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Winner of the 1986 Whitbread Book of the Year and shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize, Kazuo Ishiguro’s – An Artist of the Floating World (1986) celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016 having been published to great acclaim both then and now.
Included in the Observer’s 2015 list of the 100 best novels in English, (no.94 on the list), Ishiguro’s 2nd novel concentrates on a Japan pre and post war along with the impact of change to Japan and its people subsequent to the latter period of history.
The narrator – Masuji Ono – is a retired artist, bearing the secret of a past which is always bubbling beneath the surface waiting to explode at any time.
When it comes to writing about Japan and its people, Ishiguro is a master of such, himself having been born in Nagasaki. He is also adept at delicately portraying the, at times, very complicated relationships between young and old, teacher and student along with father and children as each group attempt to find their place within an ever changing world after the war.
The influence of the Western World as demonstrated through the grandson’s (Ichiro) love of cowboys and Pop-eye (American and European respectively) runs throughout the narrative, as does the struggle to negate for the past in the face of an ever changing present and future.
As such, An Artist of the Floating World, is a grand work well worthy of the acclaim to which its ascribed and clearly marks out Ishiguro as one of the finest writers in the English language.
(C) Copyright 2017, Darell J Philip
Booton Herndon’s Hero of Hacksaw Ridge is the official authorized story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist who, as a war medic, saved over 75 lives without the use of a single weapon. The book is the gripping true story that inspired the Mel Gibson directed film – Hacksaw Ridge, which picked up two Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing in February this year.
Like the film, the book gives a fascinating account of a young man ridiculed for his faith in God but who would later become an inspirational American war hero, embraced and loved by the same comrades who had before shunned him. Such was the respect for Doss that he would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, the nation’s highest honour presented to the nation’s heroes for outstanding gallantry beyond the call of duty in actual combat. The fact that Doss became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour was all the more fascinating.
In an interview with The Guardian, actor, Andrew Garfield, who is widely known for playing the role of Spiderman and took the lead role as Doss in Hacksaw Ridge said: “I think everyone can relate to that feeling of exile. That feeling of being misunderstood, not being seen in a deep way. Kind of kept out of the inner circle.” Highlighting the qualities that make Doss such a hero in Hacksaw Ridge, Garfield added: “He was treating Japanese soldiers in the middle of a war. He doesn’t see skin colour. He doesn’t see an enemy. He sees humanity.”
Upon watching the film or reading the book, this sense of humanity will also be seen as we are reminded of the acts of bravery from those before which make it possible for all of us to be here today.
Andrew Garfield Never Compromised Who Was Spiderman, The Guardian, 30th December 2016.
(c) Copyright 2017, Darell J Philip
In her debut novel – Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi has produced a work which will be heralded and spoken of by many generations. The story begins with the lives of Effia and Esi – two sisters who are taken on different journeys which impact upon the generations that follow.
Homegoing is a journey beginning in the African Gold Coast and ending in Harlem, America. While the story is fictionalised, you do get a sense of the various characters and settings being ones which are close to the heart of the author – herself having been raised in Huntsville, Alabama in America but born in Mampong, Ghana.
Not since the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots (1976) has there been such a pivotal work which demonstrates the plights of slavery and its impact on future generations, albeit, perhaps, on a whirlwind tour in contrast to the depth of narrative to be found Roots. What perhaps comes through more clearly in Homegoing though is not only the importance of history and how it shapes us but also the fact that this history is to be celebrated as it is remembered. Its a past not only of suffering and shame but also of beauty and hope. As each character from each generation tells his or her story, the reader is reminded that every person is significant with a unique story to tell which are all intricately linked within a trail which forms a part of our identity and culture while not necessarily defining our destiny.
Homegoing is not only an inspirational novel but also a triumphant one because it resonates so well with each generation – from those who felt the full force of slavery to those who were arrested during civil rights marches along with those who made it into Stanford University, learning about their true yet often hidden ancestry and history along the way.
Homegoing is a novel that reconnects culture with history, thereby enabling readers to make sense of the present while offering hope for the future because of the strength of the generations before, leading to the rich legacy they have left behind as a result.
(C) Copyright 2017, Darell J Philip
Its now been 3 days since a horrific fire, the cause of which is yet to be determined, has consumed a tower block in London. Grenfell Tower, in North Kensington, has experienced the results of a devestating fire. As the flames continue to slowly burn at the remains of the tower, sadness has suddenly turned into anger as local residents along with concerned members of the public demand to know why no precautions had been made to prevent such a disaster happening in the first place.
As details begin to emerge of the number of those who have lost their lives in the tragedy, a clear pattern is developing of the lives of those who lived inside the 24 storey high tower block. This major incident comes just days after a General Election result saw the Labour Party snatch control of the London borough of Kensington, a generally affluent area, out of Conservative hands. However, it has emerged that many of the residents living in Grenfell Tower had been from low income, working-class and migrant backgrounds. Could this perhaps be one of the reasons why residents concerns to the council and local government officials regarding the safety of the tower block were ignored?
Reports suggest that residents had raised the alarm about safety of the tower block over a year ago but there was no response to it. A recent refurbishment to the tower block at an estimated £10m did little to prevent the fire which claimed 17 lives, with one of those now being formally identified as Mohammed Alhajali – a 23 year old Syrian refugee who was in the final year of a civil engineering degree. Speaking to BBC News, his brother, Omar, said: “I was led out of the building with others thinking that he was behind me. When I got outside and realised that he was not with us, I called him on my phone and asked him where he was. He said he was still inside the flat. When I asked him why he had not followed us out, he said that no one had come for him.” Omar, 25, then broke down as he said: “My brother then said why had I left him there.” Sadly, that was the last of the brothers conversation.
Members of the public, along with those living just a few yards away from the site are writing messages of condolence to the families of those who have lost loved ones, while thousands of pounds have been donated towards those needing to be rehoused having lost everything but their lives in a tragedy which has gripped the nation.
London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, working alongside the investigative forces, has vowed to get to the bottom of this incident while Prime Minister, Theresa May, who paid a private visit to the site, offered her personal condolences to the families and those affected.
(c) Copyright 2017, Darell J Philip
Members of the Media Society were invited to a special evening in which they learned of the state of diversity in British Broadcasting by two elite journalists. BBC News presenter, Clive Myrie was in conversation with the former ITV London Weekend Television Executive, Sir Trevor Phillips, OBE.
Clive Myrie was born in Bolton, England to Jamaican parents. His mother was a qualified teacher in Jamaica but was made to work as a seamstress upon her arrival in England. The Myrie family of 7 lived a stone’s throw away from Bolton Wanderers Football Club and with sport being a household favourite, Clive was fittingly named after the legendary West Indies Cricket captain, Clive Lloyd. He went to grammar school before completing a law degree at the University of Sussex, graduating in 1985. Trevor Phillips was born in London along with 8 others to Guyanese parents. Like Clive, Trevor’s mother was also made to take on work as a seamstress and he too attended grammar school before acquiring a university degree in law and chemistry from Imperial College London. Both Trevor and Clive were quick to point out their parents’ initial disapproval of their chosen professions. “The expectations my parents had for me were to become a lawyer or doctor. So you can imagine the shock I gave them when I told them that I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism,” says Clive. Trevor clearly identified with Clive’s dilemma when approaching his parents with the subject of career choice. He said: “Guyanese parents have very high expectations of their children – they see them as doctors or lawyers but never as journalists because its not viewed as an honest and hard-working profession.”
Any parental disapproval of their career choices was quickly put to bed when the two journalists became regular faces on prime time tv during a time when the screen had previously been dominated by middle class white males. Clive, a familiar face on BBC Evening News, had applied to a BBC Training Course where he managed to sternly beat off thousands of entrants to secure himself one of the 12 offered places. “For as long as I can remember, I have always loved telling stories,” begins Clive, who adds: “I wanted to see a world beyond the four walls of Bolton. So when, to my delight, I was offered one of those 12 spaces on the BBC Training Course, I quickly said goodbye to law and now the rest is history.” For Trevor, the ambition was always to be involved in a management role. He said: “My parents’ high expectations were matched by my desire to be in charge of something.” Firstly, Trevor went on to become a presenter on ITV London Weekend Television before being promoted to Executive Presenter. Later on, he would become Chairman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now is currently the President of the partnership council of the John Lewis Partnership. “My parents’ strong work ethic along with their high expectations for me and my desire to become a manager were the stepping stones which paved the way to where I am today,” he said.
Diversity in British Broadcasting
Although Trevor (at age 62) is 10 years Clive’s senior, both journalists have over 20 years experience in the profession. During those years there have been some changes in the representation of diversity in news though perhaps not on a seismic level. “Diversity in broadcasting is now slightly more widely represented than it was before but its still not enough, especially at executive levels,” says Clive. Trevor agrees with Clive’s analysis of the current situation. He said: “My career began 10 years before Clive’s and I along with Sir Trevor McDonald and Moira Stewart were, at the time, just a handful of the faces to be diversely represented on television news. I was very fortunate to get to an executive level but while there are more of us on the screen nowadays, not enough progress has been made during the last 20 years.” Both presenters believe there needs to be a fairer reflection of diversity in more senior and executive roles. “Today, Clive is a leader in his field but behind him there is no one,” says Trevor. He adds: “There are virtually no television executive roles being occupied by those from ethnically diversed backgrounds. Consequently we are in a disturbingly worst state now than we were in my time as an an executive.” Clive points out that the decline in journalism as a profession along with its conditions of pay are also partly to blame. He said: “Journalism doesn’t pay much now like it did before. Working for a local newspaper doesn’t pay the bills. While work experience and apprenticeship schemes are good they do not always guarantee a paid job at the end of it.” Trevor agrees. He said: “It is because of the lack of representation in the media along with the decline in the profession and its pay that journalism, as a career, is not made readily attractive to those from diverse backgrounds.”
For both Clive and Trevor, the future of diversity in British Broadcasting can begin to look brighter with the entrusting of a more diverse presence within both senior and executive roles so as to reflect the society we live in today. The two journalists hope that their experiences within the industry can inspire others to follow the same path. “Being in Moorhouse College in Atlanta in 2008 was one of the best stories I covered in my role as the BBC Foreign Correspondent,” says Clive. He added: “To be surrounded by thousands of people in tears as we witnessed the historical election of Barack Obama to President of the United States of America in the same place where Martin Luther King Jnr received his education was an incredibly humbling experience.” For Trevor, the fight to make it in the industry must go on. He said: “I don’t see myself as a controversial figure although in the past some have viewed me as one. I just believe in democracy, arguing and fighting for what you believe in.” Having both fought to get to where they find themselves now, Clive and Trevor strongly encourage the media aspirants of the future to do the same.
(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip
Man Booker Prize nominated author, Paul Beatty, made a flying visit from America to London to talk to readers about his most critically acclaimed novel yet: The Sellout. Speaking to an audience at the Waterstones book store in Islington, Beatty delved way back into his childhood, sharing memories of his time in Los Angeles. He said: “I grew up in an integrated middle-class area of LA so I wasn’t consciously aware of my race until I found myself in other neighbourhoods such as the East Coast.” Beatty describes his first encounter with race as coming after his reading of Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings. He said: “When I read that book, it did not sit well with me because it almost felt as if it was a project. Perhaps I think too deeply about things. Like when I obsessed over the fact that all my family members excluding myself and my 2 sisters were all right-handed. Or the fact that communism in Germany was an experiment – which though well intentioned can be hard to accept when you’re the lab rat. Perhaps my background in psychology explains all my thinking.”
Beatty remembers his school life with some interest. “I grew up in Santa Monica where it was all white. My sisters and I were the only blacks in elementary school. However, it felt normal because of the area in which we lived. So just imagine the weird culture shock we would experience when mum would move us to an all-black school! These experiences helped to shape who I am today and form some of the themes to be explored in my latest novel – The Sellout.” The book has been described as a great American satire on race and comes at a time when a lot is going on in the U.S. in terms of race relations as evidenced through the Black Lives Matter campaign as well as the election trail to succeed out-going President – Barack Obama. “This book is about my discomfort” says Beatty. He adds: “I’m not trying to make others uncomfortable. In fact, I use the word comfort in the book all the time. I love being lost and always often start writing from a place of discomfort.” Beatty was aware of this discomfort from an early age. He said: “When I first started writing it was because I wanted to. I was from the West Coast but went to school in the East Coast, so, in some ways I felt like an odd ball. There was always a struggle within myself to get my voice on the page. I wanted to sound unique, to write like me.”
The first poem he wrote to his liking was what he describes as a long monologue to himself about an experience he had with a bully. He said: “I felt more strongly about this poem than some of my professors did. I remember one professor giving me a C+ for an assignment after which he told me that I’d be wasting my time in pursuing a career in writing, while another professor told me that people will learn to read you. But it was Professor Allan Gingsberg who, after reading my poem, said that he had liked it and encouraged me to continue as I had something special there.”
Cultural appropriation debate
When Beatty was asked where he stood on the whole cultural appropriation debate as derived from a speech presented by author, Lionel Shriver, he said: “I don’t believe in ownership. Basketball is not a black only sport neither is that the case in the hip hop genre of music. When you put it out there, it belongs to the world. However, on another level, there are things you like which you really shouldn’t. I find it fascinating the variety of ways in which people see the concept of blackness. For the black writer, there is almost always a burden to give a certain segment of the population an explanation for what you write, though I personally do not take this burden on myself.”
Room to fail
So having written three novels prior to his latest Man Booker Prize nominated book ▪ what’s next on the horizon for Beatty? With a wry smile he concludes: “Well, I wish I could have stolen the answer Colson Whitehead (author of The Underground Railroad) gave to this question. He said the shelves can never be big enough. I’m just giving myself some room to fail. When Colson said that, I was like, ahh man, I wish that was me (that said that). That’s just pure genius.”
▪ The Sellout (2016) by Paul Beatty (published by Oneworld) was on the night of Tuesday 25th October 2016 duly awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It is currently available from all major book stores.
(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip