Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The double heart of a secret fruit, / an "X" in the equation, / an open book
When Lord Kitchener lent his piercing eye, laser sight finger and dodgy moustache to First World War recruitment posters, he probably didn't imagine that several decades later a Calypso singer from Trinidad would borrow his name. And put a sassy spin on the relationship between the Empire and its "exotic" children.

Kitch sang "London is the Place for Me" back in 1948, the year the Windrush brought 492 Caribbean immigrants to Britain, yet the tune made "mas" on the capital's more discerning radios in 2002. It was featured on a compilation released by Honest Jon's, the premier record shop in Portobello Road, a jewel of the capital's alluring yet thorny crown of multi-culturalism. The song's lifespan is roughly in parallel to the ascension of the Notting Hill carnival.

The point is that London has the Caribbean, Africa and Asia fluttering in its subconscious as well as nestling in the marrow of its bones. The sons and daughters of Britain's former colonies have a long and complex history of economic, political and artistic engagement with the capital. They have given it as much as it has given them.

-- From Kevin Le Gendre's review of Sukhdev Sandhu's London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City, published in last Sunday's Independent.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

One of the very finest writers about London, regardless of colour, was Trinidad-born Samuel Selvon (1923-94). His novel The Lonely Londoners was published in 1956 ... set in a city still struggling to get back on its feet after the war. Joy itself seems rationed. The capital is blinded by peasoupers, and reeks of pigeon feed, paraffin fumes, week-old hair oil, drip-drying workers' overalls. There are sweatshops, immigrant hovels, junk-littered yards behind railway lines. Ex-servicemen wander the streets confused.

Selvon goes on to introduce us to some of those West Indians who, invited to rubble-strewn London to help the capital build itself up again, were all too often regarded as if they were part of that dereliction, the problem rather than the solution. There's Sir Galahad, the dandy loverman; Cap, a green-stripe-suited Nigerian, who spends his days hustling and his nights chatting up foreign students; Big City, a bluff self-promoter, who's always making up tall tales about the fancy toffs he's been consorting with in Mayfair and Belgravia. They're rogues, chancers, colonial wide boys. And we love them.

Selvon writes a kind of pavement poetry. He shows us the city from the point of view of those blowing into their palms on their way to an early shift, or tramping up to the dole office, or having just done a runner from a hostel when they can't pay the rent. It's through their eyes that we gaze at pretty secretaries leaving their offices on summer evenings, at the friezes hanging from the cornices of aged buildings, at the sheer pandemonium of the metropolis.

This is not the sad sociology of old Pathé newsreels or Picture Post stories about the "colour problem". For sure, we're shown young men, wrapped in overcoats beneath their thin blankets, staring forlornly out of the grubby windows of their Notting Hill Gate basements in winter. But just as often we see them loping up the Bayswater Road, coasting up to Marble Arch where they bump into their "spars" who are also on their way to cruise for girls round Hyde Park, lapping up the noise and smell of late-night Leicester Square. All of this in a style that is slangy, vulgar, sing-song, tender.

-- Sukhdev Sandhu, author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City, in an essay called "Love Letters to London", published a couple weeks ago in the Telegraph.
The stars reconciled & remitted: / there should have been no world not blue for you
Naipaul's new collection of essays appears like a last wrap-up of the 2001 Nobel ceremony, a pastiche of previously published work: old prologues, forewords and book reviews to package with his Nobel lecture, "Two Worlds."

... The new book is really a critique of Naipaul by Naipaul, so perspective is limited and redundancy is guaranteed. He presents his writing life as a sort of international case study, emblematic of all who embody the enigmas of a cultural migrant. But Naipaul remains the stubborn representative of one.

-- From Lois Wolfe's review of Literary Occasions, the "new" Naipaul, in last Sunday's Miami Herald. There's also a review by Terry Eagleton in the September Harper's--not available online, but nicely digested over at the Literary Saloon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Letter of the week

From today's Stabroek News (not a permalink):

Dear Editor,

At the age of 15 I began to express my views in the letter columns of the dailies in Guyana.

Soon, I began to submit poems and stories. I have enjoyed publication in the Guyana Graphic, Sugar News, Gleaner of Jamaica, Caribbean Contact, Mirror, Stabroek News and others.

I have restricted for years now my letters to the Stabroek News because I believe it is the only Guyanese newspaper that does not present a partisan outlook. I feel that Stabroek News attempts to be fair to itself and its readers. I am comfortable with it.

I am most impressed by its refusal to lower its standard to accommodate base language and ridiculous sexual jokes.

The time, Sir, has come for me to tell your letter column an eternal goodbye.

In alignment with my destruction of all my writings in my possession, I have decided to cease submitting letters to editors for the rest of my life.

I wish Stabroek News the best!

Yours faithfully,
Krishna Nand Prasad

Monday, August 18, 2003

Reporters sans frontieres has been working hard to make sure the world does not forget the 26 journalists arrested in Cuba last March & subsequently sentenced to long prison terms (between 14 & 27 years), for the "crime" of speaking freely & doing their jobs as journalists--reporting the facts of life under Castro's rule. The RSF website includes a special Cuba section, containing information on the 26 imprisoned journalists; an online petition calling for their release; & a page where you can download PDF versions of the two underground publications, De Cuba & Luz Cubana, with which many of these writers were associated.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

The 2003 Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced; among the nearly two dozen novels is Caryl Phillips's latest, A Distant Shore.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The cartoon in today's Express takes on the MSBlast worm that's been slaying PCs left, right & centre around the world the last day or two. It depicts a terrified little computer fleeing a vicious serpent-like creature, calling for help from "pest control". But the unfortunate machine, as drawn by the cartoonist, is clearly meant to be either an eMac or one of the original iMacs--that shape is utterly distinctive. Yet MSBlast only affects Wintel PCs, of course. Simple ignorance--or part of a sinister anti-Mac campaign on the part of the Express?