Monday 7 February 2011

Shadow Tag, Samsara and Beauty's Gift

Click HERE
to buy a copy of Shadow Tag
by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich is, without a doubt, a magical writer. She weaves words into images and emotions as exquisitely as her Native-American ancestors wove colourful tales into their blankets.

Unfortunately, ‘Shadow Tag’ has a dark edge that’s not to my taste. When I think of ‘The Painted Drum’, ‘The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No-Horse’ or ‘The Master Butcher’s Singing Club’, I remember stories that wrung my emotions but left me with a sense of hope; a sliver of illumination that highlighted the essential strength and courage of her characters despite their very human flaws.

In ‘Shadow Tag’, a story about a disintegrating marriage, the love/hate relationship between Gil (an artistic genius)and Irene (his wife and model) has too dark an edge. Irene has a spitefulness that I disliked, but Gil was by no means her innocent victim. Emotionally stunted, his art his only real passion, Gil was only slightly more sympathetic than Irene.

I finished this book compulsively, as I do all Erdrich’s books, simply because her adroit use of words, her evocative imagery and the raw emotion of her characters makes for compulsive reading. But a melancholy has lingered in my heart, because ‘Shadow Tag’ is an unrelentingly grim story.   

Click HERE
to buy a copy of Samsara
A Pan Nalin film starring Shawn Ku & Christy Chung

Samsara, the continuous flow of life, where there is no beginning and no ending.

'Samsara', a movie about a young Tibetan monk, Tashi, brilliantly and sensitively acted by Shawn Ku. His story begins with his return to the monastic life after three years in solitary meditation. Having won the admiration of his Buddhist community, he is faced with a new challenge: his sexual desires. But how can he renounce that which he has never had the chance to experience? Even Buddha, he implores his mentor, lived a full life before his enlightenment.

But, despite marriage to the beautiful and strong Pema, superbly acted by the beautiful Christy Chung, Tashi remains unable to master his desires and, despite his successes in the material world, remains unfulfilled and victim to his sexuality.

An elegant portrayal of one man’s search for fulfilment, 'Samsara' grips one with a subtle fist. Dialogue is sparse. Stillness pervades this movie; it flows with a gentle inevitability that reflects the ever-turning wheel of life itself, and yet the superb acting skills effectively communicate the depth of passions and the range of emotions that constantly drive humanity. There are some exquisite (and fairly explicit) love scenes, enhanced by a magical score. With the original Tibetan soundtrack and excellent English sub-titles, this colourful movie is a feast for the senses, and for the soul.

Replace the towering backdrop of the magnificent Himalayas with skyscrapers, and exchange the coarsely woven clothes with jeans and sweatshirts, and 'Samsara' will still tell a universal story of love and desire, and how they affect us all for good or ill.

Ultimately, Tashi has to decide which is better: to satisfy one thousand desires, or to conquer just one. And so his never-ending quest for enlightenment flows back to the beginning…

Click HERE
to buy a copy of Beauty's Gift
by Sindiwe Magona 

I bought this book with some trepidation, as I'm more concerned with animal rights. But, as I like to support local authors, I added it to my basket.

The FFF used to consist of Five Friends: Edith, Cordelia, Amanda, Doris and Beauty. But then Beauty passes away suddenly. Aids has claimed another victim. On her deathbed, she extracts a promise from Amanda. Ukuhle, she begs of Amanda. May you live a long life, and may you become old.

Because Beauty’s premature death was as a result of her unfaithful husband, the remaining friends all swear an oath: they won't have unprotected sex – not even with their husbands – and they will find out their own HIV status as well as that of their husbands/partners. This oath has surprising consequences.

Aids and its impact on African life is clearly a dominating theme. But this book offers so much more than that. It challenges oppression that masquerades as tradition and irresponsibility that hides behind love.

While dealing with a predominantly (but not exclusively) African problem, Magona points a delightfully irreverent finger at our prolific and polygamous President. In a gentle but strong - almost motherly - way she gives a masterly indictment of the predisposition of some African males to infidelity, promiscuity and reckless negligence towards the women who love them.

But she is clear-headed enough to also condemn the women who, in this time of Aids, passively accept this state of affairs (excuse the pun) because of ‘tradition’. Encouragingly, there are also characters – too few of them, the FFF’s lament – like Amanda’s brother PP, who are the best of what an African man can be. There is also the sympathetic portrayal of Selby, Doris’s fiancĂ©, a good man who struggles with the transition from traditional sexual mores to a more modern, and responsible, attitude.

In an easy-to-read style, with touches of humour and deep poignancy, Magona has produced a novel that is about the evolution of the African soul towards a new kind of freedom; one in which both sexes take responsibility for their lives in an effort to curb a new and dangerous enemy: Aids.

As the remaining friends face challenges to their beliefs, and their relationships are tested and sometimes found wanting, a core message shines through: use your freedom responsibly.

‘Beauty’s Gift’ is a gift to all women, for it shows how a women’s strength and gentleness can be combined to effect changes in a world that is often violent and, even more often, lonely. But the FFF’s have each other and, in their unity, lies their salvation.

How glad I am that I added this little gem to my basket! 


Bish Denham said...

These a wonderful reviews Judy. Thanks!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Intriguing reviews. I applaud the author of Beauty's Gift for tackling a difficult but important topic.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

BISH: Glad you enjoyed them.

TRICIA: I try to review those books which made an impact on me. In SA, Sindiwe Magona's 'Beauty's Gift' was hailed as courageous.

Lauri said...

I love Louise Erdrich too, it's too bad about this one.

I nearly bought Sindiwe's novel when I was at CTBF but had spent so much on books I had to put a stop to it, now I wish I hadn't. Have you read her poems published by Colleen- Please Take Photographs? I am terrible with poetry being read to me- if it's good I cry no matter what. When Sindiwe read Please Take Photographs I was a blubbering idiot.

Lisa said...

Hello Judy, beautiful reviews, made me want to read and watch to see how my reviews compare to yours;)

But the truth is, I don't really read anymore. My last book I managed to finish was Dan Brown's The Symbol. Now I am reading the meaning of the Qur'an. And that of course is not reading in the traditional sense. I just could not find anything that could hold my attention anymore. I used to be a big reader, the kind that could not go without a book.

I am following you as Aishah from my other blog too. You mentioned your interest in comparative religion, what does that mean, do you compare religions or do you embrace all religions? I am curious.

Paul Greci said...

Samsara is a movie I want to see. And Beauty's gift looks like a great read. Thanks for the rec's Judy!!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

These are, indeed, wonderful reviews, Judy. Thanks for popping over to Elliot's blog and saying those nice things about my own book, Roland

Helen Ginger said...

I've heard of that last one, but not the two before it. Great and honest reviews, Judy.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

LAURI: Louise Erdrich is just such a superb writer, she’s an auto buy for me, so this was disappointing. And, no, I haven’t read any of Sindiwe’s poetry. Will go and browse Loot or Modjaji!

And everyone, let’s give Lauri a great big shout of encouragement: on Saturday 19/2, Lauri will be speaking at the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival in London on the topic: "Writing Across Borders a Botswana Perspective". Good Luck Lauri! (I hope I got that link right!)

OCEAN GIRL: At the moment I’m reading a lot, but as I get into my new novel which I’ve just started, I’ll read less and less. I don’t like reading other fiction when I’m writing because I want to keep my voice and thoughts clearly my own. Reading the meaning of the Qur'an must be a huge, but interesting, challenge.

My interest in comparative religion. Hmmm. That’s a poser! I know a (very) little about most of the major faiths (Husband is the real expert!). So, it’s a bit of both I suppose. I compare and embrace all faiths because I believe that, hidden underneath all the wonderful cultural diversity of the different faiths, they all (particularly the mystical branches such as Kabbalism or Sufism) contain the same essential truth: Love is all that counts.

PAUL: If you can get a copy of Samsara it’s a beautiful movie in so many ways. Well worth the effort to get a copy!

ROLAND: I have you book waiting in line in my trust Kindle! Had a sneak peek at the first line and looks lovely!

HELEN: Gosh, I was surprised (but glad!) when you said you’d heard of “Beauty’s Gift” ! Did you hear about it from another review in Blogland?

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Thanks for giving Hibbs, the bear with 2 shadows, a try. I hope you enjoy his world. Roland

Helen Ginger said...

I believe so, Judy. Can't remember exactly where, but I feel sure it was on someone's blog. (Don't take a newspaper and don't know of any place else it would have been.) Sorry that I can't remember the exact place.