Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, June 12, 2015

New Genetics Studies ID Indo European Homeland, Route into Europe

Map of Yamnaya culture, geneticists now posit this was the origin location for the Indo European language group.

  Two new studies published in the Science journal this week have identified the long sough, much argued about homeland of the Indo European peoples, a group that includes all the languages of Europe (Basque, Hungarian and Finnish excepted), Hindi and Farsi.

(NYTIMES Article)

  Basically, two separate studies looked at different genetic materials and came to the same conclusion, that the "modern" genetic composition of Europe is directly traceable to the emigration of people from the steppes of southern Ukraine to northern Europe.

  According to the write up from Science journal itself, the critical migration happened between 2900 BC and 2000 BC.  In that period, the genes of people living in Europe came to resemble those of people from the Yamanaya heartland. (SCIENCE journal)

  The same studies also provide a reasonable hypothesis for the division of Eastern Indo European languages- the "Indo-Iranian" branch and all others, having discovered a cluster of Yamanaya type genes in the Altai mountains focused on the time between 2900 BC and 2500 BC.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Heart of the Matter (1948) by Graham Greene

Freetown, Sierra Leone, is the location of Graham Green's excellent 1948 novel, The Heart of the Matter.

Book Review
The Heart of the Matter (1948)
 by Graham Greene

Graham Greene Book Reviews - 1001 Books 2006 Edition
England Made Me (1935)
Brighton Rock (1938) *
The Power and the Glory (1940) *
The Heart of the Matter (1948)
The Third Man (1949)
The End of the Affair (1951) *
The Quiet American (1955) *
Honorary Counsel (1973) *
* =  core title in 1001 Books list

  Sad John Scobie is a colonial police officer waiting out World War II in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  He's got all the accouterments that one would expect a mid 20th century colonial officer to have in a novel:   Dead child, sad wife, surly help, a shifty Lebanese merchant who is willing to help him but at what cost.   Greene's status as a Catholic novelist and- considering that every book he writes deals with Catholic characters grappling with questions surrounding their faith in the modern world- the sobriquet seems justified- means that his characters neatly avoid the existentialist dilemmas of less faith concerned protagonists in 20th century literature.

  Graham Greene is a bridge between the white male/England heavy past of literature and the multi-religious, multi-ethnic present.  He was also hugely popular, and The Heart of the Matter was hugely popular, selling more than 300,000 copies in hard back.  The Heart of the Matter almost has a formulaic quality- and I say this as a compliment- the same way that one might call a successful Hollywood film "formulaic" but acknowledge that the film demonstrates mastery of that formula.

  The formula I'm talking about is something different than the formula for the "colonial novel" of the type written by Joseph Conrad and George Orwell.   Those novels put the place first.  Here, Greene uses Africa as a minor character, with the emphasis fully on the relatable John Scobie and his moral dilemma.  His narrative also includes a twist ending and a dollop of racy sex type activity.  Which is all to say that The Heart of the Matter is both literary and entertaining, fun to read and thought-provoking.  A template for modern literature.  One thing Graham Greene isn't is cool.  His books aren't kept alive by a counter-cultural readership or read in literature class.  I would argue this makes his works ripe for repurposing, except for the fact that they are still under copyright and regrettably not in the public domain.

Cannery Row (1945) by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row, as it appears today.  Cannery Row today is a legitimate tourist attraction, even including an enormous statue installation and dozens of restaurants, hotels and shops.

Book Review
Cannery Row (1945)
by John Steinbeck

     I'm a native San Franciscan, and I frequently went on vacation with my family to the Monterey Dunes, which are several miles north of Monterey proper.   I've been to the modern Cannery Row many times, most recently this winter, when I was there for the California Death Penalty Conference.  On that occasion, we scored (my girlfriend found it) a choice Airbnb that was actually a cottage that John Steinbeck stayed in during one of his many sojourns in the area.  The cottage was in Pacific Grove, just above Cannery Row, which itself, I feel, should be in Pacific Grove, not Monterey if you are to go by the geography of the area, but I would walk down the hill and down the recreation trail depicted above on my way to the Monterey convention center.
Doc Rickett's lab was the real-life inspiration for the lab in Cannery Row.

   Cannery Row as it is today is an iconic locale, but it bears little or no resemblance to the working, Depression era Cannery Row of John Steinbeck's novel.   Today, it is a mid table American tourist attraction, then it was a gritty sardine fishing colony with mild, year-round weather and a healthy coterie of depression era hobos.  The main focus of Cannery Row is the relationship between a local scientist jack-of-all-trades who goes by the name of Doc and a group of said depression era hobos, all of whom have a healthy affinity for alcohol.

  Steinbeck was not exactly a local.  He was raised inland, in Salinas.  However, no one goes to Salinas on vacation, so the Steinbeck/Monterey affinity functions as a hometown-by-proxy relationship.  The major California based novelists of the first part of the 20th century:  Jack London, John Steinbeck and Frank Norris; were instrumental in creating the image of California as a place, but it is significant that none of them wrote convincingly of Southern California.   In fact, the California milieu of Cannery Row seems like more of a proxy for a larger "Pacific Northwest" environment than anything specific to California.

  It's hard to make the case that Cannery Row is the "best" anything- except perhaps "novel about Monterey" but the enduring success of the image Steinbeck created for the Cannery Row location is impossible to dismiss.   Cannery Row is a kind of depression era idyll, for hobos and norms alike.  Cannery Row is like a premonition of the beat era, and the hippie culture which would come to define Northern California two decades later.

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