Friday, February 29, 2008
Abair d'urnaí! Say your prayers!
Tá mé ag obair go leor faoí lathair. Mar sin, níl mé ábalta seoladh altannaí go minic ar an blog seo agamsa. Ach, d'fhoglaim mé eolas nua, nuair chuaigh mé agus Niall ar an sionagóg Dé Sathairn seo caite. Thosaigh mac agam ag tógáil go mbeadh 'mac na aithne' nuair go beidh sé trí blianta deag. Chaith sé féin go raibh ag imithe de Shabóid ar an maidin ina theampall "Dáil na h-Iosrael." Tá sé i gcónaí ina Coill Chuileann ar an taobh thoir, in aice leis na bhaile "Na Sonosach," nó "Los Feliz" ina teanga Spáinneach go briste!
D'imigh muid ar an seirbhise go luath nó mall! Chruinnigh duine difriúla ansin. Ceapaim go raibh siad leath na Laidineachaí, agus leath na clann Eorpach. Tháinig muid isteach nuair go raibh ag éirí na Tóiraigh as. Bhí an cantaire ag amhránaíocht os ard. Ní maith liom ag cantaireacht de ghuth ard. Sílím go bhfuil callán. Tá seanbhéic ann. Tá sé cosulacht mórcheoldrama agam le. Ach, measaim go raibh maith leo gach duine eile freisin.
Bhí roinnt seo go raibh níos lag. D'imir cluiche clisteacha agamsa féin. Bíonn mé ag cleachtadh ag labhairt agamsa féin as Gaeilge faoi na seirbhse Shabóid sin. Ní raibh cuimhne liom an focal Éireannach "ag guí" dó. Bhí cuimhne liom an focal "paidreacha," mar sin go raibh an focal is fusa!
D'inis na raibí dóibh faoí an lamh. Mhúinim sé díobh faoí an caill Ghiudach uaidh. Tá ordóg ag ceistiú. Tá an mhéar cholbha (nó thosaigh) a lochtú. Ar bhfuil an mhéar fhada (nó láir-- focal eile uirthi as gaeilge!)? Dúirt na raibí orainn go raibh "ag insint orainn go fíneálta ar an Talmúd" (ní bhfuair an focal seo, nó "Tóireagh", foclóir agam anseo!) gur "go bhfuil an mhéain dhlúthchaidreamh sin í." Tá an mhéar an fháinne ag glanadh. Faoí deireadh, tá an mhéar bheag ag marcálaim chuige ar an Tóiraigh.
Chríochnaigh na raibí seanmóir a dhéanamh air againn. Chuala muid faoí an scéal bíobalta is hálainn. Is maith liom é go leor. Bhí Éilias arm a bhualadh na sagairt na Bál ar cheile ar Shliabh Chairmeil. Níor rugadh Ízeibil agus Acháb an fáidh. D'ímigh sé ansin. Bhí sé ag imeacht i bhfolach. D'fhán sé go Horeb. Ach, ní raibh an Tiarna sa toit is tormán. Fuair sé an Tiarna ansiud. "I ndiadh na tine, tháinig fuaim chogair bhig." (Cead Leabhair na Ríthe, 19:12.) D'fhág muid an teampeall an lá sin go siochain.
Say your prayers!
I have been working a lot lately. Therefore, I'm not able to send posts as often to this blog of mine. But, I learned new knowledge, when Niall and I went to the synagogue last Saturday. My son's started preparing for becoming "bar mitzvah" [= "son of the commandment"] when he's thirteen years old. He must be going off to Shabbat in the morning at the 'Knesset Israel' temple. It's near 'the wood of the holly" [= Hollywood] on the east side, near the community of 'The Happy Ones,' or "Los Feliz" in the broken Spanish language!
We went to the service sooner or later! Different people were gathered there. I estimate that half were Latinos and half of European descent. We came in when the Torah was lifted up. The cantor was singing loudest. I don't like singing with a loud voice. I think it's a big noise. It's a giant shriek. It resembles grand opera for me. It seemed that every one else liked it, however.
This section went very slowly. I played a game of skill with myself. I practiced speaking to myself in Irish about that Shabbat service. I could not remember the Irish word for "praying." I remembered the word "prayers," since that's a much easier word!
The rabbi told us about the hand. He taught us about the Jewish meaning of it. The thumb is for questioning. The outer (or starting) finger is for blaming. What about the long (or mare-- another word for it in Irish) finger? The rabbi spoke to us that "the Talmud [this word not to be found in this here dictionary of mine, or "Torah"!] tells us delicately" that "it is the finger of intimacy." The ring finger is for cleanliness. Finally, the little finger points to the Torah.
The rabbi finished giving his sermon to us. We heard about the most beautiful biblical story. I like it a lot. Elijah defeated the army of priests of Baal together at Mount Carmel. Jezebel and Ahab did not catch the prophet. He ran off from there. He went into hiding. He stayed in Horeb. But, God was not in the smoke and thunder. God was beyond. "And after the fire, came a still small voice."(I Kings, 19:12.) We left the temple that day peacefully.
Image/íomhá: Hamsa, a Jewish "hand" amulet of domestic or personal protection. Compare that found in the Arab world-- when a large eye is added and it seems the text is deleted-- often called the Hand of Fatima against the eye of evil.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Two Táin Translations: Kinsella & Carson Reviewed
A few weeks ago here and on Amazon, I compared the new Oxford UP translation from the Middle Welsh by Sioned Davies of "The Mabinogion" with the standard edition by Patrick Ford, from U. of California Press. The Old Irish equivalent of a medieval Celtic epic that for most of us represents the epitome of ancient adventure and mortal combat, "The Táin," now can gain the same comparison and contrast. We can finally study Thomas Kinsella's 1970 Oxford UP edition next to Ciaran Carson's 2008 Viking-Penguin hardcover. As with my comments (on this blog and on Amazon) about the two competing Mabinogi, I will select a favorite passage from the Irish, and then transcribe how Kinsella and Carson render it. Poetic Champions Compose!
Old Irish text, somewhat reduced:
‘Geib, a Ferguis,’ bar Medb, ‘scíath díten dar éis fer nHérend goro síblur-sa m'fúal úaim.’ ‘Dar ar cubus,’ ar Fergus, ‘is olc in tráth & ní cóir a dénam.’ ‘Gid ed ní étaim-sea chena,’ bar Medb, ‘dáig nída beó-sa meni síblur-sa m'fúal úaim.’ Tánic Fergus & gebid scíath díten dar éis fer  nHérend. Siblais Medb a fúal úathi co nderna trí tulchlassa móra de co taille munter in cach thurchlaiss. Conid Fúal Medba atberar friss.
Ruc Cú Chulaind furri ac dénam na huropra sain & níra gonastarsum; ní athgonad-sum 'na díaid hí.
[. . . .] ‘Rapa chomadas in lá sa indiu ám i ndíaid mná,’ ar Fergus ‘Condrecat lochta ra fulachta and so indiu’ bar Medb ra Fergus. ‘Ra gattá & ra brattá in slúag sa indiu. Feib  théit echrad láir rena serrgraig i crích n-aneóil gan chend cundraid ná comairle rempo, is amlaid testa in slúag sa indiu.’
Kinsella:(Ch. XIV. pp. 250-51)
"Then Medb got her gush of blood.
'Fergus,' she said, 'take over the shelter of shields at the rear of the men of Ireland until I relieve myself.'
'By god,' Fergus said, 'you have picked a bad time for this.'
'I can't help it,' Medb said. 'I'll die if I can't do it.'
So Fergus took over the shelter of shields at the rear of the men of Ireland and Medb relieved herself. It dug three great channels, each big enough to take a household. The place is called Fual Medba, Medb's Foul Place, ever since. Cúchulainn found her like this, but he held his hand. He wouldn't strike her from behind.
'Spare me,' Medb said.
'If I killed you dead,' Cúchulainn said, 'it would only be right.'
But he spared her, not being a killer of women. [Cúchullain watches them depart. The battle is over, the Connacht forces defeated, as Medb tells Fergus. . . .]
'We have had shame and shambles here today, Fergus.'
'We followed the rump of a misguided woman,' Fergus said. 'It is the usual thing for a herd led by a mare to be strayed and destroyed.'"
Carson:(Ch. XII. pp. 206-07)
"Then Medb got her gush of blood.
'Fergus,' she said, 'cover the retreat of the men of Ireland, for I must relieve myself.'
'By god',' said Fergus, 'you picked a bad time to go.'
'I can't help it,' said Medb, 'I'll die if I don't go.'
So Fergus covered the retreat. Medb relieved herself, and it made three great trenches, each big enough for a cavalcade. Hence the place is known as Fúal Medba, Medb's Piss-pot.
Cú Chulainn came upon Medb as she was doing what she had to.
'I'm at your mercy,' said Medb.
'If I were to strike, and kill you,' said Cú Chulainn, 'I'd be within my rights.'
But he spared her, because usually he did not kill women. [. . . .]
Now that they had lost the battle, Medb said to Fergus:
'The pot was stirred, Fergus, and today a mess was made.'
'That's usually what happens,' said Fergus, 'when a mare leads a herd of horses -- all their energy gets pissed away, following the rump of a skittish female.'"
To me, Kinsella opts with alliteration like "shame and shambles," and "shelter of shields" to convey a balance, a slightly archaic register. Hypotactics heighten orderly parallelism like "strayed and destroyed" and "was stirred" and "was made." A dignity remains despite the scatological content. For Carson, an edgier, conversational tone stresses slightly the bitterness that Fergus feels, and the gloating that Cú Chulainn indulges, when the hero's finally cornered his arch-foe-- only to catch her with her skirt down.
The two editions complement each other. Carson notes in his introduction that he had resisted initially the temptation, but wound up peeking at his predecessor and eventually "checked every line of mine against Kinsella. I trust my translation is different." As I found with Davies and Ford, so with Kinsella and Carson. In the latter poet's estimation, you can see that "there are occasions when my words do not differ a great deal from his. That is inevitable when more than one translation emerges from more or less the same text. And for better or for worse, my translation will be seen as a commentary on Kinsella; I hope it will also be taken as a tribute." (xxv)
The two editions use the same base text, Recension I. Carson re-orders some episodes, and adds a bit to Kinsella's content. Both authors package the many small sections of the original Old Irish into chapters; Carson has one fewer than Kinsella. Kinsella prepared seven 'remscéla' or prefatory tales; Carson summarizes these in end-notes. Both try for, Carson explains, a non-literal translation. But, where Kinsella allowed some "relatively free verse, I have kept to the original syllable-count of the lines," with a few exceptions that proved impossible. (xxvi) Rhyme and assonance, Carson adds, had to differ too from the original's 'aabb' pattern that would've been "difficult and tedious to replicate in English." He sticks to Cecile O'Rahilly's scholarly recensions in their spellings. These names dependably provided ironic commentary on the action, embedded for an Old Irish audience.
Both editions feature brief introductions, a translator's prefatory note, end-notes, and a pronunciation guide. The elegant design in the earlier Oxford UP paperback that incorporated Louis le Brocquy's magnificent brush drawings, and the typographical elegance of the 1969 Dolmen Press original, along with three handsome maps. Kinsella matches his denser end-notes to the text's pages; Carson uses numerical indicators keyed to fewer end-notes. Kinsella remarks on topography and the manuscript's tradition. Similarly, Carson discusses "landscape as metronymic map" and the concept of 'dindsenchas,' or place-name lore, helpfully. Neither translator gets bogged down in this topic, but they nod to it meaningfully. Their end-notes treat it at more length. Therefore, both poets strive to keep the integrity of the text primary, and relegate helps for us today to their own separate niche, as is both helpful and proper.
Carson's book weighs in at just over two hundred pages, about eighty less than Kinsella's. That version, of course, featured illustrations and typographically and graphically keeps its advantage. Carson's, smaller in heft and on less durable paper (even in the hardcover, disappointingly), otherwise remains neck-and-neck in both style, scholarship, and swiftness.
Review posted to Amazon today with the exception of the Old Irish. I'm happy to append that Carson credits another 1970s popularization that followed Kinsella's presentation. "In 1973 the concept of the Táin was brought to an even larger audience when the 'Celtic rock' group Horslips released an album of the same name, with songs and music inspired by the Kinsella translation." (xxvii) Maith sibh!
Old Irish 'Táin Bó Cuailnge'
Images: I prefer the older cover of the Kinsella for its le Brocquy drawing; Gregory Mollica's Black Bull's splendidly gracing the Carson edition. There's a different British illustration for the Penguin, a bull turning back, on a red cover.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Stuff White People Like & Politically Incorrect Ads of Yesteryear
There may be crossover appeal here. There may be fodder for Cultural Studies majors. There may be even a bit of fun. Lighten up. Or, as Booker T. & the MG's might encourage us uptight otays, in Otis Day & the Knights style, "tighten up?"
Stuff White People Like
This site started only six weeks ago, here in L.A. It's up to 300,000 hits daily. The day after I had linked to it in my less trafficked blog, Gregory Rodríguez in the L.A. Times interviewed its founder; it's opined that as whites grapple in cities like ours with being another-- and I'd add often dismissed or derided by the media and trendsetters-- minority, that this type of satirical, yet analytical, blog is indeed fodder for Cultural Studies majors, so to speak.
"White Like Us": http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-rodriguez25feb25,0,1952462.column
I dashed off to White People's Like #73, "Oscar Party," after putting up this post originally yesterday. I add with pleasure my hearing Glen Hansard thank the Academy for his award 'as Gaeilge'. However, I think he used the singular 2nd person "agat" rather than "agaibh." Tilda Swinton's quoted in the Times post-celebration as wishing she could've spoken 'Gaelic' when accepting her statuette. As in Scots G.?
Politically Incorrect Ads of Yesteryear
Image: from the latter site, one of my many favorites. Rather nicely balanced "lay-out"-- of graphics and image, that is. N.B.: I don't drink coffee (#1 Like for Whites)--only the missus does. I'm not Mormon; I like tea. Worth your valuable time to scan through all the ads, one by one, to find your personal best.
Rosita Boland's "A Secret Map of Ireland" Book Review
A longtime journalist for the Irish Times, Boland's narratives move along generally with efficiency, detail, and organization. Her style, honed at the newspaper, tends more towards that of the personal feature granted by her employer than that of her poetry. The imagery's less potent and the facts more present than I expected. The best of these short chapters, one for a sight seen in each of the thirty-two counties, reveal Boland's ability to employ synecdoche-- in which a quirky or overlooked part stands for the whole nation.
For instance, the border in the Armagh visit to the Tayto factory at Tandragee Castle reveals a great detail, in impressively subtle observation and comparison, about the cultural differences on each side of the frontier. Similarly, the Fermanagh example of the border hamlets at Pettigo-Tullyhommon & Belcoo/Blacklion show the daily idiosyncracies of phone service, postal delivery, and commercial trade across a sturdy if nearly invisible divide. Another rift she enters in the Meath visit to the Columban missionary fathers' nearly empty but once filled former seminary and the graying and diminishing ranks of the Trappists at Waterford's Mount Melleray opens up deftly the fading echo of retreating Catholicism in an era of declining vocations and secularized lifestyles.
At Malin Head in Donegal, I liked her treatment of how visibility for weather forecasting still depends in a technological era on a human observer looking at the sky and checking gauges on the hour no matter what. This attention for the telling detail is Boland at her best. When she gets to the Sligo "fairy theme park" run by one "Melody, Baroness of Leyne, Ph.D.," all Boland needs to place the dreadful place in its kitschy niche is a deadpan recital of its plastic (or "resin") figurines. The edge the author reveals in her portrayal, however, avoids cruelty and she manages out of a depressing sight to conjure up the appeal of how it's not what we see that makes it inspiring or tawdry, it's what we do with the sights we see that manages to transcend the banal. A tricky point, and this moment, perhaps due to its depth of meaning, makes for me the highlight of this collection.
Yet, many other attractions she locates do not, in her telling, rise above the dutiful depiction of accumulated statistics or information. Staying three days on "Great" Skellig Michael, she transmits little of the gales and the sheer drops and the exhilarating vertigo that must be part of every lucky visitor's memory. How she got there by navigating Irish bureaucracy takes up much of her account; the stay's anticlimactic. Dan Donnelly's long arm in Kildare, carols sung in Laois, a cluttered Temple of Isis in Carlow, or a Raggedy Bush in Kilkenny are examples of the topics she discusses, but while all of these are admittedly interesting, they do not leap off the page or remain long in the memory.
A long recital of the intriguing journey to Africa's Mountains of the Moon by Surgeon Major Thomas Heazle Parke 1887-89 appears better suited to a non-Irish account. A monkey's afterlife fame in Cork, a cabinet of curiousities in Tyrone, or Derry's immense Lough Neagh all intermittently engage you, but the energy dissipates. I suppose the sad fate of the Millennium Tree that Boland had been issued in Wicklow may prove a metaphor for this gathering of attempts at surprising one's self with the hidden but accessible corners of one's own native land. The destination may disappoint or remain stubbornly elusive, but the sense of wonder and mystery still pulls Boland, and you, along to the next stop.
Posted review above today to British and U.S. Amazon; image, as the cover of that book merely faded the original "Educational School Map of Ireland" is not of the original, which deserved its elegantly delineated reproduction, after all. Unbelievably, I cannot find a depiction of that map on the Net. Here's an earlier, late 19c. map from a handsomely stocked site, "Heritage History: old-fashioned history straight from your great-grandparent's bookshelf." You can view a much larger, scanned, version there. I love maps! www.heritage-history.com
Flann O'Brien's Collected Novels: John Updike's review
Here's a review by John Updike on Flann O'Brien's collected novels. Who'd ever have thought they'd be in the same Everyman's series as, uh, another new arrival, Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet." That vague vademecum's but 96 pages and as Elizabeth Colbert noted in her review also in The New Yorker of Robin Wainwright's biography, "with margins wide enough to drive a truck through." I only wish "At Swim-Two-Birds" or "The Third Policeman" had sold so much for Myles/Flann/Brian in his own rather sorry lifetime. The few and the proud are his readers who have the patience for scholastic satire or grim existentialism, as opposed to airy nostrums and New Age puffery? "An exegesis of squalor," a "hard life" indeed. (Feb. 11-18, 2007 anniversary issue.)
Image by Brian O'Toole of Flann O'Brien (William Tracy's cowboy characters surround "Swim" to collude! Mad Sweeney resembles a rather anorexic Unmoved Mover in either "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" or a Flemish altarpiece.): http://sadiethepilot.com/kellie/shemnsam/fob.jpg
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Mária Wittner: One photo, 13 years in jail.
I wondered about Mária Wittner's arrest. My previous blog post, a review of Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days" (also posted on Amazon US), remarked on the fate of Mária Wittner, a nineteen-year-old factory worker (and single mother) who joined the rebels at the Corvin cinema in the second day of the 1956 uprising. Afraid of knocking out her tooth from her rifle's recoil, she gave away her weapon. When the Corvin Passage, a stronghold for Budapest's revolutionaries, was attacked on Nov. 4 with mortars, she was wounded in three places-- including a back wound a centimeter from her spine. Hospitalized, when she returned to where she'd been hit five days earlier, the insurgents were gone. The revolution had been defeated. Failing to escape the country, she was captured by the Russians, interrogated, and released.
Despite next reaching Austria, she-- like many others Sebestyen tells of-- believed the promises of amnesty from the Kádár regime. They were told that if they had born arms only in the "first part" of the revolt, before the Soviets invaded again after their false assurances of withdrawal, that they'd be safe from retaliation. She returned. She was arrested shortly after.
Held with her friend Kati Stickler (who had come back from her Swiss refuge after her fiancé had relayed Kádár's pledge of immunity from prosecution) over a year without trial, she'd been sentenced on the evidence of the Oct. 30th photograph I display here. She'd never fired a shot, but this snapshot earned her a death sentence. She appealed in vain. Facing hanging, she and Kati shared a cell. Kati was called to the gallows a few days later.
Three months, Mária waited her turn. But, as she was a mother, the "lenient" tribunal commuted her stay to life imprisonment. Thirteen years later, she was among "almost the last to be released in the reprisals following the revolution." (288)
I found a Wikipedia entry about her in Magyar. It appears she's active in politics today. She's two months older than my birth mother. If they met, what would they talk about (perhaps through an interpreter!)?
Images: "Mrs. Béla Havrila and Mária Wittner at the end of October in front of Vajdahunyad street No. 41." Copyright © 2004 Public Foundation of the Documentary and Research Institute of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. http://server2001.rev.hu/oha/oha_picture_id.asp?pid=41&lang=en
The second one needs no caption. http://server2001.rev.hu/oha/oha_picture_id.asp?pid=966&lang=
Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution" Book Review
I agree with previous [Amazon US] reviewers who went beyond an emotional summary of the Revolution or comments on the structure of Sebestyen's history to comment on particular strengths and weaknesses of his study. Brandon Wilkenning accurately critiqued the book's concentration upon an elite-centered cadre. The results in "Twelve Days" reminded me more of an old-fashioned account reliant more upon diplomatic manuevers, archival correspondence, and Cold War contexts than one based on internal political analyses, first-hand testimonies from street fighters, or eyewitness journalists. These all are included, admittedly, but the flavor of the book remains rather bland as Sebestyen prefers situating the 1956 uprising in the greater framework of Soviet-U.S. relations. This is not to the book's detriment per se, but it did vitiate its energy for me as a curious reader familiar with events reported by other writers from Budapest and Hungary at this time. I'd been hoping for a livelier narrative. The material often fascinates despite the plodding prose.
However, Sebestyen granted his focus gives us an Imre Nagy who continued to lag a day behind, until he was trapped by the lies of Yuri Andropov. Pól Maléter emerges as more of a "national communist" than others he fought with, and Sebestyen glances over a crucial problem in how we define the goals of those who bravely fought the Soviets and their allies in the Hungarian CP. Maléter argues for an anti-capitalist revolt (p. 187); Sebestyen refers (pp. 195, 221) to how as the revolt continued that anti-communist industrial workers (usually under thirty, usually tradesmen) from strongholds like Csepel island gained the upper hand over intellectuals and students who may have begun the rebellion. These mentions constitute the summation of his treatment of this important topic. Since many in the West spin-doctored 1956 as an anti-Marxist liberation front, and since others who have discussed the revolt have taken pains to insist upon its "democratic socialist" intentions (although that ideological phrase is not as I recall used by Sebestyen), I remain less enlightened than I'd hoped when I started "Twelve Days."
The book's likely by default, as it's timed to the fiftieth anniversary in its publication and promotion, to become a standard introduction. The maps are useful, and you can appreciate what Sebestyen tells you about the strategic importance of the Kilián Barracks and the Corvin Cinema. The AVO's role and the fate of those lynched earns explanation that had often been clouded in earlier studies. The cynicism of Stalinist Hungary and the Muscovites who returned from the purges to collaborate gains needed scrutiny. The jails in which in the early 1950s held 1.3 million of 9 million citizens merit description. The relentlessly transient definition of truth in a land of fear, betrayal, lies, and inhumanity appears much more vivid after close attention to early pages of the book.
Eisenhower, Nixon, Dulles, Khrushchev, Kádár, and Rákosi emerge better understood for the calculating decisions they made. The UN won no plaudits, nor Hammerskjold. Cardinal Mindszenty became for me stubborn, enigmatic, and unsympathetic. Radio Free Europe and the CIA both earn in Sebestyen's unearthing of primary sources more culpability than certain previous scholars have attributed to them for goading the fighters on, both before and during the revolution.
Yet, it could have been better in its details. Its bibliography gives earlier English-language works, but a few published memoirs which I have read are not included. Near the end, on p. 287, he recounts the terrible fate of Mária Wittner, who I wondered may have been one of the "freedom fighters" in a well-known photo of two young women walking along, fully-armed, early in the uprising. Yet, this photo's not included in what's a rather skimpy array of illustrations on what by now is an historical event that earned many pictorial moments deserving a place in this book. Above all, you still close this book with too little a feel for what it was like to fight, flee, hide, or endure the revolt. The post-revolt sufferings of those arrested get treated too superficially, the fate of those released who had to survive in Kádár's regime stays rather hazy, and what kind of post-Soviet 1956 Hungary that those who fought in the streets wanted remains vague.
How much of this is the fault of the book and how much is due to the understandable uncertainty of life in wartime leaves you as a reader pondering this intriguing subject. On the other hand, perhaps Hungarians simply were too busy, as Sebestyen notes, endlessly talking in the brief euphoria after the illusory withdrawal of the armed Russian bears to have time to plan. Sebestyen waffles on the political substance of the brief republic proclaimed. I remain baffled. Yet, perhaps many people themselves once free wished first to dream, exult, and babble. "A study among refugees later suggested that on average people made between 300 and 400 calls in thirteen days." (184) The governing plans made by the mimeographing proclaimers and exuberant rebels in passing here seem to be multifarious. A thousand flowers bloomed amidst the broken glass and towering rubble, a few hours between October and November, 1956.
(P.S. Posted to Amazon US today. I have reviewed other books on Hungary on Amazon; my review of George Faludy's classic memoir "My Happy Days in Hell" can be found on my blog as well. It tells the story of how a young poet fled first the fascists and then returned post-WWII from adventures in French North Africa & the U.S. Army to encounter the Stalinist regime and how he became a victim in its jails and camps.)
Friday, February 22, 2008
An bosca bhréagaín/ The Toy-Box
D'oscail mé bosca bheag inné. Bhí sé go raibh ag líonta le sean-rudaí éagsúla ann. Nuair d'imigh go Oregon arú anuraidh, chruinnigh Leon agus Léna páipéir difriúil agus beágan bréagáin. Chuir siad seo ar an bosca stánaithe liom.
Ní bhain dó claibín go minic. Ach, fuair mé as an clar ar an lá eile. Chonaic mé ar an taobh istigh. Thosaigh mé ag dul timpeall. Bhí sé litreacha agus gréibhlí go beag ansin.
Thóg dhá carrana rása as an bosca. Bhí siad uathu an monarcha 'Bosca Cipiní' nuair a déanta siad in Sasana! Ceapaim go mbeadh daichead mblianta acu. Rug mé triú carr bán leis doras go raibh siad ábalta gluistean go suaimhneach air. Bhí sé is mór go mór chomh dhá na caranna éile. Ní chaill mé turcáilín bídeach.
Chríochnaigh mé an saighduir amháin na h-airm maide. Bhí sé ag teascadh. Bhí sé gunna a dhíriú, mar sin é.Imríonn siad ar aghaidh leabhair go leor agam in aice leis mé anois aríst. Fáilte romhaibh, a bhréagain agam uaibh na t-amanna go maith nuair bhí mé óg. Is maith liom siad anseo.
I opened a little box yesterday. It was filled with various old things. When I went off to Oregon the year before last, Leo and Layne gathered different papers and a few toys of mine. They put them in the tin box for me.
I didn't open the lid often. But, I got the lid off the other day. I looked inside. I started going around. A few letters and knicknacks were there.
I took two race cars out of the box. They were from the "Matchbox" company when they were made in England! I think they're forty years old. I carried out gently a third white car with doors that were able to be easily moved. It was much larger than the other two cars. I had not lost a tiny little turkey.
I finished with a toy soldier, the only one from an army. He was amputated. He still aimed his rifle, however. They play together in front of my many books, near me now again. Welcome, my toys from the good times when I was young. I like them here.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Cormac Ó Gráda's "Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce": Book Review
Critics and historians tend to peddle the same few incidents from the Limerick boycott, the election of IRA supplier Bob Briscoe as Dublin's Lord Mayor, the Irish-born president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, and of course, the fictional Leopold Bloom who's not even Jewish according to "strictly confessional criteria, of course." (205) Professor Ó Gráda, known for his "Black '47 and Beyond" Famine study that plowed through economic and demographic data meticulously, does the same excavation into the archival and testimonial undergrowth so far unearthed by previous scholars. As with his previous book, here he also challenges facile anecdotes and puts to rest weary factoids.
While much of this study fills pages with charts only statisticians will delight in, the author takes pains to explain his findings in clear prose. One shortcoming is the skimpy illustrations, in an era that must have possessed many engravings, cartoons, and photos. Only a few photos of drab house exteriors are included. Also, the refugee crisis later in the 20th c. may be outside the immediate vantage point assumed here, but whether the far too few who escaped the Nazis for shelter in the North or the Free State settled in with previous Jews or whether they found refuge elsewhere in Ireland is not addressed here at all. While the bibliography is excellent, these are two areas that could have been granted brief attention, for the panorama extends beyond Bloomsday across the rest of the past century, thanks to oral history and interviews.
Admittedly, particular chapters did cause me to skim rather than slow down due to their rather thickly clotted amassing of records. But, many others who read this valuable study may find these the most engaging sections. For me, interested in Irish Jewry from a literary and social context (my humble chapter on "The Jews in Ireland" in editor Seán Duffy's "Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia" escaped mention in an otherwise extensive list of works on the subject, and I admit my little entry may have been beyond the scope of this focused and thoughtful analysis on late 19th and early 20th c. Ireland), the comparisons escape the dutiful catalogue that Joyceans recite endlessly of references to Bloom's purported progenitors.
Instead, and refreshingly so, Ó Gráda carefully sifts through the facts from Ireland and places them alongside diaspora studies of Jewish immigration, to show where the Irish encounter differed and where it matched that of American, British, Commonwealth, and even an occasional Latin American emigré's tale from a century ago. He finds that hygiene, education, literacy, occupations, and communal standards differed often between the native Irish and the newcomers-- usually Litvaks less likely fleeing pogroms or conscription and much more probably (despite family lore?) coming as economic migrants to a more welcoming Western Europe. Why a few, perhaps less than one in every hundred winding up in New York or London, came to Ireland raises intriguing questions.
Generally, the Jews came because others had preceded them, and inevitably a few disembarked in Cork, Belfast, or Dublin as British ports that remained relatively affordable. They often benefited despite the discrimination in their Russian homeland by considerable advantages. Ó Gráda notes that although in the Pale the Litvaks numbered 18.7% of the workforce, they comprised over half of civil servants and 91.5% of those in trades and finance. So, those who chose to leave greater Lithuania already likely possessed much higher rates of literacy, health, and stability than their Gentile counterparts. They missed the old country little if at all, he finds, but did in letters express a yearning for the people left behind in their ancestral shetl or village. Nostalgia, unlike for the Irish emigrant, expressed itself not in a longing for the beauty of a landscape, but for the ties that bound them to a culture and a religious tradition that they sought to duplicate in portable fashion elsewhere. This proved the key to late 19th and early 20th c. success for many Jews.
The chain of "landsmen" led other friends and neighbors to leave for the same places as those who preceded them. While the numbers to an overwhelmingly Catholic interior kept miniscule, the opportunities in Irish cities for sellers of holy pictures, for moneylenders, for peddlers, for commercial sales and shopkeeping, and then for professionals and civil servants among their children and grandchildren enticed a few Litvaks to settle. They rarely competed in the jobs they found with the natives, and tended to keep to themselves for religious observances, kosher meals, and social interaction, so friction, Ó Gráda cautiously suggests, was kept for the most part far more minimal than others have suggested. For example, he criticizes Ronit Lentin's claim that the Irish Jews constituted "the archetypal 'others' of Ireland's national Catholicism" (qtd. 210) and Ó Gráda finds that the suffering of Irish Jews "was relatively mild."
The 20th century provided the community with its success and its decline, as many Irish Jews emigrated to marry within the community. Their triumphs in schooling, property, and business marked the few thousand as having made it in Ireland, but the stagnation that the nation endured for much of the past century meant that the future often beckoned elsewhere in the diaspora or in Israel more brightly. The outlying, provincial nature of Irish Jews also followed global trends towards assimilation; the vulnerability of marginal minorities continues in Jewry today outside a few urban centers, and only a tenth of the those in Dublin today, Ó Gráda estimates, attend services. Their counterparts in Cork have all but vanished, and those in Belfast continue to dwindle. While numbers in Dublin recently may have stabilized, there are no neighborhoods as Jewish as was once Lower Clanbrassil St, and the incomers from Israel, the EU, or the United States may be a temporary sign of the fluctuating boom of the past few years in Ireland rather than a long-term indicator of recovery.
Manchán Magan's "Angels & Rabies: A Journey Through the Americas" Book Review
When I discussed Magan's "Mocha's Travels: A Journey Through India" (on my blog and on Amazon), I noted Magan's ability to arrange his tales so they flowed naturally, as if the random encounters on the long roads assumed the structure of a well-paced novel with its inevitable, in retrospect, memorable meetings, plot complications, and satisfying resolutions. Magan's a flawed protagonist liable to inner dialogues with his invisible doppelganger, the daemon Rabbit who since childhood serves as his conversational foil, psychological counsellor, and spiritual angel-adversary. You can see already that this isn't your typical sunny guide along the paths of the funny natives and silly tourists the wise journalist encounters and deflates.
This characterizes this unsettling travelogue of this young Irishman's mid-1990s visits first to the Andean rainforests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú, and then his stay in British Columbia, followed by a drive down the coast that ends, naturally, after a jaunt to the desert, with a Hollywood ending. He opens with the remnants of a hippie cult, the Screamers, striving in the jungle to remain brutally honest, openly promiscuous, and utterly frank. Many whom "Mocha" meets share, he realizes late in his adventures, a sense that they are damaged by the West. More fragile than the rest of us, plagued mentally and physically by myriad afflictions, they strive to recover themselves in the forest-- often at a good profit selling to other wounded souls-- many of whom follow the meticulous itineraries blazed by Israeli vets needing comfort after they have fought in Lebanon-- their New Age retreats, their mantraming healing by concentrated vocalized sounds, their tapes of nature sounds, and especially their pot.
In fact, this appears a matrix of angry dogs and people stuck in trees, as patterns repeat in the Andes and Cascades. Is this a fractal existence, Magan wonders for himself, a chaotic life that assembles itself out of an infatuation with a movie star whom he falls for without knowing her fame, out of a desire to stop the chainsaws that drown out the birdsong wherever he goes, out of a wish to escape the American hegemony that like a Rorshach blot covers the continents-- he calls the US a fulcrum folded over the land of the Condor and Turtle Island equally.
Wherever he wanders, he cannot find peace. Rabbit goads him and nags him for better and worse. He fears sexual connection. This book not only records his meetings with dreamers like himself, but his own evolution from a frightened idealist into a warmer, more loving individual. That Magan manages to do this without self-pity's a testament to his control of his narrative and his own inner convictions, that one senses have not been acquired easily in the months he reconstructs over the thousands of miles he depicts with an eye and an ear for revealing detail and forgiving nature. His life is frayed, and he looks for one to stitch it and repair its warp into a weave.
(See his own website via the link on my blog homepage. Review posted to Amazon British and US today.)
Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time to Keep Silence": Book Review
The other night, needing a calm book after an agitating day, I re-read this short but typically-- granted this author's ability to convey much depth in a few pages-- account of the famed travel writer's visits to monasteries. His simple account focuses on a long stay at St Wandrille's in Belgium, a bit of Solesmes, more at La Grande Trappe in France, and the journey later among the ruins of Cappadocian foundations in Turkey.
Fermor knows his limitations in retreating to such places in search of solitude to work on his own manuscripts. He tries to take on the mystery of the call to silence even as he tries to put it into words, to account for its appeal to a few and its strangeness to many of us. The results may not please all readers, for Fermor submits to the difference he encounters, and so by his lay status must remain too at the margins of what the monks take decades to live within. Writing well before Vatican II, Fermor conjures up an astonishingly austere regimen that he glimpses among the Trappists at their motherhouse; the Belgian Benedictines, by contrast, earn much more time for study and scholarship.
I wondered, in the decades since, how many monks remain at such European houses. Fermor provides us with efficiently told summaries of the past depredations and recoveries of such venerable communities, and one closes Fermor's depictions of life as it was lived there a half a century ago with a realization of how close it was to observances centuries older. Again, such a description leaves me to ponder how much as been altered and how much remains the same given the enormous shifts in Catholic practice and the decline in vocations since then.
This reflection leads to the comparatively short glimpse of the biscuit-colored mountains, with their pyramidical, anthill-like terrain, that housed some of the first monks in Christianity. The photos, as the one on the cover show, of this forbidding terrain remind me of an objective correlative for La Grande Trappe. The caves, the few remains, the hostile environment present, it seems, Fermor with a sense of an otherworldly terrain in more ways than one.
(Posted to Amazon US today. Book republished by NY Review Press last year with an introduction by Karen Armstrong; my copy is an older British edition.)
Richard Llewellyn's "Green, Green My Valley Now": Book Review
In high school, three decades ago, I read the Welsh and Patagonian saga of Huw Morgan that began with, of course, "How Green is My Valley." Although the other day I came across a reference to the 1941 film version -- recall it won Best Picture Oscar in that remarkable year of "Citizen Kane"-- as "Hollywood schmaltz," the novels did have their moments of energy and conviction. Certainly I learned much about not only coal but cabinetry, life in the Argentinian frontier and the culture that Welsh speakers sought to preserve in their dramatically sparse new land.
What stayed with me past the admittedly heavy-handed emotional scenes was Llewellyn's conviction in the distinctive identity of his people.
His novels played for a mass-market audience, akin in retrospect to the epics of a Leon Uris as mid-20th century sagas, and so never earned the respect given critically to, say, Dylan Thomas, yet they remain for many a while back probably the average Anglo-American reader's introduction to a Welsh milieu. This belated end to Huw's Patagonian stint brings him back from the military corruption that strangles 1970s Argentina. Huw keeps his wealth, more or less, and in this novel appears limitlessly wealthy. I suppose the British economy was indeed at a low ebb then; he's able to buy up land and homes and fund a deserving student for three years at Heidelberg while he pays for or pays off conniving relatives from the Argentine who learn of his newly acquired bank account.
The novel, when I read it way back, had not stuck in my memory. Now I know why. It's surprisingly dull. Llewellyn's strongest gift was his narrative voice-- it rings true here as in his earlier installments of Huw's life. But, despite the women willing to throw themselves at this aging scion, and the intricate derring do of Breton and Irish and Welsh nationalists who all conspire to foment pan-Celtic havoc, the whole question of what will happen to a Wales so down on its luck, and a Huw who manages to parlay his luck into one investment after another, human or financial, gives this effort a detached, airless quality. You do not care as much as the author intends about Huw and his relations and acquaintances.
Without the details of how to make a cabinet or mine coal that invigorated earlier storylines, the characters remain often inert. And, there's very little payoff in any return to the valley of his childhood, or any connections with his earlier novels that matter much. While this may stand as a small marker to a post-Investiture Welsh society still threatened by dams that obliterate villages, and convulsed by idealistic rebels, the blundering mayhem blamed on the Welsh who dare to act foolishly for the self-government that others remain only dreaming about turns the novel into not so much farce as indifference. Llewellyn castigates his countrymen for blunders and doubts they could ever rule themselves, and the whole Panglossian theme of cultivating one's estate and letting the rest run down appears to have escaped the eye of what once would have been a sharper observer of Welsh complacency.
(Posted to Amazon today, British and US!)
Image: poster for the movie that beat out Orson Welles: http://ikritic.blogspot.com
John Summer's "Edge of Violence": Book Review
On the very short shelf of books about the nationalist campaign and republican activists in late 1960s and early 70s Wales, this remains an intriguing if erratic blend of fact and fiction, adventure and memoir. Originally published in hardcover by Leslie Frewin in 1969 under this title, it appeared a year later in a "revised and updated edition" as a pulp paperback in the New English Library as "The Disaster," excising a chapter; there may be more excisions or additions that will have to await my comparison. It's a relatively brisk-- pitched for a mass-market audience-- novelization of a London-based journalist's true-life involvement with the efforts to gain the charity funds held up from being distributed to the families who lost children in the 1966 Aberfan coal-tip collapse. 166 died when an enormous heap of slag buried a school. The pressure for Westminster to pay up comes from locals who, emboldened if not exactly connected to a shadowy Free Wales Army, threaten to blow up an abandoned factory tower if their demands for allocations of the funds sent from all over the world to the demolished village are not paid out.
The novel's pace ebbs and flows. Summers incorporates, according to an acknowledgement, portions of his earlier journalism that I assume covered Aberfan and the dam-destroying explosives set by the FWA. These remain the book's best sections. They energize with blunt eyewitness descriptions, terse dialogue, and vivid details. Similarly, the struggles of a seaman turned starving journalist ring very true; poverty and desperation both leap off the page dramatically and movingly.
As Summers writes for a wider British audience, however, the tendency of the now-successful journalist "John Parry" to play devil's advocate against the FWA does draw the narrative out more than necessary. He suspects the militants who "destroy the present to preserve the past." (183) Yet, the damage done to the "pre-stressed" dam represents, he admits grudgingly, a revolt against the numb world of "accidie," of complacent consumerism and what later we'd call a monoculture.
Parry sends up both the barstool patriot endemic to pan-Celtic rabble-rousing and the poison-pen press who denigrate any attempt by a people to redress past and present wrongs. His caricatures of Celtic one-man armies and his send-up of Pearsean rebel excess do make for intermittently easy targets, but Summers does attempt to inform a readership likely totally ignorant of Welsh nationalisms about its contexts, ideals, and rivalries within the context of flower-power revolutionaries and fiery 1960s rhetoric. The stand-ins for Dennis Coslett, Julian Cayo Evans and perhaps a few other flesh-and-blood Welsh volunteers may provide valuable contrasts with the actual figures that Summers knew-- for those in the know.
Eventually, Parry ensures that no violence documented by him will harm anyone by the FWA's actions; Summers fairly depicts Free Welsh efforts to damage property and not people that would distinguish them from certain of their Irish counterparts later in the Troubles. While he never becomes totally convinced of their motives, Parry learns to listen to FWA arguments for radical change. Honor, he learns, hinges on whether the FWA will or will not blow up the dam. Which would be more worthy a goal for their cause? At least, he reasons, the world will at last listen to Wales.
Parry laments the Welsh tendency towards bemoaning one's fate without acting to change one's predicament. He praises the FWA and the Aberfan fund drive for what Aneurin Bevan sought as an antidote "in place of fear." Yet, Parry himself seems but half-matured; the curious repetition of Parry's flings with not one but two spirited, sophisticated, and well-off Jewish women generous with their amourous favors does remain odd. Perhaps the now very-distant echo of the post-Six Day War romance in the West with Zionism may play a cameo role? Parry abandons his first paramour abruptly and cruelly, and I waited in vain for any later repairing of the damage done to her. Parry's not without his flaws, and perhaps Summers created him so close to the bone that his own perspective became foreshortened?
The real-world events that Summers labored to effect for Aberfan's recovery mingle with the protests by the FWA that also engaged the media at the same time. Therefore, the climax of the novel revolves around whether the legal effort to challenge the charity laws preventing distribution to Aberfan will succeed, or whether the threat of the destruction of the obsolete factory tower will arouse attention previously unpaid to the community. This novel, although at times awkward, does delve into a neglected nation's yearning for identity and equality in a decade whose own desires for idealism, equality, and peace inspired action rather than lassitude. Summers, for his real-life contributions as well as this novel, earned his place in righting past wrongs for the Welsh people he portrays here for the British audience.
Cover of "The Disaster" from an interview by Anthony Brockway with Summers:
Cover of "Edge of Violence" from a page linked to this interview with more on the novel: http://www.trashfiction.co.uk/disaster.html
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Brendan Hughes, "The Dark:" 1948-2008
From my friends I just now received news of his death after being in a coma. He had suffered from effects to his eyesight from the long hunger strike he had chosen to undergo many years before. A few of the men he commanded and lived with in prison you have heard of, but fewer, outside those who know about the details of what's labelled The Troubles, will place accurately the name of "The Dark," Brendan Hughes.
I had the honor of meeting this brave man in dramatic circumstances. How would you feel if a parade had failed to ask you to join? What if you fought a war and after the peace no one came to comfort you? The rejection by the organizers of a commemorative march in honor of one's fallen friends and those who had served under one's command hurt him deeply. We had crossed the street and talked the rest of that outwardly bright but inwardly somber afternoon a few years ago. From him, I heard the story that I detail, in the colder facts of print, below.
My host did manage to rescue my own reduced dignity, I hope, in "The Dark's" eyes. He asked what had brought me to West Belfast and when I told him I'd been interested on a personal as well as an academic level, he appeared either to recoil or do a double take. (The pub was dark, too, after all.) My host assured him about me that "he was one of us," and I remain grateful for that generous inclusion.
Sinn Féin had with a march down the main thoroughfare of West Belfast commemorated the "D" company of the Second Batallion of the Belfast Brigade of IRA in a small park with a stone plaque in a little fenced-off area on the Lower Falls Road. What the leaders of the march had pointedly neglected to remember was the considerable efforts for the Cause made, in and out of prison, by the former local commander, Brendan Hughes. His fellow inmates rose to acclaim and international success. But, that day, nobody came from the press to talk to him about the role he played, twenty years before, in preparing for what so many hailed as the coming of peace to Ireland. You may find Brendan Hughes in books and even depicted (perhaps under an assumed name) in a few films depicting the H-block era at Long Kesh. But, that afternoon, he walked away as the parade and the crowds left towards Milltown cemetery. His friend, my host, remained behind to listen to him, and to stand by him when he needed such strength.
Any history of the conflict will provide you with more information about this man. Nicknamed for his swarthy complexion, he proved a loyal comrade and Officer Commanding for not a few now more famous individuals. Due to his principled opposition to an IRA leadership enmeshed post-GFA in scandal and graft, he and many of his fellow volunteers found themselves shunted aside by many more famous individuals who take command of how the republican struggle. Brendan Hughes spoke out against those with whom he had fought. He accused them of betraying their promises. For this, he was cast out of those deemed worthy of a memorial. It reminded me of Winston Smith melancholy under the chestnut tree, or the fate of a gulag's disgraced Politburo member, but Brendan had not given in under pressure. He remained true to his word.
Some of these men and women, alongside whom Brendan Hughes worked and suffered for many decades, now compromised. They did not keep their word. To be frank, they may collaborate with those they once swore to oppose. Perhaps this is too harsh? Should not those once determined to destroy their neighbors now learn to forgive? Yes, hope and history may-- as Heaney phrases it --meet. Who wants more explosions, more Saracens, more young men and women killed? None of us. However, and this addendum may raise eyebrows or spark vitriol, on what terms do we in fact fairly honor those who died for a hopeful cause now neglected or distorted by those rewriting history in recent years?
I had pushed a pram about with my host's daughter inside. We went around the paths of the little garden. Meanwhile, Brendan and my host stood, walked, sat, and waited. I was relieved to let the man's memories stay with him and his friend. The symbolism of the young life I cared for briefly while my host comforted the man as he wept his own losses moved me deeply. You can see plaques and peruse interviews, watch videos and interview survivors, but no other moment of my own involvement through my own long years trying to make sense out of Irish republican ideology and out of its erratic idealism and sordid practice had such an visceral impact upon me.
Brendan that afternoon across from the memorial, where he and my host had spent short but agonizingly protracted sad moments as the sunglassed and bereted marchers had trooped on with banners and regalia, had told me in the pub's shadows (along with more taciturn friend of his, "Isaac,") of the death over thirty years earlier of a young woman, during a fierce and lengthy gun battle nearby. I wish I could have bought him the two pints that he insisted on for me and my friend. This verbal tribute's my small way of repayment for his kind favor on what had proven a grim day. Yet, the fact that he came there, that he insisted upon his visit for his own grieving and his own public pride at the devotion he had shown displayed too his own repayment, his own dues returned for the friends living and dead that the Garden's enumeration and dedication had represented. He had every right to join the parade, yet he stood his ground nonetheless, for he remained true to his cause.
I later looked up the details of an earlier, harrowing day he had spent only a few blocks away in the compendium "Lost Lives." From his information I had deduced** the unnamed woman killed: "Patricia McKay, Official IRA, Catholic, 20, married, typist"-- she is listed as fatality #617 on Sept. 29, 1972. She had died of a stomach wound; reports had told of a woman in the area around Ross Street carrying a rifle. Gunfire followed. Republicans claimed she was unarmed. Her ambulance was stopped by soldiers and they escorted her to the hospital where she died. The OIRA paper "United Irishman" claimed she'd been shot five times.
Earlier that same day in that same battle around Servia Street off Albert Street, when members of both IRA factions had been waiting to ambush British soldiers, #616, "Ian Stewart David Burt, Royal Anglian Regiment, 18, single" and #615, "Jimmy Quigley, IRA, Catholic, 18" also perished. The army's version had four men carrying pistols being chased up Divis Street as Daniel McErlean's funeral cortége made its way up the road.
After Quigley had been shot, soldiers went to recover his body. They then came under fire from a another gunman; Burt was hit in the head. His comrades claimed that they had been shot at by at least a dozen gunmen. The exchange of rifle fire, the book tells us, "lasted from noon to midnight." Quigley came from the Divis Towers down the road and his name's listed on that memorial roll of honor. That day, the troops had been patrolling during the funeral of McErlean-- who had been blown up two days earlier during a UVF bombing of a small room used as a bar near Unity Flats. Thirty people had been injured at the Carrick Hall Social Club. The presence of the British troops at McErlean's funeral procession had then sparked the "major gun-battle." Three more young people died as a result: one Provo, one Stickie, one soldier.
I record this data to show how many lives ended early in the war, and to reflect on, as with Brendan Hughes, how many more will take many years to end. Those for whom the conflict terminated quickly entered the 3,500 entries of a book I wish never to have a revised edition, "Lost Lives." Yet, what massive volume will contain the tales told let alone the stories suppressed by millions more, those who still remember the battles and the bombs today, roughly a dozen years after the end of the Troubles? The damage remains either way.
Will the daughter who I pushed about in her stroller ever gaze on a Garden of Remembrance large enough for 3,500 names? Let alone a million and a half who lived in the North of Ireland during the three decades of strife? And the families of those sent to fight for the Crown against the double rivalry of Officials and Provos, IRA vs. INLA, Loyalists vs. Nationalists? Do we need a Valley of the Fallen or a Maya Lin-designed plinth enormous enough for so many names? Could any legible book could hold so many pages, when 3,500 Lost Lives filled a hefty tome already?
So, will CAIN continue to record only smaller gardens, divided by faction or denomination or regiment? Out of the four people I mentioned who died in Ireland, only Volunteer Quigley's inscribed (age at death there given as 17) on the Company "D" Falls Road plaque. McKay belonged to the rival contingent also claiming legitimacy as the IRA; McErlean is counted on another engraving listing the local civilian dead; Burt wore the uniform of the enemy. Perhaps in time we will come to love them all equally, not forgetting the reasons why each died, not erasing the truth of the war in which they found themselves seeking a better world free of strife and murder, even as they bled to death. Were these people, some still in their teens, pawns of shadowy forces, or did they truly believe with the clarity of youth their patriotic slogans?
As a parent now, I recognize a greater good that we need to share. I do not praise violence, but I recognize that in our fallen human state, its threat and its reality may force change that otherwise will not occur. We all admit this weakness, this fascination with the power at the barrel of a weapon, even as we lament its firing. Every father or mother or lover or child must feel this threat at the grave. We all lament the flag-draped coffin and only the foolish will gloat at a longer list of casualties. Whether or not rank or insignia accompanies their entry upon a Roll of Honour, none of us wish for a thicker "Lost Lives" or a fresh Garden's added plaque.
This neither diminishes the nobility nor eradicates the shame that any conflict enmeshes its perpetrators, bystanders, and victims within. Yet, as I grow older, I imagine both the dreams of those who take up guns and the sobriety of those who lay them down. Finding solutions in such a divided battleground has never been facile, nor has resolution ever been easy. But, along with this hope, I read history as well as Heaney. I have enough of an ear to catch that hope and history may not always rhyme, given our ability, for thousands of years, to miss the beat, to blow the fuse, then wreck the parade. There's always some of us left after the march, to shuffle amidst the debris. Even now as I type this, I know both why I called Brendan Hughes a brave man and why I hope our children's future needs no such stark heroism.
Requiescant in pace. You can scan many names yourself, in books and on the Net. Let your eyes become their witness. I cannot solve all the lively questions these dead names raise. May they all rest peacefully, commemorated and remembered fittingly.
Visit CAIN archive's "Physical Memorials of the Troubles in West Belfast." Information & more photos at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/viggiani/west_memorial.html
For background on "The Dark:" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brendan_Hughes
**Brendan Hughes wrote about "the wee Sticky," Patricia McKay; the editor of "The Blanket" reminded me after I wrote this blog entry. I'm not sure if his reflection was before or after I met him, but it would've been produced around this time. http://lark.phoblacht.net.pmckay.html
His contributions to "The Blanket" have now been archived at: http://lark.phoblacht.net/BHO208.html
And, tributes have been composed, including a slightly edited version of my own, at:
Here's a poem by Ciara Ni Tuama, "Brendan": http://ciara.phoblacht.net/forthedark.html"
Friday, February 15, 2008
Ag eisteacht leis an Séú Siansach ó Mahler
Chuaigh muid go Halla Dhisneaigh ar lár ina chroí gCathair na hÁingeal ar an Dé Domhnaigh seo caite. Bhí muid a do tráthnóna ansin. D'imigh Layne agus mise leathair tar éis a h-aon go bhaile againn, ach bhualimid trácht go leor ar an bóthair timpeall Bhaile Shíneach mar sin Athbhlian Síneach. Chruinnigh muid lenár clann nua, Áine agus Gearóid ar an choirm shiansach.
Ní thosaigh é go luath. Chonaic muid ceoltóirí eagsula. D'fhan ceolfhoireann ag éirí gluaiseachtaí difrúila go foighne. Tá An Seachtú is faide. Bhí sé tamall ag imirt. Ceapaim go raibh sé daichead noimead agus ceann uair, gan sos. Ní scríobh Mahler piosái leis gléasaí cheoil de gach uile shórt go bhfuil inneamh ag dhéanamh intinn air. Thig liom cloisteáil contra-basún adhmadaid mahagaine go aoibhinn, dhá clairseach óir, cornái órgaí, agus chaith fidléirí go dubh.
Ach, ní fhan an fear go ard leis na cnaguirlisí air. Níl sé ag fanacht ansin. D'éirigh ann a sheasamh ceithre uair! Shúil sé go doras ceithre uair. Bhain de go ardáin ceithre uair. Ní chreidimh muid féin go raibh ag tharla seo é. Is cuma leis, is dócha. Níor mhaith linn sin é. Is cuma dó. Tháinig sé ar áis. Beir air casúr is ord. Mheáim sé cuig bpunt is fiche. Bhuail sé bósca go mór leis cásur dhá uair. Faoí dhó, chuala muid fuaim go dona. Chríochnaigh sé go cumhachtach. Dhún sé An Seactú go laidir, muise. (Is mian liom foclóir uainn anois!)
Listening to Mahler's Sixth Symphony
We went to Disney Hall downtown in the heart of Los Angeles this past Sunday. We were there at two in the afternoon. Layne and myself left at half-past one from our house, but we hit lots of traffic on the road around Chinatown since it was Chinese New Year. We gathered with our new family, Anna and Jerry at the symphony concert.
It did not start early. We saw various musicians. The orchestra stayed patiently during different movements. The Sixth is very long. It takes a while to play. I think it's an hour and forty minutes, without intermission. Mahler wrote pieces with musical instruments of every kind that he was able to make up in his mind. I could hear a contra-bassoon of delightful mahagony wood, two harps of gold, golden horns, and fiddlers were dressed darkly.
But, the tall man with the percussion instruments didn't want to stay. He would not wait there. He got up to stand four times. He walked to the door four times. He took off from the stage four times. We could not believe this was happening. He didn't care, probably. We didn't like that. It didn't matter to him. He came back. He bore the heaviest hammer. It weighed five and twenty pounds. He hit a large box with the hammer two times. Twice, we heard a terrible sound. It finished it powerfully. It closed the Sixth Symphony energetically, to be sure. (I needed a dictionary today!)
P.S. Caption to this 1907 cartoon of Mahler: "Dear God, I've forgotten the motor horn. Now I'll have to write another symphony."www.salomon.org.uk/2007_02.htm
Dumber than Fifth Graders?
Susan Jacoby argues that anti-intellectuals now merge with anti-rationalists. While bemoaning the boobosie became sport for Mencken and a habit for Twain, the great unwashed apparently keep growing in numbers in the U.S. Other nations plunge into the same backwash we do, but they outperform us regularly in math, science, and general smarts. Also note that she indicts the ivory tower as well. She correctly notes the pandering in our curricula (not mine, however-- we have no electives where I teach!) to the fractured identity politics, competition for victimization, and endless self-correction for college credit in the form of living white male guilt seminars that so many from the 60s have used to gain tenure and harangue us untenured post-boomer louts. I favor her self-description as a "cultural conservator," steering around lefty smugness or right-wing stagnation. Here's some excerpts from a N.Y. Times Feb. 14, 2007 article about her jeremiad.
Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.
T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”
But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.
Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.
She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.
The National Geographic Poll Results (image from same site): http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/0502_060502_geography.html
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Russian to investigate the origins of Welsh language
Western Mail, 13 Feb 2008.
A RUSSIAN scholar will lead a fresh investigation into the origins of the Welsh language by looking as far afield as Romania and Turkey, it was announced yesterday.
Dr Alexander Falileyev, originally from St Petersburg but currently working in Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh, has already written a report based on the presence of Celtic names in the Roman province of Dacia (modern day Romania).
And now, with the help of a £390,889 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, he will conduct the first full investigation into evidence linking the origins of the Welsh language to South Romania and as far east as Galatia, Turkey.
The ancient Celtic language, from which Welsh is derived, has already been traced back to inscriptions in areas like Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland.
More recently, the university’s Department of Welsh, a group led by Professor Patrick Sims-Williams, has used ancient place-names in sources like Ptolemy’s Geography to prove that Celtic was spoken over a much wider area.
Professor Sims-Williams welcomed the new grant. “We know that these areas were colonised from the third century BC onwards by peoples who spoke Celtic languages. “It’s becoming clear that Celtic was one of the major languages of ancient Europe, alongside Greek and Latin. It would appear that most EU countries have a Celtic past."
Hwyl fawr to today's post "Did They Speak Welsh in Romania" over at Alan Jones' blog "Independence Cymru" for alerting me to this Western Mail article.
This map "1066 and All That" here's directly relevant from the N.Y. Times, 5 Mar. 2007.
See my own detailed review, "Rooted in the Body, Hidden in the Ground: Searching Beyond the Celt," which examines John Waddell's "Foundation Myths" on the evolution of Irish archaeology alongside Stephen Oppenheimer's DNA-language study, "Origins of the British." See its published pdf.file:Epona 2(2007): 1-6
Sarah Hill's "'Blerwytirhwng?' The Place of Welsh Pop Music": Book Review
The emphasis here's on the location rather than the notation. This Cardiff musicologist does nearly nothing to let you know what the bands and musicians in the Welsh language over the past forty years sound like, but she does plenty to explain their cultural significance. This monograph, therefore, addresses not the curious listener but the diligent scholar who wishes to place contemporary Welsh music--mainly rock and some folk and reggae-- into the frameworks for Cultural Studies pioneered by Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams. As one who confronted the borders between England and Wales himself, Williams' categories work well. Hill expands his trio of dominant culture, a residual response, and oppositional ideology with the added "alternative" category. She threads these processes into the songs of various Welsh-language artists from the mid-60s up to the end of the past century.
The early chapters emerge identical to a thesis, as Hill documents the theories upon which her study's based. While Frederic Jameson luckily earns only a single tortured citation, Doreen Massey's power-geometries and John Street's rhetorically grounded political analyses do slow the presentation to the deliberate pace of the lecturer's seminar. While these references do support her scholarship, the amount of detail given in these two-hundred pages of text proper to the background and models for her study appears better suited to a dissertation than a book meant for a slightly wider readership. Hill appends a useful chronology, but a suggested discography or annotated entries on artists for potential listeners might have been for many who close these pages a better use of the limited pagination probably allotted her by an academic publisher which charges a hefty price for this slim volume. She follows with chapters on each decade, before 1963, up to 1973 (a sign of the lag here when the first amplified band-- outside of a psych-era one-off single appeared), 1973-82, 1982-90, and the 90s. She concludes at the millennial mark, and the double-CD of "Mwng," the Super Furry Animals CD entirely in Welsh.
Pop here remains at its widest panorama. But, you must strain to hear it, rather than merely read about it. (It's a pity you cannot see much of it. A few monochrome photos must suffice. Sain's groovy DIY record sleeves, as hinted at by the Finders Keepers label reissues in their "Welsh Rare Beat" series co-curated by Furry singer Gruff Rhys could have brightened these grey columns of print considerably, given the astonishingly high cost of this slim publication. Those LPs deserve an on-line archive; no study of the label exists outside Welsh. Logically, yes: that summarizes the whole state of the Welsh pop scene regarding the wider world. Still, poetic justice and marketing research aside, perhaps the WRB culture will underwrite an English-language "crib" for us?) The survey gains energy with the arrival of folksinger-activist Dafydd Iwan. The roots of the Sain label gain attention as well as Geraint Jarman's late-70s trilogy of astonishingly realized lyrics confronting the battleground between Welsh-speaking enclaves, non-Welsh-speaking residents, and English-dominant settlers. Another testimony to the small-scale nature of Welsh music can be glimpsed when we find Jarman and his band, emerging around the same time as The Clash, became the first professional musicians able to make a living solely from their music. This chapter, to my surprise given my never having heard Jarman or known but a cursory mention of Welsh dub, intrigued me for its close readings of his gripping lyrics that Hill translates and explicates thoughtfully.
Datblygu, whose sound Hill barely notices (it resembles Mark E Smith's The Fall), has in Dave Edwards a talented tortured voice. Paeans to bleak economics, failed love, and complacent Welshness all leap off of the page as much as Jarman's verses. Hill rightly ties into Roland Barthes' definition of the "grain" of the hand, the body, the voice "the whole carnal stereophony" of Edwards' vocals. Y Tystion's duo cleverly updates Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" to lambast, like Datblygu, the "crachach" (the word's oddly absent from this volume) establishment which militant youth perceive as having commandeered the gains of the 1960s rebels such as Iwan and settled into the Caerdydd comforts of Radio Cymru and SG4. While Welsh can be broadcast into not only TV and radio but now the Net, whether or not the angrier voices of discontent can find their Cymric shout-out remains to be seen-- as with the rest of the globe given the state of our networks. I'd be intrigued to find how indie artists fare in Wales and Welsh with MySpace, filesharing, and raves, but these outlets either postdated Hill's forty-year limit or were beyond its scope. Certainly, much of her investigation reproduces lengthy lyrical excerpts in her engagingly blunt translation that express not only Iwan's "Carlo" but embittered disdain and eloquent frustration of those from post-punk, into hip-hop, and raised unwillingly under 'Magi' Thatcher.
Hill finds that by the time the Blair-era Cool Cymru manufactured the pop hits by Catatonia, Stereophonics, and Manic Street Preachers, the florescence of the Welsh scene had appeared, within Britpop, rather short-lived. It appears that the woozy decade of Oasis may have calmed the counter-assault. Welsh bands for the first time gained indie cred at least, by being found outside Wales at last. Yet, speaking for myself as a listener, the barrier of Welsh for an Anglo-American audience continued, all too appropriately, to be a challenge that trapped its makers on Ankst and Crai.
For my money, the more textured and experimental psych-pop of the Furries, and (far too little noted here) the lysergic folk of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci proved more durable. Hill glances only at Gorky's and you'd be hard pressed again-- as with nearly all of those singers and instrumentalists featured-- to have any clear idea of what these groups sound like at all. Hill fails to include any of GZM's Welsh-language lyrics and that band's move in and out of Welsh on their later CDs goes only generally mentioned in a couple of vaguely detailed paragraphs. Because her study by default stresses the lyrical expression of cultural ferment and political agitation, economic unrest and social stagnation, the tones and the tunes often get drowned out by the recitation. Hill places many of the sounds of Wales within their Anglo-American perceived patterns. However, unlike its folk tradition, Welsh rock and pop influences appear for her more distinctive as verses rather than chords.
Irony, Hill argues, displays a culture's security. If one engages in self-parody and one wags a finger of constructive criticism, then one's predicament emerges as a virtue. Hill adapts to Datblygu's predicament Terry Eagleton's "The Idea of Culture." Eagleton notes: "That someone in the process of being lowered into a snakepit cannot be ironic is a critical comment on his situation, not on irony." (155; original pp. 65-6) Edwards, Jarman, or Y Tystion can rebuke their addled countrymen and women for their plight simply because they have the leisure to consume and produce beyond the level of serpentine survival. (I wonder if being lowered into a coal mine daily produced once similar emotions?) Wales may have exhausted the "bliss" (Hill integrates Barthes' jouissance to smooth effect here) of the era of Tryweryn marches, back-to-nature Adfer protests, and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg language rights campaigns by the time of the mine closures and the failure of the 1979 de-evolution vote. Flower power faded.
The post-punk and rappingly bilingual youth of the Thatcher and Blair decades, by contrast, Hill contends, had to retreat into another confrontational strategy. Less enamored of idealism, less confident of revolution, 1980s Welsh musicians and singers enter into what Simon Frith labels (in "Sound Effects," cited here) as reggae's inspiration for punk. "It opened up questions of space and time in which musical choice-- the very freedom of that choice-- stood in stark contrast to the thoughtlessness of rock 'n'roll; it implied, too, a homelessness-- this was choice as terror." (136; original p. 163) Note the delay between British and Welsh punk and rap-- this echo pattern repeats that of earlier musical genres and trends.
This spiritual descent into sonic exile and existential chaos captures well, in my opinion, the psychic state of those of us who came of age post-1960s but who inherited the potential power of that Revival radicalism that rock music often exposed us to as politically latent and culturally inherent within Celtic identity. The existence of any Irish parallels gains nearly no mention from Hill, but observations might prove useful. As I have remarked on the lack of republican or nationalist connections that remain little examined, so the musical movements and linguistic shifts that tie Ireland to Wales demand more comparison and contrast.
Ultimately, and here Geraint Jarman's pioneering confrontations with his homeland jaggedly intensify the countercultural sentiments of Dafydd Iwan for an earlier Welsh activism, the echo of religion lingers. While the chapel, the choir, and the bardic tradition of metrical intricacy find little resonance in pop music, Hill makes a surprisingly cogent case for the parallels of Rastafarianism and Welsh Nonconformity. Not on the surface or even their fundamental and obvious differences, of course, but for their mythic spells coded within a cultural patrimony. A legacy opposed to the British, the imperial, and the colonial. I cannot drift too far here, and I note that Y Tystion's later quoted with a line that accuses Henry VIII of eradicating Wales' historic faith. But, doctrinal realpolitik and regal machinations aside, Hill's inclusion of a 1996 Lawrence Grossberg interview with Stuart Hall from 1996 makes a convincing claim.
Hall explained how the religious social formation may be "valorized," and how the various "cultural strands are obliged to enter" there, even the political movements that strive towards popularity. Communal consciousness first emerged within religion in such arenas, so the people have been "'languaged' by the discourse of popular religion.'" The narrative they construct may be clumsy and tainted. But it's the first step towards making sense of one's own story, as a community. The Rastafarians, Hall continues, turned the Bible upside down. Not a line of continuity with their invented past, but a reconstruction: "they became what they are." (130; p. 142 in "On Postmodernism and Articulation" in David Morley & Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds. Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies.) Hill elaborates how black Caribbeans did the same upending with the King's English into a creole, into their linguistic expression of a form matching content for simmering rebellion.
Later musicians often diminished in political intensity or skirted any explicit linguistic debate. The Super Furry Animals may have drifted, as with Catatonia and Gorky's, into an Anglophonically preferred style of more predictable delivery. Their melodies all became more accessible, more mainstream, and perhaps less distinctive as they became less quirky. Most critics have remarked upon the fall-off or steady-state in later 1990s, major-label, quality in all three bands. (Only SFA continues at this date, although solo efforts by Gruff Rhys of SFA and Richard James, Euros Childs, and John Lawrence from GZM have all merited attention the past few years.) Hill concludes her study with "Mwng," released 2000. SFA tunes here gained by their modesty, not as bold as their funky danceable mishmash, but more textured and sunny.
Obviously, irony and self-critique may survive in today's Welsh pop artists. Hill ends her study prematurely, with the symbolic statement of "Mwng." (She nods to this decade only in her penultimate paragraph.) Subsequent developments in the major Welsh artists I've mentioned, and the emergence of lesser-known ones, might have complicated her neat arrangment. A deeper examination of irony as expressed more profoundly in not only lyrical presentation but musical contexts-- present early in Welsh pop and rock and folk even in the 60s under primitive recording conditions that far lagged behind British studios-- and richer contexts of pan-Celtic solidarity (although Brittany gets a cameo entrance) would have enriched Hill's study. She incorporates dense jargon into her exploration; early on this slows her pace down. Yet, she manages well her case studies of musicians, sprinkled with her own first-hand interviews. She's able to incorporate sensibly even an overly familiar "third space" hybrid model from the ubiquitously quoted Homi Bhabha. The book ends with her repeating the phrase that opens the book and provides its title.
Yet, Hill rushes past a minor, if relevant, insight that connects her book's opening paragraph to its closing one. "Blerwytirhwng?" came about as a song when SFA still sang mainly in Welsh. Hill does not elaborate that 1995 EP on which it appeared took its own moniker from the LlanfairPG-abbreviated Guinness-record breaking, or setting, railroad station that marks our world's longest place name, in remarkable concatenations of Cymraeg. Hill answers the question of her book's borrowed title by tentatively taking stock post-millennium, and post-Welsh Assembly. "And if the answer to the structural question,'Blerwytirhwng?' is 'that in-between space', it inspired the type of assertions of identity noted in the preceding pages." (208) This playful confrontation between the English we use and the Welsh they know marks the borders crossed in what a later song opted for as "The International Language of Screaming." Here, indeed, the question of "whereareyoubetween" gets at last a deservedly non-theoretical, jargon-free, spirited yet ironic call-and-response.
Image: cover of first volume of the "Welsh Rare Beat" CD compilations of late-60s/ early 70s Sain-label Welsh-language folk, pop, and psych.
Is Islam tolerant?
Tim Rutten, the resident intellectual at the L.A. Times (to balance certain other contributors, a few of which I have met!), has a thoughtful review on Benazir Bhutto's "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West," which tried to defend Islam as inherently tolerant. Rutten concluded:
The most interesting part of Bhutto's book is her argument with Samuel Huntington and the rest of the "Clash of Civilizations" crowd, who said that a confrontation between the West and militant Islam was inevitable after the Cold War was resolved. Historical inevitability always is a dicey prospect, but Bhutto goes well beyond the typical responses by Muslim political leaders. She argues that a substantial part of the work to be done to avoid such a clash must occur in the Islamic world, where a case needs to be made forcefully for more tolerant strains of Islam that are friendly to modernism and civil society. It says something about the state of affairs in the Islamic world that this is a daring, even singular, position for a political leader to take.
That said, Bhutto's contention that Islam is inherently democratic and innately sympathetic to political democracy is a bit of a stretch. Turkey is the only (fitfully) functioning democracy in the Islamic world, and there the heirs to Atatürk's iron-fisted secularism are fighting a rear-guard action. Bhutto cites Jordan and Yemen as democratic successes, but that's a bit of a stretch as well. Similarly, her categorical assertion that development and education are antidotes to Islamic fundamentalism ignores the fact that the most virulent jihadis appear to come from educated, middle- and upper middle-class families. (Consider the Sept. 11 hijackers.) Bhutto's argument for a program of scholarships enabling Muslim students to study in the West neglects to take into account that Khled Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's 9/11 mastermind, and Sayyid Qutb, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and ideological godfather to contemporary jihadism, both were educated in the United States -- and went away our implacable enemies.
Bhutto obviously was right to assert that the West cannot treat conflict with the Islamic world as inevitable. Like every form of hopelessness, that's a destructive -- and self-defeating -- idea. It will take more than simple goodwill and a talismanic invocation of "democracy" to make it otherwise, however. There is a place to begin the discussion, however. It's with an observation and question:
Every economically significant Western country now is home to a substantial Muslim minority, pursuing their lives and practicing their religion according to the dictates of their individual consciences. Not a single Islamic nation is home to a substantial Jewish or Christian minority, though historically many were.
The whole review's here: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-et-rutten12feb12,0,6111073.column