Black Panther – Ryan Coogler (dir)

BP

Would you believe that the above pic was the only image I liked??!!

As always before I actually go into the film, let’s mention the bits that link up with the MCU canon.

Black Panther made his first appearance in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War ( or Avengers 2.5) where he sided with Cap’s team.

There’s also the reappearance of Ulysses Klaue, who made his first appearance in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and had his hand lopped off by Ultron and provided the evil robot with the material vibranium, which was stolen from Wakanda, the only place where one can find vibranium,  in 1992.

The film begins with the people who stole the vibranium and sold it to Klaue, which is a neat way of tying everything up and exploring new possibilities, which Coogler does with Black Panther.

As such this is an origin story but honestly given the plot the focus is not on Black Panther per se.

The Black Panther is T’challa and at the start of the film he has succeeded his deceased father as the king of Wakanda. At this point int he film Wakanda is an area that is closed off and does not offer any aid to the poorer African countries. In fact the Wakandians go out of their way to portray their city as a third world one, when in reality vibranium is making the city one of the most technologically advanced one in the world. One main rule is that no stranger can enter Wakanada. Despite this they and the three other tribes that live in this city are peaceful people. T’Challa himself is a noble person and wants to promote stability in Wakanda.

Things start to go awry when T’Challa’s cousin, Killmonger returns to Wakanda ( I can’t tell the back story to this as it will spoil a lot – one thing though, Klaue features heavily) and battle T’Challa and manages to take over the throne. Killmonger has one aim: to make Wakanda known to the world and to silence anyone who has oppressed black people, unfortunately the method he chooses are akin to terrorist ones.

So on one side we have the peaceful T’Challa being oppressed by the chaotic Killmonger and after being banished from his kingdom he has to restore Wakanda to its former state.

So far, so lion king or so Shakespeare (and James Bond). As this is a superhero movie you can guess what happens and Wakanda is restored while T’Challa promotes Wakanda’s richness through peaceful and diplomatic methods.

Personally Black Panther is a secondary character in this film. It is Wakanda that is the main focus and I liked that about Black Panther. Coogler manages to take the usual superhero tropes and turn them into something fresh. At first one thinks one is watching a normal Marvel movie but then Coogler changes your mind about half an hour in and still manages to create things that make superhero movies great: stunning visuals and amazing, thrilling battle scenes.

Black Panther is a triumph. Weaving Black empowerment philosophy with feminism, trust me there’s no damsel in distress here: total gender equality. This may be the cleverest film in the MCU AND it is definitely capable of being a stand alone film in the process, something the majority of the films in this series are not really able to do. Personally Black Panther is officially my number one of the Marvel movies.

 

Ahmed Saadawi – Frankenstein in Baghdad

FIB

When I finished reading Frankenstein in Baghdad, I actually waited six hours to think about it and try gather my thoughts together.

The novel is strange. On one hand I can easily give a superficial summary of the plot but then, due to the complexity of the metaphor I feel that I won’t giving the actual message any justice. But by focusing on the actual message, I’ll be deviating from the ‘superficial’ plot. Here goes though:

A junk dealer wants to give a proper burial to his closest friend, who has been killed by an explosion so he collects bits and pieces of other explosion victims and turns it into a corpse. The soul of a freshly killed soldier finds the corpse and it comes to life and becomes a vigilante of sorts.

Also the junk dealer’s next door neighbour has lost her son to war and thinks that the creature is a resurrected version of her son.

Then there is the journalist who wants to interview the creature and comes to realise the monster’s true intentions and is more receptive to all the problems happening in Baghdad.

To complicate matters, This monster may be a lie concocted by the junk dealer and he is the cause of all the murders as a form of revenge.

Whether or not the monster is an idea or not Saadawi has written a powerful allegory about the political situation of Baghdad. Here is a place that is destroyed by bombs, individuals are tortured by the police and when the media tries to expose the truth, it cannot happen. Although my interpretation may be incorrect, I see the creature representing Baghdad: a killing corpse or it could be a place of madness due to the bombings and other madcap actions that occur.

However what I thought was the novel’s strong point is how it captures the culture of Baghdad: the coffee shops, how people live and certain customs. Personally this is what I look for in a translated novel for I believe it should reflect the country it is based in; both positive and negative aspects.

Frankenstein in Baghdad is a deceptively simple novel. There is a lot going on and rather than a funny book, I saw it as a savage satire about the craziness of a war torn city. Then again this novel is open to many interpretations but as I said everything makes sense after reflections, the fact that the novel is readable helps a lot.

Saadawi has written a novel that works on all levels, Frankenstein in Baghdad has already gathered accolades in Saadawi’s country and a film is in production. If this novel does not get the recognition it deserves, i will be greatly disappointed for  Frankenstein in Baghdad joins the ranks of political allegories such as Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. Although the book is more bizarre than the two novels mentioned it still has a hefty clout.

Frankenstein in Baghdad was kindly given to me from Oneworld Publications in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

Salman Rushdie – The Golden House.

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Whenever I buy a new Rushdie, I’m always a bit scared as I feel that he is an inconsistent author. Sometimes I think his books are absolute masterpieces and sometimes I find them dull.  Thankfully Rushdie continues the winning streak with his last book Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights and manages to top that with The Golden House.

The Golden House encapsulates a lot of themes which are common in Rushdie’s novels, mainly migration, Indian culture and politics, however Rushdie does things a bit differently and disguises the narrative as a family saga, something which he has touched upon, especially in Shame . For starters The Golden House is a departure from his trademark magical realism and is grounded in reality. Secondly the family saga concerns migrants.

The family in question are the Goldens, originally a family from Bombay, they emigrate to New York once the mother is killed and arrive on the eve of Obama’s election in 2008. As this is a Rushdie novel there are passages dealing with identity and fitting in within society. The Goldens all give themselves Roman names, which they abbreviate in order to fit within society.

Rushdie tackles the book through an interesting angle for the narrator is Rene, an aspiring film student of emigrant parents who is amused by the Goldens and decides to create a documentary/film about them. It is worth noting that Rushdie channels a lot of his usual pop culture references through Rene, mostly both mainstream and obscure films, kudos for name dropping Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives.  As to be expected the family falls apart when the background history of the Goldens is revealed.

I see The Goldens as a representation as the last nine years of American history. The ‘Golden’ age of Obama triumphing over George W. Bush and the good times that followed The point when Trump (here represented as The Joker – a psycho clown) trumping of Obama happens is when the Goldens are in trouble. At this point Rushdie even includes a short nod to Brexit as part of ‘the world gone to pieces’ theme.

However it is not all doom. Both Rene and The Goldens share a garden, a guess that’s paradise and despite all the events the garden is not affected and Rene does lead a good life in the end, I assume that this is Rushdie’s way of saying that through perseverance the US may not go the way of the Goldens and the paradise/garden may be intact.

As I stated before the theme of identity is also important in The Golden House. The third child, who goes by the name of D is unsure of his sex and there are lengthy digressions in the notion of gender, not to mention that his partner works in the Museum of Identity, which help enrich D’s knowledge of the subject and decide on his transition. Incidentally this is the second time I have read about the dilemma that the Hijira goes through and I’ll say that Rushdie does a better job.

Personally I thought this novel was great. It was an insightful read, kept me hooked and this time, the pop references didn’t bother me. I did enjoy this angrier version of Rushdie and hopefully it is kept up with future novels.

Mary Beard – Women & Power: A Manifesto.

Women and Power

Despite the fact that I grew up in a household of strong women (mother second wave feminist, sisters drilling me on gender equality) and reading a lot of novels with feminist leanings, I’ve never really read a non fiction treaty on the subject so when I discovered that historian Mary Beard was publishing two of her lectures on gender equality, I rushed out and read it so that I get some backing.

Beard tackles two topics in these lectures. One focuses on how males want to silence women who speak their mind. Beard does this thorough job examples from antiquity, the Odyssey being the first reported example, to contemporary age. When there are women who succeed Beard gives evidence of historians giving women masculine traits , or in some cases even making up a speech which has hints of masculinity in it, such as the words of encouragement Queen Elizabeth I gave her battalion when attacking the Spanish army.

The second lecture is about women in powerful roles. Beard gives examples of Hilary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel, who have to wear trouser suits in order to be accepted and are usually victims of media bullying, in other words society gives powerful women masculine traits or deriding them completely. Beard then shows us that in history the same thing happened as in Ancient Greece when artists would depict the Amazonian  tribe as women wearing pantsuits (and as evidence proves this tribe did not even exist, it’s just a male construction as a way of ridiculing neighboring tribes) This segues into the famous Medusa memes and the representation of powerful women as witches. Incidentally when a reporter substituted Trumph’s head for a Medusa she was fired, but it’s ok to place Merkel or Clinton’s face instead.

I was amazed at how prescient these lectures are, especially the first one (which was given in 2014). We now live in a time when women are speaking up, look at the sexual harassment allegations that are cropping up in the film, music and art industry, which all came to the forefront due to women speaking up (although I am being over simplistic). As for women in power, the fact that Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, which imagines a world run by women won the 2018 Bailey’s prize is a sign that this awareness is raising concern.

Women & Power, despite it’s brevity, did help me realise that gender equality is still somewhat ideal but, in some cases there are changes, and more importantly it created an inner awareness of how history treated this subject.

 

Jonathan Coe – Number 11

Number 11

My favourite book of all time is Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! (here’s the review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…) after I read House of Sleep and The Rotter’s Club. Stupidly I stopped reading Jonathan Coe after that.

Then last year I came across Number 11 in a book sale. It was selling for 5 euro so I bought it, however due to my system the book came up and I read it, curious if Coe had lost his spark.

He hasn’t

Number 11 is a sort of sequel to What a Carve Up!: the novel deals with the corrupt nature of politics, the manipulative aspect of media and how people are badly affected by the decisions taken by the upper classes.

The book consists of a series of interconnected stories, all linked by the Winshaws, who made their first appearance in What a Carve Up! AND that book is self referenced a couple of times as well, a lot of the main characters in this novel reappear in some of the stories as well. Thus detail and destinies cross and entwine themselves; a literary technique I’m fond of, hence the five stars.

One thing I admire about Coe is how he can mix and mash different genres with fluidity. Number 11 contains elements of mystery, horror, drama and comedy, not to mention the plethora of artists and directors he name drops. In other words this makes it a fun book to read.

If you haven’t read …Carve Up! no worries as Number 11 holds up on its own BUT enjoyment of the book is enriched if the first part of this novel is read.

Ali Smith – Winter

Winter

You all know that this will be a glowing review due my Ali Smith bias.

Winter is the second part of of Smith’s seasonal quartet. As always she stuffs a lot of themes so actually reviewing her books are a bit difficult.

As the title states, the book takes place during wintertime; A season where things die. The setting of Winter (the book) is during the winter solstice and more specifically the Christmas season, which means that the days are dark. As of the book’s writing Britain is in it’s Brexit phase and Donald Trump has been elected, it is indeed a dark time. The remaining themes Smith explores in the novel also emphasise that there are dark days ahead. The opening three pages of Winter drive this point in an extreme way.

The main theme is family as the focuses on a rather disjointed family coming together for Christmas celebrations. There’s Sophie (meaning wisdom) her politically minded sister Iris, Arthur or Art ( as with Autumn art, as in painting, plays a role) who pays a Croatian refugee called Lux (light) to join him and pretend to be his girlfriend (bit of a Buffalo 66 situation there) as the Christmas season unfolds the family start to uncover secrets from the past which unites them and provides them the courage to face the future instead of hiding in their own insecurities.

As for other major themes Information Technology plays a role through various episodes throughout the novel. In one scene Sophie is trying to borrow money from a bank teller for the Christmas meal but she is directed to an ATM, which cannot cope with. Her son Art is an armchair nature blogger and seek outs copyright fringes as a day job. I think Smith is pointing out that technology is something to hide behind easily and create a shield for our real selves or even blocks out the human side of social interaction.

As with Autumn, Smith mirrors world events that happened in the past with current events, thus cementing that history does move in circles, or like the seasons, it moves in cycles. This is done through the character of Iris. In the 70’s she protested nuclear weapon manufacturing, which is a problem now with North Korea threatening to nuke the world. Iris’ father is a racist and cannot understand why Britain allows immigrants into its country , something which is still topical. Smith ties the 70’s and 10’s worldviews intelligently.

Autumn focused on the Artist Pauline Boty, while in Winther Barbara Hepworth and Ethel Walker are the featured artists. Hepworth’s paintings prove to be crucial to the plot development and also serves as a statement that art may not be dead in this dead time but exists in other forms.

The person who unites the family is Lux, the Croatian refugee who actually know about British history but does not understand cliches. s her name suggests she is the light, the one who makes the family make peace with each other and this theme of unification and strength for what the future holds is Smith at her most poignant. Indeed Winter is a pessimistic book but it is not a downer.

I am sure I have missed out other important themes. After all, one cannot read an Ali Smith once and expect to absorb everything. I mean I am still pondering the symbolism of the floating head (does it tie in with Hepworth’s rounded sculptures?) or the floating coastline (the destruction of land?) I don’t know but I will say that Winter is an angry (don’t worry there’s a good amount of funny set pieces and puns) book and while it provides an excellent companion to Autumn, I think it is the stronger book due to Smith’s openness on certain topics