The Furious Fist and The Open Hand of Fate: The New & Noteworthy Book Club Weaves Through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies

If you’re in Austin, you can come to my book club…

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fates&furies“Tell me the difference between tragedy and comedy…There is no difference. It’s a question of perspective. Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.” (High school literature substitute Denton Thrasher could be the authentic voice of Lauren Groff–or another unnamed goddess of circumstance.)

I have read reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies that mention that this is a realistic story about a marriage. And that’s true, but it’s mostly about the parts that make up a marriage: the partners. The story of a marriage has to be told by each part. Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite’s story is told in the first section called “The Fates.” His marriage, like himself, is complacent, naive, and even optimistic. He pegs his gorgeous wife Mathilde as “a pathological truth-teller,” but he really talks about himself, revealing his core value and virtue. Lotto…

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Blurb: SHELTER by Jung Yun

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photo by @bookpeople on instagram

“This book is haaaaaaard,” is what I posted on Instagram the day I started this book. Kyung Cho is a college professor who is facing the loss of his home. Then a random act of violence forces his parents, people who he cut out of his life, to move in with him. With his parents comes the painful past he’s been trying to erase–a past that can cost him everything he has, depending on how he chooses to react.

Shelter is the ultimate in fucked up family drama. “Shelter,” in any form, is conspicuously absent from this story. Forgiveness is shallow and impermanent, and though scars have faded over time, the emotional wounds are still very much open. Kyung wants to erase his past, but he faces down the uncertainty of the future. Kyung lives in an in-between, timeless state, but he is at risk of being steamrolled by the forward march of time itself. Jung Yun has written the quintessential Korean-American novel, deftly describing how Korean attitudes of obligation, fairness, and resentment clash and (possibly) overlap American attitudes towards these same ideals. I’m certain that it will become a “discovery” of literature: one of those slow burns that will eventually explode into the landscape of literature over time.

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Wolf blanket recommended, but not included.

Happy reading,

-jan

Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Weimar’s Daughters in Hollywood and Berlin

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Inspired in part by the stories of Marlene Dietrich in Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast about the hidden and forgotten histories of 20th century Hollywood, in party by my local indie bookstore’s 2015 catalog, (and in part by Dietrich’s smoldering on-screen chemistry with Anna May Wong–no, I don’t mean Clive Brook–in 1932’s Shanghai Express) Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century in Two Lives by Karin Wieland marks the second biography I’ve read this year.

“I am, at heart, a gentleman.” -Marlene Dietrich

While the two women essentially begin on equal footing and from similar backgrounds, the directions of their lives are primarily influenced when they meet two powerful, authoritarian men: when Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg “discovered” Marlene Dietrich and cast her as Lola-Lola in the internationally acclaimed The Blue Angel; and when Leni Riefenstahl went to a political rally where she first laid eyes upon Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, Wieland focuses on the roles that these two men played in shaping the careers of both women rather than the decisions that both women–who remained independent of men for all of their lives–made about their own lives.

This may be due to the book’s clunky translation, but Wieland’s portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl is contradictory at times. She was a strong-willed woman who sought only to advance her own art (and thus her own fame), but she was a complicated woman. Wieland does not portray Riefenstahl with the same level of compassion or consideration that she does Marlene Dietrich. (Which begs the question, does Riefenstahl deserve equal compassion or consideration? A question that Wieland neither addresses directly or indirectly). Riefenstahl is definitely a product of her environment: while she was not a Nazi party member and did not commit war crimes, she  certainly benefitted from the racism that National Socialists made the foundation of their philosophy. Her dedication to her art and the resulting images make things complicated when we consider the eye of the artist. (The actor depicting Riefenstahl’s subject, was often herself.)

Wieland gives plenty of page space to Riefenstahl’s work, as though through her work is the best way to understand her life. Not so with Dietrich. Though Wieland wants to depict Dietrich without judgement, more time is given to her personal affairs and family life than to her films and stage work. The goal appears to be to depict these two seemingly opposite women as having nearly identical qualities that led them to pursue their passions so fervently (albeit in opposing directions). But it takes a careful combing through the text to get at that purpose. Bad translations are unfortunate to read because it becomes nearly impossible to tell whether the work is poorly written or if the spirit of the work is just lost in translation.

Regardless, if you really want a blast in the face of old school Hollywood glamor, just Google image search “Marlene Dietrich.” (If you want a kick in the face, Google “Marlene Dietrich’s legs”).

Damn, Marlene.

Better yet, check out her films.