Gravitation

This is the first manga series I read!  Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last.  Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom.  Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki.  The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like.  Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer.  His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.

The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano.  As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.

The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes.  Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish.  ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.

 

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Your Name

This excellent 2016 anime from Japan makes you think about identity and gender.  The concept of a boy and a girl changing places is one that has been explored in other films but this one has an extra dimension of time and chronology to add to the mix.  The high school boy from Tokyo and the girl of the same age from rural Japan swap places unwillingly and realise that this new life is bringing around changes in their personalities as well as their fortunes.

There is a lot of fun to be had from the gender swap concept but the film is less interested in gender difference and more interested in personality.  This makes it a more perceptive film.  Their friends notice the differences in their manners before they do.  In agreeing to communicate with each other, they set up a very modern solution to the problem: mobile phones are used to record diary entries.  When back in their own bodies, they can see what ‘they’ might have done the day before.  This is best shown when the boy goes on a date his other self set up for him.

Then the swapping stops!  To lose the central idea of the film about two thirds through is a brave choice as the story develops into one of a young man pursuing a young woman who knows him like nobody else.  This task seems impossible when his research in news media tells him it would be a waste of time.

I watched the version with sub-titles so that I could hear the Japanese language, even though I don’t understand it.  I could not cope with American voices taking over, acting like a cultural gravy over the whole affair.

Mokoto Shinkai directed the film.  Ryunosuke Kamiki played the young man and Mone Kamishiraishi played the young woman.

‘Your Name’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Jewel in the Crown

I am late to the Paul Scott ‘Raj Quartet’ party!  I remember the fuss around the television series in the 80s, the first time I heard about the series of novels, but I didn’t read them back then. It has taken many years to get around to starting them and over fifty years since the first novel was published.  I am glad I did!

The novel is about the dying days of the British Empire rule of India and centres on Hari Kumar (or Harry Coomer as he once styled himself) a young Indian, brought up in England and sounding more English than the English, and Daphne Manners, a young British woman serving in India since the war back home took the lives of her immediate family.  Their growing relationship causes many other people to notice, on both sides of the racial divide.  There are other characters who exemplify the strict British code of living apart from the Indian people and Indians who are suspicious of anyone who gets close to the British. Then there is Miss Crane, deemed eccentric because of her willingness to treat Indians as people, and Ronald Merrick, the Chief of Police who believes that liberal attitudes will be the undoing of the Empire.

Told in a form of research gathered into a case of an attack on Daphne Manners and the aftermath, we have diary extracts, letters and interviews.  There is an exploration of the back story of key characters, especially Hari Kumar and Daphne Manners and over the course of the novel we piece together the story of the attack.  The book works well because it maintains interest in the central drama despite revealing this information on the first page.

The British rule in India in the early 40s was one of expectation that the people of India would support the war effort; why would they not be loyal to the throne in the time of need?  Not every Indian understands why a war involving the British should involve them and the Japanese threat is less of a threat to fellow Asians.

With themes of identity, race and Empire, this book remains essential reading.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

 

 

The Boy with the Topknot

Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir was a brilliant evocation of his childhood as well as an exploration of what it is like to have a past truth revealed.  In this case, the discovery of his father’s mental illness and the impact this must have had on his mother.  Dealing with the past as an adult threw up for him his feelings about what he might have known but did not confront.  It was a terrific exploration of how families cope and how they create their own histories.  It was a wonderful book so no surprise that BBC television made a film version.

Sacha Darwan plays the adult Sathnam Sanghera as he heads back home from his high powered job on a national newspaper in London.  His family in Wolverhampton have a life that seems alien to him now, especially as he has a girlfriend in London who is neither Punjabi nor Sikh.  He has yet to reveal this truth since it would break with family tradition.  On the other hand, his parents have a secret from him, one that is revealed when he helps them with packing.  The medication for his father is to control his schizophrenia.  The shock for the adult Sathnam is that he never knew this central aspect of his family’s story.  He was equally unaware that his sister seems to exhibit the same symptoms as his father.

This is a story of uncovering the past and coming to terms with it.  The film shows the younger Sathnam as a shadow figure looking on as his adult self walks the old streets of his childhood city.  Coming to terms with the past also involves coming to terms with the present: there is a partner, who as white British, may not be accepted in his family; the time has come to find out.

The book was excellent and the film lives up to the calibre of the written word even if the story has to be pared down for the benefit of the screen.  In telling the central story much of his school life is jettisoned here.  Yet it is a film with heart and one that does justice to Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir.

 

Saigon Calling

The work of Joe Sacco inspired me to find more graphic novels and graphic reportage so, after years of never going near the shelf with all the ‘comic books’, I now look out for new titles that are worth reading.  This memoir by Marcelino Truong is brilliant.  It follows an earlier work that I have yet to read but this volume covering the years 1963- 1975 is an excellent evocation of an interesting era.  It makes it more interesting that the author/artist has dual heritage: his mother was French and his father Vietnamese.  His father’s job in the Embassy in London brought the family to Britain and, although he changed jobs, this where they stayed.

Truong combines information about the Vietnam War with a personal family story.  Where the two overlap, the most insights are to be found.  In some senses, this is the story of every family.  ‘Marco’ grew up in London at the same time I did so the references, both pictorial and written, to the changing times are of particular interest.  So, too, is the invitation to consider the Vietnam War from a different angle.  It isn’t the American angle but neither is it the contrary North Vietnamese view of things. Instead, Marco sees the radical students around him supporting the anti- colonial forces of the north and cannot understand why the communists are seen as benign.  His position is one of concern for the family and friends in South Vietnam.

As his hair grew longer in the 70s so did his understanding of what was actually going on in Vietnam.  When he moves to France as a teenager, he continues to find himself in the middle of the conflict between North Vietnamese supporting students and those who support the ‘western values’.

This memoir has a parallel story, though.  It is one of being of mixed heritage and of living with a mother who has bipolar disorder.  The effect of these two factors in his growing up and the directions taken by each of his siblings make for a poignant reminder of what family life can be.

‘Saigon Calling’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?BlogSaigonCalling

Centre of My World

Central to this film version of Andreas Steinhofel’s amazing novel is the theme of identity.  Phil has a gap in his knowledge of himself since his mother, called Glass by everyone, refuses to reveal the name of his father.  Phil and his twin Diane grow up in an unconventional way with a mother who is something of a free spirit in a large house that is remarkable because of its bohemian look.  The rest of the town may look down on them because of their unorthodox lifestyle but they don’t care because they have each other.

I declare the following:  I thought the book was amazing.  I loved it when I first read it which was when it first appeared in English, translated from German.  I also love the work of Andreas Steinhofel.  I did not love this film but I liked it!

Phil is gay so when he meets Nicholas and is smitten he is thrilled to have his feelings returned.  The relationship becomes a sexual one and Phil finds himself accepted by somebody outside his family which is just as well as this is the moment when conflict between Diane and Glass threatens their unit.  Things are made worse by the fact that neither sister nor mother will tell him why they are in dispute.

Phil retreats into his relationship and appears to have found love.  There is even room for Phil’s best and long term friend Kat and the three become friends.  Glass may reject lovers after just a short while but Phil is different.  So when the betrayal comes, of friend Kat and boyfriend Nicholas, the pain is acute.  When the truth of the rift between Diane and Glass is revealed Phil questions his place in the family.

The film has reduced aspects of the book, how could it do otherwise and stay within a reasonable theatrical showing duration?  Yet, for me, although the relationship between the two boys is well portrayed and the pain shown by Phil when he realises Kat has betrayed him is poignant, many of the other characters lose their fullness and come across as self- centred or immature, as in the case of Kat and Glass, or are not well developed at all, as in the case of Diane.

Louis Hofmann is brilliant as Phil.  ‘Centre of My World’ enters my hinterland but mostly so it can sit alongside the book which remains a true artistic expression of young love.

 

The Shadow Lines

BlogShadowLinesThis is a book that I picked up because of its cover.  The story takes place over two countries and several decades, focusing on the inter- relation of two families, one Indian and one British as various members meet and depart over the years.

There is a central act that affects them all but the nature of the incident is not revealed until the end.  However, the sense that we are heading towards this one essential event pervades the book.  Amitav Ghosh keeps the reader with him since we want to know what glue kept these families together but why is there a gulf between them (to mix the metaphors!).

The novel is in two parts: Going Away and Coming Home.  The narrator starts as a young boy in Calcutta trying to work out the adults around him.  He hero worships Tridib, his worldly uncle, who seems to negotiate the world with ease.  Tridib has lived in London as well as India and it is here that the link with the British family, the Prices, is established.  The son of the family is in love with Ila, the narrator’s cousin, and the daughter is in love with Tridib.

We know from early on that May, the daughter, is not ‘with’ Tridib even though she travelled to India and then Bangladesh to be near him.  The reason why becomes clear and the meetings of the narrator with May in London in the 60s become meaningful when the gaps in the families’ histories are filled.

What could be a complex novel is skilfully handled by Ghosh.  The narrator’s feelings for and about the members of both families change over time and, just as in most families, the narrative is never straight forward.  In the end, though, the adult narrator comes to an accommodation with his younger self and realises that family secrets are rarely helpful or healthy.

‘The Shadow Lines’ by Amitav Ghosh is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?