This Month's Articles
SPARTA: A Novel
By Roxana Robinson
Reviewed by M. J. Moore
Now that President Obama has committed America’s armed forces to a new phase of combat operations in the Middle East (however limited, so far), it is an excellent time to shine a light on one of the most important and impressive novels to emerge from the Iraq War.
Sparta, first published in 2013, is now more timely than ever.
As anyone who follows the news can attest, military veterans are committing suicide in record numbers. The term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (first coined in the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the late 1970s) is now as familiar as any lingo can be. And, one by one, books are piling up (memoirs, novels, and story collections) by authors who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Sometimes both places. These recent conflicts have become America’s longest wars. Perhaps also our most ambiguous
Enter Roxana Robinson. In a literary career that is redolent of the glory days when a gifted author could be known as a Man of Letters or a Woman of Letters, Roxana Robinson has authored nine books: a magisterial biography of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, three short-story collections, and five novels to boot.
Never shying away from exceedingly knotty, emotionally wrenching narrative motifs (her novel Cost is a tour de force storyline regarding the calamity of heroin addiction and its impact on a singular family), it’s perhaps inevitable that Robinson would ultimately confront the theme of war and its deleterious effects on one traumatized veteran’s milieu.
And confront it she does. In Sparta, the modern-day wartime odyssey of Conrad Farrell is articulated, anatomized, and painstakingly dramatized with such precisely etched sentences and such a plethora of telling details that it’s fair to say that this novel belongs on the same shelf as other Returning Veteran Chronicles: e.g., John Dos Passos’ One Soldier’s Initiation (a World War One account), James Jones’ Whistle (the capstone third volume to Jones’s World War Two trilogy, which began with From Here to Eternity and continued with The Thin Red Line), and so many others.
Aside from the fact that Sparta is a novel written by a female Quaker who has neither served in the military nor been a witness to war, there are other unique aspects to this work of art. Protagonist Conrad Farrell was partly inspired by reports that Robinson read about a new demographic in America’s military. She learned that there had been a sizable increase in middle-class and upper-middle class college-educated enlistees, offsetting the usual pattern of so many recruits being fresh out of high school or from the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
In the case of Conrad Farrell, being a college graduate also means being an old-fashioned liberal arts aficionado of the highest order: He is a Classics major, with a deep admiration for the ethos and legacies of the ancient Greek city of Sparta.
In Robinson’s mesmerizing prose, the fixation that Conrad Farrell has on antique ideals is clear. Here he tries to explain to his parents his passion for joining the Marines:
“It’s kind of a continuum. The classical writers love war, that’s their main subject. Being a soldier was the whole deal, the central experience. That’s what first got me interested. Sparta. The Peloponnesian War, the lliad. Thucydides, Homer, Tacitus. I wanted to see what it was like.”
His liberal, peace-love-and-granola parents, raised in the post-Vietnam era with its tainted view of all things martial, are flummoxed.
As is the case with so many other grand enlistment fantasies, the actual experience of Conrad Farrell is light years away from what he expected. Although he rises to each challenge presented by boot camp (and the training regimens of the Marines are notoriously demanding), his four years in Iraq leave him transformed and grimly aware that there is no place whatsoever for him in the civilian society he returns to.
Here, too, Roxana Robinson has created a narrative that belongs with the best of the books left behind by others who explored the agonies of returning veterans.
Incrementally, as one episode builds upon another (Conrad cannot renew his rapport with his girlfriend; he can’t get traction on any career path; his anger curdles into rage, and before long he is in fear of his own potential as a walking time bomb, all of which baffles him and bewilders others because he did not get physically wounded in Iraq and it’s assumed ....Read More
Herbie Hancock: Possibilities
With Lisa Dickey
Reviewed by Fred Beauford
A most Interesting man
Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities was, surprisingly, a more interesting look at the evolution of an American popular artist than what we have been used to.
Not only is the noble story of the upward mobility of a bright, highly talented young black American male from the South Side of Chicago, fully told, but there is also Herbie Hancock, a very thoughtful, self-aware, cerebral fellow, indeed.
He is also one of those rare birds who fly in a flock of his own making.
Here is how he describes himself early in the book: “This was how my brain worked. As a kid, I loved mechanics and science, and I spent hours taking apart clocks and toasters because I had a driving need to know how things worked. I was drawn to the rational order of these systems, enraptured by the way that taking apart an object could lead to a complete understanding of that object.”
This acute curiosity about how things work extended to music, which led him to constant search for new ways to enhance the musical experience.
Now, Herbie Hancock wears the label “jazz legend.”
Which means that he can now display bragging rights held by few, by pointing to his fourteen Grammys and an Oscar for the score of Round Midnight.
In addition, there was his being named in 2011 as an UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and in 2013 he was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2014, he became the first jazz musician to deliver the prestigious Norton Lectures at Harvard.
His musical education started at an early age while growing up on the South Side of 1950s Chicago. A friend of his who live in his building had a piano. Hancock loved playing around with it so much that he prevailed upon his family to purchase him one.
“So when I was seven, they gave me a used piano they’d bought for about $5 in a church basement.”
That old piano led to private music lessons; which led to young Herbie quickly being recognized as a child prodigy, which led to his playing a movement of a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony at the age of eleven by winning a young people’s competition.
The pull between science and music, however, did not go away, and came to a head, when, in the fall of 1956, he entered....Read More
Portfolio: Felix Massey
by Kara Fox
In the 21st century mobile phones are also cameras and almost everyone is a photographer. Yet, not everyone is a great photographer. Felix Massey is not only a great photographer, he is also only 15 years old!
People come into our lives at the most unexpected times. While sitting on the beach watching a high school volleyball tournament, I met Felix. During the afternoon, our conversation turned to one of my favorite subjects, photography.
In between volleys we talked about his passion…aeriel photography. I was astounded that someone so young knew so much and was deeply committed to his art. Most of the time we chatted, I was thinking that I needed to share this amazing young man with you, dear readers of Neworld Review. Hoping your pleasure in reading this month’s portfolio is as great as was mine in learning about the extraordinary work of Felix!
When did you first become interested in photography?
I first picked up a camera when I lived in NYC. I was 7 years old and in second grade. I enjoyed holding the camera and shooting anything, mostly my sister and my family. But later I would shoot toys, buildings, anything outside the car window on road trips, and other interesting things in a big city.
Can you please explain to our readers about Quad-copter. What is it, and how does it work?
I use the DJI Phantom 2, Quad-copter with the Zenmuse H3-2D Gimmble stabilizer, The Gopro Hero 3 Black Edition camera and a Black Pearl Monitor for First Person Viewing. The Phantom 2 flies approximately 1000-ft in any direction, and with my range extender, I can take it another 3 miles. I like to test the limits of my drone by exposing it to all types of terrain and weather. If I'm flying over waves or flying through difficult reaching places, between precarious wires or dense vegetation, I always like....Read More
THE NEWS SORORITY:
Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—
and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph
of Women in TV News
By Sheila Weller
Reviewed by M. J. Moore
Trifecta biography. I should patent that phrase. It’s my way of describing the kind of work that only a few biographers accomplish.
Most biographies illuminate and illustrate a single life. But dual biographies (about JFK and Jackie, FDR and Eleanor, and everyone else from Elvis & Priscilla to Nixon & Kissinger) do abound. However, there are not many trifecta biographies. And yet, investigative journalist Sheila Weller is making a career out of this niche.
Five years ago, with Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation, Weller linked together and anatomized the varied ways in which the works and days of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon contributed as much to the soundtracks of the 1960s and 1970s as the works of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and James Taylor.
Now, Sheila Weller uses the same approach to confront the world of TV news in recent decades.
In The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, the career quests of three archetypal female strivers are explicated against the dramatic backdrop of the always patriarchal, always hyper-competitive, and always image-driven milieu commonly called the news business.
The national news programs on television during America’s postwar epoch (from the debut of The Today Show in 1952 right up to an including 9/11) always were among the most influential media forces creating the American template all those years ago.
Yes, the music industry was powerful and radio and records (for many) were the stuff of life. Movies, of course, continued to periodically enthrall America and its culturally starved denizens, although TV’s addictive capacity hobbled the film industry.
Above all else, though, the realm of TV news was the red-hot center of America’s central nervous system. Gradually and then suddenly, women were also telling the stories: Barbara Walters was doubtless the godmother of them all, but in her wake came the cadre of other women (from Lesley Stahl and Connie Chung to the Diane-Katie-Christiane trio examined here). Their emergence was part of the Zeitgeist
Author Sheila Weller’s greatest achievement in The News Sorority is to show us just how entangled the lives of TV trailblazers like Sawyer, Couric, and Amanpour were with the tumultuous social history of their personal coming-of-age odysseys.
Born in 1945, Diane Sawyer was chronologically at the dawn of the Baby Boom, whereas Katie Couric and Christiane Amanpour were born in 1957 and 1958, respectively. Therefore, all three of them entered the testosterone-drenched field of TV news when America was mired in crises both national and international. For example, Sawyer was 23 in 1968 (when America was undone by everything from the dual assassinations of Dr. King and RFK to the debacles in Vietnam and elsewhere), while Couric and Amanpour were 23-ish as....Read More
ATE THE COSMOS FOR BREAKFAST
A Poem by Melissa Studdard
—after Thich Nhat Hanh
It looked like a pancake,
but it was creation flattened out—
the fist of God on a head of wheat,
milk, the unborn child of an unsuspecting
chicken—all beaten to batter
and drizzled into a....Read More
Bleeding Heart Publications To Launch on November 30, 2014; Hosts Open Submissions for Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction
New Southeast Asia-Based, English-Language Publishing House Seeks to Balance Traditional Writer-Friendly Values with 21st Century Technologies
Bangkok, Thailand – October 22, 2014 – Bleeding Heart Publications, a new literary publishing house looking for “new voices” in full-length and short creative non-fiction and fiction, is launching in the United States and globally from its home base in Southeast Asia on November 30, 2014.
A small, dedicated group of British and American ex-patriots – led by co-founders Gordon Ross, director, and Cali Dawson, managing director – have four books scheduled for publication in all formats in 2015 and are aggressively seeking manuscripts and short stories from new and previously published authors.
Bleeding Heart Publications also will publish Transfusion, a twice-yearly literary journal featuring short stories of 5,000 words or less. The company is registered in Singapore with editorial offices in Bangkok, Thailand.
“There are so many gifted writers out there today who cannot get a publishing deal, ” says Gordon Ross, a Scottish businessman and entrepreneur who has lived and worked in Asia since 2008 and is the director of Bleeding Heart Publications. “The business model has changed for the major publishing houses. They are far less inclined to take a chance on an up-and-coming writer these days, no matter how promising.
“Their focus is on established, best-selling authors and that’s where they are putting their marketing money. Also, self-publishing is exploding in the States, but many creative writers simply cannot afford it, and even if they could, they would face built-in....Read More
The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us
By Diane Ackerman
Reviewed by Amanda Martin
“Surpassing human limits is so human a quest, maybe the most ancient one of all, from an age when dreams were omens dipped in moonlight, and godlike voices raged inside one’s head.”
Diane Ackerman is one of the foremost writers on the natural world. Possessed with a fierce curiosity, an enthusiastic sense of adventure, and the ability to clearly communicate the often complicated work and discoveries of the people who have dedicated their lives to various scientific and naturalist pursuits, Ackerman is an ideal guide, whether taking us through A Natural History of Love, or adventuring in Antarctica with penguins and swimming with whales in Patagonia The Moon by Whale Light, or recounting an incredible story of World War II Warsaw in The Zookeeper’s Wife.
She has great empathy for all her subjects, human and otherwise, allowing us to feel the excitement and joy they have in their pursuits. Above all she is a gorgeous writer of prose. It is worth noting that she is also a fine poet.
In her latest book, The Human Age, Ackerman is clear that humans are part of the natural world. This may strike some as counterintuitive: Aren’t humans at war with nature, tampering with everything, leaving great swathes of destruction wherever they roam?
Isn’t it inevitable that we are headed to the kind of post-apocalyptic future so prevalent these days in YA fiction? Ackerman is a realist: there is global warming and it is manmade; the climate is changing, species will continue to go extinct and the seas will rise. It is possible that we will destroy ourselves. But, Ackerman proposes, it is not inevitable. We humans are a clever species, able to adapt to a changing environment, and we have in the past come up with wonderful ways to improve the world and mitigate a lot of the unintended consequences of our collective actions.
For the 200,000 years it is estimated we have been around, human beings have been living in the Holocene — meaning “Recent Whole” — Age. Ackerman says that this is about to change. The powers-that-be —who, in this case, are a “distinguished panel at the Geological Society, the official arbiters of the geological time scale” — will be renaming the current age by the end of this decade. We will be living in the Anthropocene Age—the Human Age—so named to reflect our species’ impact on the planet.
As Ackerman recounted during a recent talk, one of the questions under discussion is when to actually date this new era from. Should it start with agriculture when our species first began manipulating nature? Or did the Human Age really begin in the 18th century at the dawn of the Industrial Age? Or is the Anthropocene Age even younger than that, born in the 1940s and ‘50s, decades of the atom bomb and petrochemicals? Whatever the start date, the impact of humans is undeniable, from changes in the climate, to the modification of animals and plants, to the modification of our own minds and bodies.
Ackerman takes us along as she explores this world made by us, introducing us to a host of sentient beings, not all of them human, not all of them even carbon based, but all of them playing a part in this new human age.
Among them: Budi the 7-year old orangutan who plays daily with an I-Pad, given to him courtesy of an....Read More
A Man of His Own
By Susan Wilson
Read by: Fred Berman, Christina Delaine, Rick Adamson, and Jeff Gurner
Reviewed by Michael Carey
If I were to give, Susan Wilson’s latest book, A Man of His Own, a two word review, it would be: Dog people. In my time in New York, I’ve seen the relationships people build with their dogs: the time, money, and effort that is summed up in love for a furry little friend.
Wilson has written seven books that have seen varying levels of success, including the New York Times’ best selling list and the basis for a made-for-TV movie. In perusing her bibliography, one will find A Man of His Own is not Wilson’s first canine-centered story making it clear she is skilled at bringing to life dogs and the special relationship they develop with their human counterparts.
To tell this story of undying love, the resilience of the human heart, and the consequences of war, Macmillan brought together four accomplished and award-winning readers to narrate the respective chapters of the four main characters: Rick, Pax, Francesca, and Keller.
Pax is a German Shepherd Rick finds in an alley as a minor league ballplayer with high hopes. Francesca is a young, small town girl from Iowa who wants more out of life. While visiting her cousin in Boston, she sees Rick in the bullpen. Their eyes meet, and they are rushed along in the whirlwind of love.
Pax, however, will take his own time warming up to....Read More