Bill Manbo’s Colors of Confinement

December 7, 1941- 7:48 a.m
« A date in which we live in infamy« , says President Roosevelt.
The well-known military strike on Pearl Harbor was intended by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters as a preventive attack to keep the U.S away from interfering with military attacks Japan planned in South Asia, against overseas counties. 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. The attack left American people in a profound shock, since it happened on their territory, without any explicit warning nor any declaration of war. Contrary to expectations, it led to the superpower’s entry into World War II. From the end
If we know how much that particular event disrupted the course of history in an international standpoint, we know a lot less about the repercussion it had from within.

Feb. 19, 1942
The trap slowly closes in around 120,000 people from Japanese origins who live on the West Coast of the country. From the end of the 19th century, they were numerous to leave Japan in order to settle in to the United States. The law prohibits them to have the American citizenship, however their children, who were born there, are Americans. Suddenly, they all became suspects, potential betrayers, inside ennemies. President Roosevelt signes the executive order n°9066 to remove every person of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. They are placed in confinement camps as hysteria spreads across the country. American citizens fear another attack, as they are accused to be in cahoots with Japan to plan another strike or to poison water resources. Every descendant of Japanese immigrants have to bring back their radios and cameras to the authorities. Among 120,000 people gathered, two thirds of them are authentic American citizens
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Form March to June, 1942
District after district, the army proceeds to the evacuation of these people, whose sight is now unwanted. One of them is Bill Manbo, an auto mechanic who dabbles in photography and model airplanes. He and his wife, Mary, as well as their baby son Billy, and his wife’s mother and younger siblings are transferred to one of 10 « relocation centers » in Heart Mountain, in the isolated Nothwestern Wyoming. Such as thousands of others, the family of seven -and soon eight again, since Mary’s father has been interned as « enemy alien » right after Pearl Harbor since he was teaching Japanese, before being determined not to be a threat- has to live its home, all of its belongings such as Bill’s garage and has to leave everything they know with a single suitcase. They are assigned to a small room in one of the shacks. The air is cold and dusty. All they an see is the desert that surrounds them. That’s where they are going to live, no one knows for how long.
Bill managed to bring his camera hidden in his suitcase with him and takes pictures of the camp sneakily at nightfall, as soldiers around the camp mustn’t know.

Fall, 1942
The West Coast is completely cleared of anyone Japanese. From now on, they are all living one of the 10 camps built in a hurry throughout the desert. More than 10,000 came by bus or by train to Heart Mountain, displaced without ever being judged. Two third of them are children and young adults with American citizenship. The head of the camp agrees with Bill taking pictures, but the instructions are clear: not any picture of the barbed wire nor of the soldiers around the camp. Bill wants to take pictures to keep memories of his son Billy as he grows older. But he had never envisioned that he would take pictures of him in a camp. There is no othe word to describe it; they are living in a camp. Everything is communal: laundry, food, toilets… Billy wears the American army’s costume his mother offered him before their arrival in the camp all the time. America is the country he was born in. In this place, nothing scares the children. They see it as a gigantic playground.
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Winter, 1942
Nothing seems to be able to stop the American army in the Pacific Ocean. Hostility towards Japanese people increases always more. In the camps, life goes on. Everything is still to build and take care of: schools, meals… The inmates try to forget the barbeled wire all around them, as well as the soldiers who received the order to shoot anyone trying to escape. Bill repares cars who belong to the American army and earns a few dollars. Mary still doesn’t accept to be there. A few months ago, she was creating outfits for a successful theater company. Now, the temperatures are sub- zero temperatures and the cold wind infiltrates their room. It’s freezing cold. Sumo games are organized to encourage spring to come. Bill has never seen before, he grew up playing baseball.

1943
Japan isn’t invincible anymore. Still at the head of an Empire, they are defeated once by the American army and go through heavy casualties. It will soon be one year since Bill and his family came to this camp. All together, the prisonners celebrate the Independance Day on the 4th of July. But this year, surrounded by barbed wire, they are uneasy.

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« Why is this country, our country that we are celebrating, emprisonning us? »

They are also allowed to celebrate the Buddhist calendar’s celebration of the middle of Summer. Women are dancing during a long time, colourful in their yukatas, light kimonos. Bill takes a picture of his son behind the barbed wire, so that he doesn’t forget where he spent the fist years of his life. Since Pearl Harbor, Japanese immigrants were perceived as potential ennemies. But it slowly changes. The state allows Japanese men to fight in the colours of the US in European fronts. Beforehand, they have to make sure of their loyalty and each of them have to write a loyalty test, which hatches the inmates’ anger. One of the questions asks them who they respect between the President of the US and the Emperor of Japan. The authorities want to know if they are willing to swear allegiance to The US. Bill answers yes, but only if they get their rights back, as citizens of America. Because of that, he and his wife have to submit to an interrogation, that ends well for them. However, some of their neighbors are judged « disloyal », merely as they asked the end of the camps and displaced again to a « high surveillance » camp, far away.

25,000 young Japanese American young men enlist in the American Army. A new regiment n°442 was created, only composed of American citizens from Japanese ancestry. Its devise is « Go For Broke » (Tente le tout pour le tout)
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?(This picture wasn’t taken by Manbo.)

Fall, 1944
The 442nd regiment is sent to the Eastern French front in the Vosges, where German soldiers are resisting. The Japanese American soldiers set the town of Bruyères free on the 19th and 20th of October. But as they release a Texan regiment surrounded by Germans, many of them die. According to Bill, they fought for the world to be free. But he is still locked up in this camp. He doesn »t even enjoy taking photographs anymore, since he knows each nook of it. He can’t stand waiting for the war to end and leaves to camp to find work. For a few weeks some of them are allowed to do so. But it’s not that easy: where to go? What welcoming will they find?
The West Coast is still prohibited to them.

May, 1945
Germany surrenders but Japan refuses to give in. The US decide to take drastic steps and use two atomic bombs that destroy both Hiromisha and Nagasaki. Japan finally yields and the war officially ends. The 442th becolmes the most decorated regiment of the American army but also the one with the heaviest number of deads. They changed the vision the American citizens had of Japanese immigrants. Each internee is given 25$ and a train ticket to the destination they choose. Bill and his family found the lights of Los Angeles back, their house and Bill’s garage with his tools, still as he left them. But many others didn’t anything left when they returned. Bill puts his camera away, his pictures in boxes and moves on to something else…

1988
The congress apologies for the camps.

1992
All grown up, Billy works for Boeing and envisions planes’ engines.
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He doesn’t have any memory of his life in Heart Mountain. When his parents die, he gives all of the pictures his father took as a gift to the Japanese American National Museum. Sixty-five of them where published in a book intitled ‘Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome photographs of Japanese-American incarceration camps in World War II’. You can see some of them here.
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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie

  For a few decades, the whole world has been the stage of brutal, outlandish and bizarre political ideologies, whose Orwellian emblems –Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Mao and many others- were so ruthless and maybe even bloodier than some Ancient World’s megalomaniac tyrants such as Caligula, this insane and self-absorbed Roman emperor.
But although mankind is supposed to improve and learn of its errors, some recent systems were so Orwellian that even Orwell would have had troubles envisioning them. One of them could be Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which unfold from 1966 to the dictator’s death, about 10 years later. Its purpose was to eradicate the educated upper class in the name of the communist ideology, which implies the equality of people on every level. It aimed at erasing the « Four Olds », so old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits, which means everything this era’s Chinese society was based on…The so-called « young intellectuals »- youths who attended secondary school- and bourgeois were deemed to be as many ennemies of the people. According to the government, they needed to be « re-educated‘, and to do so, were sent off to the underdevelopped peasants of the countryside, alleged more virtuous. Between 1968 and 1975, around 12 million youths were thus  »rusticated. »

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Dai Sijie, a Chinese filmmaker and writer, who is also the author of the novel I am going to tell you about, was one of these young men. He lived and worked in the Sichuan Province’s mountains between 1971 and 1974 and has then turned his experience into a poetic and touching story « Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress », published in France a few years ago, to huge acclaim. He shows that way China’s ambivalent attitude to both its past and present.

The novel’s narrator, Ma, is a serious, silent, and talented violonist and son of two hard-working doctors, whose crimes were to be « stinking scientific authorities. » His friend Luo, who shares his adventures on the countryside is his whole contrary; not only bold but without scruples in helping himself to what he wants. He is also the son of someone altogether more dangerous: Mao’s personal dentist, who couldn’t prevent himself from telling his relatives about his exalted patient.

 »Here was an eminent dentist stating publicly that the Great Helmsman of the Revolution had been fitted with new teeth, just like that. It was beyond belief, an unpardonable, insane crime, worse than revealing a secret of national security. »

Packed off to the damp, remote mountains that you can easily imagine if you have already seen stylized paintings of pre-Revolutionary chinese landscapes, our first nameless narrator and his friend Luo realize that their « re-education » is entrusted to a group of illiterate and former opium traffickers, whose wisdom is justified by being part of the respectable peasantry. Solicitous to get rid of anything « western » or « reactionary« , the head of the village, called Chief, goes through their belongings and finds a cookbook and a violin. The cookbook is quickly thrown in the fire after the reading of it spreads expressions of longing into villager’s faces. The violin was about to follow the same path, since Chief decreed that it was a toy. No, says Luo, it is for making music and Ma plays it very well. The first bars of one of Mozart’s sonatas sound like an odd birdsong in the mountains as the villagers are completely unaccustomed to classical western melodies and harmonies. They are eventually allowed to keep this strange instrument as they present this piece as « Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao« . Later on, Chief will hear Swan Lake, but only agrees to like it once the young men insure him that it was « written for Lenin ». The gap is felt between the town and the mountain. The peasants have never seen an alarm clock for instance; they wake up everyday with the sunrise to go to bed at the sunset. This incredible invention leaves the chief flabbergasted, but he finds it very efficient to make the villagers and laborers work in time…until Luo and Ma change the hands so many times, they quickly lost all notion of time.

Indeed, books and ideas that don’t emanate from the ruling regime are forbidden in the village, as well as western music. Life in the village is hard: Luo and Ma are in charge of some arduous tasks, such as backbreaking work in a coal mine or carrying huge containers of human waste down to the fields, where it is then used to fertilize crops. Their daily life is quite dull, until they meet the bold, full of life, beautiful daughter of the local tailor, known as Little Seamstress, who brings a ray of sunshine in their existence. Although she is unschooled, both of the young men grow fondly attached to her, in different ways.

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One of the only true entertainment comes in the form of projection of politically correct North Korean and Albanian movies in another village nearby. Because of their intellectual backgrounds, they are sent by the head of the village to narrate them next to the whole village. The first time they go, they swap the initial plot for an engaging tale, even adding some home-made « snow » crafted from rice skin to enhance their effect. But they soon discover something even more important. One of their bespectacled fellow nicknamed « Four-Eyes« – glasses being of course, the most obvious sign of decadent intellectuals- the coward son of a well-known poet, hides a wooden suitcase full of western books in his hut. After stealing this collection, Luo and Ma begin a new kind of « re-education« ; they read books by Flaubert, Balzac, Kipling, Dostoievski or Gogol out loud for the Little Seamstress. In order not to be caught, the three companions hide their treasure in a far-away cave, where they read the works one at a time, teaching their avid pupil how to read.

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The young Chinese Peasant has already became aware of the existence of an unknown world and is eager for discovering it all. As soon as they read the first book of the case, which is Balzac’s « Ursule Mirouët« , the effect is devastating, absolutely revolutionary for the three of them, since even in the hometown of the two young men, the only western books allowed are the complete works of the Albanian Communist leader, as Albania is « a great friend of China ». The subjects mentioned blow their minds away, as they slowly discover a sensual and romantic world, until then missing from their lives, as the Communist ideology studiously forgets them. Moreover, these are as many deep emotions justified and implified by Balzac and the other authors found in the suitcase. The narrator’s own favourite book is no other but Romain Rolland’s « Jean-Christophe », without which, he says: ‘‘I would never have understood the splendor of taking free and independent action as an individual. »

“It was a totally new experience for me. Before, I had no idea that you could take on the role of a completely different person, actually become that person––a rich lady, for example––and still be your own self.” -The little Seamstress

Luo becomes the Little Seamstress’s paramour, and although his attachement is for sure genuine, he can’t help but trying to « civilize » her and to do so, forces many things upon her. For instance, he wants her to use her arms as she swims, rather than dog-paddling like the other villagers do. He also would like her to speak and act more like a city girl, that she isn’t. However, we can easily wonder about who educates-or re-educates- who in this story… Luo, a quite arrogant character, talks about his « fellow Balzac« , with whom he feels equal and certainly superior to the uncivilized peasants, and even his Seamstress, as he seems to think that he is the only one who can provide something to her, and certainly not the contrary. But here comes the irony; it is not Luo and Ma who understand these stories the most, but the Little Seamstress who read into them the sense of what she was missing in such a petty and backward world, that she decides to leave behind. Dressed in her new western clothes, she runs away without listening to her friends, who later understand the frightening power of literature, and why it is feared by the government. Balzac’s words, that Luo calls a « wizard », transformed the little peasant and rose her consciousness as she left the Sichuan province for the city.

 »Had we ourselves, » the narrator asks,  »failed to grasp the essence of the novels we had read to her? »

Then comes an ellipsis and we are propelled 30 years later. Ma became a successful violonist living in Paris and Luo a father, husband and a professor in dentistry. Although their lives are happy enough, the western culture they embraced looks now common. They both decide to go back to this village they grew up in and it’s merely as if they travelled in time, to the Middle Ages. Nothing changed much, only the crystal-clear laughters of the Little Seamstress are gone with her and Chief’s face looks a lot more wrinkled. They learn that this place lost in the mountains is about to be wiped out by flooding, to build a new electrification dam. The valley will disappear into thin air, just like their memories of this time, that slowly flow by. Both men yearn to see this woman they both loved, but whom they repelled with their books and music. They look after her during a long amount of time, but no avail. Inspired by Balzac, she took control of her life and went exploring this brand new world and herself. But no one knows where she is.

As Luo and Ma are reminiscent of their youth together, their memories are shaped into an underwater vision of this village in 1971, which feels like a tale. The water closes in on them; however it is obvious that something meaningful remains.

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Don’t you think that we all need a bit of wizardry from time to time? I sometimes find it delightful to go back in time, and it’s easier to do than you might think. No need of a magic wand, simply one of those book that you read a long time ago. One of those bewitched books whose worlds feel like weird but mesmerizing places you visited with a pounding heart but that you know so well that they are now as many shelters. However, the book I would like to talk about contains its share of mystery, involving a wizard with odd habits, a door opening to four different places, a sweaty young-looking witch, a young girl in disguise and even a fire-demon…

Have you ever heard of Howl’s Moving Castle? Maybe you have, but I would be surprised if it really was about the book and not the equally wonderful but rather different motion picture created by the internationally acclamed Hayao Miyazaki. The movie you may know was actually inspired by a British book written by Diana Wynne Jones, who published over 30 books.

castle

The protagonist of this story is seventeen-years-old Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three sisters. Their father owns a a hat shop in the town of Market Chipping, in Ingrary. For Sophie, being born eldest of three is just enough to be the beginning of her troubles. You see, as everyone in this land knows, succeeding in the role of fortune-seeker is reserved to the youngest children and the eldest are merely those who fail first, if not even worse… Actually, we first hear of our eponymous wizard in the first chapter, where Jones teases the well-known clichés of the fantastic genre, as the land of Ingary is depicted as a place « where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist« . Sophie is resigning herself to live a dull life making hats as it will follow for sure, while her sisters both live exciting existences, until a moving castle appears on the hills above the town and refuses to stay motionless. At first afraid that it would belong to the dreadful Witch of the Waste, the townspeople are then soon saying that its owner is the wizard Howl, who can’t help but have fun « collecting young girls and sucking the souls from them. Or some people said he ate their hearts. »

Nonetheless, Sophie unwillingly attracts the Witch of the Waste’s anger and finds herself stuck into an old lady’s body. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the always-moving castle seenable from her hat shop: the Wizard Howl’s Castle. And since she aged so much, she isn’t scared anymore. Furthermore, she will have to handle Howl himself, who is so vain that he spends hours in the bathroom before going out, his young helper Michael and Calcifer, the talking fire… Becoming Howl’s housemaid only becomes possible after setting an uncanny bargain with the demon-fire in the hearth: although she can’t speak about the spell she is under, Calcifer knows it and agrees to give her back her appearance if she manages to discover and break the contract that links him up with Howl. But who is really Howl? Why is he so difficult to pin down? Can Sophie trust this mischievous fire crackling on the hearth? How does the castle manage to be in 4 locations in the same time? And does the jars in the bathroom labelled HAIR, SKIN and EYES contain limbs of unfortunate girls who came too close to the wizard?

It may just sounds like a foolish little tale, but it’s more than that. It would be nearly impossible to write about all of the astonishing surprises and elements that this story incorporates, so I will tell those I am the most amazed of.

First of all, there are many fairytales connections. But Jones knows them so well, that she easily explores them, reshuffes them and goes even further by subverting them, which is truly refreshing and remarkable to me. To begin with, doesn’t the name of the Witch of the Waste remind you of someone? It could be this other sorceress straight out from « The Wonderful Wizard of Oz » whose name is interestingly the Witch of the West. Furthermore, the opening chapter about Sophie’s life is reminiscent of Cinderella‘s tale, without Sophie having bad relationships with her relatives and siblings, fated to create hats her whole life long. Similarly, Howl and Sophie seem to embody the roles of the Beauty and the Beast alternately- Sophie is both the Beauty and the Beast at times, just like Howl is- and they can’t be easily defined. Also, Howl is a very interesting hero, who has qualities but is so far away from the perfect character that he becomes very human. He is vain, sees himself as a drama queen (or king) but also incredibly coward at times, he often throws a fit because of meaningless matters: he catches the flu, or his hair’s colour is wrong…Although it isn’t a humorous story, there are many really funny moments.
howl

“I feel ill, » [Howl] announced. « I’m going to bed, where I may die.”

Then, it is also such an optimistic story! Although Sophie ages prematurely, she is never down and always sees things as the part of the bottle that is half-full. Judging that this new appearance represents her true self better than her former youthful one, she just keeps going and overcomes every obstacle, finally daring to take charge of her own destiny. Jones also doesn’t mollycoddle her readers, she doesn’t look down on them, as she doesn’t explain everything but let us put every part of the puzzle together on our own. She trusts us. Which brings me to my last point: she words her sentences wonderfully, cleverly as well.

“Things are going round and round in my head–or maybe my head is going round and round in things.”

And it’s also the way this book can be perceived: its story is a story of words. Different kind of words: songs, curses, words that save or hurt, harm imposed after believing in words… This is a book that tells the importance of words, or how magical they can be.
roomThank you very much Manon for buying it to me 😉

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson

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Have you ever heard of the film director Wes Anderson? Or have you ever watched one of these movies: The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, the Darjeeling Limited or the eponymous animated feature Fantastic Mr Fox based on Roald Dahl’s book… I am sure that if you did see one of them, you remember it for sure! He may have one of the most distinctive visual styles a popular American film director has ever had, which led to many parodies reproducing his unique work… For instance, he seems to be obsessed with symmetry and unique colours. The sceneries he imagines are always very colourful and look as if we just entered a magical fairy tale. Moreover, critics and writers, as well as Anderson himself often refer to his films as  « self-contained worlds« . The characters of his films always behave in a totally exentric way and have amusing but weird characteristics, as much physically as intellectually. But here is a warning: if at first sight, his movies just seem to be wacky comedies, they are actually more meaningful than that and marked by melancholic elements. His recurring themes are often grief, loss of innocence, parental abandonment, suicide, adultery, sibling rivalry…Don’t simply rely on the seemingly shallow lines, you should find the lines between the lines!

The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his latest films and I really enjoyed watching it! It is the kind of movies you should watch when you are sad, sick or depressed: it will make you laugh a lot, cry of laughter and laugh some more…And then feel a bit melancholic?

lift

« The Beginning of the End of the End of the Beginning has begun... »

Wes Anderson creates a brand new world with a special atmosphere. The landcapes and aesthetic choices he makes are truly worth-watching! To sum it up, I could simply say that we follow the adventures of a legendary concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, and known as Mr. Gustave H. He is in charde of a great hotel located in the city of Nebelsbad, in a fictional Central European state called Zubrowka, between the First and the Second World Wars. Known to court aging wealthy women who flock to the Grand Budapest Hotel, we get to know Mr. Gustave through the eyes of a trainee lobby boy, Zero Moustafa. Freshly arrived in the country after his hometown was invaded and his family executed, his most important mission is to give Mr. Gustave his precious fragrance, « L’air de Panache ».
Their life is quite comfortable until one of the concierge’s octogenarian guests, Mrs. (take a deep breath) Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, also known as « Madame D » or even Madame C.V.D.u.T, is found murdered..

« -What if I fall? -Oh, my darling, what if you fly?. »

.Both of them will meet Agatha, a resourceful pastry chef, with whom Zero will fall in love.
2They will also try to keep a mysterious painting called  » Boy with Apple » that everyone has their eyes on, they will be lockep up in an Internment Camp, playing a game of hide and seek in a monastery, chased by a cold-blooded assassin with a sledge, be involved in a chaotic gunfight inside of the hotel…Through plenty of twists and turns, Zero will become Mr. Gustave’s more trusted friend.

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
cat killer

This action-packed movie is even harder to tell indeed because the film director chose a frame narrative. It usually means a story within a story. But you can’t just use this if you are Wes Anderson…This movie is more likely a story within a story within a story. It is divided in several parts, which are:

-Prologue
-Part 1: Mr.Gustave
-Part 2: Madame C.V.D.u.T
-Part 3: Check-point 19 Criminal Internment Camp
-Part 4: The Society of the Crossed Keys
-Part 5: The Second Copy of the Second Will
-Epilogue

This shooting script reminds us of a book, and it’s exactly what Wes Anderson wants us to think. He was inspired by the author Stefan Zweig’s work and this whole story is actually told by an older Zero Moustafa to a famous writer -played by Judd Law-. The former lobby boy is now the director of a shabby and empty version of the Grand Budapest Hotel, several decades after the end of the Second World War. He still visits his hotel now and then, to immerse himself fully in his memories. A deep scent of nostalgia emanate from the Prologue and we figure out, that if what we just saw felt like something magical but artificial, it now makes sense. The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be an idealized, beautiful memory shared with the Young Writer, who will die. A Young Girl can be seen in front of his grave with a book of his. So, the story is a memory of Zero, whose audience is The Author as a young man. He then remembers it as an older man, whose audience is both us (as he talks directly to the camera) and the girl reading the book, and whose audience, finally, is no one else but us. It could be a beautiful metaphor of memories to cherish, as everything and everyone is going to die one day, but it also brings a bit of hope, as it can be remembered for a long time.

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Do you know any of Wes Anderson’s other movies? If so, what did you think about it? ?

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

This book doesn’t have much sense. Or its florishing list of references that are reunited in its plot for no apparent reason is just too enigmatic and cerebral for us. I still can’t make a decision, whether this story is nonsensical or so meaningful that I can’t figure it out. Anyway, it made me immersed in its world like no other.

The reader follows two distinct but interrelated plots, led by two different characters between whom the story goes back and forth.

?On one hand, a 15-years-old young boy just ran away from home where he lived alone with his father. He knows he has a sister and a mother but can’t remember their faces. His main goal in life is to escape a curse his own father strangely told him: he is going to kill his father and sleep with both his mother and sister. Doesn’t it remind you of something? Right, Oedipus’ curse. To prevent this run away, he chose himself a new name and will be known as Kafka Tamura, in honour of Franz Kafka. His real identity will never be revealed to the reader. He has odd fancies: he doesn’t want to need much food, hence him getting used to eat his meals in very small amounts: he believes that his stomach will be accustomed to it, becoming smaller and smaller. He sometimes interracts with his alter ego, « the boy named Crow« . His escape will lead him to a quiet and private library where he takes shelter. It is ruled by a welcoming, haemophiliac and mentor-like Oshima, as well as a snobbish and distant Miss Saeki. He is attracted to her, although she is old enough to be his mother, whom she may as well be… The police will be interested in Kafka, after a violent murder was committed in the house he just left.

“Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything. Nothing’s going to disappear just because you can’t see what’s going on. In fact, things will even be worse the next time you open your eyes. That’s the kind of world we live in. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing your eyes and plugging up your ears won’t make time stand still.”

 

?On the other hand, Nakata is a mentally deficient old man who lost his intellectual faculties when he was younger, during a mysterious incident implying mushrooms and a flash of green light in the sky. However, he discovers that although he can’t have abstract thoughts anymore, he is now able to talk with cats. He even surprises himself as he understands that the fishes falling from the sky for two days aren’t anyone else’s fault but his. His quest begins after he tries to find a cat that mysterously disappeared. He deeply convinces himself that he has to find the « entrance stone« , as well as discovering what it actually opens. His path will bring him to a small library…

“If you think God’s there, He is. If you don’t, He isn’t. And if that’s what God’s like, I wouldn’t worry about it.”
? Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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To sum up, these two initiatory journeys involve a recurring song, a cat killer whose threat is « Kill me or the cat gets it« , a few characters who are abstract concepts indeed, a truck driver wearing hawaiian shirts, a prostitute who knows Hegel‘s work by heart, a wooden hut lost in the woods, a backdrop of Beethoven’s music, the narrow relation between reality and dreams, a blend of cultures, Tokyo’s districts, the role of subconscious mind… It made me dizzy!



raining fish

“Taking crazy things seriously is a serious waste of time.”   Kafka on the Shore, H.MURAKAMI

Between shades of grey, Ruta Sepetys

Wait! I know what you must be thinking just by seeing the title of this article…But you are wrong! The book I would like to talk about doesn’t have anything to do with its almost namesake, sulphurous book… You know, the one that you must have heard about…Yes, that one!… Maybe did you even read a few pages secretly?

So, let’s forget everything about that other one.
•This story takes place in 1941. Lina is a young Lithuanian girl like many others. Obsessed about Edvard Munch‘s work,she draws, she paints, she lives a comfortable life with her loving family and has just been accepted into one of the most prestigious art schools in Europe. Until the 14th of June. Her whole life stops: the NKVD, also known as the frightening Soviet police Organization, invades her home.

“He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot.
We were about to become cigarettes. »

• It is the beginning of a terrifying journey as we follow Lina, her mother and her brother,  who are deported to different gulags and hostile places inhabited by hostile soldiers…
Loaded in cattle train car, they travel hundreds of miles throughout the huge territory of Russia. The conditions of their compelled travel are inhuman: a mother has to give birth to her baby on her own, on the overcrowded and dirty car, helped by some passengers. Obviously, the prisonners can’t go out as they are pleased and don’t have any other place to do their business than in the floor of the car itself…

journey map
They are crossing the Arctic Circle to arrive to work camp located in the coldest parts of Siberia, where they have to dig for beets, do different kinds of exhausting chores… In other words: they have to fight for their lives under the crulest, least humane conditions. Actually, some of the characters sometimes make shocking choices to gain a better life or enable their relatives not to have as many hardships as the others… Lina finds her solace in her ability to draw, meticulously. She identifies herself in the events that she draws to remember, although she takes great risks as she sends these messages to her father’s camp, hopefully.

« Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch. »

This is a story hard to read but also so hard to stop reading.
This is a story about an unbelievable strengh, about love and hope, about survival but it also shows how cruel and unsensitive humans can be.

In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded the three small Baltic countries, that are Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The Kremlin created a list of people considered as Antisovietic and condamned to be assassinated, imprisonned or deported to Siberia to be confined to the level of slaves. These people were doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, musicians, artists, even librarians, soldiers, or businessmen: them and their families were part of an always longer list. The list of a mass extermination project’s victims. The first deportations happened on the 14th of June 1941.
•The writer, Ruta Septetys is the daughter of a lithuanian officer who managed to escape these camps but some of her relatives didn’t have this luck and died there. She wrote her first book about this subject because it is part of her family’s story, as well as because this aspect of the II World War is still unknown to this day. Surrounded by the Soviet Union and The Nazis’ Empire, the Baltic States were forgotten from the world and simply disapeared from the maps. She travelled to Lithuania several times to write this book and met families, inhabitants who survived, psychologists, historians…This story was based on true events. It is estimated that Josef Staline assassinated more than 20 billions of people during his Terror reign. In 1991, after 50 years of occupation, the Baltic countries found their independance back, as well as peace and dignity. They prefered hope to hatred and showed to the world that there is always light at the end of the darkest tunnel.

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Have you ever heard of this story before?

« In the midst of winter, i found there was, within me, an invincible summer. » -A.CAMUS

A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway

Hello everyone!

This time, I would like to make you aware of one of the most touching books I have read lately. As the last line of the 1929 New York Times said, it is truly « a moving and beautiful book« , which is definitely going to stay in your mind for a while…

The title of this novel is actually from a poem by George Peel to Queen Elizabeth. It tells the story of a knight who gets old and has to retire from the battlefield. The strengh of his youth went away, as well as his once-gold hair that turned grey. However, he still loves and respects the Queen and has to leave her court. Instead of writing poems about love, he composes then prayers that he will say down on his knees.

This novel by Ernest Hemingway is mostly set during the Italian Campaign of the First World War. Published for the first time in 1929, Hemingway’s story is told from his main character’s viewpoint: an expatriate American serving in the ambulance corpse of the Italian Army, called Frederic Henry. We follow his meeting, then intense relationship and finally tragic love story with a british Nurse, Catherine Barkley. During these 41 so well-written chapters, we understand perfectly their special relationship, that becomes even more touching, and their constantly rising feelings and devotion to each other.

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This title has a double meaning, since it means both a farewell to love, arms being part of the body and a symbol of contacts and warmth but also a farewell to war, because the word « arms » can also refer to weapons. War is also another major theme of the novel, since it is the background of the story. Frederic even aims at living with Catherine and found a way to escape the war, far from any conflict that makes him unable to live freely with the one he loves. However, this is not a pacifist novel, since Hemingway doesn’t condamn war. On the other way round, war is described as nonsensical events that are bound to happen. This unavoidable brutality contrasts with his view of a hurtable and vulnerable love. This story is moving to me because even if it’s a dark story, it depicts love accurately as something subtle and not obvious, but strong enough to make someone willing to change his whole life and desert, maybe stop wars?

This story is partly based on Hemingway’s own experiences: he served in the Italian campains during the World War I and was inspirred by a real nurse called Agnes von Kurowsky who care for him in a Milan’s hospital. What a coincidence! A Farewell to Arms resonated in this era’s society and it lives on as a major english-written work. Some references were made, by example: Stanley Kubrick thought about giving the title A Farewell to Earth to his film 2001:A Space Odyssey. Many adaptations were realised after this brilliant novel was published, and I didn’t watch any of them yet. But I will, for sure!

Have you ever heard of it?2

T.E.D talks, ideas to change our world

I know what you mean, what a strange title… I have got a question for you: can you name videos, apart from Gangnam Style, cup songs or cats doing funny things, that have more than one billion of views on the web? The answer is basically one of the very best things of the internet: TED.

These three mysterous letters mean « Technology, Entertainment and Design » and it began about 30 years ago as a conference in Silicon Valley. Many engineers or scientists bought tickets to be able to hear experts talking about a lot of different fields. The main idea was to share their knowledge and luckily, try to make the world change. Those talks had only one rule to respect, which is that they must not spend more than 18 minutes. It means that the experts had to keep it simple and understandable for everyone, but also intellectually stimulating. You can now find plenty of these speaches on Youtube by example, or also in audio, if you have time to listen to them. I would have never thought that someone could possibly share worth-spreading ideas in 18 minutes, but they definitely do it brillantly! Some messages are very profound, such as Bill Gates’ talk of 2010, « The kill decision shouldn’t belong to a robot » by Daniel Suarez or the inspiring « My philosophy for a happy life » by Sam Berns. Others are original and entertaining such as « The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain » by Sarah-Jayne Blackmore or « Gaming can make a better world by Jane McGonigal, which you should both tell your parents to watch…

You must be thinking: « why would I watch such intellectual videos, moreover in English? Isn’t it too serious? » Let me tell you, you have just read this whole article written in a foreign language. Aren’t you the perfect person for it?

taylor wilsonHere are some great TED talks, such as:

  • « Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor », Taylor Wilson For those who think that teenagers cannot do much, here is the talk of a 13-year-old boy who built a nuclear fusion reactor in his parents’ garage. And it’s not all…

 

  • « Strange answers to the psychopath test », Jon Ronson. Or why there are many, many more psychopaths that you thought, maybe even very close to you…
  • « Your body language shapes who you are », Amy Cuddy.A simple method to change the way others see you
  • « The family I lost in North Korea. And the family I gained », Joseph Kim . A very touching and real story that makes us become aware of inhabitants’ lives in a strong dictatorship.
  • « Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model », Cameron Russell
  • « What Islam really says about women », Alaa Murabit
  • « How to spot a liar » Pamela Meyer
  • « The good news on poverty. (Yes, there’s good news) », Bono

Tell me if you’ve watched any of these videos 😉

joseph kim

Shanghai Girls, Lisa See

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? I actually chose this book because I didn’t know much about China and the past of this out of the way country. Shanghai Girls is a 2009 novel written by an American novelist, Lisa See, who also has Chinese origins. She is interested in Chinese history, since her ancestors came from this faraway country. The story takes place in Shanghai, in 1937. Pearl and May Chin are two modern young women who are working as models, especially for calendars, to sell baby milk or cigarettes as well…
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? Both of them have a life full of privilege, until their father looses the whole family’s wealth while gambling. To repay his debts, he decides to « sell » his daughters to two « GoldMountain » men, which means two Chinese Americans. As the city is invaded by Japanese soldiers, they have to travel across the country, avoiding the brutal soldiers. However, their mother will be raped and killed as they try to escape, Pearl will also be severly injured. The sisters finally succeed in taking a boat to America, but land in an immigration station called Angel Island. It was basically like another version of Ellis Island in New York, at the only difference that if the second one was kind of welcoming, the other one was  « designed to keep the Chinese out » as See said. The author also said that in this place, « immigrants had to answer between 200 and 1,000 standard questions »! It gives you an idea of the long amount of time they will spend in Angel Island, where Pearl will hear shocking news: May is pregnant, which is going to have unsuspected consequences in their lives…After many twists and turns, they will finally begin their new lives of married women in a foreign family, who is definitely not as rich in America as they were in China. Pearl and May have to adapt in an unknown country where racism is in every street’s corner, and where Asian people don’t mix up with native Americans. They have to work in Chinatown and the situation becomes even harder when the World War II begins. How could Americans make a difference between their Japanese enemies and the Chinese refugees? Secrets that they would hope buried forever threaten to come back, always bringing new problems… I really enjoyed reading this historical story about the lives of these two sisters who share a complex relationship.

? I only had one thought after closing this book: let’s read the sequel! Have you ever heard of it? Do you know a bit about China? Do you find this topic interesting?

I killed my mother, Xavier Dolan

poster                                                  Hello everybody!
This time, I would like to write about an impressive film, that was only directed by a 20-year-old film director and then, shown during the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation.
« I Killed My Mother » is Dolan’s debut movie, one could also identify this film as a semi-autobiographical story.
Dolan tells us the love-hate relationship of a 17-year-old Hubert Minel, played par Dolan himself, and Chantal Lemming, his mother. Hubert is very talented with words, also artistically, but he seems to grow only to despise every single aspect of his mother, from the way she eats, her old fashioned and kitsch pull-overs as well,  to the fact that she applies make-up while driving… Discussions between them become shouting matches.
fightThey sometimes are so angry against each other that they burst into laughter, understanding how absurd their behaviours are. Hubert cannot stand when she forgets what she promised the day before or how she manoeuvres him into doing something she wants…She annoys him so much, that he even told a teacher that her mother was dead…A sad news, that her mother will learn, then turn up in his classroom furiously, screaming a false hilarious Do I look dead to you ?”. Both of them acknowledge that they can’t live with each other anymore, but perhaps not without each other either.
The first scene of the movie is a close-up in black and white of Hubert’s eyes, as he tries to find out what he wants to say to his camera. These videos allow us to understand his thoughts and to have his own point of view, which makes us deeply understand how he feels.videos More than this, the film tackles many important topics, such as the homosexuality of the main characters, the bullying because of his identity, his relationship with his boyfriend, his forbidden friendship with his french teacher, how to live without catching one’s father attention…

 » I can look at her, talk to her, sit next to her, but… I can’t be her son. I could be anyone’s son, but not hers »

This is a very honest film that succeeds so well because it says the truth about relationships between humans, that everybody can recognize. We all fully agree then, that we all have the weird ability to hurt people we love the most. The actors are also truly touching and convincing, especially Dolan himself.

Have you heard of this film? Have you ever seen another one of this film director? What did you think about it?

Out Of The Easy, Ruta Sepetys

The big Easy picture•The year is 1950 and the novel takes place in New Orleans, which is often called « The Big Easy ».
The main character is the seventeen-years-old Josie Moraine, who works as a part-time bookseller, as well as cleaner of the french quarter’s brothel where her mother, Louise, used to work. This exceptionally clever and resourceful young woman dreams of a college education, where she would be able to satisfy her love for books and stories. Moreover, she wants to study far enough to leave this city and most of all her mother, who just appeared again in her daughter’s life as well as several problems. Louise couldn’t behave less like a mother and only visits her daughter when she needs money or her help in any kind. However, Josie is surrounded by different complex characters who bring her support and help her to grow up, but there are also those who are definitely determined to make her misfortune…
The novel centers on the murder of a library’s customer, in which Josie’s mother may be involved. Even if twists and turns are created mostly by men- Patrick, Josie’s long-time friend who hides an unexpected secret, her mother’s gangster boyfriend Cincinnati, Jesse, a mysterious young man who refers to Josie as « Motor City » and more…- the heart of the story is the colourful and powerful women such as the prominent Willie, the head of the brothel who cares for Josie more than her mother, Dora, a red-haired prostitute who only wears green clothes…
Josie musts deal with a world where her body is evaluated over her mind. Will she finally succeed in becoming the hero of her own life?
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•New Orleans is for sure a grandiose place to set this action-packed story!
As the author says: « It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there is a story lurking around every corner ».

•I really enjoyed this story, where a lot happens! Some of you might know it under the french book’s title of « Big Easy ». Have you ever heard it?

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

Many people know the 1975 film called « One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest », which is really a great movie -as well as an award-winning movie- starring the impressive actor Jack Nicholson.
However, did you know that this film was based on a novel ?

This 3 million copy bestelling novel by Ken Kesey tells the story of Randle McMurphy, a recidivist criminal who could do anything to avoid prison… Even to pass himself off as a mentally ill person!
The story begins as he is institutionalized in an asylum. In this place,he discovers the patients, such as Chestwick, who turns red and cries when nobody agrees with him,“Rub-a-Dub George”, a very tall man who has an intense phobia of dirtiness,the shy and young Billy who is afraid of his mother, as well as Chief Bromden, a dumb and deaf American Indian who shows himself to be promising at playing basketball… He discovers human-beings, who beyond their insanity , are also extremely endearing and moving.
Rebel against the rules established by the authoritative Big Nurse and her dictatorship, Randle McMurphy decides to revolutionize their little world…

This novel eplores themes like rebellion against conformity through an extremely powerful story and it made a deep impression on me.

I promise you it is not going to make you snore!