Monday, September 29, 2008

Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

I haven't read many graphic novels, apart from those you read in your school days. Neither am I a great fan of them. However, I just finished reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, on a recommendation by a friend.

This book has been figuring in the Time Magazines 100 best novels and among few graphics novels to gain entry here. I must say I do not subscribe to this list. There are more controversy as this novel is now being made into a movie scheduled for a 2009 release. Alan Moore has been very vocal about this as you can see here.

Originally released as 12 monthly releases, this book as been later compiled and republished. The story is set in 1985, where costumed adventurers are back at work, against criminal syndicates after one of their co-member is killed. Soon, the event takes a serious turn as another of them was shot, but escaped ; one was tricked and was arrested; and another was forced to leave earth to his home in Mars. While the remaining people are trying to regroup and identify the culprits, the suspicion turns to one among them. The fear of marking and eliminating masked superheros are in the air and soon it becomes a game of superiority.On the other hand the word political scene has gone through some of the worst time and the imminent world war III is looming over the world populace, after the invasion of Afghanistan by the mighty USSR.

There are two periods of activities in discussion here. One when the masked adventurers were at the prime of their eventful existence, and one when they are already an outcast of the society and trying to re-establish themselves through working on small time offenders. There are conflicting and a bit confusing plots of the murder of the masked warriors and of the nuclear war and the destruction there off. There is also an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of these superheros by the toy/doll business group trying to sell their replica.

Fictitious Biographies, retrospectives, journals and other reading including another graphic story within this novel is all there. The structure is also has some documents, memoirs, collective data and other at the end of each chapter. Illustrations and the colouring are superb, and the structure and the narration are a bit odd ( may be I am not so used to such fiction). There is also a quote from a literary work or of a writer at the end of each chapter, which I found quite interesting and out of place.

It was an interesting experience personally for me, and have opened the possibilities and capabilities of this narrative medium in the world of fictions. However, I still do not think that this can move beyond the crime fiction category.

Written by Alan Moore; Art by Dave Gibbons
DC Universe
334 Pages
More reads : Jai Arjun , Alan Moore interview

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Confessions of an economic hitman - John Perkins

The International Politics is controlled by few individuals and corporates in their quest to dominate the world commerce. It is a known fact that most of the political and military actions in the world has "economics" as the underlying reason rather than the stated and published issues. The quest to control the resources across the globe has started in the 2nd millennium. The earlier traders , where the need was to do trading of goods between communities and geographies, was later replaced with greed and countries , especially the European countries have started taking control of the world , people and the resources much early.

During the 20th century most of the countries have started rebelling and gained independence (or self rule) from the rulers from the west. The two world wars have changed the world political spectrum and soon had two superpowers and associated countries. For almost five decades, the effort was to curtail the spread of communism and to control the world both politically and commercially, by the capitalist countries.

US, the leader of the capitalist world , have used all its will to increase its influence over the rest of the world. Military power, political isolation, financial control over economies were few tactics deployed. World has also seen the raise of United States as a military and Economic super power and after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist world in general, put US in such an enviable position with no rivals.
The vision or greed to become a GLOBAL EMPIRE thus begun. There are multiple methods being deployed by the super power through military and deplomatic means. After the debacle in Korea and Vietnam, they have realised that the military might may not be the right approach. Alternate method of getting into the country and managing the affairs had begun, post this. The modus operandi is fairly simple. Agents gets into the country as consultants and will project inflated growth potential and demand requirement in their energy and resource requirements and will get the rulers to see the vision as required by the US corporates. In order to achieve this vision, the host country will have to go through a series of reforms and infrastructure changes, which will be then funded by World Bank or IMF ( both controlled by US). This money allocated will then be used to award mega contracts to US corporates, thus the money flows back to the US. The affected country will then spent years repaying the financial institutes ( usually forever in debt). If the country defaults or fails in repayment, this is then used as an arm-twisting tactics to get the UN votes, approval to establish military bases or other strategic needs of US.
While this has been in discussion for long ( by the anti-propaganda team), here is a first hand account by a person involved in these operations at Indonesia, Panama, Ecuador, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The economic hit men ( or EHM as there were called) have the responsibility until the local government is in agreement with the projections and in getting the lucrative contracts to their clients in building dams, highways, electric sub stations, reactors etc. John Perkins , narrates his story ( out of guilt, as he claim ) to reveal the steps and incidents in executing such activities across the globe. A first hand detailing, starting from his early years and his enrolment into the elite EHM team ( most of them does not even know what they are getting into) and his multiple engagements.

There are people who understood this and tries to defend their country from such an invasion, usually to end up in mysterious deaths, like Torrijos or Panama and Raldos of equador , or hanged ( Saddam , Najibulla(?) ), or will be captured and sentenced in US( Manuel Noriega). There are umpteen coup attempts and efforts to topple the democratically elected government, if they are not towing the US line. There are always justifications for such actions. They will be called a fascist or Nazi during and after the WW II , or a communist ( during the prime of USSR ), a Narcotic dealer ( Noriega and Columbia) , a Terrorist ( the newly found popular word ). The media is also manipulated, so that the common man believes the reasoning and echoes the official line.
Though this book is not very revealing to me, I found it very appropriate to read at this time when India is all about signing a nuclear treaty with the US for our energy supply ( energy security as the supporters calls it) , and as the recent news article says, most of the construction activities are being awarded to US firms.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

John Perkins
Ebury Press , Random House

250 Pages

INR 325/-

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let the wind speak - Juan Carlos Onetti

This book was written soon after his exile in Spain, by this Uruguay born author. This book looks into the periods life of Medina, as a fake (!) doctor , as a painter and as the chief of police. Bitterness, revenge and destruction is the underlying scheme of this novel. Being expelled from Santa Maria and living across the river at Lavanda, Medina has a love-hate relation with Santa Maria and everything associated with it. His long lost love, his numerous other lovers, the criminals and drug addicts are part of that world.

A life in poverty as a painter, living out of selling the unimpressive paintings of models and his girl friends to a corrupt and brutal chief of police shows the change in the character and attributes of Medina. The only thing that is common is the contempt for the place of Santa Maria and the eagerness to be the part of the happenings there while secretly wanting to see the down fall of its might.

Every relationship of Medina is a bit complex, or always under some wrap, not allowing the reader to get the full details of the character. His relationship with Freida , his long time lover , Gurisa his model and new girlfriend , the short stint with Junaina the model , prostitute and occasional lover of Frieda, Seoane , allegedly his son ( though we don't get the full picture of this side) and others are all written and described under a cloud of uncertainties.

"He only looked at Medina and the later understood and remembered that he had hated that man, without ever having seen him, since the very first day of his life, perhaps since even before he was born. But it wasn't the hatred of one person for another; it was like the hatred of an inescapable thing. It was the hatred of all sufferings - mingled like one wave with another, whether the sufferings were great or small- that had been inflicted on him by childhood." .... this summarises the general feel of this novel.

I am certain that this is not the best or most important work of this prolific writer. However, this gives me a glimpse to his style or writing. Moreover, it is important to know this author and his life before appreciating this novel , and this has some personal traits.

Juan Carlos Onetti was born in Montevideo of Uruguay. He never completed his secondary education and spent his first twenty years in his native Uruguay, working in odd jobs. He then moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he worked as a journalist and began publishing short stories in the early 1930s. From 1946 to 1955 Onetti edited the Vea y Lea, in Buenos Aires. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1974 by the military dictators and was exiled to Spain. He lived in Madrid till his death in 1994 . Onetti, writer of many novels and short stories is one of the important figure in the Latin American Literature.

And what's more, I'm thinking of the wind now. It wont be long now. But who can guess which way the wind will blow ?

Let the Wind Speak

Translated by Helen Lane

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Nada - Carmen Laforet

Nada, means nothing in Spanish, is considered a modern literary classic in Spanish. Written in 1944, the first novel of the celebrated writer Carmen Laforet, at a young age of 23. The book has become an instant hit and was soon adapted to a film under the same name. There was another film version of the same novel by an Argentine director. The book in discussion is the new translation by Edith Grossman, released last year. There had been two earlier translations of this book into English by Charles F. Payne (in 1964) and Glafyra Ennis (in 1993). The book also has a good introduction of Laforet's writing and the early days of Franco regime by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Written after the devastating Spanish Civil war, during the initial days of the Franco Regime, this book reflects the Spanish society and its struggle and frustrations after the war. There is no war to be fought now, but the uneasy calm of the streets is now complimented the violent interior of the society.

Andrea, an 18 year old orphan arrives at Barcelona on a rainy day to pursue her education. She has to live in the mysterious house on Calle de Aribau, inhabited with her extended family. An artistic and depressed uncle Ramon , a controlling and single aunt Angustias, an abusive uncle painter Juan and his beautiful and gambler wife Gloria, Grand mother along with the maid and her dog lives in chaos and poverty. The house is on shambles and the skirmish and violence have shifted from the streets to inside of the house. There are no sympathy , closeness and endship among the members and Andrea had to endures the daily shouting , abusing , screaming, cursing rituals. She takes into wandering along the Barcelona streets in order to escape from all this and not to partake in the "actions" at home.

She befriends her classmates at the university and spends larger part of her time at her friend's place and on the streets of Barcelona. Aunt Angustias runs away from home to join the religious movement. Filth, violence, sadness and hunger controls the environment in the house as against the fun,food and freedom at the outside world. Laforet in her simple writing brings forward the differences in the middle class Spanish society and the outside world. During the one year of stay at their house, you also see the transform of an innocent eighteen year old girl from the village to an experienced, bold and strong woman. In other words, many critics view this as a coming of age novel.

According to this preview, Laforet's own life was similar to that of Andrea, and thus there seems to be many elements of her own life reflected in the events taken place in the novel. The struggled upbringing , away from her parents at Caymen Islands, her education in Barcelona etc are few examples. I get a feeling that the novel is more about the disintegration of the society and the depression, hope and disillusionment at the aftermath of the long civil war. Every character lives a life of isolation, trying to get out of this life, by running away or by taking their own life.

A very melancholic and sober novel, written as a first person narrative. A young woman from the remote village coming to Barcelona and trying to maintain her cool and sanity in a chaotic world.

Translated by Edith Grossman
Contributor Mario Vargas Llosa
Modern Library, 2008
244 Pages
More read : Complete Review