Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 movie version of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Book Review:
Gone with the Wind (1936)
by Margaret Mitchell

   Gone with the Wind is a brick, first of all.  The hard back version I checked out from the San Diego Public Library was full 8.5 x 11 dimensions and close to a thousand pages.  A thousand pages! Gone with the Wind is both a top ten novel and film in terms of popularity for those art forms. Gone with the Wind was the first and only novel that Margaret Mitchell wrote. In 2015, more people are familiar with the 1939 film but the book has sold 30 million copies.  It's the second most popular novel behind the Bible with American audiences.

  Make no mistake- Gone with the Wind is racist as HELL.  It is UNBELIEVABLE how virulently racist Gone with the Wind is.  Annnddd.... even though Gone with the Wind is written about the 19th century, it was published in 1936 and everyone LOVED it.  I don't know that GwtW is defensible in the way that Uncle Tom's Cabin- a book written during the 19th century by an ardent abolitionist.

  In terms of literary antecedents, Scarlett O'Hara most resembles Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair.  The amount of literary merit one accords to GwtW is likely to tie closely to ones opinion about the literary merit of Vanity Fair.  If you haven't read Vanity Fair, you should probably read that book before you read this book.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Story of a Prostitute (1965) by Seijun Suzuki

Movie Review
Story of a Prostitute (1965)
by Seijun Suzuki
Criterion Collection #299

  This will be 40th post labeled "Japanese Literature" on this blog.  I think maybe 2 of those posts are about books, so I might as well change the label to "Japanese film."  Out of all the directors I've watched, Seijun Suzuki is probably my favorite on the strength of his anarchic b-movies like Branded to Kill (1967.)   I suppose, at some level, it is possible to connect the somber pre-World War II melodrama Story of a Prostitute with the crazy crime noir Suzuki would turn out later in the 1960s, but that level is not the films have a similar feel, style or look.

  Story of Prostitute is about a volunteer(!) comfort woman serving in Manchuria (northern China) during the Japanese invasion of that area, prior to the start of our World War II.  Comfort Women are still in the news in the twentieth century, but only in the form of Korean women who were forced to serve as comfort women later during the period of Japanese military aggression in the mid 20th century.  Harumi(played by Yomiko Nogawa) is a Japanese prostitute who signs up as a comfort woman to spite a wealthy client who had falsely promised marriage.

 Serving in the occupied territory of Manchuria, she is torn between the overbearing Lieutenant Narita (winningly portrayed by Isao Tamagawa) and the bookish Private Mikami (Tamio Kimachi.)  Anyone who has watched any of the Japanese films involving prostitutes and their lives in various periods of Japanese history will not be surprised to learn that it does not end well for Harumi.

  The source material- a Tajiro Tamura was a critical look at Japanese culture as well as a tragic love story, but its easy to see how the critical perspective on Japanese military culture might be missed or "lost in the translation" between cultures.  The aggressive pre-war Japanese military culture stands somewhere between the way the English feel about their empire and the way the Germans feel about the Nazis- a complicated attitude to be sure.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Empire's Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson

The Caribbean, a map.

Empire's Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day
by Carrie Gibson
Atlantic Monthly Press
Published November 11th, 2014

  Currently occupying the number one slot in the Amazon category for Caribbean & West Indies History category, Empire's Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day is a genuine hit in the category, and since Gibson is a sober, responsible scholar I'd feel remiss in doing anything other than giving it a hardy thumbs up.  I think probably the acknowledged touch stone for any scholarship, popular or scholarly (Empire's Crossroads is a kind of academic/popular hybrid title) on the Caribbean is Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
by Daniel Mintz, Penguin Press (Non Classics Division) p. 1986.

  I read Sweetness and Power back in 2010.  Sweetness and Power isn't strictly speaking, a Caribbean history title, but rather a history of sugar.  But the history of sugar is the history of the Caribbean, so sugar, and Sweetness and Power are the foundational work for any understanding of the history of the Caribbean.  To her distinct credit, Gibson acknowledges the influence of Sweetness and Power but to her credit she tries to build on the approach and tells the story up the present day more or less.

  Some of the negative reviewers on Amazon have mentioned a "liberal bias" but you'd have to be a real tea party wacko to NOT see the Caribbean as a case study for many of the colonial and economic problems the face the developing world.  In a sense, the Caribbean is THE location to look at the "problems of globalization."    Any writer who tries to ignore the negative side of American and Western involvement in shaping the present of the Caribbean is missing out on a major, major theme of Caribbean history.

   It would have been nice to see a fuller treatment of Central America and the Yucatan of Mexico, which has MANY Caribbean features in terms of economy, culture and climate  and is ignored entirely. The narrative structure is strongest in the colonial period, after the fracture between independent and colonial populations makes Caribbean wide generalizations difficult. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Parentheses (1937) by David Jones

Book Review
In Parentheses (1937)
 by David Jones

  This is an "epic poem" about the experience of fighting in World War I.  I have to be about 20 deep on World War I fighting books at this point, which left me wondering is In Parentheses is really one of the 1001 Books I need to read prior to my demise.  The foreword by T.S. Eliot is like a kiss of death in terms of whether there was any chance I might actually enjoy In Parentheses.  This is the second book in a month that has come with a "classic" T.S. Eliot foreword, but the editors of the 1001 Books project don't actually include any T.S. Eliot poems, leaving me wondering why they would essentially include books on his say-so but not include any of his own work.  Surely The Wasteland is something that one should read before one dies?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne Du Maurier

A still from the Alfred Hitchcock film version of Rebecca

Book Review
Rebecca (1938)
by Daphne Du Maurier

  I bought a new paperback edition of Rebecca at an independent bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire.  Rebecca is a genre hit- with the Alfred Hitchcock film helping maintain its evergreen status in book stores. Because Rebecca is a straight up genre exercise, any discussion of the plot risks the disclosure of "spoilers."  Suffice it to say that Rebecca continues to be read today because it is a very good, very fun book.

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