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Granta 125: After the War by John Freeman
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Granta 125: After the War (2013)

by John Freeman

Series: Granta (125)

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The first time I learnt about the Rwandan genocide was in high school English when we watched Hotel Rwanda. I was deeply affected and completely devastated. How could anyone be capable of such atrocities, the scale and timeline of it were shocking, but what made it so incomprehensible for me is the method. The Milgram experiment showed how we humans are capable of inflicting pain on one another when we can separate ourselves from our act through the flick of a switch. But machetes, there is no remove, if anything, there is a very physical act, there is intimacy, and more than intimacy, overnight, your neighbours turn into deadly enemies, familiar faces, your community, incited for blood. After a while you are numbed to the cruelty but what happens afterwards. How can a country, how does its people, how do the survivors cope with knowing that only yesterday that the person they have to continue living next to wished to them dead or worse, can such a country ever heal itself?

All that is a very long-winded way of saying how much I loved this volume (125) of Granta, called After the War, especially Lindsey Hilsum's piece on revisiting Rwanda ten years on, and how Rwanda has attempted to live with the events on a national government-imposed scale and also on an individual scale. It's wildly appropriate that this volume also featured Aminatta Forna, author of The Hired Man set in a small village where the supposed calm idyll is beset by constant reminders of the civil war that pitted neighbours against each other. I also highly recommend Herta Müller's Always the Same Snow and Always the Same Uncle about betrayals and writing, how some things never change and the betrayals of previous generations are filtered through and repeated now.

About life-changing events big and small, from the Chernobyl disaster to attempted suicide, After the War gives a glimpse of what happens after the war - the conflict, internal or external - ceases to be of front-page material, the search for meaning in inexplicable events, the need for justice, the ripples that pass down through generations and the all important question of what we can do to prevent it from ever happening again. ( )
  kitzyl | Apr 26, 2017 |
9. Granta 125 (2013, 255 pages, read Jan 21 - Feb 15)
Main editor: Sigrid Rausing
link to issue: http://www.granta.com/Archive/125

This was my first time reading an issue of Granta. I liked that I have heard of many of these authors in some way, because it gives me a chance to read something short by them and gives the whole issue a sense of being of higher quality and somehow more important. But the downsides are that I bring higher expectations to each story (which makes any story worse...), and that there are fewer surprises.

The best for me were Aminatta Forna recalling her experiences in the Iran Revolution, in 1979, Paul Auster's You Remember the Planes & Thomas McGuane's Crow Fair. Other highlights to me were Lindsey Hilsum's essay on Rwanda, entitled The Rainy Season, Yiyun Li's complicated short story From Dream to Dream, Hari Kunzrus essay on visiting Chernobyl, entitled Stalkers and an intriguing poem by Ange Mlinko's, Revelations, although I didn't quite get it.

The story by story summaries below are mainly for my own memory. Asterisks for favorites.

*Lindsey Hilsum - The Rainy Season - Non-fiction essay on Rwanda Genocide, read ~Jan 21
Hilsum was the "only English-speaking foreign correspondent" to witness the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide (Racial undertones in that description, regardless of Hilsum's ethnicity. Surely there are English speaking Rwandans.). In this essay she returns to Rwanda. She doesn’t seem to dig into too deep, but she has to say provides more then I could respond to in any coherent way.

Romesh Gunesekera - Mess - fiction in post-civil war Sri Lanka, read ~Jan 23
A clever story narrated by a driver taking a priest to meet a military general in Sri Lanka after the fighting has stopped. Although this is quite good, and she manages to put a curious mystery over the whole thing, bringing much to the story, I didn't enjoy it. Not clear why. It felt maybe a touch too slick, not to mention not terribly original.

**Thomas McGuane - Crow Fair - fiction, read Feb 2
Took me a little to get into, but this became a wonderfully complex assortment of tensions. The narrator and his brother have a troubled response to their mother’s increasing dementia, especially when it leads to uncontrolled rambling and uncomfortable secrets come out. Great, living, breathing, characterizations. A lot going on here.

one quote:Kurt was right: left to Dad we would have probably not gone very far, not been nearly so discontented. A.L. Kennedy - Late in Life - fiction, read Feb 4-5
Very subtle about a woman who is dating an older man and starts to see her dependence on and vulnerability in the relationship, without wanting to. Is she just giving sex for financial benefits of the relationship? Too subtle for me.

Herta Müller - Always the Same Snow and Always the Same Uncle- personal essay, read Feb 8
Published in German in 2003, translated here by Geoffrey Mulligan
I thought this might need some time to sink in, instead I've forgotten it completely. My notes tell me, "On the surface it’s about how words have meaning only by putting them together in ways that don’t, on the surface, make any sense, and then how words change meaning. But it’s also about her past, her difficult emigration from Romania and her mother’s five years in a Russian prison camp."

**Aminatta Forna - 1979 - personal essay on the Iran revolution, read Feb 9
My favorite entry. When Forna was 14 & 15 she lived in Tehran as the daughter of a British Foreign Service worker. She recounts her naive experiences, and change of moods as the revolution becomes more and more conservative. Fascinating stuff.

**Paul Auster - You Remember the Planes - personal essay, read Feb 9
A 2nd person summary of his life, I think, as the child of Jewish American immigrants growing up in the 1950’s. Fun to read. This is from his Nov 2013 publication Report from the Interior. I have wanted to read Auster, so this was a nice find.

*Yiyun Li - From Dream to Dream - fiction about a Chinese-American immigrant, read Feb 11/12
I thought this might bore me. It opens will one of those thoughts you are supposed to ponder, but...well, if you are like me you kind of want to know what you are reading before you start thinking. It only slowly becomes apparent that the narrator is planning her suicide. I guess that's a spoiler. Anyway, at that point it’s a new story with added weight and I had to go back and reread that opening section and ponder away. Good stuff here.

*Hari Kunzru - Stalkers - essay on visiting Chernobyl, read Feb 15
The point here seems to be pondering our attraction to disaster sights, and includes some interesting photographs, not all the authors. (The title derives from a video game, based on a novel?, based on another novel?, based on the Chernobyl incident)

Patrick French - After the War - personal essay on WWI ancestor, read Feb 15
French comes from a family of military men, Irish but in the British military. His great uncle, Maurice Dease, was awarded the first Victorian Cross in WWI for his heroic death. French is a pacifist and his essay explores his feelings toward and discomfort with his lineage. It was quite interesting, even if the pacifist aspects were not well expressed.

Poetry
The poetry is spread out a kind of gets lost.
Jean Paul de Dadelsen - from Opening Invocation
Ange Mlinko - Revelations
Rowan Ricardo Phillips - Pax Americana

Photography
Dave Heath - A Sparrow Fallen
Justin Jin - Zone of Absolute Discomfort

To read in the context of my LT thread, go here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/163456#4581109 ( )
  dchaikin | Mar 4, 2014 |
Highlights:
The Rainy Season - Lindsey Hilsum.
Mess - Romesh Gunesekera.
Crow Fair - Thomas McGuane.
Stalkers - Hari Kunzru. ( )
  Moomin_Mama | Dec 4, 2013 |
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"How long is the shadow of a battle, an explosion, a revolution? What stories arise in the wake of devastation? Lindsey Hilsum returns to Rwanda two decades after witnessing the beginning of genocide. Patrick French writes of his great-uncle, a World War I hero who left behind a 'saturating cult of remembrance.' From air-raid drills in Paul Auster's America to a calf with a broken foot in Herta Mu?ller's Rumania, this is how we live after the war"--Back cover.… (more)

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