Jumaat, 20 September 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Children Of The Jacaranda Tree


CHILDREN Of The Jacaranda Tree is a novel with a great weight of history attached to it. This much is made explicit by the author's note that accompanied the proof copies, telling readers that this is "an attempt ... to shed light on this dark moment in Iranian history, on its tales of violence, prison and death ... to give voice not only to the victims of this atrocity but also to the ordeal of their families and their children".

The "dark moment" is 1988, when thousands, or tens of thousands, of political prisoners were assassinated in Iran; their number included Sahar Delijani's uncle. Her parents were fortunate to have been released from prison prior to the "purge".

At the start of the novel it seems that Delijani has placed too great a pressure on herself to find the language and structure to relate such a terrible tale.

The first chapter tells the story of a political prisoner giving birth in Tehran's Evin prison, knowing that her child will soon be taken away from her. The language is too overheated to be convincing, and there are a confusing number of character names mentioned – several women prisoners, their unseen relatives, a male guard.

Many of these characters play, at most, a minor role, and the author's lack of control seems the most obvious explanation.

But as the book continues, it becomes apparent that there is a clear purpose behind the naming.

Each chapter tells the story of a different person connected to that original prison cell, and every named character from the first chapter becomes significant, directly or through their children, at some point in the book.

At the centre of the web of connections are three women prisoners – Azar, who gives birth in prison; Firoozeh, who is known to have turned informant in exchange for prison privileges; Parisa, who has one child growing up outside prison and is pregnant with a second.

Through these women and their families a narrative emerges that is more effective than one that cleaves to an individual.

The pain of women prisoners who have to give up their children; the pain of parents and sisters who don't know what is happening to those they love who are imprisoned; the pain of letting go of the nephews and nieces you've been raising, when their mothers are finally released from prison; the pain of suppressing the truth; the pain of discovering the truth; the pain of leaving Iran, the pain of staying and the pain of return: all these are held within these linked stories.

The novel is at its best with the stories of the younger generation – the children who spent their childhoods separated from their imprisoned parents.

Some of them have moved away from Iran, others have stayed, but the ties that bind them to each other and to their country remain strong.

It is this second generation that takes to the streets in Iran's "green revolution" of 2009 and faces the violent reprisals that follow.

In the final chapter, Neda – who was the baby whose birth opens the novel – is in Italy, the country that has become her home, along with an Iranian man, Reza, who has recently arrived in Turin.

The fascination and slight edge of guilt with which an expatriate approaches someone who has continued to be part of their shared nation's history is well evoked, as is the moment when Reza speaks of his shock at the regime's brutality and Neda's response is anger – "Your worst nightmares came true twenty-three years ago", she wants to shout at him.

Although the English-speaking world may be the first readers of this novel, it seems clear that Delijani's more immediate concern is with reminding Iranians (expatriate or otherwise) of their own history – this is not an "explaining Iran to those who don't know it" book, but something far more visceral.

Though there are immigrants in this novel, it doesn't follow the familiar trajectory of characters escaping a place of brutality for the safety of the West – characters flee to Italy, Germany and America, but it is always Iran that remains central.

In the safety of a Turin cafe, when Neda hears Reza talk about the green revolution, instead of feeling gratitude for being in a place of greater security, she feels "a shiver of envy at the thought of him having been there, having partaken in that moment when history turned".

It makes her question her own right to "tell any story, speak of any memory that is larger than that". But by the time the book draws to a close, with far greater power than it opened, Delijani has done the work of showing us how those stories and memories are all entwined, and should never be forgotten. – Guardian News & Media

Mighty Avengers #1


ANOTHER Avengers title? Doesn't Marvel publish, like, a thousand other books with "Avengers" in the title already? At last count, they already had (deep breath) Avengers, Secret Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, New Avengers, Avengers AI, Young Avengers, Avengers Arena and Avengers Assemble in their current lineup. 

Well, here's another one featuring the World's Mightiest Heroes (though at this rate, there won't be anyone left as Earth's-not-as-mighty-heroes) – Mighty Avengers.

Tying in with the ongoing Infinity event, which sees the original Avengers team (the one with no adjectives) heading to deep space to fend off the world-killing Builders, this new title focuses on the battle on Earth against Thanos. 

You see, the blue-skinned Titan has set his sights on destroying this insignificant little planet that has given him so much trouble in the past, and according to him "has no Avengers".

Well, think again, big blue man, because the adjective-free Avengers may be out of reach, but that doesn't mean that there are no Avengers around.

While Mighty Avengers happily sees the return of Luke Cage as the leader of a new Avengers team, the first issue doesn't exactly start out that way. After quitting the Avengers to take care of his family, Cage has decided to restart his old Heroes For Hire business, roping in teenage heroes and former Avengers Academy students White Tiger and the new Power Man (Cage being the old Power Man). 

Before you can say "Sweet Christmas!" the team is already falling apart before it even begins, with Spider-Man (still the "superior" Otto Octavius version, I'm afraid) showing up and convincing White Tiger to leave Cage's "band of mercenaries". 

On the other side of town, former Captain Marvel/Photon/Pulsar Monica Rambeau apprehends a B-list villain called Blue Streak, and reveals that she is now called Spectrum.

So far, so easy to understand, but then of course, DISASTER STRIKES! Thanos' henchman Proxima Midnight shows up in New York (because every self-respecting alien invader knows New York is where you should always start your invasion) and starts destroying stuff and killing people. 

So of course our heroes have to do something – and the Mighty Avengers are born, consisting of Cage, Spectrum, Spider-man and the, er ... Splendiferous Spider Hero (don't ask)!

Writer Al Ewing does a great job of keeping the tone light throughout the title, which is a huge change from the serious doom and gloom of most of the other Avengers/Infinity tie-ins. Cage has always been one of the most charismatic characters in the Avengers roster, and having him and the pompous Spider-Ock on the same team should yield some entertaining results. 

Though Specrum's presence left me a little cold, it should be interesting to see who that mysterious "Spider Hero" guy is (well, he's supposed to be the new Ronin, but who is the new Ronin anyway?). All in all, a solid debut issue by Ewing.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Greg Land's art. It doesn't matter if it is a fight scene or a quiet chat in a cafe – Land draws the characters as if they are posing for the cover of a fashion magazine in every single panel. And don't get me started on their expressions; some of the characters' eyes and smiles look about as fake and soulless as Tom Hanks' performance-captured characters in The Polar Express.

Fortunately, Ewing's story and writing are good enough to give Luke Cage and his team a reasonably good start, and helps to distract from the weak art. With She-Hulk, Blue Marvel and The Falcon also joining in the future, the title does have some mighty fine potential. I just wish they had gotten someone else to draw the darn book instead. 

The Dying Hours


BRITISH author Mark Billingham's talent for sculpting intensely dark police procedurals complements his skill at pinpointing believable contemporary nightmares.

At the helm is Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, a good cop, an insightful investigator and often a loose cannon, going off on his own hunches. That he often is right still doesn't sit right with his supervisors. But Billingham uses Tom more as a mirror reflecting the changing times, the horrors that can seep into daily lives when least expected.

Billingham also is never afraid to shake up Tom's personal life and career as he does in his 11th novel in this series.

In The Dying Hours, Tom has crossed the line once too often and he is put back in uniform – "the Queen's Cloth" – and demoted down to Inspector.

The uniform is not a good fit. His depression over being "slapped down" erupts at work and at home where he lives with Det Sgt Helen Weeks and her 18-month-old son. Tom no longer has the power he did when he headed a homicide squad. His former colleagues show him little respect and his cases seem to be routine.

But Tom sees nothing usual about the apparent suicide of an elderly couple. He believes they were murdered, but no one will believe him even when he links the couple to other suicides of the elderly.

His supervisors dismiss Tom's theories, saying that it is not uncommon for old people to end their lives, especially those who are ill and without families. But each of these people was healthy and had loved ones, even if some families lived far away. Tom gets reluctant help from former colleagues Det Sgt Dave Holland and Det Insp Yvonne Kitson and pathologist Phil Hendricks, but even they don't believe him.

Tom's new position gives Billingham a heady advantage to find new avenues to explore in this character.The Dying Hours forces Tom to work even more as a solo agent, to rely on his own ideas and to reevaluate his own role as a cop. Tom is accustomed to closing cases, to being "a glory hunter", and begins to wonder if that is the only reason why he is a cop. He also looks at his role as a person. The murdered people were each mourned by their families. Will his relationship with Helen last? Will anyone care if he dies?

The Dying Hours' relentless pace doesn't slow down until the last word, proving why Billingham continues to be a bestseller around the world. – Sun Sentinel/ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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