Friday, September 28, 2007

The Solitude of Emperors by David Davidar and The 2007 Nuit Blanche in Toronto, Word On The Street!

Category: Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 256 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Pub Date: September 4, 2007
Price: $32.99

With a title like "The Solitude of Emperors" and a publisher's blurb that went like this:
David Davidar’s unflinching novel is set among the Bombay riots of the 1990s. The Solitude of Emperors is about what drives fundamentalist beliefs and what makes someone driven, bold or mad enough to make a stand, I was expecting something grand, something larger than life from David Davidar's new book and although it fell somewhat short of my expectations, I was glad to have stuck with it until the end because it's the kind of book that rewards you

Before I go any further, here's a short history about the 1992-93 communal riots which provides the backdrop against which this story is played out (courtesy of the Guardian (UK)):

On December 6, 1992, Hindu fundamentalists pulled down a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, a town in Uttar Pradesh, and reclaimed the site as the birthplace of the god Ram. The communal riots that followed spread to other parts of India, with the most violent, and organized, taking place hundreds of miles south in Bombay

Vijay, our raconteur is eager to escape the caste biases of his small unnamed town in South India. After a chance letter to the magazine "The Indian Secularist" lands him a job in Bombay, he becomes a journalist and is rendered a spectator to the 1992-93 communal riots (in which he gets beaten up) after which we see him spiraling into a depression of sorts. The reason for his despondency? The sad state of secularism in India and the apathy of the public who seem wont to do anything about communal violence. By the way, Davidar is unflinching in his descriptions of the rioters and the cruelty and brutality they unleash upon their fellow Mumbaikars.
"...the left eyeball had been gouged out of its socket and the right eyeball had been slashed by a knife, and was cloudy and occluded by blood. The injuries hadn't killed him; below the chin, there was a surgically clean cut that had finally extinguished his life"

Seeing that his protege is depressed the kindly Parsi boss (Mr. Sorabjee) at the newspaper decides that a change of scene might do Vijay good and sends him to the blue hills of the Nilgiris to a town called Meham to report on some trouble brewing at a place of Christian worship called "Tower of Silence". Sorabjee also requests Vijay to read the manuscript of a textbook he (Sorabjee) has written for young students of history. Its title is "The Solitude of Emperors: Why Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi Matter to Us" and in writing this textbook Sorabjee's goal is to acquaint and arm India's youth with the wisdom and values of their older and wiser rulers, especially in matters of religious tolerance. The use of this manuscript is a clever narrative ploy because it allows Davidar to write a polemic about religious fundamentalism and tolerance without seeming like he is preaching to his readers.

In Meham, Vijay discovers that there are plans being made to attack the shrine in a manner similar to Ayodhya by Rajan a local businessman, rightwing Hindu and a political activist. It is at this point you see Vijay make the transition from passive onlooker or reporter to activist, but does he succeed?

This sounds like a very engaging book doesn't it? So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I expected to? I think it's because the narrator lacked spirit and that seemed to drag the narrative down. I'm glad I didn't give up on it however because Davidar addresses some very important issues that I think are very relevant everywhere in the world today:

# The misuse of religion in politics

#The misinterpretation of religion to suit one's agenda

# Fundamentalism vs. Secularism

# Should a journalist ever get emotionally involved in an assisgnment he is sent to cover?

I laud Davidar for writing this book which I see essentially as a critique on contemporary India. For too long Indo-Anglian writers of fiction have focused on exotic India and few have taken on the challenge of writing about the problems facing the country today (exceptions are Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss", Altaf Tyrewala's "There is No God, Salman Rushie's "Shalimar"). I am thrilled to see David Davidar do the same.

About this Author

David Davidar is president and publisher of Penguin Canada and also a director on the board of Penguin India, of which he was a founding member. Davidar’s first novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, was published in sixteen countries and was an international bestseller.


Sep 29th, Toronto's "Nuit Blanche"

7:03 pm to sunrise

For one sleepless night, we Torontonians will get to experience Toronto transformed by artists. We are being asked to discover art in galleries, museums, alleyways and demolition sites to churches and squash courts....and in some other 195 destinations. One night only. All night long!!!

I really,really want to go! Museums, Art Galleries, Churches, Theatres, educational institutions, sports centers, you name it, are going to be open all night long! Anybody going?

(Toronto's Hotel Drake advertising their participation in Nuit Blanche)

(Toronto's night sky at last year's Nuit Blanche)

Then on Sunday, Sep 30th we have Toronto's THE WORD ON THE STREET.

This year's authors include:

Craig and Marc Kielburger
Vincent Lam
Kenneth Oppel
Melanie Watt
Richard B. Wright
M.G. Vassanji
David Suzuki

I really would love to go but at this point I am not sure I can. Cereal Girl and Nix are going so check their blogs for updates.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Saffron Revolution

A Buddhist monk holds an alms bowl upside-down as a symbol of protest.

pic courtesy: Reuters
As I type this perhaps Burma or Myanmar (as it is now known) is getting ready for its ninth day of street demonstrations against the junta or military government of Burma.

Yesterday (25 Sept) some 30, 000 Burmese monks took to the streets of Rangoon where they were joined by 70,000 supporters as well as 100 Burmese nuns. The monks were armed simply with their begging bowls, some flags,banners and little else. This Gandhian-like protest has been dubbed "The Saffron Revolution" and despite warnings from the Junta that force could be used to end the biggest anti-government protests in 20 years, the Buddhist monks defiantly carried on with their non-violent protest.

I am so rooting for the monks. In this age of terrorism, guns, suicide bombers and other extremely violent ways of putting one's point across, these monks with their begging bowls paint a quaint, almost mythical picture. I so want their non-violent protests for democracy to succeed.

My grandmother hails from Burma (she and her family fled to India in 1942 when the Japanese invaded Burma). I wish I had thought to ask her more about the country she grew up in, perhaps I will get the chance to record her memories when I visit her in India next year. Until then I would like to read more about this country and its people. Can anyone recommend any Burmese writers or any books on or about Burma? Would be grateful for any suggestions, thanks!

UPDATE: Many thanks for the very welcome book suggestions, with your help I've compiled a tiny reading list of Burma-related books:

The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U (History, Non-fiction)

2. From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe
(thanks, Sanjay and Happy Reader)

3. Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin (Thanks, Sanjay)

4. The Glass Palace: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh (Thanks, Nix)

5. The Lizard's Cage by Karen Connelly (Thanks, Sharif)

Land of a Thousand Eyes: The Subtle Pleasures of Everyday Life in Myanmar by Peter Olszewski

7. Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi (Thanks, Happy Reader)

8. The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II by Donavan Webster (Thanks, Melissa)

9. Burmese Days: A Novel by George Orwell (Thanks, A Reader from India)

10. Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi (Inwa) (Nominated for the 2007 Asian Man Booker Prize)

The Voice of Hope by Aung San Suu Kyi (thanks, Holly Dolly)

12. Under the Dragon: Travels in Burma by Rory MacLean (Thanks, Bint Battuta)

13.Last of the Guardians by David Donnison (Thanks, Yuva)

14. The Coffin Tree by Wendy Law-Yone

15. Irrawaddy Tango by Wendy Law-Yone

16.Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess by Inge Sargent

Sunday, September 23, 2007

English, Indian style

Indian- English

(culled from the Globe and Mail and The Daily Telegraph)

"Binoo John, a 50-year-old Indian journalist, has compiled a collection of expressions found in Indian English. His book's title, Entry From Backside Only refers to a phrase commonly used on signposts to indicate the rear entrance of a building.

Mr. John was inspired by years of reading Indian newspaper reports of politicians "air-dashing" to a destination, "issueless" couples (those without children) and people "preponing" (bringing forward meetings). Such phrases are entrenched.

In India, a driver, when asked what he does, may refer to his occupation as "drivery." Housemaids on their way to buy vegetables say they are going "marketing." Receptionists ask "What is your good name?" before informing them that the boss has gone "out of station" (out of town) with his "cousin-brother" (male cousin). A government official urged farmers in Rajasthan to grow "herbs in their backsides" (backyards).

English is finally being claimed by Indians as their own, instead of a relic of the Raj."

According to John, "...economic prosperity has changed attitudes towards Indian English. Having jobs and incomes, and being noticed by the rest of the world, have made Indians confident, and the same confidence has attached itself to their English."

While I have never used the term to "grow herbs in one's backside", I have to confess to being quite partial to using the word "prepone". It does sound so much more efficient than "bring forward to", right? I also use, on occasion, the phrase "love marriage" which simply refers to a marriage that has not been arranged by one's parents. Another favorite expression of mine and many other Indians, is "pindrop silence". Infact I was using it quite happily in my conversations with Canadians until my children pointed out that the term is not common parlance here.

Indian-English is a sub-genre that has taken on a life of its own, the phraseology might not always make sense to a speaker of English in the west, but it will delight and entertain you! It even has its own dictionary these days:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

And the winner of Richard B. Wright's "October" is....

..........Nancy of Bookfoolery and Babble! Congratulations Nancy, "October" which has been named to the Giller Prize longlist will soon be on it way to you. You are receiving it courtesy Harper Collins, Canada.

Enjoy the read!

Also want to say a big thank you to everyone that participated in the drawing. There'll be more so stay tuned!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Vegemite Vindaloo by David McMahon and win a copy of Richard B. Wright's Giller Nominated "October"

Published by Penguin Books India
Published: March 2006

Pages: 336
Classification: Fiction/Immigration

I have read a lot of East-Indian fiction and through those books I have been introduced to some delightful characters from the various different communities of India, but one community that remains elusive in Indian fiction is the Anglo-Indian community, so when I saw David McMahon's book "Vegemite Vindaloo" which features an Anglo-Indian family , I knew I just had to read it! Before I go on to give you a synopsis of the story perhaps I should tell you who the Anglo-Indians are:

The term "Anglo-Indian" is commonly used to describe people who have mixed Indian and English ancestry (not to be confused with Indo-Anglians an adjective applied to literature in English produced by Indian authors.)
When Britain ruled India they imposed a hierarchical racial order, one that favored people with European heritage and lighter skin, so the Anglo-Indian community (with their fair skin, English manners and education) did very well for themselves during the British Raj. When the British left India in 1947, many Anglo-Indians followed suit (most went to Britain but many also left for Canada and Australia), the ones that were left behind felt out of place in the new nationalistic India because they were more aligned with a western way of life, and over the years they have learned to embrace local customs and traditions. However, Anglo-Indians continue to immigrate to the west and their numbers in India have dwindled over time.

David McMahon's entertaining first novel "Vegemite Vindaloo" chronicles the immigration to Australia of one such Anglo-Indian family. Steve and Hilary Cooper are a well-to-do couple living in Calcutta with their son Clive. When they decide to make the move to Australia, in an altruistic gesture they legally adopt, Azam, their house help's son so that he can avail of the opportunity for a better life. Anyone familiar with the caste system in India will be aware that such a thing is almost unheard of. Adopting kids is fine, but most Indians would draw the line at adopting a maid's child (because maids are much lower down on the hierarchical ladder) Despite the odds, the Coopers persist with the adoption and their dream of a better life in Australia is realized.

While a chunk of the story revolves around the Cooper family, they are just 4 people in an ensemble of very fine characters in David McMahon's story. Also blended in is the story of Ismael (Azam's father) who had to run away from his village in Bihar after he stole money
to buy medicine for his sickly son and due to a lack of funds was forced to become a pavement dweller on Calcutta's busy and dirty streets until in a happy synchronicity, he meets Steve who employs Ismael and his wife to work in the Cooper house.

David McMahon is a very fine storyteller and although Steve Cooper struck me as a little naive and his wife Hilary a little vain, I would say David crafts some delightful and interesting characters... what makes the story really moving is that he places them in situations that make it necessary for them to abandon all that is familiar to them and to courageously take on the challenges of a brand new world.

This book held many charms for me. As I have mentioned before, I loved the story and the characters, I loved learning about Calcutta a city I know so little about, the cultural assimilation of the Cooper family in Australia, but best of all I loved learning about the Anglo-Indians and their way of life. So, if, like me, you love discovering another culture with its different rhythms, tastes, smells, lingo and ways of being human, allow the Coopers and friends to be your guide.

David is a Melbourne-based journalist who's as adept with images as he is with words. Check out some of his photographs at:


The Scotiabank Giller Prize long list was announced today. I'm thrilled to see that Michael Ondaatje ("Dividsadero"), M.G. Vassanji ("The Assassin's Song") and Richard B. Wright"October" are among the authors that have made it to the list.

In addition to Ondaatje, Vassanji and Wright, the authors on this year's longlist are:

I have a copy of Richard B. Wright's "October" (courtesy Harper Collins, Canada) to give away, so if you are interested and if you think you can read and write up a review for it before Oct 30th, please leave me a comment, thanks! The draw is on Thursday. Next week I might have another book by a Giller Prize nominee to give away so please stay tuned!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Some recent acquisitions...

Here is a list of some books I acquired recently! I definitely plan on reading them all but because of a lack of time may not post reviews for each and every one of them.

1.Sword and Blossom by Peter Pagnamenta and Momoko Williams
(Penguin, USA)

A real-life Madame Butterfly. The tragic love story of an aristocratic British officer and a young Japanese woman, played out against the turmoil of the early twentieth century.

Recommended by the delightful Jenclair who always points me to the most wonderful books, thanks!

2.The Solitude of Emperors is a stunningly perceptive novel about modern India, about what drives fundamentalist beliefs, and what makes someone driven, bold, or mad enough to make a stand.

I saw this book on the Random House site and knew right away I had to read it!

3."Season of Migration to the North" by Tayeb Salihموسم الهجرة إلى الشمال

Not too long ago the Guardian (UK) ran a piece titled "How Did We Miss These?" where 50 celebrated writers were asked to nominate brilliant but underrated novels that deserve a second chance to shine. There were some absolutely awesome suggestions of which I picked "Season of Migration to the North" (1966) by Tayeb Salih.

Poodlerat has this on her TBR list and I look forward to her review especially as she is doing a course on African Literature this year.

A Sudanese student returns to his village after many years in London and discovers a predecessor, Mustafa Sa'eed, who is hiding a disturbing English past. A short, powerful book, it explores the violence of misperception in culture, tradition and sexuality with tremendous poetic force

4.The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal

A young Indian bride flees her marriage after overhearing her husband and mother-in-law plot her murder.

I bought this book after seeing it mentioned on the desilit newsletter.

5.In "Where War Lives" a Pulitzer Prize — winning journalist (Paul Watson) takes us on a personal and historic journey from Mogadishu through Rwanda to Afghanistan and Iraq.

I get many of my non-fiction recommendations from Sanjay of Karmically Speaking, this is another great one, thanks, Sanjay!

6."King of Bollywood is the all-singing, all-dancing back stage pass to Bollywood. Anupama Chopra chronicles the political and cultural story of India with finesse and insight, through fly-on-wall access to one of its biggest, most charming and charismatic stars." -- Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend it Like Beckham

Comes recommended by Deepika Shetty of the wonderful and enlightening blog, Read@Peace. Deepika's blog is one of my favorite blogs for book news and views (especially South-East Asia). She also works closely with book/writer festivals taking place in the region and is usually one of the first to showcase writers from that area. I look forward to her every post. Look out for Deepika's posts on the Ubud Writer's Festival towards the end of the month.

7.Indian Summer depicts the epic sweep of events that ripped apart the greatest empire the world has ever seen, and saw one million people killed and ten million dispossessed. It reveals the secrets of the most powerful players on the world stage: the Cold War conspiracies, the private deals, and the intense and clandestine love affair between the wife of the last viceroy and the first prime minister of free India.

Saw so many brilliant reviews for this book I knew I just had to get it . Also saw this on Jenclair's wish list.

8.The Zookeeper's Wife is about one of the most successful hideouts of World War II. It's a tale of people, animals, transcendence, and subversive acts of compassion.

Another one suggested by Sanjay of Karmically Speaking, thanks !

8.Badlands by Tony Wheeler

"Badlands" is Tony Wheeler's personal account of his experiences in some of the most repressed and dangerous regimes in the world. He selected these 'Bad Lands' based on a simple criteria - how each country treats its own citizens, if it is involved in terrorism and if it is a threat to other countries. He examines nine countries - Afghanistan, Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia - in an incisive political and social commentary that asks 'what makes a country truly evil?

Recently Radio Australia featured an abridged reading of this book on a program called "First Person". From what I can see, this is a must-read for anyone interested in current affairs and world geography/history.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Man Who Forgot How To Read Howard Engel

Publisher: Harper Collins Canada (Aug 9 2007)

Format: Hardcover; pages: 157

Price: $29.95

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Afterword by Oliver Sacks

Click HERE to view how print looked to Howard Engel's eyes

I was at the book store browsing the other evening, when a book with this title "Man Who Forgot How to Read" caught my eye. It got my attention because when my father had a stroke and lost his ability to read we would jokingly tell people that he had declared a moratorium on reading (he was embarrassed to admit he could no longer read). So naturally I was curious to know what the book was about.

From the jacket sleeve:

One hot mid-summer morning in Toronto, bestselling crime novelist Howard Engel got up to fetch his morning paper and discovered he could no longer read it. The letters had mysteriously jumbled themselves into something that looked like Cyrillic one moment and Korean the next. “Was this a Serbo-Croatian version of The Globe?” he wondered.

I stood riveted to the spot because this was similar to how my father discovered he had lost the ability to decipher print. I knew then I just had to get the book and I am so glad I did!

After Howard Engel (
author of 12 best-selling mystery novels featuring his beloved detective, Benny Cooperman) realized that he couldn't make out the printed word that summer morning in 2001, he took himself off to the Emergency Room of his local hospital where the doctors diagnosed his condition as "alexia sine agraphia" (which came about owing to a stroke that he had suffered). A person with alexia can write without difficulty but will no longer be able to read what he writes. This was almost impossible for Engels to accept, after all, he had always been a reader, his brain was hard-wired to read "...I could no more stop reading than I could stop my heart. Reading was bone and marrow, lymph and blood to me", besides, he made his living writing, if he couldn't read what he wrote, how would he make his living?

There were other symptoms too, a lack of clarity for instance. He couldn't tell what day of the week or month it was; familiar objects like apples and oranges suddenly started to look strange and unfamiliar, "...My confusions were ingenious: they ranged from not recognizing the names of familiar streets or the well-known titles of books by certain authors to not knowing whether I lived on College Street with my first wife or my second"

Yet through all of that, Engel didn't allow himself to panic. Once he was admitted to Rehab, with help from his therapists he slowly learned to decipher the street names in his neighborhood, the grocery aisles and headlines of his beloved newspapers. Anyone who has ever suffered from this condition and who has had to learn to read again will tell you that it's a very frustrating, very laborious exercise, yet, Engel stuck with it and with grit and determination taught himself how to read again.

The reason for Engel's success, I believe, is that he didn't allow himself any self pity. He accepted the condition, learned all he could about it and then went all out to overcome it.

There are several reasons to be grateful for Engel's memoir:

It is inspiring, informative, insightful and will encourage you to take a similar attitude when faced with an uphill battle.
Oliver Sacks, (eminent neurologist and author of some fascinating books, "The Island of the ColorBlind","Awakenings", etc.) who wrote the afterword, says of Howard Engel, "this is not only a story as fascinating as one of his own detective novels but a testament to the resilience and creative adaptation of one man and his brain.” Also, when articulate people like Engel put their experiences down on paper it helps scientists decode the mystery of the literate brain, thereby doing all of us a great service.

For me, personally, I enjoyed the memoir because Engel's wonderful descriptions of what he felt and saw through it all, helped me realize what my own father went through. Sadly, when my father had his stroke, along with developing alexia, he also lost his speech and was never able to explain to us the confusion he was feeling or seeing.

Finally, Engel's memoir is a great testament to the success of the Canadian health services. The pages where Engel describes all the therapy and rehabilitation the therapists put him through make you believe we have a system that works and we have good reason to be proud of it.

Today Engel can read but with extreme difficulty. Where he used to whiz through six books a week, it now takes him a month or more to finish one. But he reads and that is the most important thing, isn't it?

Other conditions that can occur when the wiring of the brain goes awry: (courtesy Kurt Kleiner of the Globe and Mail)

  • Agraphia : The mirror image of Alexia, this condition results in the inability to write while leaving reading fluency intact.
  • Associative Aphasia : People with this condition speak fluently and understand what is being said to them, but can repeat back a sentence without making errors such as mixing up sounds or substituting incorrect words.
  • Visual Agnosia: As described in Oliver Sack's "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat", people with this condition can see and describe an object in detail, but are unable to recognize what it is.
  • Korsakoff's Syndrome : This syndrome affects the capacity to form new memories. Although intelligence and old memories are unaffected, the sufferer is unable to lay down new memories - remembering things that happened 20 years ago, but not 20 mins ago.
  • Prosopagnosia: This condition leaves people unable to recognize faces, even those of family members and long-time friends. It is usually caused by damage to a brain area called the fusiform gyrus.
  • Capgras Delusion : People with this syndrome recognize the face of loved ones, but are convinced they have been replaced by imposters. reports suggest that actor and comic Tony Rosato - charged with criminally harassing his wife - may suffer from this condition,
**UPDATE** This post was named "Post of the Day" by David McMahon of Authorblog, thank you David, I am so happy this post touched so many people!

Jane Eyre on BBC Radio 7

Fans of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" listen up! This delightful classic and gothic romance will be dramatized for the radio in four parts:

Jane, the Child

Jane, the Governess

Jane, the Fugitive

Jane, the Wife

Where: BBC Radio 7

When: Tuesday Sep11- Friday Sep 14

I'll be tuning in for sure! You can listen to it live online or from the archives (the BBC usually keeps the archives for about a week after the program is first aired)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival 2007 (TIFF) (Sep 6-15)

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is my favorite time of year, no, not because it's wine tasting season in the Niagara, nor is it because my kids go back to school (finally!), it's because it's time for the 32nd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Many of the films will be world premieres, including Jonathan Demme's Man From Plains, a documentary about Carter's peace agenda in the years since he was U.S. president. Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter will be present at the screening. The Carters are also the fully engaged subjects of Everything to Gain: A Conversation with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, which will be moderated by TVO's Allan Gregg. But the world premiers do not interest me as much as those movies adapted for the screen from bestselling novels. There are plenty here this time, but the ones that caught my fancy are as follows:
(the pictures and write-ups are courtesy of the TIFF website)

1.The Brick Lane
Sarah Gavron
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2007

It was one of the most celebrated British novels in years, and it opened a window on a community that lives in plain sight but is seldom understood by outsiders. Now Monica Ali’s Brick Lane has been brought to the big screen in an adaptation as insightful and moving as the story was on the page.

In the film’s breathtaking opening scenes, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) recalls her childhood in Bangladesh. Her village had an idyllic beauty, but its oppressive social landscape sent her mother to seek her own death. Nazneen is married off to a man she has never met and flown to London’s Brick Lane neighborhood to meet her new husband...

2.Fugitive Pieces

Jeremy Podeswa

Country: Canada/Greece Year: 2007

Lyrical and complex, Fugitive Pieces builds into a breathtaking mosaic as fragments of the past and present reveal the inner depths of a writer who cannot let go of the ghosts that haunt him. Acclaimed director Jeremy Podeswa powerfully fulfills the poetic intelligence of Anne Michaels’s beloved novel. He brings lush visuals and a sensual approach to Michaels’s beautifully vivid imagery, which earned her the prestigious Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 1997. Rarely have a filmmaker and a novelist been so perfectly matched as in this landmark collaboration between two formidable Canadian talents – or rather, three. Fugitive Pieces also bears the distinction of being the tenth film by acclaimed Canadian producer Robert Lantos to open the Festival.

3.The Jane Austen Book Club
Robin Swicord

Country: USA
Year: 2007

Book clubs are everywhere these days, captivating readers with the imagined lives and loves of ages past. Little wonder, then, that Jane Austen so completely entrances a modern group of friends in the sparklingly witty The Jane Austen Book Club. In the almost two hundred years since her death, Austen has become more popular than she was during her lifetime. Her indelible characters – such as Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse – stand among the most memorable women in English literature. Austen perfected the romantic comedy and continues to be beloved by readers of all ages and nationalities.

So when director Robin Swicord transports Austen’s enduring stories to the sprawling, congested urban setting of Sacramento, California, the leap in time and place seems perfectly apt. Based on the best-selling novel by Karen Joy Fowler, this joyous film portrays six present-day friends who converge at an “all Jane Austen all the time” book club to devour Austen’s six novels.

4.The World Unseen:Shamim Sarif

Country: United Kingdom/South Africa
Year: 2007

Free-spirited Amina (Sheetal Sheth) and the married Miriam (Lisa Ray) fall in love in the 1950's apartheid South Africa and set in motion a chain of events that changes both women forever. THE WORLD UNSEEN, is a captivating drama, based on a highly acclaimed awarding-winning novel of the same title by director Shamim Sarif.


Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi

Country: France
Year: 2007

Persepolis is the much-anticipated animated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed series of autobiographical graphic novels. Satrapi’s darkly humorous take on her experiences as a spirited young Muslim woman coming of age in Tehran – during the rule of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution and the gruelling Iran-Iraq War – makes for a bracingly original story.


Joe Wright

Country: United KingdomYear: 2007

Adaptations of favored novels are never an easy task. However, Ian McEwan’s bestselling and critically praised Atonement has been brought to the screen by the duo of director Joe Wright (whose Pride and Prejudice was a Gala presentation in 2005) and playwright Christopher Hampton (best known for Les Liaisons dangereuses) with great success. Fully mining the emotional terrain of the novel, the film also effectively visualizes both pre-and post-war British society, as well as the harrowing events of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, a key element of the book. Hampton has also managed to find a structure in which to contain McEwan’s extraordinary story of a young girl’s indiscretion, which rips apart many lives and ultimately scars her own.

7.No Country for Old Men:

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Country: USA
Year: 2007

A masterful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling novel, No Country for Old Men is the Coen Brothers’ finest film since Fargo. McCarthy’s elegiac prose might seem an odd match for the Coens’ smart-ass slickness, but the filmmakers rise to the challenge, turning this tale of a seething psycho killer (Javier Bardem, sporting a comical pageboy do), a world-weary sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) and a drug deal gone bad into thrilling, perfectly calibrated cinema.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The "Murder, He Wrote" Trial

In 2003, Polish crime author Krystian Bala became so obsessed with the murder case of a Polish businessman that he wrote "Amok", a best-selling novel that described the grisly murder of a Polish ad executive. Now some four years after the novel was published authorities say some of the details in the book are eerily similar to those of the actual crime . Apparently, in his thriller "Amok", Bala describes a murder whose gruesome details match precisely the torture and murder of Dariusz J, including many details which were not released to the press and could be known only to the police... or murderer. As a result, they have charged Bala with the crime. A perfect case of art imitating life, er, death,wouldn't you say?

Bala has vigorously denied having any inside knowledge of the murder, he maintains he was inspired to write the novel after reading numerous
press reports on the murder. He insists he has been framed to cover up for what he described as a “bungled” police investigation.

Upon further investigation it has been revealed that the dead businessman was known to Krystian Bala's ex-wife. So did Bala commit a crime of revenge? But even if he did, why was he prompted to write about it? Isn't that a dead giveaway? Also, would it be amoral to buy a copy of his book (please note, the evidence against the writer is thin). Prosecutors have demanded a 25-year sentence for him, a verdict is expected to be announced sometime today.

This weird story was making news all over Poland when we vacationed there mid-August.

UPDATE*** Violainvilnius kindly let me know that Kyrstian Bala has been convicted. Please go here to read the full story.

And here's the article from the Guardian (UK). Thanks, Sanjay!