Posts Tagged Middle East
The all-female rock band from Madrid released its debut album Leave Me Alone at the beginning of the year. Hinds creates infectious, cool songs layered with fuzzy guitar, surfy riffs and lo-fi indie rock elements. This band’s attitude, intensity and emotions bubble through on every song. Female artists still face immense criticism and scrutiny in the music industry. Get out and support women in music!
Hinds is: Carlotta Cosials (vocals, guitar); Ana Perrote (vocals, guitar); Ade Martin (bass) and Amber Grimbergen (drums)
Hinds at Middle East Downstairs on Sunday, October 30, 2016
472-480 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, Mass. 02139
The Ambassador’s Wife By Jennifer Steil.
Doubleday| July 2015|389 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0-385-53902-9
When I first heard about this novel I knew I wanted to read it: ambassador’s wife in a Middle Eastern country who gets kidnapped sounded both riveting and exciting. Unfortunately, it’s disappointing because the novel doesn’t delve far enough into the ambassador’s wife as the independent bohemian artist prior to meeting and marrying the ambassador. The basic storyline is that Miranda, an American, married British national Finn who serves as ambassador in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Prior to the marriage, Miranda lived a bohemian lifestyle and dated a woman.
“In the past, only with a woman had she felt her body truly unclench, the result of her politics falling in line with her heart. With men she had always been wary, monitoring her every interaction for signs of a power imbalance.”
Now with Finn, they have round-the-clock protection, servants and bodyguards. For Miranda, she’s given up much of her freedom and also pursuing her art in order to be a steadfast ambassador’s wife. She remains naïve about the dangers associated with being the ambassador’s wife. She thinks she can function just like she did as a single woman in this country. One day hiking with a group of women, she’s kidnapped and it’s an unbearable month-long ordeal that changes everything.
“Despite the tragedies, the restrictions felt slightly absurd to Miranda. She has been hiking in this country for three years without incident, and no one she has encountered on her journeys has ever been less than hospitable. In fact, she has been treated more like royalty in this country than she has been anywhere else in the world.”
There’s not enough color, depth and strength in the details. Steil explains Miranda like this: “In fact, she felt a reflexive and guilty condescension toward such domestic ambitions. Her conscience wrestled with this prejudice, meanness not sitting comfortably in her psyche. Who was she to judge anyone else’s choices? Just because traditional wifely duties were not for her did not make them less worthy.” However, Steil fails to show Miranda as this independent spirit. There are mentions of her teaching her Arab students and encouraging them to paint provocatively but the reader fails to truly feel the power and emotion which art can provoke.
Instead the author turns it into somewhat predictable fodder when she’s kidnapped. Instead of being this cool creative, Miranda is a devoted mom whose child to engulf every aspect of her life instead of remaining that vibrant independent. She truly loses her sense of self by being a mother. In addition, it becomes bogged down in unnecessary detail and for a thriller-esque novel it travels at a snail’s pace. Not good in any way. I applaud author Jennifer Steil’s ability to shape this middle Eastern country and provide readers with an idea what it would be like to be an American navigating such an unusual culture.
I kept reading so that’s the bonus. I would like to read a novel from a female ambassador’s point-of-view. The two novels I’ve read have been from the wives’ perspective. The wives tend to serve as hostesses and do some volunteer work; nothing nearly as challenging as their spouses. Author Jennifer Steil worked as a reporter in Yemen and is currently an ambassador’s wife. I expected way more detail. I’m sure she didn’t want to offend any country but I could certainly recognize either Yemen or Libya in her descriptions. I’m not sure why she chose to fictionalize the country. To me that falls flat. Either create a completely different country or city or don’t faintly hide it and think that no one will figure it out.
–review by Amy Steele–if you like my reviews and interviews please donate so I can continue to write.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.
purchase at Amazon: The Ambassador’s Wife: A Novel
15 Boston psychedelic, fuzz, garage, and surf rock bands play The Middle East this Saturday. all-ages matinee show at The Middle East Upstairs (1PM – 5PM). 18+ show at The Middle East Downstairs (5PM-1:30AM).
The New Highway Hymnal 12:15
Ghost Box Orchestra 11:20
Fat Creeps 9:45
The Fagettes 9:00
28 degrees taurus 8:15
Magic Shoppe 7:30
Atlantic Thrills 6:00
Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion! 3:45
The Televibes 3:00
Black Beach 1:55
I caught Waxahatchee (one of my favorite new bands) and Screaming Females at the Middle East Club in Cambridge on Friday night and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. This was the first stop on their U.S. tour. Interestingly the audience was about 60% men and not a sold-out show. The Middle East holds 575. Label mates [Don Giovanni Records], the bands certainly attracted different audiences with some cross-over–Waxahatchee getting alternative and college radio buzz. Screaming Females a power-punk band from New Jersey with more of an underground following.
Waxahatchee plays higher energy and rawer live than on the album. Katie Crutchfield–the force and face of Waxahatchee [lead singer/guitarist/songwriter] has sweet vocals on “Cerulean Salt” that remind me Juliana Hatfield. Screaming Females, led by pint-sized powerhouse Marissa Paternoster on guitar and vocals, tore it up with jarring chords, guttural bass and super energetic songs. Amazing fun.
Monday, Sept 16—The Bowery Ballroom—New York
Tuesday, Sept 17—Black Cat—Washington, D.C.
Thursday, Sept 19—40 Watt Club—Athens, GA
Friday, Sept 20—Bottletree Café—Birmingham, AL
Saturday, Sept 21—Stone Fox—Nashville, Tenn.
Sunday, Sept 22—Russian Recording—Bloomington, Indiana
Monday, Sept 23—The Frequency—Madison, WI
Tuesday, Sept 24—Triple Rock Social Club–Minneapolis
Wednesday, Sept 25—Lincoln Hall—Chicago
Thursday, Sept 26—Ace of Cups–Columbus, Ohio
Friday, Sept 27—Pittsburgh, Penn
Saturday, Sept 28 and Sunday, Sept 29—First Unitarian Church–Philadelphia
The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu [Hogarth Books]
My favorite book of last year is available in paperback. The novel focuses on three young women in the Israeli army. They’re thrown into some truly adult and potentially dangerous situations. While they often think like hormonal, selfish, naïve teenagers at other times these women react with amazing strength, bravery and clarity. Boianjiu includes point of views from Egyptian army members, Palestinians and a Ukranian woman who seeks to emigrate to Israel. A veteran of the IDF, she writes with compassion, humor, modernity and a humanistic approach to the IDF and Israel’s issues with its border nations as well as the United States and the UK.
The Collective by Done Lee [W.W. Norton paperback, 2013]
“Give up trying. The world doesn’t need another dilettante, and that’s all you’ve ever been.”
This was one of my favorite novels of 2012. While at Macalester college, Eric Cho forms a strong friendship with painter Jessica Tsai and novelist Joshua Yoon. Years later they reunite in Cambridge forming the Asian American Artists Collective [3 AC]. Don Lee masterfully creates characters, story lines and vivid descriptions with the most gorgeous prose. These characters compete with each other, become jealous of one another and support each other’s goals. Lee truly grasps the creative lifestyle–its ups and downs, its starving moments, its triumphant moments.
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer [ECCO, 2013]
“Why is it so impossible to be a woman? [sic] When has a woman ever been forgiven? Can you even imagine it? For I have seen the plane of being, and nowhere upon it is the woman tracing her life as she always dreamed of it. Always there are the boundaries, the rules, the questions—wouldn’t you prefer to be back home, little lady?—that break the spell of the living.”
This one’s about time-travel however Greta travels in an unusual, ingenious way. It’s engrossing as long as you can get past the issue that causes Greta to time travel—she’s being treated for her depression by electroshock therapy—“Of course this was how our minds had connected in that blue electric flash of madness, across the membrane of three worlds so we switched places, two Gretas and myself, and awoke to different lives.” My issue wasn’t with that but with Greer never mentioning her depression as she traveled from her present day of 1984 to 1918 to 1941. The present Greta just lost her twin brother Felix to AIDS and her longtime paramour left her. In each time period she’s missing a loved one and her life’s slightly different. Even her physical appearance is a bit different. Greer recreates each time period through wonderful description, interesting people and dialogue. It’s a fast-paced novel perfect for summer reading. In the end Greta much decide which time she’s happiest in and in which she wants to remain.
Crazy Brave by Jo Harjo [W.W. Norton, 2012]
Poet and Native American Jo Harjo writes lyrically about her difficult childhood in the Midwest. Her stepfather was an abusive alcoholic; she faced extreme challenges as a Native American and pretty much raised two children on her own. While she recalls these horrific moments in her past she’s also hauntingly philosophical and forgiving. She writes: “In the end, we must each tend to our own gulf of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol.” She also intersperses her tribe’s beliefs but never in an overbearing manner. About having a spinal tap in her youth, she writes: “The spinal column carries personal essence back and forth between earth and sky. The spine is powerful and vulnerable. The procedure was excruciating.” She’s a powerful voice for women and minorities; a truly beautiful soul.
Harvard Square by Andre Aciman. Publisher: W.W. Norton (2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 304 pages. ISBN 9780393088601.
“I hated almost every member of my department, from the chairman down to the secretary, including my fellow graduate students, hated their mannered pieties, their monastic devotion to their budding profession, their smarmy, patrician airs dressed down to look a touch grungy. I scorned them, but I didn’t want to be like them because I knew that part of me couldn’t, while another wanted nothing more than to be cut from the same cloth.”
A melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s. It’s set amidst the privileged enclave of the most elite academic environment. A place filled with the most intelligent, the wealthiest, the preppiest, the best of the best, the elite. A place where one looks down on the commoners who will never be able to emulate or understand a Harvard graduate’s life.
At Café Algiers, an Egyptian graduate student at Harvard meets Kalaj, a Tunisian cab driver, struggling to keep his green card. They have one commonality: both come from Arab states in the Mediterranean. For the homesick graduate student he’s happy to speak French with fellow exiles. The café serves as a place to meet new friends. For the Tunisian, the café’s his home apart from his miserable marriage and his cab. [“He was proud to know me, while outside of our tiny café society, I never wanted to be seen with him. He was a cabdriver, I was Ivy League. He was an Arab, I was a Jew. Otherwise we could have swapped roles in a second.”] Over the next several months these two men will test friendship’s bonds.
“He had as little patience for Islam as I for Judaism. Our indifference to religion, to our people, to the never-ending conflict in the Middle East, to so many issues that could easily have driven a wedge between us, our contempt for patriotism, for flags, for causes, or for any of the feel-good ideologies that had swept through Europe since the late sixties, left us with little else than a warped sense of loyalty—what he called complicite, complicity—for anyone who thought like us, who was like us.”
Andre Aciman lovingly describes Harvard Square through minute sensory detail, various meeting spots—Café Algiers, Casablanca, Harvest, street names and students versus year-round inhabitants. The reader will feel like she’s walking around with him on every page. His Middle Eastern characters are rich with background. In Kalaj he creates an explosive and derisive character to play off the graduate student. Does the reader want him to get his green card or be kicked out of the United States forever? He’s rather a cad. A player. He seduces women and brags about his conquests in the café the next morning. Women cry about him. He’s been married several times. He complains about America while waxing nostalgic about the pristine beaches of his native Tunisia yet yearns for a green card. Merely for the money or does he have a darker motive? And why does a Harvard doctorate student become both enamored and disgusted with Kalaj?
As much as our graduate student feels he’s an Egyptian, he’s also becoming comfortable at Harvard. He wants to succeed and belong. While he enjoys this new scene he never knew existed at Café Algiers, he understands that his future belongs to academia and his Ivy League education. He’s nothing to feel ashamed about.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is a mesmerizing novel where politics, religion and technology collide in a complex setting. A 23-year-old Arab-Indian hacker in a Middle Eastern emirate simultaneously finds his computer breached by the state’s security force and jilted by his aristocratic lover. A jinn (or genie) and his kind, intelligent neighbor Dina help Alif find out how and why this happened to him. His problems deepen while he learns eye-opening information that will change his future. Alif the Unseen is a beguiling page-turner.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. Publisher: Grove Press (July 2012). Fiction. Hardcover. 440 pages. ISBN: 978-0082120205.
A graphic novelist and author of the memoir The Butterfly Mosque, A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam, Alif the Unseen is G. Willow Wilson’s first novel. She studied history at Boston University then taught at an English language school in Cairo for several years at the request of a retiring professor. I spoke with my fellow BU alumna by phone recently.
Amy Steele: Did you convert to Islam when you were in Egypt?
G. Willow Wilson: I had thought about converting [well before going to Egypt] but then 9/11 happened and I couldn’t seriously convert when these people had done this to my country in the name of religion. It took me several more years of research and study to reassure myself that they had acted in a way that Islam would consider abominable and that Islam rejected. I thought I could keep it a secret. But I didn’t know how I was going to get through 30 days of fasting every year without anybody finding out.
Amy Steele: Religion is a private thing but then there are so many facets of it that are impossible to keep private.
G. Willow Wilson: Especially in the Middle East, religion is not private in the way we think of it in the United States. Here it would be illegal to ask someone their religion on official documents such as a driver’s license or anything like that. But in the Middle East your religion appears on everything. So I was going from a place where it’s mostly private to a place where the state gets involved.
Amy Steele: In your novel, Alif is non-practicing isn’t he?
G. Willow Wilson: At least ambivalent. The Middle East is the birth place of so many world religions that religion becomes intertwined in almost every facet of life. He probably has small bits of the Quran memorized that most people have memorized who are practicing Muslims but he’s very ambivalent about religion. He’s not really practicing.
Amy Steele: I think when Americans and Westerners think of the Middle East you think of religion and the people and the government hand in hand.
G. Willow Wilson: There’s a lot of secularism in the Middle East and I don’t think people realize it. Some people would rather that religion play no part in public life and you see these debates unfold in places like Egypt where there’s a big secularist contingent.
Amy Steele: Alif is bi-racial. Would that be unusual?
G. Willow Wilson: It would be somewhat unusual. The book is set in the Persian Gulf and the Persian Gulf plays host to literally thousands of guest workers from Bangladesh, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. The guest workers actually outnumber the native-born Persian Gulfers and it’s created a very interesting social dynamic. For Alif, I imagined if a wealthier businessman had a secret or unsanctioned marriage with a woman who was a guest worker from the Indian subcontinent. I think that sort of marriage is still pretty unusual. People do see those two groups as being very separate.
In this case, I wanted him to be both an insider and an outsider. It seemed like an interesting way to have it play out.
Amy Steele: How did you get the idea to write Alif the Unseen?
G. Willow Wilson: It came to me in certain parts. The big driving force for me was the fact that there was so much interesting stuff going on in the social media world in the Middle East among activists online in how they were using the internet to get around censorship in print media. The internet was really allowing different factions of people who normally had no reason or method to talk to each other [secularists, traditionalists, feminists] to share a common platform and communicate with each other.
It was a very exciting thing for me to see it happening because instead of what you’d expect to happen which is that they were all at each other’s throats because they had different beliefs, they were struggling to find common ground because they had common enemies in these horrible, entrenched, dictatorial leaders in places like Egypt who’d been in power for 30 plus years.
It was at the time a very hard sell in the United States. People were very dismissive of social media. I could see the potential of what was happening in the Middle East and I wanted a way to highlight that. And that formed the basis for Alif the Unseen.
Amy Steele: When you say that this novel takes place in an undisclosed Gulf emirate, what type of government is in place? A dictatorial regime like Egypt?
G. Willow Wilson: It’s vague. There’s a point in the book when someone says he can’t believe the government has this sophisticated digital surveillance but no mail service. That is something I pulled straight from Egypt under Mubarak where if you were a blogger and talking about politics, eventually state security would show up at your door and that would be the last that people heard of you. But try to get a letter delivered. I didn’t want to set it in a specific country or tie it to a specific country so I set it in a fictional country.
Amy Steele: Can you tell me about the Arab hierarchy among the various countries—the Gulf states being at the top– that you describe in the novel?
G. Willow Wilson: They certainly see themselves that way. There seems to be a perception among certain people—I don’t want to paint too broad a brush—who think that they have the oil, they have the money, so that people that show up to work in the Gulf are there to serve them. It’s a very feudal mentality where you’ve got the Lords and the Ladies on the top and the serfs on the bottom. Poorer countries, like Egypt and Libya, aren’t seen as existing at the level of the wealthier nations along the Gulf. It makes for an interesting dynamic and it’s the cause for a lot of frustration for a lot of people who work in the gulf.
Amy Steele: In the novel, you also speak of old money, new money and no money. That there is no middle class. Immigrants send money home as they do in the United States too.
G. Willow Wilson: It’s true. It’s really a commentary for globalization.
Amy Steele: How much did you know about the grey hat world before writing this?
G. Willow Wilson: Very little. I’m a very picky end-user of technology. I’m one of these people who bugs my tech friends a lot for advice and I also like to know what makes [computers/technology] work. I picked their brains about Alif. I knew I’d have to break some rules in the world of fiction but I did go in with some basic understanding of computer culture.
Amy Steele: How did the fantasy aspect, the jinn and Vikram come in?
G. Willow Wilson: I wanted to write about how we think about the unseen whether it’s the unseen world of computers and technology and things we don’t understand. Or if it’s the unseen world of spirits and things we don’t talk about. The parallel between the unseen world of technology and the unseen world of spirituality provided some really interesting fodder for storytelling.
Amy Steele: Did you influence the character “the convert”?
G. Willow Wilson: She’s not me. As a white Western writer writing a character in the Middle East and thinking of all the foibles and the shortcomings and the heroism, it behooves me to turn around and be able to reflect myself as well. The convert is the kind of person I try not to be in many ways. She’s very academic, very rigid and she’s very earnest but it kind of gets in her way. She’s living in this country so very different from her own and she’s making a lot of mistakes and that’s something I can relate to. She’s my way of having a sense of humor as an outsider about these issues.
Amy Steele: What do you like about Alif, Dina and Vikram?
G. Willow Wilson: Writing an ensemble cast, I made sure each character had its own arc and went through its own issues that pertained to that character. In a way it was a lot like writing comics, which I do a lot of, it was a lot of fun for me. You’re able to do that, have such a wide range of characters and have them interact in a dynamic way. I don’t really have a particular character who’s a favorite.
Amy Steele: What is a particular characteristic about them that you like?
G. Willow Wilson: I thought Dina would be the most difficult character to write but she ended up coming really naturally. I liked her stubbornness. For Alif, I like his impulsiveness. I like that he grows up. He’s transformed by his experiences. Vikram was the most fun to write because he’s a genie. He’s not bound by our rules and moralities. It gives him an opportunity to tell the truth. I tried to make them all true to themselves.
Amy Steele: What’s your favorite aspect of the novel?
It was really fun writing the car chase. As writers of literature we’re supposed to take ourselves so seriously. Putting characters in a car and in a car chase across the desert was the most fun thing to write.
Friday, July 13, 2012 – Saturday, July 14, 2012
Comic-Con, San Diego, CA
Monday, July 16, 2012
Busboys and Poets
1025 5th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
37 Main Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Tattered Cover Book Store
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Friday, July 20, 2012
1107 Pearl Street
Boulder, Colorado 80302