Review: Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal – by Aimé Césaire

cahier d'un retour au pays natalAimé Césaire is the father of Martinican literature. In his Cahier, he explores his roots in his native Martinique and looks with an often angry voice at the repression of his fellow islanders. The Cahier is a poem directed at enlightening the views of his fellow countrymen and giving them a point at which to resist their colonial masters, to escape the bonds of Negrédom, the chains of slavery that bound them in the triangular slave trade culture and left them in the sugar cane fields of Martinique. A founding father of the black movement in literature, Négritude, Césaire explores the roots of slavery and his négritude is a self-revealing look at how he is perceived by the world, due to his skin colour. The poetic text is often violent and revealing and he uses a variety of different methods to shock and disturb the reader. One is always looking for an identity of Martinique and the author succeeds in describing the island’s features, its fauna and flora, its colonial past, its poverty and hunger and suffering of the population. As we move through the book, the racial voice progresses until we hear a potent cry of anger about this inequality, the way in which his race restricts his world view and aspirations. I found the book, convenient in its parallel text, usefully translated, and a positive journey into the Caribbean. In the twenty-first century we still have not unshackled racism from our society and slavery is very much alive, if not as a political reality, but as an enchaining colonial restriction upon the black inhabitants of Martinique and its Caribbean cousins. It must be stressed how important a work this must be to natives of Martinique and the foundation point it is for black literature. I studied this book as part of my ‘Imaging The Islands’ course at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages.
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Review: Confessions of a Yakuza – by Junichi Saga

confessions of a yakuza

A doctor conversing with one of his elderly patients in Japan, reveals this amazingly quaint story of a Yakuza gang leader. Set in the heart of Tokyo in the early twentieth century, our hero comes from an ordinary background and works his way into a veritable life in the underworld, as a professional gambler, running dice games, which is the heart of the Yakuza’s business. The story has tales of romance from whores and geisha women, to running away and eloping only to cut off his own finger in a ritual apology. There are several visits to jail where he abides by Yakuza rules and etiquette, gaining much respect. He has a stint in the military abroad in North Korea and spends much of World War 2 dodging bombs in Tokyo and continuing to run gambling dens. There is an antiquity to the tales which describe the character is the most personal way. One feels attached to the gangster and one can learn a great deal about the structure of organised crime and what life actually was like to be part of it only last century. One thing that resounded was the deep respect for bosses and between members of the same organisation and indeed rival gangs. I really loved the story and read the book rather quickly. It’s a shame the final part was glossed over and we didn’t get to continue the story up until the death of the Yakuza man

Review: The KLF – Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds – by John Higgs

klf

The KLF were one of my favourite bands as a teenager and partly responsible for introducing me to dance music. When they disappeared from the music industry it was a great disappointment and although they featured quite a lot in the press, their whole existence mainly remains an enigma. This book pieces together the fragments that are the KLF. Heavily centred on Bill Drummond’s life we read some truly magic tales. From, as their manager, sending Echo & The Bunnymen on tour to Iceland so he could magically stand on a manhole cover in Liverpool docks, we meet many strange anecdotes about a group that formed and based their philosophy on Discordianism. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu take their name from the Illuminatus trilogy that introduces the world to Discordianism, a worship of Eris, the Goddess of Chaos and where the number 23 is sacred. One thing is for sure is that Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, as the KLF, were totally off their heads. They filled a void in the early 1990s and became pioneers of the electronic dance music industry but they always struggled to fit into the music industry. There is a longing for more and eventually they find their place in the world of art, having burned a million pounds in cash to achieve their status there.
I have read recent talk of a reforming of the KLF coming soon and with the 23 year period of their freezing coming to an end in 2018 I truly look forward to them reappearing from the abyss and producing some more enlightening driving beats, something that all of their fans would truly appreciate.

Review: Gangland – The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver – by Jerry Langton

gangland

This fascinating subject is explored by the author, Jerry Langton, in a fresh and vibrant manner. He makes the often bloody stories flow nicely into each other. What is for sure is that the Mexican drug war is a nasty business and page after page of horrifying bloodthirstiness attends to this. We read of the different cartels from Sinaloa across Mexico. Ciudad Juarez, the murder capital of the world is a common area for discussion. The author always has his mind on the export role of the cartels and how their actions are affecting populations further North in the USA and Canada. If anything, it is difficult to weave together a fabric of the tale due to the sheer mass of brutalities that have occurred. More people are killed each year in Mexico due to the cartel warfare than in foreign war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is not the first I have studied on this topic in Mexico and I found it very well-researched and full of details, some of which were unknown to me previously. It is certainly worth a read if the topic of Mexican cartels interests you.

Review – The Legend of El Chapo Guzman – by J.D.Rockefeller

the legend of el chapo Guzman

The subject of the book makes it appealing and gives you the desire to part with the £6 or so it costs on Amazon. El Chapo is a buzz subject a folk-hero, a modern legend. He is head of the Sinaloa Cartel and in charge of one of the most lucrative drug-trading networks on the planet. However, I would seriously avoid buying this book as it is very poorly written and researched. There is nothing here that you would not get from surfing to Joaquin Loera Guzman’s wikipedia. The book is very short and can be read (with difficulty) in half an hour – only 25 pages of large type. It appears, due to the very poor standard of English that it is translated from another language (most probably Spanish). However, a professional translator was not consulted and it is most probably a simple transposition of Spanish newspaper articles, using Google Translate. It really is so poorly written that I can see no other explanation. I think that the author is simply coining in on El Chapo’s name and portraying him also in rather a negative light. I, for one, would not like to cross paths and offend such a potentially explosively dangerous man by character assassination which is basically what this book amounts to. A cheap poke at a cult figure and an attempt to coin in on someone else’s fame. For such a worthy and interesting subject it would pay heed, as an author, to do some proper research, to get on the actual ground in Sinaloa, and gain some true revelations which would be far more interesting than just casually reproducing evidence that is already in the public domain and doing a bad job of that also. A discredit to El Chapo and unworthy of any attention. AVOID!

Review: Chav Punk Hobbit – The Quest to The End Of The World – by Jason Phillips

chav punk hobbit

Jason is a Welsh Musician, and in this short book, he details his most recent Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage experience. He takes the Camino Portugués from Porto, a follow up to his previous encounter with the more traditional, and more widely known and popular, Camino Frances. We find Jason alone in his hotel room in Porto in a dusky predawn, a crazed band post-gig, having departed, and left the protagonist with little money and equipment and a pipe dream to escape yet again on pilgrimage to Santiago. This book is a modern pilgrimage, a journey to self. We are not sharing the voyage of a medieval religious monk, we share our modern chav hobbit’s punk desires. He needs not mass, blood wine and body bread, but wifi, bocadillos and plastic auberge mattresses. Our modern day pilgrim needs not God’s guidance, but is savouring the beauty and tranquility of a rustic, muddy countryside, as his mind ventures into the pilgrim spirit and devours itself in questions of self-exploration. A host of characters is met and through the hero’s transcript of muttered profanities as he describes the lurid animals he meets en route we make friends with a myriad of personalities from dotted around the globe. Most notably, German astronomer-theologian Thomaas and later, Irish reveller and journeyman Eoin. Interspersed with Spanish natives and kind Portuguese innkeepers and waiters, our bubbly hero sounds off his thoughts and shares in the rich tapestry of life of his fellow men, all the time progressing his own mind’s journey and in a self-revelatory manner, touching our soul with more profound deeper and wise philosophy. Jason loves his woman in Wales. He never quite transcends and escapes his homeland of Wales. From the murky sacred Ulla river reminding him of his hometown, Newport, to thinking of his absent grandfather having disappeared to Australia on his journey’s End, nostalgia is always a containing force to Jason, preventing him from moving on and getting the success and desires he so craves from life. Is it money he seeks? He answers and affirmative no and sees it as a means to an end in life’s great journey. He does seek Broadband and Wifi, yet after we lose communications and move out of the realm of technological contact with the outside world, our hero is not lost but finds himself again and can let his hair down properly in the taverna and hostels, enjoying more ancient revelry, wine and brandy, guitar-laden five star meals and the warmth of traditional hospitality so frequented by the tourists of these ancient routes over the Millennia. The language of Jason’s book is often shockingly coarse, but equally it is a direct language and the best philosophy succeeds in its directness. We move with the writer along the pilgrimage and as you read the book you can feel the rain pelting down, the books brevity comforting us as each night draws to a close and we settle down for the night on the auberge mattresses. Blankets or not, Chav Punk Hobbit reveals to us our own conflict in a modern age, where religion matters little and journeys of self are replaced by instant gratifications.I feel jealous, having not directly journeyed the route myself, green as I cannot feel the a priori mental revelations that resound in between the fast-flowing narratives. We must all strike out in this world and go on personal journeys to reveal our deepest thinking and to share with others the pleasures of life. Chav Punk Hobbit is an adventure and to overlook the beauty in the book’s touching simplicity means that you are not grasping the Welsh Hemingway’s poetic raison d’être. It is modern day philosophy in its most rawest essence. ENJOY!

Review: The Snows of Kilimanjaro – by Ernest Hemingway

snows of kilimanjaro

Hemingway writes this collection of short stories in a true macho fashion. Hemingway loved his big sports and we venture in this book into many short tales, apparently many autobiographical, of hunting and fishing trips, of bullfights and horse-racing tracks. Sometimes we have to forgive the tough, crude use of language of the era. Wops and Niggers are weaved into the tale and overall the descriptions are oft brutal. This is a man’s book and the tales are all male-orientated. Hemingway never fails to capture the descriptive magic of a scene and even if a tale is only a brief couple of pages, our readers’ imaginations are left with a well-constructed fantastical imager, so typical of the simplistic literal style we associate with this great fiction writer.