source of inspiration for generations of would-be English language romantics.   Like the ghosts an ghouls of gothicism, the sighs and swoons of young men that Werther inspired is with us till this day.

  The French get two of ten titles- The Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau and 120 Days of Sodom  (1785) by Marquis de Sade.  The Confessions is an obvious choice, Rousseau is the first author who writes in the psychologically intense way that became the standard for insightful prose in the 20th century.  Rousseau also stands in for a host of similar French writers- Diderot, Voltaire, who don't make the cut for space constraints.  120 Days of Sodom, like Fanny Hill is a must simply because it is still so shocking to this day.  More shocking than any book written since.

    The Interesting Narrative  (1789) is the first book written by an African, dealing his truth life ordeal as a slave.  As such, it stands in for what is, by the 20th century, a dominant majority of new literary fiction: unheard voices from the global south and from groups in the north traditionally excluded. 

18th Century Adds to the first revised 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List (2008)



18th Century Adds to the first revised
1001 Books to Read Before You Die List (2008)

   The 18th century is a big loser in the first revision of the 1001 Books list.  Only two new titles were added that were published in the 18th century:

267. A Dream of Red Mansions – Cao Xueqin
268. Anton Reiser – Karl Philipp Moritz

  The books they replaced:

267. The Monastery – Sir Walter Scott
268. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

  Are both early 19th century titles.  Northanger Abbey is a lesser work by a well represented author.  The Monastery is not Scott's best book- paling in comparison to Rob Roy, which remains on the list as a "core title."   The lack of additional titles added from the 18th century reflects a relative decline of importance in the 18th century vs. the pre 18th century period, which is expanded in the 2008 revision of the 1001 Books list.  It also reflects fewer titles for the 19th century, since the titles being dropped here were published in the 19th, not 18th century.

    Returning to the original list of 18th century titles from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, a couple of facts are clear.  First, the only categories are English/British literature, French literature and German literature, with zero choices from anywhere else.   This is hardly remedied by the inclusion of a single Chinese language title, but perhaps it reflects the truth that these three literatures truly did dominate the 18th century.  It is easier to back and find additional pre 18th century contenders then to look for similar books published between 1700 and 1799.   31 of the 18th century picks from the original 1001 Books list are English,  10 are French and 3 are German.  The two additions add 1 German and 1 Chinese title.  The removals take away five English titles at the expense of pre 18th century replacements, but they get two of these removals back at the expense of the 19th century, so it is a net loss of three titles overall but five from England.

Thus, for the first revision the break down of national literatures in the 18th century looks like this:

26 English
10 French
4 German
1 Chinese


Vs the original distribution:

31 English
10 French
3 German

 So both the total number of 18th century picks has gone down, and the number of English language works has declined dramatically.


(G)Hyperion – Friedrich Hölderlin (11/1/09)
(F)The Nun – Denis Diderot (4/28/12)
(E)Camilla – Fanny Burney (1/17/12)
(E)The Monk – M.G. Lewis (3/13/10)
(G)Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (4/17/12)
(E)The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe (04/24/12)
(E)The Interesting Narrative – Olaudah Equiano (3/05/12)
(E)The Adventures of Caleb Williams – William Godwin (4/21/12)
(E)Justine – Marquis de Sade (5/1/12)
(E)Vathek – William Beckford (1/21/10)
(F)The 120 Days of Sodom – Marquis de Sade (2/16/10)
(E)Cecilia – Fanny Burney (4/22/10) (DROP 2008)
(F)The Confessions – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (5/7/12)
(F)Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (5/21/12)
(F)Reveries of a Solitary Walker – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (5/8/12)
(E)Evelina – Fanny Burney (3/28/10)
(G)The Sorrows of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (11/1/08).
(E)Humphrey Clinker – Tobias George Smollett (1/30/12)
(E)The Man of Feeling – Henry Mackenzie (4/12/12)
(E)A Sentimental Journey – Laurence Sterne (4/23/11)
(E)Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne (10/19/08)
(E)The Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith (9/25/08)
(E)The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole (04/26/12)
(F)Émile; or, On Education – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (4/14/12)
(F)Rameau’s Nephew – Denis Diderot (4/13/12)
(F)Julie; or, the New Eloise – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (*)
(E)Rasselas – Samuel Johnson (3/30/12)
(F)Candide – Voltaire (3/23/12)
(E)The Female Quixote – Charlotte Lennox (5/10/10)
(E)Amelia – Henry Fielding (4/20/12) (DROP 2008)
(E)Peregrine Pickle – Tobias George Smollett (4/19/12)
(E)Fanny Hill – John Cleland (05/10/12)
(E)Tom Jones – Henry Fielding (9/24/08)
(E)Roderick Random – Tobias George Smollett (10/05/08) (DROP 2008)
(E)Clarissa – Samuel Richardson (4/30/12)
(E)Pamela – Samuel Richardson (10/12/08)
(F)Jacques the Fatalist – Denis Diderot (05/4/12)
(E)Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus – J. Arbuthnot, J. Gay, T. Parnell, A. Pope, J. Swift (3/21/12)
(E)Joseph Andrews – Henry Fielding (2/8/08)
(E)A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift (3/26/12) (DROP 2008)
(E)Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (04/25/12)
(E)Roxana – Daniel Defoe (4/18/12) (DROP 2008)
(E)Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe (2/10/08)
(E)Love in Excess – Eliza Haywood (11/1/08)
(E)Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (2/11/08)
(E)A Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift (2/12/08) (DROP 2008)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pre 18th century Adds to the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die 2008 edition

    The overriding theme of the original edition of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list is the domination of the west, and specifically, the English/English language tradition of the novel as articulated by critics of the mid 20th century- themselves English speakers and academics.  Ironically, looking at the list of books dropped by the pre 18th century selections from the second edition of 2008, we see a net loss in the 18th and 19th century of  eight titles to the pre 18th century period.   Within the books dropped women are dramatically over-represented,  with Maria Edgeworth getting two of her three books dropped from the first revision and Jane Austen and Fanny Burney each losing a minor title. 

 The other drops from the 18th/19th century are all English, and all authors with multiple titles on the original list:  Austen, Fielding, Smollett, Defoe and Swift all have other titles left over. 

  The adds- all from before the 18th century- demonstrate the increased literature on non-Western novels written prior to the 18th century "birth" of the English novel.  Only one book is in English, with places like China entering the list for the fist time.  The exclusion of the Chinese tradition from the first edition of the 1001 Books list is one of the signal failures of the original project.   The other major novel component to the 2008 edition of the 1001 Books list is the Spanish romance, which likewise has seen a revival of interest from English language academics seeking to redress omissions of scholarship from the past century. 


Adds:

Pre 18th century

269. The Adventurous Simplicissimus – Hans von Grimmelshausen
270. The Conquest of New Spain – Bernal Diaz del Castillo
271. The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
272. Thomas of Reading – Thomas Deloney
273. Monkey: Journey to the West – Wu Cheng’en
274. The Lusiad – Luis Vaz de Camoes
275. The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes – Anonymous
276. Amadis of Gaul – Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo
277. La Celestina – Fernando de Rojas
278. Tirant lo Blanc – Joanot Martorell
279. The Water Margin – Shi Nai’an
280. Romance of the Three Kingdoms – Luo Guanzhong
281. The Tale of Genji Murasaki – Shikibu
282. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter – Unknown 

Drops:
18th/19th century

269. Persuasion – Jane Austen
270. Ormond – Maria Edgeworth
271. The Absentee – Maria Edgeworth
272. Cecilia – Fanny Burney
273. Amelia – Henry Fielding
274. Roderick Random – Tobias George Smollett
275. Roxana – Daniel Defoe
276. A Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift

Pre 18th century
277. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
278. Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit – John Lyly
279. Aithiopika – Heliodorus
280. Chaireas and Kallirhoe – Chariton
281. Metamorphoses – Ovid
282. Aesop’s Fables – Aesopus



18th Century Literature 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (2006)

Hyperion – Friedrich Hölderlin (11/1/09)
The Nun – Denis Diderot (4/28/12)
Camilla – Fanny Burney (1/17/12)
The Monk – M.G. Lewis (3/13/10)
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (4/17/12)
The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe (04/24/12)
The Interesting Narrative – Olaudah Equiano (3/05/12)
The Adventures of Caleb Williams – William Godwin (4/21/12)
Justine – Marquis de Sade (5/1/12)
Vathek – William Beckford (1/21/10)
The 120 Days of Sodom – Marquis de Sade (2/16/10)
Cecilia – Fanny Burney (4/22/10) (DROP 2008)
The Confessions – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (5/7/12)
Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (5/21/12)
Reveries of a Solitary Walker – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (5/8/12)
Evelina – Fanny Burney (3/28/10)
The Sorrows of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (11/1/08).
Humphrey Clinker – Tobias George Smollett (1/30/12)
The Man of Feeling – Henry Mackenzie (4/12/12)
A Sentimental Journey – Laurence Sterne (4/23/11)
Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne (10/19/08)
The Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith (9/25/08)
The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole (04/26/12)
Émile; or, On Education – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (4/14/12)
Rameau’s Nephew – Denis Diderot (4/13/12)
Julie; or, the New Eloise – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (*)
Rasselas – Samuel Johnson (3/30/12)
Candide – Voltaire (3/23/12)
The Female Quixote – Charlotte Lennox (5/10/10)
Amelia – Henry Fielding (4/20/12) (DROP 2008)
Peregrine Pickle – Tobias George Smollett (4/19/12)
Fanny Hill – John Cleland (05/10/12)
Tom Jones – Henry Fielding (9/24/08)
Roderick Random – Tobias George Smollett (10/05/08)  (DROP 2008)
Clarissa – Samuel Richardson (4/30/12)
Pamela – Samuel Richardson (10/12/08)
Jacques the Fatalist – Denis Diderot (05/4/12)
Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus – J. Arbuthnot, J. Gay, T. Parnell, A. Pope, J. Swift (3/21/12)
Joseph Andrews – Henry Fielding (2/8/08)
A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift (3/26/12) (DROP 2008)
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (04/25/12)
Roxana – Daniel Defoe (4/18/12) (DROP 2008)
Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe (2/10/08)
Love in Excess – Eliza Haywood (11/1/08)
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (2/11/08)
A Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift (2/12/08) (DROP 2008) 

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) by John Lyly


Book Review
Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578)
 by John Lyly

   Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit is a strong contender, along with several other pre-18th century selections from the original 1001 Books list for "least pleasant read."   From what I'm able to gather- Euphues is an example of  humorous prose writing that was a la mode in the 16th century.  Nearly every sentence is a quote from some earlier, almost entirely non English, source.  Erasmus is a favorite- he wrote in latin, but Lyly also draws directly from what was known of Roman and Greek literature after the Renaissance.

  The copy I read had footnotes for nearly every sentence, sometimes multiple footnotes from a single sentence.   There is some kind of plot, based around Euphues and his life and times, with an emphasis on correspondence. Later chapters consist of letters directly modeled on the letters of the stoics of the late Roman Empire.

  It is all quite tedious, and no surprise it was dropped from the first revision, replaced by Tirant lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell from 1490.  Tirant lo Blanc is an example of chivalric romance, which is a category which has been excluded from the "history of the novel" narrative promulgated by English language academics in the 20th century.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Aethiopica (200-400 AD) by Heliodorus


Book Review
Aethiopica (200-400 AD)
by Heliodorus
Aethiopica (Wikipedia)

   Like many disciplines in the humanities, literature has gone through decades of "revisionism" led by scholars of the "isms," socialism, feminism, post-modernism.  Inevitably, this process would grow to include the narrative of the creation of the novel itself, since academic categorizing is a favorite target of all groups seeking to amend the status quo. The traditional explanation for the "creation" of the novel is that it happened in the 18th century, in England, and that it was preceded by several influencing traditions, notably the continental tradition of the "Romance," and the popular press of 16th and 17th century England.   The revisionist approach moves the horizon back thousands of years and across continents, making the case that the novel is a global phenomenon that includes important contributions from the near east and an entirely separate tradition in East Asia. 

  To me, this argument misses the point of the underlying argument locating the creation of the novel in 18th century England because, in my mind, it is a combination of writer and audience, and the AUDIENCE for novels could not exist in any serious way before the creation of the printing press and the impact that invention had on the availability and popularity of printed literature.  It's possible to read a book like Aethiopica and imagine an ancient audience, but when it comes to, how exactly, the books were created and disseminated it gets a little dodgy.  What was the literacy rate in a pre-printing press society, and how were books made to reach a mass audience?  Even a cursory  consideration of these factors would seem to indicate against the idea that the novel "existed" in Ancient Rome.

  Like almost all examples of ancient novel-like prose fiction, the story of Aethiopica involves a variation on the boy meets girl, girls is kidnapped by bandits or pirates, boy finds girl.   The expansion of Aethiopica into the political power politics of the ancient near east is noteworthy, especially since Greeks themselves feature onl peripherally, with the major contest being between rogue Egyptian bandits, an Ethiopian polity and the Persian Empire.    Written firmly in the Roman era, Aethiopica harkens back to time before Rome, and in that sens it is a historical novel.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Great Apes (1997) by Will Self

Image result for great apes self
English author Will Self poses with a bronze monkey statue.
Book Review
Great Apes (1997)
by Will Self

  I bought a hard back copy of Great Apes when it came out in 1997.  At the time, I considered myself a fan of English author Will Self.  My Idea of Fun, written in 1993 made a deep impression on young me- the character of the Fat Controller is still something I think about from time to time.  How the Dead Live was a 1001 Book project selection- a marginal selection in my mind, and the exclusion of My Idea of Fun is a mistake.  Self has written a  half dozen novels, including three high modernist books about one of the characters from this book, psychiatrist Zachary Busner.   Busner appears in Self's fiction most often as a human- here- like all the characters, Busner is a chimpanzee, living in a world where evolution took a different turn and chimpanzees run the show, and humans are relegated to the zoo and increasingly small patches of sub-equatorial Africa.

  Simon Dykes, a human painter known for large format, highly detailed works of apocalyptica, wakes up from a typical night of sex and drugs debauchery to discover that he, as well as everyone else, is a chimp.   Dykes is quickly whisked off to a mental institution, where he becomes the object of attention for Busner, who views Dykes as his last great case.  Almost 20 years later, Great Apes has aged extremely well, and it might be time for a new edition to remind everyone just how bold and inventive Great Apes was.

  Self is fearless in his imagining his world of sentient chimpanzees.  A crucial difference is in sexual relations, sex in the chimpanzee world is extremely casual, and, as they say, endogamous (between family members).  Child abuse is NOT having sex with your children.  And while the imaging of Chimpunity is truly spectacular, the narrative itself is conventional, and Self eschews the kind of narrative shenanigans that make his later books so tough to digest.

Oroonoko (1688) by Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely ca. 1670.jpg
Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in England (17th century)

Book Review
Oroonoko (1688)
by Aphra Behn


  If it had been written in the era of the novel, Oroonoko would be too short to qualify.  It's more like a novella in terms of length.  Since it was written before the era of the novel, it is a short work of prose fiction.  Most important for the purpose of the 1001 Books project, Aphra Behn is the first woman writer to be included, in terms of chronology.   Behn is a patron saint of all women writers in England and "one of" the first women to earn a living from her writing, which she did, as a playwright and poet, in the 17th century, in and around London.

  Behn's reputation has skyrocketed in recent years- her presence in the original 1001 Books list as the sole woman writer prior to the 18th century.  Since it was published in 1688, there is an argument that Oroonoko is the first novel, but including Oroonoko extends the time line back all the way to Greece and Rome.  Aside from the gender of the author, Oroonoko is interesting because it tells the story of an African prince, kidnapped and brought to Surinam as a slave, where he rebels and is captured, and executed.

  The Elizabethan prose does the reader no favors, but at least Oroonoko is short- the American edition I checked out from the library had it as the first chapter in a collection of writing by Aphra Behn. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Callirhoe (AD 200) by Chariton


Book Review
Callirhoe (AD 200)
by Chariton


   The question of "What is a novel?" typically excludes Greek literature, which is usually classified in terms of "epic" and "drama" and "tragedy,"  which reflects both form (theater, spoken word poem) and content different then what would become the novel in the 18th century.  Recent scholarship has pushed back upon the late 19th to mid 20th century idea of the novel being created in the 18th century, and sought to include a more diverse selection of materials from ancient Greece and Rome.

   The obvious limitation to this argument is a lack of source material, antique novels having not been high on the list of texts to preserve during centuries of disruption and chaos after the collapse of the western Roman Empire.   Callirhoe is basically the only such novel from its time period that we have (most of) maintained.  It does, indeed, push back against the idea that the novel didn't exist in antiquity.  It does appear much more likely that novels were read by the small literature audience of elites and educated peoples, and not maintained, and the gap of time between ancient Rome and the inventing of the printing press was more than sufficient to ensure the destruction of most texts from that time period.

    Callihroe is surprising readable, especially when compared to the oft stilted translations of Greek and Latin poetry.  It is unmistakably from a pre-Christian time and the characters seem clearly influenced by The Odyssey and The Iliad.  Large portions of Callirhoe take place in Babylon, and they give the reader a better idea of the extent to which the ancient West and Near East co-existed over the centuries.  Callirhoe is a historical novel- a Greek author writing during the Roman Empire about an earlier period of Greek history, before the Roman empire.   The story, about a young woman thought murdered by her young lover, then kidnapped by pirates who are trying to rob her grace-goods and is then sold into slavery, married to a Satrap of the Persian empire and then pursued by the Persian Emperor herself before being "rescued" by her original husband at the head of a rebelling Egyptian army, contains enough incident to satisfy any 20th century critic.

  

There There (2018) by Tommy Orange

Image result for tommy orange tribe
Tommy Orange, author of There There an auspicious debut set in the urban native community of Oakland, CA.


Book Review
There There (2018)
by Tommy Orange
Published June 2018 by Penguin Randomhouse


   When I was attending law school in San Francisco (Hastings College of Law AKA UC Hastings) I clerked at California Indian Legal Services in Oakland, California.   CILS as it's known has a proud tradition of litigating on behalf of California native tribes and individuals, though a flood of gaming money has dramatically changed the landscape for native legal services in the past decades.  My job was typically intake, fielding calls from different people all over the state- mostly northern california, with a galaxy of problems, many involving their own Indian tribal government.

  During the two summers I clerked there, I made trips into the hinterland of California to visit different Native homelands.  California is a hugely diverse location for native peoples, and northern California especially so.  However, I also learned about a different population, of what were called "Urban Indians"- these were legit tribally enrolled peoples who had migrated to Oakland and formed their own pan-tribal community.  They had a community center just east of downtown that I recall visiting on multiple occasions.   This urban native community in Oakland California is also where Tommy Orange calls home.  One of the characteristics of the urban native community in Oakland is that it isn't necessarily composed of Native Californians, rather the population broadly reflects the relative size of tribes in the USA as a whole.

   Tommy Orange is an exciting new literary voice, and There There is an exciting book with a very distinct voice- of the urban native community of Oakland CA BUT ALSO an accomplished prose stylists- cool, but not alienating, creative but comprehensible.  The plot of There There, which deploys about a half dozen narrators, focuses loosely on a plot to rob a Pow-Wow being held at the Oakland Coliseum.  The characters are tied by family and proximity, and Orange moves them backwards and forwards in time, using the flashbacks to establish a longer narrative of the urban native community, inevitably spending time on the occupation of Alcatraz and moving forward from there.

  Orange hints at two of the deepest complexities that surround the urban native communities: The use of so-called "blood quantum" to determine tribal membership and the outsize role that remaining "on the reservation" plays in reevaluations of priorly determined tribal membership.  In other words, you can leave the reservation, but don't expect to maintain your tribal membership forever into the future.   At least one of the characters muses on the irony of the blood quantum standard, and the exclusionary impact it might have on native people who have parents from different tribes and may not be enrollable in any.

  The world picture that Orange paints is grim, though not without hope.  Urban natives have the fortune or misfortune to be able to exist almost invisibly among the larger urban underclass and the contrast between that and the often claustrophobic existence of life on tribal land has a liberating effect.  And of course, urban natives, like the author himself, have access to resources that are sadly absent in rural places where tribal homelands tend to be located.  Surely, There There is an auspicious literary debut, and perhaps a contender for a National Book Award nomination?  Is a Pulitzer our of the question?

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