Sunday, April 27, 2014

Murder in Mississippi

When John Saffran was in the United States recording the television series Race Relations he interviewed Richard Barrett, a white supremacist. As part of the episode Saffran decided to obtain a sample of saliva from Barrett to have a DNA test made to determine whether Barrett had any coloured heritage. Needless to say Barrett was not amused when he discovered the prank and withdrew permission for the show to be broadcast. This should have been the end of the story but when Barrett was murdered a year later Safran decided to return to the United States to follow the court case and try to determine and record what really happened and why. Saffran takes us into another world very different from Australia. The characters he encounters are generally not pleasant people but Saffran's wierd slant on life makes this generally a readable true crime book. As there is a long waiting list for the book at the library I skimmed through the second part of the book but I may have another look at it when the demand for the book dies down.

Behind the sofa: celebrity memories of Doctor Who

As part of the celebrations of 50 years since the airing on British television of the first episode of Doctor Who in November 1963, the early memories of viewing this series of programs by authors, actors, directors, comedians and people who worked on the shows have been recorded in this book. One hundred and sixty-nine contributions were made to this project which also serves as a fund-raising exercise for Alzheimer's Research UK. Each short contribution provides another aspect of the experience of watching Doctor Who, either the early series or the new version of the program, which has became an institution in many countries of the world, not just the UK. A number of the contributors make special mention of the following of the show in Australia. A book to pick up and dip into for Doctor Who fans everywhere.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The search for Richard III the King's grave

Another book about the recent discovery of the body of King Richard III beneath a Leicester car-park. This one is written by Philippa Langley, screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society, and historian, Michael Jones. In alternating chapters the story of the discovery of the body and subsequent identification is interwoven with an account of the life and times of Richard III, including later depictions of his character by the Tudors and other non-admirers. Photographs and maps add to the story. The book provides a readable account of events that occurred in the fifteenth century. The recent discovery of the King's grave has provided additional information about the events and the man himself.

Fear in the Sunlight

On an episode of Flog It earlier this year, Paul Martin visited Portmeirion a village built on the Welsh north coat by architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, between 1925 and 1975. The main setting for most of this Nicola Upson novel is Portmeirion in the year 1936. Although the village was incomplete guests stayed at the hotel during the summer and during the day tourists also paid to visit the village, making it a busy place in the warmer months of the year.

As usual, the author includes real people in her work of fiction. Josephine Tey and her friends arrange to spend a few days at Portmeirion to celebrate her 40th birthday. Also staying at the resort was Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma, plus a party of their guests from the world of film. When the bodies of two of the guests are found murdered along with a probable suicide Josephine's friend, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, carries out the initial investigation until the local police arrive. The complicated relationships between many of the guests and their connections with the local area are revealed as the investigation proceeds. A crime story with many twists and turns, involving the world of show business set in an exotic location and told by a gifted writer make this novel well worth reading.

For those interested in Portmeirion there are a number of films on YouTube including one by Jools Holland.

The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri has written a novel about immigration - demonstrating the variety of reactions to the difficulties faced when trying to live in a different culture. When Ashima and Ashoke leave their families in India to settle in America, Ashima finds it difficult to feel comfortable in her new country while Ashobe, with his work to occupy much of his time, has fewer problems. Gradually they build up a support group of other Bengali families living in America with whom to celebrate special events that would normally be shared with family. They also return to Calcutta every few years to maintain their ties with family in India. However their two children, Gogol and Sonia, who are born and educated in America, find the trips back to India confronting.

Much of the novel revolves around the experiences of Gogol, later Nikhil, as he struggles to live in two cultures and also discover who he really is and what he wants from his life. Perhaps this summed up towards the end of the book:
He had spent years maintaining distance from his origins; his parents, in bridging, that distance as best they could. And yet, for all his aloofness toward his family in the past, his years at college and then in New York, he has always hovered close to this quiet, ordinary town that had remained, for his mother and father, stubbornly exotic. (page 281)

This beautifully written book also looks at the importance of names when establishing our own identity. Although the book is set in the United States and India the situations explored could also apply to immigrant groups living in Australia or any other country.