Weapons of the Weak

A classic anthropology book which really spoke to me was James C. Scott’s ‘Weapons of the Weak’, about the everyday, often hidden resistance by people who are forced to be subordinate, meek, obedient.  They may – on the face of it – collude in their oppression, but they find ways to sabotage the powerful, to criticize and laugh at them.  Whether rage expressed as sullen temper and foot-shuffling can work long-term is another question…

It was never gonna be like this:

the buzzing round households,

the map of the buzzards with areas shaded off by gratitude:

a thanksgiving imposed, demanded, not felt.

How I rage in futility then shush to keep safe

that cart full of apple-cheeked treasures.

The bat in blindness aghast swerves clear of the blame-traps.

The toxic scurry of newt back to the slimy pond

of self-pity:

there was a time when


or droopy flowers across the hedge

would have smoothed the harsh ping of reality.



nothing else than full parity will do.



How Would You Like Your Reading, Ma’am?

I’ve had to travel for work once more, and such is my fear that I will be left without reading materials that I charged up my laptop and my tablet with a couple of books each (advanced reading copies), plus took a few paperbacks as well.  I even planned ahead so as not to run out of battery.  However, this time I did not take the Kindle with me.  It’s not really my Kindle, but my husband’s (I gave it to him as a Christmas present fifteen months ago, but have far more books on it than he does – I read faster! What can I do?). 

So what are the results of this reading whilst on travel experiment?

1) It certainly stopped me buying stupid magazines and far too many newspapers at train stations and airports.  Previously, I would overdose on those for fear that I might be left with nothing to read!!! A fate worse than death, I’m sure you’ll agree.

2) I had 2 non-fiction and 1 fiction paperbacks, plus 4 books in electronic format, yet I still nearly managed to run out of reading material.  Because the non-fiction were suitable only for work purposes: they helped to put me in the mood for the course I was presenting.  I finished 3 fiction titles, and discovered that I was not quite in the mood for ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’ or ‘The Three Musketeers’ in French (which were the free titles on my Google Nexus 7).  I ended up having to play a game for the last half-hour or so of my journey.

3) If you are in a boring location with no fabulous restaurants and you feel very tired after working all day, you can get a lot of reading done.  Variety is important, though, otherwise all the books start blurring in your head.  I think three international conspiracy thrillers were probably not the wisest choice.

4) The easiest, most convenient way of reading? Still paperback for me.  Much kinder on my eyes, interfering less with my sleep and I don’t need to worry about all those cables, chargers, cases, dropping things, getting them wet…Image

The Silence of the Rain in Brazil

Cover of "The Silence of the Rain: An Ins...
Cover via Amazon

Brazil has long been one of my favourite countries – although I can only claim a very short (two-week) personal acquaintance with it.  However, I have danced to its music, rejoiced in its football victories and read all the news I could about this beautiful, dramatic, troubling and troubled country.  I have also succumbed to its literature and gone through bouts of a rigorous diet of Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector and Machado de Assis.  I have even read one book of crime fiction set in the country, written by the American Leighton Gage, which was my Crime Fiction Pick for August 2012. But until now, I had not read any crime fiction written by a bona fide Brazilian author.  Now, thanks to the challenge set by Kerrie through the Global Reading Challenge, I have been introduced to Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza and his pensive detective Inspector Espinosa.

Ambitious executive Ricardo Carvalho is found shot in his car in the parking garage just outside his office in the centre of Rio.  It may look like suicide, but the weapon and the victim’s briefcase have gone missing.  So the police initially believe it is murder: a car-jacking or robbery gone wrong, as is so often the case in the mean streets of Rio.  However, Inspector Espinosa is not content with obvious explanations.  He wonders about alternative scenarios. Could Carvalho’s  work at the rather shady international mining company Planalto Minerações have led to his killing, or could his beautiful, independently-minded  wife have finally taken her revenge for his relentless womanising? Then Carvalho’s secretary, Rose, disappears before she has time to disclose something important to his wife.  Both the police and the readers believe they now have a straightforward procedural, with interviewing of witnesses and sifting through clues, but the book suddenly changes gears.  We now see the story through the eyes of Max, a small-time crook who witnessed Carvalho’s death.  As each of the characters operates from greed, lust and other very human flaws, the story gets more and more complicated.

‘The Silence of the Rain’ is the first novel in the series and perhaps it has a ‘first novel’ talent for breaking the rules of the crime genre.  The book starts with a prologue that seems to give away the whole story… but it cleverly hides as much as it reveals.  The point of view shifts from third person to first person not in a clearly-signposted, regular fashion as we have become accustomed with modern crime fiction. Instead, Inspector Espinosa goes to bed in third person and wakes up in first person, which I found a little disconcerting.  Just when you think you have a handle on the story, the perspective changes, which is a very interesting technique and which I felt really enriched the story.  However, it does not necessarily play by the Anglo-Saxon ‘rules’.  We also find here one of the most imaginative methods of killing someone (even when handcuffed) that I have ever come across in crime literature – although perhaps a step too far for many readers.

This book offers an atmospheric description of the beauty and squalor of Rio de Janeiro and its inhabitants, as well as a rich panorama of a polarised society of haves and have-nots, where police corruption is expected and human vices are taken advantage of. But the reason I will be coming back for more books in the series (if I can get my hands on them) is because I am charmed by a detective who inhabits a different space and time from most people.  Espinosa is an avid hunter of books rather than of criminals, susceptible to female charms but is not quite sure how to talk to women.  He is a detective who lets different types of cheese accumulate in his fridge, opens a beer and is filled with world-weariness, who hates making decisions, who is basically a gentle, thoughtful man, as he  ‘…started thinking about death – not about the abstract idea of death, but about specifically how much time he had left.  Aged forty-two, on a Saturday night, in a bachelor pad in Copacabana.  He decided he was already dead.  He went to bed.’

I wonder in what mood he will wake up next time.

Cinquain: No Limits

Over at the dVerse Poets Pub, we are being encouraged to try out a different short verse form called cinquain.  Here is my rushed attempt, but there are some far, far better ones out there, so be sure to visit there and have fun reading them!

Image from blog.legalsonar.com
Image from blog.legalsonar.com

No Limits


She dreamt

of fortune, fame,

freedom to beget worlds.

Beating head against glass ceiling,

she wrote.


We Didn’t Start the Fire…

It’s taken me nearly a week to chew over this one, so apologies for my slow reactions, dVerse Poets Pub.  

On the 9th of MarchBrian Miller and Gretchen Leary suggested two different types of prompts.  One was to ask someone to give you a few words to incorporate into a poem – but my own family came up with such delightful combinations as ‘poohead’, ‘smosh-smosh’ and ‘supercalifragilistic’, so I soon gave up on that one.  The second was to think of a seminal song from when we were growing up and I instantly thought of Billy Joel’s ‘We didn’t start the fire’.  So, for the past few days I’ve been trying to add a few verses to that song, to bring it up to date.  This has been far more difficult than I thought! [Perhaps I will write another time a post about the difference between hard-working form or imitation versus spontaneous poetic outburst.]  In the end, my rhymes and verbal verve are not quite up to the original, but here goes:


One day like this or a few weeks of medal fever, cheering loud,

Being nice, a good sport, no rain falling from our cloud.

Dontcha feel unsisterly vibes at work or when you raise your child?

If you’re poor, endure the jibes, you’re universally reviled!


People killed every day at the click of a mouse,

Together we are forced to stay, shore up the value of our house…

Celtic Tiger lost his roar, gulf in Spain is golf no more,

Pension plans are sinking down, bankers screwing everyone.

Gladiator, Amelie, turned all blue in Avatar.

Lucky we can drive away in our silent Prius car.


We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

US is divided nation, tsunami and radiation,

Greeks protest austerity, nought left for posterity.

I don’t know where to  turn –  is there anything left to burn?

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

Time to Read for Fun

I log all of my reading and TBR now on Goodreads, as it helps to keep a semblance of order.  (Although I know full well that chaos lurks underneath!)  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that 7 of the last 10 books I read (and certainly all of the books that I’ve read so far in March) have been books sent to me by publishers for book reviews.

Not that I am complaining! It’s not that I don’t enjoy these books, and I am grateful to the publishers for exposing me to authors or translations which I may not have  come across otherwise.  But reading books for the purpose of reviewing is different: it’s WORK.  I have to read them with pen in hand, making notes of characters’ names, or a phrase that grabs my attention, or a thought which I need to explore further.  Also, because I review for a crime fiction website , the books I get to review all fall into this category.  Plus, I have signed up for the Global (crime fiction) Reading Challenge, so even my ‘spare time’ reading has turned completely mysterious.

Now, you may know I absolutely love crime fiction, but I do also need a break from it every now and then.  I need a gentler read (or a demanding, experimental, pretentious literary read) by way of contrast.  To keep me fresh and eager to return to my old love.  So, although I still have a pile of books to review, I also want to make sure I plan in some time to read more widely.

SosekiThe last non-crime book I read (back in February) was ‘Kokoro’ by Natsume Soseki, a writer so well-known in Japan that he is pictured on the 1000 Yen note.  I had read this as a student – supposedly in Japanese, but I seem to remember cheating and reading the translation alongside the original.  This was a new translation, much more colloquial and lively than the previous one, perhaps even a bit too chatty for the rather serious, contemplative nature of the story.  It is so interesting comparing different translations, though, that I wish I had the time to do this more frequently.  I also want to spend some time reading books in the original and then comparing them with their translations into English.

CarsonMcCullersSo, what am I going to attempt this month? First of all, a true classic: Carson McCullers’ ‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter’.  I have a weak spot for misfits and outcasts, and this is full of such characters.  Plus, I find it amazing that such a young writer could write so accurately and eloquently about life on the margins of society.

Just in case I get too depressed, I also have a lighter read up my sleeve, which should have me laughing out loud in recognition: Peter Mayle’s ‘Toujours Provence’.

Do you prefer to read all in one genre, or do you feel the need to balance your reading with something completely different at times?  And what are your ‘go to’ reads in such a situation?

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More Creative When Living Abroad?

Break the RulesIs it true that artists, composers and writers who live abroad are more creative?  There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for it:  Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Stravinsky, Nabokov…  The list just goes on and on.  And of course it’s received wisdom that travel broadens the mind.

In 2008-2009 a flurry of articles appeared, mostly co-authored by Maddux and Galinsky, examining the links between living abroad and creativity.  They talk about the dangers of allowing yourself to be limited by a single culture or worldview:

To the extent that culture consists of a set of preexisting, routinized, and chronically accessible ideas, it
may limit the generation of creative thoughts.

Multicultural living experience, meanwhile  – and by that they mean not just a tourist briefly visiting a place, but actual immersion for  extended periods of time in another country – has the following consequences:

1) it exposes you to many new ideas and concepts – the larger your pool of ideas, the more likely you are to come up with new combinations of ideas

2) you recognise that the same form or appearance can have different meanings in different contexts – sensitivity and ability to distinguish between surface and depth

3) even when you go back to your own culture, you may be more curious and willing to access unconventional knowledge

4) you become more comfortable with addressing contradictory thoughts, values and beliefs, become able to integrate them into your own worldview

Dressing up showIn other words, living abroad enhances the ability to ‘think outside the box’, to find novel approaches and solutions to problems, to notice and tolerate differences, to create new insights.  All of these elements are important in the creative process, going far beyond merely artistic creativity.These findings are unlikely to surprise us: they make intuitive sense.  The more diversity you experience, the more you are confronted with different values and languages, the richer your personal repository of sounds and pictures with which to decorate your new canvas.

Of course, there are some methodological and conceptual problems with the way this research was conducted.  The first, most obvious  caveat is that correlation does not prove causation.  Perhaps more creative people are naturally more drawn towards living abroad.   Perhaps they have a hard time fitting into their own culture and feel its limitations all too acutely.  Secondly, it is difficult to measure creativity – the tests the researchers used had more to do with creative problem-solving rather than real-life artistic performance.

Carnival maskWhat I did find interesting is that the authors claim you do not gain this richness of experience merely through travelling.  This is where I would like to see more research.  Can it be true that superficial impressions, no matter how strong for sensitive artistic types, are not as valuable?  In other words, it’s not all about motion and change, but also about stopping, digesting and resting. About allowing those changes to trickle through and forever change your interior landscape.

And yet, I wonder if a well-travelled artist might not achieve a more profound understanding of a particular culture than someone who has lived there a while but never made an effort to understand, connect and integrate.  I can think of some expats who only saw what they expected to find in their host countries. I can think of people who never stepped outside their bubble, and for whom living abroad only served to reconfirm their own beliefs and values.