LitBirthdays October 23 – 29, 2011

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October 27| October 28|  October 29|

October is

National Book


October 23

Antjie Krog (born October 23, 1952) – South African poet, journalist, novelist, essayist – Begging to be Black (2010)

Read about Antjie Krog here

Listen to the Guardian Books podcast about South African writers, with Antjie Krog at minute 11:30

Antjie Krog: Before the last book, Begging to Be Black, I did feel an urge to understand what it is to live as a powerless minority within a black majority. One is irritated by the dismissiveness with which one so easily says, “This is just a lot of thieves. They have no sense of what is write and wrong. They just give jobs and money to their families. They don’t understand.” I found that too easy an accusation. One has to be serious and respectful. It’s not only to decide that you stay here. But it’s how do you live when you stay here? How do you live within what is being harmed by you and is now ruling and trying to take control with what they are.

The majority of people are illiterate, so literature cannot really have a big influence. I’m not necessarily interested in the influence of literature as [much as] what literature is saying about this country and how it is understanding and assessing, and what hidden stories it is telling.

What I do find problematic is that the ANC moved in after 1990 with a vocabulary of liberation. Mandela when he was inaugurated, in very neatly crafted speeches, that language was refined. And on the other side, it was Tutu. Since the rule of Mbeki, it has changed from this new movement towards a new vocabulary, to the vocabulary of two nations – which is the one that we were coming from. So suddenly we fell back.

And now we have a president who speaks in song. The big debate the past four months in this country was about songs – a Zulu song that says “Give me my machine gun” and another Zulu song, “Kill the Boers.” We have no vocabulary with which to speak about anything that is close or important or emotional. You come from a past where critique was uttered in a particular way, in a particular language. And Afrikaaners have dealt with critique from English-speaking journalists – smart, fluent, experts in language. My mother used to say,  ”if the British told you you are shit, you’ll never recover from it.” Because they do it so perfectly.

You find now that if you critique anything in this country in that way, you actually legitimize that which you criticize. Because in that English, in that kind of articulation, you make yourself part of the past, and thus redundant. So the big problem at this stage is how to find an entry point into the moral debate of the country without destroying what you believe is right.

Watch a brief interview with Antjie Krog here

Read Krog’s poem “Songs of the Blue Crane” 

Songs of the Blue Crane

(Kabbo sings the blue crane’s story; he sings over his shoulder that the berries of the karee tree are on his shoulder; he sings as he walks)
the berries are on my shoulder
the berries are on my shoulder
the berries, they’re on my shoulder
the berries are on my shoulder
the berries are here, above (on my shoulder)
Rrrú is here above
the berries are here above
rrrú is here above
is here above
the berries rrú are safe (on my shoulder)

(while he is running away from someone)
a splinter of stone that’s white
a splinter of stone that’s white
a splinter of stone that’s white

(while he is walking slowly, calmly and at a steady pace)
a white stone splinters
a white stone splinters

(when he flaps his wings)
scrape (the springbok for) a bed
scrape (the springbok for) a bed
Rrrrú rrra
Rrrú rrra
Rrú rra

Poet’s Note: According to Kabbo, the blue crane describes his own white-feathered head, which has the form of a splintered stone. The Bushmen made stone tools for the hunt and for use as cutting implements.

Read excerpts from Antjie Krog’s 2000 book Country of My Skull here

It’s them! It’s truly them . . . I go cold with recognition. That specific salacious laughter, that brotherly slap on the hairy shoulder, that guffawing circle using a crude yet idiomatic Afrikaans. The manne. More specifically: the Afrikaner manne. Those who call their sons “pa se ou rammetjie.” or “my ou bul” (“Dad’s little ram” or “my old bull”).
The nightmare of my youth.
The bullies with their wives—the chatty women with impressive cleavages and well-behaved children. The mustached men who, for decades, turned life on the platteland into a spiraling inferno of destruction. brutalization, and fear. The third force. Ingal enoboya. They stand in a group, the five: Cronje. Van Vuuren, Hechter. Venter. Mentz. The journalists, lawyers, victims, visitors, walking into the foyer of the amnesty venue in Pretoria give them a wide berth. We all know: they were the doers. Killing, for them, was not dressed in the official pastels of “eliminate,” “remove,” or “take out.” Their task was not to make speeches or shuffle papers. Their task was to murder.
Aversion. I want to distance myself.

[page 113 of Country of My Skull, by Antjie Krog]


Born October 23

Michael Crichton

Weird Al Yankovic (Alfred Matthew Yankovic)

October 24

Ziraldo Alves Pinto
Ziraldo Alves Pinto (born October 24, 1932) – Brazilian graphic artist, comic book author

Read about Ziraldo here and here and here

Ziraldo became a comics author and launched the first Brazilian comics book by a single author. The main character was one-legged Saci Pererê, an important mythical figure in the Brazilian folklore. Other characters of this gang included a small Indian and several animals of the Brazilian fauna such as a leopard,a jabuti (land turtle), an armadillo, a rabbit and an owl. Turma do Pererê was a landmark in the history of comics books in Brazil.

[from Ziraldo’s biography at]

Born October 24

Emma Donoghue

Alexandra David-Néel


October 25

Christos Tsiolkas (born October 25, 1965) – Australian novelist – The Slap (2008)

Read about Christos Tsiolkas here

From the Guardian book review of The Slap
The premise is this: an obnoxious child does something faintly threatening at a family barbecue, and the father of the threatened child smacks him. Everyone is so upset by this that the barbecue breaks up in a hurry, and within a day, the parents of the slapped child have the slapper arrested. But Tsiolkas’s purpose is not to explore the idea of child abuse; it is to use the family and friendship connections originally limned at the barbecue to look at how love and background come together, …his real talent is for exploring the inner lives of his eight primary characters, four women and four men, ranging in age from 18 to 70. And each of these characters is a sharp observer of those around him or her, so many more lives are illuminated as well.

Read Angela Meyer’s interview of Christos Tsiolkas here

It may be that I am constitutionally unable to understand the desire for moral absolutes. I love crime novels, for example, but most of them end up disappointing me because of the too easy division of the world into the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. I think it would be impossible to read my work in good faith and not realise that I am deeply engaged in trying to understand racism, how it works, how it hurts, how it exhilarates, how it punishes and how it destroys. What I hope is that a reader of The Slap comes away trying to understand some of this complexity, whether it comes to questions of race and culture, to questions of gender and sex, or to attitudes to younger or older generations.

Loaded, The Jesus Man and Dead Europe, in hindsight, and only in hindsight, form a trilogy in my mind to do with the loss of faith. The faith in absolutes, political ideology.

Born October 25

Suheir Hammad

Anne Tyler

Geoffrey Chaucer


October 26

Carlo Lucarelli (born October 26, 1960) – Italian crime fiction writer – The Day of the Wolf (Inspector Coliandro TV film series)

Read about Carlo Lucarelli here

Crime fiction super-stars Carlo Lucarelli and Andrea Camilleri team up on the novel “Aqua in Bocca” – read about it (in Italian) here

The body of a woman is found in Bologna station with a fish in her mouth. To investigate the ‘apparent murder’ Inspector Grazia Negro is called, but he soon realizes that the case is more complicated than he thought. He decides to ask for help from a fellow Sicilian, the Inspector Salvo Montalbano.

A story that is well thought out, full of suspense, intelligence and current events, in which the two protagonists, Negro and Montalbano, are in a situation where they, although linked by birthplace and profession, appear in a new light.

The book also shows the different styles of the two writers, especially as to the perspectives of the characters. Camilleri, for example, in his novels, stories and cases of homicide investigation, has a viewpoint starting from Inspector Montalbano. Lucarelli, in contrast, is probing the soul and mind of the murderer.

Water in the mouth is a fair compromise between the two parties, effectively combining two points of view and making this novel a delightful merger of two different ways of thinking and writing.

[from an Opinione Personale book review]

Carlo Lucarelli speaks at the August 2017 Sky Art Festival (in Italian)

Born October 26

Shan Sa

Infinito 2017 (Marcellous Lamont Lovelace)


October 27

Francis Fukuyama (born October 27, 1952) – U.S. political philosopher –The Origins of Political Order (2011)

Read about Francis Fukuyama here and here

Read Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay “The End of History” here

The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle … to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affair’s yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.

The materialist bias of modern thought is characteristic not only of people on the Left who may be sympathetic to Marxism, but of many passionate anti-Marxists as well. Indeed, there is on the Right what one might label the Wall Street Journal school of deterministic materialism that discounts the importance of ideology and culture and sees man as essentially a rational, profit-maximizing individual.

As we look around the contemporary world, the poverty of materialist theories of economic development is all too apparent. The Wall Street Journal school of deterministic materialism habitually points to the stunning economic success of Asia in the past few decades as evidence of the viability of free market economics, with the implication that all societies would see similar development were they simply to allow their populations to pursue their material self-interest freely. Surely free markets and stable political systems are a necessary precondition to capitalist economic growth. But just as surely the cultural heritage of those Far Eastern societies, the ethic of work and saving and family, a religious heritage that does not, like Islam, place restrictions on certain forms of economic behavior, and other deeply ingrained moral qualities, are equally important in explaining their economic performance.[7] And yet the intellectual weight of materialism is such that not a single respectable contemporary theory of economic development addresses consciousness and culture seriously as the matrix within which economic behavior is formed.

Failure to understand that the roots of economic behavior lie in the realm of consciousness and culture leads to the common mistake of attributing material causes to phenomena that are essentially ideal in nature.

Born October 27

Albert Wendt

Nawal El Saadawi (Arabic: نوال السعداوى‎)


October 28


Frédéric C. Martel (born October 28, 1967) – French sociologist, journalist, social and literary critic – De La Culture En Amerique / Culture in America (2006)

Read about Frédéric Martel here

Read Frederic Martel’s thoughts on culture in this New York Times article
The first half of “Culture in America” — the title echoes Tocqueville’s own “Democracy in America” — is built around a question that puzzles some French: Why doesn’t the United States have a Culture Ministry? “If the Culture Ministry is nowhere to be found,” he writes, “cultural life is everywhere.”

Yet, Mr. Martel noted, the same country that embraces this extraordinary cultural diversity is itself accused of imposing cultural uniformity on the world. “Americans defend cultural diversity at home and deny it abroad,” he said, “while France defends cultural diversity around the world and refuses it at home.”

And it is here that he most wants France to learn from the United States. “What really annoys me is the way our cultural elite uses ideology to protect its privileges,” he said. “It says that our culture defines a certain idea of France, that the alternative is Americanization. But it’s really only defending itself against the popular classes. We cannot have 10 percent of our population stemming from immigration and deny them their culture.”

To promote grass-roots culture, then, he wants decision making to be deconcentrated. “The government will still finance the arts, but we don’t need a minister defining culture,” he said. “We need thousands of people defining culture. Power should flow bottom-up, not top-down. That’s the debate I want to provoke in the new year.”

[from a NYT article by Alan Riding, December 26, 2006]

Frederic Martel speaking on cultural differences in Internet usage

The Internet is not a purely individual tool or narcissistic one. It’s not something to make some selfies. It is something that can change your life, you can get some information, find security, to find a job, to find water, to get electricity… [minute 18:00] 

Born October 28

Ayi Kwei Armah

Louis Jenkins


October 29

Frans de Waal (born October 29, 1948) Dutch primatologist – Our Inner Ape

Read about Frans de Waal here and here

Watch Frans de Waal on the Colbert Report

Born October 29

Zbigniew Herbert

Derek Miller


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