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Wednesday, 20 May 2020

How Things Were in Knockanore

A recent chance reference to the double Oscar-winning movie, The Quiet Man, has led me to view the movie but first, read the short story from which it sprung.

It appears that the film's magnetic draw has always included the village of  Cong, County Mayo,  whose enchanting, deep rural southern Irish locale persuaded even director, John Ford's technical crew to return there on holiday after production, so their families could absorb the magic for themselves.

But I digress!

Here I am discussing the original story and its author, Maurice Walsh, who became such an important figure in mid-20th century Irish letters that √Čamon de Valera-then President of Ireland - attended his funeral mass when he died in 1964.

The son of a farmer from whom he inherited a love of books, legends, folktales and the theory of 'place', Walsh began working life as a civil servant, turning to write full-time in the early 1930s as his fame and popularity grew.

Maurice Walsh was also a romantic nationalist and part of a group that included figures like Nobel laureate, W B Yeats, who followed the ideas of 18th century German  Enlightenment philosopher, Gottfried von Herder.

The Quiet Man was first published in the US weekly, The Saturday Evening Post in February 1933, later becoming part of his collection, Green Rushes.

From the opening words onward, Walsh fairly sets in aspic an image of a southern Irish rural life that was fading even as he wrote.

The reader gains an instant image of a wide landscaped, slow-paced idyll measured by the rhythm of the seasons and the strictures of the Church calendar.

Superficially, Walsh's story is another 'David and Goliath'  in which an average-sized but skilled boxer shows he is the physical and moral superior of the towering, menacing neighbourhood bully.

On another level, it reveals an entrenched patriarchal society in which women are still used and abused as men's property and where they wield any authority via canny, sly manipulation.

Third, we are shown with consummate grace how the early resentments of an arranged marriage - here, more one of convenience -  may be turned first to appreciation and at last to genuine affection.

Walsh's story and Ford's movie are prime examples of the challenges faced by the creators of one piece of art from another.

Is it  plagiarism by another name? But is it artistic theft - even betrayal when the original artist has sold the 'rights' to a new owner?

I do not care one jot for the movie. I suggest that it has indeed traduced the original story and is saved only by its cinematography and a couple of individual scenes. As Walsh avoided Hollywood after a second of his works failed as a movie, I wonder if he felt he had sold his writerly soul to the devil of clapperboard tinsel town. A sin he would never commit again.

I conclude here with links to both a Youtube screening of the movie and a pdf  copy of the story as it first appeared in print.

© Natalie Wood (20 May 2020)

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Viral Marketing with the Human Touch!

We're told never to judge a book by its cover. But it's clear from the front of Mitch Albom's new work in progress that it is designed by a master crowd-pleaser.

The image of a meeting of exquisitely manicured fingertips  as symbolic of the Coronavirus pandemic speaks volumes about what readers may find inside.

I am among those invited by the ChateBooks Live Book Club Facebook group to read the first two chapters of Human Touch, a novel Albom is writing in tandem with the pandemic's course and  whose eventual sale proceeds will benefit the needy in Detroit, Michigan, where he lives.

As a 'teaser', these chapters do their work of introducing the characters, their setting, any conflicts and implications for the plot's eventual resolution.

As a British-born woman now living in Israel, am I unqualified to discuss American mores? Or should being equal citizens of our virtual, technologically driven global village allow us all to think and feel the same? 

Just as Albom's character of Chinese heritage is unwontedly abused and attacked by a stranger, so  the Mail Online has reported an alleged racial attack against celebrity London Chinese restaurateur, Geoffrey Leong

Even as interdenominational faith leaders have struggled with the notion of virtual rather than real-time religious services and social gatherings,  so Albom's Christian minister tussles with the pros and cons affecting his flock's temporal needs versus their spiritual welfare.

It is difficult to guess how a story being researched and written on the hoof will unravel.  

I ask, for example, as Albom and I are both Jewish, how much the creation of 'Little Moses' - found abandoned in a wood - owes to his biblical namesake. Further, why, with a noted 18% spike in international antisemitism since the pandemic began and a history of Jewish-African American tensions in Detroit, has this important strand thus far been omitted from the narrative? 

Moreover, Albom is a US star sports columnist turned all-round writer and broadcaster who found lasting international fame with his book, Tuesdays with Morrie

This was based on his relationship with sociology Professor Morris Schwartz, who had been his tutor at Brandeis University and whom he later discovered via a televised interview to be dying from Lou Gehrig's Disease.

I suggest that a similar format, interviewing real people about their experiences would be a far more effective and honourable exercise as it would have the permanence that this well-intentioned but fundamentally flimsy money-spinner can never achieve.

© Natalie Wood (03 May 2020)

Thursday, 30 April 2020

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Young Lives Dished up on a Silver Platter

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Monday, 20 April 2020


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Sunday, 12 April 2020

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Passover Super Moon 2020

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Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Corona and the Myth that’s Called ‘Goodwill’

Most people are so determined to keep cheerful during these terrible times that many have invoked the mythical spirit of public goodwill displayed by British citizens during World War 2.
Give me a break!

As French Algerian novelist, Albert Camus suggests in ‘The Plague’, an escalating crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic produces the best and worst in us all.

Personally, I find notorious villains far more engaging than milk-and-water saints and such a man was Jewish Londoner Harry Dobkin, a delinquent who murdered, then dismembered his estranged wife and buried her remains on a bomb site in a vain attempt to make her look like a war casualty.

According to both Murderpedia and Steemit, when the charred, mummified remains of the former Miss Rachel Dubinski were almost coincidentally unearthed at the height of the London ‘Blitz’ in July 1942 they had been lying below the ruins of the Vauxhall Baptist Chapel for between 12 - 15 months.

I will leave you to read the full details at the links provided above as here I prefer to examine the clever, if now old-fashioned forensic techniques employed to identify the corpse and trace the murderer.

It was a superb piece of team sleuthing, led first by pathologist Dr Keith Simpson who discovered the deceased had died by strangulation; then the police, whose records showed she had been reported missing by her sister, Polly who in turn led them to Rachel’s dentist, Barnett Hopkin.

Finally, writes the author of the account on Murderpedia, “Miss Mary Newman, the head of the Photography Department at Guy's, superimposed a photograph of the skull on to a photograph of Rachel Dobkin, a technique first used six years earlier in the Buck Ruxton case. The fit was uncanny. The bones found in the crypt were the mortal remains of Mrs Rachel Dobkin”.

Most improbably, the Dobkins’ awful story became the stuff of a fictionalised short crime film, ‘The Drayton Case’, whose stars included John Le Mesurier, now best remembered for his role in the BBC TV situation comedy ‘Dad's Army’ and which in a roundabout way brings me back to base.
Blood Libels, Then and Now
The feeling that succeeding generations fiercely sanctify and protect their forebears’ memory has been reinforced this week by social media chat about the early 20th century Beilis Affair.

The real story and character of Menachem Mendel Beilis and the ordeal he suffered at the hands of the Czarist Russian authorities on false accusations of ritual murder were used as the basis for the multi prizewinning novel ‘The Fixer’ by Bernard Malamud which in turn became a film. This was directed by John Frankenheimer and the screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, among the ‘Hollywood Ten’ imprisoned and then blacklisted for putative Communist sympathies.

I am sure that this was no coincidence as Beilis’s story will have resonated hugely with Trumbo for many reasons. Some years ago, the screenwriter’s life story was enshrined on film. It needs figures like his son, Christopher, also a film maker to explain to others like the descendants of Mendel Beilis why and how a factual documentary is quite different from a fictive piece of art. Certainly they won’t listen to me!

The debate takes me to the monstrous artistic scandal of the week, the unveiling of the so-called ‘nouveau baroque’ painting, ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Simonino of Trento, for Jewish Ritual Murder’.

Whatever Italian artist, Giovanni Gasparro and his legion fans may say, the real power of the work is neither in its fine draughtsmanship and exquisite colouration, nor its astute pre-Easter and pre-Passover timing: It lies firmly in the evident glee with which he has depicted the anti-Jewish stereotypical characters in the false, hate-filled story.

The Italian episode was vastly worse than the Beilis Affair, involving Jews being forced to make false confessions to murder and then being burnt at the stake.

Gasparro, according to his online biography, enjoys the official patronage of UNESCO, the Italian state and many churches. Further, he boasts a huge social media following: At the last count, more than 2,000 people had reacted to the controversial work on his Facebook page, while it produced 6.2K comments and 1.4K shares.

I do hope that someone persuades Gasparro that if he wishes to honour his faith in paint, there are a million other ways to do so.

The current pandemic has also produced ‘mini’ libels: While a ‘New York Times’ op-ed compared the Corona quarantine to an IDF military curfew on Palestinians in 2002 without mentioning suicide bombings, the Palestinian Authority initially equated Israel with the virus and only after a long silence, did it admit to cooperating with Israel during the emergency. By then, of course, more damage had been done.

Corona as the Theatre of the Absurd

Try as I may, I cannot find any well-known recent commentators who have referred to Camus’s novel, ‘The Plague’. This is especially surprising in Israel where the great master of absurdist philosophy and art is said to be universally revered.

Professor David Ohana remarks in his work, ‘Israel and Its Mediterranean Identity’ that Camus experienced the Vichy regime’s treatment of its Jews “close at hand through the family of his wife Francine, his schoolmates, neighbors, and fellow intellectuals … Most of Camus’s friends at that period in Algeria were Jews”.

Andr√© Cohen, his family doctor became “a victim of the fascist plague that was spreading in Algeria: only two percent of the Jewish doctors were permitted to work in their profession, and there was a similar quota in governmental positions. When the decrees were imposed in Oran, Dr Cohen had to stop working as a doctor”.

Ohana muses “… was Dr Cohen, the enlightened Jewish doctor, Camus’s model for Dr Rieux, the fighting doctor in ‘La Peste (The Plague)’, the outlines of which he began to commit to writing at that time? …

“Camus, who was influenced by ‘Moby Dick’, needed a symbol that would embody the subject he wished to describe in his allegorical novel. The plague of typhus that was raging in the town of Tlemcen gave him his inspiration. In 1941, at the time of the plague, he wrote in the newspaper ’Paris- Soir’, for which he worked, a short story that sketched out the main outlines of the plot of ‘The Plague’, which were fully developed about six years later”.

The past three-four months have  indeed seen our global and virtual village turn into a huge stage depicting a strange, absurdist universe that no-one can yet fully interpret or explain. It now remains to be seen if any leading Jewish writers, be they in Israel or the Diaspora, will return Camus’s compliment and write something worthy of his enduring legacy – and the plague that’s irrevocably changed modern times.

© Natalie Wood (01 April 2020)  

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Passover in a Year of Modern Plague

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