November 2023

Life Writing
Waris Dirie, Desert Flower
Excellent biography (ghostwritten) of a woman who grew up in the desert of Somalia. Early chapters present the world of Somalian desert nomads, moving constantly to find water and food for their camels, goats, and other animals. Dirie describes the role of female circumcision (now FGM) in Somali culture and her own traumatic experience of this at the age of five. When she was around thirteen, her father sought to marry her off to an old man, and Waris ran away, beginning an adventure that would carry her to London, where she would work as a maid for her uncle (an ambassador), staying behind when his family returned to Somalia and becoming a model after being spotted by a photographer. The book then charts the development of her modelling career and how, after becoming one of the first African women to bring Western attention to FGM, she became involved in the struggle to end the practice, culminating with her appointment as a UN Special Ambassador. A remarkable book.

Marguerite Duras, Summer Rain
Late novel (1990) that centers on an immigrant family who produce two extraordinary children: the genius, Ernesto, and his beautiful sister, Jeanne. Told in an oblique, poetic way, but retaining a substantial amount of gritty detail, this is not the best of Duras's novels (of those I've read thus far), but was still beautiful and unique.


Jonathan Fox Weber, The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism
A highly entertaining and informative book, featuring 100-page or so biographical accounts of Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, etc.
Gropius section is full of eye-popping detail, such as Mahler's struggle with haemorrhoids and Alma's spurned lover, Oskar Kokoschka, having a full-size doll made of her.
Paul Klee section depicts a man who is extremely practical, lives an orderly, family-centered life, but who is also utterly dedicated to his art. The notes from his lectures are fascinating, his way of conceptualizing the artist's task. Better than the Gropius section.
Wasily Kandinsky section is the least interesting of the three; the early break-up with a partner who was potentially a greater artist than himself, his depression, his incessant theorizing, not much sense of the man himself emerges from this account.
There are a considerable number of black and white drawings/photos (though more would have been welcome), as well as a number of color plates.

Short Stories
Guy de Maupassant (continued from October)
Waiter, a Bock!
A very sad story of what caused a man's life to disintegrate.
A Parricide
Strong story where a man accused of murder provides a defense that Maupassant turns over to the reader to judge.
Call it Madness?
Excellent story, told in the first-person in a feverish manner, concerning a man's jealousy of his lover and the discovery (and dispatching) of an unlikely rival.
The Traveler's Story
Similar in structure to Magnetism but not as strong.
The Englishman
A straight horror story with an interesting climax. Poe influence. The first time I've read a French story that pokes fun of an English speaker's poor French by directly quoting his attempts. This has been removed in the English translation!
Very effective story about the chaos and disaster caused by a dog.
Slight but amusing story centred on an after-dinner discussion of pleasure and a doctor's praise for the wonders of ether. Decadent.

Critical Works
Jacques Ranciere, The Ignorant Schoolmaster
Reread of this controversial book which challenges the foundations of traditional pedagogy.