25 August 2007

"I'm asking Turkey to face its own history"

Turkish historian and dissident Taner Akçam added to Book Festival program

The Armenian genocide is probably the most controversial topic a Turkish historian can study. That's why Taner Akçam's mother wishes he had written his PhD thesis on something else. "She is so upset with me. She says, 'You just settled yourself after all your troubles – couldn't you find something else?'" Years later, he has to agree. "After so many difficulties in my life, I wouldn't have chosen these difficulties on top of them."

(Read the rest of this preview feature at ThreeWeeks.)

24 August 2007

Andrew Alderson and Neil Mackay at the Book Festival

From 17 August. Originally published in ThreeWeeks.

"Does anyone here know anything about finance?" This small question catapulted Andrew Alderson, a former investment banker, to de facto Chancellor of the Exchequer for southern Iraq. Alderson's 'Bankrolling Basra' is by turns hilarious and depressing - by his estimation, the team of Brits that he worked with in Basra had the region stabilised before they were withdrawn. Neil Mackay's 'The War On Truth' has fewer anecdotes and more rage. The book argues that the British and American public was manipulated into the war based on cherry-picked intelligence and lies - a work of solid investigative journalism to be sure, but Mackay also finished by reading a section where he describes exactly how Tony Blair should commit suicide. Give peace a chance indeed.

23 August 2007

Paddy Docherty and Edna Fernandes at the Book Festival

From 15 August. Originally published in ThreeWeeks.

Technical problems kept Paddy Docherty from showing us a photo where he is holding a hunk of hashish "the size of a child's head". The image, from a market near the Khyber pass, stuck with me anyway. Countless armies have traveled the Khyber on their way to India, and Docherty's book 'The Khyber Pass: A History Of Empire And Invasion' looks at the social consequences of these invasions. Edna Fernandes' 'Holy Warriors: A Journey To The Heart Of Indian Fundamentalism' examines some modern consequences of those ideas. Fernandes sees fundamentalism as partly a consequence of economic development, but on the 60th anniversary of Indian independence and partition, is still optimistic: "Indians are not looking to fight the battles of the past - they want to move forward".h

22 August 2007

Apocalyptic Sunset

This is really how it looked. The whole city stopped to stare for a few minutes.

From Edinburgh

Tariq Ramadan at the Book Festival

From 11 August. Originally published in ThreeWeeks.

Controversy follows Tariq Ramadan to an almost baffling degree. Born and educated in Switzerland, Ramadan is probably the best-known Muslim scholar in Europe. Famously denied a visa to work at an American university, he now studies at Oxford. Ramadan's latest book, 'The Messenger', is a biography of Muhammad. He says that for interfaith dialogue we need "a revolution of trust - to be able to say, I have a question". For the duration of the reading there was this trust, and plenty of questions. His answers were patient and articulate, covering everything from a conversation with the Dalai Lama, to the intrinsic pluralism in Islam, to the role of Muslim scholars in the "western" Enlightenment, to the importance of re-interpreting religious texts. Fascinating.

Murder and Marmalade

One last theatre review, of a show that isn't playing anymore, but was some of the best fun I've had at the Fringe. Originally published in ThreeWeeks.

Something strange is happening in a West Country tea shop, and a ramshackle crew of comic characters seem incapable of getting to the bottom of it. Produced by Fringe veterans SNUG, an 'integrated' theatre project, 'Murder And Marmalade' includes people with and without disabilities - this is theatre for the sheer adventure of it. A few strong voices keep the chorus on track, and a singing narrator keeps us abreast of the nearly-immaterial plot. Matthew Fairley overplays his boy detective character to hilarious effect, as do the cackling, morphine-swilling teashop ladies. No one is looking to launch their career, so all the players are relaxed and having fun on stage. It's contagious.

Tina Cassidy at the Book Festival

From 13 August. Originally published by ThreeWeeks.

There were only four men in this session by Tina Cassidy about her book 'Birth: A Surprising History Of How We Are Born', but there were plenty of women, mostly in groups, who cast significant glances to each other or nodded in agreement as Cassidy spoke. Drawing on her skills as a journalist and her personal experience giving birth to her first child, Cassidy has investigated differences in the way birth has been handled through time and around the world, juxtaposing developments in the Western world with the development of feminism. She has few compliments for obstetricians, placing today's rising C-section rates beside a line of gruesome interferences that begins with the 'twilight sleep' used earlier in the century, when women were strapped down and drugged to oblivion. Cringe-inducing and important.

17 August 2007

Edmund White

Since I'm covering the Book Festival for ThreeWeeks, I'm reviewing one-off readings. It's hard to know what to say most of the time, or why people would read them, so I probably won't repost all of them, but here's my first...

"I always feel the imagination is greatly overrated". Strange words from a novelist, but Edmund White is more interested in playing with facts than making things up, and it has served him well. Best known for his biographical fiction, and for his portrayal of gay men, White's latest novel 'Hotel de Dream' imagines the last days of American writer Stephen Crane, as Crane dictates a final novel to his wife. We were read an excerpt where Henry James makes a delightful cameo. Also something of a critic, White litters his speech with literary references, yet never talks down to the audience. "As you recall from 'War And Peace'," he says at one point - not exactly, Edmund, but we're glad you think so.

See the rest of ThreeWeeks' coverage in our latest print version or online.

15 August 2007

Heelz on Wheels

Originally published in ThreeWeeks.

Like Rocky Horror with wheelchairs, this show tells the story of Butch, whose dreary existence in a crumbling Northern town is brightened by the discovery of a shoe shop full of "sex, crips and queers". There are plentiful sequins, minimalist, poetic dialogue and music - Sally Clay's beautiful, versatile voice is worth the price of admission on its own. The small cast had the audience with them every step of the way, even through a singalong version of "We're All Just a Tiny Bit Like Hitler". But I wish the plot was clearer - I couldn't tell you much of what happened in the shoe shop. Even so, it was all over much too quickly - I would have happily watched for another hour.

Heelz on Wheels is playing at the Theatre Workshop until 26 August (not 19 August), every day at 8:00pm. Buy tickets here.