Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Building a forgotten identity one word at a time (Books - New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani)

Language is identity, according to Diego Marani's New Finnish Grammar (2000).  It was originally written in Italian, recently translated into English by Judith Landry, and short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  Dr. Petri Friari, a neurologist aboard a German hospital ship in 1943, discovers a man barely alive with no memory and no language.  Wearing a Finnish navy uniform jacket with Sampo Karjalainen embroidered on it, Dr. Friari identifies his patient as Finnish.  It is difficult to say whether it is the evidence that convinces him or the fact that Dr. Friari is himself a Finnish exile and for this reason has taken his patient's case very much to heart.  At any rate, the Dr. teaches him some language basics and ships him back to Finland advising him that in learning the difficult language he could reclaim his memory and, thereby, himself.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The costs and incentives of doing science (Books - How Economics Shapes Science by Paula Stephan)

The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has been trying to lure a top university to create a school of engineering and applied science in NYC.  In fact, he sweetened the deal by offering $100 million, claiming that the investment is worth far more in future start-up businesses and the jobs and products they would create. Is this project really going to spawn the creation of a new silicon valley in NYC or is Mayor Bloomberg overstating the impact of one school?  Paul Stephan's new book How Economics Shapes Science is a thorough, data-rich analysis that can help us consider such questions.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jazz and betrayal in occupied Berlin and Paris (Books - Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan)

Half-Blood Blues, by Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan, is a jazz musician's memory of his youth in Berlin and Paris on the eve of World War II.  Occasioned by the screening in 1992 of a documentary film about his one-time collaborator, trumpeter Heironymous Falk, bassist Sid Griffiths must unearth old and difficult feelings about art-making and duplicity among friends. 

Edugyan moves the action between 1939 and 1992 as her cranky narrator tries to hold back the past from encroaching on the present.  The voice she has him sing in, for it does evoke music,

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A battle for connection (Books - Solace by Belinda McKeon)

Perhaps I am influenced by having just revisted Howards End, but I read Belinda McKeon's debut novel Solace as a portrait of two men, father and son, who wage a battle to connect.  This is not merely a portrait of the generation gap as Mark and Tom Casey are separated by more than their ages.  Tom, the father, farms while Mark, his son, earns a doctorate in 19th century English literature at Trinity College, Dublin.  They are separated by their work, their geography.  Tom is taciturn, Mark more emotionally accessible.  It is across the abyss of tragic loss that they finally must reach out toward each other, but simultaneously the reader can observe the other kind of connection about which Forster writes. How in their struggle to accept the other person these men become more whole themselves.

An aspiration toward wholeness in a fracturing world? (Books - Howards End by E. M. Forster)

E. M. Forster exhorts us to 'only connect' in his great novel Howards End.  I re-read this old favorite every few years.  This time through I was struck not just by the way in which his plea asks us to connect in the sense of building bridges with others, but also by pulling together the apparently disparate parts of people.  If the Schlegel sisters Helen and Margaret represent, as Forster says, the passion and the prose, then true apprehension of a person, including oneself, is connecting all that exists in him or her.