100 best nonfiction books: No 79 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)

The most famous slave memoir of the 18th century is a powerful and terrifying read and established Equiano as a founding figure in black literary tradition

Black literature begins with the slave memoirs of the 18th century. Equianos Interesting Narrative is the most famous of these, especially once it was taken up by supporters of the abolition movement, but he was not the first African slave to publish a book in England, or, if we remember Dr Johnsons manservant, Francis Barber, the first to have some experience of London literary life.

In the book trade, Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho (1782) were probably the first to mobilise English readers against racial discrimination and the horrors of the slave trade. Sancho would pioneer a flourishing genre that runs from Ottobah Cugoano in 1787 (Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species) to Mary Prince in 1831 (The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave). Thereafter, during the 19th century, black literature would continue to flourish, in Britain, with Mary Seacole (no 62 in this series) and, in the USA, with Frederick Douglass (no 68). In the 20th century, this tradition was sustained by largely autobiographical prose, often focusing on the imaginative reworking of the slave experience. Some outstanding recent examples include Grace Nichols: I Is a Long Memoried Woman (1983), Caryll Phillips: Cambridge (1991) and David Dabydeen: Turner (1994). All of these titles owe some intellectual debt to The Interesting Narrative.

Olaudah Equiano(c1745-1797), also known as Gustavus Vassa, was an African writer, born in what is now the Eboe province of Nigeria, and sold into slavery aged 11. Equiano subsequently worked as the slave of a British naval officer, purchased his freedom in 1766 and went on to write his popular slave memoir. No fewer than 17 editions and reprints, and several translations, appeared between 1798 and 1827. In hindsight, The Interesting Narrative became an influential work that established a template for later slave life writing and subsequently an important text in the teaching of African literature. Indeed, to Henry Louis Gates Jr, Equiano is a founding figure in the making of an authentic black literary tradition.

Inevitably, perhaps, The Interesting Narrative has been dogged by controversy from first publication. Equianos story was initially discredited as false (despite a preface including testimonials from white people who knew me when I first arrived in England). Even now, there are scholars who cast doubt on Equianos veracity, claiming that he plagiarised his story from other sources. Whatever the truth, the surviving text of his Interesting Narrative is sufficiently its own, in style and character, to merit serious consideration. Equianos story is certainly remarkable.

From the outset, he is concerned to establish his credentials as an ordinary, long-suffering African boy who has endured much and triumphed over adversity. He describes, at some length, the Eboe customs he has grown up with: circumcision, witchcraft and tribal patriarchy. As well as cataloguing his primitive beginnings, Equiano also celebrates the exotic and fabulous natural profusion of Africa, consciously playing to western fascination with the Dark Continent: Our land is uncommonly rich and fruitful, and produces all kinds of vegetables in great abundance. We have plenty of Indian corn, and vast quantities of cotton and tobacco. Our pine apples grow without culture; they are about the size of the largest sugar-loaf, and finely-flavoured. We have also spices of different kinds, particularly pepper; and a variety of delicious fruits which I have never seen in Europe; together with gums of various kinds, and honey in abundance.

Equiano, for all his modesty the hero of his own tale, also singles himself out for his natural eloquence. Its his strategy in the memoir to convince his readers of the injustice of slavery by writing withal in a tone of reason and conciliation. While he can pile on the horror of the middle crossing, strangely, he lacks any resentment and does not castigate his white masters in print for their cruelty. His tone is nothing if not complicit: I was named Olaudah, which, in our language signifies vicissitude or fortune; also one favoured, and having a loud voice and well-spoken.

Having established his origins, Equiano moves to describe his enslavement and transportation to the West Indies, and thence to Virginia, where he served as the slave of an officer in the Royal Navy, Michael Pascal, who renamed him Gustavus Vassa after the 16th-century Swedish king. Equiano travelled the oceans with Pascal for eight years, during which time he was baptised and learned to read and write. Pascal then sold Equiano to a ships captain in London, who took him to Montserrat, where he was traded with a merchant, Robert King. While working as a deckhand, valet and barber for King, Equiano earned money by negotiating on the side, accumulating enough savings to buy his freedom.

From a documentary point of view, Equianos account of life in mid-Georgian Britain is fascinating. He gets taken up by white society and patronised by the great and the good, but he is never quite free of floggings and incarceration. Nevertheless, he does manage to save the money that will buy his freedom.

What follows are Equianos adventures on the high seas, mixed with his conversion to Christianity. In fact, Equiano spent almost 20 years travelling the world, including trips to Turkey and the Arctic. In 1786, in London, he involved himself in the movement to abolish slavery. He was a prominent member of the Sons of Africa, a group of a dozen black men who campaigned for abolition. After the publication of The Interesting Narrative, Equiano travelled widely to promote the book, whose immense popularity became integral to the abolitionist cause and made Equiano a wealthy man. In 1792, Equiano married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen, and they had two daughters. He died on 31 March 1797.

After a strong opening in West Africa and his account of crossing to the West Indies, Equianos personal story becomes fragmented by Abolitionist special pleading. He closes his account with an appeal to his readers more tender sympathies: Torture, murder, and every other imaginable barbarity and iniquity, are practised upon the poor slaves with impunity. I hope the slave trade will be abolished. I pray it may be an event at hand. The great body of manufacturers, uniting in the cause, will considerably facilitate and expedite it; and it is most substantially their interest and advantage, and as such the nations at large (except those persons concerned in the manufacturing of neck-yokes, collars, chains, hand-cuffs, leg bolts, drags, thumb-screws, iron muzzles, and coffins; cats, scourges and other instruments of torture.

A signature sentence

One morning, when I got upon deck, I saw it covered all over with the snow that fell over-night. As I had never seen anything of the kind before, I thought it was salt; so I immediately ran down to the mate and desired him, as well as I could, to come and see how somebody in the night had thrown salt all over the deck.

Three to compare

Mary Seacole: Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (1857)

Peter Fryer: Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (1984)

Henry Louis Gates Jr: The Signifying Monkey (1988)

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano is published by Norton Critical Edition (9.95). To order a copy go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/07/the-interesting-narrative-of-the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-100-best-nonfiction-books-robert-mccrum

Bernard MacLaverty: The story you have just finished is of little help to writing the next one

Acclaimed Northern Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty has taken 16 years to finish his latest novel. A lot of things just got in the way, he says

In his jacket endorsement for Bernard MacLavertys Midwinter Break, the celebrated American novelist Richard Ford describes the new book as much-anticipated. It is a polite way of saying that MacLavertys fifth novel has been taken its time in coming. Sixteen years, to be precise, since his last, The Anatomy School, and longer still if you go back to the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s when this Belfast-born but Glasgow-based writer was everywhere, winning plaudits and prizes in equal measure for his short story collections (A Time to Dance, Walking the Dog and The Great Profundo), his novels Cal and Lamb, both of which he adapted as acclaimed films starring respectively Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson, his television series and radio plays, and his Booker-shortlisted Grace Notes in 1997.

A case of writers block? More life getting in the way of art, MacLaverty replies, perched nervously on the edge of his armchair in a central London hotel as we talk. I have a diary note from 2001, when Madeline [his wife] and I went to Amsterdam for a break in January. So I presume I was starting to think about the project from there, but there were so many things that came along to get in the way.

Among the distractions he lists and this affable and unassuming 74-year-old has a prompt sheet to hand were: an un-turn-downable invitation from Scottish Opera to write a libretto; two years as a classical music DJ on Radio Scotland; a five-year stint on a movie script based on Robin Jenkinss wonderful 1950s novel, The Cone Gatherers, which finally came to nought when the producer behind the project died; a collection of short stories; and Bye-Child, a Bafta-nominated short film of a poem by his close friend Seamus Heaney, which he directed in 2003.

And, he adds, Ive also had eight grandchildren in that time. Or we have. His four grown-up children, two boys, two girls, all live in the same postcode as he does, so he has his hands full. Its a new twist on Cyril Connollys line about the pram in the hall being the enemy of good art.

MacLaverty would be the last one to take himself so seriously, but his brief run through those 16 lost years reveals him as a man of many talents to which should be also added teaching stints at British, European and American universities. With so much he is good at, what would he choose if he had only time left for one more project? Id paint something good, he answers without a pause.

No hint of any autumnal narrowing of horizons here, but Midwinter Break is, by contrast, a tale of quiet disappointment, about long-married Gerry Gilmore, a retired architect, and his wife Stella, as they head off on a mini-break. Both are at odds with their lot and with each other. He is retreating into drink, she into religion.

She is thinking, MacLaverty says, on a different plain. This is not a story about old people. Its the story of two young people who got old and they have fallen out of step.

A two-hander, it covers the same broad territory as 45 Years, the 2015 Tom Courtenay/Charlotte Rampling film, based on a David Constantine short story. In the case of Midwinter Break, though, the past trauma that haunts the couple is bound up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which they moved to Scotland to escape.

The parallels with MacLavertys life are plain. In 1974, he, too, made the same refugee journey with his young family. The Troubles were awful and bloody, he recalls, bombs and people being killed on their doorsteps.

His homeland, though, has continued to loom large in the books he has published in exile. You write from what you know, and one of the things you know is that you are not telling your own story, but bits of it are your own story. Its like tessellation of a mosaic. You take a bit that happened to you and you put it beside a bit that you make up.

It requires a delicate touch, he emphasises, and can be a time-consuming process. We are edging back around to that long space between novels but now he is more willing to address what has been keeping me back. Whatever backdrop, or even tone his books may share, he explains, the story you have just finished is of little help to writing the next one. He quotes Thomas Mann in his defence. Didnt he say, a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people?

There was at least one false start with Midwinter Break, he admits, with an opening section, set in the now derelict modernist Catholic seminary at Cardross in Argyll and Bute, that had to be scrapped.

Is he a perfectionist? MacLaverty gives a warm, intimate laugh. Im a writer. Theyre the same thing.

Religion is one feature of his novels. Though he long ago rejected the Catholicism of his childhood, it continues to fuel his imagination. I cease to believe in one aspect of it, but I continue to believe in the trappings.

Another hallmark is the spareness of his writing, not a wasted word or detail between the covers of what become as a result small masterpieces. Its not like putting together Lego, he agrees. You have to be very careful that you are weighing the words.

The phrase makes him remember something his mother once used. Shed found a wee dead bird. She picked it up and she said, youd have known by the weight of it that it was dead. He chuckles. And its the same with a story. You know whether you can accomplish it in six pages [as a short story] or whether it will take 200. And this one he points to the copy of Midwinter Break on the table between us is hefty material. It is about love and life and death and religion and what matters.

And then, of course, theres his other recurring theme, Ireland. All the novels nod to what is happening to Ireland, he agrees. Lamb [1980] was at the worst of the Troubles. Cal [1983] also had a downbeat ending, but then there were the ceasefires and things began to mend. So Grace Notes had an upbeat middle, and a downbeat end, or two endings. I was hedging my bets. And this one well, I mustnt say more about the ending, but Im mildly optimistic about Ireland. I dont think they are going to go back to slaying each other.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty will be published by Jonathan Cape on 3 August (14.99). To order a copy for 12.74 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/31/bernard-maclaverty-interview-new-novel-midwinter-break

Sonnets Walking the Great Divide by Cecil Welles

Sonnets Walking the Great Divide by Cecil Welles

Book Summary

This book represents a sample of the author’s thought clarification. Somber, crazy, joyful, or eclectic in subjects, the sonnet format provides a steady bedrock of expression. Some subjects are deep, some barely scratch the surface, some try to resolve a conundrum, and some are a passing whim. All start with a single word or phrase with no end state in mind until the poem is done.

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San Francisco Book Review 5 Stars

Most of us are familiar with sonnets through William Shakespeare’s work. Those poems were my first introduction to that particular form of poetry, and, to be perfectly honest, when someone asks me to think of a sonnet, my mind springs automatically to that most familiar: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Because of this association between sonnets and a centuries-dead man, the form is often seen to be archaic, and it isn’t often that anyone tries to challenge it. After all, sonnets aren’t the sort of poems that allow for much freedom. On the contrary: they have a very strict structure, and sometimes it seems the only freedom allowed is between English and Italian style sonnets.

However, sonnets don’t necessarily need to be revived through being drastically changed, nor does the language used to write them need to be archaic to match the time period we know them from. In fact, a skilled writer can find a great deal to write about while remaining within the form of a sonnet, and Cecil Welles has done a phenomenal job at bridging the divide between the sixteenth century and the twenty-first.

Each of the sonnets in this collection illustrates some aspect of Welles’s skill with words, and narrowing down which to mention in this review was difficult, but there were a few which stood out to me. One of the first poems, “Sanctuary,” gives the reader the image of a “Quaker gun,” a clever use of oxymoron that makes the reader pause for a moment. The next few lines explain the phrase, but not every such moment is so neatly tied up, and thus the poems become something of a puzzle, inviting the reader to linger over the words and attempt to draw out not only Welles’s intended meaning but some new meaning of their own. Other poems, such as “Chances” and “Girl-Child” show the poet’s skill at imagery, and throughout the collection he uses the sorts of literary devices we all learned (and some – myself included – forgot) in English class to great effect. My personal favorite was his use of the slant rhyme, as a pet peeve of mine is when poets have obviously forced two lines to rhyme. Instead of using unfitting words in an attempt to have rhyming quatrains, Welles uses words that almost rhyme to produce the same effect without making his poems feel simplistic.

Sonnets Walking the Great Divide is easily the best collection of sonnets I have read lately. Each poem is fresh and interesting, and together they make for a refreshing read.

Reviewed By: Jo Niederhoff

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Author Bio:

The author is a California native and Georgia resident who writes sonnets as a source of thought clarification. As a contradiction to poetry, his day job consists of applied mathematics, information management, history, analytics, and military science.

Author’s website: http://www.cecilwelles.com

Confessions of an American Doctor by Max Kepler

Book Summary

In 2005, I was arrested by agents from both the US Postal Service and the Food and Drug Administration for the importation of illegal human growth hormone and botulinum toxin (Botox) from China.

At the time of my arrest, I was a thirty-seven year old Harvard graduate with medical and post-doctoral degrees. I attended one of the finest residency and fellowship training programs in the world at the University of California, San Francisco. I played two sports in college, earned awards at every level of education and training, had wonderful friends and a beautiful three-year-old daughter. Having grown up the son of a restaurant manager and a housewife, I had transcended the humble beginnings of a small Midwestern town to become the quintessential American Dream.

Or so I thought.

But with my arrest on felony importation charges, everything I had worked so hard for was swept away and the entire trajectory of my life was indelibly altered. I would embark on a three year battle not only for my medical license, but also for my freedom. This journey would lead to intense personal introspection, and in that process, I would discover with ugliness, there was also beauty, and with punishment, mercy.

There are many reasons I have written this manuscript, with one of the most important being that I hoped my story would resonate with others who have gone through difficult circumstances as a consequence of a dark side of their personality. With this book, I hope to inspire others to accept and embrace the good and bad, while continually striving for improved self-understanding and acceptance.

I have changed names primarily for legal purposes, but the facts are unchanged. Although the events described in the book occurred more than ten years ago, I think about them nearly every day. The shame and humiliation are ever-present. Any simple Google search of my name reveals the truth, and that truth has affected me over and over, despite the years, as it probably should. As the judge told me that day in a federal courtroom, “You have betrayed the public’s trust.”

This is my confessional.

Buy on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2tcoKre

San Francisco Book Review – 4 Stars

Confessions of an American Doctor is a true account of a doctor in the United States. The author has used different names to respect of the privacy of his patients and peers.

The novel opens with the arrest of Dr. Max Kepler, a rheumatologist by profession. As he is being handcuffed, the events of the previous few months flash before his eyes. He then writes a detailed account of his past, leading up to his venture into cosmetology and anti-aging clinics.

Divorced and bored with his job at Cade County Hospital, he partners up with Lance, who promises him a partnership in a startup, and together they work on medicine aimed for hair growth. Starting with that, they then foray into hormone supplementation as well as Botox and Mesotherapy. Using loopholes in the medical system of the US and the FDA, they manage to bypass standard checks as well as to use substandard compounds imported from China. Lance leads him to meet a range of businessmen interested in financing their projects. Dr. Kepler is too excited at the prospect of incoming money, and he doesn’t bother doing background checks on the sources of funds. He opens a wellness clinic by the name of Forever Lithe, which branches out to multiple locations across the country. He administers Botox, Mesotherapy, and other anti-aging and cosmetology treatments, eventually resulting in a healthy number of patients.

He has an idea that Lance supplies hormones and anabolic steroids to professional athletes, but he feels unconcerned as he is not directly supplying them. They become cautious when their supplies of human growth hormone from China are intercepted at US Customs.

Dr. Kepler didn’t bother doing a background check on Lance, and eventually, Lance’s shady past catches up with him. Lance is subsequently arrested on account of his import and illegal use of human growth hormone for anti-aging purposes on his patients, and his court proceedings are recounted as well. Read on to find out if he feels he is guilty of his crime and what will be the future of his venture with Lance.

The author has given a detailed account of his childhood, relationships, and his struggles through medical education. He also explains the uses of all the hormones they created in labs, which shows his thorough knowledge of pharmacology. His detailed understanding of the medical system of the United States and the loopholes which led to them getting away with using substandard medicines on patients have been described really well. This novel is a treat to read for medical students and current physicians of any country.

Reviewed By: Rabiya Jawed

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Clockwork Strange: Into The Whirlwind by Dale McInnes

Clockwork Strange: Into The Whirlwind by Dale McInnes

Story Summary:

A North American novel inspired by Karel Zeman’s 1955 children’s classic tale Cesta Do Praveku Our first novel begins in 1943 with the disappearance of nine children and their three puppies on a prairie farm when they discover a door to long extinct alien worlds. Their story is one of awe and exploration. It is told as two simultaneous stories, one of the repercussions on the family farm community 25 years later, and the other of how the children struggle to survive their first alien environmental ice age encounter. It is the very first time that the concept of ‘deep time’ will be told through the eyes of children [for both the children and the young adults] and kept as scientifically accurate as a good story can be told. This is the North American Debut of a prehistoric ALICE IN WONDERLAND chronicle of deep time, wherein WONDERLAND is as real as the children who tumble into it.

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San Francisco Book Review:

From an author who had experienced the open space needed for a child’s imagination to truly blossom while growing up on a farm in Manitoba, Canada, Clockwork Strange: Into the Whirlwind by Dale McInnes is the first of a series of science fiction books that children will, no doubt, enjoy. Adults, meanwhile, shouldn’t hesitate to read this book at all. It brings back long-slumbering memories of a time when magic was indeed a possibility.

Albert Morley, a man of the early-to-middle twentieth century, is a crazy man, according to some. His sister-in-law isn’t overly fond of him, but really the only thing that’s wrong with him is that he had experienced something extraordinary as a child thanks to a mysterious caboose. For twenty years, Albert had been gone. Nothing had changed upon his return. Now, years later, the caboose has done it’s magic again. Nine kids and three little dogs vanish, never to be seen again.

What happened to these kids and their three little dogs reaches many ears, but what many don’t know is that these kids have been taken to a world and time where everything is big and dangerous. Cats, wolves, mammoths–everything’s big. Armed with writings that can be found in Albert’s diary, the kids have to figure out a way to survive.

Of the nine kids, Daniel assumes the leadership role. When important decisions have to be made, his voice is the one that will most likely be heard. The puppies are out of harm’s way most of the time. The kids use the knowledge from what they see as an added tool to survive. They learn to adapt to their surroundings and do what it takes to survive even when the decisions they have to make become as tough as the mammoth hides they have to cut from mammoth carcasses. Children will love the characters in this book for their bravery in the face of terrifying circumstances and will learn a thing or two about teamwork and smart strategies to fend of predators of the wild.

I did like what the author primarily tried to do and that was to write a story so that readers could experience the less technologically-ridden world of the 1930s to 1950s through the eyes of a child. Childhood is filled with magic. McInnes scatters it about freely in this book. My wish is that McInnes made the absence of the kids more emotionally relatable as we do get to follow the Morley clan back in the real world in the years after the incident with the caboose.

Reviewed By: Benjamin Ookami

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We need robots to have morals. Could Shakespeare and Austen help? | John Mullan

Using great literature to teach ethics to machines is a dangerous game, says professor of English literature John Mullan

When he wrote the stories in I, Robot in the 1940s, Isaac Asimov imagined a world in which robots do all humanitys tedious or unpleasant jobs for them, but where their powers have to be restrained. They are programmed to obey three laws. A robot may not injure another human being, even through inaction; a robot must obey a human being (except to contradict the previous law); a robot must protect itself (unless this contradicts either of the previous laws). Unfortunately, scientists soon create a robot (Herbie) that understands the concept of mental injury. Like a character in a Thomas Hardy novel or an Ibsen play, the robot soon finds itself in a situation where truthfully answering a question put to it by the humans it serves will cause hurt but so will not answering the question. A logical impasse. The robot screams piercingly and collapses into a huddled heap of motionless metal.

As we enter what many are predicting will be a new age of robotics, artificial intelligence researchers have started thinking about how to make a better version of Herbie. How might robots receive an education in ethical complexity how might they acquire what we might call consciences? Experts are trying to teach artificial intelligences to think and act morally. What are the examples that can be fed to robots to teach them the right kind of behaviour?

A number of innovators in the field of AI have come to believe that these examples are to be found in stories. Scientists at the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a system for teaching robots to learn from fictional characters. With what is presumably a mordant sense of irony, they call their system Quixote. Don Quixote, of course, was the honourable but deluded Spanish gentleman who came to believe that the world was exactly as depicted in the chivalric romances that he loved reading. With disastrous if comical consequences.

If an artificial intelligence is to draw lessons from many of the stories with which we like to divert ourselves, there are some tough practical problems for the programmers to circumvent. Much fiction and drama will dizzyingly mislead poor robots about the world in which they have to make their decisions. Our favourite stories abound in ghosts, demons, wizards, monsters and every kind of talking animal. Human beings travel through time and fly through the air and get into or out of trouble by the use of magic. Most cultures myths and legends do indeed encode some of the most elemental human conflicts and predicaments that an electronic intelligence may need to understand, but they are populated with supernatural beings and would tend to teach the surely dangerous principle that there is always life after death.

Perhaps we can exclude such narrative material from robot reading lists, and be sure to ban Gullivers Travels (talking horses are better than humans) and Alices Adventures in Wonderland and any kind of magical realism. Yet even our less fantastic tales are potentially misleading. Quixote apparently encourages robots to behave like the admirable characters in the stories they are fed. But of course a literary work may be morally instructive without having a single character that you would ever want to imitate. Where is the person you would want a robot to use as a role model in Middlemarch or Othello or The Iliad? Where there is a clear protagonist, Quixote apparently learns that it will be rewarded when it acts like him or her. Steer clear, then, of many of the classics of the late 20th century: The Talented Mr Ripley (the protagonist is a resourceful and amoral killer) and John Updikes Rabbit novels (the protagonist is a lascivious and greedy philistine) and Lolita (no comment needed).

According to the AI scientist Mark Reidl: The thought processes of the robot are those that are repeated the most often across many stories and many authors. For him, published stories can provide robots with the lessons that human beings learn slowly over decades. Literature gives a computerised intelligence surrogate memories on which to base future decisions.

The scientists faith that a cultures narratives provide a repository of human values would be cheering, if the values were not so often thwarted or doomed. Even the most idealistic robot tutors may want to keep their charges away from King Lear or Jude the Obscure. Theatre directors were so convinced of the lack of moral direction of the former that until the mid-19th century the play was often performed with a rewritten happy ending, in which Cordelia survives and gets to marry Edgar. Victorian critics were so antagonistic to the moral nihilism of the latter that Thomas Hardy decided toabandon novel writing altogether when he saw the response.

Those narratives that do come with a strong sense of right and wrong may be even more confusing. The novels of Charles Dickens, and many of his Victorian peers, will demonstrate that all efforts possible should be undertaken to dissuade any young woman from sex before marriage, her fate if fallen being death, prostitution or emigration to Australia. Then what about books that end well? Tricky too. Arobot steeped in the greatest comedies from the last five centuries of European literature will certainly believe that marriage is the happiest end of all human endeavours. It will also get the idea that men and women can readily disguise themselves as someone else and that those who follow their hearts usually get a large cash reward to boot.

Some great literary works at least teach practical lessons, if not moral ones. The most common is: do not trust what people tell you. From the very glibness with which Goneril and Regan produce their testimonies of love, it is clear to any perceptive reader that they care for Lear not one jot. How does a robot reader get this? Or learn that, as is evident in Jane Austens novels, certain kinds of smoothness or plausibility (particularly in young men) should always be distrusted? And can it ever be made clear to an artificial intelligence that everything Mr Collins says reveals him to be a pompous twerp?

So maybe the robots should be given simpler set texts. What about Aesops Fables? Or the parables of the New Testament? Or the stories of Enid Blyton? The first may work if computer brains can grasp the conceit of animal characters. The second will be fine if the robots believe in God. The third, one fears, may introduce some dubious moral judgments. Among sub-literary genres, perhaps only the traditional detective story has a reliable moral arc, even if it will give our robot an utterly misanthropic view of human behaviour.

Do the best books make us better? I have my own slightly gloomy testimony to offer. As an English literature academic, I can report that those of us paid to spend their careers reading and then rereading the greatest literary narratives in the language are not obviously morally better, socially more skilled or psychologically more adept than our fellow citizens. If we were robots, we would be blundering robots. Perhaps it is wisest just to stick with Isaac Asimovs simple but elegant rules.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/24/robots-ethics-shakespeare-austen-literature-classics

Lucia Zarate Cover

Lucia Zarate By Cecilia Velastegui

Story summary:

Lucia Zárate is based on the poignant, real-life odyssey of the world’s smallest woman. Pretty and gregarious, Lucia Zárate was just twenty inches tall. A celebrity after her ‘display’ at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, Lucia’s extraordinary, heartbreaking story is one of exploitation by greedy sideshow hucksters and a fishbowl existence on the road, from New York to Victorian London. We follow the adventures of diminutive Lucia Zárate and her devoted governess as they grapple with life and death, finding joy and adventure in their bumpy sideshow journey of more than fourteen years. This is an artfully balanced novel that is a mesmerizing tale of survival, resilience, and the uplifting force of friendship.

Forward Review:

The sad life story of the diminutive Lucia Zárate is intriguing and informative.

Cecilia Velástegui’s historical novel, Lucia Zárate, chronicles the extraordinary life of the tiniest person who ever lived. The opening pages, lyrical and riveting, paint Mexico with vivid brushstrokes, bringing the sights, sounds, and smells of Veracruz and its vanilla bean industry to life.

Like all historical fiction, Lucia Zárate plaits fact and fancy. Lucia Zárate (January 2, 1864–January 15, 1890) holds the Guinness World Record as the smallest human, measuring twenty-one inches tall and weighing less than five pounds at seventeen years of age. Velástegui describes her as “a wisp of a girl, a perfect and miniature thing, whose singular appearance and sparkling personality were as unique as the cherished fragrance of Veracruz vanilla.” Despite her diminutive size, she “spread the velvet folds and lace frills of her gowns in such a way that she extended her personal space in a wide circle all around her.”

Incorporated into the fictitious elements are actual newspaper accounts of Lucia’s nineteenth-century tour of America and Europe. Sometimes these factual reports are artfully woven into the tale; other times, not. As a result, the book wavers between pure history and historical fiction, never landing squarely on either one.

Lucia’s story is told primarily from the vantage point of her governess, Zoila. When Zoila realizes she must extricate herself from her village’s internecine vanilla bean trade skirmishes, as well as from the rumors swirling around her own perhaps-nefarious actions, she tucks a vial of her beloved Felipe’s salvaged blood between her ample breasts and heads out. She secures a position as governess for the improbably tiny Lucia, whose parents have contracted for their daughter to perform in human curiosity sideshows. Zoila accompanies the Lilliputian girl on the decade-long tour, with visits to domestic and foreign heads of state, as well as considerable time spent among seedy denizens and gawking voyeurs.

Lucia and Zoila are well-drawn and complex figures; their emotions ebb and flow according to the particular circumstances they encounter, making them believable characters. Other individuals, however, are less fully developed; they include slimy carnival hucksters, cruel freak-show managers, and greedy parents who want to live in luxury, financed on the back of their tiny treasure of a daughter. Aside from Zoila and Lucia, not one compassionate or multifaceted individual appears in the story. Well-rounded supporting characters would have made the fictive elements more credible.

This sad life story is intriguing and informative. Velástegui’s sensitive descriptions of humans with a variety of deformities and odd conditions is commendable, as is her condemnation of their abominable treatment in nineteenth-century sideshows. Lucia Zárate should appeal to people interested in the human psyche, and those drawn to history should appreciate the author’s adherence to carefully researched historical details. Also, young adults with sophisticated vocabularies should enjoy this book.

Available on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2suSKPT

Author Bio:

Cecilia Velástegui’s historical novels have received international awards: LUCIA ZARATE (2017) is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction and is in competition with an international, literary giant: Arturo Pérez Reverte. Her novel PARISIAN PROMISES won the Paris Book Award (2015), MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU (2014) won first place in the International Latino Book Awards, the nation’s oldest Hispanic literary awards, TRACES OF BLISS (2013) was selected by the Association of American Publishers to the National Book Club, and GATHERING THE INDIGO MAIDENS (2012) was a runner up for the Mariposa Prize. Her children’s bilingual fables were endorsed by the SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, and were finalists for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year.

Cecilia has a graduate degree from the University of Southern California, is a former Marriage and Family Therapist, has traveled to more than 100 countries and speaks four languages. She serves on the board of directors of several cultural and educational institutions.

Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode one Dragonstone

Among the one-liners, the spooky moments and the Ed Sheeran cameo, an exposition-heavy opener perfectly set up questions for this season to answer

Spoiler alert: this blog is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sunday night and on Foxtel in Australia on Monday. Do not read unless you have watched season seven, episode one, which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 9pm, and is repeated in Australia on Showcase on Monday at 7.30pm AEST.

When I was Lord Commander of the Nights Watch I executed men who betrayed me. But I will not punish men for their fathers sins and I will not take a familys home from them.

Hello and welcome back everyone. How you felt about tonights opening episode, which was largely concerned with power and how to wield it, will probably depend on your tolerance for large chunks of exposition. Overall, I was OK with the odd clunky scene: at this stage in the game, there are a lot of pieces to manoeuvre into place and, by episodes end, things were nicely set up for the season.

In Winterfell, Jon and Sansa clashed over their very different notions of how to deal with the former treachery of the Karstarks and Umbers. Jons case that you do not punish the sons and daughters for the sins of the father was the more obviously relatable, and he was right too that the North needs to stand firm together in the face of a far greater enemy than the Lannisters. Yet Sansa, schooled by a harsher teacher, also had a point, difficult though it perhaps is to acknowledge: if you do not cut the root out then the branch will again flourish and what happens when the buds of that branch arrive, as Arya Stark did with the Freys, to choke your life away?

Kit
Kit Harington as Jon Snow. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

Its worth noting, however, that Cersei hasnt quite managed to put the lessons she so assiduously taught Sansa into practice. Yes, shes wiped out most of the Tyrells but Olenna, the most dangerous, is still standing. In the south the Sand Snakes lurk, no doubt practising their sub-Lorca incantations, while Sansa and Jon are building an army in the North, and Dany and co have landed on Dragonstone. Has Cersei won the battle but not the war? Or will a potential alliance with the distinctly untrustworthy Euron be enough to save the day?

As for Dany, who has so far governed with a mixture of Jons compassion and Cerseis ruthlessness a third way, if you will (sorry) she landed on Dragonstone for an emotional homecoming, having also taken the time to kit out her invading army in some rather swish new clothes. Anyone whos anyone in Westeros is wearing black this season.

Do you believe me now Clegane? Do you believe that were here for a reason?

For all the power of its more epic moments, Game of Thrones is generally at its best when it takes time with its characters, allowing us to see them in new ways. Thus the evenings best scene came between three of the characters we know least: Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, as they sat in the ruined house of the now dead farmer who the Hound and Arya encountered back in season four.

Switching between dark humour Its just my fucking luck I end up with a bunch of fire worshippers and touching moments (Sandors decision to bury the man and his daughter), the scene also gave us some interesting new information: Sandor, the man scarred by and terrified of fire, can read the patterns in it.

The moment when he described the Night Kings army marching north was a genuinely spooky one, and Rory McCann sold it well. Heres hoping he and the Brotherhood without Banners meet up with Jon in the North soon.

In the Citadel we live different lives for different reasons. We are this lifes memory.

If Sandor was busy discovering that sometimes the most unlikely things turn out to be true, poor Sam was undergoing one of those my dream job v the reality moments. Oh Sam, I understand: there you were dreaming of waltzing into the Citadel like a conquering hero, gaining access to all the books you might need, and instead you find yourself working in a particularly unpleasant care home with the odd autopsy thrown in. Weve all been there.

After spending far too long shifting shit and stew in some terrible movie Im tempted to call Bedpans and Soup-sick, Sam finally cracked and stole the keys to the forbidden library. To which I say, hurrah its all very well to have Jim Broadbents Archmaester correctly stressing the importance of history, learning and memory, but what good is remembering the past if you dont use it to avert danger in the future?

Additional notes

Emilia
Anyone whos anyone in Westeros is wearing black this season: Emilia Clarke as Daenerys and Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm. Photograph: HBO

Violence count

Ben
Ben Crompton as Dolorous Edd in Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

A surprisingly unbloody start to the season saw only one real act of violence (two if you count Briennes knocking of Pod into the snow). That said it was a particularly good one, as Arya donned Walder Freys face to ensure that every single member of the Frey family was wiped out root and branch. I somehow think that she and Sansa might have rather a lot of common ground, when (if) they finally reunite.

Random Brit of the week

Sorry Ed Sheeran, but this can only go to the wonderful Jim Broadbent who turned up to dispense wisdom to Sam before frustratingly refusing to accept that The Wall could actually fall.

So what did you think? Will Jon and Sansa manage to compromise? Can Cersei possibly stay on the Iron Throne? And have you ever had a job as bad as Sams? As ever, all speculation and no spoilers are welcome below …

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jul/17/game-of-thrones-recap-season-seven-episode-one-dragonstone

Museum risks wrath of Inuit with display from tragic Arctic voyage

Exhibition may solve riddle of Franklins lost expedition

After 165 years under icy seas, the lost secrets of Sir John Franklins doomed British Arctic expedition in search of the North-West Passage are to form the centrepiece of a major London exhibition, Death in the Ice. But who really owns these salvaged artefacts?

This weekend it has emerged that the historic items painstakingly retrieved from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of Franklins two lost expeditionary vessels, were taken without permission from waters now owned by the Inuit people in Canada.

In 2014 the sunken wreck of the Erebus was found lying in a part of the Arctic Ocean that belongs to Canadas vast northernmost territory, Nunavut. A document made public in Canada in the past fortnight reveals that the premier of Nunavut has since protested directly to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, about the actions of scientists working with the curators of the exhibition, which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London, on 14 July.

In his formal letter of complaint, released at the request of a Canadian journalist, the premier, Peter Taptuna, argues that the contents of the Erebus are rightfully owned by his region and by the Inuit Heritage Trust. The letter alleges that Parks Canada, a government agency, ignored the fact the ship was submerged in Nunavuts internal waters when it removed the artefacts. This was unfortunate and inconsistent with past practice, it adds.

A spokeswoman for the National Maritime Museum said the new show would give visitors a clear sense of the role played by the Inuit in the original search for Franklin. It features Inuit oral histories relating to European exploration of the North-West Passage and many Inuit artefacts, including objects made using materials specifically from the Franklin expedition and other European sources. The stories of these items provide clues to the fate of Franklins men.

A
A diver surveys items from the Erebus. Photograph: Thierry Boyer/Parcs Canada

The London museums senior exhibitions curator, Claire Warrior, has also told the Canadian press that the role of Inuit will be highlighted. The enduring links between Britain and Nunavut will lie at its heart, she said, adding that her museum has no long-term claims on any of the artefacts.

Taptunas letter was sent last autumn, a few weeks after the sensational discovery of Franklins second ship, HMS Terror, in waters nearby. Since 2002, according to Taptuna, Canada has followed Nunavut regulations when searching for the lost ships and has not claimed title in specimens until the discovery of HMS Erebus in 2014. The premier also said his government now expected Canadian officials to consult and elaborate with our officials regarding the enforcement measures that will be employed at HMS Terror site.

For its part, Parks Canada maintains that both wrecks and their contents are still British property. The agency also cites a 1997 international memorandum of understanding between Canada and Britain that specifies that upon discovery the United Kingdom will transfer ownership of recovered artefacts to Canada, with the exception of gold items.

Among the well-preserved and often poignant items recovered from the Erebus are the ships bell, part of its wheel, several belaying pins, china plates, a cannon and a ceramic pot labelled anchovy paste.

The Greenwich show, which is jointly curated with the Canadian Museum of History, is set to solve many of the mysteries surrounding the 1845 expedition, which ended in tragedy and, most sensationally, in suspected cannibalism. A 59-year-old veteran of the seas, Franklin had sailed into the Arctic with 128 men on two Royal Navy ships in an attempt to find the North-West Passage the elusive trade route from Europe to Asia. Yet in 1848 both crews were forced to abandon ship to try to walk to safety when ice blocked their route. No survivors made it home.

Disputed Inuit claims that the desperate British survivors of the ships finally resorted to cannibalism will be examined in one section of the exhibition. A sign will warn visitors who wish to avoid these displays. The report, brought back to Britain in 1854, was controversial at the time, with Charles Dickens leaping to the defence of the explorers, but analysis of bones found on the surrounding terrain has suggested cannibalism is a real possibility.

Map of Franklin’s exhibition

It is handled with sensitivity and respect for the members of the expedition and their descendants, said a spokeswoman for the Greenwich museum. There are also reproductions of bones in the exhibition which show the difference between animal bite marks and evidence of cannibalism. We do also say in the exhibition labels that forensic evidence corroborates the Inuit testimonies of cannibalism.

The director of the Canadian Museum of History has given fresh weight to the Inuit contribution, recently announcing that the government of Nunavut and the Inuit Heritage Trust are collaborating with curators. It was Inuit knowledge that first revealed to European searchers where the expedition had become trapped and where its officers and men had struggled and failed to survive.

Inuit knowledge was to come to the fore again 150 years later when it helped direct modern marine archaeologists to the area around King William Island, close to the wrecks locations.

The exhibition will go to a Canadian museum in Ottawa in March next year. Discussions about building a visitor and research centre in Nunavut are also going ahead.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/01/franklin-arctic-voyage-tragic-inuit-wrath-museum

Hong Kong: How a ‘barren rock’ became an Asian powerhouse

Hong Kong (CNN)The Hong Kong Crown Colony was founded on January 26, 1841, when Britain’s Union Flag was raised over Possession Point, a then unremarkable headland in southern China.

Hong Kong defied these expectations. By 1997, when sovereignty was handed over to China, the city had a population of more than 6.5 million people and a booming economy the envy of its neighbors.
Twenty years later, Hong Kong has evolved again.
British Hong Kong originally only included the island itself (and nearby islets), which was officially ceded to the UK by the Qing Empire in the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, following China’s defeat in the First Opium War.
Eighteen years and another war later, the British assumed control over the Kowloon peninsula, while in 1898 London agreed to lease the New Territories from Beijing for a period of 99 years.
That last step would prove to be the undoing of British Hong Kong, as it set a time limit of July 1, 1997, for China to resume control over the leased land and eventually, after a series of secret negotiations, take over the entire territory.

Since handover, Hong Kong’s incredibly dense population has grown even further, to 7.4 million. or 6,790 people for every square kilometer. In the densest part of the city — the former industrial area of Kwun Tong, in Kowloon — there are 57,250 people per square kilometer, among the most densely populated places on Earth.

From the latter part of the 19th century, Hong Kong grew as an Asian financial center, becoming a major international trading hub from the 1950s onwards, acting as a regional headquarters for major banking and corporate firms, serving as a gateway to China.

Hong Kong’s economy has grown from strength to strength, as the housing, tourism and finance sectors have all boomed — though the last 20 years have also seen a marked increase in inequality and a rising unemployment rate. Housing prices have risen from an average of $770 per square foot in 1997, to more than $1,400 today.
On the luxury end, high-end apartments regularly sell for upwards of $4,895 per square foot. Hong Kong also regularly tops charts for the most expensive places to live in the world.

Tourism has also grown massively since 1997, with arrivals up to 56.6 million in 2016 compared to 10.4 million the year of handover, fueled by huge growth in mainland Chinese tourists coming to Hong Kong.

Finance however remains Hong Kong’s primary industry. The Hang Seng Index was launched in 1969 to serve as a “Dow Jones … of Hong Kong.” Today it has total value of $1.7 trillion. While in 1997 the majority of the biggest companies on the index were local conglomerates — or “Hongs” — today the Hang Seng Index is dominated by Chinese firms.

As well as increasing its population, Hong Kong has also grown in territory, adding to the amount of land available via extensive reclamation projects. Adding land has fundamentally changed the shape of Hong Kong’s geography. Possession Point, once on the northwest coast, is now several hundred meters away from the shore.

Since the handover, reclamation and redevelopment has continued apace, particularly in West Kowloon and the northwest New Territories, as well as ongoing expansion to Hong Kong airport.
Hong Kong’s skyline has also seen a dramatic change in the years since 1997, particularly with the rapid growth of Hong Kong Island’s eastern districts.

From a “barren rock” to a British colony of millions, to a Chinese territory with a booming economy and stratospheric property prices, Hong Kong has changed greatly over the decades.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/25/asia/hong-kong-change-1997-2017/index.html