Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.

Definitely one to read. Recommend to anyone who wants or needs to know more about what refugees have been through before they arrive here - and what our authorities shamefully put them through to placate general ignorance and the press. Alem is taken and left by his father in London to escape persecution in Ethiopia and Eritrea for having parents on both sides of the divide. While his family story is ultimately desperately tragic, Alem shows real courage, and his friends at school in London, in his foster-family and the local community, stand up for him and his father as do many similar groups in this country when persecuted people are threatened with removal back to countries where their lives are in danger.
Zephaniah as ever tackles the subjects with realism - he dedicates this novel, aimed at the teen age range but there for all ages, to two boys he met, and he clearly has done his homework on this. The Refugee Council's work is also highlighted.
We don't have to give up - if we have any humanity, we should take note of these cases, and challenge the Home Office, the UK Borders Agency, and any such bodies as and when their policies and behaviour threaten and demean the well-being of the real-life equivalents of Alem and his father. Would you like to be beaten and escape with your life, only to be fingerprinted in a detention centre, would you want to queue with vouchers at a separate supermarket while locals with cash walk past you; to live in squalid housing where landlords only care about the money that comes through direct from authorities - and where you have no say because you fear the consquences if you do complain. Then your asylum application is turned down by a judge and system who seem to ignore at least half the evidence.
The tireless help of his foster family, the Fitzgeralds, the Refugee Council's Mariam and Sheila the social worker, the friends at Alem's school who organise the demonstration and petitions so impressively, show that there is hope.
Hope in life and in people - and the novel shows this, despite tragedy and offical coldness.

Published by Bloomsbury.


Well, not the world but my Mum's garden. Nice flowers though, and the garden's big enough.
Daniel Kehlmann's bestseller Die Vermessung der Welt. Not time to do this justice here really, an intriguing and, as it nears the end, surprisingly poignant novel about two great minds and men of the 19th century in Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. The former a well-connected Prussian with a taste for travel and a genius and determination to use surveying and insight to measure, test and research the world via Spain and South America, finally returning via a stay in France to Berlin.
Less one for accomodating society, Gauss - a brilliant mathematician and difficult (to say the least) character who brusquely contacts his wife's best friend to marry him just after his wife's died in childbirth.
Something of an intelligent, well-researched and fluently written boy's own adventure story: it comes into its own as it portrays the two pillars of the scientific world as they age and younger men with newer instruments take over the stage and fete the heroes while sidelining them. Except Humboldt - on an almost ill-fated journey to Russia - is needed to use his techniques to steer the boat he's on to safety when all seems lost. And Gauss continues his astronomical viewings and learning Russian, inspired by Humboldt's trip.
A way to learn some history of science, and history, and well worth the trip.
It's been translated too - see the title of this post. Quercus publishing. Waterstone's etc.

Books I've been with

One idea of this blog was to keep track of things I've read, maybe why I've read them, what happened in them and sort of what they're about.
Here goes:
Romulus der Grosse by Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt. Play about the final days of the Western Roman Empire, 476 AD.
Emperor Romulus - named after the Roman founder - tends his chickens while ignoring pleas by his wife and daughter, a fleeing Byzantine Emperor and an exhausted messenger to make a last stand against the invading Germanic tribes. Tables are turned when Romulus' family and guests are drowned en route to Sicily, and Germanic leader Odoaker turns out to sympathize with Romulus' dislike of empires, power and their oppression.
A sideways look at Empire: how much allusion there is to World Wars, Cold War times I'm not sure, but something is there. The Diogenes text was reworked by the author in 1980: a previous version goes back to 1957.
Smoothly, slickly written even: using the old Greek rules of drama (24 hours, one setting, and ...) this is an accomplished piece, without necessarily standing out as a masterpiece. Effectively challenges any heroic writings on Rome's glory: too much blood built this and any Empire.
Read the comments on http://www.amazon.de/Romulus-Grosse-ungeschichtliche-historische-Neufassung/dp/3257230427/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248817792&sr=1-1 while they're there.
Then read the play.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Poetry On the Go - Music and Words

Went to the Ledbury Poetry Festival yesterday - http://www.poetry-festival.com/.

Julie Boden performed music to Steve Troman's piano accompaniment, a project linked with a backstage 'piano room' at Symphony Hall. Very powerful, hypnotic combination of words and music, Julie a skilled poet and performer based at Symphony Hall and whose work's been known for a while now.

Michael Horovitz is from the Beat generation, widely-known (but newer to me, in my ignorance); quite amazing performer, energy and wild vocals with homemade musical accompaniment! Not so sure about the anti-Blair/Bush work, fair points but just not so effective poetry somehow. Glad I got to see him, with a packed room of others.

Benjamin Zephaniah - whose full name includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim names, which as he said sounds great but actually means he gets stopped at every airport in the world! He isn't over-hyped: he just is an enjoyable, natural performer, who has great skill with words, ideas, feelings, politics, and communicates these so well with his audiences. A gentle manner but never bland, some hard-hitting points but not overdone. (For me, his approach to politics worked better than with the Horovitz earlier: Zephaniah can be angry, but goes beyond cliche and brings something new and impressive to the arguments. You know what he's saying, but you still have to think).
He overran by about twenty minutes or so - I didn't care and only 1 person in a packed community hall had to leave early. The rest of us would have stayed all evening if Ben Z had.
The Turkey at Christmas poem was there, one for his mum (her response once? Now shut up and go to bed!), poems about Islamophobia post 9/11, and the moving, angry, intelligent response to the whole shameful mess leading to the non-convictions following the Stephen Lawrence murder trial[s]. Just a selection of the range of his work.

If you have a chance to see any of these performers soon, don't wonder, just go!

Oh, and I was in the local bookshop when Ben Okri was there having a chat with the booksellers/owners. Very amiable man, who elicited suitable approval from the owners when he'd left too. All part of the fun of a festival.

And one of the other main poets sat next to me at the Michael Horovitz reading. I didn't ask for an autograph though.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Deva Chester Walls Pubs Museum and a Zoo

Magical History Tour of Chester, a not-so-creaky old bus with some creaky old jokes in the fascinating commentary as we saw the sights of the city.

Left of the bus is the visitor centre, right off-picture St John's Church, actually more interesting than Chester Cathedral - and doesn't cost you to get in!! [No moneylenders/changers in the temple here]. Norman Arches, windows with key figures in Chester History, a reference to two possible Christian martyrs. Something coming up on the History Channel, the Vicar told us in person!

Other forms of transport around too - didn't try these though.

Decided against the horse-riding too, but did have a look at the Roodee Racecourse as we walked around the old walls of the city.

Watch out for the mean streets though ...

Stayed in a roomy, clean and decent hotel [Stafford] very near the Station, tasty egg on toast, handy for a trip to Port Sunlight on the Mersey link.

Very tasty food at the Old Coach House hotel/pub/restaurant near the town hall and bus station.

Camels, chimps, orang utans, tropical fish, Komodo Dragons, rhinos, elephants, penguins, people watching too... and another train trip, the mini-overhead rail round Chester Zoo. Bit pricey, but a great layout and intriguing to see the chimps and orang utans not being too distantly related ... and more intelligent behaviour than you'll see in the average city on a Saturday night down the pubs ...

More to come if you're lucky ?!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Chester and more

Chester bound today! History and stuff and not too much rain I hope - more to come.

Also: will write up about Die Vermessung der Welt, Daniel Kehlmann, German [well, he lives in Austria] bestseller about Grumpy Gauss the Great Mathematician, and Gad-about Humboldt the Travelling Scientist and Discoverer, geniuses of their day with a profound impact on science and our understanding of the world and beyond. Poignant too as they grow older and their powers are restricted by age and those around them.

Bis bald!