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review 2018-04-26 12:17
A book for those who are not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and are willing to challenge the status quo.
Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography - Sebastiaan Faber

Thanks to Edelweiss and to the publishers (Vanderbilt University Press) for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I was drawn to this book because although I was born and grew up in Spain, I have spent the last 25 years of my life in the UK, and between the time invested in education and work, I know I have missed some of the big debates about the past that have taken place in the country. From personal experience, I know that living abroad gives you a different perspective, usually wider, on a country’s history and society, and I was interested to learn the opinions of a foreign Hispanist on the controversial topic of the book.

This book was illuminating for me. I’ve discovered that I need to catch up and read books, watch documentaries, and explore the memory movement in Spain. I know some details thanks to my mother’s family, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the many initiatives and projects that have been implemented. I learned about laws (helpful and, mostly, unhelpful), about controversy and debates, about the origin of well-known photographs and documents (including the fact that photographers shared cameras and subjects during the Spanish Civil War, and no matter what their intent, those photographs also had, even at the time, a commercial value), about the uneasy relationship between Culture, cultural objects, and History. Is fiction less valuable when it comes to documenting the reception and the collective memory of a historical event? Or more?

Although I am not an expert in History, I have read some History books over the years and one of the things I found more refreshing about this volume, which collects a variety of essays on topics that fit in well together, is the fact that rather than offering an authoritative version of events or pontificating about the right or wrong way of looking at a particular period in history, it asks questions. On relevancy: how can an academic book written in English discussing events and recent debates about Spanish history and politics reach a wider audience? Are academics simply talking to themselves without ever reaching the general public (unless given an “official” status)? On the approach and the position historians should take when researching and writing their findings: Can historical essays and books ever be “neutral”? And should they be “neutral”? Isn’t it better to be open about one’s point of view and allegiances? (As the author observes, WWII historians are clearly positioned when writing about the war, but in Spain, this is frowned upon). On comparative studies and the risks of conflating similar events in different countries and eras, thereby missing the most interesting and fruitful aspects for analysis: Is it legitimate to apply international models (like those developed through the Holocaust studies) to the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist repression?  On the position of the intellectuals and how politics and affiliations affect even those who try hardest to be rigorous. How can those intellectuals who were heavily invested in the Transition open up to other opinions and not consider them a personal criticism? On the memory movement, the hurdles faced by those trying to find out more about relatives or friends, and about the resistance of historians to see any value in memory narratives. Is forgetting the past the best option, or do the unhealed wounds and traumas that have been festering, no matter how long for, always find a way to resurface? About the boom in historical fiction novels about the Civil War and what they tell us about society and popular opinion. Although the author’s opinions are clearly stated, the questions hang there and readers can take them up and find their own answers.

As I said, I cannot claim to any expertise on the topic, and I suspect experts will have much to take issue with in this book, but for me, it helps provide the tools to answer some of the questions that inform the author’s work and that are the same that a large part of the Spanish population are asking. Quoting from the book:

How have history, fiction, and photography shaped Spanish memory? How has democratic Spain dealt with the legacy of the Civil War, the Franco dictatorship, and the Transition? And how have academics, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and journalists in Spain and elsewhere engaged with a collective process that is central to the country’s future as a unified, functioning democracy?

In view of recent events, these questions are more pressing and relevant than ever, and I hope this book reaches as wide an audience as possible. I recommend it to anybody who is open to fresh perspectives on the subject and is up for a challenging — but ultimately rewarding— read.

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review 2018-04-26 12:02
The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA
The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA - Doug Mack

Quick: name the 4 American territories that aren't Puerto Rico.

 

I'm betting my BookLikes friends are the most likely to know some of them, but probably not all of them.  Of the 5 populated territories, I knew of 4, although I couldn't have reeled them off on command; 1 (Northern Mariana Islands) was completely new to me.

 

Now, how many of us could speak knowledgeably about what it means to be a territory of the US?  Are they citizens?  Can they vote?  Do they pay taxes?  Does the US Constitution apply to them?  Answers: Yes, except American Somoa. Not for president, although they can vote in presidential primaries.  No.  Yes, but only some of it - the parts that Congress arbitrarily decides to apply.

 

Sounds all kinds of screwed up, doesn't it?  What's more screwed up though is that I knew almost none of this, and most Americans don't either.  That's what prompted me to buy this book - it's embarrassing not to know this stuff about my own country, especially living overseas and being asked by people: what's the deal with Guam? and having to respond um... it's an island?

 

Doug Mack is a travel writer with a degree in American Studies, and he didn't know either, but he decided to dig into the issues that make the territories not states and try to find out why they've so completely fallen off the radar of almost all Americans, including our politicians (a congressman introduced the American Samoan representative as being from American Samolia - and massacred the man's name).  Mack visited each of the 5 territories himself, talking to whomever he could, researching their cultures and searching out the very little written about them over the decades, and speaking to the two (2!) people in the country well versed enough in the legalities to answer constitutional questions.

 

The results are enlightening, horrifying, and eye-opening.  Most Americans probably know about Puerto Rico's seesaw to-be-or-not-to-be-a-state, but the other territories are quite happy not being a state.  Further, American Samoans - the only territory where the residents are not US citizens (they're residents, but without the green card) - are, for the most part, happy not being citizens.  That's not to say there aren't extreme disadvantages and challenges for the territories, but Mack does a brilliant job illustrating just how difficult it is for them to balance being American with preserving their distinctive cultures and identities.  Mack also outlines brief histories of each territory, and some of the legal precedence for why they are set up the way they are, and why it's so hard to define their place in the US.  Or, you know, remember they exist.

 

This is a huge task and though he does it entertainingly, he does not pretend to do it comprehensively.  Every part of this subject is a quagmire of questions that have no easy answers and no good solutions.  But Mack's willing to give it a try, and he does it in a very readable, balanced narrative.  The talking points are innumerable - MT and I have discussed this book's points until we're both hoarse - and for that alone, the author gets 4.5 stars from me.  MT felt like a few questions went unanswered, and he's less than thrilled about my new enthusiasm for an American Samoa holiday (it's a seafood thing), but he's not reviewing this book, I am, and I say if you have any interest in the part of America that isn't often thought of as being part of America, this would definitely be a great place to start.

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text 2018-04-25 16:07
Defying Henry VIII: Reginald Pole

I am starting an exciting new series on my blog today exploring the stories of those brave souls who stood up to the Tudor tyrant. The first - my favorite - Reginald Pole.

 

Source: samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2018/04/defying-henry-viii-reginald-pole.html
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review 2018-04-25 02:38
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Audiobook)
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood - Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah narrates his own autobiography with humor and passion. Even when he's describing things as crippling as apartheid, racism, and domestic abuse, he's able to relate the events in a way that not only educates the listener about the horrible cruelty that crippled a country under the laws of apartheid but also allows the listener to laugh - or cry - with him at the absurdity of some of the situations. 

 

As an American, I know very little about apartheid, except that Nelson Mendela helped bring it to an end and that it made Jim Crow look like a Sunday brunch. Trevor Noah explains the ways that the South African government, ruled by the minority white population, overcame the majority black population, split them up and took the power from them. He's able to convey the lessons he learned growing up in this system - which made his very existence as a half-white/half-black child a crime - and how his mother found ways to get around the system time and time again. 

 

In a lot of ways, there are many things here that many can relate to - your first pet, feeling left out of the crowd, struggling to make ends meet - but the constant presence of apartheid and its aftermath turns those things on their head. His observations on life, people, the power of language and empathy, and the laws that surround us and shape us are astute and timely, even today. Maybe even especially today. 

 

I wasn't sure what I was going to get with this story, and didn't realize that Noah was that guy from the Daily Show until after I finished it, but I enjoyed this a great deal, which is a weird thing to say about a book filled with such heavy topics.

 

“Nelson Mandela once said, 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.' He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else's language, even if it's just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, 'I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.”

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review 2018-04-24 15:55
Great Graphic Novel Featuring the Civil Rights Movement
March (Book One) - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Robert Lewis

I have to say that this graphic novel was fantastic. I loved the writing and the art. I cannot wait to get book #2.


"March: Book #1" follows Congressman John Lewis is John Lewis's first hand account of the American Civil Rights Movement. We follow Lewis's family and his first meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King. You get to read the rules that those who participated in the lunch counter sit-ins as well as some awful scenes depicting what people said to those who were protesting, how they were beaten and treated. 

 

What was great though was that we have Lewis preparing to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration and you get to see how happy he and many other African Americans were that they got to witness the first African American president. The graphic novel segues between this and Lewis remembering his past until we get to the end of book #1. 


I recently went to the National Museum of African American History & Culture and there are tons of displays that showcase the Civil Rights Movement and talk about how it first got started and highlights those who participated like Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King, and so many others. I loved reading the displays and looking at the pictures on display. Seeing this in graphic form though made it feel more real to me. 

 

I read this on my Kindle Fire so I was able to blow up some of the scenes in order to read the speech bubbles. I do wonder how this would look if I had a hard copy in my hand though. 

 

The art was so great. Though I have to say I don't know what's worse, reading people being bigoted and racist in written form or via a graphic novel. 

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