The Great Good Thing

klavanAndrew Klavan’s memoir, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ is a great read. Klavan goes back to his youth growing up in the suburbs of Long Island with a mom who was atheist and a father who was culturally, but not religiously Jewish. He chronicles his rocky relationship with his father and his love of writing and reading stories. It’s easy to see that Klavan was a storyteller from his earliest days. What’s more it’s shown in the writing. The Great Good Thing is masterfully written. Now an accomplished novelist and screenwriter, Klavan knows how to make every word and every metaphor count. He’s a delight to read.

This memoir isn’t preachy or saccharine. Instead, Klavan shares how he slowly came to be baptizes after dealing with the demons and mistakes of his early life. He doesn’t portray himself as a saint. He isn’t proud of his rebellion at school. He doesn’t sugarcoat his struggles with depression or anger. He trenchantly describes how anti-semitism plagued him and for years was a barrier to Christianity for him.  Instead he gives us a smart, open look at one very intelligent guy’s slow turning to faith. While doing so he offers a road map to deeper understanding of theology and scripture.

Because Klavan’s writing so good, so intelligent, I’ve ordered one of his novels to read next. (By “next” I mean after I’ve finished the eight books I’ve already started.)

Jerusalem Chronicles

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Guy Delisle’s wife’s job with Médecins san Frontières took the family to Jerusalem giving Delisle plenty of material for another graphic memoir, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City I enjoyed his account of his year in Israel, which allowed him a lot of time to travel to spots like Hebron, Gaza, the Tomb of the Macabees, Eilat and more. When he must travel to Rome, he runs into all sorts of trouble getting through immigration. They’re very suspicious of him because his lives in Jerusalem and when he tells the official that his wife works in Gaza, the wait gets prolonged.

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I like Delisle’s drawing, which shows everything in a very human scale. Delisle approaches his encounter with Jerusalem and the conflict in the region very authentically with what appears to be an open mind. I did come away with the impression that he tilts towards sympathy for the Palestinians, however he does try to show fully each side. It’s clear enough what he thinks, but he doesn’t knock you over the head with agitprop.

Jerusalem-interior-art-1Delisle’s an atheist, but more of a lost soul than a big time, passionate, atheist who has to proselytize every chance he can. He has a budding curiosity about religion mixed with a “can you believe what these religious folks do” sensibility.

Mainly, what I got from reading this book is what the daily routine and the opportunities to participate in the culture were for this one man. The book belongs with memoirs not with history or educational books. Delisle shows us his travails with picking up his kids in bad traffic, making friends with a priest who lets him use church space as a studio, the trouble his nanny experiences when her house is going to be demolished, his workshops for art students, his sightseeing journeys that never turned out as he expected (which is part of travel most anywhere). I appreciated Jerusalem Chronicles as one of many books on the region. This book was three times the length of Delisle’s other books that I’ve read, which goes to show there’s a lot to say about Jerusalem.

Burma Chronicles

Burma-ChroniclesAnother graphic memoir by Guy Delisle, Burma Chronicles presents the stories of what Delisle experienced when living for a year in Myanmar a.k.a. Burma while his wife was stationed there for Médecines sans Frontier.  He melts in the humidity, tries to see Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, drinks too much at expat parties, visits historic temples, gets lost and confused, which is a normal part of living overseas.

Like his previous work Pyongyang, I got caught up in his stories and appreciated his self-deprecating, wry humor. His illustrations captured the place while expressing his style. When his air conditioning broke, I felt like sweating. When none of his animation students had done their homework, I nodded in complete understanding.19_burmacomic_1_lg

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

Having Our Say

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Based on the lives two delightfully wise and accomplished African American sisters, both of whom are over 100 years old, Having Our Say lays out the history of racial matters from the Gilded Age all through the 20th century. Sadie and Bessie Delaney recount their rather unique heritage as their mother was 25% black and never tried to pass as white. Their white grandfather and Black grandmother couldn’t marry as it was illegal in the south until the late 1960s. Still they raised their family and attended a church that came to agree that okay the only reason you aren’t married is that you can’t be so we’ll welcome you.

The play is structured as a long conversation with a reporter, who’s represented by the audience. The stories range from charming and fun to raw depictions of injustice. Yet at all times the sisters are victors not victims. Neither married and both attained professional status in an era when few African American women could. Their father was a bishop and insisted his daughters go to college, though he stipulated that they work first because he had no money for additional schooling and would not allow them to obtain scholarships because he believed that would make them beholden to whoever supplied the scholarship. Both met his challenge without complaint. Sadie became the first colored* (sic) high school teacher in her all-white high school and Bessie became the first colored woman to be licensed as a dentist in New York.

The women recount their experiences and heritage from family stories of slavery to their own experience with Jim Crow and Civil Rights. Throughout we hear their family stories, wisdom and witticisms.

This production had an inventive set that featured picture frames which would show old photos of the friends and family Bessie and Sadie were describing.

The acting was superb and I’d love to see Ella Joyce (Bessie) or Marie Thomas (Sadie) in another play. The pair brought great energy and chemistry to the play.

My only wish was that the play had more of a plot. As it stands it’s an adaptation of a memoir. So it’s a chronological telling of lived experiences. While these second and mainly first hand accounts are interesting, they aren’t as dramatic as a play that uses Aristotelian principles to give a story plenty of momentum.

I’d prefer a structure like that of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a former slave who recounts her memories on up to the 1960s. Such a play requires more characters and sets, hence more money, but it offers more suspense. Nonetheless, this is a good production, well worth seeing.

*The women didn’t feel Black or African American were terms that described them well. They were American. They felt “colored” was more accurate than Black.

WPC: I’d Rather Be

I’ve given up chocolate for Lent and while I’m also in a less disciplined way trying to eat less sugar there is something particularly satisfying about chocolate, dark chocolate. So as much as I see breaking chocolate’s hold on me as a good thing, right now I’d love a taste.

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Wednesday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Just a few wonderful posts:

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Story

I’m going rather literal this week. Take a look at some stories I’m reading. What stories are you reading now? Which stories are your all time favorites?

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Wednesday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Just a few wonderful posts: