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Notes of a curious mind

Category: books (Page 1 of 25)

η μόνη κληρονομιά – η Θεσσαλονίκη του Γιώργου Ιωάννου

Είχα πολλά χρόνια να διαβάσω Γιώργο Ιωάννου (Γιώργος Σορολόπης ήταν το πραγματικό του όνομα). Τον ξαναθυμήθηκα όταν πρόσφατα ψάχνοντας στην βιβλιοθήκη μου στην Αθήνα, είδα τα βιβλία του, πήρα στα χέρια μου το η μόνη κληρονομιά και άρχισα να ξεφυλλίζω.

η μόνη κληρονομιά πρωτοκυκλοφόρησε το 1974, τους τελευταίους μήνες της δικτατορίας, όταν ο Ιωάννου είχε πλέον μετακομίσει στην Αθήνα. Πρόκειται για μια συλλογή δεκαεφτά ιστοριών που  γράφτηκαν από το 1971 έως το 1973 και μιλούν για τα προβλήματα, τα βάσανα και τις λιγοστές χαρές, τον καθημερινό αγώνα και τις ελπίδες των ανθρώπων στην ιδιαίτερη πατρίδα του Ιωάννου, τη Θεσσαλονίκη.

Η έκδοση που έχω είναι των εκδόσεων Κέδρου, 1982. Πρέπει να το είχα πρωτοδιαβάσει περίπου τότε και από τις τότε σημειώσεις μου φαίνεται πόσο πολύ με είχε συγκινήσει ο απλός, ευαίσθητος και – συχνά – γεμάτος απελπισία λόγος του Γιώργου Ιωάννου. Ξανάρχισα να το διαβάζω, περίπου 35 χρόνια μετά.

Η Θεσσαλονίκη έχει πρωταγωνιστική θέση στο έργο του Γιώργου Ιωάννου. Επίσης σημαντικό ρόλο στο έργο του παίζουν οι εμπειρίες των παιδικών και νεανικών του χρόνων, όπως και το κοινωνικό του περιβάλλον. Η οικογένεια του, οι άνθρωποι που γνώρισε , οι φτωχογειτονιές της πόλης, η ανατολίτικη ραθυμία και η πολυπολιτισμικότητα της. Το περπάτημα που «συνιστά τον πρωταρχικό τρόπο για να εξερευνήσεις μια πόλη», γίνεται για τον Ιωάννου μέσο ψυχικής εκτόνωσης.

Φεύγω και ξαναχάνομαι μέσα στα τράμ, τά φώτα καί την κίνηση. ‘Ο νούς μου, είναι κολλημένος στην ομίχλη και σε όλα όσα είδα μέσα σ’ αυτήν. Προσπαθώντας να ξεχαστώ περπατώ πολύ τις ομιχλιασμένες νύχτες. Αισθάνομαι κάποια ανακούφιση με το βάδισμα. Τα μεγάλα βάσανα κατασταλάζουνε σιγά σιγά στό κορμί καί διοχετεύονται απ’ τα πόδια στο υγρό χώμα.

Η αφήγηση του Ιωάννου είναι απλή καθημερινή, προσωπική, πολλές φορές, εξομολογητική. Τον ενδιαφέρει ο ψυχισμός του ανθρώπου αλλά δεν παρασύρεται συναισθηματικά. Παρατηρεί τι συμβαίνει γύρω του, περιγράφει τις αναμνήσεις του, ενώ παρεμβάλλονται συναισθήματα και σκέψεις, καθώς και  υπαινιγμοί για την χούντα και την τότε κατάσταση στην Ελλάδα.

Η αλήθεια είναι πως ανάμεσα στα λαλήματα ακούγαμε και κανένα βραχνό χωνί να ξανοίγεται μεσα στη βαθιά νύχτα. Δεν ξεχωρίζαμε συνήθως τι αγωνίζονταν να μας αναγγείλει το ηρωικό αγόρι, ξέραμε όμως πολύ καλά πώς θά καταλήξει καί ψιθυρίζαμε όλοι μαζί του το συναρπαστικό σύνθημα: «θάνατος στό φασισμό — Λευτεριά στο λαό!».

Κάποτε όμως, μαζί μέ τούς πετεινούς καί τούς τηλεβόες, άρχισαν να ακούγονται μέσα στη νύχτα πολλά ουρλιάσματα και γαβγίσματα. Δεν  ήταν το γάβγισμα των σκυλιών της γειτονιάς μας. Αυτά, έκτός που ήταν πια πολύ λιγοστά και αδύναμα, είχαν αλλιώτικες, πιο γλυκιές φωνές. Τα καινούρια γαβγίσματα ήταν πάρα πολλά, πολύ πιό άγρια, και άρχιζαν πάντα μ’ ένα βαθύ ομαδικό ουρλιαχτό, που απλώνονταν πάνω από  τήν πόλη και μας πάγωνε.

Another day in the death of America by Gary Younge

The cover of Gary Younge’s book, Another day in the death of America, a happy white family in America from the 1950s, is in complete contrast to the bitter reality in America today.

Every day, on average, 7 children and teens seen their lives cut tragically short by gun violence in America.  American teens are seventeen times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in any other high income country. Gun violence disproportionately affects children of colour.

Gary Younge has picked a random day, 23 November, 2013, to present the cases of the ten young people who were shot at this particular day, in different parts of the country. The number of fatalities that day exceeded the national daily average for 2013, which was of 6.75. The youngest was 9 and the oldest, 19 years old. All were males, seven were black, two Hispanic, and one white.

For eighteen months, Gary Younge, tracked down the families of the young victims, he talked to parents and siblings, relatives and friends, teachers and community workers. He examines the circumstances of the deaths; some were deliberate, others tragic accidents, due to easy access to guns.

This is not a book about gun control though, but about what happens when you don’t have gun control, when guns are so easily available. It is not a book about race, though a disproportionate number of those who fell that particular day were black. Certain racial themes are, therefore unavoidable.

For eighteen months, Gary Younge, tracked down the families of the victims, he talked to parents and siblings, relatives and friends, teachers and community workers. He approaches the subject of the vulnerability of the young in America with great sensitivity and empathy. He sticks closely to his case studies, avoiding any kind of polemic.  At the same time, he touches subjects more challenging and knotted than that. Poverty and inequality, poor education and lack of employment opportunities, drugs and gangs,  create a desperate situation and have detrimental effects on life chances.

Gary Younge is not optimistic that this situation will change. Despite the fact that the number of Americans that support further guns’ regulation has been increased, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the principle gun lobbyist which advocates for gun ownership, has done “an excellent job of mythologizing gun-ownership as being a ‘right’ bequeathed to them by their revolutionary forbears, that could not be violated,” while continuously maintain a sense of the world as a dangerous, insecure place.  NRA’s appeal goes beyond the weapon itself to the tested American tropes of rugged individualism, masculinity, small government and homestead. It “evokes a threat not only to an individual or a family, but to American civilization itself”, writes Gary Younge.

Gun violence can have a series of serious snowball effects in education, health, incarceration, family instability, and social capital. The distress, the trauma and the pain many poor, inner-city families experience, following the killing of a family member or close relative, deserves special attention. Better education, youth services, jobs that pay a living wage, mental health services, trauma counselling, a fair criminal justice system – “in short more opportunity”, writes Gary Younge, “would contribute to a climate where such deaths were less likely.”

Gary Younge has written a gripping, emotional and thought provoking book. It is a cry for the wealthiest country in the world that could and should do better for its children.

Οι Τολμηρές Ιστορίες ενός Πολυσχιδή Ορθολογιστή

Η σχέση μου με τον Νίκου Δήμου ξεκινάει από παλιά, σχεδόν από τα εφηβικά μου χρόνια. Τον θεωρώ έναν από τους σπουδαιότερους Έλληνες συγγραφείς. Εχει γράψει 64 βιβλία και τα ενδιαφέροντα του είναι ανεξάντλητα.  Ο Νίκος Δήμου είναι σκεπτικιστής φιλόσοφος, ποιητής, δημοσιογράφος, φωτογράφος, μεταφραστής, blogger, φωτογράφος, κριτικός τεχνολογίας, και φυσικά γατόφιλος.

Ο Νίκος Δήμου είναι ευρέως γνωστός στο εξωτερικό, ίσως περισσότερο απ’ ότι είναι στην Ελλάδα.  Είναι ένας από τους πιο μεταφρασμένους Έλληνες συγγραφείς,

Η πολυπραγμοσύνη του, ένα από τα χαρακτηριστικά του Νίκου Δήμου που θαυμάζω, ενοχλεί τους Έλληνες. Πολλές φορές σοκάρει. Η τόλμη, η ευφυία και η ειλικρίνεια του, δεν αντέχονται εύκολα από τους συμπατριώτες μου.

Ο  Νίκος Δήμου είναι ένας από τους τρείς στοχαστής- και ο μόνος Έλληνας – που έχει επηρεάσει τον τρόπο σκέψης μου και έχει συμβάλει στην διαμόρφωση των απόψεων μου, ειδικά σε ότι αφορά την αξία της ελευθερίας.  Οι άλλοι δύο είναι ο Karl Popper και η Hannah Arendt.

Κατά περιόδους επανέρχομαι και ξαναδιαβάζω κάποιο από το παλαιότερα βιβλία του. Όταν πριν λίγες εβδομάδες βρέθηκα στην Αθήνα, βρήκα στην βιβλιοθήκη μου τις Τολμηρές Ιστορίες, ένα βιβλίο, που εκδόθηκε από τις εκδόσεις Νεφέλη, το 1989. Πρόκειται για έντεκα σύντομες και τολμηρές – εξ’ ου και ο τίτλος – ιστορίες για χαμένους ερωτικούς παραδείσους. Ιστορίες που υμνούν τον ερωτισμό και την πορνογραφία ως τέχνη που απεικονίζει την ωραιότερη ίσως πλευρά του ανθρωπίνου βίου. Το διάβασα σε δύο ημέρες, με το ίδιο ενδιαφέρον, όταν το είχα πρωτοδιαβάσει, κάπου 25 χρόνια πριν.  Σχεδόν 30 χρόνια από την πρώτη έκδοση του και οι ιστορίες  του Νίκου Δήμου παραμένουν το ίδιο φρέσκες, άμεσες και τολμηρές.

Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe by Anne Applebaum

“For a thousand years, the geography of the borderlands dictated their fate,” writes Anne Applebaum in her evocative and well-written book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, which first published in 1994.

In the 1991 and 1992, an era of social, political and economic turmoil, Anne Applebaum travelled in the countries of former Soviet Union, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, across the borderlands that constitute Europe’s far east landscape. The Soviet empire had ended but nothing else had yet replaced it. Longstanding institutions, such as the Communist Party, had vanished. Corruption was rampant. New politicians constantly replacing old ones. The desire for freedom and national sovereignty had raised troubling questions about identity. In the next few years, political, cultural and military conflicts shook the territories that used to be part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

The end of the Soviet Union, saw the “construction of homelands”, a process in which the nationalist elites and intellectuals, mobilised the myths and the images of a homeland, in order to reinforce the depiction of a nation as an ancient community and to give people a sense of belonging. Nationalism became attractive and synonymous with decentralization and democratisation and nationalists were considered democratic and progressive heroes.

Anne Applebaum take us to a journey into the past and the post-Soviet era of Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. She travels us to an area defined throughout its history by colliding empires, cultures and religions.

“Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty,” she writes.

“there are many layers of civilization in the borderlands, but they do not lie neatly on top of one another. “A traveller can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus – and he has never left his village.”

 

Bold, intense, unsettling – Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante

It’s been more than a year since I read Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I’ve read all four book in less than two weeks and I was impressed by her forceful elegance, the way she captures complexities and contradictions of Naples, and the unusual perspective on friendship. It got me wanting to read more of her work.

This week, I decided to read her debut novel, Troubling Love, an absorbing story that explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter. It is a bold, intense, unsettling and sad book that reads as a psychological thriller.

Delia, the protagonist and narrator, finds out that her mother Amalia, has drowned on her way to visit her, in Rome. The strange circumstances of Amalia’s death, set in motion a series of events that leads Delia in a journey back in time, in the poor and oppressive neighbourhoods in the ­periphery of Naples, where she was born and grew up. It is a journey motivated by memories of her own past, the dark background of the mother-daughter relationship, an exploration of the self.

Delia traverses Naples in search of clues, she tries to trace her mother’s final days and what led her to take her own life.  Revisiting As she moves from one place to other Revisiting places that used to be with her mother as a child and excavating her childhood, a sense of disgust, suffering and fear emerges. She relives, the violence, the sexual aggressions and the horrors of her family life. Through her eyes and through her body, we get the portrait of Amalia, a beautiful and vibrant woman, who has been abused and humiliated by a pathologically jealous husband.

“It wasn’t innocent blood. To my father nothing about Amalia ever seemed innocent. He, so furious, so bitter and yet so eager for pleasure, so irascible and so egotistical, couldn’t bear that she had a friendly, at times even joyful, relationship with the world. He recognized in it a trace of betrayal.”

The only way to evade the cruelty and daily violence in a society shaped by a viciously patriarchal culture, was to get away.

The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King

This is a general impression and overview of the book as my knowledge on economics is rather limited.

“For many centuries, money and banking were financial alchemy, seen as a source of strength, when in fact they were the weak link of a capitalist economy,” writes Mervyn King in his book The End of Alchemy.  He must know something about it. As Governor of the Bank of England for a decade, and before that a leading academic economist, Mervyn King has long been at the heart of the British policy-making establishment.

We have seen this alchemy when subprime mortgage bonds were given triple A-rating and more recently, when John “Mac” McQuown created a hybrid security, called  eBond, which would embed credit default swaps (CDS) into corporate debt and will be able to transform junk-graded debt into the equivalent of AAA-rated notes. What could possibly go wrong?

Mervyn King says he is not interested in the blame game, which is probably just as well considering that he was governor of the Bank of England at the time of the great crash of 2007-08.

“Blaming Individuals is counterproductive, he says….. A generation of brightest and best were lured into banking, and especially into trading, by the promise of immense financial rewards and by the intellectual challenge of the work that created such rich returns and the crisis was a failure of a system, and the ideas that underpinned it, not of individual policy-makers or bankers, incompetent as greedy though some of them undoubtedly were. There was a general misunderstanding of how the world economy worked.”

Apparently, the “brightest and best” somewhere, somehow, lost their way.

Disequilibrium, radical uncertainty, the prisoner’ s dilemma and trust, are the four concepts that Mervyn King have run through this book in order to explain the nature of financial alchemy and the reasons for the present disequilibrium of the world economy.

Even though the largest banks in the biggest financial centres in the advanced world failed, triggering a worldwide collapse of confidence and the deepest recession since the 1930s, King insists “that nothing much has really changed in terms of the fundamental structure of the Western banking industry”. Just increasing the money supply after a crisis “only perpetuate the underlying disequilibrium.” Without reform of the financial system, another crisis, bigger than the last one, is certain, he adds.

King insists the merging of risk-taking investment banking with retail and commercial banks handling the taxpayer-guaranteed deposits of households and firms altered the business model and culture of banks during the Eighties and Nineties. Rather than breaking up banks retail and investment divisions, he suggests a reform based on the “Chicago Plan” of the 1930s. It is, basically, the IMF’s “Chicago Plan Revisited” by Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof, which envisages the separation of the monetary and credit functions of the banking system, by requiring 100% reserves.

In addition, he argues, it is necessary to embark into a major programme of raising productivity. It should be a global effort that would take many years, and will require small and deferent measures in each country, but as long as people believe that there is a coherent plan to boost productivity in the future, then they will have more confidence in willing to spend more today.

It won’t be easy. Faith in capitalism, understandably, has been badly shaken, and will require bold action to restore this faith. “Capitalism is far from perfect – it is not the answer to the problems that require collective solution, nor does it lead to an equal distribution of income or wealth.” But it is the best way to create wealth because it provides incentives for the innovation that drives productivity growth. Only when people are free to pursue, develop and market new ideas will they translate those ideas into increased output.

The End of Alchemy is mostly a book about ideas.  A significant attempt to reach not only the economists but also a broader, more general audience.

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