Thursday, June 30, 2005

Book Review: "Almost French: Love and a new Life in Paris" by Sarah Turnbull

Some would be tempted to classify this book as Chic-lit., after all, its subtitle reads, 'Love and a new Life in Paris', but it's so much more than that. Although it is an autobiographical account of an Australian journalist's move to France after falling in love with a Frenchman, it is essentially a light socio-ethno-political commentary on France and the French and also, what it means to be an expat in a country whose culture clashes with your own.

The author, without mincing words, dissects the cool, haughty, unfriendly exterior that French women present to each other and concludes that they are that way, because they 'perceive those of the same sex as rivals, not as potential friends'. This rivalry prevents them from having a 'sisterhood', like women in Australia and America do.

One of the highlights of the book is her interview with French designer Christian Lacroix in her quest to understand the French obsession with haute couture and how and why they do it so well. According to Lacroix, "there aren't many areas left where France really shines. There's micro-technology. Perhaps cuisine, but Paris remains the world specialist in haute couture. NO other city does it." Why is that? The French are a nation of aesthetics,they like nothing better than to look beautiful and to surround themselves with beautiful things. Infact, in France, vanity is not a sin, on the contrary it's a mark of self-pride. Looking scruffy is an act of selfishness because it makes the whole city look like a dump! In Paris, if you fail to dress up, shopkeepers will ignore you and make it quite clear that you are out of place in their beautiful shops. But why the extravagant fashion shows, surely no real Parisien walks around dressed like a stage actress? "The fashion shows hosted by France's leading fashion houses rarely sell enough dresses to break even, but the shows are wildly extravagant because that is what helps build seductive brand images, inspiring consumers to splurge on more affordable items like sunglasses and perfumes."

She also has hilarious chapters on what it means to own a pet in France and on why Paris is home to some of the finest restaurants in the world. When it comes to Paris being the gourmet capital of the world, Ms. Turnbull concludes that it all comes down to 'savoir faire' or an incredible heritage. The French are obsessed with using only the finest produce and finest ingredients in their cooking and have an almost absurd attention to detail. Low fat produce and skimmed milk are scorned at---only the richest, most luscious creams will do. "Infact, France has this effect on foreigners. It turns your eating habits and food principles upside down so that before long you're rhapsodizing about the delicate silkiness of foie gras entier without a thought for the fat content, let alone the poor goose who was force-fed through a tube down its throat. The damage is irreparable---there's no turning back to mueseli after flaky pastries filled with ribbons of dark chocolate." But how do French women eat this kind of food and not put on weight? I guess the answer to that might lie in reading, Mireille Guiliano's “French Women Don't Get Fat.”

When it comes to service at these restaurants however, one has to always appear superior to the waiters... 'The French are not impressed by anything as banal as niceness". If you are kind to a waiter, it is likely that he will mistake it for subservience and treat you accordingly. France is a hierarchical society, the waiter needs to feel like he is serving someone more important than himself, if not, he takes the upper hand.

She also touches on how the French view multiculturalism---in France, "multiculturalism" is pretty much a dirty word. The French cling stubbornly to the idea that theirs is a white nation. It's an old country with a strong sense of its own identity, here culture is viewed as an established entity that must be preserved and protected from foreign influences. The French are no more racist than any other people. Perhaps they're just more upfront about it because there's no culture of political correctness in this country.

Finally, being a recent immigrant to Canada myself, I understand completely when she says:

"After 6 years in France, I feel like an insider. But at the same time I'm still an outsider. And not just because of my accent or my Anglo-Saxon appearance. To be a true insider you need that historical superglue spun from things like French childhood friends and memories of school holidays on the grandparents' farm and years of accumulated culture and complications."

Ofcourse, Ms. Turnbull had a French partner which I am sure made things a lot easier for her , but regardless, her heart, like mine, will always be tied to two places. In the author's case, Australia and France, in my case, India and Canada.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Book Review: Sarah MacDonald's "Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure"

Holy Cow2

"India is Hotel California; you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

This is perhaps one of the most memorable lines from one of the most enjoyable travel memoirs I have read in a while. The author, Sarah MacDonald, is an Australian journalist and has the opportunity to visit India when her boyfriend, a reporter with ABC (Australia Broadcasting) is sent to India on an assignment.

The book starts off with her disliking India for its heat, dirt, crowds, smells, intrusiveness, poverty etc.,

"...above her neck is a mass of melted flesh liked burned candle wax. Two pools of black stare out and stumps of burned flesh wrapped in rags plead up at me. I retch in horror and run. This is my first glimpse of a dowry burning---where a woman is set alight in a "cooking" accident because her husband or mother-in-law wants more dowry money and attempts to kill to get it. If the bride dies, the husband can marry again and collect another dowry; if she lives, she can be shamed into leaving the house as damaged, useless goods. I want to scream with shock, fury and sadness but there're too many people staring at me, following me and grabbing me. There's just no room for rage.

I cross a huge bridge but India is on the side as well, everywhere there's a mass of begging, pleading, needing, naked wretchedness..."

The book ends happily with her having found her spiritual home in India by sampling mightily from the smorgasbord of religions practiced in India.

This is how she credits India's different religions for the spiritual transformation she experiences:

"...From Buddhism the power to begin to manage my mind, from Jainism the desire to make peace in all aspects of life, while Islam has taught me to desire goodness and to let go of that which cannot be controlled. I thank Judaism for teaching me the power of transcendence in rituals and the Sufis for affirming my ability to find answers within and reconnecting me to the power of music. Here's to the Parsis for teaching me that nature must be touched lightly and the Sikhs for the importance of spiritual strength. I thank the gurus for trying to pierce my ego armour and my girlfriends for making me laugh. And most of all I thank Hinduism for showing me there are millions of paths to the divine..."

This book is at once entertaining and informative. Although it can seem condescending at times (to Indians)I think overall it's a wonderful narrative of Indian cultural/religious history and practices and is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in India.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sex, Drugs and...

With a title like that you half expect this to be a book on Rock n' Roll until you see the words 'classical music'. Blair Tindall, professional oboeist, apparently knocks the lid off classical music with some exposees of classical music's sexy side.

Her memoirs feature tell-all stories from the pits of the orchestra pit, including the political in-fighting and stress that lead to drug and alcohol abuse, among other leisure activities. She also attacks greedy maestros and well established professionals who take advantage of young musicians, desperate for work. We have all known for some time that certain conductors are paid far too much and that most classical musicians earn peanuts.

Tindall claims that sex played a decisive role in her musical career. She says she was simultaneously involved with three leading New York oboists — two married — who gave her work in their orchestras. One had a maxim: “The section that lays together plays together.”

Read more here

As an interesting aside to drugs and classical music, I have heard that it is not at all uncommon for classical performers to take beta-blockers like propranolol (for stage-fright) which work by blocking the production of adrenaline which is triggered by the body's natural response to fear--- whether it is fear of being mugged in a dark alley way or the fear of perfoming live for an audience! However, to my way of thinking, a little stage anxiety can only be a good thing. The adrenaline which is triggered by a performing- anxious musician can be harnessed for a high energy performance, but I'm not a performer, so what do I know? :) I do know however, that this book is bound to create renewed interest in classical music so, if to that end her book is successful, I am all for it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Nedjma: The Almond

Pic courtesy: Words without Borders

The New York Times today ran a story titled, A Muslim Woman, a Story of Sex, which talks about an erotic novel being penned under a pseudonym by a Muslim author living in a tradional Arab society in Morocco.

From the NYT:

Written in the first person, "The Almond" follows Badra as she grows up in a Moroccan village and gradually discovers her femininity. Yet, while she dreams of true love, she is forced to marry a much older man, suffering - and hating - in silence as he tries roughly to make her pregnant. Finally, she runs away to her Aunt Selma in nearby Tangiers, and it is there that she meets Driss, a wealthy, European-educated doctor who teaches her the mysteries of love and sex.

While their relationship changes Badra's life, however, it is far from perfect. Driss refuses to marry her and, because they are unmarried, their affair remains hidden from the world. And while Driss satisfies her sexually and she loves him passionately, he is not faithful to her. Gradually Badra steps back and goes her own way, meeting up with him again a decade later under very different circumstances.

Nedjma (the pseudonym used by the author) estimated that about 40 percent of "The Almond," her first book, is autobiographical, but she considered the rest also to be true to life. "It is a testimony written by the feminine tribe," she said. "It is based on the experience of aunts, neighbors, cousins, all women. I felt a moral duty to say: this is what women go through."

Spiegel reports that Nedjma (meaning star in Arabic) refused to use her own name because she fears being stoned in Morocco where she says that talking about sex is taboo. Please read what Moorish Girl had to say in response that!

Nedjma told the NYT that Driss (the male protagonist of her novel "Almond") remains trapped by the customs of Arab men. "He loved this woman (Badra) but he did not know how to appreciate this love outside the traditional framework of society. He was liberated sexually, but not socially."

And in her own relationship, she was asked, was she more liberated than her lover?

She hesitated before answering.

"Yes; there you are, I've said it," she finally replied. "The malaise of the Arab world is that people don't know how to love. They watch romantic soap operas on television out of frustration. They dream about love, they listen to songs, they are sentimental, but they are not tender. They appreciate beautiful love poems, but they don't have the courage of the heart."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Modern Indian woman struggles with Arranged Marriage

Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist?
...the pressure on me to find a husband started very early. A few days after my 1st birthday, within months of my family’s arrival in the U.S., I fell out the window of a three-story building in Baltimore. My father recalls my mother’s greatest concern, after learning that I hadn’t been gravely injured: “What boy will marry her when he finds out?” she cried, begging my father to never mention my broken arm—from which I’ve enjoyed a full recovery—to prospective suitors out of fear my dowry would be prohibitively higher...

A modern Indian woman struggles with arranged marriage.

I thought this first-person account by a young, single Indian-American was a brilliantly written piece with liberal doses of wit. I am sure a lot of young Indian women are torn between being the dutiful daughter and opting for an arranged marriage or rebelliously going the romantic route with a marriage for love.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Book Review: Franklin Foer's "How Soccer Explains the World"

I have often thought that here in Ontario, June to August shouldn't really be called the 'summer' months, but 'soccer' months and what better way to celebrate this crazy frenzied season than by reading Franklin Foer's book, "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization".

Franklin Foer,staff writer at the New Republic, took six months off from his job to tour the soccer capitals of the world. He had a great idea and that was to write a collection of essays using soccer as a tool for analyzing the culture and politics of various societies.

From attending soccer games all around the world, keeping up to date on all the soccer news and interviewing fans and soccer players from every club and division that he possibly could, he found that soccer mirrored the world in amazing ways and pondered if soccer could explain the theory of globalization.

Critics of globalization have been concerned that the spread of a global consumerism would wipe out local cultures and homogenize the entire world, but Foer returned convinced that globalization has not and will not soon wipe away local institutions and cultures. On the contrary, he suspects the opposite has happened: In response to the threat of global integration, local entities have launched counterattacks that are successful but "not always in such a good way."

The Washington Post explained it like this in their review of the book:

Soccer, at its best, shows how this might work. For Foer, the sport demonstrates that "you could love your country — even consider it a superior group — without desiring to dominate other groups or closing yourself off to foreign impulses."

Regarding the "not so good ways" that locals respond to globalism, Foer found much to worry about. The world of soccer can be quite ugly. In Serbia, for example, fans of Red Star Belgrade became, as he puts it, "Milosevic's shock troops, the most active agents of ethnic cleansing, highly efficient practitioners of genocide."

Foer argues that the gruesome antisocial fan behavior that occurs when soccer is at its worst is counterbalanced in other places where the sport plays a role in creating a more humane order. The most interesting and unlikely of these is Iran. During the Islamic Revolution of 1979, women were prohibited from attending soccer games at Tehran's 120,000-seat stadium.

But, as Foer tells it, this ban never fully took effect, with some women sneaking into the facility dressed in men's clothes. Pressed by female soccer fans, the ruling Iranian clergy issued a new fatwa in 1987 that allowed women to watch games on television, though the ban on attendance remained in place.

This compromise could not survive the jubilation that followed the Iranian national team's successful capture of a World Cup berth in 1997. The team itself was at least to some extent a participant in the liberal global order: Its coach was a Brazilian who wore a necktie, an accessory that the ruling clergy considered a European imposition. But the victory celebration and its aftermath were even more important. Foer reports that many of the younger celebrants were women, some of whom danced with uncovered heads. Further, at the official celebration at the stadium, when women were denied entrance they mounted a demonstration. Ultimately they broke through the police barriers and joined the mass victory party.

Foer compares this "football revolution" to the Boston Tea Party. He notes that the event will "go down as the moment when the people first realized that they could challenge their tyrannical rulers." As the United States looks for ways to encourage liberalism within Islam, an event such as this deserves attention.

U.S. exceptionalism is nowhere more evident than in soccer. As a commercial enterprise, soccer largely has failed here. Foer does not really offer an explanation of this failure. Rather, he contents himself with a different argument: a class analysis of the attractiveness of the sport to yuppie parents. He argues that middle-class and professional parents reject American football as too violent, baseball as too stressful and basketball as ghetto-tainted. They choose soccer because it can "minimize the pain of competition while still teaching life lessons." Maybe, but Foer does not provide enough evidence on this to be convincing.

As interesting as this book is (and very much of reads like a travelogue), I don't think the title is merited because Franklin Foer never really gets around to explaining exactly how soccer explains the world.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Book Recommendation: "Never Let me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

If you want to be captivated by Kazuo Ishiguro's new, intense, compelling but complex novel, stop here and read no furthur, however, if surprises are not your style then let me start by directing you to a review of this book by the UK Guardian.

I read this book on the weekend and I found the subject matter to be right up my alley, after all, as a student of the Life Sciences, it was part and parcel of my course in University for three whole years!

I, myself, will desist from writing a detailed review because it is impossible to do so without giving away the book's secrets. I will say however that it is the story of three people, who as children, appeared to be leading absolutely normal lives in a sort of a boarding school in England. It is only as you venture furthur into the story that you realize all is not what it seems and that there is something very different about these three individuals...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Book Review: Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

Li Cunxin in Glen Tetley's "Rite of Spring". Pic. courstesy: Mao's Last Dancer

THis is the heartwarming story of Li Cunxin(pronounced
Shwin-Sin) and his rise to fame from abject poverty through ballet.

Li Cunxin grew up on a commune in the Qindao region of northern China in the 1960s when Mao Zedong ruled the country. Under Mao's rule the peasants were so poor that starvation was a daily fact of life for them. There is one scene in the book where Cunxin describes digging rat holes in the hope of finding their peanut store. Many people on Li's commune had to eat the bark of trees to keep from starving.

But Li Cunxin's life changed dramatically the day a delegation from Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy arrived at his school searching for potential ballet students to use to furthur Mao's cultural propoganda. He was whisked away to the ballet school in Beijing, where although he got enough food to eat, the hours of practice, the living conditions and the parroting of Mao's Red Book were very tough. He was only 11 years old when he left and missed his family dreadfully.

This is what Li had to say about his school years:

"We squandered a lot of precious time on propaganda. We even stopped doing ballet classes for a few days because Mao had made a new saying and we had to study it over and over, chew it, regurgitate it - it's incredible the amount of time we wasted. And for so many years we were afraid to be seen practising our dancing rather than studying Mao's Red Book, because then people would think you were politically unbalanced".

Li was 18 years old when a cultural delegation from the US offered him a scholarship to the Houston Ballet Academy. Whilst there he realized that America was not the demon the Chinese regime made it out to be and he revelled in the freedom offered by the country. On his second trip to the US he defected (something that didn't go down very well with the Chinese govt. at all). To show their displeasure, Cunxin wasn't allowed back in to China to see his family for over 9 years.

In 1987 Li Cunxin married fellow dancer Mary McKendry, a Queenslander and in 1995, they moved to Melbourne to dance with the Australian Ballet Company. According to The Australian's dance critic Lee Christofis, Li was one of the best ballet dancers that Australia's ever had.

Li's autobiography, "Mao's Last Dancer" won the 'Book of the Year Award' in Australia. A children's version of the book has just been released. For anyone reading his memoir, his childhood in China, the culture shock of his arrival in the West - where people left restaurant tips of more than his father earned in a year - and the drama of his defection are the obvious highlights. His style of writing is simple and, structurally, I liked the way he interspersed the whole story with fables; it helped me to understand Chinese culture, values and principles better.

For more pictures of Li Cunxin, here

For an interview with Li Cunxin, here

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mark Jacobson's 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time

      Ever despaired that your teens and preteens were stuck in a cultural wasteland of TiVO, Xbox, McDonalds, Coke and MTV? Well, you're not alone. Author and columnist Mark Jacobson felt the same way about his three kids and decided to offer them an antidote in the form of a trip around the world---not to theme parks and other sites that most tourists would go oooh and aaahhh over, but to sites that would normally make one wince, like the burning ghats in Varnasi, India, the genocide museum in Cambodia and so on. Although I missed the general travel chatter and cultural observations that one usually finds in a travel memoir, I found myself enjoying his philosophical meanderings about family and its place in the world. All in all, I found it a good read and laugh-out-loud funny in places.

      Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

      A Fine Balance is a fine, fine book! Not only has Rohinton Mistry crafted a whole set of very interesting characters for this book, but also, he brings the horrors of the Emergency period alive. I was only 10 years old or so when the government of India declared a state of emergency in India and I was always aware of the adults talking in hushed tones about horrible things that were happening all around them. I am glad to have finally been able to read about the atrocities that went on during that period---dark and dismal as they no doubt were, it is important to know what went on because history forgotten can be history repeated.

      Although this is a work of fiction, it is in some way a documentary covering caste violence, exploitations of the poor, extortion, organized begging, life in city slums, forced sterilisation as a method of population control, Hindu versus Muslim clashes, and a government so corrupt and brutal with the poor it defies words.

      Back to the characters---Mistry has chosen to draw a majority of his characters from the lower middle class to the poor of India and in doing so, has shown us what poverty is and what wretched lives of toil and abuse poor people must live and yet they have the endurance to take on the next day. I just felt sorry that after building his characters up so much, he makes them all come undone at the end.

      To sum up, this novel is both a commentary on the political and social environment of the time as well as a beautiful tragedy.

      A note about the cover: It is a picture taken by Dario Mitidieri and shows a girl being balanced on a pole the other end of which rests on someone's thumb. This is a common feat among Indian street acrobats and can also be seen in some Indian circuses. There is a wonderful scene in Rohinton Mistry's book which describes the performance of one of these street acrobats, aka. Monkey Man. India's street acrobats also perform other daring, dangerous feats. Just to give you a taste, here's a small excerpt from travel writer Margaret Deefholts article "Wallahs".

      "Mumbai's street activity runs the gamut from the whimsical to the horrific, and I am catapulted from one to the other without warning. Barely a hundred metres from Laxmibai's cow, I find myself on the perimeter of a small crowd watching a family of ragged street acrobats. The father ties his baby son to a three-metre bamboo pole and while his wife beats a small drum, he walks a rope strung between two portable wooden struts, with the pole balancing on his head. The child dangles five metres above the concrete pavement. The onlookers clap and toss coins into a bowl.

      The crowd disperses and the woman discreetly breast-feeds the baby while her husband counts the take. He says something to his wife, and she laughs, smacks his shoulder, and says, "Aarey, hut ja!" ("Get on with you!") He lights a beedi and hunkers down on his haunches, his face expressionless as he stares into the middle distance. The baby wails as the mother draws him away from her breast and lays him on her lap. The father gently strokes the child's head. In another 10 minutes or so, he will once again risk his son's life for a handful of coins."


      Pic courtesy: Mary Ellen Mark (1998)

      Thursday, June 09, 2005

      Orange Prize for Fiction announces 2005 winner

      ...And the winner is, "We need to talk about Kevin" by American writer, Lionel Shriver.


      Broadcaster Jenni Murray, who chaired the judging panel, said: "We Need To Talk About Kevin is a book that acknowledges what many women worry about but never express - the fear of becoming a mother and the terror of what kind of child one might bring into the world.

      The most controversial book on the shortlist for the coveted Orange prize, open only to female authors, Shriver's novel has opened up a debate about women who resent the way in which motherhood restricts their lives.

      The author told the BBC that the brutal candour in her story of a mother who feels despair and a lack of interest in a difficult child touched a nerve with mothers who had, at some point, felt a similar way.

      An excerpt from the Daily Mail review:

      A career woman who loathes motherhood ("a son was born, and I felt nothing") and a wilful child full of disdain for his parents. These are the forces that collide at the heart of this controversial novel, which has created a storm of debate in America.

      Can a mother really despise her offspring - and what effect does that have on the child?

      Harrowing, tense and thought provoking, this is a challenge to every accepted parenting manual you've ever read.

      Wednesday, June 08, 2005

      Kira-Kira wins 2005 Newbery Award

      Kira-Kira Posted by Hello

      How the Newbery Award came to be:

      The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. On June 21, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children's Librarians' Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children's librarians, and Melcher's official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922. In Melcher's formal agreement with the board, the purpose of the Newbery Medal was stated as follows: "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

      The Newbery Award thus became the first children's book award in the world. Its terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children's book award in this country.

      "Kira-Kira," by Cynthia Kadohata, received the 2005 John Newbery Award.

      Young James Bond: Silver Fin

      Ever wanted to know what a teenage James Bond looked like? Well now you have your chance to find out. The family of Ian Fleming, creator of 007, has approved of a drawing depicting the sleuth in his schoolboy days. The young Bond is very different from the suave and sophisticated man he grows up to be. The illustration, to be used on the cover of a new set of children’s books about the schoolboy Bond, shows a lanky, adolescent James in baggy pants, sporting a mop of messy hair. Naturally, he is a dashing lad and has no acne, crooked teeth, nor any other teenage horrors. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see the faintest of resemblances to Connery, Moore and co.

      Illustration by Kev Walker

      The young Bond books are written by long time Fleming aficionado Charlie Higson. His first offering, Silver Fin, was a bestseller the instant it hit the shelves in early April. The novel portrays James as a public schoolboy at Eton. His first mission is to foil the villainous and dastardly deeds of an unsavory American classmate’s evil father. Mr Higson said the illustration of the superspy as a schoolboy greatly helped him develop the youth’s character: “The hardest thing when writing Silver Fin was picturing the young Bond in my mind…Now I know what he looks like. Young Bond and his world have really come alive.”

      Tuesday, June 07, 2005

      Movie Review: Phantom of the Opera (2004)

      Phantom of the Opera (2004) Posted by Hello

      So, finally I get to see "Phantom of the Opera" and I have to tell you that the story, the exquisite singing and the lavish sets, sent shivers down my spine! The Phantom of the Opera (which I will call POTO from now) was based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage production which in turn is based on M.Gaston Leroux's novel, "L'Fantome de L'opera", which he wrote after being inspired by Le Place de La opera and roaming its lower depths, labyrinths and subterranean lake.

      The plot is this: a disfigured young man is rescued from a travelling circus for freaks and is given refuge in an opera in Paris in 1870. As he grows up, the Paris Opera House becomes his playground (he lives in catacombs beneath the opera house) and he becomes a genius at writing musical scores. His attention is captured by one of the chorus girls (Christine) in the opera and he takes it upon himself to give her voice lessons without revealing himself (the girl thinks that it is the spirit of her dead father who is her angel of music). When the Christine falls in love, the Phantom cannot handle the jealousy he feels and sets about causing devastation to the opera house and to everyone assoicated with it.

      Gerard Butler a young actor from Glasgow acts the part of the Phantom and although his voice cannot hold a candle to Michael Crawford (the actor who played the Phantom in the original Broadway play), he has the right amount of passion, brooding, anger and intensity that one comes to associate with the Phantom.

      Emmy Rossum (Jake Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend in The Day After Tomorrow) and a young opera star plays Christine Daae and she does a great job. Her ethereal beauty and her beautiful singing voice are prefect for the role of Christine. The biggest surprise was Minnie Driver who was cast as Carlotta, the opera's reigning diva. I think Minnie Driver brought a whole lot of comic relief to the movie and she was wonderful at playing the spoiled Italian prima donna! While the rest of the cast did their own singing, Carlotta's arias were dubbed by a professional opera singer, however, you can hear Minnie Driver's singing over the credits. She has recently made a new album (country style) called, "Everything I've got in my Pocket".

      POTO was directed by Joel Schumaker. He was personally picked by Andrew Llyod Webber for this job and I think he comes through for the project admirably.

      In closing, IF YOU LIKED... Madame Butterfly, Evita, Cabaret... YOU’LL LIKE THIS.